The military design origins of the 16th Century Book Wheel

Originally published at: The military design origins of the 16th Century Book Wheel | Boing Boing


Tabs of yore


"‘Behold, the Bücherrad!’ Leibniz said.

Viewed end-on, the Bücherrad was hexagonal, and nearly as tall as Fatio. When he worked his way round to the front, he saw that it consisted mostly of six massive shelves each one a couple of fathoms long, bridging the interval between hexagonal end-caps that were mounted on axles so that the whole apparatus could be revolved. But each of the six shelves was free to revolve on an axis of its own. As the Bücherrad spun, each of those shelves counter-rotated in such a way that it maintained a fixed angle with respect to the floor, and did not spill its load of books.

Going round to the other end, Fatio was able to see how it worked: a system of planetary gears, carven from hard wood, spun about the central axle-tree like Ptolemaic epicycles.

Then Fatio turned his attention to the books themselves: curious folio volumes, hand-written, all in the same hand, all in Latin.

‘These were written out personally by one Duke August, a forerunner of that lot you just met. He lived to a great age and died some twenty-five years ago. It was he who assembled most of this collection,’ Leibniz explained.

Fatio bent slightly at the waist to read one of the pages. It consisted of a series of paragraphs each preceded by a title and a long Roman numeral. ‘It is a description of a book,’ he concluded.

‘The process of abstraction continues,’ Leibniz said. ‘Duke August could not keep the contents of his library in his memory, so he wrote out catalogs. And when there were too many catalogs for him to use them conveniently, he had woodwrights make Bücherrads—engines to facilitate the use and maintenance of the catalogs.’

‘It is very ingenious.’

‘Yes—and it is threescore years old,’ Leibniz returned. ‘If you do the arithmetick, as I have, you may easily demonstrate that to hold all the catalogs needed to list all the world’s books would require so many Bücherrads that we would need some Bücherradrads to spin them around, and a Bücherrad-rad-rad to hold all of them—’

‘German is a convenient language that way,; Fatio said diplomatically’. " – Neal Stephenson The Confusion


I read the headline and spent half the article thinking “What the Hell is he talking about?” because I couldn’t get it out of my head that it wasn’t about a book … called wheel. Sometimes I think my teacher’s were right about me …

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Came here specifically for that. Thank you!


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