For a couple of years now I’ve been telling Leo bedtime stories about two kids named Leo and Ada and their adventures with “The Thinking Machine”. Leo is now so obsessed by these stories that I get requests for new ones pretty much every bedtime, and also every car ride.
The Thinking Machine is an imaginary cross between Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine, and a modern computer. The kids program it by setting gears in various (never-described-in-detail) ways, and then have to crank is to get the results. The more complex the problem (technically, the larger the search space), the longer they have to crank. Leo is also very interested in how long they have to crank. Of course there’s also a Quantum Thinking Machine for those really hard problems! 🙂
(Living in The Bay Area we have the unique opportunity to see one of the only two working Difference Engines in existence, Difference Engine no. 2, at the Computer History Museum. If you live here, or are visiting, and you or your kids love, or even like computers or STEM or history … or pretty much anything technical … DO NOT MISS THIS! Call ahead and schedule your trip to see it in operation — usually weekends. It’s one of the two or three engineered things in the world that can make me cry!)
Leo is so obsessed by this that one of his favorite shirts has a close-up of the Difference Engine on it:
Anyway, The Thinking Machine of my stories does pretty much any computation that I need for the adventure at hand. I probably should have been writing these down over the past couple of years of telling them, but I didn’t, so I’ll start posting them from this point forward, and maybe catch up eventually…although there are hundreds, and I can’t remember them. (Unfortunately for me, Leo does remember them, and won’t let me tell the same story twice!)
Incidentally, there once was a real computer called a “Connection Machine” by a company called “Thinking Machines Corp.” The most famous of these was the CM-2, which was totally cool looking, and had a cameo in Jurassic Park. Here a not-very-good picture of one: