Charles Babbage was the first steampunk

A steampunk in costume

Steampunk, Wikipedia says, is a “genre which originated during the 1980s and early 1990s and incorporates elements of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, horror, and speculative fiction. It involves a setting where steam power is widely used—whether in an alternate history such as Victorian era Britain or “Wild West”-era United States, or in a post-apocalyptic time —that incorporates elements of either science fiction or fantasy.
   The Steampunk World’s Fair was recently held in Piscataway, New Jersey, USA and had over 4,000 attendees. Of course the real steampunk was Charles Babbage, who features in Chapter 2, “The dawn of Computing,” of The Universal Machine. Babbage actually tried to build a mechanical computer – the Analytical Engine. Although Babbage never managed to build his Engine the people at Plan 28 intend to complete his design and build a working mechanical computer.

A model of part of the Analytical Engine

from The Universal Machine

#Apple has a culture of excellence – Tim Cook interview

It’s been a while since we talked about Apple. Tim Cook who took over as CEO just before Steve Jobs’ death last year has just given an interview at the All Things Digital conference. The interview is interesting partly because Cook normally keeps a very low profile. He talks, but not in detail, about some great new products and makes the point that “Apple has a culture of excellence.

from The Universal Machine

Julian #Assange loses extradition appeal

Assange on the cover of Time

The Guardian reports that UK Supreme Court judges have ruled 5 to 2 that Julian Assange should be extradited from the UK to Sweden to face sexual assault charges. However, since the judges were not unanimous and because the judgement depends on an interpretation of an arcane point of law with regard to Britain’s international treaty responsibilities they have given Assange two weeks to lodge an appeal. It seems that this saga is not over yet.
    Assange is of course most famous for his website WikiLeaks, but you may not know that he used to be a hacker going by the pseudonym Mendax. Assange contributed to an excellent book titled, Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier, which provides an excellent insight into the secretive world of hacking. You can buy the book on Amazon, but in true hacker spirit it’s freely available to download online.

from The Universal Machine

North Shore Times – Woz cover

We made the cover of The North Shore Times, a local Auckland newspaper. That’s Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in the centre with me to the right – the photograph was taken on the top of Mt. Victoria in Devonport. The article quotes Woz as saying Devonport was, “the most beautiful place for a Segway tour.

from The Universal Machine

In praise of… Benjamin Franklin

I’ve just finished a biography called, “The First American – The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin” by H.W. Brands, which I really enjoyed. Being English I didn’t get much information about Franklin at school, other than the (dangerous) experiment with the kite and lightening and that he had some involvement with the American war of independence and the constitution. So I was really surprised to discover what a truly remarkable man Franklin was. His accomplishments were considerable: entrepreneur, writer, satirist, scientist, philosopher, inventor, civil servant, diplomat…the list is impressive. Brands’ book is excellent, easy to read and very informative, but for the highlights Wikipedia has an extensive entry. Franklin has now become one of my heroes.

from The Universal Machine

CSIRAC: Australia’s first computer

CSIRAC on display at the Melbourne Museum

This piece of early computing history is close to home (relatively speaking). I was surprised recently to learn that Australian scientists developed their own computer in 1949, the CSIR Mark 1 (later called CSIRAC, the CSIR Automatic Computer). To put this date into perspective the American ENIAC was operational in 1946 and the Manchester  Small-Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM) or “Baby” was operational in 1948, whilst Cambridge’s EDSAC wasn’t working until 1949. So this makes the Australian machine one of only four computers in the world in 1949.

from The Universal Machine

#Turing and his Times (lecture)

The National Museum of Computing has made available an excellent video of a recent lecture called Turing and his Times, which was given at Bletchley Park  on the 26 April 2012 to mark the centenary of the birth of Alan Turing. The lecture features the first public showing of a video commissioned by the National Physical Laboratory of the recollections of two of Turing’s colleagues, plus a talk by computer historian Prof Simon Lavington on Turing and his Contemporaries, and  simulation of the Pilot ACE computer by TNMOC trustee Kevin Murrell.

from The Universal Machine