A Map of the Steampunk Literary Landscape

Thursday, November 29, 2012 0 comments

Found this interesting map of the Steampunk novel landscape.
Created by writer Louise Curtis, she writes about Steampunk on Tuesdays.
She has this to say about the map:

Yes, it’s finally here! My idea of what a map of steampunk might look like. Harangue me on my choices and omissions below! Post it wherever you like, with a link back here.
Caveat #1: This is only books (I tried to make it only novels, or at least novelists).
Caveat #2: I’m only one person. This was a big job, and I chose to oversimplify rather than make it my life’s work. Also, there are some errors. And, as you can tell, I chose to finish the map this year rather than take longer and make it bigger, prettier, and funnier. And yes, I read and write mainly young adult, which is also obvious at a glance.
Caveat #3: More is being written all the time. Tell us about your favourite steampunk in the comments!
There follows a linked list of all her Steampunk novel reviews.
Here is the map (gotta love whiteboards!):
 You can see the full version here.

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

A Zeppelin at Friedrichshafen...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012 0 comments

In 2012!

Here is an image from Google Maps of the airport at Friedrichshafen airport.

This is the headquarters of Zeppelin NT, the only current commercial manufacturer of airships.

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

Web Series "Dirigible Days"

Sunday, November 25, 2012 0 comments

This looks like it will be fun!

There are three episodes so far.
Here is the first one to give you a taste.

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

Book Lists

Saturday, November 24, 2012 0 comments

Just in time for your holiday shopping.
Or your holiday wish list as the case may be.
55 Steampunk books from Buzzfeed
Each book entry includes a nice full colour shot of the cover linked to an online bookseller's entry.
As the books are listed in no particular order, looking down this list is a delightful ramble through the world of Steampunk. There are classics here, recent books on the Steampunk scene as well as some of the modern interpretations of ur evolving worlds of steam, clockwork and adventure!
Here are some examples:


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

Join the movement!

Friday, November 23, 2012 0 comments

Get your goggles and come along for the ride!

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

"The Death of the Cog"

Thursday, November 22, 2012 0 comments

An awesome song.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your pocket watch wound up!

A song cursing the inventor of the digital clock, blaming him for the death of beautiful analog clockwork.

Written in 2007-2009 by The Cog is Dead.

Thanks Giving USA


Happy Thanksgiving to all you Steampunks South of 49!
Found this photo on G.D. Falksen's  page.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your gravy warm.

Dictionary of Victorian London

Tuesday, November 20, 2012 0 comments

This fascinating site has a wealth of interesting info.
Created and maintained by Lee Jackson  check out...

The Dictionary of Victorian London

From the site:

... a vast website - it would run to thousands of pages in print - containing primary sources covering the social history of Victorian London. This includes extracts from Victorian newspapers, diaries, journalism, memoirs, maps, advertisements &c. and the full text of several dozen books. These sources are arranged by subject area and can be browsed and searched at will.
The site has been used extensively by scholars, genealogists, authors, and the general public for the last decade - it was most recently cited by Anthony Horowitz, as a key research resource for his Sherlock Holmes novel The House of Silk.
In addition to the Dictionary itself  Lee also has a companion blog:

The Cat's Meat Shop is a blog containing pieces of source material from my current research, pending updates to the Dictionary of Victorian London, reports of visits to buildings in London — recent visits have included the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel and The Royal Society of Arts — and anything else that catches my eye. 
A recent blog entry contained this gem from  1892:

Train of Rubbish

One day last week a friend of mine walked down Piccadilly behind a lady who was wearing a dress fitted with the long train now in vogue. Opposite St. James's Club she got into a cab. She consequently left behind her on the pavement all the rubbish which her skirt had collected as it swept down Piccadilly. My friend, being of a scientific turn, proceeded to make an inventory of the collection, and he has been good enough to send it to me for publication. I give it below. In the days when germs and microbes play such an important part in social life, I question very much whether these trains should be permitted by law. This lady left her street sweepings on the curb-stone; but it might be remembered that many convey them into their own or their friends' houses:-

2 cigar ends.
9 cigarette do.
A portion of pork pie.
4 toothpicks.
2 hairpins.
1 stem of a clay pipe.
3 fragments of orange peel.
1 slice of cat's meat.
Half a sole of a boot.
1 plug of tobacco (chewed).
Straw, mud, scraps of paper, and miscellaneous street refuse, ad.lib.

Lady F.W. Harberton, "Symposium on Dress," Arena, vol. 6. New York, 1892, p. 334.
A highly recommended site for Victoriana, quirky, entertaining and informative.
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Practical Airship Design Part 4

Sunday, November 18, 2012 0 comments

To Fly Amongst the Clouds

Heavenly Nautilus by *voitv
In the previous articles in this series I talked about some of the ways that airship flight was controlled and the constraints that those ways imposed on flight duration. With the fantastically powerful energy source at the heart of our airship, I have concluded that using steam as the lifting gas essentially eliminates those constraints.

Besides, what better steampunk airship could we have than one that flies and is propelled using steam!

Later in this series I will attempt some calculations, to do a kind of "reality check", for the overall design. However to make sure that I wasn't too far off base, I did some quick calculations using the specs of the Hindenburg to see if steam lifting gas would result in useful lift. For an airship the size and dead weight of the Hindenburg, steam does indeed allow a small payload. You may recall that my buddy Grant's calculations had shown that in order to fly it would have to be 25% larger. But she was saddled with passenger accommodations and infrastructure to handle 40 or more people and their baggage, and since our airship is a military/exploratory one, not a commercial passenger ship, we have a lot of weight that can be re-allocated to our power and propulsion systems.

In a conventional gas filled airship the static lift system is independent of the propulsion. In the case of the great rigid airships like the Graf Zeppelin or Hindenburg, the lift was provided by hydrogen and the propulsion by diesel engines. In our case, courtesy of our power source, we can unify these systems with the attendant benefits I discussed last time.

So how would this work in practice?

First I'll talk a bit about one way to make use of our power source to handle both lift and propulsion. Then I'll discuss a way to bring the power out to the propellers so we can begin our grand voyage. In my next post in this series I'll talk about how all this can be laid out in the hull and perhaps what form that hull will take.

Power Core

At the heart of our airship is the core, a dense block of "something" generating very large amounts of heat. (Personally I prefer to treat this core as a fission type nuclear reactor.) Since for our purposes it is our one major fantastical element, we don't have to deal with the pesky details of how it actually generates so much heat. We do however, need to deal with the practicalities of using it.

To keep things simple the core is either an "on or off", "feast or famine", deal. Once running this core continues to generate heat, whether we need it or not, therefore cooling of the core is a priority. The core is mounted in the center of a large tank of water. Thermosyphoning of the tank water around the core, where it is turned into low pressure steam, carries away this heat. This steam is used as our lift gas. In flight, we only need to generate steam to balance that which is condensed and collected from the gas bags inside the hull. This will not be enough to prevent overheating of the core, so a large radiator ,or condenser, is mounted on the top of the hull to condense any excess steam. This radiator is a primary structural component making up a significant portion of area of the hull itself. The radiator is air cooled, sending excess heat to the atmosphere.

In the event that the hull condenser cannot handle the excess steam, or in case of an emergency, steam will be sent directly to the atmosphere through a couple of elegant funnels on the upper hull. (Just cause it looks so damn cool.smile)

In practice the Chief Engineer (me) and his staff would constantly monitor the heat balance of the main tank, along with the balance of lift steam and condensate reboil, directing excess steam to the condenser as required to keep things stable.   

The main tank also serves to shield our crew from any adverse effects of the core itself. Water is a good shield for ionizing radiation. Two meters of water is sufficient to handle the gamma ray flux of a typical spent fuel rod from a modern reactor for example.

Power Generation

My proposal is for our airship to use a Tesla type electrical power system to drive its main propulsion engine. This power is generated in the engine room by the use of a similar system to that found in a modern nuclear reactor.

Given the very large amount of heat being produced continuously, the interior of the core itself is much hotter than its surface.  A coil of steel pipes built into the structure of the core when it is made, carries a dense mineral oil into the heart of the core. Here the oil picks up the intense heat, and being under very high pressure, does not boil but remains liquid itself. This high pressure, very hot, oil is directed to a more or less conventional boiler outside the main tank. Here it is used to boil water, supplied from the main tank, to make steam. This steam is used to run a high speed turbine in the engine room. Exhaust steam from the turbine is directed to the hull condenser and thence back to the main tank.

Why not have water in the coil and simply flash it into steam directly? 

To keep things simple. If the coil and boiler are arranged and sized correctly, no mechanical pumps are required to maintain the fluid flow through the core, and therefore the heat flow to the boiler. The density effects of temperature will cause the oil to flow in the loop. We want to minimize the amount of things that can fail INSIDE, or close to, the dangerous confines of the main tank near the core. Also it is likely that the fluid used in the loop will become dangerous (radioactive?) as a result of its close exposure to the core. With no mechanical pumps in the loop, there is no need to open the piping for repair or maintenance with the risk of exposure to any contaminated fluid.

The turbine is connected to one of Tesla's high powered AC generators. This power is used to run the main propulsion systems.


Tesla's wireless power transmission system, a kind of tuned resonance, is used to transfer this power to the main engine without wires. The engine drives large counter rotating props at the stern of the airship. These props, by counter rotating, do not induce any rotational torque on the hull. A similar system is used to drive water torpedoes.

Auxiliary engines and propellers are mounted on the hull for use in maneuvering at low speeds during takeoff and landing. These engines also receive their power via Tesla's wireless system.

A side benefit to using Tesla's power system is that lighting and auxiliary power can be taken from the same system without the use of wires, thus helping to minimize weight.

The core gives us both lift and power for propulsion. There are no mechanical pumps necessary to control the primary system, minimizing the points of failure when we are far from our base. With such power at our command we can truly fly amongst the clouds, traveling the world in the search of adventure and in service of Her Majesty, HUZZAH!

Join me next time for some more details of how all this fits together within the airship's hull. An engineer's eye view if you will.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your heat balance stable!

Click here for the next article in the series.

You can follow the full design thread by clicking on the tag "Flight Engineer".

Working Glass Steam Engines

Friday, November 16, 2012 0 comments

I love watching engines run.
When they are made out of glass they are just so much more awesome!
From that font of all video wonders YouTube.

Glass steam engine made in 2008,named after the original made in the 1850s. The cylinder and valve housing are made of glass so you can see the action inside.

This Model of Stephenson's Steam Engine was made in 2008 by master glassblower Michal ZahradnĂ­k.

* The crankshaft is glass.
* The piston is glass.
* The counterweight that makes the wheel spin evenly is glass.

* There are no sealants used. All is accomplished by a perfectly snug fit. The gap between the piston and its compartment is so small, that the water that condensates from the steam seals it shut!
* Notice the elaborate excessive steam exhaust system next to the piston.
* The piston is the most arduous part to make due to to extreme level of precision needed. Its parts have to be so accurate that no machinery is of use here. The piston and its cylinder must be hand sanded to perfection, and they are very likely to crack in the process! On average, three out of four crack.

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

Myer's Ornament, Victorian Bible of Design

Thursday, November 15, 2012 0 comments

This book is a real treasure trove of design ideas.

First published as Ornamentale Formenlehre in 1886 as a Folio sized edition in Leipzig, this book became the standard pattern book for designers of the latter 19th c. The first English version was published in book form in 1894 and rapidly became the bible for design in Victorian time.

With over 3000 detailed line drawings, in 300 plates, of classical and mediaeval decoration, this book contains the genesis of much of the design used in Victorian sculpture, architecture and graphic arts.

My edition was printed in 1974 and is a wide format beauty that allows for detailed examination of the figures.

The forward by the editor, Tony Birks, is a fascinating look at the enduring conflict between technological devices, with their spartan utilitarian looks, and the complex and intricate designs of neo classical and neo gothic design that became popular at that time.

Myer's Ornament
Victorian Bible of Design
A Handbook of Ornament

Franz Sales Myers
edited by Tony Birks

Gerald Duckworth and Company

First English edition 1894

0 7156 0713 8

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

Practical Airship Design Part 3b

Monday, November 12, 2012 0 comments

The Case for Steam

In the previous part of this series I talked about some of the details concerning how an airship flies.  In this part I will discuss the pros and cons of using steam as the lifting gas for our airship.

You can get some of the technical details of why steam makes a good lifting gas at this website:
The Flying Kettle. They are actually working on a free balloon that uses steam and have dealt with a lot of the practical details, a fascinating site definitely worth a perusal.

There are lots of different gases that can be used for generating static lift for an airship. In the real world the best one is hydrogen, followed by helium then pure methane. Of these three, hydrogen and methane are explosive when mixed with air and helium, while being non-flammable, is expensive and relatively rare. Ordinary steam is a surprisingly good lift gas being between helium and methane in lift capacity, plus steam is easy to make, cheap, and non-flammable.

This table from Flying Kettle has the properties of various lift gasses.







Lift (N/m3)

in ISA



Ease of

















1.056  10.36











0.549  5.39









0.507  4.97












2.980.327  2.2.98











0.638  6.26






From the chart you can see that pure steam at sea level and 100C only has the ability to lift 6.26 N/m3 which is better than pure methane but only about 60% of the lift available from helium. My buddy Grant, who is an engineer in real life and also a member of our crew, has calculated that, given steam's lifting capability compared to hydrogen, an airship with the weight of the Hindenburg would need to be about 25% larger in volume to fly!  That is a significant difference and could easily kill the use of steam for any "practical" design on that basis alone.

Another big disadvantage of steam as a lifting gas is that it condenses when the temperature goes below that necessary to keep it as vapour. That temperature is just over 100C at sea level of course, but lower at higher altitudes. As time goes on during a flight the steam will condense back into liquid water, primarily due to heat loss through the envelope, which will reduce the volume available to generate lift. Essentially the airship will constantly be "leaking" lift gas by this condensation.

To maintain flight this condensate must be re-boiled and returned to steam constantly, plus any leakage through the envelope that contains the steam must be balanced somehow, just like a normal gas filled airship must balance against the leakage or venting of lift gas by the dropping of ballast. In a conventional airship the energy that would be necessary to re-boil the condensate must be supplied by fuel and boilers that take up payload capacity.

So why am I proposing the use of steam given these disadvantages?

What really tips the issue in favour of steam for our airship is the power source we are using. In part one I mentioned that the main fantastical element of our airship was this power source, the exotic core of Verne's Nautilus. I prefer to think of this source as being like a fission type reactor core and will treat it as such for this design. Part 4 and 5 of this series will deal with the design decisions that such a power system requires. For the purposes of this discussion here, the key elements we are concerned with are that such a reactor uses up no fuel with time, and it generates prodigous quantities of heat continuously with a very high power to weight ratio.

This power source neatly deals with the disadvantage of condensation as it can easily re-boil any condensate and return it to the envelope.  Liquid water can be boiled to make up any leakage through the envelope to the atmosphere as well.

I am a big fan of simple systems, especially mission critical ones. Since we have an almost unlimited supply of heat available with our power core, we do not need much complxity to generate large volumes of low pressure steam. Thermo syphoning through the core may be all that is required for lift gas production. I will look at some proposed details of how the core and steam production can be controlled in following articles.

Let us now look at the three constraints to airship flight duration I discussed in the last article.

The three constraints are: lifting gas supply, ballast supply, and fuel supply. These are constraints because as a flight continues, the need to balance the buoyancy by releasing ballast and venting gas to account for changing conditions, place a limit on flight duration. Venting gas to lower buoyancy must be balanced eventually by dropping ballast to increase it again. As fuel is consumed the airship gets lighter and gas must be vented to adjust for that as well. In the case of a conventional gas filled airship both of these actions, venting gas and dropping ballast, were irreversible. Once the ballast supply was used up no further adjustments were possible. Ditto once the volume of gas vented reduced the airships buoyancy below that necessary to maintain lift. At that point the voyage was over!

So how does steam as a lifting gas, with our power core, handle these constraints?

Practical Airship design Part 3a

Saturday, November 10, 2012 0 comments

The Case for Steam (almost)

In part one of this series I talked a bit about why I'm working on a "practical" design for an Airship.  I also mentioned that one of the main fantastical elements was the super powerful energy source that will power the ship.  So in this article I will start to make the case that given this very good energy source the best lifting gas system to use is simple steam.

I thought I would be able to get right to making that case, but first we need to talk a bit about how a conventional gas filled airship flies.

Graf Zeppelin 1933
An Airship is not simply a balloon with an engine and propeller attached. Anybody who has ever tried to throw a kids balloon knows that a balloon has no directional stability at all. Airships tend to have shapes akin to those of the underwater profiles of ships, or the hulls of submarines. This enables some longitudinal stability when moving through the air.

Unlike a surface or underwater vessel however, the airship is moving through a medium that is more than 700 times less dense than water. A ship floats by displacing water equivalent to the weight of the vessel. Since water is so much denser than air a ship hull can be quite small and still be able to support a significant weight.  Plus there is a definite interface between the water and the air so a ship can act like a platform resting on this surface and have all it's "interesting stuff" exposed on top of the hull, in the air. A surface ship usually has a significant amount of reserve or excess buoyancy, which is why a ship floats on the surface and can carry useful amounts of cargo and armaments.

An airship also floats by displacing a volume of air equivalent to it's weight but, since air is so much less dense the volume required is correspondingly higher. There is essentially no "surface" to the air so an airship is more like a submarine than a surface ship. The airship is suspended INSIDE the air it moves through so it needs to be as close to neutrally buoyant as possible. That is, the buoyancy should be sufficient to allow the airship to be stable in altitude but not tend to rise or fall. If the airship is positively buoyant by too large an amount it will rise uncontrollably unless lift gas is vented or buoyancy is otherwise reduced. If it's buoyancy is too negative it will not fly at all or fall to the ground unless weight is reduced by dropping ballast.

In practice airships are usually slightly heavy relative to this neutral point, I'll explain why in a moment.

Since there is no surface against which an airship's hull can push, like a surface ship pushes against the water's surface, there is no "right-side up" except that determined by the distribution of weights in the hull. This distribution is critical, relatively heavy portions of the craft will tend to twist the hull until they are at the lowest point. Thus even though it is popular to show some  Steampunk Airships looking like airborne surface ships it would take a lot of external force, with complex engines and propellers , to keep them that way. Our airship will have the traditional weight distribution where the lowest part is filled with the heavy stuff, engines, power source, crew, cargo, cabins, and most weapons. The large volume needed to make the vessel float in the air will be above this.

The other thing that powered airships use in flight is what I call dynamic or form buoyancy. That is, the movement of the ship through the air generates some of the needed lift. This is in addition to the static lift supplied by the large volume of lifting gas, much like the passage of air over the wing of a heavier than air craft. In the case of the original Zeppelins, and current non-rigid airships, most altitude control in flight was by judicious use of the control planes to change the hulls angle to the airflow. They use the effect of the ships forward motion through the air to control altitude. That is the reason to keep the airship slightly heavy. By having the airship tending to sink in the absence of forward movement the pilots can play the opposing forces against each other which makes control easier.

Airship flight is a constant balancing act between the forces supplied by the vessels buoyancy and propulsion, and the external forces caused by air movement across the surface of the vessel, and any larger atmospheric conditions like winds, frontal systems, storms etc. In a traditional gas filled airship there were three constraints that determined the length of time an airship could operate. The three were fuel supply, ballast supply and lifting gas supply.    

Adjustment for external conditions, like altitude, temperature, humidity etc, required the release of ballast, usually water, to increase buoyancy, or venting of gas to decrease it. As fuel was consumed during a flight the vessel would get lighter with time so gas would have to be vented to maintain static altitude. Obviously there is a limit to how much ballast could be carried, simply to be dropped, and how much gas could be vented before the ability to control the buoyancy would get problematic.

Any emergency conditions, like being caught in a sudden updraft or downdraft near a weather front, could necessitate the dropping of a lot of ballast at once or the venting of a large amount of gas. A single such incident could result in the vessel being unable to continue its voyage, if she survived at all.

Here, finally, we can begin to discuss the case for steam as the lifting gas, because the use of steam essentially removes two of these three constraints! In our case our amazing power source also removes the third, completing the trifecta.

In my next post in this series I'll get to the heart of the Steam as Lifting Gas case.

Until next time here is another image from the Steampunk Art of *Voitv to inspire our airship dreams...
Postal Dragon

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

Click here for the next part of this series.

You can follow the full design thread by clicking on the tag "Flight Engineer".

A School of Nautili

Friday, November 9, 2012 0 comments

What did Verne's Nautilus really look like?
This page is a part of the fantastic website The Vernian Era compiled by Michael Crisafulli.
Collected from movies, books, and speculations of what the Nautilus looked like, the over 100 designs are organized by date, which shows some interesting trends. There are also links to the sources and discussion of some of the more interesting elements.

Here are some examples of the range of designs included.  Including the classic design from Disney's 1950 movie.
The whole Vernian Era site is fascinating and I'll be posting more about it soon.
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

A Catalog of Nautilus Designs 

The earliest depictions of the Nautilus are Hildibrand’s many woodcuts (of Alphonse de Neuville's and Edouard Riou's drawings) that graced the pages of the original publications. The full submarine as shown submerged matches Verne's words although details are lacking in the long-range views. The deck views show more detail, although they are not strictly consistent. Generally, the pilothouse and lantern are very small, not "medium height", and the mounted longboat rather high. 

 Milo Winter illustrated the 1954 Rand McNally Windermere Readers edition of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.  His design features large hull plates, overlapping fore to aft.  The paintings of Illinois watercolorist Winter (1888-1956) first appeared in a 1922 juvenile edition published by Rand McNally & Company.  You can see the color plates in Zvi Har'El virtual library - F. P. Walter's translation.  The pilothouse and lantern appear very similar, suggesting fore and aft windowed structures with lanterns set on top.  All of Winter's paintings show the Nautilus on the surface and I've made no attempt to extrapolate such hidden features as salon windows, prop, or diving planes.  As with all the illustrator collections, proportions and feature locations and shapes vary from illustration to illustration, so the recreation is approximate at best.

Harper Goff early concept NautilusHarper Goff began working out the design of the Nautilus in series of drawings.  The one captured here (courtesy of the folks at Disney Sub and NautilusSubmarine) is very different from the the eventual cinematic version.  It has a more or less spindle shaped hull with bulges at the sides for salon windows and on the lower aft portion where the keel expands to accommodate the diving room with side hatch.  There is a large, tapered ram that flares into the hull.  The wheelhouse is a complex structure with three large windows and a set of lantern ports on the upper part.  The superstructure changes to a large deck aft with a circular hatch at the aft end.  A boat is mounted in the aft of the deck.  There are two pairs of dive planes, but no side fairings or protective rakers.  Knowing what the design would become, it's possible to see similarities, but otherwise they might not be noticed.
Goff's Original Concept ModelBefore the Disney Nautilus took its final cinematic form it went through several variations.  The story is that the Disneys wanted a simple cigar-tube hull rather as described in the novel (perhaps like that above?) and not unlike contemporary submarines.  Harper Goff preferred an intricate Victorian appearance but could not convince the studio heads.  He scratch-built this concept model over a long holiday weekend.  Walt Disney was taken by the model and Goff's concept prevailed.  The original model is lost but documented in a number of photos.  My recreation is based partly on these photos, but mostly on Tom Scherman's later reconstruction.
Harper Goff's Nautilus Harper Goff's design for the Disney film is his own successful elaboration on Verne's design. Rather than the stark utilitarian exterior that Verne described and Neuville and Riou drew, Goff (1911-1993) extended the ornate Victorian interior decoration to the hull and deck. He enhanced the monster impression by adding reptilian fins and protuberances and gave the pilothouse a crocodilian look. I think he wanted movie viewers to come away with an impression equivalent to that of Verne's readers in the previous century. People used to the sailing and steam ships of the mid-1800s and unfamiliar with submarines would see and remember a low sleek hull as monster-like. Moviegoers in the 1950s knew what a submarine looked like, but they had never seen anything like this Nautilus. The basic hull, exclusive of the additions, seems to have Verne's width but a somewhat shorter length. Two sets of diving planes are incorporated in the structures along the side of the hull. The round salon window is placed much farther aft than Verne's interior description allows, but then the salon, dining room and library seem to have been combined into one room. Incidentally, some details of the submarine and some scenes in the film pay clear homage to the 1916 film. (My 20,000 Leagues page has information on videos of both classic films.)

Practical Airship Design Part 2

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 0 comments

Contents and Prospectus

My fellow crew members suggested that I try to organize this series of posts so they would be able to identify the various sections they were interested in and would, hopefully, like to comment on.
Each entry below will be linked to the actual post (once I write and post them).  There is a lot of interesting stuff to cover and of course many of them overlap so the actual posts may not be quite so specific, but this is my plan so far:

  • Part 1 Making the Fantastical Practical A brief introduction as to why I'm doing this and the introduction of the major fantastical element of this design, that being the mysterious ultra-powerful energy source used in the airship.
  • Part 2 Contents and Prospectus  This post!
  • Part 3a The Case for Steam (almost) A brief discussion of how a conventional airship flies.
  • Part 3b The Case for Steam A discussion of the rationale, pros and cons, for the use of steam as the lifting gas for the airship. Much of the subsequent design discussions revolve around and depend on this design decision, as what allows an airship to fly is probably one of the most important elements to discuss.
  • Part 4 To Fly Amongst the Clouds A proposal for the way our fantastical power core generates both lift gas and propulsion power.
  • Part 5 Engines Tanks and Bulkheads Oh My! A discussion of one proposed layout for the "engine room" and the primary systems  including steam generators and propulsion systems.
  • Part 5a More Engines Tanks and Bulkheads Oh My! After further reflection, here is a more detailed discussion of the high pressure steam system used to drive our main power plant.
  • Part 5b Full Steam Ahead A summary of the design of our airship, and a description of the layout of the engine room.
  • Part 5c A Self Mobile Cloud  A discussion of some of the lift control issues using steam as our lift gas.
  • Part 6 Domestic Tranquility Systems Of course a globe trotting airship like ours is more than just an engine hanging from a balloon! The officers, crew and passengers need to be able to live aboard for extended periods of time. What's more some of the crew members are Ladies so we must include many creature comforts for them.
  • Part 6a More Domestic Tranquility Systems. A document I prepared for our Role Play group summarizing the interior layout of our airship
  • Part 7 Splendid She Must Be In conclusion, our Captain has ordered that she must, in addition to being one of the most technologically advanced airships of the age, be one of the most "Splendid"(tm) and this post will attempt to grant his wishes to the best of this poor flight engineer's ability.  
Additional posts as needed to discuss other aspects of the design like communications, weapons, control systems, role playing etc.
  • Our Airship Presenting the HMAS Velvet Brush
  • Airship Technology Speech  My character, as Engineering Officer , was ordered to give a presentation about the technical wonders of our fine ship. I decided to actually give the speech.
  • An Analysis of a Real System "Steam Power Plants in Aircraft"  by  E.E. Wilson at the Bureau of Aeronautics, 1926
I hope you will follow along with me as we hash out these knotty issues and design our fantastical, yet practical, airship. To give you a taste for the kind of craft we are dealing with check out the fantastic Steampunk Art of *Voitv on Deviant Art.

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

By clicking on the tag "Flight Engineer". you can find lots more Airship information.

Click here for Part 3a of the Practical Airship Design series

Kung Fu Awesome + Steampunk Style

Tuesday, November 6, 2012 0 comments

Mmmm... looks like great fun this!
What Xerposa calls...

Crouching Tiger Hidden Steampunk

"Taichi" Movie Trailer

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your fu powerful!

Wimshurst Machine by Jake Von Slatt


Everybody likes electrostatic machines!
No  Steampunk scientific laboratory should be without one.
Jake von Slatt's amazing Steampunk Workshop has a 5 part series of posts with detailed instructions for making a classic Wimshurst Machine like this one:

Using common materials, he details all the steps to create one of these archetypal machines to amaze your visitors and shock your family members.

Invented in 1880 by James Wimshurst these machines were used:
by scientists and experimenters investigating electrostatics but also, and more significantly, by the medical profession. Wimshurst machines with multiple sets of disks were employed to excite X-ray tubes used in early medical imaging. Smaller Wimshurst machines were also employed to apply electric shocks directly to the patient. While it is unlikely that these shock treatments actually helped the patients of the day, once you get a chance to play with your own Wimshurst machine you will surely understand how a patient might believe that the machine must be doing something!

Check it out.

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

Jake's Wimshurst Machine and How to Build It!

Part 1 - Overview, Materials, and Tools

When assembling a laboratory, the gentleman or lady experimenter should be sure to include a Wimshurst electrostatic generating machine. Not only will this device serve tirelessly for investigations in the field of natural philosophy, interesting parlor games such as the electric kiss are also possible! Herein we will demonstrate the construction of such a Wimshurst machine with materials easily acquired from your local home center and hardware store.


Electrostatic machines have always seemed a little like magic to me. I've worked and played with electronics since I was about 6 years old, so I have a thorough understanding of induction and electromagnetism. However, electrostatics are a different thing entirely. These machines that create high voltage charges don't have the familiar coils of copper wire, permanent magnets, and commutators of conventional generators. They are made from brass, glass, and wood, and look more mechanical then electrical. But the coolest thing about electrostatic machines is that you can feel them working. As you begin to crank a Wimshurst machine you will hear it start to crackle and hiss with energy, you will smell the sharp scent of ozone produced and you'll feel the hair on your arm stand up as the Leyden jars charge.

Functional Overview:

The main components of a Wimshurst Influence machine are a pair of counter rotating disks with metal strips or sectors, a pair of charge collecting combs, and a pair of neutralizing bars with conductive brushes that contact the sectors. We're all familiar with the static shocks we receive after getting up from our seat and touching a door knob when the weather is dry. That act of separating your posterior from your chair causes a charge imbalance; a Wimshurst machine is essentially an idealized series of posteriors and chairs endlessly sitting and standing with a pair of collecting comb to gather the charge produced so that something useful may be done with it.
Our machine will be built from materials readily available at your local home center and hardware store and can be assembled using common hand tools. The most complicated operations will include some soldering but you will soon discover that attaching brass balls and rods in this manner is much easier then soldering integrated circuits or working with surface mount devices. However, it will require a somewhat larger iron and perhaps a small torch.
Continued at the link...

Practical Airship Design Part 1

Monday, November 5, 2012 0 comments

Making the Fantastical Practical

Well, "Practical" may not be the right word.smile

I am a member of a Steampunk group that models itself as an Airship Crew.  Nothing really new about that, there are lots of Airship crews out there. What I particularly like about this group though, is that there are some members who are of a strong engineering bent. As part of the online Role Play we do, between going out to pubs in our uniform finery, there have been several intense discussions about the nature of our airship. Things like how big is it, how fast can it fly, what kind of lift system does it use, what is its power source, crew and cargo capacity etc.  To be honest, most of our shipmates are not really worried about the technical side, as long as it is consistent enough to make whatever role playing we do entertaining.  However, there is a lot of interesting and technically cool issues to grapple with, every bit as intriguing to me as what form the uniform will take and where we will be flying off to.

The Graf Zeppelin over the Great Pyramids

Now since the idea is to have an airship capable of doing an around the world voyage, like the Graf Zeppelin did, and to carry a reasonable crew and cargo, but at the same time be fantastical enough to be interesting, the design walks a fine line between technically feasible and outright fantasy.

I'm of a fairly technical bent myself and as such I am more interested in such a ship having as much of a real technical basis as possible.  To me, a Steampunk device is much more interesting if the fantastical (i.e. imaginary) elements are just sufficient to make it work. For example, in Kenneth Oppel's books they have a lift gas that has many times the lifting capacity of hydrogen. Nearly everything else is still normal. With only one big change to "Physics As We Know It"(tm), the reader doesn't have to decide if hanging onto a rope, while dangling off the tail fins of an airship, is risky, it certainly is since gravity still applies and crewmen don't sprout wings simply when needed.

For me therefore the design of our airship needs to keep the fantastical elements to a minimum, while still tipping our collective hats to the "What Ifs" of Steampunk. The kinds of things I talked about in last weekend's speech.

The role playing we are doing, to pass the time more than anything, consists of text messages back and forth, in character, concerning the various doings associated with being in an airship crew. It isn't really a game per se, it is more an unfolding storyline. One of the interesting things about this kind of evolving narrative is that statements made previously stick around, and become part of the story. It is considered a big Faux Pas to arbitrarily change the story without discussing it first.

And that, dear reader, is my opportunity to do some "Practical Airship Design" smile

One of the earliest design constraints made, almost by accident, was that we would have an energy source of unimaginable power, like the one in Disney's 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, the "Power of the Universe" as Captain Nemo described it.  I have chosen to keep that as the main fantastical element and try to design a practical airship around it. That doesn't mean I will only include real Victorian technology. I am a big fan of "What Ifs" so Tesla's creations will figure prominently as will Babbage's computing capabilities.

Any design process is always a compromise, and since we have to include our fellow crewmembers as passengers on whatever our airship design ends up looking like, they have to ultimately agree to live within any technical constraints we give her.

In future posts I will be making my case for particular design elements. Consider them proposals really and they may not be adopted by the rest of the crew, but I will try to let you all know how it is going.

Thanks for reading.

Click here for Part 2 a table of contents for the whole design

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

P.S. I have collected a lot of interesting links about Airships and their design that are related.
You can see all of them by clicking on the tag "Flight Engineer".

Protospace Speech

Sunday, November 4, 2012 0 comments

This is the text of a short speech that I gave as part of the open house for the new Protospace here in Calgary  yesterday.  Along with Monica Willard of SASS we were invited to give talks on Steampunk.  It was well received and seems to have got a lot of "wheels turning".
You can see more about Protospace at their website and Facebook pages.

The speech I gave is based on a my musings from last Sunday.

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

Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is an honour to be able to join in the festivities to mark the opening of this new home for Protospace.
It's also great to see so many Steampunks in the room today.

I can tell you that many of us are really looking forward to getting our hands on the fantastic equipment Protospace has to offer.  Oh the possibilities! 

Now the more I wear my Steampunk clothes out in public, after the obligatory "Why are you dressed like that?", the more I get asked "What is Steampunk anyway?"

I've given a variety of answers. Things like; it is neo-victorian, or quasi-victorian, or an alternate history, or techno-fantasy.

Or... It is like the Wild-Wild-West and Sherlock Holmes movies, or the stories of Jules Verne or H.G.Wells etc.

While these are all reasonable catch phrases to use to describe Steampunk, they are just that, "catch phrases", and not really  a very informative description or explanation. When I get a request for more information, I usually fall back on the traditional "What If" comments...

"What if Babbage's mechanical computer had worked."
"What if the technological development had stopped with Steam?" or things like that.

This difficulty with explaining Steampunk, is not an uncommon problem. Anyone who has ever looked up "What is Steampunk?" on Google will turn up many pages worth of different descriptions and explanations.

So why is it so difficult to distill Steampunk down to a neat and tidy explanation?

It should be easy to explain, the "What ifs" and Neo-Victorian costuming should be enough but it doesn't feel right, it is too simplistic.

I think it's because the Steampunk scene is actually a "World" in the big sense of that word. It is not only a costume style, or an alternative music scene, or a design aesthetic. Steampunk encompasses all of these, as well as the diversity and complexity of the social Goth and Punk movements. It is also not simply a matter of being "Goths who discovered brown" as a friend once snidely remarked. Nor is it strictly speaking a "Geek" thing or an "historical re-creation gone bad" thing, or a basement tinkerer's thing.

There is vastly more here that should be explained. Steampunk is of surprising interest to many people. People that one would not at first expect to be interested at all, are donning a corset and goggles, or a top hat and cravat, and heading out for tea at the nearest fancy hotel, or quaffing a pint at an English style pub. People who would never think of taking their car apart for fun, are tearing apart old clocks and gluing and sewing their gears to their hats and delving into the arcane mysteries of Babbage's Difference Engine, or watching Youtube videos of old steam engines, airships and early motor cars, and becoming intimately acquainted with the smell of brasso, leather,steam heated oil, and coal smoke.

I've noticed an interesting pattern, when there is one Steampunk there will shortly be more!
The same can be said about cockroaches of course, but hey...

Once people see that it is OK to dress up and pursue their interests, in the way the Steampunk scene allows them to do, it doesn't take long before they start to do just that.

My own reasons for being active in the Steampunk Scene are probably not the same as anyone elses, and like most things in life, our motivations are idiosyncratic, the result of our own history and experiences. So trying to distill "Steampunk" down to a soundbite is just as hard as doing that for our everyday lives, and perhaps, just as futile.

A better way, is to contrast the Steampunk Worlds with our everyday world. I'm going to do that through two of the great pillars of invention in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Thomas Alva Edison and Nicola Tesla were men of outstanding genius and creativity, but, they were radically different in how they worked and how they saw progress and invention.

About Gears, Goggles, and Steam oh My!

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

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