Sunday, October 20, 2013

The French Revolution had some good points

There was one project of the French Revolution that would definately have been a service to human kind.

France's first full team of computers, however—people making calculations in an organized network that would foreshadow computers of a more mechanical variety—was assembled in the early 1790s by Gaspard de Prony, the engineer and mathematician who would be known, later on, for his work with hydraulics. These human computers had a typically France-post-revolution assignment: to produce logarithmic and trigonometric tables that would help France in its work of decimalizing trigonometry. (The goal? To do for angle measurements what the metric system was doing for mass and length, democratizing measurement for a new republic.)

That would have been a wonderful advance and one wonders why it never happened. I had until recently assumed that there was some logical reason that we measure angles in geometry on the basis of a 360 degree system but it turn out that is was just an historical accident due to the Babylonians.

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