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Old 8th May 2020, 7:01 am   #13
Join Date: May 2008
Location: Derby, UK.
Posts: 7,732
Lightbulb Re: Wireless World calculator project

Originally Posted by TonyDuell View Post
With electronic calculators it's relatively easy to move numbers between registers. The idea of dedicated multilication counters,etc, makes a little less sense.
When something really game-changing comes along, it often is not obvious just how tightly the game is bound up with the limitations of the old ways.

Look at the Iron Bridge, for example. It's held together with dovetails and mortice and tenon joints that were cast into the various sections. That's not the way you would make a metal bridge today (although it's probably exactly how you would make a plastic bridge..... though you'd expect better moulding tolerances today. Darby's original parts look similar from a distance, but corresponding ones could not simply be swapped: the give-or-take is tens or even hundreds of millimetres) but it was all anyone knew about in the 1770s.

And then consider early attempts to use transistors as though they were valves, and the breakthrough that came from realising they could be better used in ways valves simply couldn't be used.

It's sometimes hard to separate an abstract process from the physical tools used for carrying out that process. So maybe it was necessary to start by building electronic versions of mechanical calculators first, before realising that the mechanical method actually was hampered by restrictions that the electronic method did not require you to emulate. The crucial insight was that numbers can be stored in a way that does not force a particular rôle in a calculation; but up until then, augends, addends, minuends, subtrahends, multiplicands, multipliers, dividends and divisors had all been stored in specific ways.
If I have seen further than others, it is because I was standing on a pile of failed experiments.
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