Airship Technology Speech

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 0 comments

A presentation!

My character in our role playing game was ordered to make a public presentation about some of the technological advancements embodied in our Airship. Basically the Government wanted to share these advancements with the Civilian companies as a way to boost the Empire's commercial competitiveness.

Just for fun I decided to actually give the presentation as part of an ongoing series of Absinthe Cafes here in Calgary.

I presented it in character and in costume, and it was a lot of fun.

Here is the text of my speech.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.
A January evening in the latter years of the 19th century.

Madame and Mr Chairman, My Lord, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Good evening.

I have been asked, by the Experimental Airship Division of the Royal Navy, also known as the the EAD, to present some of the technical details of one of the marvels of our age!

It is the hope of Her Majesty's Government that by releasing this, hitherto classified, information to the British business and manufacturing community, that the further development of these exotic and ground breaking technologies will help to maintain our Empire's lead in global commercial and military affairs.

Many of you have probably seen or heard the reports concerning the latest experimental airship of Her Majesty's Navy. You may also have seen the speculation concerning many of the developments and mechanisms that she has on board.

I have the honour to have been, and continue to be, her Chief Engineer.

And, Ladies and Gentlemen, as much as I would like to confirm that she is powered by exotic Indian demons and lifted by some remarkable gaseous material never seen before, and even that she can fly in the vast reaches of space, I must assure you that everything we will discuss this evening is in fact the product of the investigations into Natural Philosophy conducted over many years by brilliant men and women just like yourselves.

Nothing of what I will be showing this evening is in the province of the Metaphysical realm.

Having, alas, thus ruined your excitement concerning the information I am about to present to you, I hope that you will find the real information just as intriguing.

And so, to begin…

Here is the object of our discussion this evening.

Her Majesty's Air Ship The Velvet Brush!

She is truly a marvelous vessel, the largest self mobile object ever built by human beings!
Her dimensions are enormous,
  • Her Length is 245 m or 800 ft, longer than the largest ocean liner.
  • The Diameter of her hull is 42 m or 137 ft
  • She contains a Gas Volume of 231,000 cubic meters or 8 million cubic ft
  • She weighs uninflated 150 tons
  • When in flight trim she can carry a cargo load of 28 tonnes
  • Her propulsion system can move her at a steady cruising speed of almost 120 km/hour or  65 knots, thus making her one of the fastest ships in the Airship Navy.
  • Her maximum speed is still classified as is her maximum altitude, however; I can say that she has maintained that 120km/h value at elevations in excess of 1800m or 6,000 ft above sea level on numerous occasions. Her operational pressure height is 1200m or 4,000 ft under normal load conditions.
  • Her maximum cruising range is currently unknown!
I will say that on her very first flight she flew non-stop from the Royal Navy Airdock in Esquimalt British Columbia across the breadth of British North America, and the North Atlantic, to Portsmouth a distance of some 9000 Km or 5500 miles. This trip was accomplished in the dead of winter no less.

Ladies and Gentleman the Velvet Brush is a truly amazing ship, and despite the controversies and scandals attending her construction, she will be a model for future large Aerial Vehicles.

So to the technological developments that allowed the Royal Navy to construct such a stupendous vessel.

There are three developments that I will discuss this evening.

The first is the intellectual development that permitted her to be designed,

The second concerns the key material used in her construction,

And the third is the novel form of her lift generating system.

Many of you I am sure are aware of the advances in mechanical computation that have attended the construction of the Lovelace-Babbage engines in use at Oxford and Cambridge. The Difference Engine, designed by Charles Babbage under contract to the Royal Navy to produce navigational tables, was completed in 1849. Babbage completed the design for his more advanced Analytical Engine but it had not been constructed by the time of his death in 1871.

However his associate Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, continued working on the design, again under contract to the Royal Navy and the new machine was produced and first began calculations in 1880. Along with the physical design of the machine, the countess was instrumental in composing the grammar for the lists of instructions that the machine uses. Her treatise on "Simulation of mechanical processes by computation", published when she was in her 60s in 1875, earned her a worthy place in the Royal Academy.

One of the first applications of the Lovelace-Babbage machine was the analysis of stress and strength in the metal components of ships hulls. It was also used in the computations to design the first Naval scouting Airships and the first Cunnard Passenger Airships that followed soon thereafter.

The design of such a magnificent vessel as the Velvet Brush would not be possible without the speed of computation, and the elegance of the Countess's Analytical Engine Grammar.

As part of the technology transfer program of her Majesty's Government, two new Lovelace Babbage machines, of the latest design, will be available for public use starting later in the year. One will be in London the other in Liverpool.

Now, as to the construction of the Velvet Brush herself.

Copperfield Ensemble

Monday, January 12, 2015 0 comments

Steampark March!

A wonderful group from England.

Definitely worth checking out.


Here is a taste.


Keep your sightglass full your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Practical Airship Design Part 6a

Sunday, January 4, 2015 0 comments

More Domestic Tranquility Systems

In Part 6 I described some of the crew spaces and layout of our airship.
This post is a document I produced for our RP group, to give the other players a mental map of the spaces in which we conduct our role play. It references some of the adventures we have had too.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

The table of contents for the whole Practical Airship Design series is HERE.

You can find all my Airship posts by clicking on the tag "Flight Engineer".

Interior layout HMAS Velvet Brush

Since some of our adventures are centered around the physical aspects of our fine ship, I thought it might be useful to have a mental map of how the ship is laid out.

I'm a lousy graphics guy so my attempt at doing a diagram was a miserable failure. Although I could draw one on paper. I might do that and scan it to include here if this description isn't good enough.

Probably the biggest thing to keep in mind is that even though our ship is enormous all the interesting stuff is along the bottom of the hull. If we exclude the lifting part we are a long narrow set of spaces connected by the keelwalk.

What I find fascinating is how the design of our ship has evolved over the last year. There have been some interesting changes that have resulted simply from the need to have identified places in which episodes of our story could take place. A good example is the position of the Captain's cabin. Originally we didn't have one, because we didn't really have a Captain smile Once Captain Hodgson arrived we needed a place for him to hang out.  Another example is the "viewing platform" that Madame flew her bird off of while flying from Esquimalt.  We were never specific about where that was on the ship, it had to be close to her cabin though because she could get there easily. Having it used by the British Consul in Venice means it must be fairly large and accessible from the accommodations.

At the risk of being arbitrary then, the following is the layout as it seems to be at the moment. We can change some parts if needed as long as they don't get in the way of what we already have. We can also do a refit at an Air Dock sometime too, to add extra spaces if needed.
 When thinking about the cabins remember that this is essentially the first floor of a two story block. So far (as of May 20) the upper floor is not populated with named spaces, with the exception of the Captain's cabin right at the front above the Flight-deck and possibly the cabin that First Officer MacLeod was in when the KAR* exploded in Portsmouth.

The Keelwalk is a triangular passageway integral with the base of the ship's hull, inside the circular cross section. This walkway runs the entire length of the ship, some 700 feet, from the Captain's Cabin in the bow all the way to the lower fin at the stern. Note that this walkway is above the cabins in the diagram. It is reached by a ladder outside the Bubble Bath Room aka "Secured Storage" as well as a ladder in the Flight-deck that goes directly into the Captain's Cabin.

Personally I view this passageway as being a corridor like the one that runs through the accommodations with a couple of (as yet undefined) cabins on either side.  Once you head aft of the accommodations however, the keelwalk becomes a simple triangular girder framed walkway, like that in the Hindenburg.

Just aft of the accommodations there is a ladder that runs all the way up to the top of the hull. This ladder reaches an observation platform in font of the bases of the funnels.  Climbing this ladder is quite a process and very hot as it is between two of the lift bags which are filled with steam of course.

The "Last Step" is the main access to the ship and is on the Starboard (right) side just aft of the galley as you can see on the diagram.

Engineering is located nearly 300' aft of the accommodations! This is another space similar in shape to the accommodations and also below the hull. It is reached by a ladder down from the keelwalk.  I've described the layout of engineering on my blog if you are interested.  There are no windows in Engineering except perhaps one over Max's desk and one in the break room for the off watch. Above Engineering on either side of the keelwalk is all the steam and condensate piping. the Tesla power transmission system extends from Engineering right up to the center of the hull which is 50' above. The keelwalk is offset as it passes this device.

There are two cargo holds in our ship. Originally I had them attached to Engineering but not extending all the way to the forward accommodations, but that doesn't work given the ships behaviour, and the movement of loose bits of cargo, in the storm over the Baltic. Also the ease in which people seem to be able to get into and out of it means it needs to be closer to the main accommodations up forward.  Placing the forward cargo hold as an extension of the accommodations makes a lot of sense and also provides a perfect place to put the viewing platform.

This is my proposed layout of the forward hold. From the diagram of the accommodations you can see that the Bubble Bath room is right at the end of the central corridor. I propose that the cargo hold is immediately aft of that space and extending maybe another 60' or so. The forward part of that hold, right up against the aft wall of the bubble bath room, is now walled off with the "secret" machinery installed by the company workman sealed inside. Briggs' armoury and weapons storage is against the wall of the secret compartment.

Access to the cargo hold is just aft of the end of the accommodations and is by a hatch with a ladder down from the keelwalk which runs over the top of the hold.  There is an outside access to the cargo hold in the form of a large cargo door in the side of the hold. This is not normally opened while in flight of course. The hold has no windows or other accesses.

The "aft viewing platform" is a broad platform built around the outside of the forward cargo hold. It is reached from a doorway in the accommodations just outside the Bubble Bath Room. This platform has  a railing is the perfect place to observe fireworks and the passing world below.

The aft cargo hold is a similar extension of Engineering. It is reached by a ladder and hatch from the keelwalk. It also has a large outside cargo door that is sealed while in flight.

The general crew bunk in spaces above the forward hold on either side of the keelwalk and the Black Gang bunk in similar spaces over the aft cargo hold.

Things to keep in mind from an RP perspective is that it takes time to get from Engineering to the Flight-deck, especially for Max who has to use a cane. smile

With the exception of the Captain's Cabin, and the crew and Black Gang's bunks, everything is BELOW the keelwalk. That means having to climb a ladder to get to the keelwalk to move forward or aft in the ship.

I hope this will be of some help in keeping track of what's where in our fine ship.

*KAR Kamikaze Automaton Rat. An automoton shaped like a large rat and loaded with explosives.

Evidence of Late Parasol Duelling

Sunday, December 28, 2014 0 comments


An interesting picture.

Dating from the first decade of the 20th century and ostensibly a fashion plate from a magazine.

It should be quite apparent to any Parasol Duelist that this is in fact an illustration of the latest fashion for Duelists. While uncommon by this time there must have been some schools still operating.

Note that the figures are slightly different but would still be recognizable to a duelist from Victoria's time.

The "reverse plant" shown by the lady on the left is a figure not documented under Her Majesty's rules and may have been a local variation. That or a permitted flirtation move perhaps given the gentleman beside her.

Also the twirl has degraded somewhat as it is allowed to rest on the shoulder.

The previously wide interest and popularity of Parasol Duelling is evident in these late illustrations. When one goes looking for them they seem to be everywhere!

 Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

The Parasol Duelling Figures

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 0 comments

An Elegant Display

Here is a magnificent display of the formal Parasol Duelling figures.

They are being demonstrated by the accomplished and beautiful Raven Hawthorne, who competed in the World Championships this year held in Calgary Alberta.

Here she is in fine, and colourful, competition form!

Raven Hawthorne at the World Championship
Photo by Penny Young

The following photos were done to assist the judges in evaluating the formal positions during the Compulsory Figures portion of a full Parasol Duelling competition. I have also included Madame Saffron Hemlock's comments on the significance of each figure in the social life of a Lady.

Here then are the formal figures which all Duels are composed of.

First up we have the PLANT

 Note the upright posture and the vertical position of the parasol shaft in this photo.

Modern Duelling Parasols tend to be short so it is not necessary to actually "Plant" the point on the ground.

The plant is a sturdy position from which to move to other figures and one that can be completed very quickly if needed to counter a snub.

Madame Saffron Hemlock says of the Plant:

"Every lady must at some time take a stand, either in defence of her person or her principles. The Plant says, “This far and no further.” Or, alternately, as if she is Gandalf upon the Bridge, telling the Balrog, “You Shall Not Pass.” But gracefully. And without raising her voice."

Next we have the TWIRL

Something to note in this photo of a proper Twirl is that the shaft of the parasol does not rest on the shoulder but is held slightly above.

The Twirl is an elegant swirl of colour over a Lady's shoulder and makes a great display piece.

The Twirl should be used with care because it takes some time to complete but if started when an opponent has committed to a plant can be successful.

To be considered complete the parasol must complete at least one 360 degree rotation.

Care must be taken to not have the open parasol touch the hat or some judges may subtract points during the compulsory figures.

Madame Saffron Hemlock says of the Twirl:

"A lady in a tete-a-tete with a friend creates a personal space behind her, into which nobody can stick their long nose or their over-eager ears without looking ridiculous. A well-placed Twirl not only frames the lady’s face becomingly from the front and enhances the intimacy of her invitation to a tete-a-tete, it protects her rearward space from busy-bodies and the over-familiar hands of passing cads."

Finally we have the SNUB

The Snub is the most active of the figures.  Note especially the directness of the position, it is important to "aim" directly at the opponent.  The snub must start closed and is then opened to be considered complete.

The Snub is the one figure for which technology has an important role to play. Modern metal shafted and catchless parasols excel in the speed at which they can be opened and closed. This makes the Snub an excellant figure to be used for quick changes if needed to take advantage of an opponent's twirl.

Madame's comments are succinct:

"Self-evidently, a Snub enforces a forward personal space against riff-raff, upstarts, former friends, arch-enemies, and other undesirable persons."

Street Duel figures are similar, with the exception of the Twirl which is usually done to the side given the shortness of the Street Duel Parasol's shaft. 

Thanks again to Raven Hawthorne for her great pictures!

To find out more about this great sport go to:
Madame Saffron Hemlock’s Parasol Duelling League for Steampunk Ladies

For background on the history and development of Parasol Duelling 
or click the Parasol Duelling tag.

The Rules for Parasol Duelling

Keep your sightglass full your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Parasol Duelling Down Under!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014 0 comments

Wonderful Competition.

Just received this report of a Parasol Duelling competition held recently in Australia!
A fascinating variation on the standard rules.

Looks like a lot of fun was had under the hot bright summer Sun in Australia.

Well done Ladies and Gentlemen, looking forward to hearing about your next competition!

Keep your sightglass full your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Parasol Duelling
Goulburn Steampunk & Victoriana Fair
Hosted by
The Steampunk Crew of the Airship Sirius
Dec 2014

TheCrew of the Airship Sirius proudly hosted their first ever Parasol Duelling contest at the Goulburn Steampunk and Victoriana Fair last weekend, Sunday the 7th of December 2014. The Fair was a fun-filled event hosted by the Goulburn Waterworks Museum, consisting of Victorian dancing, steampunk market stalls, tea duelling, tours of the 1880s steam powered waterworks, and of course parasol duelling. The event was small but well attended and enjoyed by all. 

The Parasol duelling on the day was hosted by The Crew of the Airship Sirius steampunk group and sponsored by Skav’s Steampunk Workshop. The Crew’s very own Dr John Yardley, ship’s surgeon, was the overseer or referee for the event. The days’ event consisted of; an introduction to parasol duelling and its history; a morning demonstration duel; another demonstration in the afternoon followed by the contest itself. The demonstrations were performed by Inventor aboard the Sirius, Beibhinn O’Donnell, and ships cook and seamstress, Lucia Handcock Dickson. Registrations for the event where taken throughout the day.
Dr John Yardley, ship’s surgeon,
the overseer or referee for the event.
Photo by Steven Shaw

Demonstration by Inventor Beibhinn O’Donnell,
and ships cook and seamstress, Lucia Handcock Dickson.
Photo by Steven Shaw
The rules used for the duels on the day were a modified version of the traditional rules to make it easier for beginners to the sport, and the rule set favoured by the crew due to the confined  spaced aboard the airship. Though the sport is normally an all-female affair the contest was open to both sexes, as there is no gender discrimination aboard The Airship Sirius.

The contest itself had a modest turnout of 12 participants. The contest was played with participants paired up in the usual manor, they then fought the best of three duels, with the loser being eliminated and the winner going on to the next round. Winners then played winners and so on for 3 rounds until only two participants remained. The last two participants were a Gentleman by the name of Simon, and one Lady Madeline, both of the Earthly Delights Historic Dance Academy. The whole event was a clean fought contest with the Doctor only having interject on a couple of occasions, only one parasol was damaged, due to an over excited Snub, and fun was had by all involved.

The final duel was hard fought, with it being extended from the normal best of three, due to the participants repeatedly drawing the same move to their opponent. Finally the match came to sudden death with Simon claiming victory with a well-executed Twirl, beating Lady Madeline’s Plant.
The winning Move, Simon claiming victory with a well-executed Twirl, beating Lady Madeline’s Plant.
Simon, of the Earthly Delights Historic Dance Academy was then awarded with a lovely commemorative victor’s certificate and a medal, made by Skav of Skav’s Steampunk Workshop himself.

The Colour of Memory

Tuesday, November 11, 2014 0 comments

Lest We Forget

When I was growing up history was something that permeated our house.

There were books and photos, and old records.

There were fossils, models, maps and artifacts.

I was always interested in military history, because the military and warfare runs like a horrible bloody thread through the history of civilization. Didn't matter if it was ancient history, Romans, Greeks, Persians, Celts, or Mediaeval sieges and battles, or 18th and 19th C wars, or the great upheavals of the 20th C. I was interested in them all. There was one thing that I remember very clearly though and that was the major difference in the way my Father treated the wars of the 20th C compared to those of history.

These wars were different, they were different because they were still MEMORY not just HISTORY. My Grandfather fought in the First World War and I had friends whose parents had fought in the Second.
The Ghosts of these wars were not ready to be history yet. They were real people still living, still working, still hugging their loved ones and trying to live with the MEMORY of chaos and destruction that they had been forced to live through. They also struggled with the memory of those they had lost.

British troops negotiate a trench as they go forward
in support of an attack on the village of Morval
during the Battle of the Somme. Photograph: PA

As a kid my strongest impression of the difference between the Wars of History and the Wars of Memory was simply that History had colour whereas the modern wars of the 20th C were BLACK and WHITE.

We had photographs of these titanic struggles in all their gritty horror, you could see the face of war in its terror and its destruction, but there was no colour. That made them real in some senses but strangely unreal in others.

The Thin Red Line. 93rd Highlanders at Balaclava.
Illustration for Scotland for Ever (Hodder and Stoughton, c 1900).

The wars depicted in the history books were often illustrated in colour paintings, romanticized,
propagandized, draped with the colours of empire and the gloss of academic history. The Wars of living Memory were written of that way but they were illustrated with photographs that gave a glimpse of the true nature of war.

The first time I saw colour photos from the Second World War I was shocked, these were real people, they looked my age, they were not the Black and White ghosts that I had seen for so many years. Along with the colour came the realization that these great upheavals had been filled with REAL people who smelled the earth, the smoke the blood and the death just as I could. Suddenly War changed from a historical event to a mass tragedy, necessary sometimes but never something to take lightly. Suddenly to stand with the dwindling numbers of veterans on November 11th became not only a duty, but an honour. These men and women had seen unimaginable horrors, they had lived through chaos and destruction and they were REAL people. People I could shake the hands of, people I could see standing with tears for their lost youth and their lost friends. The colour that is in their memories we can never see, we only have the black and white old photos.

Photo by Neil Zeller
There is now, no longer anyone alive who knows the colours of WWI, who remembers the smell of the mud of Flanders, the sound of artillery or the shrieks of dying companions. That war has become history.

Soon the same will happen for those who lived through WWII. And still, there are wars where young men and women fight because they are told to. There are still men and women now much younger than me who will have such memories. 

To stand beside them today is to stand beside all of those who are now history, to stand and remember is to make sure that History is not forgotten.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

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