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Author Topic: What devices can we construct using hard science at a victorian level of tech?  (Read 3791 times)
19th Century Space Pilot
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« on: December 30, 2009, 03:44:34 pm »

First off - I must define the difference between advanced and developed when refering to technology. For example, we are advanced enough now to build starships. What we haven't done, though, is develop the technology to a sufficient degree. A properly developed mecha, built using gaslight era technology and running on steam and Babbage engines, would be able to smash modern constructs out of the air - it's a matter of development, not advancement.

That being said, what manner of infernal devices could be developed using gaslight era technology? Listen up, writers - you may like to know.

One I've come up with is a means for the transmission of thoughts. Tested on animals first, of course, followed by all manner of criminal scum before being implanted in civilised people. First, cut a small hole in the skull, allowing access to the brain. Then, slide in sterilized fine meal wires, preferably gold as it makes an excellent conductor and does not rust. Take care. Eventually, these wires will become entwined in the networks of the mind, and can be linked together to connect two brains. Mankinds dream of telepathy will finally have been realized by science! Later additions may include those new 'radio' thingies, permitting thoughts to be transmitted across distances, and a possible non-invasive version. Think of the applications! Not sure it could actually be done, but that's why we test ity on animals first...

Another idea I've had - a device for transmiting images from one area to another. First, take some - as in a lot of - wires, selenium (a photoreceptor), and lights. Connect each wire to a square of selenium, an amplifier - to amplify the current in the wire - and a light. Organise the lights and selenium in the form of a grid in such a way that, when light strikes one square of selenium, it will light up the corresponding area on the light grid. The intention is, of course, that as the light from an image falls across the light-sensitive grid, it will be transmitted across to produce an, im somewhat grainy, image on the light grid. It may be possible to combine this with some of the other inventions, those being the computers developed by Babbage and the telegraph system, to allow the recording and transmitting of live footage.

Anyone got anymore ideas? I may attempt to write them into a story... one wonders whether the technological advancement was up to IVF in those days...
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« Reply #1 on: December 30, 2009, 04:50:11 pm »

Well, first you might look up historical examples of early inventions.

Such as the first fax (facsimile) machine, invented by, if I recall correctly, a blacksmith in Dumfries, in PRE-Victorian times.  James Watt invented a copying machine in the early 19th century.  Tarmac was invented by John MacAdam around 1820.  And that is just a very very short list, taken from just inventions by Scots.  Of course, the Scots did have the lion's share of inventions and inventors in the 19th century, for some reason.

Many of these were literally ahead of their time; either the need for them was not great, or certain applications were not envisioned yet, or just that the infrastructure needed to support their widespread use was not there.  But if you look into it, and combine some of the independent discoveries and inventions, and weave them into your story, you might very well have something wonderful there.

Great idea!  Good luck.


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« Reply #2 on: December 30, 2009, 04:53:27 pm »

Another idea I've had - a device for transmitting images from one area to another...

A Proposal for Sending and Receiving Moving-Picture
Signals between the Planets Earth and Mars by Means
of Electric Telescope


See also : Henry Gwyn Jeffreys Moseley & the
Atomic Battery.

« Last Edit: December 30, 2009, 04:56:45 pm by Khem Caigan » Logged

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« Reply #3 on: December 30, 2009, 06:41:59 pm »

Well well, someone beat me to it Cheesy

I recall a proposal sometime circa 1910 to drive a spaceship to Mars using the decay of radium. Half a century later, NACA/NASA was test firing Nuclear Thermal Rockets.
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Sgt.Major Thistlewaite
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« Reply #4 on: December 30, 2009, 08:18:30 pm »

A ruby laser could certainly be constructed using Victorian technology...what was lacking was the theory..Einstein provided that, but not until 1917.

~T
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« Reply #5 on: December 31, 2009, 12:53:08 pm »


Another idea I've had - a device for transmiting images from one area to another. First, take some - as in a lot of - wires, selenium (a photoreceptor), and lights. Connect each wire to a square of selenium, an amplifier - to amplify the current in the wire - and a light. Organise the lights and selenium in the form of a grid in such a way that, when light strikes one square of selenium, it will light up the corresponding area on the light grid. The intention is, of course, that as the light from an image falls across the light-sensitive grid, it will be transmitted across to produce an, im somewhat grainy, image on the light grid. It may be possible to combine this with some of the other inventions, those being the computers developed by Babbage and the telegraph system, to allow the recording and transmitting of live footage.




Sounds a little like this device:   Smiley

http://hackaday.com/2009/12/04/whats-the-worst-way-to-transmit-video/


A ruby laser could certainly be constructed using Victorian technology...what was lacking was the theory..Einstein provided that, but not until 1917.

~T



Most definitely - all the basic technology was there, it just would have took one person to use a Geissler tube filled with Xenon, to think "wonder what would happen if I wrapped it round this Ruby crystal?".  Though admittedly the chances of someone having a large enough natural ruby crystal, is somewhat limited...  Infact the lack of suitable crystals is probably the only reason it never happend!

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« Reply #6 on: December 31, 2009, 01:03:47 pm »

I wonder what would have happened if some bright spark had decided to combine a solar concentrator with a steam engine? Bountiful clean energy...
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« Reply #7 on: December 31, 2009, 05:30:47 pm »

When I was building my electromagnetic field detector I tried to use a valve circuit first but I think my valve is broken or I blew the capacitors or something else maddeningly unhelpful was wrong, also I need better transformers for it really. So I used a modern transistorized equivalent.

Q: What devices can we construct using hard science at a victorian level of tech?
A: Most of everything that there is now.


I wonder what would have happened if some bright spark had decided to combine a solar concentrator with a steam engine? Bountiful clean energy...

Yup you could make that and it would work untill it got cloudy which it is most of the time here in England, or untill the sun went down which it is most of the time for me because I have the sleeping pattern of a vampire. Don't mean to stamp all over your idea there because it is valid, but ... the clouds, there are many, the sun, there is only one. The solution: Make another sun! Perhaps a tiny one, directly beneath the boiler ...
« Last Edit: December 31, 2009, 05:36:21 pm by JingleJoe » Logged

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« Reply #8 on: December 31, 2009, 05:55:34 pm »

I’ve seen documentaries on ancient inventions that shows that in the Roman world, someone had figured out how to use steam to produce cyclical motion and someone else Figured out how to make a ship propelled by paddlewheels powered by a teams of oxen.  These two never got together and with the cheep slave labour at the time, there wasn’t a demand for either technology.  But if someone had the bright idea to put the two ideas together, it is conceivable that there could have been a steam powered ship before the fall of the Roman Empire.

The point of this, is that even our new technology isn’t really new.  Technology may have advanced but it is all based on the same ideas.  Just look at the inventions of De Vinci.  History is full of people with ideas ahead of their time.  Nuclear power plants still use steam turbines to convert the heat energy of the reactor into kinetic energy to power the generators.  So really, it is conceivable that in a Victorian or similar world that somebody had an idea way ahead of it’s time, for example robots or space travel, using technology of the time.  It’s just a lot more complicated to explain.
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« Reply #9 on: December 31, 2009, 05:56:20 pm »

Though admittedly the chances of someone having a large enough natural ruby crystal, is somewhat limited...  In fact the lack of suitable crystals is probably the only reason it never happened!

Among his many other inventions, Charles Cros
also found a way to create artificial rubies ( very
similar to the technique described here ), and
which he developed from his own rather extensive
readings into the literature of alchemy and early
chemistry
.

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« Reply #10 on: December 31, 2009, 06:26:29 pm »

Part of the problem with this kind of discussion is that it's always easy in retrospect to say that they tools and technologies were available in an earlier era, but we only see this well after the fact. So it might just be possible now to use only the technology available in the Belle Epoque to build a laser, but it took several decades to actually get from Bohr, Dirac, et. al. laying down the basics of quantum mechanics to Schalow and Townes actually building a laser right around the time I was born. And lasers were built on the earlier maser (microwave) technology, and so forth.
What is needed is not just the theoretical framework, but the societal one.
As an example: we have evidence, in the Antikythera mechanism, of gear trains being used to perform complex time-based calculations. We have textual evidence that the Arabs, along with a number of other elements of classical engineering, science, and philosophy, knew about these sorts of mechanisms, and developed them further, along with practical maths and navigation. But it isn't until the late Middle Ages that the manufacture of clocks actually takes off. At least part of the impetus for this is said to be the concern of monastic communities in Northern Europe that the variation in the length of the Solar Day over the course of the year might be causing grievous error in their reciting of the Hours at the proper time. Clocks gave them a reference time. And once clocks existed, and people could hear the chimes, entire cities began to keep clock time as a secular convenience, which changes the entire culture.
So looking back, we can say that the clock which strikes in Shakespeare's ancient Rome could have been built, in terms of the tools and geometric knowledge level of the day. We could do this today as an exercise. But the Romans didn't have mechanical clocks, and didn't know that they were missing anything, although a bunch of born administrative busybodies like the Romans would have loved clocks, or for that matter, the printing press and moveable type.
I often wonder what I will see in twenty years that will seem head-slappingly obvious, and that we could have had ages ago...
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19th Century Space Pilot
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« Reply #11 on: December 31, 2009, 07:46:09 pm »

I'm asking partly because I'm considering starting yet another story, which is a steampunk version of one of the possible hybrids between this and this. But fully grounded in hard science, developed as far as possible. Not revealed to the outside world due to restrictive health and safety legislation...
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« Reply #12 on: December 31, 2009, 07:57:20 pm »

One of the big stumbling blocks to reinventing modern things with Victorian tech is that while similar parts may have existed (valves for transistors, etc), the sensitivity of those devices was far less than their smaller modern cousins.  This makes the miniaturization hard.

Another issue is MTBF - I was just reading about ENIAC and the issues they had with tube burnouts - they had to keep the machine powered up to avoid the wear on the tubes from powering down and back up.
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« Reply #13 on: December 31, 2009, 08:05:31 pm »

Which is why a lot of things taken for granted today wouldn't be possible in a steampunk world, because cheap computing power wouldn't be available to do the required calculations. Genetic engineering would take a lot longer, for instance.
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« Reply #14 on: December 31, 2009, 11:23:19 pm »

Which is why a lot of things taken for granted today wouldn't be possible in a steampunk world, because cheap computing power wouldn't be available to do the required calculations. Genetic engineering would take a lot longer, for instance.

True, but if you look at the age before cheap and easy computing power (the 1960s, pretty much), it ain't exactly the dark ages.. invention is all about putting ideas together.. this takes time, of course, but in many cases there is no real reason those ideas couldn't be put together sooner..
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« Reply #15 on: December 31, 2009, 11:32:31 pm »

Given some 19th Century ideas (I'm looking at you, Mr. Galton), I think it is just as well that they had no access to modern genetic technologies.
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« Reply #16 on: January 01, 2010, 06:33:33 am »

steam powered automatons were used in britian during the 19th century. so there is really no limit to what could have been made with that level of tech.  so my invention would bea motorcade using burnt wood fumes as power
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« Reply #17 on: January 01, 2010, 09:13:51 am »

I wonder what would have happened if some bright spark had decided to combine a solar concentrator with a steam engine? Bountiful clean energy...

Actually, a fellow did, in and about Egypt and the Arab states, using the engine to drive water pumps, restoring an dried oasis area to a large lush green valley around 1850-1875ish . Both Steam and Stirling engines were used.

yhs
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« Reply #18 on: January 01, 2010, 05:19:51 pm »

Any link?

One thing I would do, if I was limited in computing power - embed it in buildings. Basically, the walls of my buildings would be computers, so I wouldn't have a computer the size of a room - the computer would make the room!

Extending the topic backwards, what are the key inventions mankind would need to create before they can develop to a 21st century standard along various different paths (Steampunk, Biopunk, Cyberpunk etc - so far we seem to have gone cyber)?
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« Reply #19 on: January 01, 2010, 08:29:19 pm »

If Mendels work had been better known, it could probably have changed quite a bit.
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« Reply #20 on: January 02, 2010, 12:03:18 am »

Tanks would certainly have been possible, that is to say, loosely defined, a self propelled armoured vehicle mounting several guns up to and including cannon. They would have likely been larger, with a greater number of crew, something along the lines of what we refer to as "land-clads."
These devices, had they been thought of, would have had significant influence in most of the conflicts of the mid to late 19th century.

~T
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« Reply #21 on: January 02, 2010, 04:47:33 am »

Tanks would certainly have been possible, that is to say, loosely defined, a self propelled armoured vehicle mounting several guns up to and including cannon. They would have likely been larger, with a greater number of crew, something along the lines of what we refer to as "land-clads."
These devices, had they been thought of, would have had significant influence in most of the conflicts of the mid to late 19th century.

~T


Ah my Dear Sgt.Major Thistlewaite -
I submit for your review examples of your post (as well as steam-powered armored suits)as depicted in "Steamboy" :



yhs
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« Reply #22 on: January 03, 2010, 09:10:11 pm »

Ah my Dear Sgt.Major Thistlewaite -
I submit for your review examples of your post (as well as steam-powered armored suits)as depicted in "Steamboy" :

This reminds me of Patrick Tilley's "Amtrak Wars". There may be some interesting ideas to be found in post-apocalypse sf.
Edit. The picture's gone from my quote - it was the steam tank. Why did it do that? Re-edit: it seems that the "image removed" message really means "spoiler"! Odd.
« Last Edit: January 03, 2010, 09:16:04 pm by Dr. von Trenker » Logged
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« Reply #23 on: January 03, 2010, 11:08:56 pm »

Either a electric motor actually concieved by Volta or a hydrogen fuelled internal combustion engine would have been concieved around 1801 would be usefull for lost invention doomed by the disadvantage of steam power like submersible, airplane or airship.
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« Reply #24 on: January 03, 2010, 11:33:30 pm »

I´d say the men in those steam armours would have real problems with overheating. Also you have to keep in mind the importance of minitaurization, a babbage engine could never be made as small as an electronic computer. This would make it unuseable for many purposes.
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