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Tags alternate history , history of science , history of technology

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Old 3rd August 2014, 10:17 AM   #1
SpitfireIX
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Artificial Acceleration of Technological and Social Change

I'm currently finishing the preliminary outline for a series of SF/alternate-history novels about a man and a woman in their mid-twenties who are transported, by a probe from an extraterrestrial civilization, to an alternate reality identical to our own, except the year is 1856. Andrew is a mechanical and electrical engineer who designs railroad locomotives and is a Civil War cavalry reenactor; Jenny has just finished medical school and plans to become a neurosurgeon. They are both white, and come from wealthy, though not rich, families. Unsurprisingly, they are both highly intelligent (IQs of 150-160). They have no useful reference books to speak of with them; only the knowledge in their heads (and some flashlight and mobile phone batteries).

So, the question I'd like to bounce off people here is, how much could they accelerate the advancement of technology and the rate of social change in the second half of the 19th Century, compared with the historical reality? One important factor is that they will initially travel to Nevada and strike it rich in the silver rush; by investing the proceeds in oil and railroads, within a few years Andrew will be the wealthiest man in the world many times over. So his engineers and scientists will have effectively unlimited R&D budgets, and they will have vast amounts of money to donate to worthy social causes.

As I see it, limiting factors to the improvement in technology would include a lack of qualified engineers and scientists, reduced demand for certain items (due to a smaller and poorer population base), and social resistance to some technological changes.

I'd like to keep my OP relatively short, so I'll leave it here for now. I'll go into some specifics about goals and strategies later.
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Old 3rd August 2014, 12:16 PM   #2
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For the engineering side, if Our Hero has picked up a good understanding of systems engineering, that could be a big factor. Particularly if he was funding developments, because he'd be in a position to simply impose it on his staff.

If he'd had a class in basic aerodynamics or aero engineering, he'd probably be able to develop an workable airplane within a few years. The tricky bit, IMO, would be the engine, but he's a mechanical engineer; I'd think he'd be able to make a lot of IC engine progress pretty quickly.
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Old 3rd August 2014, 12:41 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by dasmiller View Post
For the engineering side, if Our Hero has picked up a good understanding of systems engineering, that could be a big factor. Particularly if he was funding developments, because he'd be in a position to simply impose it on his staff.

Having worked both as a cooperative education student and after graduation (and during part-time grad school) on designing locomotives, I imagine that he would have such knowledge.

Originally Posted by dasmiller View Post
If he'd had a class in basic aerodynamics or aero engineering, he'd probably be able to develop an workable airplane within a few years. The tricky bit, IMO, would be the engine, but he's a mechanical engineer; I'd think he'd be able to make a lot of IC engine progress pretty quickly.

My thought is that airplanes (at least powered ones) would come around 1870-1875. Andrew never took an actual aeronautical engineering class, but I think he would be familiar enough with the theory, especially because he took a few hours of lessons in a Cessna before he decided he wasn't that interested in pursuing a pilot's license. At least that's my current thought.

I had also initially planned for aircraft development to skip the early phases and start with something like the DC-3, as soon as reliable aluminum production and engine technology were developed. However, upon reflection, it might be wiser to start with earlier wood-and-canvas models, both to gain experience in design and construction, and for pilot training.
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Old 3rd August 2014, 12:52 PM   #4
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The big limiting factor in the 1850's were lack of steel (which saw important advances in the mid-1800's), the lack of energy (with steel needed to effectively mine coal), and the lack of standardized measures (every engineer had his own tools).

I don't think one person could do much to get around these problems. Improve the steam engine? Try to build an experimental electrical generator? Bring Babbage over from England and fund difference engines?
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Old 3rd August 2014, 01:20 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by SpitfireIX View Post
My thought is that airplanes (at least powered ones) would come around 1870-1875. Andrew never took an actual aeronautical engineering class, but I think he would be familiar enough with the theory, especially because he took a few hours of lessons in a Cessna before he decided he wasn't that interested in pursuing a pilot's license. At least that's my current thought.
If he'd picked up some of the basic top-level lift & drag equations and understood parasite vs. induced drag, he'd probably get by okay. If he was lugging around that awful Bernoulli* explanation of lift, that might cost him a few years.

If he'd picked up a vague understanding of Reynolds number (which is unlikely, I think), that could help him a lot with the wind tunnel work. But then, if he's sufficiently diligent, he'd probably 'rediscover' Reynolds number effects pretty quickly.

This leads to an interesting sub-plot: would the protagonist be so convinced of his own understanding that he ignored or even undercut contemporary scientists because he didn't remember them? I'm picturing George Stokes trying to explain why wind tunnel experiments might not scale up to full-size wings, and Our Hero shouting him down because he "knew" how "real" airplanes worked.

You know, if that sort of thing happened enough, Our Hero could actually slow progress. After some initial successes which led everyone to believe he was the world's greatest authority on science and technology, his ego and misunderstandings could cause more harm than good.

*There's nothing wrong with Bernoulli's principle, and in fact if you measure the local velocity around a wing, you can use Bernoulli to calculate lift just fine. The problem is when they use explanations like, "the air has to go farther over the top of the wing, so it has to go faster" . . . which makes no sense, and actually underpredicts the lift from a normal wing.
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Old 3rd August 2014, 01:39 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by SpitfireIX View Post
However, upon reflection, it might be wiser to start with earlier wood-and-canvas models, both to gain experience in design and construction, and for pilot training.

As well as gaining an understanding as to what was needed for controlled flight. That requires ailerons, elevators, and rudder all working in concert, and later on, flaps to lower landing speeds.
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Old 3rd August 2014, 06:45 PM   #7
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If they have a good understanding of the history of science and technology a great deal of influence could be made by knowing who to hire. Babbage (already mentioned) and Lovelace could have produced a useful programmable computer. George Cayley, for example, had an excellent grasp of what was needed for controlled flight, but lacked a lightweight engine. Edison would make a top notch development program manager.
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Old 3rd August 2014, 08:38 PM   #8
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Starting in the mid 1800's, a geologist who knew what an oil reserve looked like would be worth his weight in ambergris.

And, of course, one could at least sketch out the basics of an atomic bomb.

The biggest hurdle to overcome would be skepticism from other scientists, who would basically think you were a crazy person. Pretty much everything a doctor from today says would be lunacy 150 years ago.
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Old 3rd August 2014, 10:29 PM   #9
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To be humble, make Andrew have one of my experiences at Purdue. I did not study aeronautical engineering but I did take several flying lessons in the Purdue Piper Cub. That would give him some flying knowledge.

To your OP, it seems to me the biggest boost could come by pursuing energy technology and, more specifically, electrical generation and transmission. Witness how important cheap electricity is to our culture then imagine it evolving decades faster.
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Old 3rd August 2014, 10:37 PM   #10
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[quote=Loss Leader;10148976... would be worth his weight in ambergris.[/QUOTE]


Somebody call Kiff!
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Old 3rd August 2014, 11:05 PM   #11
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I'm not sure that one or two people could make a significant impact on a society. For a start, there's the social distrust already mentioned. Also, people today tend to be experts in very narrow fields if they are experts in anything at all.

An engineer may be able to turn steel into a bridge, but she wouldn't necessarily know how to smelt iron into steel, or mine iron ore successfully, or even know where under the ground to find it.

I suspect this narrow focus would be the downfall of individuals trying to uplift a more primitive society.
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Old 4th August 2014, 07:50 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
The big limiting factor in the 1850's were lack of steel (which saw important advances in the mid-1800's)

Henry Bessemer and his partners perfected his steel-making process and established a steel mill in 1859; in 1863 he licensed the American rights for 10,000. Andrew will have his first steel mill completed by the end of 1860.

Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
the lack of energy (with steel needed to effectively mine coal)

I disagree that steel would be needed to "effectively" mine coal in the amounts that would be required, at least until steel production was ramped up.

Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
and the lack of standardized measures (every engineer had his own tools).

Andrew will require all of his employees and contractors to use the metric system (he'll provide standard tools); he'll also press for the use of a simplified form of Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing (GD&T) in all technical drawings. Jenny will push the use of the metric system in medicine.

Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
I don't think one person could do much to get around these problems.

I think one person with the proper knowledge and huge amounts of money could do a lot.

Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
Improve the steam engine?

The triple-expansion steam engine was patented in 1861, but wasn't in use commercially until the 1880s. I figure that Andrew could have them in large-scale operation by the early 1870s.

Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
Try to build an experimental electrical generator?

Already done in the 1830s. Practical DC generators (dynamos) were introduced in the late 1860s; AC generators were introduced in the 1880s.

Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
Bring Babbage over from England and fund difference engines?

Absolutely (including "hazardous duty" pay for everyone working with him for having to put up with his temper tantrums ). One thing I'm currently investigating is whether it would have been feasible to have redesigned the Analytic Engine to have used electrical relays.
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Old 4th August 2014, 08:02 AM   #13
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Duplicate post.
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Old 4th August 2014, 09:13 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by dasmiller View Post
If he'd picked up a vague understanding of Reynolds number (which is unlikely, I think), that could help him a lot with the wind tunnel work. But then, if he's sufficiently diligent, he'd probably 'rediscover' Reynolds number effects pretty quickly.

Why do you think that unlikely, if I may ask? I have a "vague understanding" just from my two mechanical engineering technology classes in fluid power and fluid mechanics. The "light bulb" moment for me was when the professor described a man standing on top of a dirigible moving at full speed, and feeling almost no wind.

Originally Posted by dasmiller View Post
This leads to an interesting sub-plot: would the protagonist be so convinced of his own understanding that he ignored or even undercut contemporary scientists because he didn't remember them? I'm picturing George Stokes trying to explain why wind tunnel experiments might not scale up to full-size wings, and Our Hero shouting him down because he "knew" how "real" airplanes worked.

Andrew wouldn't shout (at least not in that circumstance), and he knows who Stokes was (due to the unit of kinematic viscosity's being named for him, and the Navier-Stokes equation. However, you do raise an interesting point that could possibly apply in some other cases. I'll have to give that some thought.

Originally Posted by dasmiller View Post
You know, if that sort of thing happened enough, Our Hero could actually slow progress. After some initial successes which led everyone to believe he was the world's greatest authority on science and technology, his ego and misunderstandings could cause more harm than good.

Andrew does not have that kind of an ego, though he sometimes underestimates his own fallibility.
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Old 4th August 2014, 09:18 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Corsair 115 View Post
As well as gaining an understanding as to what was needed for controlled flight. That requires ailerons, elevators, and rudder all working in concert, and later on, flaps to lower landing speeds.

I just recently learned that all of those (except flaps) were patented long before the Wright brothers, and that they probably shouldn't have received patent protection for their invention. It's interesting that people were patenting aeronautical engineering concepts decades before experiments with powered flight began.
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Old 4th August 2014, 09:38 AM   #16
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Originally Posted by SpitfireIX View Post
Why do you think that unlikely, if I may ask? I have a "vague understanding" just from my two mechanical engineering technology classes in fluid power and fluid mechanics. The "light bulb" moment for me was when the professor described a man standing on top of a dirigible moving at full speed, and feeling almost no wind.
R/C airplanes have been a big hobby of mine for the last few decades, so I've had a lot of discussions about aerodynamics with people who don't have formal training in aerodynamics. In my experience, they could immediate understand lift & drag coefficients, but the moment I said, "Reynolds number," their eyes would glaze over. Throwing in "viscosity" didn't help.

That being said, I'm not sure how many Mech E's I talked to about it; it may well be that the standard Mech E curriculum has enough fluid dynamics to cover it.

Quote:
Andrew does not have that kind of an ego, though he sometimes underestimates his own fallibility.
Might he have that kind of ego after 20 years of being a captain of industry and the greatest technologist the world has ever known?
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Old 4th August 2014, 09:47 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by Pope130 View Post
If they have a good understanding of the history of science and technology a great deal of influence could be made by knowing who to hire.

Andrew has an extensive knowledge of the history of science and technology; like me, he read many biographies of famous scientists, engineers, and inventors when he was a kid.

Jenny took a class on the history of American medicine when she was an undergrad, but she didn't study it for fun the way Andrew did the history of science and technology.

Originally Posted by Pope130 View Post
Babbage (already mentioned) and Lovelace could have produced a useful programmable computer.

I really wish I could have used Ada Lovelace as a character, but, sadly, she died of cancer in 1852. There's also some question among historians as to how much she actually contributed to Babbage's work.

Originally Posted by Pope130 View Post
George Cayley, for example, had an excellent grasp of what was needed for controlled flight, but lacked a lightweight engine.

Cayley died in 1857, but Andrew will undoubtedly obtain copies of all his published works.

Originally Posted by Pope130 View Post
Edison would make a top notch development program manager.

I'm still trying to decide what Andrew's relationship with Edison will be; I'm not sure that Edison would have been willing to work for anyone else, even for huge piles of money. More research is required. This also applies to some other famous personalities of the age, such as George Pullman, Andrew Carnegie, and John D. Rockefeller.
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Old 4th August 2014, 11:34 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
Starting in the mid 1800's, a geologist who knew what an oil reserve looked like would be worth his weight in ambergris.

Apart from getting in on the very start of the Pennsylvania oil boom, Andrew will mainly rely on his knowledge of the locations of two huge oil and gas fields: Spindletop Hill, south of Beaumont, Texas, and the Trenton gas (and oil) field in central Indiana. Eventually additional deposits will be discovered and exploited.

Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
And, of course, one could at least sketch out the basics of an atomic bomb.

Andrew and Jenny will engage in a tremendous amount of soul-searching over this issue, at the proper time. There are two options. First, try to prevent any development in that direction, and hope that by the time someone finally invents nuclear weapons, the world will be advanced enough that they will never be used. Second, develop them as rapidly as possible, and attempt to create a Pax Americana that would prevent nuclear proliferation. I have no idea what they will eventually decide.

Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
The biggest hurdle to overcome would be skepticism from other scientists, who would basically think you were a crazy person.

Not so much, if you can give convincing demonstrations.

Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
Pretty much everything a doctor from today says would be lunacy 150 years ago.

Yes and no. I recently read a book on medicine during the American Civil War, and other than not understanding the germ theory of disease, and that mosquitoes spread malaria and yellow fever, medical knowledge and treatment for the time were actually fairly accurate and effective.
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Old 4th August 2014, 11:42 AM   #19
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Originally Posted by SezMe View Post
To be humble, make Andrew have one of my experiences at Purdue. I did not study aeronautical engineering but I did take several flying lessons in the Purdue Piper Cub. That would give him some flying knowledge.

I see him having taken about a dozen hours of flying lessons in high school, before he decided to give it up due to the time commitment involved.

Originally Posted by SezMe View Post
To your OP, it seems to me the biggest boost could come by pursuing energy technology and, more specifically, electrical generation and transmission. Witness how important cheap electricity is to our culture then imagine it evolving decades faster.

Andrew will explain to Jenny early on that they need to develop power sources, materials (first steel, then aluminum, and then plastics), and improved machine tools, as their first priorities for increasing industrialization.
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Old 4th August 2014, 11:55 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by SpitfireIX View Post
Andrew will explain to Jenny early on that they need to develop power sources, materials (first steel, then aluminum, and then plastics), and improved machine tools, as their first priorities for increasing industrialization.
Unless Andrew specialized in material science, aluminum might be a problem.
The material itself was well-known; the problem was how to affordably refine it from bauxite, and I wouldn't expect that he'd remember that technique. It certainly didn't come up in any of my classes, and we aero engineers take our aluminum very seriously.

ETA: If he's rich enough, he can probably have a team of experts working the "aluminum problem," so the process might be developed earlier even he he doesn't remember it.
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Old 4th August 2014, 01:08 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by SpitfireIX View Post
Apart from getting in on the very start of the Pennsylvania oil boom, Andrew will mainly rely on his knowledge of the locations of two huge oil and gas fields: Spindletop Hill, south of Beaumont, Texas, and the Trenton gas (and oil) field in central Indiana. Eventually additional deposits will be discovered and exploited.

Teapot Dome in Wyoming.

Also, he's going to have to convince the US to build an actual navy. We'll need it to challenge the British for colonial dominance in the Middle East and Asia. Otherwise, we're dependent on foreign powers for oil, rubber, and everything else.

Actually, they're probably better off sailing to England and starting their world domination there.
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Old 4th August 2014, 01:24 PM   #22
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Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
Teapot Dome in Wyoming.

Also, he's going to have to convince the US to build an actual navy. We'll need it to challenge the British for colonial dominance in the Middle East and Asia. Otherwise, we're dependent on foreign powers for oil, rubber, and everything else.
A good reason to introduce Mahan.

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Actually, they're probably better off sailing to England and starting their world domination there.
England was certainly a bigger player in the world-domination game at the time, but a) woudl the protagonists be able to get rich by remembering some rich mineral deposits in England? (or what would the approach be?) and b) wouldn't the more class-sensitive British society be more of a problem for unusual outsiders?
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Old 4th August 2014, 01:58 PM   #23
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What about introducing germ theory, antiseptics and antibiotics earlier? I'd say things like aeroplanes would have some social effects but looking at the history of flight this will take a long time to have a significant social impact whereas literally hundreds of thousands of people not dying would have a huge impact on society. For example the drastic reduction in female mortality from childbirth.
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Old 4th August 2014, 02:12 PM   #24
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If that approach were taken, Darat, I'd want a lot of emphasis on a parallel effort to develop effective contraception.
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Old 4th August 2014, 02:35 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by SpitfireIX View Post
I'm currently finishing the preliminary outline for a series of SF/alternate-history novels about a man and a woman in their mid-twenties who are transported, by a probe from an extraterrestrial civilization, to an alternate reality identical to our own, except the year is 1856. Andrew is a mechanical and electrical engineer who designs railroad locomotives and is a Civil War cavalry reenactor; Jenny has just finished medical school and plans to become a neurosurgeon. They are both white, and come from wealthy, though not rich, families. Unsurprisingly, they are both highly intelligent (IQs of 150-160). They have no useful reference books to speak of with them; only the knowledge in their heads (and some flashlight and mobile phone batteries).

So, the question I'd like to bounce off people here is, how much could they accelerate the advancement of technology and the rate of social change in the second half of the 19th Century, compared with the historical reality? One important factor is that they will initially travel to Nevada and strike it rich in the silver rush; by investing the proceeds in oil and railroads, within a few years Andrew will be the wealthiest man in the world many times over. So his engineers and scientists will have effectively unlimited R&D budgets, and they will have vast amounts of money to donate to worthy social causes.

As I see it, limiting factors to the improvement in technology would include a lack of qualified engineers and scientists, reduced demand for certain items (due to a smaller and poorer population base), and social resistance to some technological changes.

I'd like to keep my OP relatively short, so I'll leave it here for now. I'll go into some specifics about goals and strategies later.
This is no criticism from me, the bolded sounds a little like John Carter of Mars.

The question would break down to military tech advances or civilian tech advances, within the context of the spread of existing technologies at that point in time.

If drama is the intent, you can bet that anybody that showed up at any time in history with ideas and devices far ahead of existing tech someone from some governmental agency would be knocking on their door, perhaps not in a friendly mood.

I'd think that airships would be an obvious platform for experiment, and in the medical arena, an early invention of the X-ray might be interesting.

If you want to take it down the military tech path, tanks, recoiling Artillery like the French 75 type of WWI, machine guns, recoiless rifles etc. would be no-brainers, but it's been touched on by Guns of the South and probably others I'm not aware of, so I'd tread lightly there.
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Old 4th August 2014, 04:26 PM   #26
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Originally Posted by dasmiller View Post
England was certainly a bigger player in the world-domination game at the time, but a) woudl the protagonists be able to get rich by remembering some rich mineral deposits in England? (or what would the approach be?) and b) wouldn't the more class-sensitive British society be more of a problem for unusual outsiders?

Class would be a problem inside British society, but enough money tends to overcome that. If they made their fortune in America, they'd probably have to depart for England to take the next step (or France or even Germany or anywhere with an actual navy).
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Old 4th August 2014, 04:34 PM   #27
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Hmmm... how well would advocating for the all-big-gun warship well in advance of the Dreadnought be received by the navies of the day?
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Old 4th August 2014, 05:02 PM   #28
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Originally Posted by Corsair 115 View Post
Hmmm... how well would advocating for the all-big-gun warship well in advance of the Dreadnought be received by the navies of the day?
And before that - could the protagonist convince the navies that ramming was not going to be a important part of future capital ship battles?

Unless Our Hero had made a serious study of ironclad-era naval warfare, I doubt that he'd be able to make convincing arguments about the direction that the navies should take. His depth of ignorance on all the practical matters of day-to-day naval operations and his lack of first-hand experience with naval combat would make it difficult for him to get anyone to listen to him, even if he was completely correct.

I can imagine that he and Jackie Fischer would initially get along great when they agreed on the importance of long-range gunnery, but then there'd be a bitter falling-out over the battlecruiser concept.

I'm assuming that the protagonist doesn't actually tell everyone he's effectively from the future.
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Old 4th August 2014, 06:17 PM   #29
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Originally Posted by dasmiller View Post
And before that - could the protagonist convince the navies that ramming was not going to be a important part of future capital ship battles?

Unless Our Hero had made a serious study of ironclad-era naval warfare, I doubt that he'd be able to make convincing arguments about the direction that the navies should take. His depth of ignorance on all the practical matters of day-to-day naval operations and his lack of first-hand experience with naval combat would make it difficult for him to get anyone to listen to him, even if he was completely correct.

That's why he would have to operate from a country that already has a standing navy in place. He milks British imperialism for all it's worth and divests before WWI. Otherwise, it's just building railroads ... lots and lots of railroads.
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Old 4th August 2014, 07:22 PM   #30
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Strange scenario... not just alien abductions or time travel, but alien time-travel abductions! Could the aliens also communicate with the dead?

Originally Posted by Darat View Post
What about introducing germ theory, antiseptics and antibiotics earlier?
Also, since she's a neurosurgeon, an earlier and more rapid introduction of knowledge about the effects of different types of drugs on the brain, including not only recreational but also psychiatric and anesthetic.

Someone above put materials production in the order steel, then aluminum, then plastics. Why not plastics first? Not as important for aircraft or trains or cars or (war)ships at first, but they have other industrial applications and more of a presence in people's everyday lives and in medical facilities. Then again, neither of them is a materials expert, so I think that's barking up the wrong tree in the first place; they probably couldn't give anything but the most basic, vague guidance, and no way to support even minimal claims.

His knowledge of mechanical engineering might help airplanes get going sooner, but a bigger difference there might be getting turbine engines on them sooner instead of piston engines. However, I'd think the biggest difference he could make would be in electrical engineering. The basics of how to produce simple electrical components were already known and in use, so he wouldn't be starting from zero, but it wasn't far (from a modern electrical engineer's point of view) from there to important applications like refrigeration, speakers, microphones, radio/radar, and light.

* * *

Overall, I think the best way they could contribute would be not specific inventions or techniques but the overall process through which such things are generated. The lack of familiarity with the state of their sciences at the time could block them from reaching a specific goal invention they might have in mind, without knowing the course to get from "here" to "there". But they could fund the existing research entities of the day (using foreknowledge to pick the projects with the biggest future to fund), hire & direct their own R&D team for their company, and/or get into teaching near-future researchers at universities.
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Old 4th August 2014, 08:28 PM   #31
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Originally Posted by Delvo View Post
Someone above put materials production in the order steel, then aluminum, then plastics. Why not plastics first?

You need the steel to build the railroads and the ships to get the coal to smelt the aluminum to make the airplanes to put on the ships to go to the desert to spot the oil fields to get the plastics.
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Old 4th August 2014, 09:49 PM   #32
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Originally Posted by SpitfireIX View Post
I just recently learned that all of those (except flaps) were patented long before the Wright brothers, and that they probably shouldn't have received patent protection for their invention. It's interesting that people were patenting aeronautical engineering concepts decades before experiments with powered flight began.

Now I'll bring the Patent Guy perspective!


For a guy developing an industrial empire like this, patenting his ideas would be a major factor, but as you say, there were lots of earlier patents on some of these things.

Now, I'm not sure how it works in the US, but in Canada, an earlier attempt at implementing an idea, that didn't actually work as expected, is not considered "prior art" that can invalidate a later attempt that actually succeeds. The idea is, even if we can't pinpoint the difference between the two, there must be a difference, since the new version works.

So you could throw in some courtroom drama using this. "I deserve a patent on the airplane, because mine actually flies!"
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Old 5th August 2014, 06:13 AM   #33
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Originally Posted by Horatius View Post
So you could throw in some courtroom drama using this. "I deserve a patent on the airplane, because mine actually flies!"

Or just hire Edison, who successfully trampled so many patents that it pretty much became his superpower.
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Old 5th August 2014, 06:21 AM   #34
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Originally Posted by Corsair 115 View Post
Hmmm... how well would advocating for the all-big-gun warship well in advance of the Dreadnought be received by the navies of the day?
Already existed. Its not until you have ships with sufficient displacement that it becomes possible to mount a second smaller set of guns.
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Old 5th August 2014, 06:36 AM   #35
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Are Andrew and Jenny completely unaware of AGW? Or will they try to avoid creating technology that uses fossil fuels, if such a thing is even possible in the 19th century?
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Old 5th August 2014, 06:43 AM   #36
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Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
You need the steel to build the railroads and the ships to get the coal to smelt the aluminum to make the airplanes to put on the ships to go to the desert to spot the oil fields to get the plastics.
Or you could use the oil right here at home. It might not be as abundant as it is over there, but plastics use a tiny fraction of the total we're using right now, and back then, there was no liquid fuel demand to compete with, so getting enough here for plastics alone would have been easy.

The real problem would have been advancing our knowledge of biochemistry far enough fast enough when the time-travelers in question aren't biochemists.
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Old 5th August 2014, 07:01 AM   #37
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Originally Posted by arthwollipot View Post
I'm not sure that one or two people could make a significant impact on a society. For a start, there's the social distrust already mentioned. Also, people today tend to be experts in very narrow fields if they are experts in anything at all.

I'm absolutely convinced that the right people could. One needn't be an expert aeronautical engineer, for example, to understand what's required to design, build, and test a working airplane. An expert aeronautical engineer could undoubtedly do so more quickly, cheaply and safely, but with enough money and resources it could still be done. As for social resistance, possibly some people would simply refuse to fly on airplanes, but many would not. And human nature being what it is, I believe there would be no shortage of young men (and a few young women) lining up wanting to become pilots.

Originally Posted by arthwollipot View Post
An engineer may be able to turn steel into a bridge, but she wouldn't necessarily know how to smelt iron into steel, or mine iron ore successfully, or even know where under the ground to find it.

Andrew wouldn't have to know about that; all he would have to know is that he needs to license Bessemer's process, pay Bessemer to design a mill for him, and hire some engineers and workmen to build and operate it. Further, iron ore was already being mined in large quantities in America by the mid-1850s.

Originally Posted by arthwollipot View Post
I suspect this narrow focus would be the downfall of individuals trying to uplift a more primitive society.

Not if they have vast amounts of money to throw at various problems.
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Old 5th August 2014, 07:07 AM   #38
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Originally Posted by dasmiller View Post
Unless Andrew specialized in material science, aluminum might be a problem.
The material itself was well-known; the problem was how to affordably refine it from bauxite, and I wouldn't expect that he'd remember that technique. It certainly didn't come up in any of my classes, and we aero engineers take our aluminum very seriously.

ETA: If he's rich enough, he can probably have a team of experts working the "aluminum problem," so the process might be developed earlier even he he doesn't remember it
.

Bingo.
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Old 5th August 2014, 07:28 AM   #39
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Originally Posted by SpitfireIX View Post
I just recently learned that all of those (except flaps) were patented long before the Wright brothers, and that they probably shouldn't have received patent protection for their invention. It's interesting that people were patenting aeronautical engineering concepts decades before experiments with powered flight began.
Meh. There were probably patents on various types of bolts and trusses, too.
The key insight the Wright brothers had was: the wing turns the airplane.
Until they made their demo flights in 1908, nobody else had figured this out.
And that was what they patented. Three axis control. Not the individual parts used to achieve it. Curtiss tried to get around the patent using interplane ailerons instead of wing warping. The courts found it to be infringing.
I think the general consensus was that airplanes would turn like a boat, using a big rudder. And in fact, that does sorta-kinda work. The French had managed to fly a complete circle just before Wilbur's demo flights in France.
The difference in control between the French airplanes and the Wright's was obvious to everyone.

However, if Andrew is a steam engine designer, it might be helpful for the author to know that there was a steam-engined light airplane in the 1930s.
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Old 5th August 2014, 09:14 AM   #40
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Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
Teapot Dome in Wyoming.

Three problems. First, Andrew doesn't know exactly where it is, and even if he sent an expedition to look for a teapot-shaped rock formation in the west, the oil field is actually several miles from Teapot Rock.

Second, Wyoming wasn't even a territory at the time; transportation would be a severe handicap. Of course he could build a railroad eventually, but that would take years.

Third, from what I could find, Teapot Dome has always had a low production rate, and a lot of the oil was not economically recoverable until recently.

Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
Also, he's going to have to convince the US to build an actual navy. We'll need it to challenge the British for colonial dominance in the Middle East and Asia. Otherwise, we're dependent on foreign powers for oil, rubber, and everything else.

Andrew is in favor of building a large, modern navy, but not for reasons of empire.

Even with greatly accelerated industrialization, and earlier conversion from coal to oil, the US would still have enough petroleum reserves to meet domestic demand well into the 20th Century (a point to which Delvo alluded above).

As for rubber, Andrew will buy up and greatly expand most of the rubber plantations in Brazil, and ensure that they are operated humanely, rather than using the indigenous population as slave labor. This will not be as economically efficient as British colonial rubber production, but it will be adequate to meet demand until synthetics can be developed.

Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
Actually, they're probably better off sailing to England and starting their world domination there.

Andrew and Jenny have no interest in world domination. Some of their major goals, not necessarily in order of priority (though the first two are):
  • ensuring that the Union wins the Civil War
  • ending slavery
  • reducing casualties and property damage from the Civil War
  • improving public health and reducing infant mortality
  • promoting economic and political equality for women and minorities
  • promoting religious and ethnic tolerance and understanding
  • promoting freedom, democracy, and eventual decolonization
  • promoting world peace
  • retarding the spread of communism, authoritarianism, monarchism, imperialism, and other anti-democratic ideologies
  • fighting corruption, both in and out of government
  • improving public education
  • reducing poverty
Note that while Andrew and Jenny agree on all these goals, their priorities are not identical. For example, Jenny is more interested in promoting health and women's rights, for obvious reasons.

Further, even if they were interested in world domination, taking the long view, I believe the US would provide a better platform for that over the period 1865-1895.
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