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Nov 29, 2021

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Technology

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This is a Work in Progress intended as a platform to clarify the technological and scientific status of Winter’s Oasis.

Steam

You can’t have steampunk without steam (well, I think you can, the Third Industrial Revolution gives an excellent platform for that.) So we have steam engines. The website refers to the newest engines being compact, oil-powered models. This is technologically reasonable since gasoline and kerosene generate more heat energy per pound than coal.

Depending on the how plentiful oil is and how hard it is to extract (building a rig to get at deep deposits is non-trivial. Coal is less troublesome, particularly if you’re willing to just throw people at it and don’t mine if they die unpleasantly in large numbers.)

Steam engines are specifically referenced as being used for airships (the compact, oil-driven ones.) We should have a rail system, or at least lines between the more major, technologically developed cities (the Serendipity-Muon Express, say.)

Steam cars are quite possible if you have compact steam engines, however to actually provide any advantage over trains, you need a network of good, paved roads all over, which I don’t see us as having. Rail lines between major cities and draft animals from the rail to your final destination seems much more likely given our current state of infrastructure.

It is almost certain that steam engines would also be used as motive power in factories, particularly in areas that don’t have a natural source of water power. Even if you do have water power, you could have an advantage, since it would have allowed you to serve as a manufacturing base before the invention of the steam engine, giving you a competitive edge when it comes to building factories that do lots of things from a single drive.

Since coal is likely to be less expensive than oil, oil-based steam engines would almost certainly be confined to airships, steam cars, and other areas where lower weight is required. For trains (where you’ll be hauling freight anyway) and stationary engines to run industry, coal would be much better.

In addition to finding steam engines of some sort, we know how they work and be able to make new steam engines using the same principles. The citizens of Loka understand thermodynamics and gas laws. They can build engines that use the Stirling cycle. They can have experimental refrigerators (if they can crack petroleum they should be able to get ammonia, which makes a nasty but quite serviceable refrigerant. You’d never use it at home, but you could make ice with it) None of these things need necessarily be in common use (given the endless winter, there probably isn’t that much call for refrigerators), but it also means that they should be at a point where they can do experimentation with internal combustion engines. The theory to make one should be known, but in practice they might be less efficient than oil-based steam engines even though they could in principle be made much lighter.

Pneumatics

The technology is available to build various pneumatic systems (you could even do an elevator if you wanted, though I’d be surprised if anyone would.) This is something of a natural follow-on from steam power. Pumps for liquid or gas should be commercially available. In areas where Naraka or some other organization has an interest in improving the infrastructure, pneumatic message tube networks might be installed.

Electricity

This is, in large part, cargo cultist.

Knowledge

Someone suggested in an RP that Ohm’s Law was just being discovered in the academy and people were treating it with suspicion. Therefore, let us say that we have the following knowledge:

  • The identification of static and current electricity as the same force. The Loka know that lightning is a spark, and they have theories about an “electric fluid” moving from one body to another.
  • Coloumb’s law. They have only a rough estimate of the coupling constant, but if they know gravity, and they have access toelectricity, finding an inverse square law should be reasonable. This would let them play with electrostatics.
  • Capacitors. Big, fat ones. The kind you make big sparks that kill people with (you know, Leyden jars) not the kind you do actual useful stuff with.
  • Electrostatic induction. This is the means by which, when you move a charge toward a conductor, the electrons in the conductor rearrange themselves. (They would think of it in terms of the flow of electric fluid.) You can build Van de Graff generators and Wimshurst machines andother fun toys that are great fun for researchers wanting to shoot sparks through stuff to see what happens.
  • There is a relation between current electricity and magnetism. If you give them a battery and a coil of wire and a nail, they can make an electromagnet the way any school-child can. And they have taken apart Svarga generators and seen magnets inside. But “Magnets and electricity have something to do with eachother.” is the extent of their knowledge.

Artifacts

We should also have legacies from Svarga:

  • Simple generators, hand cranked say. They would not generate much power even if they were adapted to work with a steam engine, but serve as something they are determined to figure out. They can also provide a reliable but small source of electric current.
  • Power source boxes. (Fuel cells, really good batteries, maybe a thermocouple.) Something of unknown operation that provides a continuous, good quality direct current of small scale. These would be of little practical use except for:
  • Electronic doohickeys of some sort. Simple things: LEDs (it might be funny if finding LEDs would retard the development of the electric lightbulb by a century…since they’d be thinking LEDs are how you’re supposed to make electric light.), calculators, music synthesizers. (Big Advanced Things might also be found, along the same lines as the automata. Computers, say.) These would be too complex to understand in any reasonable time.
  • Motors, little toy ones. Perhaps larger ones in scavenged machines, but in a worse state of repair.

One practical consequence of what I outlined above is that even if Serendipity DID have a Big Power Source underneath it that COULD run an industrial system, they wouldn’t know enough to do anything with it. It might power experiments and Svargan artifacts, but for any other purpose it may as well not exist.

Technologies

In this schema, electricity wouldn’t be used for much of anything practical. You could have experiments over a sharp range with Heinrich Hertz style spark-gap transmitters and receivers, but due to the short range these would be more useful in demonstrating how little is known.

What you could have is a telegraph. If they can copy the simple generators and have an engine in the back of the telegraph office, build an electromagnet, and run a copper wire, they can signal.

Not that I’m proposing we have a Loka-wide telegraph network, but we could conceivably have one between two cities, and a Loka-wide telegraph network would be a technologically possible thing that people could actually expect to take on as a Grand Project and start to see increasing rewards from with every new city added.

Metallurgy

The Bessemer process has been recently discovered. I would be inclined to think this was a pre-requisite for the most modern ‘ultra-compact’ steam engines. There would also be means to get pure supplies of copper, silver, gold, and tin. (If you can make steel, you can refine the ‘classical’ metals.)

Nobody knows how to make aluminum or stainless steel, but there might be artifacts of both. (And they would likely be very precious.)

More useful would be particularly hard alloys useful in cutting, engraving, and machining parts for machines. Since nobody knows how to make those alloys or even work with them, you could have the tremendous usefulness and scarcity of modern alloy cutting bits be a driving force of something.

Manufacturing

Making Stuff

We have the capacity to make things out of metal to our specifications. We can cut very accurate gears and very accurate screws. We can make cams, build chains, and have pantographs and other tools to allow very delicate engraving. Since we can make engines, we can make all the things you need to make engines (pipes and fittings and valves.) all very well.

If we can make hydraulics (which, I think, we should be able to in some capacity) we could have dye presses.

Making Lots of Stuff

But that doesn’t mean we have mass production. We would have the technological capability to start doing mass production, but we may not have come upon it.

The description of the Naraka corporation on the website implies that we do have it, and that things they make are somewhat ubiquitous in the world.

Essentially, it’s a question of how easy you want it to be for Joe Schmoe to have a bicycle or for a small business owner to buy an engine and a loom. if we have manufacturing with standardized parts, we get mechanical devices being a part of people’s lives. If we don’t, we have the very rich ordering bespoke machines but most people not coming into contact with them. (Plus, with mass manufacture comes interchangeable parts, and I love the idea of the Naraka Man coming out to replace a piece in your engine. The alternative is having to build an all-new engine.)

My intuition is that the bread and butter (steam engines and guns) machines and a whole slew of parts (standardized gears, screws, brackets, springs, and so on) would be built en masse identically. The latter would be especially valuable since it would mean people can build bespoke machines without having to have an entire foundry and machine shop.

More exotic stuff could still be quite rare by virtue of pulling in experimental technology that either isn’t well understood or that they don’t know how to mass produce. (Permanent magnets come to mind as something that would be difficult for them to produce in quantity.)

Other Materials

Good quality glass, blown or poured. Some enterprising soul might invent the plate glass process and make windows cheaper. Flint glass is an awfully nice thing to have and we can get it, so long as you don’t mind people playing with lead.

Given a lack of plastic, fiberglass and celluloid would both be very useful. (And celluloid is reasonably easy to make with basic chemistry. It was the plastic of the 1800s.)

We might have natural rubber from warm spots like Esquemelin, which might be useful if you want tires. (Failing that, you could hope for someone to get lucky playing with the coal tar and petroleum and make sticky gunk you can smear on cloth and build a bicycle tire.)

Mechanism

You can have steam engines and not have any mechanisms worth turning with them, but it’s not nearly as much fun. And gear assemblies and springs and so on are among the easiest things in the world to learn by taking apart devices and just looking at them with your eyes.

Therefore, in keeping with the above, and the building of a difference engine, mechanical devices of great complexity should be possible, affordable, and common.

An example of something I would expect to exist and be in use would be a steam powered Jacquard loom weaving complex patterns mostly by itself (so long as people feed in the thread, do maintenance, make sure it’s not gummed up.)

Even without a full programmable mechanical computer, there could be a reasonable trade for people familiar with various machines to design new cards to do new patterns. (You could have automated cutters, to have machines that help build machine parts…)

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