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Showing posts from September, 2011

2011 Plan 28 Media Coverage

A program waits

Sitting in The Science Museum alongside all the other pieces of Babbagery is something that many people will probably overlook, but which has great significance. It's this:

A pair of stacks of punched cards containing data and a program put together by Charles Babbage. This program has been waiting over 150 years to be executed because the Analytical Engine that would run it was never built.

Just a few more years and the program will be executable.

The data describes a polynomial and the program a method of solving it. More detail about it will come through the research that Doron Swade is undertaking as part of Plan 28

Image Credit: Flickr user lorentey

Lovelace's Leap

There's a great deal said about Ada, Countess of Lovelace that I find misguided. And, worse, the real intellectual triumph of Lovelace is overlooked by most people. She took a great leap in thinking about computers that Charles Babbage seems to have either completely overlooked or to have missed entirely.

Lovelace realized that even though a computer was, at its heart, a mathematical machine, it wasn't restricted to doing mathematics. She realized that a computer could be used to process other types of 'information' by having numbers represent anything else. She realized that a computer could handle text, or music, or practically anything.

That's Lovelace's Leap.

Speaking to the BBC about his book The Information, author James Gleick says:
She understood even better than Babbage did what the potential of this machinery was. Babbage was always thinking in terms of just numbers. Ada thought it might not just be numbers. You could have words or music or anythi…

Plan 28: Analytical Engine project gets underway

Exactly one year ago today on this blog I proposed that Charles Babbage's unbuilt Analytical Engine (the first real computer) should be built and be built in Britain. Over the last year I have been working with Doron Swade (who was responsible for the construction of Babbage's Difference Engine No. 2) to put in place a project to actually build the Analytical Engine. The project is known as Plan 28.

This has required building relationships with a number of bodies. I recently announced that the project had been accepted into the portfolio of projects handled by the Computer Conservation Society. They will provide expert advice as needed.

The other vital body to work with is The Science Museum in London. Doron and I have been working with The Science Museum team at many levels to ensure that the project is known about and that we would be able to get access to Babbage's plans and notebooks to perform the vital academic study of the Analytical Engine as Babbage imagined …

The Pie Chart Challenge

I contend that the pie chart should never be used. I've blogged about this before and I think the main contender for a replacement is the sausage. But there are still doubters :-) (Not everyone agrees)

The main problems with pie charts are:

1. It is difficult for humans to compare areas. So the area of the pie slices is hard to compare.

2. It is difficult for humans to compare angles. So the angle of the pie slices is similarly hard to compare.

3. Humans are much better at comparing lengths.

Amusingly, 1 and 2 above were exploited by Steve Jobs in a presentation:

On Hacker News yesterday I was challenged thusly:
Re: the claim that groups of pie charts are especially awful, I have a counterexample. How would you express this more clearly without a series of pie charts?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Support_For_Direct_Popular_Vote.png
The charts in question look like this:

I responded with:

Which I contend is better because: it's easy to make a visual comparison between suppo…