On the weekend I visited the Science Museum, partially to play computer games from the last 4 decades, but there was also two special exhibits that I wanted to see.
Clock of the Long Now: I’ve been wanting to see this in person ever since I heard about it, and it is the main reason I visited the museum. This clock is intended to run for 10,000 years, and to chime on the millennia. To put that timescale into proper perspective, 10,000 years ago modern humans were only using pictograms, the horse had not been domesticated, and the last ice age was just ending. The model in the museum is the first prototype, completed just before the start of 2000, which it announced by chiming twice. It is a beautiful piece of engineering work, with all sorts of intricate ways of dealing with the problems of running for 10,000 years, but unfortunately it did not appear to be “on” when I visited. I marvel at its testament to long scale thinking, and one of my two favourite very long term projects.
Difference Engine: Located elsewhere in the building is a working model of Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine #2; it was built about 10 years ago to celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth. In constructing it, they discovered and fixed a few bugs, which might have been Babbage’s way of protecting his design. Its another beautiful machine, intimidating with its size and it brings into focus all the various Steampunk novels and imagery I’ve come into contact with. I can just picture a Victorian-age revolution powered by these beasts.
I am, unsurprisingly, in awe of these two machines and their creators.