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    • CommentAuthorrobb
    • CommentTimeMay 11th 2008
    so, from before, positive longterm effects of steampunk:
    1. reexamining handcraft and manufacturing is important if the world goes boom. also, china makes everything. this cannot last right? the rest of us need to relearn?
    2. it gets kids interested in science. this is a huge issue in the US where domestic placement in science programs is in decline. all sorts of messy issues as majority of researchers are foreign students.
    3. act local? breeds diversity and competition, till the locals go national then international and the cycle starts again.
    4. doc occassi: prominent thing is DIY/constructivist elements, which leads to mutual respect... creative people would be more polite and accomodating to other creatives
    --great. all for it. but, what about everyone else? people who aren't good with their hands? how to embrace them, besides selling them ray gun replicas?

    @ Thom B.
    however, you can't promote mutual respect with statements like:
    to appreciate good design requries a higher standard of education and It's been my experience that people with crude social skills have a poorly refined sense of aesthetic
    it sounds like you're relegating groups of people into little valued slots... like a Victorian class structure. bad. impolite. or, just a divisive "steampunker-than-thou" mentality. i don't think you meant it that way, but it didn't read well.

    requires higher education is elitist garbage heard from too many designers (industrial, fashion, graphic, whatever). mostly, "good design" is universal, utilitarian, and inherent, sometimes invisibly so. not just "is it pretty?" to appreciate an aspect (aesthetic or mechanic) of a design in reference to history or a specific culture requires a standard of education. that's arguable added aesthetic fluff, not the meat of an object's purpose. engine first, candy apple red finish second. standard case scenario: people buy OXO utensils and tools because they look cool (to some) as a biproduct of functioning well. OXO is sold in food stores to everyone, blindly, without sales staff. the open packaging was designed well -- it makes people want to touch the well-made thing, they get sold on impact. that blobby 2000s aesthetic came out of ergonomic function. this is one reason steampunk might fail. it is aesthetic driving the function of its product (for lack of a better term).

    similarly, the Arts & Crafts movement isn't a good steampunk parallel if you're looking to better mankind. only the rich could afford their gorgeous wallpaper. look, instead, to the Vienna Werkstatte or Bauhaus, combine aesthetic and manufacturing for all. arguing whether one sprocket or two on the left side is irrelevent and a matter of taste. let steampunk have its minimalists and maximalist camps, just make it accessible and functional... otherwise it's bad science.

    and now i'm shutting up for a while. sorry for the rant.
  1.  (1412.2)
    there's nothing wrong with a new disco ball, but big scrapyard party favors don't better mankind. to get away from the cosplay stigma, stop focussing on fashion and computer cases and build a better loom or computer.

    thank you, this is beautifully said.

    I would like to posit the idea that part of the message of steampunk is inherent to what we build.

    to wit; perhaps the world already has enough sufficiently advanced computers and real weapons and boxy plastic things. Maybe technological advancement has outgrown the social and artistic side of things and we are reacting to that feeling? I cannot say, I am merely one person who has been thrust to the centre of this crazy and wonderful moment we call Steampunk.

    I work from no desire but to fill my life with things that make me happy. I find it beautiful that people are so confused by what makes me (and my fellow artisans of the movement) happy that they dedicate whole threads to discuss it! I say this with no sense of irony or sarcasm whatsoever.

    People are desperate and afraid. This I can say from all of my interactions with people far and wide, of late. The denial has come to an end and we are looking down the barrel of a big fat gun called The Future. I want people to scoff at what I say, I want to offend and cause mockery at my ideas, because we have come to the point where a small group of loving and polite people claiming that we should start planning for the end of society as we know it is an idea that is growing like a wildfire.

    The trimmings be damned! Let the rest of world call it a style or a culture to be swallowed by the machine. Please! That will work to shrug off the chaff that clings to the part we wish to keep in Our City after things go all wonky. Yes, there are lots of people out there who are in it for dubious reasons, and who's to say in the final cut if I am one of them? The point being, I believe I am more ready for what is coming than most. Those who wish to listen are welcome, those who wish to contribute may be my new family.

    I personally don't care what you call it, and if I get bored of being called steampunk believe me I have no compunctions about modifying my methods. In fact, for months now I have been accused of pushing the acceptable envelope of what is even acceptably called steampunk. This is by design. That said, I love the style itself, I think steampunk is going in some amazing and strange directions sardonically and the mass of people who follow it are some of the coolest individuals I have ever met.

    What are we? Honestly? That's a great question that no one can really answer. I am one person. I do not speak for anyone but myself. I am writing this off the top of my head so perhaps it means nothing at all. I'd love to call us (us being those individuals thrust to the centre of this whole issue who look and act nothing as the media would otherwise have you think) Those Who Wish To Survive.

    And I would like to echo the point of the dissonance between the people who follow the scene and the people who could be accused of pioneering it. Yes, we really are polite and kind people, every one of us that I have met in the flesh have stunned me with their level of consideration in personal interactions... but no, none of us who attended the amazing influx of talent that was the Maker's Faire Contraptor's Lounge act out personnas or talk in arched victorian speak. We are really down to earth people. I know a few people who do act like that, and to be honest they kind of come off as disingenuous to me and make me uncomfortable.

    This is a great thread so far!

    • CommentAuthormunin218
    • CommentTimeMay 13th 2008
    Personally, I like the aesthetic, the art to it. I also like that far-gone sense of wonder that we seem to be missing, that old-time sense of adventure.
    • CommentTimeMay 13th 2008
    KeeperOfManyNames: sadly, that kind of horizontal hostility is an absolutely standard characteristic of oppressed groups. Germaine Greer (however much salt you need with most of her work) talks about that among feminists, for instance.

    Really, what I would most like to see is an intersection of all the underground cultures. A merging of ideas.

    It's called the mainstream.
  2.  (1412.5)
    One of the local newspapers ran This article today. The focus is primarily on the aesthetics of steampunk, but given the mention of arguments of validity and steampunk cosplay at conventions this seemed like it was the place for it.
    • CommentTimeMay 17th 2008 edited
    Personally, I like the aesthetic, the art to it. I also like that far-gone sense of wonder that we seem to be missing, that old-time sense of adventure.

    Me too, actually. Quite a lot. Please keep in mind you're talking to someone who builds theremins, rides a penny farthing, plays a Stroh violin from the 1900s and has recorded songs on wax cylinder. :) Victoriana, vintage flight gear, outmoded mechanisms, crafting, building, Tesla, corsetry, the road warrior DIY spirit, cryptohistory... I embrace these things.

    Here's what I don't embrace about this new so-called Steampunk movement: the ongoing development of a rather exclusive Us vs Them attitude, plenty of unintentionally pompous Borg-speak, a whole lot of flag-waving, and general emphasis on aesthetics and presentation over true innovation or even functionality. But really, it's the painfully earnest treehouse mentality holding court that's making me get all Groucho about Club Steampunk. Cliques freaked me out in junior high, they grossed me out at Burning Man, they turned me off in Williamsburg, and they're seriously bumming me out now.

    Now, all that being said, I think it's important to follow your bliss (whatever that may be!) no matter what's happening around you. Of course.
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2008
    ...decided to reject pointless mass production and planned obsolescence.

    ...if they started making objects that would last... the steampunks would be lining up around the block to get it.

    ...brass and wood and lace and quality (faux, for me) leather? ...They are rewarding materials in texture and presence.

    Work...that retains a sense of authorship.

    becky c:
    With steampunk, gadgets are an art form again. On a daily basis, I carry more computing power in my pockets than it took to land on the moon, and it's all covered in plastic and smudgy fingerprints. I say hooray for time-machines...It's about time we started truly loving our machines again.

    These are critical points for me about the appeal of steampunk. Technology has advanced to the point where we can put amazing amounts of power into tiny packages, yet these packages all work with a common interface. The end result is that anything you do feels pretty much like everything you do. Whether you're drawing, designing world-changing technology or surfing the internet for porn, you're using the same interface.

    We're stuck in a plastic world with buttons to press and screens to read. The steampunk-inspired regression to knobs, pulleys and chains adds novelty to our existence, makes things new again. Steampunk is about designing thinking machines that you can kick into working again.

    The comment about planned obsolescence also really strikes home. We live in an age where planned obsolescence is so deeply ingrained in our production strategies that we don't even consider how long we want things to last. The technology backbone simply doesn't last beyond a certain point and that's the end of it.

    We want a sense of humanity ingrained in the tools we use to make our struggles easier.

    Sounds cool enough, but how would you start it out? A small handful of people feverishly explaining the ethos to dull eyed vaguely curious bypassers at a con or something?

    Like anything, I think the best way to change the world is to change yourself. Develop a rigorous personal belief system about how you want to interact with the world, and stick to it. Lead by example, and you'll gain far more personal satisfaction, as well as changing far more lives meaningfully, than any attempt to preach.

    A friend of mine tracked down her biological mother several years ago. The mother had become a drunken reprobate with severe self-esteem issues which fueled her drinking. Although she wanted a relationship with this woman, my friend was firm about rejecting the alcohol-fueled nastiness which her bio-mom was prone to. She never preached, never suggested that the woman stop drinking. All she did was politely end the conversation every time it turned ugly.

    Of her own accord, the mother realized that their conversations lasted longer if she called while sober. Of her own accord, she started sobering up before calling her lost daughter. She then realized that other areas of her life were more enjoyable when she was sober.

    And although my friend would never say so herself, I think that it's fair to say that, of her own accord, this woman regained her soul. All the preaching and demanding change that had been done before had no effect. She saw the way her daughter behaved, envied it, and modeled herself after it.

    It's a lesson worth taking to heart, I think.


    I think of steampunk as being an aspect of a larger cultural movement away from corporate mass production and towards an original aesthetic created either by each individual, or small creative groups. I think it's a mistake to deride the crafters and cosplayers.

    If anything from this culture is retained, it should be that sense that we don't need to buy into the styles of the day, that we can create our own culture however we want to, and that our very existance can be artistic.

    I'm quoting the first paragraph because I think it's worth repeating.

    As for the second paragraph, I think that before we can talk about what this particular subculture provides that is worth keeping, we first need to discuss what it is that all subcultures provide.

    Isn't every subculture an attempt to move away from the general experience and toward something which is personally appealing? Don't all subcultures begin as a rejection of some mainstream ideal, be it an artistic, spiritual or aesthetic one?

    If that's true, then all subcultures provide the same things which rejection of a normative state provides. The question is, what has been created which is not merely an opposition? I submit that, in the opposition, we provide strength to that which we oppose, because those beliefs exist on the same line of tension.

    This is tricky to answer, because it is easier to say what a thing is not, than to define what it is.
    • CommentTimeMay 18th 2008

    And why the need to slap labels all over this existence? Why are intelligent and vibrant people so eager to define themselves by a subculture they subscribe to, especially when said subculture requires adherence to so many aesthetic rules?

    I call this the "Thumbnail Effect." Flickr, for instance, has millions of photographs on it. In order for anyone to look at a particular photo, they have to choose the thumbnail image.

    This means that, if the thumbnail isn't interesting, then it doesn't matter how good the full-sized image is.

    By the same token, in order to discover any group, philosophy, aesthetic value, etc, we have to search for it. The modern method of searching is by keyword.

    In order to find others who share our values, we need to know the catch-phrase used to find them. How does that shape our thinking, our reaction to new information?

    Put it another way: How do you find cool Steampunk gear without google-searching "steampunk"? It's a convienent shorthand for "thinks like I do."

    This has been a fascinating conversation, and I want to thank everyone who took part in it. I wish I had been here from the beginning.
  3.  (1412.9)
    but, has any steampunk(er?) group or "inventor" invented anything? what better mouse trap has been built, rather than converted to function the same with vaccuum tube applique? there's nothing wrong with a new disco ball, but big scrapyard party favors don't better mankind. to get away from the cosplay stigma, stop focussing on fashion and computer cases and build a better loom or computer.

    "Invented anything"? You're kidding, right? =)

    A less considerate soul would now bury you in inventions. But I believe your question was sincere, so I will answer with only one invention that I have recently put into public domain by way of a handful of forums. Behold, Robb. And be amazed. Or unimpressed. It hardly matters. =)

    Note: Originally Posted on Another Forum

    Given the cost of heating homes in many colder climates, quite a few homeowners could use a cheap, renewable source of warmth to get them through the winter.

    So, take a small wind turbine like the ones once used (and occasionally still used) in the Midwest to pump water from wells. Use a belt to transfer momentum from the turbine down into your house, possibly using a pipe of some kind as a shaft to shelter said belt and the route it takes into your house from the elements. If you need this shaft to rotate in order to provide freedom of movement to the mini-windmill above, put another pipe inside the first, secured with spinning rotor rings at each end.

    At the bottom of this shaft you'll have two things. One, a copper disc driven by the belt that will spin in tandem with your wind turbine. Two, a 'U'-shaped bar magnet. You set the bar magnet up so that it can be locked in place when needed, and unlocked and removed (or simply flipped back if you have it on some kind of a hinge) when it is unneeded, the apparatus is overheating or your automatic thermostat is regulating the temperature.

    The first electromagnetic generator, the Faraday disc, used exactly this setup to produce electrical current.

    The downside, owing to the fact that the current tended to immediately redistribute to the area of the disc away from the magnet, was that it generated very little usable power, and the movement of electricity in the disc created a lot of heat due to resistance.

    In your case, you would not be tapping the current, but rather employing the excess heat generated by all of that current impelled within the disc to supplement your normal heating methods. Obviously, you would have to be very careful not to burn or shock anyone or set anything on fire with this setup. You may want to put some kind of a fire-resistant cage, mesh or grill around it to keep debris and curious onlookers back. An electrically insulated barrier may also prove wise, depending on the charge generated (possibly some shatterproof glass would be useful, but it all depends on how much electricity your system can generate at top speed). Of course, magnets will lose their magnetic properties when heated past specific temperatures, but this point is pretty high for most magnetic materials, and will reverse again once they cool.

    This technique may not heat your entire house, but depending on wind strength and consistency, may provide a very substantial degree of warmth for whatever room you have it installed in. Without knowing anything about the windspeeds you will be experiencing, I can make no estimates regarding how effective this system would be in your particular house. If you are curious, however, I would suggest getting a device that can measure windspeed above your residence (you may be able to get one on loan from your local university). If local wind conditions seem promising, you might then set up your heater temporarily outside, just to see how much heat it can produce before cutting a hole in your roof to install it. Remember, of course, that the heat will disperse much faster in the open while the wind is blowing.

    But if you then find your wind-thermal system to be worthwhile, you may choose to have it installed professionally. In that case, good luck.

    And, of course, if the above all seems too complicated, use a waterwheel or water turbine to provide the motive power... assuming you're living next to a substantial source of water power, or could divert one for a micro-hydro project.

    (Continued in next post with Update...)
  4.  (1412.10)
    Update: (Again, referring to responses on that Other Forum)

    To clarify, since there seems to be some confusion about this invention...

    Ultimately what you have here is a U-shaped bar magnet, a rotating disc of copper, and something to turn that disc. Your source of motive power can be wind, micro-hydro or a couple of teenagers working out on a stationary bike (easily rigged up from an old bicycle as needed).

    But the point of the system is that someone with very limited resources could find a way to make that disc turn and then only requires a few parts that are relatively easily bought or salvaged (despite recent increases in the price of copper). Why is this important?

    Because with fossil fuel prices skyrocketing in the face of peak oil and other economic issues, there are a lot of people who will not be able to afford heating oil this year, and who can not burn enough wood to stay warm in their houses. I have put this 'invention' into public domain because it could make a great difference in some people's lives -- perhaps even save a few. If you do not see it as being the most elegant technical solution possible, in many respects, you are correct. It is only elegant insofar as it is a cheap means for the relatively poor but capable to survive a difficult winter without heating oil.

    A further note:
    Yes, there are other ways to transfer power into your house besides a belt -- that is just a common method a lot of people have experience with. I am not even sure if the classic water-pump windmill uses a belt.

    But having said that, a vertical axial wind turbine could easily spin a rod that descends into your home through a much narrower hole. So long as you waterproof said hole and avoid frictional overheating, that should work out just as well for you... assuming you can rig up a simple vertical axial turbine.

    But again, to repeat, all of this is easily within the capacity of a capable handyman with a few parts and scraps. My apologies to any who felt this necessarily replaced their much more advanced generators, and their 12,000-mile supply lines back to China.

    I am hereby placing the above technique into public domain for anyone who would like to use it.

    I make no claims regarding the above concept, only to tell you it is here and can now be used by anyone. Thank you for listening.

    Ralph Cerchione
  5.  (1412.11)
    @Theremina: Other-ing, especially by social rules (especially unspoken rules) is something that tend to be constant in cultures, and it frustrates the living daylights out of me. I HATE it. It is really easy to push people into "other". It is incredibly hard to not push people into "other". I try not to, that is, I try to, at least on a surface level, get to know and understand just about everyone (well except those who hurt people, which I don't think I'll ever get past). I know that I'm not perfect, and I haven't gotten there, and sometimes I forget about it, but it's a goal I'd like to be pretty close to reaching. I don't think it's possible to completely get there.

    Now that I've gotten my other-rant out of my system... I suspect the us-them mentality and adding of pointless rules and labels and whatnot is one of those things that subcultures do when they get mainstream. It intensifies at least. It's harder to be this unique group when it feels like everyone else is doing it, and they're not even thinking about why. They want to maintain the authenticity, and I suspect once one starts attempting to maintain authenticity, it's probably a good sign that it's time to change and move on. And of course, authenticity, and subcultures, and all of that stuff is just a huge can of worms. I have a feeling that the meaning of authenticity has changed.

    And when Steampunk is absorbed into the mainstream and if it loses what it is good about, it'll be a bummer (kinda), but there will be something new and more exciting that we'll be doing, with the same foundation but it'll be different enough. Because who wants to be stagnant?
  6.  (1412.12)
    I didn't kill it, did I?
  7.  (1412.13)
    Othering -the removal of people to the outside of society, is something that I believe is a social action caused by biological necessity. It's biologically profitable to kick those who don't quite fit in away from your group, to exile them, as they could be ill or otherwise dangerous to you, or your group/herd/whatever. While we as humans now have hospitals and whatnot to deal with the ill, diseased and mentally unstable, there's still something of a natural drive in people to remove that which is 'other', probably a carryover from times when it DID work to help out the species. Biologically, and behaviorally, much of humanity still behaves and exists on an 'animal' level, because we are animals. Just fancy ones. This doesn't mean I approve of society's pushing of those who don't quite fit in to the outside edge, or their treatment of those at that edge; just that I can understand where it might be coming from.
    • CommentTimeJun 7th 2008
    Wow, what a fascinating thread.

    I do agree with many of the ideas and viewpoints of the Steampunk culture yet had no idea that there was such a culture until reading this thread. As I get older, and hopefully wiser, I see what is happening to society and it truly concerns me. I see people today putting all of their energy and creativity into virtual projects, such as video games, chat lines, cell phones and nothing of any matter, nothing you can hold in your hands. So much of our workforce is made up of pencil pushers (now key punchers) and very little hands on building and making of actual products. When they are involved in the making of products, it is so mass produced that all anyone knows is their small part of the process (insert tab A into slot B).

    What do these people know about actual life skills or should I say survival skills (as they do have the skills for life today)? It seems there is a very low percentile that actually have useful or complete knowledge of a trade.

    I think aside from the aesthetics of Steampunk this actually gives it some significance and value.
    • CommentTimeJun 9th 2008
    At DisneySea Tokyo - I was struck at the Steampunk aesthetic they show in their Verne themed rides there.
      CommentAuthorThom B.
    • CommentTimeJun 13th 2008
    @ robb

    @ Thom B.
    however, you can't promote mutual respect with statements like:

    "to appreciate good design requires a higher standard of education and It's been my experience that people with crude social skills have a poorly refined sense of aesthetic"

    it sounds like you're relegating groups of people into little valued slots... like a Victorian class structure. bad. impolite. or, just a divisive "steampunker-than-thou" mentality. i don't think you meant it that way, but it didn't read well

    Well, firstly you're right. I'm not trying to put people into "value brackets". That being said, the way you choose to interpret me isn't really my responsibility is it? If you were concerned that you had misunderstood my sentiment you could have just asked me to clarify rather than painting me as being socially divisive. As it is, your argument hasn't addressed my point at all, only the tone of my argument.
    Do you actually have a contention with my assertion that a higher standard of education is a prerequisite to art/design appreciation or simply that I should choose my words more carefully?
    If the latter than I gladly concede the point, upon re-reading my earlier statement was badly written and failed to convey what I wanted it too.
    As to the former allow me elucidate further so that you may, should you so wish, hold it in contention for it’s* failures of logic rather than it’s failures of tone.

    Actually in the space of typing this I have come to doubt my own argument enough that I’ll need to go away and give it all some serious thought before I can take a posture on it.
    I leave the above unchanged so that the next paragraph make sense(?)

    *”It’s” rather than “my” is used deliberately as I find that I rarely agree with anything that I said more than a month ago.
    This does somewhat contravene Mr. Ellis’ injunction to own ones words but that has led me to an interesting thought on why it is that online discussions so often turn nasty. Namely, I am not now who I was yesterday and yet I am treated as if I am. (Not that this doesn’t happen in face to face interactions – it’s just not as pronounced)
    This style of communication forces me to address the fact that I am incautious with what I say now. Confronted with my own ugliness of mind, the dichotomy between my perceived sense of self - “I’m smarter and more worthy than you” - and reality - “I know neither myself nor you and all my perceptions and beliefs are suspect” – results in psychic pain most easily manifested as anger and aggression.

    So in conclusion, thanks for the humbling lesson on self!
    • CommentAuthorHarlotbug3
    • CommentTimeJun 13th 2008 edited
    I love looong debates on the validities and invalids of a subculture.

    I also love cheapass smartass comics.
  8.  (1412.18)

    oh look, people getting unnecessarily butthurt in a thread about steampunk. i'm so surprised.

    there are new subcultures being born every 20 minutes in every major city on the planet.

    why do people think subcultures are even worth our attention, let alone our individual identity?

    don't answer this question for me here, because i don't give a fuck.
    ask it of yourself.
      CommentAuthorThom B.
    • CommentTimeJun 13th 2008

    Er, OK Bill...
  9.  (1412.20)
    I would argue that it is because every subculture is a fascinating facet of the overall structure of society. They all have aspects that can be picked apart from the dross and used to a greater artistic, philosophical, or practical purpose.

    I would argue it, but it would be kind of pointless. So forget it. [rolls eyes]

    While I don't think that a higher education is necessary for artistic appreciation [as that view sort of breeds modern art pretentious drivel that no one understands], I think that at least some knowledge is necessary to create truly excellent art, in the same way that it is necessary for creating working machines. Both seem to go hand-in-hand with steampunk. So, could steampunk be partly about making all knowledge more available? Or am just babbling bullshit now?

    Also, was the apprentice system still around during Victorian times?

    That comic is great.