The Charles Babbage Difference Engine

This week, I was in Silicon Valley to talk to a number of ISV customers about what’s coming up in Visual Studio Team System 2010 for C++ developers. I’ve always wanted to go to the Computer History Museum and this time, I had a couple of hours before my flight back to Redmond so I got to finally see it. I was absolutely blown away by the experience! But the thing that really stood out for me was the Charles Babbage Difference Engine. The story behind how the Difference Engine got to the Computer History Museum is interesting on it’s own merit. There are only two of these in the world. The first one was built in 1991 and is at the London Science Museum. The story goes that one day, Nathan Myhrvold (former Microsoft executive) visited the London Science Museum and decided that he wanted a Difference Engine for himself to put in his own house (who wouldn’t want one of these!). So, that’s when the second Difference Engine was built and he loaned it to the Computer History Museum until the end of 2009 at which time it goes to Nathan’s house (never to be seen again). So, if you get an opportunity to go to Silicon Valley, you have to see this. Else, your only other option will be to fly to London. While I was at the Museum, they gave us a tour of the Difference Engine and even demonstrated how it works! I had my camera with me so I took a couple of photos and also a video of the demonstration. Yes, for a few short minutes, I felt like a kid in candy land.

Habib Heydarian.

Here is a video of the Difference Engine in action.

The Difference Engine in all it’s glory.

Difference Engine

Couple of examples showing how the Difference Engine works.

Difference Engine Formula

And, one last photo.

Difference Engine Side View