The Organist

The Organist Pt 3

This entry is part 3 of 12 in the series The Organist

So,  this took way too long.  Also, it’s very disorganized and I’m not thrilled with a lot of the transitions, but I comfort myself with the thought this is not an actual comic, merely a theoretical comic. Anyways, let us not loose sight of what’s really important, which is, WE WON THE HOCKEY.

On to The Organist Part 4!


— The tableau of exploding street musicians is a wee tribute to Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom, possibly the greatest animated short of all time.. it’s also notable (Babbage includes this important information in some of his little charts of the street music menace) that a large portion, or at least a visible one, of the street musicians of London were foreigners.

With that in mind, a little 2dgoggles soundtrack for you:

Hurdy Gurdy:



— The modest lineup of scientist there waiting for the Difference Engine includes George Airy, Babbage’s real-life nemesis, who I’m happy to say looks suitably Scrooge-like in his caricatures (centre of the 3rd row down). Also Michael Faraday, there’s some sort of thing where he was supposedly bad at math that I’m totally running with, at the very least he told told Babbage that he ‘could not understand his great work’. Next to Faraday is Mary Sommerville, if anyone in the history of science ever screamed ‘KNITTER’ it was she.. she was a good friend of both Lovelace and Babbage and there’s plenty I could write about her but geez these notes are already huge.

And next to her is Darwin (good call on the beard there Darwin), I couldn’t resist that quote of his because it’s the most freaking’ adorable quotation ever:

I have been much amused with an account I have received of the wars of Don Roderick & Babbage— what a grievous pity it is that the latter should be so implacable, & if one might so call the calculating machine, so very silly.

The only possible response to that is, :D!!!!!!

— You wouldn’t think that quote would be toppable but check out this letter from Brunel to some poor bastard:

“Plain gentlemanly language seems to have no effect upon you. I must try stronger language and stronger measures. You are a cursed, lazy, inattentive, apathetic vagabond, and if you continue to neglect my instructions and to show such infernal laziness, I shall send you about your business. I have frequently told you, amongst other absurd, untidy habits, that that of making drawings on the backs of others was inconvenient; by your cursed neglect of that you have again wasted more of my time than your whole life is worth, in looking for the altered drawings you were to make of the station they won’t do.”

HAHAHA If I worked for Brunel I would be SO FIRED.

— ‘confound you all’ is from source for all goodness in this comic, Babbage’s autobiography, the quotation on the frontsipiece is “I’m a philosopher. Confound them all— Birds, beasts, and men ; but no, not womankind.” From, as fate would have it, Byron’s Don Juan.

— Just a reminder for those using the comic as a source for their history papers, the Prime Minister during the 1830s and 40s was actually Robert Peel, helpfully pre-caricatured for me by various Punch cartoonists (which is good because he’s not very funny looking as Victorians go). Robert Peel is most famous for founding the first (non-mathematical) police force, which is why the London Constabulary are known as “Bobbies” or “Peelers”. I guess Babbage and Lovelace are therefore referred to as “Wellies”.

Wellington’s explanation of being more prominent in this comic on account of being ‘cooler’ shows his rudimentary understanding of the physics of the Pocket Universe– our current advanced understanding of this subject can best be expressed by the well-known equation that applies also to our own universe:


except in the Pocket Universe the ‘E’ represents ‘Entertainment Value’. It is thus not surprising that the massiest objects in the PU are Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, because they are really, REALLY entertaining. Incidentally this provides an explanation for what some of you may be wondering, viz., what has become of Lovelace’s husband, Lord Lovelace. After exhaustive investigations I have determined that his Entertainment Value or E is precisely zero. Hence, according to the above equation, either his mass, or the speed of light, must therefore also be zero, and if the speed of light was zero then you wouldn’t be able to see the comic.

Work is picking back up so comic production remains MOST INEFFICIENT and full of ERRORS, but then you all knew that didn’t you? But at some point, we finally meet The Organist:

On to The Organist Part 4!

Lovelace and Babbage Vs. The Organist Pt 2

This entry is part 2 of 12 in the series The Organist

Howdy Kids!

I drew a special comic last week for the upcoming The Story conference, the theme of which was Wilkie Collins’ famous motto, “Make ’em laugh, make ’em cry.. and make ’em wait.” I have the last part NAILED!

Without further ado! ANGST!!! DRAMA!!!!! CHARTS!!!!!!!!

On to The Organist Part 3


Quasiamicable Pair. Man I get so many gags from Wolfram Alpha..

— I am extremely excited to introduce Adolphe Quetelet to this comic. A man after Babbage’s own heart, he began like Babbage in the field of Life Insurance, before expanding his interests to Crime-Fighting. No, really! Although Quetelet lived in Brussels two such twinned souls were bound to be aware of each other and they show up together in plenty of documents. Babbage credits Quetelet with inspiring him to form the Statistical Society, which is I suppose what Quetelet refers to when he schoolgirlishly squees over Babbage’s ‘gigantic plan’ to compile statistics on, uh, EVERYTHING. It was to Quetelet that Babbage seems to have made his first official announcement of his plans for the Analytical Engine, in 1835— although, he must have been talking about it to Lovelace earlier than that, as possibly the first written reference to punchcard computing would be from a letter she wrote when she was still Ada Byron in 1833, when looking upon the Jaquard Loom: “This Machinery reminds me of Babbage and his gem of all mechanism.”

— There was of course no ‘Babbage Act’ proper, but he figures prominently in the events leading up to the “Street Music (Metropolis) Bill”, which I’ve slightly amended to ensure the absolute banning of all street music, not even excluding Punch and Judy shows which the original bill shockingly allowed. In the public’s mind it might as well be the Babbage Act however– nearly every parliamentary debate I can find on the subject has a mention of him:

The Mr Bass arguing for the bill in that debate was the founder of the still-chugging Bass Brewery, and publisher of “Street Music in the Metropolis”.

I feel obliged to reassure everyone that, although I’ll be producing a parade of entertaining documents regarding Babbage and Street Music, there is no need to form a Tragic Picture of Charles Babbage, Unacknowledged Genius, unjustly known by his ungrateful age only as the enemy of street music. Babbage himself might have indulged himself with such a picture, but in my opinion the Victorians on the whole did themselves credit here. At least going by the popular press, the contemporary view of Babbage seems to have been, “Charles Babbage, that super-genius who invented some sort of amazing calculating machine, that has unfortunately run into technical and financial difficulties, but still! super-genius!” Even I, who have become accustomed to running across his name everywhere, was taken aback the other day to see someone refer to him as more famous than Newton!

Anyways, just in case that’s been keeping anyone up at night. Worrying about Babbage I mean.

— The lengthy section in which Lovelace discusses the potential for the Analytical Engine to manipulate symbols as well as numbers (Note A) uses the example of music as such an application:

“Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.”

Given that she was well aware that Babbage couldn’t stand music (he ‘tolerated it in its exquisite form’ is the best he can claim), and given that the both of them had a lamentable habit of joking around in their private correspondence, I have feeling she put that in to kind of yank his chain a little bit– especially from the use of that otherwise mysterious word ‘extent’. If a cartoonist may be allowed an opinion.

— That’s actually a map of Manchester in 1843 that Babbage is looming over; I couldn’t find a public-domain one of London. Curses!

Well I don’t know about you but I’m STARVING. Enjoy the comic!

Oh geez I can’t believe I forgot a Most Important Note!!!
Ada Lovelace did indeed once tell Babbage that she would make her brain subservient to his plans– well, what she actually wrote (in 1841, at a guess, she hardly ever dated her letters) was:

“It strikes me that at some future time (it might be even within 3 or 4 years, or it might be many years hence), my head may be made by you subservient to some of your purposes & plans. If so, if ever I could be worthy or capable of being used by you, my head shall be yours. And it is on this that I wish to speak most seriously to you. You have always been a kind and real & most invaluable friend to me; & I would that I could in any way repay it, though I scarcely dare so exalt myself as to hope however humbly, that I can be intellectually worth to attempt serving you.”

It’s always helpful when people already talk like comic books, so their dialogue is much easier to write! That is quoted by the way from the most invaluable source of Babbage/Lovelace correspondence, the lengthy 1980 article Lady Lovelace and Charles Babbage. It crams loads of primary documents into 30 pages, has a minimum of the Helpful Editorializing that so wearisomely burdens this subject, is refreshingly capable of admitting to ambiguity and downright unknowability, and has the additional interest of being written by computer pioneer Harry Huskey and his wife Velma. I’ve found this more useful than all the books on the subject of Lovelace put together, to be absolutely honest for a fraction of a second. Unfortunately you have to cough up 19 bucks for it, unless you belong to a subscribing institution. The things I do for this comic!

On to The Organist Part 3

Lovelace and Babbage Vs The Organist! pt 1

This entry is part 1 of 12 in the series The Organist

The wisest and best of men- nay, the wisest and best of their actions, may be made ridiculous by a person whose first object in life is a joke. Most unfortunately for Charles Babbage, I just so happen to be such a person.

On to The Organist Part 2


So, Charles Babbage, he hated musicians.

Man, I have so many primary documents to attest to this important historical fact, I don’t even know where to start. I could demonstrate its ubiquity in popular culture, with a page from a random novel in which a Babbage-vs-organ-grinder skirmish comes with the stock report as a typical Times news story. I could verify this with a “Babbage” search of the Times archive between 1855 and 1870 (you’ll have do DIY search, no permalink I’m afraid). Or maybe you’d like your notes in the form of dramatic verse? Or if you’re hardcore you could read the anti-street-music pamphlet by the most aptly named Mr MegaBass, “Street Music in the Metropolis”, featuring the immortal lines:

“… we could scarcely vote for inflicting on [Mr Babbage] the smallest punishment, if he were with his own hands to hang a street musician every day.”

Although that might be going a little far, basically the problem with street music could be summed up by this:

Fear not, upcoming episodes will feature extensive documentation of the legal, parliamentary, and popular-press coverage of Charles Babbage vs the street musicians.
The Encouragers of Street Music, and the Rude Patois by the way can be found, of course, in Babbage’s autobiography. The wires visible in the establishing shots are from Babbage’s vision of messaging zip-lines as described in his Economy of Machines and Manufactures:

“Perhaps if the steeples of churches, properly selected, were made use of, connecting them by a few intermediate stations with some great central building, as, for instance, with the top of St Paul’s; and if a similar apparatus were placed on the top of each steeple, with a man to work it during the day, it might be possible to diminish the expense of the two-penny post, and make deliveries every half hour over the greater part of the metropolis.”

Moving along…

The Harmonic Disruptor would TOTALLY WORK– I ran the idea past an actual acoustical engineer and he said ‘Sure it would’, and if you remove the irrelevant pitch information from the way he said it I’m going to take it as a full endorsement.   Destructive interference is why when you wear noise-cancelling headphones, your skull explodes. Man there’s so many great sciency claptrap words in acoustics! Of course the first thing you’re wondering if it would be able to produce a wave of sufficient pressure; if I had supplied further diagrams this would obviously not be an issue as the Disruptor is furnished with sympathetically vibrating grids. The reel-to-reel punchcard system I guess comes from the fact that I’m ancient obsolete mature enough to have edited my student films with tape on a movieola; the whole punchcard thing puts me irrestistibly in mind of our vanishing friend celluloid film.

Here’s a famous resonance disaster for you:

And finally: I’m sure someone in the comments can identify the very slightly modified lengthy equation for the elimination of C in Lovelace’s notes. First person gets.. uh.. the satisfaction of knowing obscure math jokes!

Millions of thanks by the way to everyone who comments. I know I’m not very good at prompt replies but I’m here for the glory warm fuzzies. And the jokes.

On to The Organist Part 2