Charles Babbage wrote a "cardboard vaporware" app in 1840 and left it in Turin


Originally published at:


Re the pi number card – it would appear that each digit is represent by (9 - n) holes: 1 → eight holes, 2 → seven holes, … , 9 → no holes.

So presumably 0 would be represented by nine holes: but there doesn’t seem to be room for the ninth hole. Unless the explanatory comment has been written in the space where the ninth hole would go?


Isn’t it obvious hat these are for?

They contain the lat and long coordinates for Atlantis, duh.


It’s the beta-beta version of “Zork.”


I’m surprised that Sterling didn’t suggest that it was the presumed gambling modus that was the MacGuffin in The Difference Engine.


In Turin? This sounds shrouded in mystery…


The archivist in me wants to smack him in the back of the head.

How about some gloves when handling 177-year-old objects made out of paper?


Yes, I wondered about that too; which would be better, cotton or silk?

And I hope his hands weren’t sweaty.


The ultimate in Dead Media finds there Mr. Sterling. Bravo!


They’re obviously forms for making Swiss cheese.


So not a Tinder profile?


These are cardboard copies of the gold plates stamped out by Daniel Waterhouse for the Leibniz Archive. (Obscure?)


Well he had to have something to get people to support his Kickstarter before he ran away with the money! Oh, what? You mean they didn’t have Kickstarter scams back then? Oh, well never mind.


Up to the institution, really - not just type of glove, but whether gloves are required at all. E.g. the Library of Congress and the British Library don’t have an all-gloves-all-the-time policy, and more are following suit (cotton gloves can catch and tear edges, leave fibers, etc.) I just get twitchy when I see nearly-200-year-old paper(ish) artifacts handled bare-handed…but then, I’m not the custodian.


The diagram of the number card with nine rows of holes would suggest that this is the case:


Just as obscure as the Difference Engine bit above, and a better book.

And I geeked out at both references, so what do I know.


Do not run this stack; it will crash the simulation.


Proof of concept.


The operation cards displayed look to be mostly divide/subtract or subtract-retain(symmetric if rotated 180 degrees or flipped), with a handful of + or *, depending on orientation. Assuming this was it–and (like no action cards that rang a bell or printed out a response as described here: ), it seems hard to put these together to form any useful program. This is just like finding a bunch of calculator keys on the floor and asking what was being calculated. But with enough cards, it could calculate a lot of things. I suspect it is not a scrambled program, but just a demo for people to see.


I handle rare books, documents, manuscripts and images on a daily basis, and have done for forty-odd years. I don’t wear gloves except in exceptional circumstances, never have. Gloves notoriously induce clumsy handling, and (except for fine silk, which is too slick for an ideal grip) can snag and tear pages and bindings. The average fifteenth century book, for example, has held up perfectly well against generations of handling, though often not against worm, gnawing, fire, water and all the multitude of other ills that can indeed seriously beset books. So put down the gloves. Just don’t turn down pages, separate unopened pages with the butter knife (as Wordsworth was wont to do), or–of course–gnaw on your rare books or read them in the bath.
See the Library of Congess website (after all, who should be better informed)?