Of Babbage Engines and Google Cars

An afternoon at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California is like swapping between the past, present and future all within a few feet of each other.

My hands-down favorite bit of my afternoon was a demonstration of the Babbage Engine at work. This 5-ton machine is reproduced from drawings done by Charles Babbage. He started these original drawings in 1821, but never got to building a complete machine. This machine, the Difference Engine #2, is built with almost no changes from the original drawings. How amazing that is, to design on paper something that has never been conceived of before and to get it so right without ever getting to build a complete prototype!

Another really popular exhibit was the self-driven Google car. People posed by it and sat in the front seat and had their pictures taken. I made little notes from the exhibit on how it worked, and like everything google does, they just made it sound do simple! If you live in the San Francisco Bay area and drive on I 280 between Palo Alto and San Francisco, you can often spot one of these driverless cars zipping along, with someone sitting in the passenger seat.

And here is my final sketch from the afternoon: This is my kids playing a game where you program frogs to jump around lilypads and eat insects. It uses the popular kids programming language, Scratch. ( if you know little kids, this is a fun language to introduce them to. Even I can build in it, it’s that simple!)  They had a ton of fun getting their frogs to zoot around and eat bugs.


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