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September 27, 2008 1:19 PM   Subscribe

What is the history of the ∗∗ operator, used for exponentiation?

The earliest use I can find is with FORTRAN. But I'm wondering, did the FORTRAN designers invent it, or was the operator already in use somewhere else?
posted by king walnut to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm pretty certain that was the first.

FORTRAN is really very early; there isn't a lot before that to borrow from.
posted by Class Goat at 2:02 PM on September 27, 2008


This 1956 manual is the earliest use of ** by fortran I can find documented. Pg. 15.
posted by apathy0o0 at 2:15 PM on September 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I read the 1956 manual already, but I didn't see anything about the history of ∗∗ in there.
posted by king walnut at 7:56 PM on September 27, 2008


I have no proof of this, but...

They might have used ** because there were no other appropriate symbols and * at least suggested multiplication. This page gives a list of available punch card characters:

+-0123456789ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQR/STUVWXYZb=':>V?.)[<§!$*];^±,(v\¶

I don't know about you, but there aren't a whole lot of great choices there!
posted by sbutler at 8:05 PM on September 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ohh... and to why the character set was so limited. The IBM 704 used 6-bit binary coded decimal. That gives you less than a quarter the number of characters 8-bit ASCII has available.
posted by sbutler at 8:07 PM on September 27, 2008


The first programming I did was on punch cards.
FYI, ASCII is a 7-bit code, not 8-bit.
posted by king walnut at 8:27 AM on September 28, 2008


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