A Mechanical Goddess

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Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery

We are living in times in which we are striving to make the digital look more and more perfectly mechanical, especially here in Silicon Valley.

So it is refreshing to see something that is purely and simply mechanical in its very being.  No pixels, no user interface, no MP3 files.  Just gears and springs and levers artfully crafted, and beautifully encased in hand-worked precious metals and gems, depicting the Diana, goddess of the hunt in her chariot.

From the always entertaining and educational blog Two Nerdy History Girls, the video shows the automaton/clock in action. I can imagine it being quite the site at early 17th century soirees  Even today, it is quite amazing!

Thirty Days Later is here!

30-days-later-cover

Thirty Days Later, the steampunk short story anthology that I mentioned here launched a couple of weeks ago at Clockwork Alchemy, San Jose, California’s steampunk con.  I am honored to be amongst the talented writers that have come together to create this collection.  The concept is a bit different:  each writer pens two short stories–separated from each other by Thirty Days.

Proceeds from the book will be donated to literacy charities.  You can order Thirty Days Later from Amazon as paperback and for Kindle, and from Smashwords for many other ebook formats.

 

The Anteprologue to “To Rule the Skies”–Redux

Anteprologue cover

Back in September 2014, when I was preparing to launch my first book To Rule the Skies, I posted on this blog, an Anteprologue to the novel, that is, a prologue that comes before the actual prologue that begins the book.  At the time, I likened it to the short between-seasons webisodes that Doctor Who was presenting, or the Marvel One-Shots that served to connect the various Marvel Cinema movies.

I’ve continued to putter on this piece and have now re-written it a bit and fixed what I thought were some inconsistencies.  So, in celebration of 2016 Clockwork Alchemy, San Jose’s steampunk con that’s taking place this weekend, I’ve now published it as a free download on Smashwords. Take a look at it and let me know what you think.  If you like it, you might be interested in the novel that it’s an anteprologue of, also available on Smashwords as an ebook for everything but Kindle, and on Amazon for Kindle and in paperback.

And if you’re at Clockwork Alchemy this weekend, stop by Author’s Alley and say Hi to me and all the other talented authors that will be there.

Sounds of the Past

Before there were MP3 files, before CDs, before vinyl, there were waxed cylinders upon which were stored the faint tracings that could be replayed as sound.

Thomas Edison patented the first phonograph in 1880, and cylinders maintained their popularity until the 1910s when discs began to outsell them.   The University of California, Santa Barbara has archived and digitized over 10,000 of these cylinders and made them available on the web.

Rummaging through the collection gives a real taste of the turn of the (last) century. Most of the cylinders contain music. If you like marches, this was the time of John Philip Sousa. There are also some recordings of important speeches of the day, including several by Theodore Roosevelt, and a description of his journeys in Antarctica by Ernest Shackleton.

For the steampunk enthusiast, there’s also a recording from 1905 of a song titled, “Come, take a trip in my air-ship.” (And for a modern recording of this song, listen to Unwoman (a Steampunk favorite) sing it.  You can even buy her version on a cylinder, in case vinyl isn’t hip enough for you!)

Personally, I’ve used these recordings to give a bit of ambience as background music in a historic house museum I’m involved with. Most people don’t notice it, but it lends a bit more authenticity to the experience, I find. And I’ve spent a fair amount of time just perusing the archives, listening to the sounds of ghosts from the past.

The Thames Tunnel

An update to this blog post of almost two years ago… The Brunel Museum has now completed the renovation of the Grand Entrance Hall of the Thames Tunnel to be used as an event space. See an article describing it here.

Airship Flamel

During the Victorian Age, when science and technology advanced at a rapid pace, many engineering projects were novel and revolutionary.  The Thames Tunnel was one such groundbreaking (pun intended) engineering feat of the Victorian Age, and the one upon which the great Victorian engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, cut his teeth.

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Old House Idiosyncrasies #5–The Trinity House

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!

Here’s a great exploration of these homes from the always interesting website Atlas Obscura.

Joseph Faber’s Talking Euphonia

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.)

Irrational Geographic

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.

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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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