Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Spring 2017 report to the Computer Conservation Society

Doron Swade gave an update on Plan 28 to the Computer Conservation Society on May 19 as follows:

Excellent progress to report on the database for the Babbage technical archive. Tim Robinson in the US has produced a searchable database of all catalogued material with related content fully cross-referenced. Each item links directly to the corresponding Science Museum catalogue entry and to the recently available (low resolution) online scans of the originals. This work covers all technical drawings and related Notations (there are some 2,200 Notations for the Analytical Engine). A small amount of material that is known to exist but that is not yet in the Science Museum catalogue remains yet to be done.

Back in London I have completed a review of the 26 volumes of Babbage’s Scribbling Books – Babbage’s scratchpad daybooks. The Scribbling Books comprise 8,100 folio sides each of which has been examined for relevant content. The specific purpose of this review was to identify all material specifically relating to the Mechanical Notation, Babbage’s language of signs and symbols that he used to describe and specify his engines. At the same time other content relating to known unresolved questions was logged. The logs are intended as a retrieval and navigation tool to support ongoing research into the notational language with a view to further decoding the Analytical Engine designs.
It is thought to be only the third time in history that the set of Scribbling Books has been gone through in their entirety. The only known precedents for this are the work of the late Bruce Collier, and the late Allan Bromley in the late 1960s and 70s.

The next step on the main database is to systematically go through the Scribbling Books and extract all cross references, tag subject content and transcribe significant material. This process is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Doron Swade


  1. Will Tim Robinson's database be made publicly available?

  2. Very exciting news! I'm so happy that work is progressing, I would dearly love to be able to gain a better understanding of Babbage's vision from my albeit limited perspective.

  3. I'm working on an attenpt to construct the AE, not in real life, but in a good 3d physics environment. I'm sure there would be a good crossover between the real world AE (Excited!) and any small steps I may be able to make with regards to simulated physics.

    My main problem at the moentn is I don't have access to the detailed designs, will be become available?

  4. The Science Museum has digitized all the plans and is making them available online. You should be able to access them all here: http://collection.sciencemuseum.org.uk/documents/aa110000003/the-babbage-papers

  5. Thanks John. I've also read and watched a load of your previous material, and looked at previous visualisations (including by the multi-talented Sydney Padua)

    Still lots of gaps though!

    My idea was not to simply have a 3d model which visually represented the mechanics, but to use a modern mesh-collision physics engine with friction, momentum, etc to provide an actual working model where gears actually push against levers and springs actually spring back (rather than just programming a model to behave this way visually)

    I'm actually re-writing my engine at the moment to cater for quick and easy generation of meshed-components with enough resolution to work for intricate mechanisms - mesh density matters when it comes to frictional forces, torques, levegage etc.

    If you don't mind, I'll post any progress here.

  6. Might be best if you dropped me an email (plan28 AT jgc . org). More than happy for you to post whatever you want here!