January 31, 2009

Computer nerds never change

In 1822, English mathematician Charles Babbage came up with the idea of a steam-powered computer, the difference engine, which he was able to somehow talk Parliament into funding. When it was close to being finished, however, he lost interest in his original invention and began working on a more advanced, programmable "analytic engine" (with the programs written on punch cards -- a technology I used as late as 1981), so Parliament stopped giving him money. Babbage was, apparently, too much of a genius ever to finish anything.

What's amusing, though, is the continuity of the classic computer nerd personality. From Babbage's 1864 autobiography:

On two occasions I have been asked, – "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" In one case a member of the Upper, and in the other a member of the Lower House put this question. I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

This post reminded me of the single funniest thing I have read in the Wikipedia. From the article on Charles Darwin:

Used to jotting down daily notes on animal breeding, he scrawled rambling thoughts about career and prospects on two scraps of paper, one with columns headed “Marry” and “Not Marry”. Advantages included “constant companion and a friend in old age ... better than a dog anyhow”, against points such as “less money for books” and “terrible loss of time.”

mnuez said...

That final sentence is fantastic...but, in a moment of introspection I wonder whether that's on account of the fact that I live in a society where youth is prized and age is not (and someone who lived a hundred fifty years ago is very very VERY old and thus its cute to think of him as being able to say anything freshly profound or genuinely humorous). In cultures where the ancients rather than the babes are most appreciated for their wisdom I'm not sure whether I'd get such a kick out of hearing this quote.

mnuez said...

It may be bigotry that finds this particularly humorous but so be it.

From his wiki entry:

Babbage once contacted the poet Alfred Tennyson in response to his poem "The Vision of Sin". Babbage wrote, "In your otherwise beautiful poem, one verse reads,

Every moment dies a man,
Every moment one is born.

... If this were true, the population of the world would be at a standstill. In truth, the rate of birth is slightly in excess of that of death. I would suggest [that the next version of your poem should read]:

Every moment dies a man,
Every moment 1 1/16 is born.

Strictly speaking, the actual figure is so long I cannot get it into a line, but I believe the figure 1 1/16 will be sufficiently accurate for poetry.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of computer nerds: Steve's old co-worker Karl Denninger is very smart and he's now talking about the Dow crashing to 2000.

http://market-ticker.denninger.net/archives/759-Here-It-Comes.html

"Reality has started to intrude into the market and it's not a pretty picture. FCBs (foreign central banks) sold Treasury and so did Primary Dealers in the most recent week. This is new, it is ominous, and it signals that market participants in the bond market have detected smoke in the room. Should they all rush the door at once the bond market dislocation that I have been warning of for months will gather steam and cut off federal funding, along with kneecapping the stock market. The Fed cannot possibly absorb this supply as it will not be limited to Treasuries; they would have to print up literally $20 trillion dollars to halt the collapse and should they attempt it the dollar would collapse instead as that would be a literal ten times over expansion of the monetary base. This would produce a monetary and market implosion twice as bad as what occurred in Iceland overnight."

For those who don't follow this stuff the Dow is at 8000 now. It peaked at 14000 and a decline from 14000 to 2000 would mean the entire mountain was Madoff in nature.

Basically Uncle Sam is getting pantsed.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you know the real reason why the Chinese are going to flee US Treasuries like your buddy Denninger is predicting, don't you?

The real reason is that the Asians do not respect African intellectual ability. They Asian leaders see the election of Obama from a completely non-PC point of view.

And are we supposed to think that foreign leaders don't notice Obama's lack of a paper trail? And they don't notice Obama's near total lack of leadership history and political/economic accomplishments? Besides writing books about himself and getting elected?

JFK got into huge trouble early in his term due to his highly questionable leadership skills and lack of experience. Kruschev sensed the JFK weakness and pulled crap he never would've attempted against Eisenhower.

They may or may not be misjudging the situation but China is going to pull serious crap on Obama.

Topiary Utopia said...

Babbage should have known when to feature freeze.

While Babbage counts as forerunner of modern computer nerds, I don't think Ada Lovelace has much in common with modern programmers...

dearieme said...

"The real reason is that the Asians do not respect African intellectual ability." About a year ago a Chinese asked who did I think would win the US Presidency. I said "Obama, probably". He replied, with some horror, "But he's black".

ironrailsironweights said...

Some things do change ... Babbage was married in his early 20's and had a number of children. If a computer nerd gets married today, it's after a long search through the mail-order bride catalogs.

Peter

Reader said...

The real reason is that the Asians do not respect African intellectual ability. They Asian leaders see the election of Obama from a completely non-PC point of view.


It's hilarious to see people keep trying to pin the economic crisis on America's *low* IQ minorities.

headache said...

"I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."


I'd say that has nothing to do with Babbage being a nerd. He obviously had a realistic view of politicians. How else to explain the course of western society in the last 2 centuries?

Anonymous said...

"The real reason is that the Asians do not respect African intellectual ability. They Asian leaders see the election of Obama from a completely non-PC point of view."


Coming from Africa I can only agree with you. Whites down there ruled with an iron fist but I can tell you that Indians and Chinese disdain Africans. They did not even bother to research and try to understand black culture, as Afrikaners and Rhodesians did. They just loathe them and try and make as much money out of them as possible. It is well known amongst blacks that the Indian store owners in the black townships were ripping them off compared to white supermarkets in the city. Only Europeans and white Americans believe all this O-Messiah crap. Not even blacks believe it. They just see O as a ticket to more handouts and wealth-redistribution. Whites (-J’s) are such sentimental dunces.

clem said...

Kruschev sensed the JFK weakness and pulled crap he never would've attempted against Eisenhower.

Ironically, exactly that comparison came up yesterday on LGF, regarding Iran's response to Obama's recent "show of weakness," i.e., his attempted outreach to them.

I don't think Ada Lovelace has much in common with modern programmers...

Indeed she does not ... but then, she wasn't really much of a programmer, anyway. From
Repurposing Ada:

"All of the programs cited in her notes," [Allan Bromley] writes, "had been prepared by Babbage from three to seven years earlier"....

"She didn't write any programs," says Martin Campbell-Kelly, Aspray's co-author.... Campbell-Kelly honors Ada as a pioneer, if not a programmer as the term is understood today....

"She happened to write the first ever documentation on what it meant to be computer programmer."

So, she wasn't a programmer at all; she was at best a technical writer. Huge difference.

(Funny how an attempted slap at un-spongeworthy dorks/geeks/nerds turns into an exposé of the feminist rewriting of history, isn't it?)

Every moment dies a man,
Every moment 1 1/16 is born.


Not only that, but more recently:

"We are 13.7 billion light-years from the edge of the observable universe/That's a good estimate with well-defined error bars/Scientists say it's true, but acknowledge that it may be refined/And with the available information, I predict that I will always be with you." (Katie Melua)

Johnson said...


They may or may not be misjudging the situation but China is going to pull serious crap on Obama


Who's fault is that? You backwards vdare supporters are the same people who prevented the Republican party from embracing a rational libertarian agenda in favor of culture war.

You think China wouldn't pull this on senile McCain or the idiot Palin or even Huckabee?

If you Republicans were intelligent you would have nominated Romney or someone smart who gets economics and could take on the Chinese. Now, we have to hope that Geithner and Summers know what they're doing.

Bill said...

Anonymous said...

Steve, you know the real reason why the Chinese are going to flee US Treasuries like your buddy Denninger is predicting, don't you?

The real reason is that the Asians do not respect African intellectual ability. They Asian leaders see the election of Obama from a completely non-PC point of view.


This is a real risk. The Chinese have hinted that they have quite a few reservations about Obama. Of course, the American media outlets entirely misinterpret what Chinese they interview say, because they have no idea what Chinese are really getting at when they say things such as "isn't he a bit young?"

Obama is loved only in southern India, sub-Saharan Africa and the West. Eastern Europe, Asia and the Muslim world are not all that impressed with him. American prestige will probably tumble even more than people expect over the next few years.

Anonymous said...

"It's hilarious to see people keep trying to pin the economic crisis on America's *low* IQ minorities."

It's being pinned on the elites that thought it would be a good idea to put minorities (their words, not simply poorer people) into homes with no-money-down schemes and the like. Disagree, but you're disagreeing with giants like Nouriel Roubini who explicitly stated that it all began with housing.

Mark said...

If a computer nerd gets married today, it's after a long search through the mail-order bride catalogs.

Which computer nerd? Bill Gates and Michael Dell both have a few kids. Alan Ashton, the co-founder of WordPerfect, has 12 kids. His business partner, Bruce Bastian, has 5 - and Bruce is gay.

rec1man said...

If a computer nerd gets married today, it's after a long search through the mail-order bride catalogs.

--

One of my friends married a very pretty ukrainian, 20 years younger than himself

The mail order gave him a much better looking wife than what he could have got on his own

And American women dont value a good steady provider

Anonymous said...

Who's fault is that? You backwards vdare supporters are the same people who prevented the Republican party from embracing a rational libertarian agenda in favor of culture war.

Hey its a comedian, thanks for the laugh.

Culture war, jeez. And who won the culture war, that battle anyway? You actually believe that McCain represented some sort of VDare endorsed candidate - when did your starship land, as you clearly just came out of suspended animation.

Johnson said...


You actually believe that McCain represented some sort of VDare endorsed candidate


I'm specifically referring to Palin.

The ex-KKK on this site remind me alot of the pro-Palin hics.

There aren't too many HBD purists at Vdare who prefer cool GNXP/La Griffe style analysis over race baiting Buchanan and Brimelow style.

David said...

Johnson, don't confuse most of us with the GOP leadership or lumpen. To my knowledge, none of us had any serious problem with Romney in contrast to Obama.

Only when the GOP idiots nominated McCain-Palin did some people here permit themselves to support them, again in contrast to Obama. It was lame, but they gave it the old college try. Steve made a heroic effort (but too late) with his article comparing Palin to Thatcher.

But electing Romney would have been a giant relief to most of us on most (not all) fronts compared to the way it all horribly unraveled.

John of London said...

Here in Britain some people like to claim Babbage as a (or even the) pioneer of computers. What he actually pioneered was something that is characteristic of the IT industry/academia today - getting an enormous government grant for a project that could never work.

Anonymous said...



There aren't too many HBD purists at Vdare who prefer cool GNXP/La Griffe style analysis over race baiting Buchanan and Brimelow style.


Too funny. Everything in "HBD" supports what evil "race baiters" claimed all along.

Anonymous said...

"There aren't too many HBD purists at Vdare who prefer cool GNXP/La Griffe style analysis over race baiting Buchanan and Brimelow style."

I guess race-baiting whites is OK since it's intrinsic in "modern" culture.