Week 3 - Counting and Computing

Click on the title of each topic below (except Numeric Methods) to be linked to an article about that topic. Each student is responsible for reading every article.      

Hexadecimal, octal and binary

Computers use different numbering systems then people do.

Babylonian Numbers

Ancient Babylon used a form of base 60 counting.


This article gives descriptions of pre-industrial counting and computing, including counting boards and the abacus.

Quipa #1

Wikipedia article about quipa, pre-columbian counting ropes.

Quipa #2

This article gives more details/pictures about the knots.

History of calculating machines

This wikipedia article gives a high level view of the history of calculators, from the abacus to the handheld electronic calculator.       

Napier's bones

Napier's bones used logarithms to compute complicated calculations. Napier's bones are the predecessor to a slide-rule, the once proud symbol of geeks everywhere.

Jacquard loom

The Jacquard loom used punched cards to control the pattern being woven. It had a direct impact on later information technology developments.   

Babbage machines

Charles Babbage designed two impressive pre-electical computers: the difference engine and the analytical engine. Ada Byron King, the Countess of Lovelace, gained fame by writing the first programs for the analytical engine, thus becoming the world's first programmer. She is also famous for the quote "the Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns".

Digital Logic

Read the first four pages (through binary addition)   

Hollerith punched cards

Hollerith adopted punched cards for input purposes for counting mechanisms. The initial application was the 1890 US Census. It was so successful, that his company eventually became renamed as IBM.


Electronic voting has been one extremely controversial application of modern counting technology. This article summarizes some of the issues.    

IBM-Nazi Connection

A much darker application of modern counting technology came with the equipment that IBM supplied to the Germans leading up to WWII. This article highlights the recent disclosures about this relationship.