Not so much an Old House Idiosyncrasy, than an idiosyncratic old house–The Trinity House is a house style from the colonial period that is unique to Philadelphia. These houses were invented to solve the problem of what to do with the center of a large squarish city block: fill it up with alleyways and tiny houses!
Euphonia was an amazing machine that was ahead of her time, and who seems to have been the first victim of the “Uncanny Valley” into which falls those creations that seem a bit too real, and creep people out. (Think of the movie “The Polar Express” in which the animation was a bit too real and which turned Chris van Allsburg’s magical Christmas book into a vaguely unsettling computer animated movie.)
Written mention of machines built to imitate human speech date as far back as the 13th century. Early devices, however, were deemed by the Church to be heretical and were often destroyed (in one instance, it is written, a talking device was smashed by St. Thomas Aquinas himself) or at least kept out of the public eye. It was not until the 18th century that the social climate was willing to permit the creation of mechanisms that imitated human elocution, safely protected under the umbrella of scientific pursuit.
In 1846, a German astronomer living in The United States named Joseph Faber unveiled his cutting-edge Euphonia at London’s Egyptian Hall, having accompanied P.T. Barnum across the Atlantic. Faber had spent the previous seventeen years perfecting this remarkable oddity, and had even dashed an earlier machine to bits out of frustration after American audiences failed to pay him much attention…
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I had wanted to read The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling for some time. It is widely regarded as one of the first novels to bear the description “steampunk” when it was published in 1990, and rightly so, as the book contains many of the themes and plot devices that have become common in steampunk literature.
The novel takes place in an England in which Charles Babbage has succeeded in building his mechanical computer—the “Difference Engine” of the title, although the machine more resembles his more advanced “Analytical Engine”. This event serves as the catalyst to careen the world off onto another timeline, and the authors imagine all the consequences and consequences of consequences that occur to change British society. For example, the anti-technology Tory party loses a national election, prompting the prime minister, Lord Wellington, to stage a coup to retain power. In the subsequent counter revolution, the Radical party comes into power and replaces the hereditary House of Lords with peerages awarded to savants for scientific merit.