Tuesday, December 07, 2010

A boost for Plan 28

Up until a couple of weeks ago Plan 28 was a one man show. Although Plan 28 has received enormous press coverage and many people have pledged money, services, material and time, the project was still just me.

I'm happy to say that that's no longer the case.

Doron Swade, the pre-eminent Babbage expert, who, as curator of computing a the Science Museum, masterminded the project to build Babbage's Difference Engine No. 2 has joined me on the project. Doron and I now share responsibility for finishing Babbage's work.

Doron and I met over coffee a few weeks ago to discuss the Analytical Engine and it was clear that both of us had been dreaming of building the physical engine for public display. Happily, Doron had been doing a lot more than dreaming. His deep knowledge of Babbage's engines and his continuing study of Babbage's plans and notes have placed him in the unique position of being the key figure in any attempt to build the world's first digital, programmable, automatic computer.

Much more has been happening behind the scenes that we cannot yet discuss, and the project's success is by no means guaranteed, but Plan 28 has received a major boost in the form of Doron Swade.

PS You can still pledge to the project; your promise of $, € or £ is much needed!


Bas said...

Shouldn't that be "first _analog_, programmable, automatic computer"?

John Graham-Cumming said...

@Bas. No, it was digital.

Unknown said...

"Much more has been happening behind the scenes that we cannot yet discuss..."

Secrecy? That's troubling. I was hoping this would be a fully open project. Please please please no secrets?

John Graham-Cumming said...

It's not a question of secrecy. It's a question of me not shooting my mouth off in the middle of negotiating with someone or a large entity about their involvement.

It would be foolish for me to publish the details of every conversation I've had with people before agreements have been reached. Once they have been reached I'll tell everyone.

I certainly plan no secrets and Doron and I have agreed that everything about this project be done in a "Creative Commons" manner.

Unknown said...

Great news. Definitely up for contributing more than the nominal tenner.

Stefan Gustavson said...

If by the end of January the 10,000 goal is not quite met but still within reach, which I think it is already, I suspect many people are prepared to contribute quite a bit more than your asked €10.

John Graham-Cumming said...

@Stefan Agreed. Many paper have offered much more than £10. We will assess in mid-January the state of pledges and I expect to announce then how the project will be financed.

I am very hopeful that I'll be coming back to people in 2011 to ask them to make good on their pledge.

Steveastro said...

I'll volunteer my company CAD-CAM facilities for elements of the manufacture, when it happens.

Rob:-] said...

So on the pledge (I pledge $100US) ... I think I pledged on the pledge site (don't remember the name) but when and how do we pay up?

(I ended up pledging to something else and they have no way to un-pledge if you make an error. That site needs some usability improvements.)

I may have said this somewhere else but I'd love to see a virtual machine construction set that would let everyone (me) participate in this project. I envision this tool as a general purpose software package that would let me create mechanical parts that could be assembled in a virtual environment and then have them interact as they would in real life.

These parts and assemblies could then be exchanged in digital form amoung all interested parties. These parts might also be printable by the DIY 3D printers that are becoming so common.

This project has stimulated my imagination so I've already started working on the design for a three-digit decimal adding machine that can be worn on the arm. It would be the perfect steampunk accessory, don't you think?

John Graham-Cumming said...

Thanks for the offer of CAD/CAM work. That's great. Can you email me so that I can chat with you later?

John Graham-Cumming said...

I'll be asking for the money later (in January most likely).

Love the other ideas.

Unknown said...

Digital does not equal electrical. Analog does not equal mechnical.Digital means absolute 1s and 0s for a single bit of information. Analog means everything in between those two points means something as well.

Unknown said...

I also have CNC mills and a CNC lathe and could add to the work.

Jackson482 said...

Sorry for being pedantic...but

I think you meant to say "...have placed him [Doran] in the unique position of being the key figure in any attempt to build the world's first digital, programmable, automatic computer DESIGN"

Clearly, the first actual physical machine was build long ago - Zuse's 1941 V3 (Z3)?

Mark Rejhon said...

Great news to hear!
John Graham-Cumming, can you make sure you monitor the "Other People" tab of your Plan28 Facebook page. Two people over there, made some excellent suggestions that needs to be recorded. Just a friendly reminder, as many "Facebook Page" Moderators sometimes forget to forget to monitor that occasionally-obscure tab.
Cheers & Good luck,

Mark Rejhon said...

A copy and paste of my post from Facebook:

Another idea, if a full size version is made, there also need to be a plan of demonstrating it in an understandable way, to attract people to see a steam-powered computer. In the same room as the machine operating, could be a couple of computer monitors showing (in a simplified way and modern computer-speak) what the machine is currently doing in the last 5 seconds, like which math operation is currently being added. One of those displays could also be a modern 'programmer's view' and another display could be a 'plain english view'.

Basically, independently operating flat panels on the opposite side of the room (not connected to the machine, but by say, sensors detecting which card the engine is currently reading at the moment) -- showing a real-time 'view' of what the machine is currently doing, in ways that appeals to the spouse, the kid, the family, the web developer, the computer programmer, that is visiting the hypothetical completed Analytical Engine in the museum...

John Graham-Cumming said...

I was completely unaware of the "Other People" tab on Facebook. Will look into it.

Mark Rejhon said...

Oooops, I meant the tab labelled "Just Others", rather than "Other People". It's the third row of links from the top (two rows underneath the row containing Wall | Info | Photos | Discussions)

My screen shows them in this order:
Plan 28 + Others | Just Plan 28 | Just Others

You can reply to individual people's comments by selecting the "Comment" link under their posts. It'd be nice to see some of those people who posted messages there in the last 3 months, to be acknowledged :-)

Even if you monitor this page just every two weeks...

James Newton said...

I hope you can find a way to get past the failure of the pledge method to raise the funds needed to build "The Engine"... There must be other ways to bring this masterpiece to "life".