Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Plan 28 (Analytical Engine) FAQ

Answers to your questions about the Babbage PledgeBank:

1. Can I pledge more than $10/£10/€10?

Yes, of course! Many people have done so. The system doesn't have a box where you can enter an amount, but you can contact me and let me know, or, even better, publish a public comment with your pledge amount.

2. Can I pay you the money?

Not yet. Currently, I'm working on building up enough pledges to make sure this is viable. Once I have enough you'll receive an email detailing the new Plan 28 organization and how to actual send in the money.

3. Do you really think you can get 50,000 people to pledge?

Yes. Last year I got over 30,000 in the UK alone to sign the Alan Turing petition. This campaign is global and so I am confident that with the right exposure in the media and the help of enthusiastic people over 50,000 will pledge.

4. The Plan 28 web site is ugly.

Yes, I know. This is being actively worked on by a professional designer.

5. I have another idea about this.

Great. Contact me. I'm building up a big list of ideas, volunteers, etc. Would love to hear from you.

6. How can I help?

Sign the pledge. Tell people about this: tweet it, Facebook, email, etc.

7. Why hasn't someone done this before?

Because it takes time. It wasn't until the 1970s that Babbage's contributions were fully understood (see Bruce Collier's thesis), and until the 1980s that his plans had been deciphered by the likes of Allan Bromley. Only then could the Difference Engine No. 2 be constructed. It was finished in 1991. In many ways, The Difference Engine No. 2 was an 'easy' project because Babbage had left complete plans for it. The Analytical Engine is a different matter.

Babbage left multiple plans for the Analytical Engine and was constantly refining its design up until his death. To build the Analytical Engine first requires a research project to figure out which plan to build from. That's why the project has steps involving scanning all of Babbage's papers and a research project on them.

8. What's the best introduction to this project for a newbie?

Probably, the article The 100-year leap.

9. Why are you doing this?

In 1992 I sat on the floor of the Science Museum in London and watched the Difference Engine No. 2 demonstrated. And then I sat outside in the sun near the Natural History Museum and worked through its operation on paper. Since then I have been fascinated by Babbage and the fact that he had invented a real computer in 1837.

In 2000 the Science Museum completed the printer attachment for the Difference Engine No. 2 showing that Babbage's dream would have worked. I simply want to complete the task of honouring Babbage by creating his computer and showing it to the public.


If you enjoyed this blog post, you might enjoy my travel book for people interested in science and technology: The Geek Atlas. Signed copies of The Geek Atlas are available.


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