Mathlete, genius and all-around eccentric Charles Babbage was born on this day in 1791. Best known for inventing “engines” that were the early forerunners of computers, Babbage also designed several other inventions for the day’s cutting-edge travel: the railroad. He thought up the concept of a “black box” to explain what went wrong in a crash, and invented a cow-catcher to clear obstacles (both inert and mooing) from the front of a passing train.
A fan of lock picking, Babbage also made advances in cryptography, and his cipher-breaking ideas were used to the benefit of the British military for years.
But it was the difference and analytical engines that defined him; the first was essentially a calculator way too big for any pocket. The analytical engine was truly the great-great granddad of that iPad or laptop you’re holding. It could be programmed with punch cards, used programming functions like looping and parallel processing, and could even spit out a hard copy print out.
Celebrate Babbage’s accomplishments by doing something worthy like learning a new programming language or helping scientists unlock DNA. Or you could do what you’ve planned, and play Skyrim until the Christmas leftovers call your name.Tweet