The Babbage Difference Engine

Sunday, September 30, 2012 0 comments

The Computer History Museum has a copy of the Babbage Difference Engine built in London.
The machine does what its designer intended and it does it well.  This is beautiful machine, elegant and complex, it embodies one of my prime Steampunk aesthetics, that the workings of machines are beautiful as well as functional.
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

The Babbage Engine at The Computer History Museum
Charles Babbage (1791-1871), computer pioneer, designed the first automatic computing engines. He invented computers but failed to build them. The first complete Babbage Engine was completed in London in 2002, 153 years after it was designed. Difference Engine No. 2, built faithfully to the original drawings, consists of 8,000 parts, weighs five tons, and measures 11 feet long.
We invite you to learn more about this extraordinary object, its designer Charles Babbage and the team of people who undertook to build it. Discover the wonder of a future already passed. A sight no Victorian ever saw.
An identical Engine completed in March 2008 is on display at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.
Here is the engine in action.

Tesla's Last Home

Saturday, September 29, 2012 0 comments

I just started reading a fascinating book:
Nikola Tesla, My Inventions and other writings compiled by Samantha Hunt
This book is a collection of articles written by Tesla himself and published in the Electrical Experimenter Magazine starting in 1919.
I will be reviewing it more later, but the description of the hotel that Tesla lived in for the last ten years of his life is interesting:

He spent the last ten years of his life in the Hotel New Yorker.  When it opened in 1930 it was the tallest building in New York City, a monument to the ambition and decadence of the Jazz Age.  At forty three stories high, it had its own power generator. The kitchen was an entire acre. There were five restaurants, ten private dinning rooms, two ballrooms and an indoor ice skating rink. Conveyor belts whisked dirty dishes through secret passageways down to fully automated dishwashers. Four stories below ground, bedsheets and tableclothes were miraculously laundered, dried, ironed, and folded without ever touching a human hand. Everything about the hotel was efficient, futuristic. It was perfect for Tesla-- except by the time he arrived in New York in 1933, he was destitute.
Keep your sightglass full your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

The Lost Map of the Hindenburg


New info on the Hindenburg disaster at the Smithsonian.
Thanks to my buddy Grant Zelych for spotting this one!
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

The Lost Map of the Hindenburg

Mechanical Computers in the US Navy

Friday, September 28, 2012 0 comments

Following on from yesterdays video post of Mechanical Principles by Ralph Steiner.
This video has lots of interesting mechanism that could be useful for my Absinthium project.
In this case these mechanisms are used for computation in the fire control systems of US Navy Warships. An interesting solution to the continuous calculations necessary to target a moving ship!
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Mechanical Computers in the US Navy.
Lots of good information on how calculations are performed with gears and shafts cool

Mechanisms in action Ralph Steiner

Thursday, September 27, 2012 0 comments

This video is a section from Mechanical Principles by Ralph Steiner done in 1930.
Lots of funky motions and mechanisms here.
Could be useful for my Absinthium project.
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

The full version is here:Ralph Steiner Mechanical Principles 1930

From the YouTube page:
This is my favorite 4min selection of a larger work by Ralph Steiner. The original was silent, and the DVD had it set to classical music. I have swapped the audio for an electronica/industrial track by 3 Liquid Hz - Little Boy.

Favorite movements:
@ 1:16 - counter mechanism
@ 2:55 - normal gears, but cut to engage on diagonals
@ 3:37 - SQUARE GEARS!
@ 3:41 - variable speed transfer
@ 3:46 - rotary to linear action with a 4 tooth cog

The Hansen Writing Ball, 1870


Found this gem at The Virtual Typewriter Museum.
This site has lots of good information, history, technical detail, and photos of Typewriters.
The section on the Hansen Writing Ball is fascinating.
From Hansen writing ball of 1870

Several people may carry the title of inventor of the typewriter. Several typewriters may fight over the title of first production machine. Only two machines are regarded as 'the holy grail of typewriters'. The Hansen name is the only one to compete strongly in all three categories.
Although the Sholes & Glidden is generally regarded as the first production typewriter in history, the Hansen writing ball in fact beat the S&G by no less than four years. The reverend Rasmus Hans Malling Johan Hansen (1835-1890) worked as a teacher and as director of an institution for the deaf and dumb in Copenhagen. It was his desire to enable his pupils to 'speak with their fingers' that led him to develop his writing ball.
Typing and carriage return of the Hansen writing ball.
There are so many amazing aspects about this machine, that Hansen certainly deserves the title of 'inventor' as much as Sholes or Mitterhofer did. And finally, with an effective auction value of over 120,000 euros (april 2002), the Hansen claim to be the Holy Grail of Typewriters is no joke. And one look at the machine makes it clear that it is without a doubt the single most beautiful typewriter ever made.
Continued ...

Beautiful indeed!
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Close Call in 1883!


Sometimes looking back in History can be pretty scary.
If this analysis is correct this was a very  near miss?
There have been many extinction events in Earth's history, most are safely buried millions of years in the past, but this one was pretty close to our time!

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your EYES ON THE SKIES!

Billion Tonne Comet May Have Missed Earth By A Few Hundred Kilometers in 1883
A re-analysis of historical observations suggest Earth narrowly avoided an extinction event just over a hundred years ago

From: Technology Review at MIT

On 12th and 13th August 1883, an astronomer at a small observatory in Zacatecas in Mexico made an extraordinary observation. José Bonilla counted some 450 objects, each surrounded by a kind of mist, passing across the face of the Sun.

Bonilla published his account of this event in a French journal called L'Astronomie in 1886. Unable to account for the phenomenon, the editor of the journal suggested, rather incredulously, that it must have been caused by birds, insects or dust passing front of the Bonilla's telescope. (Since then, others have adopted Bonilla's observations as the first evidence of UFOs.)

Today, Hector Manterola at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City, and a couple of pals, give a different interpretation. They think that Bonilla must have been seeing fragments of a comet that had recently broken up. This explains the 'misty' appearance of the pieces and why they were so close together.

But there's much more that Manterola and co have deduced. They point out that nobody else on the planet seems to have seen this comet passing in front of the Sun, even though the nearest observatories in those days were just a few hundred kilometres away.

That can be explained using parallax. If the fragments were close to Earth, parallax would have ensured that they would not have been in line with the Sun even for observers nearby. And since Mexico is at the same latitude as the Sahara, northern India and south-east Asia, it's not hard to imagine that nobody else was looking.

Manterola and pals have used this to place limits on how close the fragments must have been: between 600 km and 8000 km of Earth. That's just a hair's breadth.

What's more, Manterola and co estimate that these objects must have ranged in size from 50 to 800 metres across and that the parent comet must originally have tipped the scales at a billion tonnes or more, that's huge, approaching the size of Halley's comet.

That's an eye opening re-examination of the data. Astronomers have seen a number of other comets fragment. The image above shows the Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 comet which broke apart as it re-entered the inner Solar System in 2006. There's no reason why such fragments couldn't pass close by Earth.

One puzzle is why nobody else saw this comet. It must have been particularly dull to have escaped observation before and after its close approach. However, Manterola and co suggest that it may have been a comet called Pons-Brooks seen that same year by American astronomers.

Manterola and co end their paper by spelling out just how close Earth may have come to catastrophe that day. They point out that Bonilla observed these objects for about three and a half hours over two days. This implies an average of 131 objects per hour and a total of 3275 objects in the time between observations.

Each fragment was at least as big as the one thought to have hit Tunguska. Manterola and co end with this: "So if they had collided with Earth we would have had 3275 Tunguska events in two days, probably an extinction event."

A sobering thought.

Ref: Interpretation Of The Observations Made In 1883 In Zacatecas (Mexico): A Fragmented Comet That Nearly Hits The Earth


Wednesday, September 26, 2012 0 comments

I received this lovely coffee table book entitled simply Engineers, from my wife Jayne for my birthday.

Bound in a gold metalic cover with the iconic Brooklyn Bridge embossed into it, this is a real treasure.
Like most such massive books this isn't the kind of thing one sits down to read cover to cover, and one could quibble a bit over what Engineers and inventions are included.  
However as the subtitle says...

From the Great Pyramids to the Pioneers of Space Travel

This book covers a lot of ground!

The book is written as a series of individual articles chronicling the course of technological development from ancient times right up to present day.  What I find most fascinating is that just like the Industrial Revolutionaries that I reviewed a few days ago, this book includes lots of biographical detail for the inventors. Although because each section is relatively short, 1-2 pages each, the details provided are in the context of the inventions being discussed.

Lots of fine illustrations, including historic photographs and detailed diagrams, are included.

The book has five sections each covering a historical time period:
  1. The Early Engineers
  2. Renaissance and Enlightenment
  3. The Industrial Revolution
  4. The Machine Age
  5. Modern Times
Each section starts with an full two page introduction, which includes an illustrated timeline placing the major innovations into a chronological context. Then follows sections divided by the technological developments themselves. Since many of these occurred in parallel they are dealt with individually in sections with an article devoted to each Engineer.
For example here is the section on Steam Engines from Section 3, "The Industrial Revolution"

Developing the Steam Engine 
  1. James Watt
  2. Watt's Workshop
  3. Oliver Evans
  4. Jacob Perkins
  5. Richard Trevithick
  6. Ernst Alban
From the back cover;
Scientists investigate that which already is; Engineers create that which has never been.
--Albert Einstein

An epic visual guide to the World's greatest engineers and their groundbreaking achievements -- From the ancient Roman aqueducts to the Large Hadron Collider

A lush and lavish book to really spend some quality time with, although it probably wouldn't be a good book for reading in bed! 
Highly recommended.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

From the Great Pyramids to the Pioneers of Space Travel

Edited by Adam Hart-Davis

Dorling Kindersley Limited



Amazon Link

Absinthium Water Cooler


Here's another component that might add some interest...

As part of the water reservoir there could be a refrigeration section that cools the water.

An "old fashioned" mechanical, air heat pump could chill the water. This would need to be "pumped down" significantly before use. I would need a second power section, possibly a chain driven section on the opposite side.

The idea here is that when setting up a "minion" could spin the cooler section at fairly high speed to drop the temperature in a brine container as close to zero as possible.

Then as the Absinthe is prepared the water being dispensed would pass through a coil in the chilled brine.
A temperature gauge on the brine container would indicate when it needs to be pumped down again during use.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced. biggrin

Click here to see the other Absinthium posts.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012 0 comments

This poem, Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley has always resonated with me:

I met a traveller from an antique land.
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away".
There is a danger in writing too much of ones own achievements as the future may look upon them in a much different light.

This poem written by Horace Smith in 1818, also talking of Ozymandias, points out a similar if larger view:
In Egypt's sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:
I am great Ozymandias, saith the stone,
The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
The wonders of my hand.
— The City's gone,
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder, and some hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when through the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the wolf in chase,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race,
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.
Where will all our technical marvels go when their workings are forgotten?
There is something to be said for human scale technologies, where the workings are vissible and understandable by inspection.
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

The First Atlantic Liners


This book is a history of the development of transatlantic shipping in the period when steam power overtook sail.

The book is not only a chronological history, with excellent photographs and line illustrations, but also a technical analysis of the developments that changed intercontinental transport forever. The routes between Europe and North America are stormy and the adoption of steam power brought a new regularity and reliability to the movement of people and goods. The technical challenges in design of ships and engines, as well as ship handling, communications and business practices are all outlined in detail in this masterwork.

Written by Peter Allington, a Master Mariner, and Dr Basil Greenhill, Director of the National Maritime Museum in England, I highly recommend this book if you are interested in the transition from Sail to Steam in the late 19th century.

The First Atlantic Liners
Seamanship in the Age of
Paddle Wheel, Sail and Screw

Peter Allington
Dr Basil Greenhill

Conway Maritime Press



Amazon Link
The First Atlantic Liners

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Computer, made of wood!

Monday, September 24, 2012 0 comments

Mechanical laser-cut gear fractal computer

Brent Thome, a computer scientist in San Francisco, is building a mechanical computer out of beautiful, laser-cut gears that will compute and draw fractals. He's documenting as he goes in a fascinating blog, in which he also recounts his adventures with kinetic wooden sculpture.

Brent Thorne's Blog is here:
Fractal Clockwork

Musings on the metaphysical nature of computing.

Theory of Operation
I could tell you that it took years and years of research and development to create a theory of computation that could be implemented in wood, but alias it would be untrue. The idea was formed after only a few reductions and one night when I couldn't get to sleep. You see, computers are much simpler than our teachers might of taught us in school. You don't even need the Boolean logic primitives to create a computer. These so called primitives are merely symbolic.

The most primitive computer is comprised of only two parts and from these two parts we can create all others. Those two parts are memory and a comparator. Some may claim that any practical computer must also have input and output, but that just is memory, or registers, memory again, or an ALU, nope that's a comparator.

We can further delineate memory into two types, read-only and read-write. We need the read-write type of memory to store temporary values for comparison. For example, read-write memory could be a toggle or counter. Read-only memory is convenient for storing tables or a program, however these two examples are symbolic and not necessary for computation. An example of read-only memory is pegs in a disc, where the presents of a peg represents a symbol.

The true heart of a computer is the comparator. A comparator simply compares two values. One of those two values was read from memory previously and the other value is read at the current position in memory.

Now that we have our fundamental blocks we can start creating all the other complications that are common to modern computers. However, I'm out of time now so that will have to wait until later.

This will be a fascinating project to follow.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Victorian and Steampunk Name Generator


There are several name generators out on the web.
Here are a couple with some examples of their output.

Victorian & Steampunk Name Generator by Spencer Rhodes
This one is nice because you can set the number of names.
Professor Coote B. Balls Esq.
Professor Hamo Songthrush Towell Esq.
Commander Reynold Tymperley Chiffchaff III
Fleet Adm. Nellie Darcy Guilfoyle
Dr. Gloria Wigley Royston

Victorian Name Generator
Merrit Necket
Elwin Kerslake
Bulah Thorndale
Orpha Downham

This page Victorian Era Names, a Writer's Guide
Has a great couple of lists of names taken from actual Victorian census lists.

The Ship Namer at Seventh Sanctum
Katie's Vigilance
The Brandon
The Duke
The Nomad
The Philosopher Sheila

Update Mar 5' 2014
A lovely little name generator from:
Dark Charity and Clever Jeanette

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Steam Powered!

Sunday, September 23, 2012 0 comments

Amazing steam powered creations by I-Wei Huang, Crabfu Steamworks.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

The Industrial Revolutionaries


This book is a fascinating look at the history of the "Industrial Revolution". 

It is written using the stories of the people involved more than the technical details of the inventions and systems that created our modern world.  I have lots of technical books, but this one is a great read, mainly because it is the social and personal "glue" that held all the technical changes together.
For me the amazing links in time, between many of these interesting, eccentric, brilliant, and sometimes tragic, characters, helps to bring the Industrial Revolution into better focus.
From the jacket blurb:

The conventional story of the Industrial Revolution is that of the tinkering inventor who makes a discovery that sets in motion a process of incredible change: Watt and his steam engine, Eli Whitney and his cotton gin, or Samuel Morse's telegraph.  But that dusty narrative, with it's dry collection of dates, eureka moments, and the ensuing lifeless march of machines is turned on its head in The Industrial Revolutionaries, Gavin Weightman's tour-de-force of social history. For as Weightman shows, the Industrial Revolution was nothing less than a period with the most dramatic, profound, and rapid change in the history of the world.  
Highly recommended addition to the bookshelf!

The Industrial Revolutionaries 
The making of the Modern World
Gavin Weightman
Grove Press
New York

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

A lovely Autumn Flannery...


Saturday, being a wonderfully bright Autumn afternoon, I decided to have a Flannery (Victorian parlance for a wander with no particular purpose) down to the Studio Crawl in the Inglewood neighbourhood of Calgary.

It was pretty quiet compared to last year but still very interesting, with sculpture, printmaking, weaving, spinning, painting an even some Steampunk awesomeness from Jeff de Boer.

I was in "full steam" so attracted a fair amount of attention from both attendees and artists. I gave out all the cards I had, plus gave many people our Meetup web address. Hopefully we will get some interested members.

I did notice that there is a fair amount of knowledge about Steampunk in the general arts community here. However many were surprised that Calgary has an active Steampunk community.  I hope I have helped to dispel that notion smile

After I finished doing the Studio Crawl I wandered over to 23rd Ave in Ramsay, which is 5 minute walk away. The whole street was having an Art and Street fair. Lots of artists, potters, and jewelry ,with well tended gardens front the street before early 20th c houses.

I had the most fantastic jerked chicken I've had outside of the Caribbean at a street side barbeque just down from Ramsay School.

All in all, a great Autumn afternoon Flannery in Calgary.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Hats and Bonnets

Saturday, September 22, 2012 0 comments

Lots of pictures of hats and bonnets for ladies from Regency to Edwardian times.
Most are for sale, not sure if the site is still alive though, as it was last updated in 2010.
I wonder what these would look like with gogglescool

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.
Mrs. Parker's Millinery and Mercantile

The Sea Life

Friday, September 21, 2012 0 comments

By H. Warrington Smyth

"What is it in the sea life which is so powerful in its influence?
What is it which one meets there with such certainty, and which is not in crowded places nor in men’s applause, not printed in newspapers nor telegraphed by Reuter? It is in the laugh of the little child, in that look of the woman you love. It is on the bosom of the great river, in the breast of the wide moorland. It whispers in the wind of the veldt, it hums in the music of the tropical night. To some, it is borne on the booming night-notes of the deep forest, to others it speaks on the silent snow-peaks. But above all it is there to the man who holds the night watch alone at sea. It is the sense of things done, of things endured, of meanings not understood; the secret of the Deep Silence, which is of eternity, (and of) which the heart cannot speak."
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Describing the action of machinery in signs, Charles Babbage 1826


This is a paper submitted on January 17, 1826 and presented formally in March of that year.
In this paper Babbage presents a novel way of recording the behaviour of complicated machinery through the use of a table of symbols and graphs. Given the immense complexity of the machines Babbage was trying to design such a technique would have been very useful indeed.

Check it out, could be a useful design tool actually.
The file is Babbage-1826.pdf

Keep our sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

"Steampunking" Airships

Thursday, September 20, 2012 0 comments

Found this interesting article on Airships past and future.
This is the first use of the term "steampunking" as a style that I've seen too.

What does that mean? It sounds like a fusion of time periods that are neoclassical, with romantic ideals and attitudes. Basically, it is. The term attempts to describe an integration of past eras and ideals that appear lush, abundant and cluttered.
Check it out.
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

The Incredible Past and Future of the Airship
From Environmental Graffiti
“Steampunking”. What does that mean? It sounds like a fusion of time periods that are neoclassical, with romantic ideals and attitudes. Basically, it is. The term attempts to describe an integration of past eras and ideals that appear lush, abundant and cluttered. Moving forward to the present, society has sought new ideals opposing these elevated tastes such as artistic, new technology (NT) inspired, ordered and continuous. These ideals describe the dirigible.
A model of the Giffard Airship at the London Science MuseumPhoto: Mike Young
In the Beginning
Thomas Scott Baldwin's sketches and demonstration of a non-rigid dirigible or "airship" intrigued the Aeronautical Division of the U.S. Army in 1907 - enough that they purchased one in 1908. Instead of an airplane, the non-rigid airship became the first powered aircraft requested by the Division.
New Technology or “NT” can be infinite. In the case of the dirigible, it is possible “NT” is even beyond infinity. The term dirigible means directional control, and without this control, drift would be the only thing these huge cylindrical masses could conquer. The original constructions, mainly balloons, molded into elliptical shapes, kept afloat by huge steam engines, and moving along with the help of rudders have been re-imagined, re-defined and re-designed. Still basically cigar-shaped, their future appearance is almost as important as their maneuverability, cost efficiency, landing requirements, and stability in bad weather.
View from a French dirigible approaching a ship in 1918Photo: Unknown
Yet, the history overlying these rigid dirigibles is long and visionary. So let’s adapt that history to steampunking:
The Grassroots: the 1700s to the 1800s
We will start with an elliptical balloon made of a two-layered sack about 260 ft (79 m) long with a volume of 60,000 cubic ft (1,700 cubic m), as projected by General Jean Baptiste Marie Meusnier in 1784, probably the first non-rigid airship.
The base of the balloon is made from a reinforced material with triangulated cables extending from the material to hold a car designed to float if a water landing is necessary. Frenchman Pierre Jullien of Villejuif proposed this schema. A need for propulsion and a way to lift the airship off of the ground is required.
So we use a lifting gas, i.e. steam, from a heavy steam engine, that will help the balloon keep its elliptical shape by supplying an internal pressure. Rudders are added to help move the airship through the sky. Yet maneuverability is still a problem.
A French engineer and inventor, Henri Giffard, intrigued by Frenchman Pierre Jullien of Villejuif, built a full-size dirigible. The airship did have a little more maneuverability, but only in tranquil weather. With heavier winds, the dirigible only flew in circles, slowly. So now Giffard changed the shape of the balloon to a cigar-shaped mass.
Its frame remains non-rigid and the volume is 113,000 cubic feet (3,200 cubic m) and is 143 feet (44 m) long. Steam from a 3-horsepower (2.2-kilowatt)-steam engine is being used to drive the propeller, with a perpendicular positioned undeveloped rudder. The steam engine is still heavy, approximately 250 pounds (113 kg). A 100-pound (45.4 kg) boiler is also present along with the coke needed to fire it.
Dirigible airships compared with related aerostats, from a turn of the 20th century encyclopediaPhoto: Unknown
Light breezes are still playing havoc with maneuverability and propulsion (speed in calm air is only 3 miles per hour). A lighter weight engine to conquer wind shear and prevent instability leading to deformation of the cylindrical balloon has not been invented yet. A solution may be in the works at the end of the 19th century.

Continued here...

The Navy Lark


An interesting article about women in the Royal Navy.
What should be noted here of course, is that there were plenty of women who lived, worked, and even fought, on board Royal Navy ships throughout the wars of the 18th and 19th Centuries. What is interesting about this article is that it deals with those who successfully masqueraded as men.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

The Navy Lark
Many folk songs describe women joining the Army disguised as men but Paul Chambers discovers that cross-dressing females favoured the Senior Service for a home
By Pual Chambers

January 2012


The Navy Lark from The Fortean Times

History has given us many famous cross-dressers, including such notables as J Edgar Hoover and the legendary Pope Joan, but during the 18th and early 19th century there developed an English tradition for “female sailors” some of whom became legends in their own lifetime.

The most famous was Hannah Snell (1723–1791) who, in 1745, escaped a troubled marriage by dressing in her brother-in-law’s suit and running away. A few days later, she was approached on the streets by a recruitment officer who mistook her for a man. In no time, Hannah was serving as “James Gray”, a Marine onboard HMS Swallow.

Hannah found it easy to pass herself off as a young man, although her ability to cook, clean and stitch led to her being called “the most handy boy”. After three years of battles, Hannah was promoted to second lieutenant. Some of her colleagues had grown suspicious at her inability to grow a beard and gave her the nickname of Miss Molly Gray, but her luck held out until August 1749, when a French sniper placed six shot in her right leg, a further five in her left leg and one in her groin.

Hannah lay at death’s door for two days but still managed to conceal her groin wound from the surgeon after extracting the embedded musket ball by “probing the wound with my finger till I came where the ball lay, and then… thrust in both my finger and thumb and pulled it out.” Hannah survived and in May 1750 was shipped back to London.

Once onshore, she collected her pay and went to the pub with her shipmates. There she announced to her soldier friends that she would shed her skin “like a snake, and become a new creature”. Hannah loosened her clothes, revealed her true identity and said, “I am as much a woman as my mother ever was.” Her friends were impressed, praising Hannah for her courage and fortitude.

Mysterious Airship Sightings in the 19th Century

Wednesday, September 19, 2012 0 comments

I found a very interesting article at Wikipedia:
Mystery airships or phantom airships

It seems that in 1896-1897 there was a wave of mysterious Airship sightings across the US.
These bear a striking similarity to the 20th Century's UFO sightings, that also came in waves.
For example from the Wikipedia article:

Mystery airships or phantom airships are a class of unidentified flying objects best known from a series of newspaper reports originating in the western United States and spreading east during 1896 and 1897.[1] According to researcher Jerome Clark, airship reports were made worldwide, early as the 1880s, and late as the 1890s.[2] Mystery airship reports are seen as a cultural predecessor to modern extraterrestrial-piloted flying saucer-style UFO claims.[3]

Typical airship reports involved unidentified lights, but more detailed accounts reported ships comparable to a dirigible.[4] Reports of the alleged crewmen and pilots usually described them as human looking, although sometimes the crew claimed to be from Mars.[4] It was popularly believed that the mystery airships were the product of some genius inventor not ready to make knowledge of his creation public.[5] Thomas Edison was so widely speculated to be the mind behind the alleged airships that in 1897 he "was forced to issue a strongly worded statement" denying his responsibility.[6]

Mystery airships are unlikely to represent test flights of real human-manufactured dirigibles as no record of successful airship flights are known from the period and "it would have been impossible, not to mention irrational, to keep such a thing secret."[3] Contemporary American newspapers were more likely to print manufactured stories and hoaxes than modern ones are and newspapers often would have expected the reader to be in on the fact that the outlandish stories were hoaxes.[3] Period journalists did not seem to take airship reports very seriously, as after the major 1896-1897 flap concluded the subject was not given further investigation.[3] Instead, it was allowed to very quickly drop off the cultural radar.[3] The subject only received further attention when ufologists revived studies of the airship reports as alleged early UFO sightings.[3]

Some argued that the airship reports were genuine accounts. Steerable airships had been publicly flown in the US since the Aereon in 1863, and numerous inventors were working on airship and aircraft designs (the idea that a secretive inventor might have developed a viable craft with advanced capabilities was the focus of Jules Verne's 1886 novel Robur the Conqueror). In fact, two French army officers and engineers, Arthur Krebs and Charles Renard, had successfully flown in an electric-powered airship called the La France as early as 1885, making no fewer than seven successful flights in the craft over an eleven month period. Also during the 1896-1897 period, Bosnian inventor David Schwarz built an aluminum-skinned airship in Germany that successfully flew over Templehof before being irreparably damaged during a hard landing. Both events clearly demonstrated that the technology to build a practical airship existed during the period in question, though if reports of the capabilities of the California and Midwest airship sighted in 1896-97 are true, it would have been considerably more advanced than any airship built up to that time.

Several individuals, including Lyman Gilmore and Charles Dellschau, were later identified as possible candidates for being involved in the design and construction of the airships, although little evidence was found in support of these ideas.

And finally there was this tantalizing tidbit...

Claims of extraterrestrial origin

Early citations of the extraterrestrial hypothesis, all from 1897, include the Washington Times, which speculated that the airships were "a reconnoitering party from Mars"; and the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, which suggested of the airships, "these may be visitors from Mars, fearful, at the last, of invading the planet they have been seeking." (Jacobs, 29) In 1909, a letter printed in the Otago Daily Times (New Zealand) suggested that the mystery airship sightings then being reported in that country were due to Martian "atomic-powered spaceships." (Clark 2000, 123)
 It seems that seeing strange flying things in the skies wasn't just a 20th century thing at all.
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your eyes on the skies.

The Perkins Steam Gun of 1824


I am reading the book  The Industrial Revolutionaries by Gavin Weightman.
A fascinating look at the men who created the Industrial Revolution. I highly recommend it.
One brief passage struck me as very interesting.  While discussing the development of Steam Power in the late 18th and 19th Centuries there is a passage describing a cannon powered by hi pressure steam capable of firing 500 balls a minute!

A quick google search turned up this fascinating page from Lateral Science called:


Keep your sightglass full, your water iced and your magazine full!

The following description was written by W.H.B.Smith, as included in chapter 3 of his excellent book, Gas, Air & Spring Guns of the World, 1957.

The inventor, Jacob Perkins, is all but unknown in American history today - yet his genius contributed greatly to our present day comfort and to mechanical and even social developments.
He was born at Newburyport, Massachusetts, at the mouth of the Merrimac River, on July 9, 1766, His ancestors had landed at Ipswich in 1630. At the age of about 12 he was apprenticed to a goldsmith. His master died 3 years later, and young Perkins continued to operate the business! While still only 15 he invented a process for plating shoe buckles-a good business in that day-and the business prospered. He was so remarkable a craftsman that when he was barely 21, the State of Massachusetts commissioned him to make the dies for the State's copper coins! At the age of 31 he invented a machine for heading and pointing nails and tacks in a single operation, a most remarkable invention in its day; but he fell in with promoters who ruined him, while others profited from the invention.
He moved to New York and later to Philadelphia where he developed probably the first steel plates for banknote engraving, a system of preventing banknote forgery which was widely acclaimed and used, methods for hardening and annealing steel, and a wide variety of other items.
Unable despite his ability and energy to get proper financial backing here, he moved to England in 1818 taking a group of his craftsmen with him. America's loss was Britain's gain. In England he received financial support. He started a successful banknote business and went on to develop instruments for measuring ships' speeds, for determining diving depths, and a score of other devices.
When he turned his attention to steam development, this amazing man really hit his stride. He developed a single-cylinder steam engine with a boiler capable of holding the then unbelievable pressure of 800 pounds.
When pistons didn't stand up, Perkins produced a special alloy which gave a machined finish requiring no lubricant, together with all the other required physical properties. Then he produced his steam gun.
The Duke of Wellington became very interested in this Perkins gun, but even with this support Perkins had two strikes against him in trying to deal with the professional military minds. First, he was a "Colonial" not far removed from Concord, Lexington, and the year 1776. Second, he was trying to convince a professional military body, a group which in any age has been, is, and probably always will be slow to accept the new. Like Texas Judge Roy Bean's approach of "Let's give him a fair trial and then hang him!" the military bodies approached the Perkins gun convinced it just wouldn't work anyway! Due to Wellington's interest they at least had to listen.
In the first trials before the Iron Duke and his engineering officers, Perkins streamed volumes of lead musket balls against a 1/4-inch iron plate to demonstrate close quarters accuracy and destructive force. His steam pressure was now up to some 900 pounds, low by comparison with any gunpowder even of that day, but unbelievably higher than had ever before been achieved; and sufficient to completely shatter the projectiles against the iron target.

(Continued at the Lateral Science page)

Opinions on steam guns, warfare, and Russia as expressed by the learned editors of The London Mechanics` Register, November 1824. --

The London Mechanics Register
"If Mr. Perkins's steam guns were introduced into general use, there would be but very short wars; since no fecundity could provide population for its attacks. . . .
What plague, what pestilence would exceed, in its effects, those of the steam gun? - 500 balls fired every minute . . . one out of 20 to reach its mark - why, 10 such guns would destroy 150,000 daily. If we did not feel that this mode of warfare would end in producing peace, we should be far from recommending it. . . .
We have heard, but we do not vouch for the fact, that the Emperor of Russia, who has more knowledge of the importance of steam than some of us Englishmen, has sent an agent to procure a supply of Perkins's steam guns, which that gentleman's patriotism will not allow him to offer. . . ."

Steam Classics

Tuesday, September 18, 2012 0 comments

Stolen er... Borrowed... from a great Steampunk writing Blog called STEAMED!
There are some excellent articles and book lists there check it out!

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Some of our favorite “Classic” Steampunk Books…
  • Queen Victoria’s Bomb
  • A Christmas Carol
  • Around the World in Eighty Days
  • Lair of the White Worm
  • Dracula
  • Frankenstein
  • Sylvie and Bruno
  • A Nomad of the Time Stream
  • The Difference Machine
  • Titus Alone 
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • Through the Looking Glass

Verne wrote 54 novels. Some of the better known are:
  • Five Weeks in a Balloon (Cinq Semaines en ballon, 1863)
  • Paris in the 20th Century (Paris au XXe Siecle, 1863, not published until 1994)
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth (Voyage au centre de la Terre, 1864)
  • The English at the North Pole (Les Anglais au pôle Nord, 1864)
  • From the Earth to the Moon (De la terre à la lune, 1865)
  • The Desert of Ice (Le Désert de glace, 1866)
  • In Search of the Castaways or The Children of Captain Grant (Les Enfants du capitaine Grant, 1867-1868)
  • A Floating City (Une ville flottante, 1871)
  • Around the World in Eighty Days (Le Tour du Monde en quatre-vingts jours, 1872)
  • Dr. Ox’s Experiment (Une Fantaisie du Docteur Ox, 1872)
  • The adventures of three englishmen and three russians in South Africa (Aventures de trois Russes et de trois Anglais, 1872 )
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Vingt mille lieues sous les mers, 1873)
  • Around The Moon (Autour de la lune, a sequel to From the Earth to the Moon, 1873)
  • The Fur Country (Le Pays des fourrures, 1873)
  • Mysterious Island (L’île mysterieuse, 1874)
  • Survivors of Chancellor (1875 )
  • Michael Strogoff (Michel Strogoff, 1876)
  • Hector Servadac (1877)
  • The Child of the Cavern, also known as The Black Diamonds or The Black Indies (Les Indes noires, 1877)
  • A Captain at fifteen (Un Capitaine de quinze ans, 1878)
  • The 500 Millions of Begum (Les Cinq cents millions de la Bégum, 1879)
  • The steam house (La Maison à vapeur, 1879)
  • The giant raft (La Jangada, 1881)
  • The Green Ray (Le Rayon vert, 1882)
  • The headstrong turk (1883)
  • The vanished diamond (L’Étoile du sud, 1884)
  • The archipelago on fire (L’Archipel en feu, 1884)
  • Matthias Sandorf (1885)
  • Robur the Conqueror or The Clipper of the Clouds (Robur-le-Conquérant, 1886)
  • Ticket no. ’9672′ (Un Billet de loterie, 1886 )
  • Texar’s Revenge or North Against South (Nord contre Sud, 1887)
  • The flight to France (Le Chemin de France, 1887)
  • Two Years’ Vacation (Deux Ans de vacances, 1888)
  • Castle of the Carpathians (Le Château des Carpathes, 1892)
  • The Mighty Orinoco (Le Superbe Orénoque, 1894)
  • Propeller Island (L’Île à hélice, 1895)
  • The Purchase of the North Pole (Sans dessus dessous, the second sequel to From the Earth to the Moon, 1895)
  • Clovis Dardentor (1896)
  • The Sphinx of the Ice Fields or An Antarctic Mystery (Le Sphinx des glaces, a sequel to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, 1897)
  • The Superb Orinoco (1897)
  • The village in the Tree Tops (Le Village aérien, 1901)
  • Master of the World (Maître du monde, sequel to Robur The Conqueror, 1904)
  • Invasion of the Sea (L’Invasion de la mer, 1904)
  • The Lighthouse at the End of the World (Le Phare du bout du monde, 1905)
  • The Chase of the Golden Meteor (La Chasse au météore, 1908)
  • The Danube Pilot (Le Pilote du Danube, 1908)
  • The survivors of the ‘Jonathan’ (Le Naufrages du Jonathan, 1909) 
Continued at STEAMED!

Elements of Steampunk


This is a short article by author Coleen Kwan.
A pretty good description of Steampunk really.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Elements of Steampunk 

 I haven’t been writing steampunk for very long, and I’ll admit it’s difficult to be precise about what is and isn’t steampunk. I’ve found various definitions of the word, but in a nutshell steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction and speculative fiction set in an era of steam-powered technology.

Strictly speaking a steampunk story doesn’t have to be set in the nineteenth century but even if it isn’t it should still have that Victorian feel to it ie. an atmosphere that is gritty and industrialised. Jonathan Green’s Evolution Expects is set at the end of the 20th century but still conveys a very Victorian feel—the British Empire is still ruling the waves and Queen Victoria (fuelled by her steam-powered wheelchair) is about to celebrate her 160th birthday. Some steampunk stories are more historical fantasy, such as Agatha H and the Airship City which takes place in a European setting of no discernible era.

A steampunk story can include the supernatural or paranormal, from vampires and werewolves to monstrous golems. eg Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate Series, Cindy Pape Spencer’s Photographs and Phantoms.

Steampunk is closely associated with a certain ‘look’ or aesthetic. Think of everyday items made from 19th century materials like brass, copper, glass, rubber. Machines and gadgets use cogs, wheels, levers, dials. Nothing is sleek or shiny, everything is engraved or adorned in some way.

Characters put the ‘punk’ in steampunk. They can be orphaned pickpockets, mad inventors or scarred aristocrats. They can be rich or poor, beautiful or ugly, nobles or peasants, but in some way they are marginalised from the rest of society, and it’s their differences that propel the story.

Continued at link...


Monday, September 17, 2012 0 comments

Unique Steampunk Insects

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.



Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

The Kinematics of Machines 1928

Saturday, September 15, 2012 0 comments

Could be very useful for my Absinthium design.
Originally published in 1928, my copy is the Fourth edition from 1940 (it has a nice standard disclaimer about following the "Recommendations of the War Production Board for the conservation of paper and other important war materials").

While not Victorian it does have one of the most extensive discussions on the design and analysis of the physical workings of machines I have ever seen. Starting with basic mathematics of motion it goes into analysing levers, linkage systems, sliders and cranks, cams, gears and gear trains as well as pulley and belt systems.

The examples and chapter questions hold the most amazing selection of odd machine movements for which the student is encouraged to analyse for speed, acceleration, power, friction and other calculations that would be needed to fit a design for a practical purpose.

The chapters on gear design and the analysis of gear trains are wonderful for anybody trying to figure out if their machine could actually work.

Kinematics of Machines

George L. Guillet, M.S.
Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, The Pennsylvania State College
Member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers

John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
New York

Fourth Edition 1940
First Published 1928

Keep your sightglass full, yur firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Click here to see the other Absinthium posts.

The Future Seen From the Past


What would 2000 look like from 1910.
French futurist postcards.
Interesting, the technology is different but the fashions aren't.

1910: What they illustrated the world to look like in 2000

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Steampunk Goggles: A Tutorial

Friday, September 14, 2012 0 comments

Steampunk Goggles: A Tutorial 

by *FenrisDesigns

Fantastic, check it out by clicking the image below for the whole tutorial.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.



Carriage for Grand Duke Alexis, 1890s


The forward machine is actually electric.

Forequarters 4 electric wheels JJ HEILMANN to convert the carriages, Manufacturer of electric locomotive (1897-1900), Le Havre.

Lots of info here if you read French.

Another one from Paris in 1894

From: Just a Car Guy

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Small engine, BIG engine


One of the smallest steam engines:

One of the largest still operating:

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Small Blimps Forum

Thursday, September 13, 2012 0 comments

Following some airship threads out on the Aether Webs I found this site:

Small Blimps Forum
A community project to build an affordable personal airship that is accessible to anyone.
Lots of very interesting discussions, links and plans here.
Looking forward to doing a lot more reading on this one.
Check it out when you get a chance.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

The White Dwarf Flies Again!


Oh lookie here a pedal powered personal airship!
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

The White Dwarf Flies Again!
What's up with the blimp?
It's the White Dwarf, built by Bill Watson and others for the comedian Gallagher in about 1984.  This beautiful and innovative pedal-powered was used by Gallagher to do a Showtime special,  Bryan Allen flew it 58 miles to set an FAI world record for that class airship, Bill and friends took it to Oshkosh, and then they put it behind Bill Watson's parents' house, where it stayed for about 14 years.
Reed Gleason had been enjoying various ways to fly, and noticed that the slower he went, the more fun it was.   He decided he wanted a blimp, and contacted Bill Arras, an acquaintance from serious hang gliding days.  Bill Arras wanted a blimp too, and set about finding out how to build a small blimp, partly by contacting people who'd built small blimps.
Bill Arras found that Bill Watson still had the WD and it was just plain going to waste.   Bill Watson figured Bill Arras, being World Champion  Hot Air Balloonist, would make sure the WD would be used for the forces of good, and Gallagher didn't want to have anything more to do with it, so it was brought to Oregon.  It sat in it's custom trailer while Bill and Reed discovered one reason why there aren't a lot more little blimps:  We couldn't find a place tall enough to fit it.  Eventually, Bill found a hangar with a 25 foot door was found at the Madras Airport, which is a delight, because the airport is large and largely unused.  And the flight service station owner Don Mobley thought the blimp was really great, made room for it in one of his hangars, and generally provided a lot of support.. So Bill and Reed moved the White Dwarf to Madras, OR, assembled and inflated it Sept. 30, 2000, and first flew it Oct.  3.
It actually worked.  It's beautiful construction is less important than the fact that it does what it was supposed to do, a rarity in small airships.  Which is to putter around very slowly with precise control, only in very light winds.
Here's some pictures courtesy of Q, a powered parachute pilot.
Three 50K jpgs.
Bill Arras added a couple of string trimmer 19cc engines with model airplane props.  With a little peddling to help, he average 10 MPH for an hour.  When he peddled hard in addition to full throttle, he got up to about 15 MPH, and then the envelope went unstable, as predicted.  Of course, the consequences of "going unstable" in the WD are a lot less significant than for most aircraft:  the nose wandered a bit and he slowed down.
Here's some pictures courtesy of Richard Tetz.  Richard Tetz himself, the engine setup, and Bill again exploring Willow Creek canyon.
 Three 200K jpgs
More pictures by Richard Tetz:   his photo page.

Have to love Bureaucracy...


From Engineering Branch - 19th Century - Engineering and the Engineering Branch. Admiralty Circulars and Memoranda &c.

Circular No. 263
Admiralty, August 26th, 1856
My Lords desire to call the attention of all Officers in command Her Majesty's Ships to Circular, No 177, as well as to the Orders which have been given from time to time respecting the expenditure of Coals, and to impress upon them the necessity that exists of working their ships without the aid of steam, when the duty required can and ought to be performed under sail alone - not only on the score of economy, but for the important purpose of ensuring the efficiency of screw ships as sailing ships.
My Lords are therefore pleased to direct that in future the use of steam power shall not be resorted to when the service on which a vessel is employed can be satisfactorily performed without it; and that their Lordships may know whether this order has been duly observed, all Commanding Officers are, whenever steam is raised, to cause the same to be noted in the Log Book, together with their reasons for so doing, stating whether it be the emergency of the occasion, the necessity of performing the service with the utmost despatch, or other cause which, in their opinion, may justify their having recourse to steam power.
By Command of their Lordships,
To all Commanders-in-Chief, Captains, &c
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Steampunk at the closing ceremonies London Paralympics

Wednesday, September 12, 2012 0 comments

Didn't get to see this myself till now.
It is the whole ceremony, all 2 and half hours of it, but there is lots of Steampunk-like stuff there.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Tesla Master of Wonders


Check out the rest of the details of this fascinating man at the original:
The Oatmeal: Nikola Tesla

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

To protect the Prestige of Empire


In 1902 Russia sent the cruiser Askold, the only five funneled warship in the world, to the Persian Gulf; the Persians were considerably impressed.
Britain ordered HMS Amphitrite to proceed to Muskat in response. However as you can see below, Amphitrite had only four funnels, so the captain had two more made of wood and canvas with smoke and steam piped into them.biggrin
Thus is the honour and prestige of Empire maintained.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water icedKJ

Absinthium Part 3


Each of the sections of this machine has a series of steps.
For example, the absinthe pouring section needs to be able to do the following:

  • Position the glass (This could be manual).
  • Measure the "dose" from the Absinthe bottle.
  • Add the dose to the glass, directly or via a separate measure.
  • Reset the measure for the next dose.
  • Position the glass for the water/sugar step.

Within these steps there are paths and motions that need to be coordinated. In a typical mechanism design one would want to minimize the motions for efficiency. In our case we want the system to not only work but be SEEN to be working so some superfluous motions are allowed, and even encouraged.

Personally I like the idea of actually tipping the bottle to pour the dose for visual purposes although that does complicate the control of the pour.

Anybody have any ideas on how one could control the pour?

Step one above as noted could be manual of course, however the ability to load the glasses from a sort of magazine could allow the creation of multiple glasses as a sort of "Green Faerie" assembly

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Click here to see the other Absinthium posts.

Steampunk Is... Links and Information Galore!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 0 comments

This massive list of URLs, compiled by Jacob Mark at Steampunk Is... , has some great information and can really help you to pass all those unused hours profitably.  His site also has lots of good info, papers, reviews as well as this great list of links.
Highly recommended site so check it out.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Here are the first few links from the list, to give you a flavour for what Jacob has compiled:

About Gears, Goggles, and Steam oh My!

Here I collect interesting bits of information related to the world of Steampunk.

Category List

Absinthium (12) accessories (15) Airships (65) Art (1) Beakerhead (3) Books (65) comics (5) computation (11) costumes (16) etiquette (18) events (29) fiction (77) Flight Engineer (30) Fun (57) games (36) history (106) howto (21) Inventions (57) manners (6) Meetup Repost (90) movies (3) music (4) Musings (44) mystery (23) news (8) Parasol Duelling (44) Photos (66) Pie In the Sky (3) poetry (1) resources (50) Role Playing (49) Serial Story (18) Ships (39) Steam (34) Steampunk Sports (24) Tesla (13) video (77) website (57) What Ifs (16)

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