Ceramic, unlimited book edition, 2010.
From 1856-1857, Charles Babbage, the statistician who laid the groundwork for the modern day computer with his designs for the Difference and Analytical Engines, tabulated the causes of breakage of 464 plate glass windows in a London factory. The table he produced was intended to inspire in the public at large a vigilance directed toward the destructive impact of contingency in the modern industrial city. One company which profited from Babbage's fastidiousness was the newly formed Plate Glass Insurance Company of London. A relatively modern material, plate glass carried with it an anxiety (of breaking) and a promise (of uniform replaceability); while providing a window onto a world of everchanging commodities, it simultaneously, and inadvertantly, created a target for public enmity. While Babbage's table identifies such natural causes as "violence of wind" and "dogs" it also aims to point out the commercial costs impacted from the reckless activities of "drunken men, women, and boys," "thieves," and "persons throwing stones at each other." Perhaps most upsetting to a statistician such as Babbage, however, was the most common cause of breakage: Unknown. For Babbage, the contingency of urban life was more than a source of mere annoyance or lost concentration; it signified the human fallibility, which he hoped to master through precise calculation and analysis. Throughout his life he recorded and publicly denounced such "nuisances" as organ grinding, public singing, and the child's game of hoop rolling. His incessant complaints to London officials eventually persuaded legislators to pass what became known as the Babbage Act, a law prohibiting street music, drunkenness, and any other form of public licentiousness. The law was ultimately unenforceable, but it publicly identified Babbage as an enemy of the lower classes and the obvious target for their scorn and mockery. Until his death in 1871, he was frequently followed and taunted by bands of hoop rolling children, brass bands, organ grinders, tin whistlers, and other members of the public he sought to suppress.