Difference Engine (Was: Hypatia inventions)

John P. Satta (satta@cpatch.com)
Wed, 12 Mar 1997 22:07:20 -0500

On 10:13 PM 3/12/97 +0100 Eugene Leitl wrote:
>According to SciAm, they build at least a part of it (or was it the Diff.
>E.?), using machined parts, at accuracy available at that time. It worked
>allright. One of the cyberpunks authors, dunno whether Sterling or
>Gibson, wrote a (purportedly) readable novel about an alternative
>Babbagian reality.

Gibson and Sterling collaborated on _The Difference Engine_ which is
referred to as "steampunk". The premise of the book is: Imagine if we had
calculating machines 150 years ago. There is some very interesting flights
of fancy about programmers, software and the social and political
ramifications of computer technology. Its a good yarn involving internal
combustion vs steam engines, sudden wealth, competing dinosaur theories,
massive air pollution, Luddites (the originals) all set among (one
presumes) the little known realities and quirks of "modern" life in the
early 19th century. The ending was a disappointment in the usual Gibsonian
mold - vague murky conspiratorial goings-on I found impenetrable. But it
was a fun ride along the way.

BTW, the SciAm article tells an interesting story. I always assumed that
Babbage never completed his inventions because he'd become obseesed with
ideas for improvements that would of course delay project completion. In
fact he was held up by some of my EE professors in college as a classic
case of "creeping elegance" - "Don't let this happen to you!" Now I realize
that he couldn't get funding because he couldn't convince the British
government of the utility of such a machine - a different lesson altogether
and one entrepreneurs the world over can relate to, I think.


John P. Satta

work email: mailto:jsatta@imtech.com
home email: mailto:satta@cpatch.com