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

Series NavigationNext Thrilling Installment!


  1. Kevin H. on October 23, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    Babbage has his street music, but I think Lady Lovelace needs a nemesis. I suggest Theophile Marzials, the worst poet ever to crawl the land. His poem, “A Tragedy,” (no verse has ever been more truly titled) can make various sensory organs bleed. For a taste – a bad taste – of his work, you may consult “Very Bad Poetry” edited by Kathryn and Ross Petras (Vintage Books, 1997). I think their battles would be epic.

  2. Kirschen Seah on October 6, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    Thinking over this, Ada might have suggested that the harmonic disruptor design be subtly modified so that sound waves are generated which cancel the organist’s music and passed on to the listener’s ears – something along the vein of “Banishment Of Sound Earpieces” – B.O.S.E. :: giggle :: Sorry for being late to the site, Sydney, but I love the idea! Waiting with bated breath for the iPad app. Cheers!!

  3. Pete on May 22, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    I suppose it’s not a good idea to say that the Tacoma Narrows bridge collapse was caused by aeroelastic flutter . . .

    I know this because wikipedia says it is so and wikipedia is ALWAYS right, right?

  4. Natalie on February 23, 2011 at 2:50 pm


    I discovered this today from my quirky full of awesomeness english teacher and you have just become one of my favorite people in the world. Keep up the amazing work. This is awesome. :)

  5. Floyd on August 24, 2010 at 2:08 am

    Someone stole Brunel !!!
    Well, his statue, anyway. Organized crime indeed.

  6. […] The current series, Lovelace and Babbage vs Organized Crime starts here. […]

  7. […] computer programmer.  Lovelace worked with Charles Babbage, mathematician, cryptographer, and organ grinder hater, who designed–but did not build–the world’s first computer, the […]

  8. Ambidexter on March 14, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    When is Part Two coming out?

  9. Stephen on March 6, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    I can’t tell you how much I love this comic! The only downside is that I’m sitting here chortling over how awesome Ada is, rather than writing my own steampunk novel

    Oh, and please please please make the schematic of the raygun with the ‘operated by a crank’ insert into a t-shirt.

    Now, go and produce more!

  10. Octane on February 21, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    If c+(-c) where c = crime and crime = coercion, then -c = -coercion. -coercion = f where f = freedom. Brilliant!

    Libertarianism is now proven with maths! :B

  11. Pat Galea on February 14, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    Ah, this brings back such great memories of the tale in “Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid” where Hofstadter has one character producing records that destroy the other chap’s record players. It’s actually supposed to be an analogy of Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, but I like the literal idea too!

  12. Greymalkin on February 9, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    Fabulous site. Wonderful and intelligent and a delightful diversion from my day. When will these all be collected in one glorious volume for ease of purchase?

  13. Bella Green on February 6, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    Oooo! I found another one! “Vice and degeneracy ‘grind’ unchecked…” Hahahaha!!

  14. Bella Green on February 6, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    I had been deprived of your awesomeness since my computer died back in October and have spent two splendid hours with your peerless amazingness! My new laptop has a huge hi-res screen, so the incredible amount of ‘Win’ is even more obvious…It Is Bliss.

    Seriously, you’ve rescued me from serious depression brought on by the general state of the real world, and given me more bonding time with my kids, who both do that math thing with such confidence and style. And the puns! “It’s operated by a crank!” “Violins with violins!” hahahahaha!! Please don’t resist any pun that occurs to you. We need to laugh out loud as much as possible. You are a Force For Good!

    I too liked Ada’s waistcoat, and I especially loved the fashion page. My degree is in Victorian history – divorce and women’s property rights to be precise, but with a fascination in costume as well. Fashion tends to reflect, in broad terms, how much power women have in any given society, and how a ‘proper lady’ is viewed by the men around her. In the 1830s one can see that women couldn’t raise their hands. Hmmm…

  15. HP on February 4, 2010 at 8:38 am

    Congrats at the shoutout from the Times’s Eureka magazine! Alphanumerically, you’re in first place! (And here I thought this was a comics blog.) Looking forward to the hardcover graphic novel, once your movie work is over.

  16. Brian on February 4, 2010 at 4:07 am

    I just want to note that I recognized the equation immediately. It was the (1000 – 8 ) at the top. It’s a little disconcerting, actually — I mean, I haven’t read Gardner’s Annotated Snark in years, decades maybe. My brain is permanently ETCHED!

  17. TuringTest on January 24, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    So the equation in Ada’s notes is one that begins with:

    “Taking C as the subject to reason about–
    A convenient number to state–
    We add Seven, and Ten, and then multiply out
    By One Thousand diminished by Eight…”

    • Robert on March 28, 2012 at 4:59 am

      If I could, I would so like this.

      “Methinks that it would be interesting
      To say Mathematics is Poetic
      To the Countess of Lovelace, most goading.
      Ada’s reaction would be Pathetic…”

      I’m afraid I’m not very good at poetry, but it rhymes and alternating lines have the same number of syllables!