"Transatlantic" by Stephen Fox

Thursday, May 30, 2013 0 comments

Ocean Liners.

Those symbols of technical prowess, financial power and human foibles. There are names that conjure the increasing power and magnificence of steam; Cunard, White Star, Inman and Brunel. There are also names that remind us of our arrogance and vulnerability when we pit ourselves against the power that is the North Atlantic; Titanic, Atlantic, Arctic.

This fantastic book by Stephen Fox captures the history of the "Ocean Geyhounds" with lots of details about the technical changes in the ships as well as the development of their opulence and the effect of the changing world of the 19th Century and early 20th Century.

Filled with anecdotes and quotes from many of the early promoters, voyagers and crews of these technical marvels, the book gives us a feel for the passage across that stormiest of great seas. Rivaling even the dreaded Cape Horn for the ferocity of its storms, with the added dangers of fogs, icebergs, and congested fishing grounds, these machines carried their passengers, rich and poor alike, across in all weathers and all seasons.

From the Introduction:

During the nineteenth century, the roughest but most important ocean passage in the world lay between Britain and the United States. Bridging the Atlantic Ocean by steamship was a defining, remarkable feat of the era. Over time, Atlantic steamships became the largest, most complex machines yet devised. They created a new transatlantic world of commerce and travel, reconciling former Anglo-American enemies and bringing millions of emigrants who transformed the United States.
I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in both the technical and social history of transatlantic travel.

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

Samuel Cunard, Isambard Brunel,
and the Great Atlantic Steamships

Stephen Fox


Harper Collins
New York

ISBN 0-06-095549-X

Victoria Steam Expo IV May 31- June 2 2013

Tuesday, May 28, 2013 0 comments


The fourth annual Victoria Steam Expo will be held in Victoria British Columbia in a couple of weeks.

This is Canada's premiere Steampunk event check it out!

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

Victoria Steam Expo IV

Scavenger-hunt in Darkened Alleys, Secret Lodges, The Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes, Steampunk Beer Launch, Burlesque Diva Lydia DeCarllo, and More!

The premiere steampunk event in the Dominion of Canada is back for a fourth year in Victoria, British Columbia. Where previous years have been encased in palaces of cut-crystal and gleaming brass, this year it's the gritty back-alleys of the 19th century colonial capital which are brought to the fore – after-hours corners and upstairs dives where the paths of explorers and inventors cross with those of airship scoundrels & duplicitous courtesans.
The weekend is wrapped around Alleyways: An Alternative Reality Game / scavenger hunt specially designed for this event  – sending the braver of attendees through brick alleys, half-forgotten nooks, and opulent lodges of secret societies in pursuit of treasure-unlocking puzzle-clues.  At the Exposition's old-brick 1909 headquarters there will be merchants, outfitters, panels, artists and authors, speakers and performers, history lections, and craft activities for families.


The Weekend kicks off with Friday Night Reception at the 1885 Bard & Banker, with a history lecture of Victoria's seedy underbelly presented by Chris Adams of Ghostly Walks. Hear the real story of Her Majesty's colonial capital with tales of murder, madness, arson and opium.


On Saturday, we switch venues to the 1909 old brick Victoria Event Centre: set in the dark heart of a labyrinth of storied alleys of the capital's Old Town. Speakers, panelists, merchants, booksellers, artists and artisans will all be on hand to display, discuss and trade in wares.  Saturday morning will see the briefing of the scavenger hunt, and teams will be presented with their initial "rabbit holes."
We are proud to announce there will be an exhibition of Bartitsu – the  authentic 19th century mixed martial art of Sherlock Holmes – presented by Vancouver's David McCormick of Academy Duello.
Saturday evening Longwood Brewery presents the 19+ Steampunk Cabaret Burlesque, a costume ball and raucous dance suited for this year's theme of discretion, decadence, deviousness & debauchery. Vancouver Burlesque star Lydia DeCarllo will tease and titillate, followed by the riotous Folk Glam Gypsy Marching Band Bucan Bucan in celebration of the launch of Vancouver Island's very own Steampunk Beer.


More presentations, final round and prizes for the scavenger hunt, family craft activities and the fashion show!

Experiments in Steam Lift Part 1

Sunday, May 26, 2013 0 comments


As you know if you have been reading my Practical Airship Design series, the airship I am describing/designing uses low pressure steam as the lift gas. While not anywhere near as powerful a lift agent as Hydrogen or Helium it has several advantages that I have discussed in that series here and here.

I have decided to do a some quick experiments for myself to see how steam worked as a lift gas. Nothing fancy really just a quick check on how steam behaves at low pressure in an enclosed space like our airship's lift bags.

In order to test this I needed a few items:

1) A source of low pressure steam of fairly large volume.
2) An envelope to contain the steam.

For the Steam source I decided to use a small 1/2 liter electric kettle, one that has no automatic shutoff just a whistle to tell when it is boiling. It would keep boiling until it was dry if I let it.

I thought finding an envelope would be a bit tricky as it has to be light enough to show if there was any lift available, but not be too sensitive to the temperature of the steam (100c at sea level of course but about 98C at our elevation). I wasn't sure how most light weight materials would handle the heat.

The lightest materials I had on hand were Safeway shopping bags and green garbage bags. These are plastic of course so I was concerned that they would potentially be damaged by the steam. Easiest way to test was to put a chunk of each in boiling water and see what happened.

Making sure my wife was out of the kitchen smile I filled a saucepan with water and got it boiling furiously on the stove. Then I immersed the samples, and after a few minutes I found that surprisingly they were completely unaffected! They didn't stretch or show any signs of being softened by the boiling water. They also didn't seem to give off any smell as a result of being boiled (so I escaped the kitchen and my wife unscathed). I decided to use these as the test envelopes for my lift experiment.

The first "proof of concept" experiment was to simply fill a shopping bag with steam from the kettle and see what happens. Anybody who has blown air into a shopping bag with a fan knows that the bag will expand as the air is pushed into it. In my case I wanted to see if the steam was doing any lifting not just expanding the envelope by pressure. How to do that?

The trick is to leave the bottom of the bag open to the atmosphere. That insures that there can be no over pressure inside the bag to hold it up. If the bag stays "inflated" even when it is open at the base then the inflation must be the result of the lift from the steam.

I fired up the kettle in the back yard and when it was boiling I placed the shopping bag over the kettle. I collapsed the bag into a long package first to exclude as much air as possible. As the steam beagn to flow the bag began to fill and lift the surface until it was nearly inflated! The bottom was open and the steam was not coming out of the bottom yet, which showed that there was no pressure building up in the bag.

I expected to see a lot of condensation of the steam on the surface of the bag, but there was very little during the few minutes of my test.

Next I did the same thing with the green garbage bag. This showed the same behaviour, the bag filled and extended even with the bottom open to the air. The garbage bag is much bigger of course and it was able to hold itself up by the lift of the steam. While I was doing this a slight breeze came up which kept collapsing the bag so I was not able to fully inflate it.

Again there was very little condensation on the inner surface of the bag. I'm not sure why that is unless the bag, by heating up to nearly the temperature of the steam, prevents much condensation.

My next set of experiments should be interesting.  I will try the garbage bag again inside and see if there is sufficient lift to actually lift the bag from the ground! I will also measure the temperatures of the bag surface and the steam inside. Allowing the bag to cool by removing it from the kettle will show how fast the steam condenses.

Stay tuned for part 2 coming soon.

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

On gadgets...

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 0 comments

Everybody likes gadgets!
Steampunk has lots of gadgets. Machine like objects that appear to have some kind of use. Festooned with pipes, gauages, gears, wires levers and springs. In polished brass and copper, and tooled leather and varnished wood.

Some are elegant works of art like this clock by Roger Wood.

These elegant Steampunk iPod stands are decorative holders for real technological objects.

I love the IDEA of such gadgets and objects, they liven up our surroundings and give us a sense that maybe our Steampunk worlds can be real. BUT these objects are really a pastiche, which Wikipedia defines as:
A work of art, literature, film, music or architecture that closely imitates the work of a previous artist, usually distinguished from parody in the sense that it celebrates rather than mocks the work it imitates
These objects do not DO anything, yes the clocks run and the iPods work, but all the geegaws around them don't do anything except look cool.  I'm a technical kind of guy, as you no doubt have noticed, and I can't help trying to make sense of these objects. It's as if the technical side of my brain really wants all the decorations to actually work.

Take a gear train for example, often used by Steampunks as a decorative treatment on T-shirts, phone cases and letterhead. I always start to follow the gears around, seeing which one turns which way and when I see that the gears would be locked up there is almost a jarring sense of disappointment. The same goes for following pipes and gauges and wires.

It's not that I think all this decoration should be functional of course since it is simply a gloss put on for effect. Of course there is nothing wrong with that.  They are pastiches in the sense that they mimic the real elegance of form following function that Victorian machinery and gadgets have. Those real objects are the inspiration for our gadgets and even when their function is not obvious they still look like they could be functional. 
I have never been successful building such gadgets myself, mainly because I can't escape the feeling that the layout should somehow work. I am in awe of artists like Roger Wood who can build such beautiful objects and successfully pull off the decoration. And even though I will always try to figure out if all the bits fit together it doesn't change the fact that these gadgets are stylish objet d'art and definitely brighten up or Steampunk worlds. 

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

"100 Hints on Gentlemanly Deportment" 1860

Friday, May 17, 2013 0 comments

A guide for gentlemen.
This guide is excerpted from:

by Cecil B. Hartley, published in 1860 in Boston.

This book has tons of interesting information on how a "Gentleman" should behave. Everything from dress and wedding etiquette to letter writing and how to behave at public "amusements".  While much of this seems quaint in today's free and easy world, I think we would do well to remember that many of these rules were necessary in the crowded pedestrian cities of the 19th century.

The One Hundred Hints below have some insights into what it means to be a Gentlemen regardless of what one's station in society was.  I have copied the whole section for ease of reference so my apologies for the length.

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


1. Always avoid any rude or boisterous action, especially when in the presence of ladies. It is not necessary to be stiff, indolent, or sullenly silent, neither is perfect gravity always required, but if you jest let it be with quiet, gentlemanly wit, never depending upon clownish gestures for the effect of a story. Nothing marks the gentleman so soon and so decidedly as quiet, refined ease of manner.

2. Never allow a lady to get a chair for herself, ring a bell, pick up a handkerchief or glove she may have dropped, or, in short, perform any service for herself which you can perform for her, when you are in the room. By extending such courtesies to your mother, sisters, or other members of your family, they become habitual, and are thus more gracefully performed when abroad.

3. Never perform any little service for another with a formal bow or manner as if conferring a favor, but with a quiet gentlemanly ease as if it were, not a ceremonious, unaccustomed performance, but a matter of course, for you to be courteous.

4. It is not necessary to tell all that you know; that{187} were mere folly; but what a man says must be what he believes himself, else he violates the first rule for a gentleman’s speech—Truth.

5. Avoid gambling as you would poison. Every bet made, even in the most finished circles of society, is a species of gambling, and this ruinous crime comes on by slow degrees. Whilst a man is minding his business, he is playing the best game, and he is sure to win. You will be tempted to the vice by those whom the world calls gentlemen, but you will find that loss makes you angry, and an angry man is never a courteous one; gain excites you to continue the pursuit of the vice; and, in the end you will lose money, good name, health, good conscience, light heart, and honesty; while you gain evil associates, irregular hours and habits, a suspicious, fretful temper, and a remorseful, tormenting conscience. Some one must lose in the game; and, if you win it, it is at the risk of driving a fellow creature to despair.

6. Cultivate tact! In society it will be an invaluable aid. Talent is something, but tact is everything. Talent is serious, sober, grave, and respectable; tact is all that and more too. It is not a sixth sense, but it is the life of all the five. It is the open eye, the quick ear, the judging taste, the keen smell, and the lively touch; it is the interpreter of all riddles—the surmounter of all difficulties—the remover of all obstacles. It is useful in all places, and at all times; it is useful in solitude, for it shows a man his way into the world; it is useful in society, for it shows him his way through the world. Talent is power—tact is skill; talent is weight—tact is momentum; talent knows what to do—tact knows how to do it;{188} talent makes a man respectable—tact will make him respected; talent is wealth—tact is ready money. For all the practical purposes of society tact carries against talent ten to one.

7. Nature has left every man a capacity of being agreeable, though all cannot shine in company; but there are many men sufficiently qualified for both, who, by a very few faults, that a little attention would soon correct, are not so much as tolerable. Watch, avoid such faults.

8. Habits of self-possession and self-control acquired early in life, are the best foundation for the formation of gentlemanly manners. If you unite with this the constant intercourse with ladies and gentlemen of refinement and education, you will add to the dignity of perfect self command, the polished ease of polite society.

9. Avoid a conceited manner. It is exceedingly ill-bred to assume a manner as if you were superior to those around you, and it is, too, a proof, not of superiority but of vulgarity. And to avoid this manner, avoid the foundation of it, and cultivate humility. The praises of others should be of use to you, in teaching, not what you are, perhaps, but in pointing out what you ought to be.

10. Avoid pride, too; it often miscalculates, and more often misconceives. The proud man places himself at a distance from other men; seen through that distance, others, perhaps, appear little to him; but he forgets that this very distance causes him also to appear little to others.

11. A gentleman’s title suggests to him humility and affability; to be easy of access, to pass by neglects and{189} offences, especially from inferiors; neither to despise any for their bad fortune or misery, nor to be afraid to own those who are unjustly oppressed; not to domineer over inferiors, nor to be either disrespectful or cringing to superiors; not standing upon his family name, or wealth, but making these secondary to his attainments in civility, industry, gentleness, and discretion.

12. Chesterfield says, “All ceremonies are, in themselves, very silly things; but yet a man of the world should know them. They are the outworks of manners, which would be too often broken in upon if it were not for that defence which keeps the enemy at a proper distance. It is for that reason I always treat fools and coxcombs with great ceremony, true good breeding not being a sufficient barrier against them.”

13. When you meet a lady at the foot of a flight of stairs, do not wait for her to ascend, but bow, and go up before her.

14. In meeting a lady at the head of a flight of stairs, wait for her to precede you in the descent.

History of Newspapers in Canada

Wednesday, May 15, 2013 0 comments

This is a fascinating look at the development of the newspaper industry in Canada.

The article is included in the online version of The Canadian Encyclopedia.

The first part of this detailed article is included below to give you a taste.

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


Canada's first newspaper, John Bushell's Halifax Gazette, began publication in 1752. Like most colonial newspapers in North America, it was an adjunct of a commercial printing operation. Moreover, it was dependent on the printing and patronage largesse of the colonial government. This reliance on revenues from sources other than readers - from governments, political parties and ADVERTISING - would remain a characteristic of Canadian newspapers.

The First Newspapers

There were no newspapers in New France, in part because of the opposition of French officialdom to the establishment of printing presses in the colony. The British Conquest, and the termination of the SEVEN YEARS' WAR in 1763, brought a trickle of printers from the American colonies. In 1764, 2 Philadelphia printers, William Brown and Thomas Gilmore, began the bilingual Quebec Gazette at Québec City. In 1785 Fleury Mesplet, a French printer who had been jailed because of his attempts to persuade Québec to join the American Revolution, started publication of the Montreal Gazette (now the oldest continuing newspaper in the country).

In 1793, under the auspices of Upper Canada's first governor, a Québec printer started the Upper Canada Gazette at Newark [Niagara-on-the-Lake], the first newspaper in what is now Ontario. Like the Halifax Gazette, these first papers - operating in colonies where populations were low - remained utterly dependent upon government patronage. In Upper Canada, William Lyon MACKENZIE pressed the Assembly to subsidize the province's first paper mill, in part to ensure a source of newsprint for his journal - a telling example that the close relationship between newspapers and government patronage held even for a democratic firebrand.

The development of legislative assemblies in British North America encouraged political factions. At the same time, particularly in Halifax, Saint John, Montréal, Kingston and York [Toronto], a merchant class, with an interest both in reading commercial intelligence and in advertising, was growing. Weekly newspapers sprouted up, allied with political movements and the various mercantile and agricultural interests.

In Lower Canada, the Québec City Mercury (1805) and the Montréal Herald (1811) became mouthpieces for the province's English-speaking merchants, while Le Canadien (1806) and La Minerve (1826) spoke for the rising French Canadian professional interests.

In Upper Canada, William Lyon Mackenzie used his Colonial Advocate (1824) to argue the cause of Reformers in general and farmers in particular against the dominant professional and mercantile groups. In the Maritimes, newspapers such as Joseph HOWE'S Novascotian (1824) of Halifax also worked to challenge the authority of colonial oligarchies.

Newspapers, Politics and the State
By the early decades of the 19th century, most newspapers were allied with either the Reform (now Liberal) or Conservative Party. These early newspapers were by no means simple tools of the parties they claimed to support but rather were organs of specific leaders or factions within the parties. Thus the Toronto Globe (1844) was a personal organ of its publisher, the Reform politician George BROWN. The Toronto Mail (1872), while set up to act as spokesman for the whole Conservative Party, was quickly captured by the dominant faction led by John A. MACDONALD.

Moreover, it was not unusual for an organ to deviate from the party line. The Mail, for example, broke with the Macdonald Conservatives in the 1880s, forcing the party to set up the Empire in 1887. The relative independence of newspapers from political parties and governments varied from place to place. But in general, newspapers had more potential for independence from parties as their revenues from circulation and advertising grew.

In part, the politicization of newspapers continued because readers demanded partisanship. POLITICS was a serious matter in 19th-century Canada; newspapers were expected to have views. Thus occurred the phenomenon of the 2-newspaper town. By 1870 every town large enough to support one newspaper supported 2 - one Liberal and one Conservative. As well, newspapers have never cut themselves off completely from government patronage. Since 1867 the federal government has subsidized newspaper publishers by granting them special postal rates. Canada's first international wire service, Canadian Associated Press (1903), was subsidized by the federal government, as was the domestic news co-operative, CANADIAN PRESS, during the initial years after its founding in 1917.

The Rise of Advertising

While partisanship remained, the financial dependence of newspapers on governments and political parties did decline throughout the 19th century. The reason has to do with the economics of newspaper publishing and with overall economic development. Newspapers faced high overhead costs, ie, newspapers were forced to incur the same initial outlays for equipment, typesetting and editorial matter whether they printed one copy or a run of 10 000. In the 1860s, when daily circulations were usually under 5000, these overhead costs were covered by party or government patronage. But as population expanded and literacy increased, publishers were able to spread these overhead costs over more readers. In addition, as a newspaper's circulation increased, merchants became more interested in it as an advertising medium. With productive capacity increasing in all industries, advertising - as a means of persuading people to buy the massive volume of goods being produced - became crucial.

Early advertisers were wholesalers trying to catch the attention of other merchants, but by the 1880s retail advertising, aimed at a mass market, was dominant. By 1900 consumers were flooded with newspaper advertisements calling upon them to purchase such things as soap, patent medicines or electric belts. Big-city dailies were earning between 70% and 80% of their revenues from advertising.

Technological developments in the newspaper industry, and in the economy as a whole, hastened the trend to large-circulation, advertising-based newspapers. The spread of the TELEGRAPH during the 1850s and the laying of the Atlantic cable in 1866 increased the availability of world news to newspapers, but at the same time increased their overhead costs of production. By the 1880s, high-speed web presses and stereotyping allowed newspapers to expand their circulations in order to earn more revenue to cover these costs. In 1876 the combined circulation of daily newspapers in the 9 major urban centres was 113,000. Seven years later, it had more than doubled. Railway building, from the mid-19th century onwards, put more of the population within reach of daily and weekly newspapers. By the 1890s, typecasting machines such as the linotype were allowing daily newspapers to expand their size from the standard 4-, 8- or 12-page format to 32 or 48 pages. This greatly increased the amount of advertising space.

"The Design of Jules Verne’s Submarine Nautilus" by Stuart Wier

Sunday, May 12, 2013 0 comments

The Nautilus Design

I recently found a PDF document of an analysis of Jules Verne's iconic submarine the Nautilus.

In a previous post, A School of Nautili, I linked to a catalog of designs based on Verne's descriptions in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

This analysis by Stuart K Wier entitled simply "The Design of Jules Verne’s Submarine Nautilus" examines not only the details of the design but also some ideas of why Verne designed the Nautilus as he did and what some potential influences and inspirations he may have had.

Examining the original illustrations done for Verne's book is fascinating, since the illustrators were friends and acquaintances of Verne they had discussed the details with him before creating the illustrations. The paper includes many of these images which show the interiors of the Nautilus in all her glory.
I highly recommend this paper for anyone interested in the details of the Nautilus.

There are some snippets of the paper below to give you a taste of the style of this excellent paper.

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


In 1867 when Jules Verne was beginning to plan a novel about an undersea voyage, he and his brother Paul traveled to the United States on board the Great Eastern. The Great Eastern was an enormous vessel for its time, 213 meters (698feet) long, and 23 meters (75 feet) wide, in fact the largest vessel afloat, and it incorporated some of the newest features of marine architecture. It had a double iron hull, sails, steam engines, paddle wheels, and a propeller 7.3 meters (24 feet) in diameter. Verne showed and described his keen interest in the ship, and noted details of its design, construction, and operation. Thinking of an advanced undersea vessel, he found himself living on the the most advanced ship of his time. In the United States Verne saw other new technology, such as the large and fast Hudson River steamboats. This was a period of delight in rapid technical progress.

For the past century the submarine has played an important role in naval affairs, and more recently submersibles have become valuable in exploration of the oceans. Yet a fictional submarine, conceived decades before real submarines took up seagoing duties, remains a candidate for the most renowned: Jules Verne's Nautilus, from his novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Jules Verne is rightly regarded as a prophet of many of the inventions which characterized twentieth century life. The novels of Jules Verne are as well known for their technical innovations as for their plots of journeys to exotic locations. The submarine Nautilus and its enigmatic captain Nemo are among Verne's most famous creations. Even some who have not read Verne know that the Nautilus foreshadowed large modern submarines.
Wier's analysis of the propulsion system is interesting
“The dynamic power of my engines is nearly infinite”:
Power, Propulsion, and Control

Despite a popular notion that Verne's Nautilus had some sort of futuristic power supply, such as atomic power, Verne based his technology on what was known in his day. The power supply is chemical batteries. Verne realized that the actual batteries of his day were far from adequate, as batteries remain today, but suggested they might be greatly improved. Nemo says he uses “large and powerful” Bunsen batteries rather than Ruhmkorff batteries which are less powerful. Nemo has improved the Bunsen battery by using elements of a sodium zinc amalgam in place of zinc alone, which Nemo claims doubles the “electromotive force” of the batteries (what we call today the voltage). Perhaps Verne was unaware of the explosive property of sodium in contact with water.
Nemo extracts sodium from sea water on a remote island, where the process is fueled with sea coal. The new sodium would recharge Verne's hypothetical batteries, which seem to last for months between charges.

About Gears, Goggles, and Steam oh My!

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

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