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Forgotten Milestones in Computing No. 7: The Quenderghast Bullian Algebraic Calculator (1990)
Alex Stewart

Contributed by Vijay Fafat

A very creative story about a mathematician which History has entirely forgotten - one "Thaddeus Q. Quenderghast III, of Nettlebend, Wyoming". Born around 1821, a contemporary of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace (with whom he is implied to have had a relationship "that raises more questions than answers"). He was a child prodigy, showing "an early and precocious aptitude for the more abstruse areas of higher mathematics, solving the four color problem one afternoon during a finger-painting exercise" (nice touch!). By chance, he inherits about seventy square miles of farmland replete with cattle and one day, while musing over Boolean algebra, realizes that the gates on the cattle pens can represent binary switches and the presence or absence of an animal in the pen as a 0/1. From there, it is a very short conceptual leap into the creation of the world's first true computer...driven by a system of fences, gates, mirrors, sentry-posts and a special mathematical code devised by Thaddeus to speed up communication; at one point, the cattle-computer is able to calculate pi to 4 decimal places!

Beyond the great title and a very lovely idea, it should make interesting comparison to Sean McMullen's "Souls in the Great Machine" and AC Clarke's "Into The Comet", where human calculators work in parallel to form a large-scale computer.

Appeared in Digital Dreams, edited by David V. Barrett (NEL 1990).

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Works Similar to Forgotten Milestones in Computing No. 7: The Quenderghast Bullian Algebraic Calculator
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land by John Crowley
  2. Doing our Babbage by Ira Slobodien
  3. The Difference Engine by William Gibson / Bruce Sterling
  4. Shooting the Sun by Max Byrd
  5. Conceiving Ada by Lynn Hershman-Leeson
  6. Into the Comet by Arthur C. Clarke
  7. Quicksilver: The Baroque Cycle Volume 1 by Neal Stephenson
  8. Algorithms and Nasal Structures by Lois H. Gresh
  9. Souls in the Great Machine by Sean McMullen
  10. The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua
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GenreHistorical Fiction, Humorous,
MotifProdigies, Real Mathematicians,
TopicComputers/Cryptography, Fictional Mathematics,
MediumShort Stories,

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