Re: Difference Engine (Was: Hypatia inventions)

John P. Satta (
Thu, 13 Mar 1997 23:14:34 -0500

John Satta (that's me) wrote

>> 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.

On 10:39 PM 3/12/97 -0800 Lee Daniel Crocker wrote:

>Perhaps is he hadn't wasted so much of his time trying to convince the King
>to steal his stake for him, but had appealed to real entrepreneurs across
>the Atlantic, things might have been different. But then I wouldn't have
>expected a socialist propaganda rag like SciAm to see that angle.

I'm not sure how many high tech venture capitalists there were in North
America in 1830-50. Even if there were, Babbage was probably taking his
best shot with the British Government. Having raised $12M in venture
funding for a startup years ago I can tell you its a long, drawn-out
arduous process even in the age of the fax machine and jet airplanes. It
grinds you down, especially if what you really want to do is design high
tech stuff, not explain to people with lot's of money why you can do what
no one else has thought of or has tried and failed. Its even worse if you
have no "credentials." (Been there, done that - its a real pain)

"steal his stake for him" - ??

"real entrepreneurs" - British companies started colonies all over the
world and set up trading posts like Hong Kong in the hopes of "making their
fortunes". They also set up botanical gardens which were biological
laboratories for finding new plant-based products like tea and rubber. Read
Neal Stephenson's fascinating article about the transatlantic cable in
Wired a few months back. It sure sounds like Lord Kelvin had
entrepreneurial spirit to me. But I digress...

Babbage was pouring what funds he had into experiments and the prototype as
well as financing the search for funding and putting food in his own mouth.
I suspect he felt he couldn't afford the time or the money to chase
investors in America who were probably (in his mind) less sophisticated
technically and therefore less likely to finance a venture in England where
they couldn't easily keep watch over their investment. And besides, US
nationalistic pride might discourage investment in the former ruling
country that had burned down the White House in 1812. That is, if in fact
he didn't look for US funds. Does anyone know if he ever tried to find US

BTW, I thought that Scientific American was a well written and respected
popular science magazine. Why do you characterize it as "socialist" or
"propaganda" or a "rag "? What have I been missing all these years?


John P. Satta

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