Computer Error

by X When one speaks today of “computer error,” one is most often referring to a flaw in the electronic or mechanical functioning of a programmed machine. An extraordinary case of computer error occurred long before the advent of mechanical and electronic computers, however, as noted by Charles Babbage in an 1827 publication entitled On Errors Common to Many Tables of Logarithms. Early astronomers spent long periods of time making calculations for tracking and predicting the orbits of comets, planets, and moons, and for determining the occurrence of eclipses. For example, in calculating the orbit of Halley’s Comet, the French astronomer Joseph de Lalande (1732-1807) said: During six months, we calculated from morning till night, sometimes even at meals, the consequence of which was, that I contracted an illness which changed my constitution for the remainder of my life. The assistance rendered by Madame Lepaute was such, that without her, we […] Read More

Stars And Numbers

Ancient civilization saw nothing absurd in the claims of astrology, no more than many an educated and thoroughly scientific man sees in it today. Judicial astrology, by which the fate and acts of men and nations might be foreknown, [hardly] appeared, nor does it even now appear, any more unphilosophical or unscientific than does natural astrology or astronomy-by which the events of so-called brute and inanimate nature (changes of weather, &c.), might be predicted. For it was not even prophetic insight that was claimed by the votaries of that abstruse and really grand science, but simply a great proficiency in that method of procedure which allows the astrologer to foresee certain events in the life of a man by the position of the planets at the time of his birth. Once the probability, or even the simple possibility, of an occult influence exercised by the stars upon the destiny […] Read More