Before electronic computers people built mechanical computers to perform specific mathematical operations. One such machine was this Albert Michelson’s Harmonic Analyzer. This 19th century machine adds together cosines to create intricate patterns. Amazingly, it also does the inverse operation. It can take a pattern and reveal the cosines that when added together will approximate it. This operation is called Fourier analysis and it is possibly the most important mathematical technique of the past 100 years without Fourier analysis there would be no MP3s, JPEGs or cell phones as we know them today. To celebrate this stunning machine and to gain a greater insight into what Fourier analysis is and how it works I’ll share in this video some history of this analyzer and then in three additional videos detail its operation. In Synthesis, I go step-by-step and examine the key components of the machine and how each plays its part in adding cosines. In Analysis, I show you how the machine uses the same mechanical motions to find the frequency components of a signal you want to analyze. And in Operation, I show the steps an operator of this machine must go through to perform these calculations. This machine’s designer Albert Michelson was famous for measuring the speed of light yet he also measured many other properties of the universe precisely like the diameter of stars or the rigidity of the earth. In the late 19th century he performed Fourier analysis by hand to help resolve fine details of the light emitted by vaporized elements he was doing an early version of Fourier transform spectroscopy! These hand calculations were laborious so he invented this machine to automate these calculations. He built a prototype machine similar to this one in 1897 and then a larger prototype four times the size a year later. The machine was then commercialized by William Gaertner and Company. They made precision scientific instruments often designed by Michelson. In their 1904 catalog they advertised this machine which can add up to 20 different sinusoids as well as a larger version that calculated with 80 sinusoids. We know that in the early 20th century Gaertner sold at least four of these machines and based on that it seems this 20-element machine sold for around $225 dollars, and that it was likely made between 1901 and 1910. After this period the machines are mentioned only occasionally. We’ve found pictures of several different configurations until it made one last public appearance in an improved form at the 1933 World’s Fair in The Great Hall of Science in an exhibit called “The Magic of Analysis.” Our machine has an unknown history we’re not sure when it arrived here on the University of Illinois campus. We only know that for at least the last 40 years it has set in a glass case in Altgeld Hall its gears completely still. Join me as I bring back to life this stunning mechanical computer. I’m Bill Hammack the engineer guy. Watch the other videos in this series: synthesis analysis and operation. Click here to learn more about the book and posters that accompany the videos. Here we go page by page through the entire book and point out some extra details. And here you can sit back and watch the rockers arm move up and down over and over.

(1/4) Intro/History: Introducing a 100-year-old mechanical computer
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100 thoughts on “(1/4) Intro/History: Introducing a 100-year-old mechanical computer

  • November 11, 2014 at 6:55 pm
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    This is so freak'n cool. Thank you so much for doing this video. Never knew this machine existed. Excellent quality and excellent content. Thumbs up everybody! Do it!

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  • November 11, 2014 at 7:12 pm
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    gear porn!  CAN'T WAIT!
    Sheer brilliance to design and a masterpiece to behold.

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  • November 11, 2014 at 7:21 pm
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    I love your videos.  Unfortunately, I can best sum up my understanding of their content with this phrase, "My cat's breath smells like cat food."

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  • November 11, 2014 at 8:01 pm
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    more stuff to look forward to

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  • November 11, 2014 at 8:59 pm
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    always nice to see where our modern existence is from

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  • November 11, 2014 at 9:09 pm
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    I am so glad you're back to making videos. you give me more reasons in pursuing my career as an engineer. 

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  • November 11, 2014 at 9:32 pm
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    > he did fourier analysis by hand
    > and then built a machine to do it
    Mad respect, yo. I've probably never meant it more than now.

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  • November 11, 2014 at 10:50 pm
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    thankyou for this series +engineerguy so fascinating! 

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  • November 11, 2014 at 11:04 pm
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    Having been a beta reader of the book. I can only look forward to this video series.

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  • November 11, 2014 at 11:25 pm
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    My body is ready. This series is gonna be amazing =D 

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  • November 12, 2014 at 12:16 am
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    can it run crysis?

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  • November 12, 2014 at 12:40 am
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    Love your videos

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  • November 12, 2014 at 1:38 am
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    I am looking forward to this. Also glad to see some more content here!

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  • November 12, 2014 at 1:59 am
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    I thought you went on hiatus again. I look forward to seeing this series of videos.

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  • November 12, 2014 at 2:34 am
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    This looks so awesome

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  • November 12, 2014 at 2:53 am
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    It's so good to have you back!!! Looking forward to all your future videos

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  • November 12, 2014 at 4:28 am
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    Wow cool

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  • November 12, 2014 at 4:50 am
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    Be amazed as I computer 20 sinusoids simultaneously!

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  • November 12, 2014 at 5:14 am
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    Wow! Can't wait for this mini-series!

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  • November 12, 2014 at 5:16 am
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    I hope the other videos are like 15-20 minutes long each!

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  • November 12, 2014 at 7:02 am
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    Oh this is wonderful! Looking forward to the other videos!

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  • November 12, 2014 at 5:34 pm
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    Very neat, I've never seen this in Altgeld. I'll have to go look around for it. 

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  • November 12, 2014 at 7:32 pm
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    this is co cool!  we use Fourier analysis and Fourier transformations in the chemistry lab literally every day, can't do anything without it really.

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  • November 12, 2014 at 10:43 pm
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    Back when they did some real engineering

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  • November 13, 2014 at 4:21 am
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    Man…I've got 120+ subscriptions and I find that I get most excited when @engineerguy updates.

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  • November 13, 2014 at 8:04 am
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    I want one. Sure, the book, yeah, but I mean the machine. I want one of those machines. I might have found the thing I actually want to use a 3d printer to make. 

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  • November 13, 2014 at 11:12 am
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    The quality of your videos is always astounding.
    I always get excited when I see your face in my sub-feed!

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  • November 13, 2014 at 12:40 pm
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    This is fantastic 

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  • November 13, 2014 at 3:19 pm
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    Why did you plan these videos for once a week, then release them all together?

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  • November 13, 2014 at 4:10 pm
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    When engineerguy's content reminds you of old Discovery or History, and is loads better than what is on those channels today, it makes you wonder. Engineerguy, you're awesome. Never stop making videos! Unless, ya know, you hate science. Just kidding.

    Edit: I forgot he was based out of U of I! May have to pay a visit!

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  • November 13, 2014 at 10:15 pm
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    I do enjoy all of your videos. I have been a subscriber for many years, but I miss the wittiness and charm of the old videos. I enjoy when you get lighthearted and funny. I will always look forward to new videos!

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  • November 15, 2014 at 5:01 am
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    These videos, both the information/delivery and editing, were fantastic, great work Bill!

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  • November 15, 2014 at 7:31 am
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    YES! Oh man…. to apply such a device to audio!

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  • November 15, 2014 at 5:39 pm
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    Oh so this is the analogue version of harmor!

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  • November 15, 2014 at 6:43 pm
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    Albert Michelson must be Bill Murray's grandpa.

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  • November 15, 2014 at 10:23 pm
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    Thank god for the AFRICANS who invented this, and the internal combustion engine, the Spinning Jenny, the Industrial Revolution, modern medicine, modern agriculture, air travel, space travel,computers, satellites, anaesthetics, etc.

    Oh, wait…

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  • November 17, 2014 at 1:06 am
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    How about the electronic analog computers of the 60's?

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  • November 17, 2014 at 7:32 pm
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    I'm amazed with the genius thinking of people from the past without computer aided programming, I think they were more skillful than today's…

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  • November 17, 2014 at 11:43 pm
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    i understand the uses of fourier analysis today but what practical use did it have 100 years back when machine was made or was it just for scientific purposes?

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  • November 18, 2014 at 9:45 am
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    I am such a nerd for things like this… that's my kind of channel, fascinating! 

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  • November 18, 2014 at 11:03 am
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    In 2008 I took a couple pictures of a similar machine at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.  It appears to have about 100 rocker arms and a series of pulleys for summing the outputs.  It is fascinating to learn how it works and was used.  The exhibit had no explanation at all.

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  • November 18, 2014 at 10:57 pm
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    Great video!

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  • November 20, 2014 at 3:08 am
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    Great video series loved it

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  • November 20, 2014 at 7:57 pm
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    It’s machines like this that makes me wonder, are we just really rediscovering or reinventing things that have already existed in a different form? That and how steam-punk may not have been that far off from how it could have been. I can totally see this running on steam. As for the book, the equations Michelson used in designing the machine looks suspiciously close to the equations used for addition and subtraction when applied to a slide rule. If true, does that mean log approximations are possible? Hell, Fourier’s work is based on Taylor series expansion with allow for polynomial approximation of a function, so surly it’s possible right?

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  • December 6, 2014 at 2:29 am
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    amazing math and mechanical

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  • January 3, 2015 at 3:30 pm
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    Simply fascinating! The sophistication of 19th century mechanical devices is mind boggling.

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  • February 14, 2015 at 12:35 am
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    Man I wish I could subscribe to your channel a million times, your show is fantastic!!! 

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  • February 17, 2015 at 12:42 am
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    I'm geeking out over these videos 😀 I love the clock-punk of these old, bronze-filled gadgets. Thank you for taking us into a journey of geek-level detail to how these marvels work.

    Reply
  • February 18, 2015 at 6:51 am
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    Wow! Truly fascinating piece of machinery. I wish they would've taught this stuff in school.

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  • March 15, 2015 at 5:12 pm
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    This is a brilliant device, and your narration is impeccable. I spent a lot of time in the same building as that thing and had no idea it existed! It would make a great field trip for ECE210 to walk over and see it, even if it is behind glass.

    It's very rare to see tangible representations of abstract math processes like this. Most analog machines for computation are antiquated or out of sight, which makes seeing them extra surprising. They demonstrate concepts in a way that can increase and diversify one's field of understanding.

    Your videos are excellent. Thank you!

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  • April 15, 2015 at 9:19 am
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    This is a magnificent piece of mechanical engineering. What would be fantastic to see is somebody attempting to reconstruct this with LEGO. Performing a quick Google search didn't yield anything yet.

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  • April 19, 2015 at 12:32 pm
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    Phew! Its easier to code.

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  • April 23, 2015 at 6:02 pm
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    As a fellow chemical engineer, and clock repair hobbyist, this video makes me want to cry. The beauty of the engineering of this machine and the immense amount of work put towards finding an answer to a problem is just staggering.
    Also, these videos are put together beautifully. Well done Bill and to your team as well!

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  • April 24, 2015 at 11:20 am
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    This is amazing – I knew about Michelson from the Michelson-Morley Experiment, but I had not previously heard of his contribution to the early efforts to build computing devices.

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  • May 9, 2015 at 3:57 pm
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    wow. engineeringuy is the most astonishing channel which I have been experienced in youtube.

    Reply
  • May 30, 2015 at 12:11 am
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    Has anyone made any efforts towards using 3D printing to make a working harmonic analyzer? I was wanting to 3D print a working mechanical clock, but this might be an even more interesting project.

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  • June 6, 2015 at 5:39 pm
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    what incredible contraption

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  • June 20, 2015 at 6:24 pm
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    Nicely done—Thank You.

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  • July 11, 2015 at 11:03 pm
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    @Emad Saeed

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  • August 3, 2015 at 12:44 am
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    Patreon? D:

    Reply
  • August 9, 2015 at 10:42 pm
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    just finished the whole series on this amazing machine. The presentation and explanations are fantastic

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  • September 28, 2015 at 6:52 pm
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    i am so amazed right now! thank you for this video series!

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  • December 19, 2015 at 10:25 pm
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    I have to say, I sometimes look at people around me, and honestly wonder how we have me it so far. Heard someone say, we are circling the drain. However true or pessimistic that might be, I find strength and faith in people like Albert Michelson. Not for the singular great thing they have given us, but that there are those amongst us that do things that looks like magic to us, but in reality move us as humans forward. They are almost always forgotten for what they did and companies using what they invented to reap in money and glory.
    These unsung hero's, (imho) fascinates me.
    I love the work you, Bill and the team does. Besides the above, I love my mind working and following what you show us.

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  • January 7, 2016 at 9:00 am
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    Fill in the blanks.

    _______ing kids in _______ could've ________ that.

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  • February 12, 2016 at 5:39 pm
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    Congrats for your videos! they are impressive and inspiring at the same time! I use them to show the amazing components of technology to my 10 years old son! Please continue surprising us!!!

    Reply
  • March 6, 2016 at 12:31 am
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    I want to know What was the purpose for building this machine at that time? I know FFT is very important now.

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  • June 3, 2016 at 11:14 pm
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    The cochlea from the inner ear represents a real time (lag free) mechanical Fourier analyser!

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  • June 15, 2016 at 6:55 pm
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    100 years later we have computers which can do this much mire easier and precisely. Very interesting channel

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  • June 23, 2016 at 5:01 am
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    What? We have this cool thing at U of I? Where is it at Altgeld? I would really like to see it.

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  • June 23, 2016 at 11:55 pm
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    HaHa! I just found this machine yesterday!

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  • July 3, 2016 at 1:28 am
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    Just , wow!

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  • July 6, 2016 at 7:40 am
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    i went to uiuc, and this thing was in the altgeld hallway. i always wanted to see it in action!

    Reply
  • July 7, 2016 at 1:50 pm
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    This is so professional and entertaining! I appreciate so much that this channel has shown. Every video is so informative. In example, there is this video about "How how does a cellphone tell up/down" and i was "meeh skip that, not interested" but then eventually i watch and i was mind blown.The very specific science in them is well phase that any Joe (like me) can grasp. And if i don't understand i am very motivated to repeat the previous seconds to understand them Maths. Thank you fine Sir!

    Reply
  • August 18, 2016 at 3:01 am
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    Wow I would just be amazed to have something so inspiring as this at my university. U of I really has some amazing stuff (and professors too!!).
    Thanks Bill for making these fantastic and inspirational videos that are at everyone's reach. Truly remarkable work.

    Reply
  • December 30, 2016 at 2:08 am
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    Fascinating, actually a good machine to teach Fourier transforms!

    I understand that Lord Kelvin built something similar in the day, using side-slipping wheels on rotating discs to do the integrations, to analyze tidal patterns.

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  • February 3, 2017 at 9:56 pm
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    I wish you would show how an enigma encoder works!!

    Reply
  • February 17, 2017 at 7:51 am
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    i want to build things

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  • April 15, 2017 at 6:01 am
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    Well done series! Very clear instruction. You have a great voice too.

    Reply
  • May 20, 2017 at 12:47 am
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    would make a cool kit to order

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  • August 25, 2017 at 1:45 pm
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    This channel is really educative,,
    Never see other channel done this before

    Reply
  • September 20, 2017 at 4:08 am
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    Ah dawg, you make some dope vids, solid shit. Stay grinding.

    Reply
  • October 10, 2017 at 10:34 am
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    Your video may have been stolen. https://youtu.be/GyYflzRVu6M

    Reply
  • December 9, 2017 at 8:13 pm
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    When did Mark Hamill get so smart?

    Reply
  • January 24, 2018 at 1:00 am
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    But seriously, who is down voting this guy? What could you possibly find in engineering videos to down vote? Maybe hypocritical luddites reluctantly using the internet?

    Reply
  • February 21, 2018 at 1:31 am
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    $225 in 1913, adjusted for inflation where 1913 is the earliest we have data for, would translate to $5,690 in 2018

    Reply
  • April 13, 2018 at 7:53 am
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    Thank you so much for this. I've always loved mechanical and early transistor computers. Huge contribution to the computer history here from you and monumental to see this machine come alive after so long.

    Reply
  • May 6, 2018 at 6:32 pm
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    "Furier is making my life god damn hard" – an engeenering student

    Reply
  • August 28, 2018 at 12:22 am
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    My first computer program of any significance was one that added up the sin wave harmonics with coefficients to plot out the resulting square wave in asterisks on a TI thermal printing terminal. That was in 1975. I learned Fourier analysis in 1968 in college and have been fascinated with it ever since.

    My ham radio transceiver is an SDR that does repeated FFTs to show me the spectrum of the band. I have yet to grasp how FFTs work. It's always fascinating to see this topic presented in as many ways as possible to continue to strengthen my understanding. Thanks for these lessons!

    Reply
  • September 13, 2018 at 10:01 pm
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    but can it run Crysis ?

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  • October 27, 2018 at 12:59 am
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    what's the difference between sin and cosin again? sorry for being stupid

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  • November 2, 2018 at 11:57 pm
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    This thing doesn't even have Minesweeper.

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  • January 30, 2019 at 1:48 am
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    Course the inventor was an Albert. No disrespect to the guy I love him just making a joke.

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  • January 30, 2019 at 4:55 pm
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    Can it run crysis?

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  • February 24, 2019 at 11:06 pm
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    Pls do how granade works..

    Reply
  • February 25, 2019 at 2:48 am
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    Has anyone a demo of the henrici analyzer?

    Reply
  • March 20, 2019 at 5:36 pm
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    I would like to see a video about the function of the Curta Calculator from you.

    Reply
  • April 10, 2019 at 2:51 pm
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    In today's announcement of the black hole image, the scientist remarked that the image processing eventually relied on an anonymous 200-year-old equation. Guess which one.

    Reply
  • April 28, 2019 at 2:18 am
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    I had a vocabulary aneurysm in this video.

    Reply
  • June 21, 2019 at 10:36 pm
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    This 4 video series has warmed my soul.

    Reply

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