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The Need for Speed - The Age of Computers



The Need for Speed - The Age of Computers
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 9 to 12
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   9.89

Vocabulary
     challenging words:    binary, error-free, logbook, memex, programmer, teleprinter, teraflops, theoretical, unkempt, Vannever, predecessor, mathematical, translucent, calculation, mathematician, pianos
     content words:    Charles Babbage, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, Herman Hollerith, New York, United States Census Bureau, Tabulating Machine Company, Vannever Bush, Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer, Naval Weapons Center, On September


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The Need for Speed - The Age of Computers
By Colleen Messina
  

1     Nothing seemed to satisfy the mathematicians' need for speed in calculations. Pascal's adding machine in 1642 didn't do it; Napier's bones didn't either. Mathematicians were always trying to figure out a way to go faster. Charles Babbage designed a machine to print mathematical calculations quickly, a concept far ahead of most 19th century notions, but that didn't work because the machine couldn't be built. This need for speed led to an ever-expanding series of ideas and inventions that spanned more than a century.
 
2     Who would have thought that a silk weaver would start the ball rolling for computers! A Frenchman named Joseph-Marie Jacquard invented punch cards to make silk weaving go faster. The cards controlled which needles punched through and created the patterns in the cloth. Other inventors loved these cards and created adaptations to use in other places. For example, punched cards decided which music played on automated pianos. Computers eventually used punched cards to store programs.
 
3     Herman Hollerith, an American inventor, developed the idea of encoding data in the punched cards. Hollerith lived in Buffalo, New York, and got the idea for a punch card tabulation machine by watching a train conductor punch tickets. In 1881, he started designing a machine that could tabulate census data faster, because traditional hand counting was painfully slow. The United States Census Bureau had taken eight years to finish their 1880 census. Everyone was worried that the 1890 census would take so long that the results wouldn't be finished before the 1900 census had to start.

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