The Brass Brain

Posted by on May 16th,2008

Boingboing recently wrote a bit about an old computer, a heavyweight contraption weighting in at 2500 lbs, whose inner workings of gears, cogs and mechanical components of all kinds, enclosed in glass and mahogany, are capable of out-preforming a team of a 100 trained mathematicians.

It is the tide predicting machine Number two, also known as “the brass brain

More pictures can be found here

It is yet another example of human ingenuity. Long before the entry of radio tubes, semi-conductors based chips or even wired logic, scientists were using this hand-crank operated implement to predict the coming and going of the tides around the world, using simple the mechanical interactions of brass on brass, with an accuracy beyond imagination.

And it is not the first of its kind by a long shot! Tide predicting computers have been around since the 19th century, Kelvins tide predictor dates back to 1876! William Ferels machine saw daylight (so to speak) in 1881

The same math lives on today, but then carried out by powerfull computers to predict the tides, the weather and many things alike. Today I’d like you to realize that that is nothing new; while our tools have grown exponentially in power, they often still serve the same purpose they did almost a hundred years ago. And back then, those computers came stock in a nice mahogany case, clockwork on the outside and glass panes allowing you to see the inner workings! Today, one would have to call upon someone like Datamancer to have a modern calculator retrofitted to look like a top-of-the-line one of a hundred years ago.