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Showing posts from October, 2010

All Plan 28 Media Coverage

This is the 2010 archive, for 2011 see 2011 Plan 28 Media Coverage

I'll be keeping this page updated as new stories are posted. Articles with * next to them are the most in-depth.

October 3, 2010

The Independent: One of the great inventions that never was – until now? *
The Independent: Start the Engine

October 4, 2010

The Daily Mail: Campaign to build Charles Babbage's steam-powered 'Analytical Engine' - 173 years after he designed it
O'Reilly Radar: The 100-year leap *

October 5, 2010

The Register: Legendary steampunk computer 'should be built' - programmer
THINQ.co.uk: Geek plans to build Babbage compute

October 6, 2010

iProgrammer: Plans to build Babbage's Analytical Engine

October 7, 2010

Fudzilla: Babbage's analytical engine should be constructed

October 8, 2010

e-Katalog: Британский энтузиаст намерен построить паровой компьютер

October 9, 2010

Der Standard: Dampf-Computer von 1837 soll Realität werden

October 11, 2010

elektor: Dampf-Computer soll Re…

A Plan 28 completion date

Today in 1871 Charles Babbage died. 11 years from now it will be 150 years from Babbage's death.

He kept working on the Analytical Engine up until his death. Let's make sure that his Analytical Engine is built by October 18, 2021.

Help get the word out about Plan 28.

Plan 28: the first 10 days

So, it's been 10 days since I posted the Analytical Engine PledgeBank and the total number of signatories stands at over 2,700 with many people pledging £50, €100 or even $1,000. The PledgeBank estimator reckons I'll hit 42,435 pledges (84.9% of target) by the target date. Given how much more than $10/£10/€10 many people are pledging I'd imagine that my goal isn't unrealistic, but please keep spreading the news.

As well as pledges of money I've received pledges of professional design and manufacturing help, document digitizing, CAD software and more. These are super-helpful.

In addition there's been a lot of media interest. The best articles are the BBC's Campaign builds to construct Babbage Analytical Engine and The Independent's One of the great inventions that never was – until now?. If podcasts are your sort of thing then you can listen to the excellent session about Plan 28 on TWiT #269.

There's also been some nice tweet-support from BBC bro…

What Nature didn't say

Nature has a nice article about scientific software which starts by mentioning the hacking of the Climatic Research Unit and the release of software from the hacked files, and then goes on to talk generally about the state of scientific software. My summary would be that it's generally a mess because software engineering has crept up on scientists and now they need to get educated about things that have been common in the commercial software world for years.

Which is pretty much what I said on Newsnight in December 2009.

The article begins:

When hackers leaked thousands of e-mails from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, last year, global-warming sceptics pored over the documents for signs that researchers had manipulated data. No such evidence emerged, but the e-mails did reveal another problem — one described by a CRU employee named "Harry", who often wrote of his wrestling matches with wonky computer software.

"Yup, my a…

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. Conta…

1,000 people sign the Plan 28 pledge

A few moments ago I checked the Plan 28 pledge page to find that it had passed the 1,000 people mark. That took just 6 days. Thank you to everyone who's pledged so far (Peter Zuidhoek was the 1,000 person).

But even more heartwarming than the 1,000 are the comments people have been leaving on the page. You can read them all on the pledge page, but here are a few highlights. Many people have said that they'll pledge more than $10/£10/€10, with some going as high as $1,000. Brilliant.

Worth it just for the first step. Do it for the next generation. -- Matt Doar

Put me down for a hundred quid. -- Aidan Karley

I have been hoping for years that someone would do this. I contributed to the construction of the Difference Engine and am proud to be able to contribute here. -- Raymond Woodward K3VSA

I'll pledge $100 - Roston McGregor

Great idea and willing to pledge more 50$ when the time comes -- Marcus Jaeger

Great endeavor, sign me up for $50 USD. -- Robert Huwar

I'd love to see…

A big boost for Plan 28

Last night I appeared on TWiT with Leo Laporte and John C. Dvorak and guests. We talked about a lot of things late into my night, but mostly about Plan 28.

Leo encouraged listeners to pledge money and made the stunning offer of personally pledging $1,000 to the effort! And so, on top of Leo's pledge the number of people pledging has tripled!


Thanks Leo.

Geek Weekend: Kew Bridge Steam Museum

So, I managed to persuade the people around me that it would fun to go and visit Kew Bridge Steam Museum, and it was brilliant! The museum is one of the places that was on the list for The Geek Atlas but got cut for space. Nevertheless, it's really worth visiting.


On weekends and other special days the folks at the museum set the machines running (including the massive 90 inch engine). I got there early enough to see most of the engines demonstrated and the staff were great. Got a good explanation of the operation of the triple expansion engine used for pumping water for London. Here it is in action:



Another nice engine is the Dancer's End engine that was used for pumping water on the estate of Lord Rothschild and was moved to the museum in the 1970s. And makes a lovely noise as the condenser water can be heard bubbling away. Here it is.



And finally, it's not all steam. There's a collection of Diesel engines. Here's a small one in action. What a brillian…

1,000 (bad) ideas

Tidying up my messy corner in the basement I unearthed one of my older "ideas books" in which I write down the random ideas that flit through my head quite frequently. Flicking through it I noticed that this book contained idea number 1,000 written on October 3, 2006. Most of these ideas never get implemented but they are fun to go back and read.


Idea 1,000 was In-ear headphones that automatically pause music when removed. The details mention using either a proximity detector to discover when the headphones are in the ear, or a strain gauge to detect the pressure of the ear canal.

The previous idea was Brake lights that show the severity of braking. The idea there was to replace the current 'high-level' brake lights in cars (that are typically a horizontal bar), with a triangle of lights. Under normal braking just the top, horizontal red bar would illuminate. Under heavy braking the triangle would illuminate warning drivers of an emergency situation (particular…

The Analytical Engine vs. The ZX81

Many people got started with computing in my age group with the Sinclair ZX81 (which in the US was sold as the Timex Sinclair 1000).


Reading through Allan Bromley's excellent papers on Babbage's Analytical Engine (as described in 1847) I thought it might be fun to compare the two machines.

The ZX81 has 1KB of memory in which programs and data had to be stored. The Analytical Engine as first imagined would have had 50 variables capable of each storing a 30 digit decimal number. That's equivalent to each variable having 100 bits and hence the memory for the Analytical Engine would have been 5000 bits (675 bytes). Later Babbage proposed much larger memory sizes with up to 50 decimal digits per variables and 1000 variables: that would have been a memory of 166 bits per variable or over 20 KB of memory.

Critically, the Analytical Engine's programs would be stored on punched cards and executed directly from them so that entire memory space was for data (not the program). In…

Let's raise £500k for the Analytical Engine

If you are new to this please read my introduction to Babbage's 100-year Leap. If not, read on...


I've created a PledgeBank entry for the project here where I'm asking people to pledge to donate $10/£10/€10 towards a non-profit organization dedicated to building the Analytical Engine. The non-profit would have four goals:

1. To help digitize and make available in electronic form all of Charles Babbage's notes and plans associated with the Difference Engine and Analytical Engine.

2. To fund the study of Babbage's Analytical Engine plans to determine what best constitutes a complete design for the Engine.

3. To coordinate the building of a computer simulation of the Analytical Engine that shows its working in 3D with accurate physics.

4. To build the Analytical Engine and donate it to a museum in Great Britain for public display.

PledgeBank operates on an all-or-nothing system where I either reach the goal and then can ask people to make good on their pledge, or I fail. …

Charles Babbage and Climate Change

At the risk of turning into James Burke and creating my own version of Connections, it's amusing to know that two of the topics I've blogged about, Charles Babbage and Climate Change, have a strong connection.

One of the key areas of climate change research used to demonstrate the we live in historically overheated times is dendrochronology (looking at tree rings) to determine past climate (called dendroclimatology). This is a large part of the science behind the Hockey Stick and related controversy.

So, who's the father of dendroclimatology? Charles Babbage has a strong claim.

Babbage wrote in 1838:

It is well known that dicotyledonous trees increase in size by the deposition of an additional layer annually between the wood and the bark, and that a transverse section of such trees presents a series of nearly concentric though irregular rings, the number of which indicates the age of the tree. The relative thickness of these rings depends on the more or less flourishing stat…

Three Silicon Valley places Paul Graham omitted

Paul Graham came up with a good list of places to see Silicon Valley, but to my mind he missed three important places from a historical perspective. One of these is a major omission because it put the Silicon in Silicon Valley.

1. The HP Garage

Paul mentions walking around Old Palo Alto but doesn't include 367 Addison Avenue where HP got started. Working out in the garage of the house where Dave Packard lived, William Hewlett designed HP's first product: The Model 200A oscillator. Notice how they were great at marketing: they called it the Model 200A to make it look like it was one of a number of products from a big company.


© BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons

The Model 200A was a cheap audio oscillator that undercut competing products and contained a wonderful hack. To solve a common problem with the oscillator type that underlies the Model 200A (a Wien-bridge) Hewlett needed a resistance that would automatically vary to prevent the amplitude of oscillation from rising too…

The 100-year leap

Here's something I wrote for O'Reilly Radar:

In December 1837, the British mathematician Charles Babbage published a paper describing a mechanical computer that is now known as the Analytical Engine. Anyone intimate with the details of electronic computers will instantly recognize the components of Babbage's machine. Although Babbage was designing with brass and iron, his Engine has a central processing unit (which he called the mill) and a large amount of expandable memory (which he called the store). The operation of the Engine is controlled by program stored on punched cards, and punched cards can also be used to input data.

Read on.

GAGA-1: Computer mounting

Not much time to work on GAGA-1 this weekend, so I nailed down one of the simpler items: how the two computers (flight and recovery) are going to be mounted inside the capsule. After considering all sorts of techniques I settled on self-adhesive Velcro "coins" and a cut up fast food container (the plastic containers that much Indian food comes in have nice fitting lids and are made of strong plastic: I use them for storing screws, components and all the miscellaneous stuff in my basement).

Here's a picture of an untouched curry container and once I cut up. The two black dots are Velcro pads on I stuck on the bottom. The container is just the right width to fit in the box and the small vertical portion pushes against the edges of the box keeping it snug. Between that and the Velcro this will provide adequate support for the two computers.


With the two computers sitting on it, it's clear that there's adequate space. The computers will be attached using screws an…

Start The Engine

I woke up this morning to discover that the The Independent newspaper in the UK had picked up on my desire to build Babbage's Analytical Engine (see Plan 28) with not one, but two articles. The first article begins:

It may seem an anachronism in the era of the ever-shrinking digital gadget, but Charles Babbage's locomotive-size "Analytical Engine" remains one of the greatest inventions that never was.

Babbage's brainchild, first conceived in 1837, never wound into life. But now John Graham-Cumming, an influential programmer and science blogger, is leading a quest to build the Analytical Engine in all its 19th-century glory. He plans to use detailed blueprints which Babbage laid down in a series of notebooks held in the archives of London's Science Museum.

But the real surprise was that they decided to talk about the Engine in a Leader titled Start the engine:

John Graham-Cumming led the successful campaign last year to secure a pardon for Alan Turing. Now the sc…