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Bruce Parker, former Chief Scientist and eleven-year veteran of NOAA’s National Ocean Service, wrote this fascinating article in the September issue of Physics Today. It covers the technical history of the science of tide prediction leading up to the beautiful mechanical computers developed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to quickly extrapolate recorded tide patterns into useful predictions, and goes on to explain how those computers were critical in planning the Normandy landings. The images accompanying the article are not to be missed; infographics geeks in particular will appreciate Figure 4. Tidal and illumination diagram for Omaha Beach, 5–21 June 1944.

Maggie’s coverage on Boing Boing includes some cool bonus resource links.

Sean Michael Ragan

Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and makezine.com. My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c’t – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.


  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UF7G2LQI427TUOMYNHOEPSRRVU Hank

    If you thought that was neat…U.S. Navy Analog Fire Control Computers http://youtu.be/_8aH-M3PzM0
    (Be sure to watch the entire series. Its like a mini bachelors in mechanical engineering.)

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UF7G2LQI427TUOMYNHOEPSRRVU Hank

    If you thought that was neat…U.S. Navy Analog Fire Control Computers http://youtu.be/_8aH-M3PzM0
    (Be sure to watch the entire series. Its like a mini bachelors in mechanical engineering.)

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3QTY7RGSRFP7UUVULGE53T7MWI Gregg

    Interesting. The best though are managing the Observatory at Palomar Mountain. There are regular digital ones working, but the mechanical ones are hanging around in case the digital ones crash.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3QTY7RGSRFP7UUVULGE53T7MWI Gregg

    Interesting. The best though are managing the Observatory at Palomar Mountain. There are regular digital ones working, but the mechanical ones are hanging around in case the digital ones crash.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3QTY7RGSRFP7UUVULGE53T7MWI Gregg

    Interesting. The best though are managing the Observatory at Palomar Mountain. There are regular digital ones working, but the mechanical ones are hanging around in case the digital ones crash.

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