War Machines

July 29, 2011

Fire control computers solve fire control problems.
Individually, these are fascinating: A seven-part instructional series on using the mechanical computers of the second World War to calculate firing solutions for ships engaged in naval battles. The first three videos cover “Shafts, Gears, Cams and Differentials”, the second four are about “Component Solvers, Integrators And Multipliers”, and they’re a stark reminder of how hard it is to solve problems like these on the fly when hardware means milled steel and software doesn’t exist. True to the movies of the time, the well-starched young men demonstrating them don’t move with the urgency you’d expect; the pressure in that room must have been unimaginable in a shooting war, when losing that sprint to another gunship meant a room of hot metal and a hull full of cold water.

I play them all at once, just to listen to the cacophony of conflicting guidance and spinning machines. For some reason, it feels informative.