Tag Archives: Computers

Who designed Analytical Engine, the first programmable computer?

Charles Babbage
The idea of the computer first occurred to the British inventor Charles Babbage (picture, left) in about 1833. Others had made calculating machines before him. But Babbage was the first person to conceive of a machine that could be programmed to carry out different calculating operations, as a computer can. Babbage designed a machine called the Analytical Engine that had the basic feature of a modern computer. It was to be a mechanical computer, containing complex systems of shafts and gear wheels. However, only some parts of the Analytical Engine (see photo below) could be built. The engineering required to complete it was far beyond the techniques of the age, and Babbage died in 1871 without knowing whether his computer would work or not.
Analytical Engine
In fact, Babbage was far ahead of his time. The first computer — a British wartime decoder called Colossus — was not built until 1943. Like modern computers, it used electronics, as mechanical operations were too slow. Colossus and all other computers since are really the descendants of Babbage’s Analytical Engine.

Additional reading:
Charles Babbage (Wikipedia)
Analytical Engine (Wikipedia)

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How fast can a supercomputer work at the very most? Is there a theoretical limit on the speed of its operations?

The first true supercomputer, CRAY-1 (photo, left) made in 1976, ran at a speed of 100 megaflops. (A flop is the number of mathematical operations involving decimal fractions that a computer can make in a second. Mega = 1000.) At present the fastest supercomputer is China’s Tianhe-1 (see photo, below) which can operate at the speed of 1,000 trillion (10,00,00,00,00,00,00,000 calculations per second). Such extraordinary speed is made possible by the development of parallel processing. Dozens of microprocessors divide the task between them and work in unison to quickly arrive at the result. This obviates the need for creating free standing monoliths which in any case cannot cope with enormous data.
Although data-crunching power of a supercomputer may seem to be boundless, the main challenge in making such a machine lies in the length of its internal wiring. The speed of electrons which travel about 3,00,000 kilometers in a single second does seem exceedingly fast. But when the aim is to perform trillions of operations in that time electrons’ travel over individual wires result in a significant time lag.
To overcome this constraint, Seymour Cray, the designer of CRAY-1, kept the maximum length of any wire below 122 centimeters, below 40.5 centimeters in CRAY-2 and mere 7.6 centimeters in the CRAY-3 supercomputer. Unfortunately, all those electrons flowing through densely packed wires produced a tremendous amount of heat which could disable the entire system. Cray had to use a liquid coolant which absorbed the heat and kept temperature at ideal level. The problem of heat is easy to clear up by such methods, but the time lag in electron’ travel is likely to be a limiting factor in making faster supercomputers in future.

Additional reading:
Cray-1 (Wikipedia)
Tianhe-1 (Wikipedia)

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Why is a problem in a computer program called a bug?

Grace Murray Hopper
The first functional computer program was written by Grace Murray Hopper (1906-92) an admiral of the United States Navy. She wrote a program for the Mark I computer (developed in 1944), the first fully automatic calculator. During the 1950s, Hopper (photo, right) directed the work that developed one of the most widely used computer programming languages, COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language).
She is also credited with coining the slang term “bug” to refer to computer program errors. The story goes that her machine had broken down, and when she looked into the problem, she discovered a dead moth in the computer. As she removed it, she reportedly announced that she was “debugging the machine”. Grace Murray Hopper served the US Navy for 43 years. She was one of the pioneers of computer science.

Additional reading:
Grace Murray Hopper (Wikipedia)
Software bug (Wikipedia)

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Who invented the first personal computer and when?

The credit for development of a computer for home use goes to Steve Wozniak (seated in the photo below) and Stave Jobs (standing in the photo), college dropouts who founded Apple Computer in 1976.
They spent six months, working out of a garage, developing a crude prototype for Apple-I. It’s successor, Apple-II, was introduced in 1977 as the first fully assembled, programmable microcomputer, but still required customers to use their televisions as screens and to use audio cassettes for data storage. It was priced at $1300. In 1984, Apple Computer introduced the Macintosh (popularly known as Mac), which became the first widely used computer. By this time IBM had introduced its PC (1981), which quickly overtook the Macintosh.

Additional reading:
Personal computer (Wikipedia)

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    Who invented Intel’s first Pentium chip?

    Vinod Dham

    Though produced by the USA’s Intel Corporation, ‘Pentium’ is basically the outcome of a research conducted by an Indian engineer. Popularly known as ‘Father of the Pentium chip’, the creator of the computer chip is Vinod Dham.

    After getting his degree from Delhi College of Engineering, he went to the USA where he was appointed at a high and responsible post in Intel’s microprocessor division. He along with his team of assistant engineers created the ‘Pentium’ chip. This chip proved to be a turning point in the history of personal computers. The highly efficient computer chip has changed the definition of computer technology – so much so that the computer equipped with ‘Pentium’ chips (or microprocessors) are sometimes known as Pentium itself. Today, ‘Pentium’ is one of the largest selling microprocessors around the world.

    Additional reading:
    Vinod Dham (Wikipedia)
    Pentium (Wikipedia)

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    Why is the pointing device used for computers called mouse? And who invented it?

    Click to enlarge

    The computer mouse was invented by an American scientist named Douglas Engelbart (see photo) in 1963 – and this was before the personal computer complete with keyboard and monitor was introduced in 1977. The pointing device got the name ‘mouse’ because Engelbart had joined its cord at the back, like a tail. Before he realized that it should preferably be connected with the front side the word ‘mouse’ had already found its way into wide use.

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