How would you save the Titanic?

Sunday, February 7, 2016 0 comments

Pie in the Sky Project

This one is a thought experiment.

I watched James Cameron's Titanic the other night.
(Yes I cried. Shut up!)

1997 seems like a long time ago, sigh.

As always when I read about the sinking, or see the movies, I am struck by the apparent docility with which the crew and passengers went to their fates in the icy North Atlantic.

With the exception of the children aboard, everyone else had been born and raised during the Victorian era. They had watched massive technological changes being made at a speed unmatched even in today's world. Of the 2224 people aboard on that fateful night there were well educated people, craftsmen, engineers, labourers, sailors, mechanics, domestic servants, business men and farmers. They came from all over Europe, America, and the British isles. Everyone had skills, ideas, hands, and a desperate desire to survive.

So why didn't anybody do anything to help stop the ship from sinking?

I remember reading the transcript of the American hearings held shortly after the sinking*. One of the surviving crewmen was an ex Royal Navy sailor who was amazed that nothing was done to try to stop the inrush of water. Obviously damage control was high on the list of things a Royal Navy sailor would be trained in.

In Cameron's movie the Captain makes a suggestion of opening the watertight doors to help the pumps and is told by the designer that it would only buy a "little more time" and that the sinking was inevitable.

A little more time is better than nothing right?

So here is the project.

Assuming you could convince the passengers and crew to follow your ideas, how would you save the ship? And If you can't save her, how could you buy enough time such that the S.S. Carpathia, when she arrived at 4:00am, could save most of the passengers.

This is the ultimate Escape Room game.

All you have is what is aboard the ship, and your knowledge of what is happening below decks.  This is important since we know more today about how she sank than the crew on board did at the time.

Still an interesting project no?

I'll start it off by examining the Captain's suggestion from the movie.

We know that the ultimate problem was that as the breached forward compartments flooded they forced the bow down allowing the water to flow over the too low tops of the water tight bulkheads into the next unflooded compartments. The designer was correct, that as a result the sinking was inevitable.

However, the Captain's suggestion is actually a good one. By judiciously opening the watertight doors in the bulkheads the water levels in the flooded compartments would equalize a bit, but more importantly the angle of the ship would be less steep. This coupled with the pumps would slow the over-topping of the bulkheads. Also since the seas were perfectly flat, allowing the ship to settle more slowly would give the passengers and crew more time out of the water. It would also make it easier to try something else, anything else, without having everything crashing forward on the increasingly steep decks.

Interestingly Royal Navy captains did this during WWI.

One of the biggest risks to a warship if she was torpedoed was capsizing as the compartments on the damaged side of the ship flooded. A capsize was the worst case as it instantly trapped the crew below decks! Captains would order what was known as "counter flooding", intentionally flooding undamaged compartments on the opposite side to keep the ship on a more even keel. The idea was that even if the ship sank as a result of the flooding, she would do so upright, thus allowing the crew more time to get out of the ship and into the boats or the water.

In the conditions in which the Titanic sank the Captain's suggestion above makes good sense.


You find yourself on the bridge of the R.M.S. Titanic at 11:45 pm on April 14, 1912. The mighty ship's engines have stopped, her watertight doors are closed and her Captain has ordered the ship's officers to give him a damage report. Astern you can faintly see the ghostly shape of the iceberg that has doomed the ship on whose bridge you now stand. It is a still, perfectly calm, but very cold night in the North Atlantic, and unless you can come up with something, two hours and forty minutes from now you will be struggling in the icy water with more than 1500 of your fellow passengers. 

Unlike everyone else aboard, you know what is happening and what will happen.

What is your plan?

Keep your sightglass full your firebox trimmed and your water... er... life belt tied. 

*The Titanic Disaster Hearings: The Official Transcripts of the 1912 Senate Investigation. A fascinating and scary read, which I highly recommend if you are interested in the history of that tragedy.

Here is a great chronology of all the recorded events on board from the survivors accounts.

There is a PDF file of the chronology here.


Friday, February 5, 2016 0 comments

A longing for the past.

 “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." –L.P. Hartley

I have a macabre fascination with moving images of the past. All these people going about their lives. Living in a world we can never know.

These old videos are full of ghosts because anything filmed more than 100 years ago contains images of people who are now dead.

This video from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows describes this feeling perfectly.

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

Time keeping by Nomography

Sunday, January 31, 2016 0 comments

Let the Sun shine in!

Last time I presented a link to the fascinating world of graphical calculations known as Nomography.

Now in Steampunk there is an emphasis on the mechanical. Time keeping being probably the greatest illustration of this. From tiny mechanical watches to massive clockwork calculating machines the imagery of gears and clocks are everywhere. But there are older ways of measuring time, using the motion of the Earth and the apparent motion of the Sun and other heavenly bodies with sundials and sextants, astrolabes etc.

This paper has some exotic patterns and calculations for devices that would make wonderful additions to our gadgets: 

Regiomontanus, Apian and Capuchin Sundials by Fer J. de Vries, Mac Oglesby,William S. Maddux and Warren Thom

So how would using this old "primitive" technology be used in Steampunk?

Perhaps hidden in our Mad Scientist's notebooks, or printed on our clothing, buried in the shapes on our gadgets, or or on the covers of our children's beds.  The mathematics used in creating these designs and the decorative possibilities of the shapes and patterns, while actually being usable to tell time, would make for some interesting hidden "conceits" don't you think?

Here is an actual card sundial from 1533.
Yes this is "primitive" in the sense that it is not mechanically complex but there is an elegance of form to the curves and shapes.

Elegant AND functional, scientific and technical, the Steampunk aesthetic on display indeed.

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

Role Play Serial Story from the Messdeck Part VII

Saturday, January 2, 2016 0 comments


Here is the next part of the serialized tale from our role play group "The Messdeck".

You can start from the beginning here.
 Previously Max and his crew aboard the aged HMAS Doris have arrived at Davaar, the manor of Doctor Christine Pearse, the Duchess of Argylle. They are on their way to the remote Naval Airship base at Scapa Flow. Christine was the the medical officer aboard their previous ship, the experimental HMAS Velvet Brush. The journey north in the dead of Winter has been exceedingly cold and Max and his crew are enjoying the cozy hospitality of their shipmate.

The evening has been progressing with much laughter and good cheer.

All is not as quiet as it appears however...
Lost at Sea
A serial story from The Messdeck.
Part VII
Collected and edited by Kevin Jepson 
What follows is a slightly edited transcript of the role playing we did for our visit to the Manor at Davaar.
Max and his crew are relaxing in the spacious parlor of the manor. The good food, good companionship, and excellent hospitality of the good Doctor has been a welcome respite from the cold of their journey North.

Christine laughs. "Well, I suppose this new rule of "ankling" in parasol duels might bring about some prettier shoes, boots and stockings."

Sgt Fraser is now going a bit red faced. "Hmmm... maybe I need something more then tea..." he says and pulls out a flask.

Miss BB suddenly pauses in her attempt to add some shortbread cookies to the stack of food in her bag. "Do you hear that? Scratching sound? Do you? Huh?"

Max takes another drink of tea "No Lieutenant, I don't hear anything but my ears ain't anything like yours!"

Everyone stops talking and starts to listen intently. Miss BB, as the communications officer, has an acute sense of hearing so everybody takes her seriously.

"Turn on the listening device. Turn it on, on, on." says Miss BB reaching past the food into her bag and pulling out a large hardbound book.

In the silence, Iveta closes her eyes to better get a reading on the sound, turning her head slightly. "You said the rats were effectively gone, Doctor. But something is scratching. Something smaller than a rat."

Christine nods. "Yes, there haven't been any sign of the rats since we left. This must be something else. It has to be new as well, it's been as quiet as a tomb until now."

*Cooke and Fraser stop eating and listen.*

Sgt Fraser puts down his flask. "Cooke, get your gear going lad."

Cooke grabs his bag. "Aye aye Sarge."

Miss BB looks at Cooke and says, "Is it on? Do you hear? I can hear."

Cooke looks up. "I don't hear anything Ma'am, I'll know more in a minute."

Miss BB having pulled her book and a pillowcase out of her bag, scattering cookies across the rug in the process, says, "I'm going out there. Cover me."

Sgt Fraser stands and looks across at Max who standing as well says, "Carry on Sergeant go and check it out!"

Miss BB already at the door to the hallway turns and says, "Come on you sissies. Don't make me go out alone?"

Sgt Fraser half smiling says, "Aye Aye Ma'am!" and draws his side arm and heads into the hallway.

Cooke takes out a gauntlet that contains his short range signalling gear and starts to power it on.

Watkins and Simpson, watching the Marines and Miss BB, look over at Max. "What's all this Sir?"

Max says, "Seems somebody is checking up on us, best get up on the ship and make sure nothing is untoward. Keep yer eyes and ears open."

"Aye aye Sir" and they follow the big marine and Miss BB into the hallway.

Max turns to Christine. "I hope we haven't brought along more trouble to your home Ma'am. It does seem to follow us though."

"As long as it's not that wolf creature Commander, I'm sure we'll be fine." Christine rings for Mr. Gears and when he appears whispers to him directions regarding the children. He disappears, heading to the schoolroom.

Miss BB standing just outside the hallway door mumbles, "Rats, smaller than rats. scratchy things."

Looking around, Iveta spots a few flying insects, and points. "Have you seen these before? I'm sure not many insects are comfortable in this climate?"

Christine says, "It's not the right time of year for flies or moths."

Miss BB thumps her book against the wall. "Ha! Got one."

Cooke looks to where Iveta is pointing. "Bugs!? Not again!"

Miss BB picks up something from the floor and brings it to the corporal. "What do you make of this Mr. Cooke?"

"Looks like some kind of little automaton."

Sgt Fraser calls out form the hall, "All clear here sir! Going to take a peek outside."

Max trying to spot the little machines says, "Might be like them spiders in the ship while we were in Africa. Blasted spies!"

In the hovering cloaked airship, a technician mumbles, "One down, sir. They've rumbled us."

Cooke looks at the smashed bug, then sweeps his gauntlet over it. "Similar, but... different..."

"Is it dead? Did I kill it?" asks Miss BB.

"What do you make of it Corporal any signals?"

Christine moves over to the draperies and gives them a good shake.

Cooke picks up what's left of the little machine. "It's dead, I need to get my gear from the ship, this gauntlet is only good for a few feet."

Miss BB takes aim at another bug, being careful not to kill it she bangs the wall with a thump and quickly grabs the bug and stuffs it in her pillowcase.

Miss BB says "Don't go out there alone. The bugs will get you. They will go into your ears. I just know it. Cover your ears!"

Miss BB says to herself, "When he comes back we should check his ears. Then, if he is OK we should see if we can track the signals back from this not dead one."

Outside in the courtyard Cpl Cooke scrambles aboard the Doris and grabs his backpack while Sgt Fraser goes to the trunk they had unloaded before and unlocks it, grabbing a pair of rifles.

Miss BB looks out the window and sees the guns. "I wonder if they brought the ray gun. Maybe they will let me shoot it this time."

When Watkins and Simpson get near the ship Fraser calls out, "Over here lads!" He holds up a rifle. "Best to arm yourselves."

Watkins snickers, "That's a bit big for these critters don't ya think Sarge?"

Sgt Fraser smiles. "It's not the bugs I'm worried about, it's the ones controlling them."

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 31, 2015 0 comments

Or maybe New Gears!

I hope your 2016 is awesome!

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

Join the Adventure!

Monday, December 7, 2015 0 comments

Join Madame Saffron Hemlock's Parasol Duelling league!

So what do you do when you have a piece of epic music and a pile of fantastic photos from Parasol Duelling competitions?

You make a video ad that's what!

Here is the latest ad for Madame Saffron Hemlock's Parasol Duelling League on Facebook.

I hope you enjoy it and please pass it along to anyone interested!

As always thanks to the Ladies of Madame Saffron Hemlock’s Parasol Duelling League.

And the great photographers who make us look so good.

Karlo Keet.
Clare Gibson
Katie Edwards
Lindsay Dunlop
Phi Vernon

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

Practical Airship Design Analysis of a Real System!

Sunday, November 22, 2015 0 comments

Steam Plants for Aircraft analysed in 1926!

I found an interesting report from NACA (NASA's original name) concerning the analysis and experimentation of light weight steamplants for use in aircraft.

The paper is entitled "Steam Power Plants in Aircraft" and compiled by  E.E. Wilson at the Bureau of Aeronautics in 1926, and you can get the paper in PDF format here.

In this paper the author analyses a lightweight boiler setup capable of generating sufficient steam at high enough pressures to power an aircraft. He then estimates the weight and efficiency of a complete system model using this boiler and compares it to the current internal combustion power plants used in the heavier than air craft of the time.

The result of the analysis is that with the current state of the art in 1926, using steam power for heavier than air craft was NOT practical. This is not really a surprise given the power/weight ratio of even an efficient boiler and turbine setup. However there were two constraints that really tipped the analysis over against the use of steam power for aircraft.

  1. Fuel consumption/efficiency of steam power compared to internal combustion power plants.
  2. Weight and area of the system for condensing the steam for re-use.
If you have been reading the other parts of my Practical Airship Design series you will note that neither of those constraints exist in the design of our airship!

First the fuel consumption issue doesn't exist because of our fantastical core, which uses no fuel but produces steam at potentially very high temperatures and pressures. Second the condensation issue is moot because the exhaust steam can simply be added to the lift system and condensed on the hull condenser as described in Part 4.

Interestingly enough the author concludes something similar and even postulates a turbine electric propulsion system, which was very cool to read indeed!

Again we do not have any worries about efficiency in our design.

Fascinating to see this analysis and it is an interesting read if you are curious about the analysis of a real system that could be implemented in an airship like I have been describing.

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

Here is the table of contents for the whole series of Practical Airship Design posts.

You can see all the posts related airships and airship design here.

About Gears, Goggles, and Steam oh My!

Here I collect interesting bits of information related to the world of Steampunk.

Category List

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