My friend Scott posted something on facebook about Sir Isaac Newton's battle against a counterfieter. Apparently, he was in charge of the mint for a period of time and had to battle against a very skilled and intelligent counterfeiter. This lead to a brief discussion about using this a source material for stories. One of the suggestions was the possibility that his alchemy research actually bore results. A group of commenters posited a steampunk world where Sir Isaac Newton serves as a detective, or at least continues his role at the mint.
This led to the following ideas in my de-sugared brain:
- The counterfeiter, William Chaloner, develops a semi-functioning philosopher's stone to make gold coins.
- The philosopher's stone is essentially a battery with an insane amount of energy, thus providing the energy required to change lead to gold. (After all, you have to add protons to change lead to gold, so we're going nuclear!)
- To produce the philosopher's stone, Chaloner develops a type of diamond anvil that compresses tiny sheets of tin or pewter into a super-material that converts mechanical energy into chemical energy.
- This machine uses a massive hydraulic device to produce the force large enough to perform this change.
- Chaloner walks on a platform that slowly descends three stories. The sheets of tin/pewter are placed on top of the diamond anvil on the other cylinder. Although the other cylinder is several feet in diameter, it only raises less than 1/4 of an inch. The diamond anvil itself is very small due to the price of diamonds, but the resulting supermaterial can be stacked together to create a powerful battery. It takes quite a bit of time to create one battery.
- The battery is only good for one use, but that one use generates eight to twelve pounds of gold.
- In theory, it can be recharged, but it would take quite a long time using waterwheels or various other techniques available at the time.
- Sir Isaac Newton improves upon the battery, but find that it can power all manner of things for a very long time (years).
The linkdump approches. Sources are named.
Here are the links of supporting information. Yes, this is still not entirely possible according to the known laws of the universe, but it is at-least a bit more plausible to me:
Book about Sir Isaac Newton working at the Kings Mint.
A look at Alchemy, thanks to Khan Academy.
Wikipedia's thoughts on energy storage.
What is a diamond anvil actually? (My diamond anvil is loosely based on this.)
The source of my idea for the battery.
Resource for diamond cutting information.
And, of course, hydraulic machinery.
Chew on that for the weekend. Maybe I can work on it in December. 🙂
Here's a very interesting What If? that explores the possibilities of the Analytical Engine, had it been built.
Now, I understand that a lot of the ideas that Babbage mentions are marketing materials. He was, after all, trying to generate money to build the thing. Still, taking a bit of a plunge down the rabbit hole, this article has some thoughtful turns and twists that would have made our world a very different place. I particularly like the ideas of British banks using them and the telegraph connected machines talking to each other.
So let's take a look at the alternate early 20th century:
- Arcades with Analytical Checkers, Chess, Tic-Tac-Toe and possibly Hearts.
- Speaking of arcades, what kind of games would fans of Jules Verne have made?
- Speaking of Jules Verne, the analytical engine could have generated the tables needed for launching objects into orbit and much more.
- Banks with computers to calculate investments, interest, etc. With the telegraph communication modem, we have automated trades in the commodities markets.
- The 1901 World's Fair is Glasgow may have featured a music composing machine.
- The Wright Brothers would not have spent years re-calculating Lilienthal's faulty data. Babbage himself would have already recalculated tables that used the Smeaton Coefficient. The wind tunnel may have come much earlier. Heck, maybe Lilienthal would have been successful with his gliders.
- Speaking of the Wright Brothers, materials engineering would have progressed a bit by the time they were designing the engine for the flying machine. General Motors or other engine manufacturers of the time would have been able to build it instead of the brothers designing one with Charlie Taylor.
- Wireless computing would involve radio frequencies. That gives new meaning to hacking. It would be done with a shortwave radio and an antenna interface to an analytical engine.
There are more possibilities than that, of course. The article in the link refers to just a few. Going into the far future, the plaster that allowed for "print on demand" could be modified to print objects instead of words. Just a thought.
This kind of what if in RPGs is nothing new at all. There is Space 1889 and a host of other so-called steampunk that build on it. Somehow, though, this article struck a chord of interest. One reason is that the progress of the analytical machine would have spurred the fabrication of new materials. Another is that it would be likely that the integrated circuit would not have been developed. At the end of the article, the author mentions the lack of a telephone and based on the idea of analytical engine connected by telegraph, that makes sense. I'm also intrigued by the potential lack of a keyboard.
What say you? Good article? Old news?