Not signed in (Sign In)
    • CommentAuthorStin
    • CommentTimeJun 21st 2008
    For me, the failure of steampunk with regard to amateur science, or even DIY science, is that it has a natural tendency to stop at Engineering.
    You can only build so much stuff, applying the ideas and methods of steampunk (and Tesla and Edison), and while this isn't necessarily a bad thing it narrows the applicable practice area.
    For example, I've never heard of steampunk medicine, or chemistry, or biology. And I don't include herbalism and the like into that heading because there's a lot less science in herbalism or alt medicine than there is in your most basic steampunk experiments like the one @Dry Observer posted.
    So if there's a natural limit to the exercise of steampunk inspired science, then it has to be a movement of philosophy and aesthetic whose values evolved out of the culture and science of the victiorian era and steampunk fiction, right?
    And from there, how do you best apply that philosophy and aesthetic to the wet sciences in a way that makes it meaningful?
    • CommentTimeJun 24th 2008
    The visible trappings of Steampunk are the clothes, machinery and accessories, the last governed more or less by William Morris's Arts and Crafts movement in the UK and other art and design movements elsewhere. And some music.

    Medicine always lags a bit. In The Difference Engine, the fantastic leaps in information science still allows a major character 's advanced syphilis to be misdiagnosed as "railway spine." As for biology, once the Victorians figured out evolution, they immediately misapplied it to society, with regrettable results. They sure as hell weren't any good at diagnosing women's diseases. War, social outrage and luck drive medical advances, and the Victorians were a pretty smug bunch. If it killed women or poor people, they weren't too worried about it (cf. AIDS and the US during the Reagan years).

    So you'd have to reimagine an alternate history with drivers (social/religious movement, a mad scientist or two) that somehow accelerate the development of the soft sciences to bring them up to par with the hard ones. Some lost opportunities in our own history that were seized in the Steampunk timeline, something like that.
    • CommentTimeJun 24th 2008
    'Steampunk biology' sounds as much like reverse-engineering as anything else, to me - and 'steampunk medicine' brings images of cybernetic limbs to mind. Of course, in the near future, a lot of the techniques and specialisations of the sciences and of engineering are going to be required by archaeologists. Already are, to an extent.

    Seriously, though - it's a sensibility, not a method. You might well get beautiful results with beautiful tools and apparatus, but that will make you a steampunk scientist, rather than making the discipline "steampunk science".
  1.  (1412.4)
    I just want to say that when I was going through the science exhibit in the Palazzo Pitti (because along with all their support of *art the Medici also invested heavily in math and science and protected Galileo), and their tools and books were damn gorgeous. For all the stuff that the Medici did that makes me roll my eyes, they always did two or three more things that are made of awesome. I never **knew that Italian bankers could be that amazingly brilliant.

    *They practically adopted Michelangelo and made sure he had the best teachers ever, protected Donatello and Botticelli, invested in Brunelleschi, etc etc etc.

    **Granted, all of this is fresh on my mind as I was just in Florence studying art.
  2.  (1412.5)
    I think of steampunk biology, etc., as the kind of stuff in Girl Genius. Very “Modern Prometheus.”

    Oh, man, if you want to see beautiful tools, check out some of the astrolabes and navigation equipment. One thing you have to give the people of the Middle Ages and Renaissance: they really knew the value of a well-made tool. Do you have any pictures of the tools? I would love to see.

    For that matter, there were beautiful machines dating back to Archimedes. There was even a working steam engine in the Library of Alexandria, before it got burned down. So, maybe any rewriting of history to include steampunk would date all the way back to the Romans, with the library surviving.

    At any rate, the love and respect for the tools of whatever trade you go into would definitely be an aspect that Steampunk culture could bring to the rest of the world at large. I think Eithin probably hit the nail on the head, though. Not everything about steampunk should be superliteral.
  3.  (1412.6)
    Link to the link of the new article on Steampunk in the San Francisco Chronicle

    Some times direct links can get to long as these news paper sites tend to have long URL addresses .
    • CommentAuthorWordforge
    • CommentTimeJul 7th 2008
    As an aside, if and when our lifespans start doubling (i'd say 2100), I think the world will become a lot more Steampunk. People will probably want to have a go at making things for themselves, and with all those years to kill, they will probably embellish their creations to make them as much art as science.
  4.  (1412.8)
    Well, that would be an argument for promoting it now. The way things are going at the moment, most people will be too saturated by the mainstream to even consider creating stuff on their own. So, getting the idea of self-made technology out into the mainstream now could make it more common later on.

    But yeah, with any luck that's what'll happen [barring a 2012 ascention into the supercontext...] and people will generally get more into the making and embellishing stuff.

    Hah, you know, that article reminded me of one other important part of steampunk: it's just fun to run around with a top hat calling yourself Hieronymus!
    • CommentAuthorHarlotbug3
    • CommentTimeJul 10th 2008
    • CommentTimeJul 10th 2008
    Although this has been said in different words, I'll add my version of it:

    One of my biggest problems with modern society is the wasteful, one use approach to goods. We throw away our cell phones after a year or two, computers rarely last longer, cars are changed after a few years on average, etc. etc. When something breaks, we throw it away and get a new, improved, better one. Things are designed to break and be discarded when the warranty runs out.

    Steampunk is all about re-use, craftsmanship, quality. If something breaks, you don't get a new one, you fix it. Resources are too valuable to simply throw them away. When you have a tool or a gadget that has been crafted with intricate care and detail, with attention to quality and beauty, there is little desire to simply throw it away.

    How many Harley drivers change their motorcycle every few years? Compare that to the average rice rocket rider. Arguably this has little to do with craftsmanship, per se, but with the item having personality, and absorbing time and care and attention from the owner. Imagine a mobile phone that you spent time and care to craft. Would you want to simply throw it away when a new model came out?

    Moving towards a society that values our possessions in a different way (and by that I do not mean being owned by them, but respecting them) is I think a fundamental aspect of becoming sustainable. The steampunk attitude towards craftsmanship, aesthetics and reuse in all objects is a helpful pointer. Imagine your next laptop being a beautiful engraved piece of art, which when it was time to upgrade or something broke allowed you to replace just minimal parts, retaining the rest? Or when your microwave breaks, it being easily fixable, or if not, the pieces being genuinely valuable to someone else?

    It is just a small part of the steampunk idea, but it is what appeals to me, personally. (apart from the aesthetic style, which I love...)
    • CommentTimeJul 24th 2008 edited
    I've been following this thread with a lot of interest, but haven't been able to comment on it until now because I've been under some crazy-ass deadlines, but I would like to throw my two cents in.

    I'm really kind of torn on the whole capital-S Steampunk thing. It's got so many facets, from the cosplay to the practical, and I like most of them, save for the ridiculous farbing cliquishness that accompanies every single subculture I've ever encountered -- an attitude that makes me want to turn on my heel and give up the culture the minute I come into contact with it.

    That being said, I suppose that I must have some sort of genetic predilection towards steampunk, given that my grandfather built two working coal-fired steam-engines out of spare parts he cobbled together from the surrounding farms, and actually used one to throw an old-fashioned threshing bee in one of our smaller wheat fields. Later, he and my dad used parts from a third engine and built what we referred to as "The Boiler," a wood-fired stove that heated our house and hot water (The Boiler was actually take two; they first built a Swedish design called a "hasha," which failed, was knocked down and replaced by The Boiler). Through the front window of the shed that housed it, you could see the big silver eagle and the word "CASE" on the nose of the engine.

    Given that this kind of scrapyard ingenuity runs in my family, I've always been big into DIY, no matter what the topic: I make my own soap and cheese, garden and put up food, know how to weld, and have self-published two books and am webcomicking a third. It's that kind of homebrew ethic, even before the awesome brass-goggles fashion, that attracted me Steampunk in the first place.

    Here's the kicker, though. Having grown up on a farm (and spent several autumns cutting and piling cordwood to feed The Boiler so we didn't freeze) I know exactly the amount of work that kind of an ethic takes to maintain, whether it's urban punk-of-whatever-kind or self-sufficiency, be it hippy or backwoods. Each has its strengths, each is heavily cemented in self-reliance, creative reuse and craft -- but is also horribly prone to the kind of oroborean echo-chamber thinking of any subculture. So rather than identify myself with one specific ethic, I both admire and distance myself from all of them. I'm much more inclined to dabble and take the best (and most fun) parts from each. The yuppiehippies have the best food, the homesteaders have practicality, and the steampunkers have the style.

    The best encapsulation of why I'm drawn to the cosplay aspect of Steampunk was an exchange between Paul and Carla at WizardWorld: Paul referred to our getups as "finery," and Carla countered that it was "Toughery." At least the way I dress for it, Steampunk is the fashion of getting cool stuff done and looking grand while you're doing it. Goggles, leather aprons, stompy boots and spats are far, far more my style than goth or frills could ever be. I am a practical craftsman down to the bone, and nothing thrills me more than making stuff with my own hands -- and seeing other people do the same.

    I was also pretty surprised to see this level of invective towards steampunk culture on a recent BoingBoing post about typewriter-and-watchgear jewelry. Still, I can understand the critique -- when the focus shifts too far from the craft and just into the slap-some-gears-on-it-and-call-it-art, you've slipped into metaculture (for the record, I'm making and selling my own clockpunk jewelry, so I obviously don't have too much of a problem with non-working, pretty stuff). I think, per the discussion's original point, that the focus of Steampunk needs to be primarily on the craft, and not on the outward lifestyle. If an ethical mindset is going to survive the long run, its participants have to be marathoners, not sprinters. They have to be really devoted to the underpinnings of the culture, not the trappings.
    • CommentTimeJul 24th 2008
    One thing you have to give the people of the Middle Ages and Renaissance: they really knew the value of a well-made tool.

    Well, if they didn't work, the user/owner would be lost at sea and possibly dead.

    Oh fuck, I crushed my iPod and am soon to be eaten by wolves oh shit!
  5.  (1412.13)
    Oh fuck, I crushed my iPod and am soon to be eaten by wolves oh shit!

    It would certainly push innovation in music playing technology if stuff like that happened. I'm all for it.

    Good point, though. I guess the knowledge that we still depend on our tools to survive is so distanced from our immediate survival that they become less important.

    Aike and Jane_Irwin, both of your posts are exceptional and extremely well thought out. Unfortunately, they both express my thoughts so much better than I can that I can't really think of anything more to add. Heres to craftsmanship, and the reusing of materials!
  6.  (1412.14)
    Until I started reading this thread, I pretty much relegated steampunk to a genre of a visual medium, since the aesthetic of steampunk is so central to portraying it. I was initially attracted to the title of the thread, because it made me sit up and say, "huh?" As a fair warning, I have a degree in Anthropology, so I don't know how well I can avoid that self-definition problem. I'm going to be referring to steampunk as a culture, rather than a movement- a movement usually identifies some agenda that they mean to fulfill, whereas a culture is simply a group of people sharing ethics, ideals, and symbols.

    I would argue that the "cosplay" issue that has some of us concerned is an issue that has to be dealt with, instead of ignored and pushed off on the "Steampunk fans." To a large degree, any given subculture is fairly well defined by its visual aesthetic- that is how the ubiquitous "Other" (as a tangent, its interesting how that concept plays into Girl Genius...) identifies them. For hippies and deadheads, it was again that self-made concept, but with elements of American Indian design built in. For goths or punks, or even more mainstream nerds now, the visual style is fairly readily indentified. For many Others, it might well be the first introduction to the subculture- it must, therefore, accurately represent that particular visual style that makes it unique- in regards to steampunk. that means the DIY aspect, certainly, but it must reflect Victorian-era England and that mad scientist idea, since that is the idea that the culture itself comes from.

    Here's a question:
    Must we then discard our respect for the things left in modern culture that are still well made? For example, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle is a very well built machine. So well made, in fact, that the manufacturers intentionally mistune some small aspect of the engine a fraction of an inch (I think it amounts to a millimeter or 2) to produce the trademark Harley noise (which is in fact a trademark)- without that mistune, Harleys would be among the quietest bikes on the market. Likewise, they do take a fair amount of pride in the aesthetic of their product. So we must decide between steampunk in style, or steampunk in principle- which would be more steampunk- to build your own bike, or to pay homage to a well built machine that is in production currently, and perhaps add a few visual flairs of your own? Ultimately its a question between a romantic ideal and a classical ideal- sure, building your own would LOOK steampunk as hell, but that's not the point, is it?

    I think I agree with Robb's sentiment about shaking the tree or modern technologies and seeing what fruits fall out that we can still use. Yeah, wood, leather, brass, glass, copper, etc.
    are more authentic, and probably easier to obtain, but if a plastic or synthetic cloth does the job better, why not? I fit does it as well, then it's a matter of artistic taste. I love the visual style of steampunk, don't get me wrong, but I don't get the feeling that what we're all trying to eke out of it, is it? We're focusing the DIY ethic, the ethic of consuming others' waste and recycling it, and traveling on the life left in the past. Someone mentioned that this subculture is only possible through the internet, where the entire past of our culture is at our fingertips- I agree absolutely, and furthermore add that this is a resource we cannot afford to waste.

    So while I agree with much of what has been said here about sifting through the garbage and painting it up and making it work again, I also think its important to celebrate what the modern culture has given us (we can argue whether or not my musical ADD is a result of having all of my music at my fingertips in another discussion), but at the same time, let's not forget to celebrate the visual style, which, while becoming more mainstream, is still unique. Each of us just needs to be clear on our answer when someone asks us why we're wearing goggles and a leather apron.

    Also, don't worry about defining your subculture- just live it. Trust me, the anthropologists are already working on it.

    "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
    -Theodore Roosevelt, Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris
    April 23rd, 1910
      CommentAuthorThom B.
    • CommentTimeAug 1st 2008
    @ VoxDraconae - I guess that the right thing to do with the Harley would be to find an old one in need of some TLC and get her running again, adding any extra brass along the way as necessary.

    And in terms of celebrating modern culture I think that's still right at the heart of SP. What else are Von Slat and Datamancers case mods to be considered if not celebrations of modern tech?
    • CommentAuthorWiseEyes
    • CommentTimeAug 1st 2008
    Must go back and read the beginning of this thread. I've read from aike (1412.110) down and it's all incredibly encouraging. You guys make me want to go out and build my own shit. I'd probably just smash my thumb.

    I mean, I've made effort and built some things, mostly fences... but I haven't really been able to build my own tech, I guess. I think that's what it is is building tools that you actually use in your life. Or at least that's what I'm getting out of this. Aike, your post in particular made me want to actually learn electrical engineering so I could reuse those old microwaves and I fucking hate EE. I guess that's what I'm left with. How am I supposed to do this shit when I've been planning on a computer science career? Fuck.

    I don't know...

    I guess the answer is just be as self-reliant as I can?

    I really have no idea what I'm doing here.
  7.  (1412.17)
    @Thom B.-That may be the best idea I've heard in a while. I think I'll do just that. If anyone's interested, I can can take pictures through the process.

    @WiseEyes- Exactly. (At least, that's my read on it)
    • CommentAuthorWiseEyes
    • CommentTimeAug 2nd 2008
    A very relevant monologue from Clarkesworld.

    Too bad I like cyberpunk = (
    • CommentTimeAug 3rd 2008 edited
    How am I supposed to do this shit when I've been planning on a computer science career? Fuck.

    I've been having the same thought since I'm a programmer by trade, but since we're discussing a celebration of a style, and of DIY attitude, I think we can accommodate that quite well. It occurs to me that, setting the visual style aside for a moment, what we're talking about is home-brewing elegant machines. At the core of everything that is steampunk is you sitting down to esign something that runs elegantly, and then, once that's done, making it look beautiful and fit the aesthetic also. Also, take a look at the steampunk case mods. That's a great place to start in simply making your machine look, on the outside, like an elegant piece of machinery. Adding in a level I'm particularly fond of is making it visually suggest the function of the machine (tricky, but really cool looking if you get it right). This requires lots of dark wood and brass and clockwork of course.

    When you're machine looks good on the outside, then make it elegant on the inside. Customize the crap out of, say, a linux distro to not only make the code inside incredibly elegant by the standards of computer science, but tweak all of the GUIs on your favorite application to give them a visual style that suits the aesthetic of you machine as well, without sacrificing any of the internal elegance of course. It seems to me that what we're really getting at is achieving and celebrating the pinnacle that industry is capable of, which is a very Victorian value, while reconnecting it to the tech and styles of that period that we're all so fond of.

    Please anyone correct me if you think I'm wrong about this, or let me know if you have any other input.

    A final note: In my life, at least, at the end of the day I really just want to go searching through some junk and make something beautiful that has absolutely nothing to do with computers. Sitting in front of the computer all day is just a bit much for me. While it seems possible to incorporate steampunk in to programming, I tend to find it much more appealing not to.