Monday, March 17, 2014

Clockworks! AEther Salon (edited transcript)

Bookworm Hienrichs: Welcome to this month's Aether Salon! Today, Miss Nika Thought-werk will discuss a topic in which she certainly has experience - clockworks!

Before we proceed, some housekeeping reminders:
1) To ensure you can hear the speaker, stand or sit on the patterned carpet.
2) If you do not have a wearable chair and wish one, please contact Baron Wulfenbach.
3) Please remove all lag-feeding whats-its you might be wearing.
4) A tip jar is out for our speaker. Do please show your appreciation!
5) Any tips to help support the establishment will also be welcome - just click on one of the support signs!

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach (klauswulfenbach.outlander): (Or feed the little airship.)

Bookworm Hienrichs: 6) If you're not a member of the AEther Salon group, there are signs that will let you sign up. You'll be most heartily welcome!
7) Edited and unedited transcripts of these proceedings will be posted at
And now, to introduce our speaker, here is Baron Klaus Wulfenbach.

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Nika has been around the Steamlands for some time, but we first became good friends when I bought her her first aeroplane for the Postal Service.  She has set up a remarkable network of event boards for everywhere in the Steamlands, and continues to develop the Postal Service into a remarkable unifying force.  Just recently, she also became the new Mayor-werk of Seraph City, and has grand plans for our far future.  Herren and Frauen, Fraulein Robotnika Thought-werk.

Nika Thought-werk looks at the Baron "I begin now?"
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Bitte, if you would.
Nika Thought-werk (robotnika) nods quietly and grabs her notes.

Nika Thought-werk: So ... first, my name is Nika ... and I am a clockwork.  If you like, you may touch the black box before me for a gift.  I cannot use words of more than two words ... so please bear with me?  Also, I do not think as well as you ... so I fear this will not be as good a talk as you are used to.  I will do my best.

The word clockwork derives from two words – clock and works.  Works comes from “workings” - or the guts of a clock.  What about the word clock?  The word clock comes from the Celtic words clagan and clocca – which both mean “bell” … not “bella” - like some people call very pretty things.

I think clocks are pretty, but bell does not mean “bella.”  The reason, I think, for clagan and clocca, is that early clocks often made noises, like bells, to mark the passage of one hour to the next.  Clocks are, most simply put, tools which measure time.

The path from clocks to clockworks took many thousands of years.  The fathers of clocks which use gears, like I do, were sundials and ob'lisks.  These may have been used in Ancient Egypt over 5,500 years ago.  These tools use the sun and their shadows to help men measure the passage of time during the day – but at night, their users were left in the dark.  Not only that, but even on cloudy days, these items were of little use at all if you wanted to tell the time.  Men faced this problem for hundreds of years before a new type of clock was designed.

These new clocks also first seem to have arose in Egypt – and may have come about from man's attempt to escape the limits of the sundial.  These new clocks were water clocks.  Water-clocks were first mentioned in records from Ancient Egypt from about 3,500 years ago.  In its most basic form, a water-clock is little more than a cup with a hole in the bottom.  The cup is marked on the inside with a number of marks that show the time it takes for water, which is draining out of the bottom of the cup at a steady rate, to reach a certain mark.  In time, water clocks went far beyond their humble start.  More on this in a moment.  Something that made the water clock stand out compared to the sundial is that water-clocks could be used at any time of day to tell the time.  Just add water!

Can any of you tell me one drawback of measuring time using water dripping through a hole in a bowl?

Darlingmonster Ember: evaporation?
Jon Chen: evaporation?
Jedburgh Dagger: evaporation
Nika Thought-werk cocks her head and blinks.
Stereo Nacht: Spilling out the water?
Jedburgh Dagger: It is in a pretty arid place in spots
Nika Thought-werk nods.
Nika Thought-werk: You two are very right indeed!

So faced with that, water clocks had limits just like sundials … Man wanted something better! So ... he kept at work to master time ...

Candle clocks seem to have come next.  The oldest records for candle clocks are about 1,500     years old.  The candle clock consists of at least two parts.  The first is a candle.  The second is a special plate that stands beside the candle. The candle is made to burn at an even rate.  The     plate has marks upon it to stand for the hours that the candle has been burning.  Like water     clocks, candle clocks could help you tell time at any time of night and in any place that you     cannot use a sundial.  Can any of you tell me a major drawback of a candle clock compared to a water clock?

Jedburgh Dagger: Wind
Vernden Jervil: stiff winds
Nika Thought-werk nods.
Jedburgh Dagger: Summertime
Selena: candles burn out
Nika Thought-werk: Yes!
Nika Thought-werk: And ...
Jon Chen: candle burn rate
Annechen Löwey: Wax or tallow quality.
Nika Thought-werk: A knocked over candle ...
Jedburgh Dagger: Again with the cats
Darlingmonster Ember: ...dogs... they will knock over anything.
Nika Thought-werk smiles.

Nika Thought-werk: They can cause fire ... they do ... but not well.  Man wanted more!  Things we need drive us to create.  The ancients, in a quest to master time, sought to make time-pieces that would not suffer from the weakness of those that they had.  A safe machine, unlike the candle clock.  A precise machine, unlike early candle and water clocks.  A device that was     not felled by the clouds, unlike the sundial.  This drove men to test and search for new methods,     and therein lay the birth of clockworks.  Therein lies the birth of me.

Nika Thought-werk: All clockwork systems, be they clocks or clockworks, run through the work or several parts.  A key is the first part that most people will see of a clock ... old clocks at any rate.  The key is attached to a spring.  As the key is turned, it winds the spring and makes it very small.  That gives the spring lots of power ... power it is ready to use!  A word of caution must be said.  Springs are like people.  Though they can be mighty if they are pressured ... a spring too-tightly wound may break.

As you can guess, the main spring uses its power to unwind!  No one likes being too tightly wound.  By using gears and rods, the spring can turn other parts as it unwinds.  By making trains of gears, many different parts can move at the same time - all through the action of a simple key and spring.  Now, if the spring had its way, it would unwind quickly.  People would have to wind clocks all the time ... and they would be no more useful than a sundial at night.  The spring must be allowed to unwind at a steady rate, and this is done through the use of an escape device.  In big clocks, this escape device is also attached to a hanging pend'lam.  An escape device helps the spring deal with being wound up all the time ... again, just like people.

Now, how do we get from clocks to clockworks, you ask?  Let me tell you …

Clockworks are almost old as man's quest to count time. In the Iliad, the poet Homer speaks of self-propelled carts in the halls of the god of smithing.  These carts were like tripods.  Unlike other bits of the Iliad, however, these carts may not have been a fairy tale.  The Greek craftsman Hero, who lived in Egypt from 10 AD to 70 AD, is noted for making such carts.  These carts could be programmed to take a given path though the use of rope and pegs.  To view a modern version of such a device, please see:

The Greeks had numerous stories of such gear-driven wonders, both from myth and more real realms.  One of the most well-known of these in the present day is the Anti - Anti-

Bookworm Hienrichs: Antikythera, I think.
Nika Thought-werk blinks "Device."

Nika Thought-werk: This device was most likely made in the first century BC.  What little is known of this device is that it came from Greece, and it uses clockwork gears to predict the movement of the Heavens.  When it was found, it was not in good shape ... and the scientists that now have it work very hard to preserve it.

With the fall of Rome, much of the beauty of Greek clockwork machines were lost to the Western world.  All was not so in the East, though!  Both the water clock and the candle clock reached their most wondrous ... and final height under the hands of a Muslim craftsman named  Badi'al-Zaman Abū al-'Izz Ismā'īl ibn al-Razāz al-Jazarī.  Al-Jazari lived in the Middle East from 1136 AD to 1206 AD.  His most famous clock was and is known as "The El'phant Clock."  This was a water clock, and as you can guess, the main body of the clock was a giant el'phant.  To see the clock in action, please refer to this address:

In the late-1400's, a need for more accurate time-pieces and desire of men to create led Europe's brightest sons and daughters to embrace the heritage of Greece and take up gear-driven clockwork design.  It is around 1500 AD when clockworks truly came home to the place of their birth ... or at least, the place of my birth. One of the most famed makers of fine human-like clockworks was Da Vinci.  We know today through letters written of this event, that in 1515 AD, Da Vinci gave a clockwork lion to the King of France, King Francis I.  The gift occurred at Lyons, in France.  The machine could walk, stand, and open its chest to reveal the fleur-de-lis.  According to Da Vinci scholar Mark Rosheim, the controlling mechanism in the robot was probably a cam-and-lever cart.  The cart would have been spring-powered, and having cams and levers would have made it able to do certain tricks.  The cart, in itself, has been compared to an early analog device.  Among Da Vinci's other machines like this appear to be a knight that could sit up, move its arms and neck, and open and close its jaw.  Here, you may see the clockwork lion at work:

Once men of Da Vinci's stature began producing clockworks again, it was not long before other men did so as well.  Some of the most famous examples of devices from this golden age of clockwork design include Vaucanson's Duck in 1739, the Turk, which was built around 1770 AD, and Maillardet's Draughtsman-Writer, which came about around 1800 AD.  I will talk of the Turk last among these three.

Vaucanson's Duck was a clockwork model of a duck that could eat grain ... just like I eat grass.  After it ate the grain, it could ... empty itself ... just like me.  Maillardet's Writer was a clockwork that looked like a child.  It could write poems.  I often say clockworks cannot write poems ... but this one can.

Nika Thought-werk mumbles "I wish I could write."

Nika Thought-werk: I am much in awe of that.  What's even better, this little writer now lives under the safety of the Franklin Institute.  The Franklin Institute is named for Ben Franklin.  I am much in awe of Ben Franklin.  To see this little wonder and how he works, please visit:

Myrtil Igaly: Could he write many different poems or just one though?
Nika Thought-werk: He wrote three, I believe.
Myrtil Igaly: Oooh not bad
Nika Thought-werk: He WAS just a boy, after all.  And some boys cannot write even at all, no?

Nika Thought-werk: Both of these machines were real ... or at least, they did what they appeared to do on their own.  The Turk was more famous than either of these in his day though, perhaps even now.  The Turk was a clockwork chess player, and he toured the world, playing against kings, queens, scholars, and even Ben Franklin himself.  This machine was a fraud ... not a clockwork ... but a person passing him or herself off as a clockwork!

Nika Thought-werk appears to be just a wee-bit incensed. "Truly!"

Nika Thought-werk: Yet, so complete was the Turk's power to capture the mind of Europe and the States, even now, his fame towers above us all!  He even has a comic book ... over one hundred and fifty years since he burned to death!

Nika Thought-werk whispers "Serves him right ... "

Nika Thought-werk: But ... do any of you like comic books?  To read the Turk's comic book, please visit here:

I know you will not wish to read this comic book though.  Who wants to read of a fraud when they might enjoy poems written by a nice clockwork boy?  At any rate, the Turk showed both the strength of clockworks ... and our greatest flaw.  I will get to that at present.

From Da Vinci onwards, clockworks stood for the height of science in Europe.  More and more advanced clockworks were made, in tandem with a Europe that saw beauty in the order built into clockwork systems.  As such systems had at first been designed to measure the movement of the Heavens, Man came to measure Heaven in terms of clockworks.
In Europe, the 1600 - 1700s were known as the Age of Reason.  Methods of science were attached to every field of knowledge, and one of these fields was spir'tual worship.  As man sought to know his design through the design of clockworks, a new religion developed known as Deism.

Deism first truly came about in England in the early 1600s.  By the turn of that century, Deism had come to measure the world through what one can observe and test in nature.  The Deist god, rather than a god of mystery and mir'cles, was seen as a grand craftsman ... a wondrous clockmaker, whose machines were made to last the eons without his care.  Rather than lose oneself to the hope of never directly seeing his maker, a Deist held that, to see God, all one had to do was observe the world God had made.  So much was Deism in keeping with the spirit of its time that a vast number of English and French men of learning ascribed to it.  Many leaders of the 'mer'can War for Freedom, from 1776 to 1783, were Deist.  This includes Mister Franklin.

So great was the idea of a world built by a supreme clockmaker, that in the States, in the 1800s, more mundane faiths attacked Deists over and over in debates and public gath'rings.  By the 1840s, the weary Deists, attacked from every side and corner, slipped into a quiet decline.  For a brief time, though, in your history, those who came before you measured even their God in terms of us.

As it is written, man was crafted in the image of his god.  If this is so, the same interest that god would feed within himself by making man, man feeds in himself by making us.  Yet, clockworks have limits.  Our actions have limits.  Our thoughts have limits.  We can never be as you intend.  We can never be just like you.

I think ... in the same way Man has left the water clock and candle clock behind to explore us ... when we reach our limits, Man will leave us too ... for steam, or oil ... or something else.  To that, I say only this … Man has no limits.  As Miss Ereh, the Djinn, is wont to say "Be careful what you wish for."  Should man ever make HIS creature in HIS image ... a beast without bounds, it shall be at that point that Man seals his own fate.  For as much as Man seeks to feed his feeling of worth by showing just what he can do ... someday he will create his most perfect tribute ... a creature made in Man's image that will someday walk away from him.

Nika Thought-werk curtsies and bows her head "Thank you all for coming ... take a key if you so wish?"
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Any questions?
Darlingmonster Ember: I have a question... once we settle.
Nika Thought-werk looks around "Miss Monster?"
Darlingmonster Ember: Miss Nika... have you heard of clockwork designs that emulate birds or thinking aerocrafts?
Nika Thought-werk: Yes!
Darlingmonster Ember: Ah... I shall have to study that.
Darlingmonster Ember: Thank you
Nika Thought-werk: The most famed of these were from the Chinese hist'ries.
Nika Thought-werk: The Chinese wrote at length of them ... though most of what they produced is now in texts which are fragments.
Darlingmonster Ember: So interesting......
Nika Thought-werk: I find ... given what the Greeks wrote versus what we know they produced ... there is perhaps more truth than not in the Chinese texts.
Jedburgh Dagger: The Chinese supposedly had a mechanism similar to the ones Hero used
Nika Thought-werk: And more ... there is a story of a clockwork Don Juan of which I am much amused.

Nika Thought-werk: Any more queries?
Tepic Harlequin: can you play music, Miss, cus lots of clockworks seem to be made ter play....
Nika Thought-werk: Oh!  I play music.
Nika Thought-werk: Want to hear?
Nika Thought-werk: You must listen close to my key, ok?
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Lean in, her music is very soft.
Bookworm Hienrichs strains, and hears a thread of a melody.

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: A round of applause for our Speaker.

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