Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The State of Plan 28

Yesterday, many readers will have received an email from PledgeBank informing them that the Plan 28 pledge drive had failed. In a narrow technical sense that's correct: I had hoped to get 10,000 people to pledge to donate $10/£10/€10 towards building Babbage's Analytical Engine. In the end 3,996 people from around the world pledged.

Thank you to everyone who expressed this interest in the project. Because of you the project is not going away.

Here's the current state of things:

1. I am in the process of setting up the charitable organization that will manage Plan 28. As I mentioned before I've joined forces with Doron Swade on this and we are actively working to get the project running. Tomorrow I am meeting with specialist lawyers who will handle the charity registration.

2. We are in active talks with the Science Museum about their participation in the project (we hope to build the Analytical Engine at the Science Museum). This has take much longer than anticipated because the Science Museum is a very large organization whose management hierarchy must be navigated. There is great enthusiasm about the project at the Science Museum and they have been very helpful in providing access to Babbage's machines. I hope to announce the final details of our cooperation with the Science Museum in the next couple of weeks.

3. Doron and I are also in active talks with the Computer Conservation Society about their participation in the project. They have done wonderful work on many other historic computer reconstructions (and are just starting on EDSAC). We expect to be able to talk about that in detail in early March.

4. I continue to receive offers in kind of help on the project and I am very grateful for these and we will, undoubtedly, be taking many of them up when the time comes.

5. Another round of publicity will be coming shortly. In this Thursday's Times there's the Eureka science supplement which contains a special feature on the Analytical Engine and Plan 28. And a couple of weeks back I was being photographed for a feature in Wired Magazine. This will be in an issue sometime in the next couple of months.

I know that many people would like to give me money right now. I've been holding off for two reasons: firstly, if I start accepting your money without a proper legal organization I'll find myself in tax hell (the tax people might think the donations are my personal income, and you won't be able to get any tax deduction, and Plan 28 won't be able to apply for Gift Aid).

Secondly, once I can announce that the first part of the project is going to happen (digitization of the entire Babbage archive) the money will actually be needed. I hope to be asking people to donate sometime in the next few weeks.

I realize also that many people are frustrated that project isn't already off and running. Unfortunately, there is a lot of ground work (such as setting up ties with various organizations, finalizing the plan of action, and mundane things like bank accounts) to ensure that Plan 28 has a really solid footing.

Nevertheless, we still hope to have the Analytical Engine complete by 2021. Thank you for your continued support.

PS I have created a mailing list so that people can get email updates on the project. Just send a mail to [email protected] to join.


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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