Friday, December 17, 2010

Old Skewl: Physics

old skewl steampunk
physics class

To continue my online steampunk storyline of Jane and Jade's Escapades, the hubby has concocted a bit of backstory about Jade for this event.

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by kvb (the hubby)
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Jade snapped awake as her head dropped forward suddenly. She had been sitting at her desk for the last fifteen minutes trying to focus on what Professor Ledbetter was saying and laying out on the giant slate chalk boards.

Occasionally, however, her head would loll forward and drool would sling from her lips and slack mouth and spatter her class journal.

Professor Ledbetter was discussing moments of inertia about the various axes of irregular objects. An inertia tensor had been derived for object A and the Eulerian Angles were being employed to transform the coordinate axes to those of a spring coupled irregular object B whose single degree of freedom ran through the center of gravity of the first object.

Just saying that back to herself made Jade’s head hurt. Jade had not yet come to grips with this whole business of tensors and Eulerian Angles. She was confident that she would gain an understanding of it at some point.

Professor Ledbetter would give her some time later where she could ask the singularly off-subject questions which she was now famous for. Any mentors and professors who had ever had her in their classes had soon learned to tolerate her out-of-class visits and her peculiar lines of questioning.

A professor who was covering the field of thermodynamics had gotten a question about the fluid-like movement of flocks of starlings. He had referred her to an ornithologically minded colleague of his who had expounded on the little Passeriformes until she indicated that she was satisfied. From this, she had gained a profound understanding of turbulent and laminar flow as well as Brownian motion.

Much the same process was Jade’s modus operandi for all other scientific disciplines as well. She would come at the particular discipline or subject via byways unperceived by others. Her mind occupied a world of secret passages and trap doors, of shear faces with portals imperceptible to all but her and with secret catches and locks whose devices were comprehensible only to her. She did not do her algebra “in public.”

The means of testing in the sciences at Universitas Oxoniensis was the same as at all other institutions of higher learning. Students were dragged before panels of distinguished faculty and fellows to demonstrate their ability to understand and discourse on a specific subject. In the case of a highly quantifiable science such as physics, this involved both prosaic and quantitative treatments. “If the earth has mass P, the sun mass S, and a certain celestial body of mass M and velocity V is making its career through the family of spheres in our solar system, how would you go about computing it’s ephemerids?”

“Well,” Jade would say, “I would compute the energy and momentum of that celestial body and . . . “ and off she would go. But those eminent men, and they were all men, wanted her to show the calculations on the chalk board. They wanted equations. They wanted her to do her algebra in public and spin the cylinder and move the collar on her slide rule.

Jade didn’t own a slide rule. She worked her way towards surprisingly exact numerical answers by a series of approximations which she carried out in the labyrinth of her brain with the help of flocks of starlings and featureless walls where intricate locks revealed secret portals. The men would look at each other with raised eyebrows and perhaps make a notation. Her success or failure at this examination rested on the edge of a knife. Her private algebra made their job of examining her harder because they had to know the answer. They couldn’t just follow along with her reasoning and check a few numerical answers with their various slide ruler contraptions.

But in the end, Jade sold it to them. She gave them more than they were asking for. “. . . and the cross section for a collision between this celestial object and the earth is . . . and with Mars is . . .”

Jade had had such an examination on this morning. Not only was the problem solving difficult, but having to bind her breasts and dress and act like a man was a drain on her energy. Thankfully Professor Ledbetter was always so absorbed in his subject matter, scribbling away with two pieces of chalk, one in each hand, that he didn’t notice her head orbiting her shoulders. Her classmates were quite distracted and entertained by it however. Class was very nearly done when one of those sons of privilege dropped a squirming cockroach into her gaping mouth.

Jade tolerated Oxford much as it tolerated her. Her mentor, Professor Lorentz, was a close friend of her family. He, of course, knew her real identity. Jade was a scholar. Her position was quite tenuous, but the fact that her father had money to put her up in an apartment and that she was able to display outstanding scholarship entitled her to wear the billowy and voluminous and more importantly formless academic gown at all times and made things manageable appearance-wise.

She also had to fraternize with her fellow students, and this is what made things get exciting. There were societies and meetings and drinking and hazing and prostitutes.

Jade claimed a poor constitution and forswore all drinking. There was no use in letting alcohol weaken her guard. She could pretend to be just moneyed enough to avoid a serious identity-revealing hazing. She also acted very aloof and disengaged so that her fellow scholars wrote her off as very odd and best left to himself.

Sexual prowess had to be demonstrated, and this bit of male bonding tradition Jade could not seem to find a way to get out of. She nearly gave up on her education out of disgust.

The population of England was exploding. Her Royal Highness Queen Victoria was indeed the queen, but steam was king. Steam powered the factories and all manner of conveyances. It powered the dirigible weapons platforms which were such an important part of British foreign policy as well as the private policy of some industrialists.

Steam power was a means to power itself. Steam power came from coal. In order to be someone of any standing, a man had to have access to coal to power his infernal machines. Anthracite and bituminous coal were mined in great quantities for the queen and all the lords, and much of the mining was done by children.

Jade’s family had old money. Her ancestors had been lords of an old north-country estate with villages and commons and had always managed it well. Saying that something was managed well depends on perspective of course, and from Jade’s perspective, it was managed well because she had 20,000 pounds sterling income each and every year. She comforted herself by imagining that they were benevolent and fair in their dealings with the commoners. She never really thought about how her ancestors may have closed off some of the commons for their own private hunting preserve. They certainly took their share of the livestock and crop even when that left villagers somewhat short. Literacy didn’t suffer under their stewardship, but then you cannot double zero, can you? Jade hadn’t ever thought about her money too deeply except to delude herself with the notion that it was a far sight cleaner than the money of these new steam lords and barons.

To her credit, Jade, with her 20,000 pounds sterling each and every year, lived a frugal and Spartan lifestyle. She really was absorbed with learning to such a degree that she didn’t find the time or the inclination to indulge in dissipation. And even more to her credit, she was not miserly. The fact that she wasn’t constantly being asked to pick up the bill for this or that or to lend a few pounds to friends and acquaintances was mainly because she didn’t have any friends or acquaintances. Jade did have a girl though.

Jade had to have a girl. She had decided that this was the best way to avoid scrutiny in that area of her life. It would never do for her to be perceived as homosexual. Most of her fellow scholars were very proper gentlemen who had proper ladies waiting for them to ask for their hands in marriage. A few preferred to hire girls -- for some, the more, the better. Jade decided to take a middle course. She decided to hire a girl, but to make like the girl was not a prostitute but rather a commoner. After all, it was not unheard of for a lord such as her to fall in love with a commoner girl. Not only that, but it would help to perpetuate the perception that she was indeed odd.

In a family of commoners, it was common for there to be many children. Boys and girls alike were expected to start earning money when they were as young as five. They sold items on the street like matches. Boys became boot blackers or chimney sweeps or if they were lucky a domestic servant. They might work in the factories or on the airships as stokers.

Girls could do some of the same things as boys, but very often they were sold for sex at an early age when they would fetch a good price. The first time a girl was sold, the family ate well for a week. The second time she was sold they ate well for a couple of days. After a couple of years, the girl was diseased, disfigured from the frequent rough or dissatisfied customers, and was sent off to hurry coal out of the mines.

A seven stone girl might hurry twenty-five stone loads on corves through crawlways from a hundred meters or more depth to the surface through several kilometers of tunnel, then returning with the corves up to a dozen times a day. She would go bald from thrusting on the corves.

It was a commoner who Jade hired one day. Her name was Ann Reade. She was the youngest of five girls with two older brothers and two younger. Her two oldest sisters had had gone directly to the mines. The third sister was a stoker on an airship and occasionally a companion to the captain or one or more of the passengers. The fourth sister had been a prostitute until a customer had broken her jaw and then she had gone to the mines and died in a collapse.

Ann had been a domestic servant to some old money like Jade, but when the money ran out, she was turned out and forced to make do. Her older brothers worked in a mine too.

One of the younger ones was a chimney sweep and the other had been jailed after he tried to pick a gentleman’s pocket. Ann wasn’t actually selling herself when Jade approached her. She was not dressed in the usual ragged, somewhat suggestive garb of the common prostitute.

She had never been a prostitute though necessity was pushing her in that direction. She knew what the rates were and was so surprised at the amount that Jade offered that she immediately agreed. Jade took her back to her quarters.

Ann was nervous as she entered this young looking gentleman’s quarters. The quarters were two of the upstairs rooms of the Kearny inn adjacent to Oxford. The inn was run by a matronly lady and her two adult daughters who kept to themselves and made no comments when Jade escorted Ann upstairs.

Jade seated Ann at a table in the one room she had designated as her study and called down to order some plum duff pudding for the two of them. There was a lot of work that had to be done that night with this complete stranger. An agreement had to be reached with this 16 year old commoner girl who was a complete stranger to Jade.


~-~-~-~-~ guest ~-~-~-~-~
by kvb (the hubby)
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catch up on the Jane and Jade Escapades

~~*!~~ Delectable Audio Book Giveaway ~~!*~~

A Brief History of Time
by Stephen W. Hawking

by Stephen W. Hawking

Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays
by Stephen W. Hawking

These are audio tapes.
please note: A Brief History of Time package was opened but never played.

Open to all.

Offer ends: December 26, 2010


Leave a question or comment for Jade AND your email address (if I already don't have it).


Contest has ended - winner is here


* image source

::=== Old Skewl Steampunk schedule ===::


  1. Jade, what would be your chosen profession after college was completed? Did you choose one that would be acceptable for a woman to do, in that time period?

  2. My dear Jade, that was simply a STELLAR post! Quite the thing, and now I find myself agog with curiosity ... what was the *agreement* reached?!?

    PS - wonderful giveaway, but please don't enter me as I've already got two of these (am an armchair physics lover myself - currently struggling with Null Theory lol)

    BTW - You and the Hubby are both terrific writers!!!

  3. [Just wanted to pop in and say: Good job, hubby!]


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