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.
Happy Independence Day, and Happy Birthday to Captain America! Steve Rogers was born in the Marvel Universe on this day in 1922.
He was a stringy kid who was all heart, and he was beefed up to superhero levels by an experimental drug (although today they could have just used frappuccinos and steroids) developed during the war effort. Since he hit the comics scene in his own March 1941 title, Cap has served proudly as the patriotic symbol he was meant to be: he’s even survived an assassination attempt in which the entire world believed he was dead. After his supposed 2007 demise, Captain America’s shield was given to satirist Stephen Colbert, and it hangs on the wall of his set today.
Captain America, like any good superhero, comes back when he’s needed and boy, do we need him today. Luckily we got him back on the big screen last year, guns blazing (and he had some firearms, too) in Captain America: The First Avenger, and again this year in the fanboy-wetting Whedon epic The Avengers, which conquered box offices around the world. Have a slice of cake with a sparkler, Cap, looks like you’re better than ever.
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