Computer, made of wood!

Monday, September 24, 2012


Mechanical laser-cut gear fractal computer


Brent Thome, a computer scientist in San Francisco, is building a mechanical computer out of beautiful, laser-cut gears that will compute and draw fractals. He's documenting as he goes in a fascinating blog, in which he also recounts his adventures with kinetic wooden sculpture.

Brent Thorne's Blog is here:
Fractal Clockwork

Musings on the metaphysical nature of computing.

Theory of Operation
I could tell you that it took years and years of research and development to create a theory of computation that could be implemented in wood, but alias it would be untrue. The idea was formed after only a few reductions and one night when I couldn't get to sleep. You see, computers are much simpler than our teachers might of taught us in school. You don't even need the Boolean logic primitives to create a computer. These so called primitives are merely symbolic.

The most primitive computer is comprised of only two parts and from these two parts we can create all others. Those two parts are memory and a comparator. Some may claim that any practical computer must also have input and output, but that just is memory, or registers, memory again, or an ALU, nope that's a comparator.

We can further delineate memory into two types, read-only and read-write. We need the read-write type of memory to store temporary values for comparison. For example, read-write memory could be a toggle or counter. Read-only memory is convenient for storing tables or a program, however these two examples are symbolic and not necessary for computation. An example of read-only memory is pegs in a disc, where the presents of a peg represents a symbol.

The true heart of a computer is the comparator. A comparator simply compares two values. One of those two values was read from memory previously and the other value is read at the current position in memory.

Now that we have our fundamental blocks we can start creating all the other complications that are common to modern computers. However, I'm out of time now so that will have to wait until later.
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This will be a fascinating project to follow.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.
KJ

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