Back to the √s

The Curta II machine

The Curta is a mechanical computing device, about 12.5 cm high, 8 cm in diameter, with 49 bits internal precision.
I'm totally in awe about the elegance of the design and the smooth handling. Trying to actually compute something, e.g. a square root, on this machine, immediately makes one aware of the roots (sic!) of numerical mathematics. There simply is no button marked √ on the Curta, and still people used this very machine to compute square roots (and logs, and trigonometric functions, ...). Until the 1980ies most scientists knew how to efficiently compute everything on such add/substract machines, and this knowledge is now buried without a tombstone.

Fri, 12 Jun 2009
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