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Mechanical Internet

The Babbage difference engine moved up about a hundred levels of complexity
  (+16, -2)(+16, -2)
(+16, -2)
  [vote for,

Everything done by microprocessors can be done mechanically without any electricity by a series of mechanical linkages, cog wheels, cam shafts etc. Not as well of course, but it can be done. For instance, you can make a mechanical tv. It's not a 60 inch lcd with surround sound but it's a tv. Some might get picky and say the "picture" is just a vague shadow in the shape of a person that kind of moves in relation to what the person on the other end does. So if there's some grey area about what constitutes a television I'll clear that up. Is there a vision? Yes. Did you tele it? Yup. Then it's a television.

At our local computer museum we have a Babbage difference engine built from the original plans. It's sublime. For only a few million dollars, I think a small mechanical internet network with 3 or 4 terminals could be built that would do everything the actual internet does at several thousand times the cost and preforming at a small fraction of the efficiency.

You'd type into a keyboard (ok, so far so good) and it would program "data packets" in the form of, I don't know, little rolling cars that have wheels inside that store the data. The cars would shoot down a tube and reach it's mechanically programmed address unless it was hit by a "data packet" going the other way, in which case it would get knocked off the track and another one would be sent out. Data "packets" would shoot around like balls in a pachinko machine. I expect it would be very noisy.

Straight text would go pretty quickly but pictures might take several hours to send. Generating pictures would be tricky. I think to measure light you'd have mirrors focusing sections of the object to be scanned on radiometers with magnets around them that would measure how fast they turned and cascade the measurement to a bigger magnet until that information had enough mechanical power behind it to do something useful like turn a dial to register a brightness level. I didn't say it would be easy.

Monitor screens however would be easy. Each pixel would just be a wheel that turned to show black, white and shades in between. Color would just take 3 times the pixel wheels. No problem.

So while wildly in-efficient, being made of polished brass and fine hardwoods, it would win any esthetic contest against the real internet hands down.

doctorremulac3, Feb 12 2012

In the same spirit http://www.youtube....watch?v=cYw2ewoO6c4
[mouseposture, Feb 12 2012]

As We May Think http://www.theatlan...-we-may-think/3881/
Article in the July 1945 issue of The Atlantic - what you're talking about is on page 4 of the article, where he starts talking about the "memex", but the whole thing's worth reading. [hippo, Feb 13 2012]

Mechanical television http://www.hawestv.com/
[ldischler, Feb 13 2012]

'The Difference Engine' by William Gibson & Bruce Sterling http://www.amazon.c...d=1329137488&sr=1-1
[DrBob, Feb 13 2012]

Jacquard loom http://en.wikipedia.../wiki/Jacquard_loom
Still used today. [ldischler, Feb 13 2012]

Gask Ridge. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gask_Ridge
Don't go there. You'll never come back ... [8th of 7, Feb 14 2012]

Great Scotch!!! http://www.wired.co...10/video-the-scotc/
[2 fries shy of a happy meal, Feb 14 2012]


       //it would win any esthetic contest against the real internet hands down.//   

       Sitting behind my rather clunky looking Thinkpad, I would agree.   

       Sitting behind my shiny new Thinkpad, or my way-too-glossy-for-my-taste HP laptop... I would also concur.   

       From behind the rather sedate looking Dell laptop I have in the church sound booth, I have to disagree. Wireless internet has made technology a LOT more esthetically pleasing, without a snake's nest of cables.
Psalm_97, Feb 12 2012

       Here's the first clockwork bun from the steampunk contingent. I expect the Borg will be along presently to add theirs to the pile. If they do, make sure it isn't ticking.
Alterother, Feb 12 2012

       Steampunk. I just don't get it.
DIYMatt, Feb 12 2012

       // For only a few million dollars, I think a small mechanical internet network with 3 or 4 terminals could be built that would do everything the actual internet does at several thousand times the cost and preforming at a small fraction of the efficiency. //   

       Sounds like every data processing system specified by the English Civil Service since 1898. When's the IPO ? We want to buy in.   

       Oh, and a bun, just as [The Alterother] predicted.
8th of 7, Feb 12 2012

       This is going to bring a whole new esthetic to my porn surfing.
normzone, Feb 12 2012

       I bet this is going to bring a whole new esthetic to his porn surfing.   

       Would the A.I. version of this be cog knitive?   

       // Would the A.I. version of this be cog knitive? //   

       bun for that one :)
fho, Feb 13 2012

       "... at several thousand times the cost and preforming at a small fraction of the efficiency. "   

       Sounds like everything the federal government does.
copycat042, Feb 13 2012

       Might I suggest a knitting loom for the coding and storage medium? Different placements, colors, and types of knots could improve the data compression rate.
RayfordSteele, Feb 13 2012


       I assume you know this since you referred to the little known of link between looms and computers, but the first digital data storage medium was the punch cards used on automated looms. They had holes punched in them that would direct the loom to make the particular pattern.
doctorremulac3, Feb 13 2012

       I wasn't going to hand out any buns today, but you've gone and spoiled those plans. Thanks.
swimswim, Feb 13 2012

       //Might I suggest a knitting loom for the coding and storage medium?//   

       And today, Computech has announced the first Terabyte Snood...
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 13 2012

       instead of sending cars as data packets, send mechanical vibrations along a string.
VJW, Feb 13 2012

       Stay away from that idea [VJW], it's a world of Hertz ...
8th of 7, Feb 13 2012

       Instead of a Snood, I'd make it a Thneed. Many more uses.
RayfordSteele, Feb 13 2012

       for data encryption, use codices.   

       But all the pieces are sorta baked. For instance you could string papertape from machine A to machine B and have a hardcopy backup to boot.   

       An auld IBM automated tape-storage device for storage, suitably retrofitted for gross media storage.   

       [ ]
FlyingToaster, Feb 14 2012

       // gross media //   

       "Barry Manilow's Greatest Hits" ?
8th of 7, Feb 14 2012

       sp "three and fourpence"
pertinax, Feb 14 2012

       //An auld IBM automated tape-storage device for storage, suitably retrofitted for gross media storage. //   

       No electricity allowed. Acceptable methods of power:   

       - Water wheel - Treadmill with a donkey on it - Hand cranked by a comely lass of virtue true - Clockwork with wound springs by any of these methods - Steam engine - Bunch of guys dressed like Ben Hur turning cranks while somebody beats out the meter on a drum and somebody else walks up and down the aisle with a stick to "encourage and motivate" them.   

       Eh, maybe not the last one. Might be kind of distracting.
doctorremulac3, Feb 14 2012

       ...and Hamster Wheels. Mustn't forget them.
DrBob, Feb 14 2012

       [+] I am always happy to learn stuff like this!! (will it work with the tin can / string telephones?)
xandram, Feb 14 2012

       You know, I'm thinking physical vibrating wires as was suggested before by Bigsleep might be a better way to send data.   

       The trick is amplification without electricity but the way to do it would be with levers.   

       You'd wind a "repeater" module so it had potential energy to strike a wire with a series of beaters like the striker on an alarm clock when triggered. The vibration of the wire coming in would trigger the sympathetic vibration of the appropriate beaters on the next section of wire but the beaters would be using the energy of the springs you wound to vibrate the next section. This way you could have communication up to perhaps 5 miles as long as you had repeater stations every 500 feet or so and people to wind them as necessary.   

       Naa, that wouldn't work. You'd need to stick with some kind of digital transmission. Little cars with data wheels would be the way to go.
doctorremulac3, Feb 14 2012

       Nah, vibrating wires isn't the way to go. You want to tug on the strings. Just wrap the end of each string around a stick and as the stick swings back and forth the string will pull on a stick on the other end and transmit the data. You could go quite quickly.
DIYMatt, Feb 14 2012

       I think that would make for an interesting competition. How to get high tech jobs done with the lowest possible tech.   

       "Tech" is a bit of an amorphous term but you know what I mean. A mic replaced with two cans and a string would be the best example.
doctorremulac3, Feb 14 2012

       Done and done. The mInternet is born.   

       Birth of the m prize perhaps?   

       "This years winner, the mechanical "xray" machine! (Please note, the mechanical xray machine is not designed for use on living subjects. Any attempt to use the mechanical "xray" machine on living subjects will instantly turn them into non-living subjects.)   

       My idea for a mechanical xray machine would be similar to one of those pin screens. You'd set the force behind the needles to penetrate to the desired amount. So when it hit bone it would stop. Like I said, not suitable for living subjects.
doctorremulac3, Feb 14 2012

       Aren't x ray machines already sort of mechanical? No computer is required if you get x ray film. I think it counts as analog if they could do it in the 1800s.
DIYMatt, Feb 14 2012

       No, man made xrays are usually generated with electricity, sometimes with nuclear bombs.   

       This competition would require the invention use no electricity or nuclear weapons.
doctorremulac3, Feb 14 2012

       So... you would use a radioactive source material. Like all medical x ray machines.
DIYMatt, Feb 14 2012

       // Like all medical x ray machines. //   

       Huh ?   

       <points finger in general direction of Wikipedia>   

       Medical X-ray machines largely use vacuum tubes. Some small, portable devices use isotope sources. X-ray radiotherapy machines also use tubes ...   

       Some radiotherapy machines use (for example) Cobalt sources, but these tend to be Gamma rather than X-ray. It's a small difference (in wavelength), but an important one.   

       // How to get high tech jobs done with the lowest possible tech. //   

       Hmm. An archaeologist working on a line of Roman forts which were at what was then (and still is) the Northern border of the civilised world (Southern Scotland) experimented with reconstructing a couple of the wooden signal towers, and tried sending messages between them using burning torches. <link>   

       The signalling rate and accuracy was encouraging.   

       But interestingly, his Dad had come ofr the day and saw them doing the test. Being ex-Royal Signals, he said, "You're not doing it right".   

       He came back a few days later with one of his old buddies and they demonstrated point to point light signalling using the crudest possible equipment at a startling level of speed and efficiency.
8th of 7, Feb 14 2012

       or... just plain old Scotch tape.   

       <whoa. just insert this anno above that one^>
Pretty quick typing there.

       All x-ray production, even the sticky-tape-in-a-vacuum method, is electrical, in that in involves the acceleration of charged particles.   

       I have an old book called "Something to Make" (from the Modern Boys Library), which has detailed instructions for making an entire x-ray imaging apparatus, driven by a Wimshurst influence machine. The only component to be bought, rather than built from scratch, is the x-ray tube itself. The technology is all 19th century.
spidermother, Feb 14 2012

       //instructions for making an entire x-ray imaging apparatus...The only component to be bought... is the x-ray tube itself.//   

       I had books like that, and they disappointed me deeply. Like "Build your own laser!" (which involved constructing an elaborate wooden box, then buying a laser to put in it) or "Start your own country!" (which involved collecting wool from barbed-wire fences, brewing your own dyes from obscure plants, designing and knitting your own flag, and finally purchasing several hundred thousand square miles of land).
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 15 2012

       This book isn't quite that bad; the electric machine, at least, is built from fairly generic ingredients - wood, foil, glass and so forth. And an x-ray tube is very simple, but very difficult to make, so buying one is not a major spoiler.   

       There's even instructions for a fluoroscope - so you can stick your hand in there and watch real-time x-ray images!
spidermother, Feb 15 2012

       A minternet would've made an interesting addition to Middle Earth. Palantirs-- bah.
RayfordSteele, Feb 15 2012

       Repeaters for data through string : I believe data/sound can be amplifed non-electronically using air-pump. This was done in last century.
VJW, Feb 17 2012

       And a few centuries prior.
RayfordSteele, Feb 18 2012


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