Historical Fiction Drama

Tracy walked up the numerous steps past the bronze statue of Charles Babbage founder of The Babbage Institute of Computer Technology into a building supported by massive roman columns and plate glass windows. She opened the brass plated doors and the climate controlled air conditioning hushed past her. The ceiling was 20 foot high adorned with multiple crystal tiered chandeliers. This part of the building had been built in the early 1900s and housed exhibits of Babbage’s various computers and computational machines.

Tracy had not the time to wander around looking at the exhibits. She wanted to be at the meeting just a few minutes early being the newest staff member on the public relations team. Tracy had not wanted to be hired for the public relations team. After all she had a doctorate degree in computer science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology but it was a foot in the door at the prestigious institute harboring the world’s most brilliant, best and innovative computer scientists.

As part of the hiring process, Tracy had been required to submit her doctorate thesis and apparently the hiring committee approved of her analytical writing abilities and could foresee her successfully representing the institute. Tracy planned to stay in the position for a short time and apply for technical positions within the institute. She wanted to work on something new and more experimental. Artificial intelligence interested her as well as any work toward the human- android interface computer system. She felt optimistic that she would obtain a technical position in the future.

Tracy was glad she had chosen to wear her best navy blue suit with moderate height block heels. Normally back at her office the dress code was business casual. The meeting attendees were milling around talking quietly outside the conference room door. Tracy had no idea what the agenda of the meeting concerned. There appeared to be representatives from many departments she could tell by their name tags. The conference room doors opened from the inside and there sat the Chief Executive Officer of the institute, his assistant and some other upper echelon that Tracy did not know.

There were coffee and bakery products laid out. The attendees descended upon these and quickly sat down. Tracy felt too self conscious to eat at the meeting and sat down at a table so long that it explained the microphone at the CEO’s chair and some centered up and down on the table. Tracy had never seen a table this large ever. Tracy felt uncomfortable with her blank tablet of paper before her. Others were talking to each other. The gentleman next to her introduced himself and welcomed her to the institute. The CEO’s assistant said “Let’s get started” The man who introduced himself told her that she wouldn’t need the paper and pen. The notes would be emailed by the time she got back from the meeting.

Before Tracy could say anything the wood on the table top seemingly disappeared and in front of her eyes was a computer screen more like an optical illusion as it floated in the air being projected from a source she could not see. This phantom screen responded to her touch just like a three dimensional hard wired computer. The agenda for the meeting appeared on the screen before her. The CEO said “Folks it’s that time a year for our annual fund raising for the Babbage Institute of Technology. I need all of you to contribute your assistance in the excellent manner you have in the past by reaching out to our grantors, our major and minor donors, our sponsors, community organizations and the community at large.”

The CEO explained that the next three months would be used for planning fundraising events and in preparation in contacting the lifelong donors. “We also need to publish our annual report and I want to include a really nice portfolio covering the history of Charles Babbage and the Institute and why he’s so important to computers today. Some of our new contributors may not know this fantastic history or about the amazing exhibits we have here.

"I want photographs of the exhibits in the portfolio as well” the CEO explained. “Audrey...I want your best writer and public relations hound on this” The CEO slapped the desk for emphasis. Audrey the public relations director stated in a strong and confident voice “Yes sir.” She was looking straight at Tracy when she said that and Tracy knew why she was at this meeting. Tracy’s stomach did a flip flop. She was behind the learning curve as she herself did not really know who Charles Babbage was except he is called the “father of the computer.” Where would she start?

Tracy and Audrey walked into the newer wing of the historical building where their office was located. Audrey said this was the most crucial and important time of the year for the institute as their entire operation was supported by grants and contributions from donors. Tracy felt a burden befall her and she felt a rise of panic that she swallowed down. “I’ve only been here a few weeks Audrey. This is a big responsibility. What if I blow it?” Tracy said nervously.

Tracy told her that she had reviewed her writing and it was by far the best that she had seen because Tracy had a way of assisting the reader to understand highly technical terms and processes in a respectful and educational manner without overwhelming the reader. This made for a better reading experience and the institute wanted the donors to understand how important their donations were to the institute. Tracy’s writing could do just that. Make technology more humane.

Tracy sat down in her cubicle with her notepad and started to jot down an outline of what she could possibly write about for the portfolio. Audrey brought some copies of the portfolios from several years for examples which were helpful but none actually connected Charles Babbage inventions with computers. These articles tended to focus more on his personal life and that he was a mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer. Tracy had an idea and she thought it would work. She wanted to write about Babbage’s computers and how they correlate to the computers of today.

As Tracy settled down to sleep that night she decided she would visit the exhibition hall tomorrow for some inspiration as she really had never seen any of Babbage’s designs or computing devices. The thing that amazed Tracy the most was that Babbage was working on these inventions with success in the late 1700s and early 1800s until his death in 1871. The light bulb had not been patented until the 1880s. Tracy slept well enough that night but set her alarm 30 minutes earlier so she could visit the exhibition hall.

Tracy was anxious to get started on writing about Charles Babbage’s contributions to computer science. Tracy found some information on the placard of Babbage’s bronze statue. It read “Babbage originated the concept of a digital programmable computer.” “That sounds like a good start to me.” Tracy thought. Tracy wrote down a couple more notes from the statue and headed on in to the exhibits. A placard on the wall just as she walked in to her right thanked the Science Museum of London for loaning the exhibit.

The first exhibit was a mechanical computer invented by Babbage. It was built from mechanical components such as levers and gears, rather than electronic components. The most common examples are adding machines and mechanical counters, which use the turning of gears to increment output displays. More complex examples could carry out multiplication and division. Manual adding machines were used up into the 1960s and 1970s at stores until the invention of electronic cash registers. Tracy thought people could relate to this and probably never thought that a man from the 1800s invented this machine. Tracy took a photograph with her 35mm digital camera making sure not to capture reflections from the glass case.

The second exhibit was quite large it was a replica of Babbage’s Differences engine. This one would be more difficult to put into easier terms. The placard read “Difference engines are automatic mechanical calculators designed to tabulate polynomial functions. The name, the Difference engine, is derived from the method of divided differences, a way to interpolate or tabulate functions by using a small set of polynomial co-efficient. Some of the most common mathematical functions used in engineering, science and navigation, were, and still are able to be computed with the use of the Difference engine's capability of computing logarithmic and trigonometric functions, which can be approximated by polynomials, so a Difference engine can compute many useful tables of numbers.”

         Tracy decided to narrow the definition down to” Some of the most common mathematical functions used in engineering, science and navigation, were, and still are able to be computed with the use of the Difference engine's capability of computing logarithmic and trigonometric functions. Although it was built in 1820, even today a Difference engine can compute many useful tables and numbers. She may need a way to explain that Babbage’s computers were referred to as engines because of the gears, tabs and moving parts therein.

         The last exhibit Tracy decided to portray in the portfolio as she was going to need to include other topics besides the exhibits was the highlight of the exhibits; the proposed Analytical Engine. The Analytical Engine incorporated an arithmetic logic unit, control flow in the form of conditional branching and loops, and integrated memory, making it the first design for a general-purpose computer that could be described in modern terms as Turing-complete. In other words, the logical structure of the Analytical Engine was essentially the same as that which has dominated computer design in the electronic era. The Analytical Engine is one of the most successful achievements of Charles Babbage.

         Tracy thought after this information she could discuss how far computers have come and include some of the Institute’s award winning innovations and how these innovations have improved life. This would mean Tracy would need to interview members of the staff in other sections of the Institute that weren’t classified. This excited her because she would see firsthand the creation of new technology. She also wanted to include small biographies and photographs of grant receivers and discuss how the grants or funding provided for projects they otherwise would not be able to accomplish without the funds; in example a computer’s interface with a bionic prosthesis.

         Back at her cubicle Tracy began to write. Her mind was teeming with ideas and she decided just to write freely then go back over what she had written and edit it. She took a moment to look at last year’s portfolio and saw there were many things that she did know like the annual expense report. “Am I supposed to do that?”  “Surely not”  she thought. Also there was a list of board members, and names of the people who had donated to the institute last year. There was an article about Computer Scientist of the year who was colleague nominated. She supposed this was a committee. Tracy was beginning to feel overwhelmed.

         Tracy went to Audrey and explained her dilemma. Audrey laughed and explained that Tracy was not responsible for the information for the entire portfolio as other departments contributed. Tracy would need to send out emails stating what she needed with a due date. The finance department was responsible for the annual financial report. Also the public relations team was just that, a team and others on the team could be assigned tasks such as updating the Board of Directors list. Someone could help in completing the biographies that Tracy spoke about doing. Someone else could do an article on Computer Scientist of the year.

         As Tracy went back to her cubicle it was almost the end of the work day and she thought about how much she had learned today about computers in general and how they functioned from Charles Babbage’s engines in the Institutes exhibition hall. She had never before thought about computers beginning as pegs, pulleys and gears but with the ingenuity of human beings the computer was created.

February 20, 2021 21:15

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Gerald Daniels
14:02 Mar 04, 2021

Lovely story, well written and constructed. If I have to make a suggestion it would be not to refer to the main characters name as 'Tracy' quite so often. Maybe sprinkle the text with a few more words like 'she' or 'her'? Just my view though.


Paula Dennison
19:09 Mar 04, 2021

Thank you for reading my story. I appreciate it very much. I think I used Tracy's name too often as well. Sometimes, I'm not sure whether the reader will understand if I put "she" or "her". I will be watchful now.


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