Porlock Revisited

I’m currently holed up in my hidden mountain base in the wilds of Canada, where I’m enjoying being chased into lakes by enraged elk. In my devotion to this proto-comic, I am nobly forgoing 20-mile hikes through bear- and elk-infested trackless wastes to dedicate myself to curling up on the couch and drawing.

The temporal discontinuity problem of the Person from Porlock episode has been profoundly troubling to me. Strict adherence to truthiness is my watchword here, so a gag, however irresistible, that depends on a 40-year piece of ahistoricity is hard for me to endure.  My husband suggested the Difference Engine could have been used to tear a hole in the space-time continuum. I’m sorry, but we here at 2dgoggles do not indulge in such fancies. The Difference Engine prints large tables of numbers without error. If that is not cool enough for you, you are reading the wrong comic my friends. It does battle vampires at some point but it has its own way of doing that thank you very much.

To my enormous relief I was able to come up with a Rational Scientific Explanation for the Porlock Episode:



Sorted! This is especially convenient as for Important Comedy Reasons I may need to bring some people in from slightly incorrect areas in the Timestream. Heck this may even explain the Salamander-people.

In other random news, my attention is brought to this: How To Maintain a Difference Engine. I can add from inside information that some issues are cleared up by hitting it with a crowbar, something I intend to try out on Maya next chance I get.

The comments are interesting, and I’m glad some people point out the important (unimportant… important.. unimportant…) distinction between the Difference Engine and the Analytical Engine. Babbage designed two machines:

–One that COULD possibly theoretically have been built in the period, that WASN’T a computer (if you define a computer as something that could be programmed), called the Difference Engine. EDITED TO ADD: …for some reason a mass-amnesia has developed over the fact that a working Difference Engine was actually built in Babbage’s lifetime and put to use.  Weirdly the Smithsonian Magazine has two articles on Babbage, one about how the Difference Engine was never built until 1991, and one about the Difference Engine that was built in 1853 that they actually have right there in the Smithsonian.  WTF?


–One that COULDN’T HAVE BEEN BUILT IN A MILLION YEARS (EDITED TO ADD:  IN MY HUMBLE YET IGNORANT OPINION) but that WAS a computer, as it could be programmed with punchcards, called the Analytical Engine.  It was (in the imaginary space where it existed) powerful enough that Babbage calculated that it could play a game of chess. A little thing called “physics” is the reason no one is trying to build a replica of this one (again, I’m only an imaginary physicist so grain of salt here). 2DGOGGLES CONTEST!  Build a working Analytical Engine to Babbage’s designs, win a tshirt!!  Deadline: One million years from today.

EDITED TO ADD:  Fantastic piece explaining the difference between the, er, Difference Engine and the Analytical Engine, and why the 19th century wasn’t taken over by cyborg cuckoo-clocks.

What else.. just so no one is thinking I’m using my last days of freedom idly, proof that 2dgoggles takes meticulous research extremely seriously:



  1. 2D Goggles » Ada Lovelace Day! on March 28, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    […] have been out to get me last week. As we all know last year’s Ada Lovelace Day post triggered a near-catastrophic disturbance in the space-time continuum resulting in the creation of a pocket universe.  To prevent a similar breach this year, bad-luck […]

  2. Laura J on January 25, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Thank you for the Asterix reference. Enjoying the adventures greatly. Please carry on.

  3. Subilial on November 27, 2009 at 5:10 am

    I’m taking you up on the free t-shirt deal. At least one replica exists, and I fancy myself as bit of an engineer. Hopefully, I will soon have a working analytical engine to show off, and a t-shirt, too.

    • sydney on November 27, 2009 at 2:27 pm

      I understand Mecchano is the preferred medium! I believe there’s never been a complete model built, but tshirts may be given for cooleness…

      I had a brief crazy plan to try modelling a virtual one (for more accurate comics) but couldn’t find clear plans.. let me know if you find some!

  4. Therru on October 12, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    I don’t know if you’ve seen this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Per_Georg_Scheutz

    I ran across it as I was reading up on the Difference Engine. The article says that what P.G. Scheutz and hos son Edvard built wasn’t Babbage’s Difference Engine as such, but an “improved model”, whatever that means. :) But the fact remains that although Babbage never built the engine himself, other people did, or at least modified versions of it.

    • sydney on October 12, 2009 at 11:53 pm

      There’s a wonderful book, “Glory and Failure”, about the various Difference Engines of this period– out of print unfortuantely but you can read a fair bit of it on google books– and I was lucky enough to find it in a library. Truly fascinating, about the decisions that each maker took.. there’s a Scheutz engine next to the Difference Engine build in the Science Museum in London, it’s so much smaller that for the longest time I thought it was a model!

  5. […] representative half-baked episodes would be Lovelace and Babbage Vs The Salamander People,, or Porlock Revisited. These are filed under […]

  6. […] sydneypadua.com presents a hideous mutant offshoot « Porlock Revisited […]

  7. Ceridwen on June 20, 2009 at 2:36 am

    So this is what the punch cards were meant to do, then?

    Gerald Hawkins explains about the IBM that was used to get his calculations in Stonehenge Decoded. Someone punches up a bunch of holes in a card, which is then run through the machine. Some time later (I think it was days but I may be misremembering, it’s been a while since I read the book) the machine spit out the alignments. Those early computers were pretty big monsters, too, filling an entire room.

  8. Ceridwen on June 18, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    That video is huge, takes a while to start (I got a drink and let the dog in plus waited) but it makes me wish you could add sound to the cartoons.

    I think you mentioned that the machine punches cards. You can see how that’s done there. Keypunch was a very early form of computerization, wasn’t it? I know my mom did keypunch back in the early 1960s and Hawkins (not Hawkings) computed the first Stonehenge astronomical alignments with the aid of a super-sized IMB (my mom had nothing to do with this).

    • sydney on June 19, 2009 at 1:00 pm

      This isn’t actually the punch-card bit– the drums ran what you’d now call microprograms that dealt with certain kinds of instructions from the punchcards. Firmware, if you will!

  9. Nathaniel on June 18, 2009 at 8:21 am

    I am unsure exactly what is being referred to there, but I don’t see the second law of thermodynamics as being an issue. It’s true that even a theoretically perfect calculation device will, due to thermodynamics, use energy and create heat. This would be totally unnoticeable, however, in a machine like Babbage’s, being completely overwhelmed (by many orders of magnitude) by things he should have known about, like friction.

    Not knowing much about gearing, I can imagine problems just trying to get that many gears to work together (don’t the gaps between teeth add up?), but this again is something that I would assume Babbage knew about and compensated for. It doesn’t seem to be a problem with the difference engine model, so there must be ways of dealing with it.

  10. sydney on June 18, 2009 at 7:04 am


    From The Babbage Page here:

    “Even under the best of circumstances, the limitations of Newtonian physics might have prevented Babbage from completing any Analytical Engine. He did not know the advances of Maxwell (and could not know those of Boltmann, Gödel, and Heisenberg). Though he knew Fourier socially, Babbage did not seem to grasp the importance of his 1811 work on heat propagation. Nor did he seem to know of Joule’s efforts with heat and mechanical energy.[…]

    From this came William Thomson’s discovery of the Second Law of Thermodynamics in 1852, and Rudolf Clausius’ discovery of entropy in 1865. In ideal, reversible processes, entropy remains constant. But in others, as Eddington showed with his ‘arrow of time’, entropy only increases. That means information cannot be shuttled between mill and store without leaking, like faulty sacks of flour. Babbage did not consider this, and it was perhaps his greatest obstacle to building the engine.”

    Of course maybe I should put “I am not a Babbage, Lovelace, or Difference Engine Scholar!! Just some clown reading stuff on the internet!!” at the top of every post… anyways, to me the key word up there is ‘ideal’ — as an intellectual excercise or maybe as something on the nano scale the Engine has to be one of the greatest works of genius in history BUT –while the Difference Engine was pretty big, the Analytical Engine, in some of the designs, was larger than a steam locomotive. To my obviously amateur eye, I just don’t see how one widget all the way up one end could possibly be trusted to turn a widget way down the other end and then back again, even if you had the best mechanics in the world building it. Not without electricity to turn on and off and boost the sequence of events.

    Of course Babbage was a genius and I’m not so maybe he could have solved the problem(s). There were numerous other difficulties as well, according to my new favorite article on the engines) Babbage never was able to solve some vital links and complete a design.

    BITS of the Analytical Engine work just brilliantly, here is easily my favorite:
    huge video but worth it.

    Bear in mind also that obviously I’m an animator not an engineer, so I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. I’m glad I called on that, I was just saying to someone, “When is someone going to call me on ‘the Analytical Engine would never have worked!’

  11. Nathaniel on June 18, 2009 at 5:19 am

    A little thing called “physics” is the reason no one is trying to build a replica of the Analytical Engine. Do you have a citation for this? I have never heard such a thing alleged.

  12. Anon, a mouse on June 17, 2009 at 2:33 am

    Just found you through Jake Von Slatt. Not only are you genius (who has good taste in beer) for creating this, you even worked in an Asterix reference.

  13. Ceridwen on June 16, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    Ada dying young is not entertaining, therefore it ceased to exist.

    Good. I like dangerous branchings of the timeline with resultant temporal anomalies. (I hope this takes HTML!)

  14. jalf on June 15, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    But that doesn’t count. As long as it is associated with ice-cream, it is officially AWESOME. Babbage would agree. (The only way street music can trump icecream is if they have an accordion. Then we’re out where not even ice-cream may save us)

  15. sydney on June 15, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    Justin– temporal physicists believe any kind of phenomena may occur in the pocket dimension, provided it can achieve sufficient entertainment mass.

    Ceridwen– Ada dying young is not entertaining, therefore it ceased to exist.

    Alex Bigger– wait, are we subtracting 4 question marks from 10 question marks and an exclamation point??????!

    Clockworks– thanks! of course now I’m back in London there is street music outside my window RIGHT NOW, via an ice-cream van.

  16. Clockworks on June 14, 2009 at 9:05 am

    Well, the elk may be fearsome, but the Canadian wilderness should protect you from street music and nasty poets. Your creations envy you!

    Er, also, love the comic. You /are/ awesome!

  17. alexbiger on June 14, 2009 at 12:21 am

    C 12 ???? – ???? ??????!

  18. Ceridwen on June 9, 2009 at 2:37 am

    I thought it could clear up the problem with Ada dying so young in this dimension.

  19. Justin Pickard on June 8, 2009 at 11:28 pm

    Already, you’re retconning like a pro! :D

    So, does this mean our Charles & Ada are stuck in an allohistorical pocket dimension, which is liable to shrink, leaving them in an 1830s/40s equivalent of Groundhog Day?