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Author Topic: Is Biohacking 'Steampunk'  (Read 1962 times)
19th Century Space Pilot
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« on: February 18, 2010, 09:00:34 pm »

For those of you who do not know what biohacking is, I direct you to a few articles here, here, and here, as well as the website DIY Bio.

So, who here thinks it's Steampunk? *raises hand* It certainly fits in with the spirit of innovation found there, and the whole ideal of people tinkering on the cutting edge of technology in their home labs.
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« Reply #1 on: February 18, 2010, 09:27:10 pm »

It takes more than just DIY you know.
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« Reply #2 on: February 18, 2010, 10:27:55 pm »

Yes. It also requires innovation. I would argue that even the computer enthusiasts who constructed computers from scratch (NOT kit form) were, in some way, embodying the steampunk ideal.
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Dr Fidelius
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« Reply #3 on: February 18, 2010, 11:36:41 pm »

I question whether extending the "steampunk ideal" to other fringe groups of social misfits who happen to like building things is a useful exercise.  There is such a thing as diluting the brand.

I recognize kinship with artists, cosplayers, and geeks of every stripe but to try to even semantically bring them all under the same tent is to deny us recognition of the diversity which makes this such an interesting world to live in.
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« Reply #4 on: February 19, 2010, 12:09:17 am »

Yes. It also requires innovation. I would argue that even the computer enthusiasts who constructed computers from scratch (NOT kit form) were, in some way, embodying the steampunk ideal.

I'll chime in to agree with you here. I think there are too many people out there that want to say "this isn't steampunk", and base their entire evaluation only on appearances.

The best part of steampunk, IMO, doesn't rely on appearances. Someone can perfectly embody the ideals we cherish even if they don't wear period clothing everywhere and paint nerf guns in their spare time.
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« Reply #5 on: February 19, 2010, 12:20:54 am »

Which begs the question of why some folks feel the need to label everything they like as being "steampunk" regardless of whether it fits within the aesthetic at all.

Just because something is cool or DIY does not mean it is "steampunk."
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Mr. Boltneck
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« Reply #6 on: February 19, 2010, 01:23:51 am »

At this point, it's not obvious to me that anything can be easily docketed as steampunk. There are things admired and built by people who like steampunk. That may be all the further it gets.
As for biohacking, it neither is nor is not steampunk to my way of thinking. It could suddenly be very interesting to steampunks indeed if it leads to re-animation of dead tissue, I guess, given the fascination shown on this forum for zombies, monsters, and HP Lovecraft.
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Mr Mephistopheles Grimm
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« Reply #7 on: February 19, 2010, 01:28:33 am »

I think one needs to make the distinction between the "spirit" of Steampunk, or essence, and the actual construct of Steampunk. That is to say, something could be in the spirit of Steampunk even if it is not "traditional Steampunk", if there is such a thing, and in my opinion, one should decide this on a case to case basis. It may be said that Biohacking is in the spirit of Steampunk in general, but a closer look should still be taken otherwise that statement could easily be rendered inaccurate.

Or, something to that effect. I need a couple new braincells.
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« Reply #8 on: February 19, 2010, 01:35:39 am »


I think that a big part of the steam punk ethos is putting technology back into the hands of individual enthusiasts so by that criteria it definitely fits.

In fact, for me, its more SP than spraying a plastic gun gold and glueing some plumbing parts to it.

Having said that I think that trying to decide whether a particular activity is or is not 'steam punk' is ultimately self-defeating.
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Mr Mephistopheles Grimm
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« Reply #9 on: February 19, 2010, 02:39:02 am »


I think that a big part of the steam punk ethos is putting technology back into the hands of individual enthusiasts so by that criteria it definitely fits.

In fact, for me, its more SP than spraying a plastic gun gold and glueing some plumbing parts to it.

Having said that I think that trying to decide whether a particular activity is or is not 'steam punk' is ultimately self-defeating.

Well said sir, kudos! But who can deny that gluing plumbing parts to plastic guns is kinda fun? Tongue
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Vorpal Bandersnatch
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« Reply #10 on: February 19, 2010, 06:43:04 am »

It seems to me that we have a recurring point of contention in many threads that are going on right now. There are, it seems, two schools of thought that are coexisting but also competing within the community. The first school says that if it looks like steampunk, sounds like steampunk, and smells like steampunk, then by golly it is. The second school says that if it acts like steampunk, then it is.

I'm inclined to include those who fit ideologically, but throw out those that only appear to be steampunk, or use steampunk to be trendy or try to make a quick buck. I'm not at all advocating exclusivity here. But, for example, it seems to be consensus that hot topic steampunk quite simply isn't. That suggests that some kind of ideal is necessary.

I'm of the opinion that "if you aren't against us, you're with us" in the sense that anybody that typifies steampunk through their actions should be considered an honorary steampunk, even if they don't know it. However, is someone who gets a t-shirt at walmart with a gear on it or a book that sets itself in a fantasy Victorian era but thematically promotes consumerism, dependency, or anti-intellectualism really deserving of the steampunk title?

The answer seems clear enough from my perspective.
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« Reply #11 on: February 19, 2010, 09:07:56 am »

Which begs the question of why some folks feel the need to label everything they like as being "steampunk" regardless of whether it fits within the aesthetic at all.

Just because something is cool or DIY does not mean it is "steampunk."

There is a very specific yet amazingly flexible steampunk aesthetic. Just because something reflects an ideal of the community, if it doesn't also sport the aesthetic which is based off the Victorian, it just can not be called steampunk. Victorian sci-fi, and modern ideas of what could have been in that period are necessary here so it needs to have that sort of look to it. That's why we spend so much energy & frustration on encasing our electronics in wood & brass when other materials would be easier to work with. Other materials just don't look right.
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« Reply #12 on: February 19, 2010, 09:43:26 am »

Which begs the question of why some folks feel the need to label everything they like as being "steampunk" regardless of whether it fits within the aesthetic at all.

Just because something is cool or DIY does not mean it is "steampunk."

There is a very specific yet amazingly flexible steampunk aesthetic. Just because something reflects an ideal of the community, if it doesn't also sport the aesthetic which is based off the Victorian, it just can not be called steampunk. Victorian sci-fi, and modern ideas of what could have been in that period are necessary here so it needs to have that sort of look to it. That's why we spend so much energy & frustration on encasing our electronics in wood & brass when other materials would be easier to work with. Other materials just don't look right.
This IMO hits the nail on the head!  Altho steampunk is different for everyone (I dont dress up or do nerf guns) it HAS to have that steampunk aesthetic! If you want to do Biohacking then there is a steampunk way to do it (mad scientist role play is one example and I'm sure there are others more toned to non-role playing).
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« Reply #13 on: February 19, 2010, 12:47:25 pm »

I'm not really sure I'd consider any DIY process by itself to be steampunk, but the results of such work certainly can be in the correct context.  Let us not forget one of the Victorian era's most infamous fictional characters was a biohacker ("The Island of Dr. Moreau", HG Wells, 1896). markf
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Dr Fidelius
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« Reply #14 on: February 19, 2010, 02:36:26 pm »

Which begs the question of why some folks feel the need to label everything they like as being "steampunk" regardless of whether it fits within the aesthetic at all.

Just because something is cool or DIY does not mean it is "steampunk."

There is a very specific yet amazingly flexible steampunk aesthetic. Just because something reflects an ideal of the community, if it doesn't also sport the aesthetic which is based off the Victorian, it just can not be called steampunk. Victorian sci-fi, and modern ideas of what could have been in that period are necessary here so it needs to have that sort of look to it. That's why we spend so much energy & frustration on encasing our electronics in wood & brass when other materials would be easier to work with. Other materials just don't look right.

I am waiting for a "Are Hamburgers Steampunk???" thread, or something else as silly.

I like to wear tweed, vests and carry a pocketwatch.  I also like hamburgers.  Hamburgers were invented around 1900 (well within our flexible time frame) and the ground-beef-patty cookers at Louis' Lunch in New Haven (one of the candidates for "inventor of the hamburger") are incredibly complex looking devices.  Many people make their own hamburgers, and customize them beyond belief.

None of this makes hamburgers "steampunk," and despite the wishes of our more enthusiastic brethren, any other specific item or concept which "embodies" their "steampunk ideal" (whatever that may mean) is not automaticaly Steampunk.
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19th Century Space Pilot
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« Reply #15 on: February 19, 2010, 02:52:15 pm »

So, if I paint my centrifuge in brass, it becomes steampunk?

Quote
I like to wear tweed, vests and carry a pocketwatch.  I also like hamburgers.  Hamburgers were invented around 1900 (well within our flexible time frame) and the ground-beef-patty cookers at Louis' Lunch in New Haven (one of the candidates for "inventor of the hamburger") are incredibly complex looking devices.  Many people make their own hamburgers, and customize them beyond belief.
I absinthe, that favoured drink among many here, steampunk? No. Why? Because food and drink just simply cannot, be, steampunk.

Does assembling a desk from kit form bought at IKEA embody the steampunk ideal? No. However, there's a case to be made that a hand crafted one made from scratch could be...

Brass does not a steampunk make.
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« Reply #16 on: February 19, 2010, 03:12:03 pm »

Hmmm... It's a little bit frankensteinian, I giess. So it might just pass into steampunk. But on the other hand: It is very modern... Hmmm...
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Dr Fidelius
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« Reply #17 on: February 19, 2010, 03:52:37 pm »

So, if I paint my centrifuge in brass, it becomes steampunk?

Quote
I like to wear tweed, vests and carry a pocketwatch.  I also like hamburgers.  Hamburgers were invented around 1900 (well within our flexible time frame) and the ground-beef-patty cookers at Louis' Lunch in New Haven (one of the candidates for "inventor of the hamburger") are incredibly complex looking devices.  Many people make their own hamburgers, and customize them beyond belief.
I absinthe, that favoured drink among many here, steampunk? No. Why? Because food and drink just simply cannot, be, steampunk.

Does assembling a desk from kit form bought at IKEA embody the steampunk ideal? No. However, there's a case to be made that a hand crafted one made from scratch could be...

Brass does not a steampunk make.

I'll bite.

Then what criteria do you propose to differentiate "steampunk" from any other group/ subculture/ gang of itinerant tinkers?

If you want to include any and all Makers as being "steampunk," then why bother using Steampunk as a label?

Please, if I am misinterpreting you it is my fault, being often a bear of very little brain.  I just do not see where an all-inclusive label is useful, or if it is useful why choose to use "steampunk" as that label.
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Atterton
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« Reply #18 on: February 19, 2010, 04:39:09 pm »

My mom likes historical stuff, but has no interest in technology. My dad does a lot of DIY stuff, but has no interest in history. I don´t think either of them are steampunk, it is a combination of things. I´d say people do DIY because they are steampunks rather than they are steampunks because they do DIY.
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Narsil
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« Reply #19 on: February 19, 2010, 06:27:35 pm »


 'is X steampunk ?' is the wrong sort of question and it doesn't really mean anything. Rather more useful questions are is this relevant? is it useful ? does it have value ?
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Vorpal Bandersnatch
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« Reply #20 on: February 19, 2010, 11:42:31 pm »

This all depends on how you view steampunk. Is steampunk a group of people who call themselves by the name? Or is steampunk a broader cultural/aesthetic movement that is showing an impact, in some cases almost imperceptible, across modern culture?

I think that steampunk is the name that we've put on a set of ideals that seems to be influencing art and music and film and design. Brass, steam engines, and leather are awesome symbolic representations of what it values. However, that doesn't mean that the ideals cease to exist when the externals are taken away.

I'm against materialism, so that means that I believe in identity apart from "stuff". If I lost my clothes, house, and car, I'd like to think that I'm still the same person. If we base steampunk only on "stuff", then it ceases to exist when you take away the external layers. All of a sudden a person isn't steampunk unless they have their gear on them.

I think there's something right and beautiful about steampunk. I like to believe that it is more than skin deep.
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« Reply #21 on: February 20, 2010, 01:38:12 am »

*To clarify, my draw to steampunk is its aesthetics- the leather, wood, brass, copper, home-built antique feel of it. With that in mind, here's my response.

If one were to grow one's cultures and breed one's mutant albino bats in brass cages or take notes in leatherbound notebooks using brass-tipped fountain pens, sure, why not? I've got designs on paper for self-cleaning fish tanks and mouse cages and methods of propagating flowers in small spaces, all with that look in mind, so they won't be out of place in my future lab/living room.

If you're using the modern plastic science stuff, all disposable and cheap, then no, not really. I'm around this stuff five days a week, and if it looked like steampunk, it'd be a lot more enjoyable (If we didn't have to take notes on regulation snot-green lab notebook paper, life would be happier too!) Trust me, there's nothing neovictorian, victorian, steamy or punkish about demonstrating an E-coli cell's ability to transform using strands of DNA in the environment to gain resistance to an unpronounceable toxin embedded in its petri dish. The one cool element is that it fluoresces under UV light, but that's just so we can tell if the colony is behaving itself.

I can understand the appeal of manipulating something like this, and yes, in many ways it does fall into the mindset of the scientific revolution and all that, but if you're going to biohack under the name of steampunk, then make it look good!

That's my two cents, as a student in genetics, having had a mid-term this morning Tongue
« Last Edit: February 20, 2010, 01:40:44 am by Kaljaia » Logged

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« Reply #22 on: February 20, 2010, 01:43:46 am »


 But who can deny that gluing plumbing parts to plastic guns is kinda fun? Tongue
I can deny that. Easily. First off, I hate plastic. Secondly, I think glue is the absolutely least Steampunk way imaginable to attach one thing to another. Thirdly, plumbing parts, or pieces of old lamps, or gears out of watches and clocks, are usually readily identifiable as exactly what they are, and as such constitute a definite FAIL if the point of the "Artwork" is to convey the idea of a realistic raygun or whatever. Cheap crap is cheap crap, and those who glue gears to something and then call it "Steampunk" give me a pain in the posterior. Could biohacking be done in a Steampunk way? Absolutely! Is all biohacking Steampunk? Certainly not. Whatever Steampunk is, it is not defined solely by being "Do It Yourself." Every dragster ever built has been DIY...but that doesn't make them Steampunk. However, the Munster Coach and Drag-U-La, designed by George Barris, certainly could be. Without at least a nod to Victorian style, it can't be called Steampunk, in my opinion. Otherwise, everything is Steampunk, and nothing is Steampunk.

~T
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« Reply #23 on: February 20, 2010, 09:21:05 am »


 But who can deny that gluing plumbing parts to plastic guns is kinda fun? Tongue
I can deny that. Easily. First off, I hate plastic. Secondly, I think glue is the absolutely least Steampunk way imaginable to attach one thing to another. Thirdly, plumbing parts, or pieces of old lamps, or gears out of watches and clocks, are usually readily identifiable as exactly what they are, and as such constitute a definite FAIL if the point of the "Artwork" is to convey the idea of a realistic raygun or whatever. Cheap crap is cheap crap, and those who glue gears to something and then call it "Steampunk" give me a pain in the posterior. Could biohacking be done in a Steampunk way? Absolutely! Is all biohacking Steampunk? Certainly not. Whatever Steampunk is, it is not defined solely by being "Do It Yourself." Every dragster ever built has been DIY...but that doesn't make them Steampunk. However, the Munster Coach and Drag-U-La, designed by George Barris, certainly could be. Without at least a nod to Victorian style, it can't be called Steampunk, in my opinion. Otherwise, everything is Steampunk, and nothing is Steampunk.

~T
I was joking, but, I am happy to see what I said sparked such a vivid and passionate response. To me, Steampunk is ingenuity, it is technology with Victorian style and flair, taking what others might see as useless and bringing them back to life in an amazing way. If I find parts to old what-nots that I don't use anymore, and I turn them into something beautiful, functional, and looks like something that could have been made after or during a "Victorian Industrial Revolution" then to me, it is Steampunk. If I rig pipes to the side of a tophat and put a small machine inside of it to make some sort of visible gas that mimics the appearance of steam, so that it comes out of the top of the hat, hell, I'll call that Steampunk too, simply because it reminds me of what I see Steampunk as. It is not easily defined (or on the contrary it is) because everyone has their own idea of it, and the reason it has become a culture is because these ideas are usually alike, or akin to one another in some way.

But just for the record, I never said gluing plumbing parts to plastic guns WAS Steampunk, just that it was fun. Cheers.
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Dr Fidelius
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« Reply #24 on: February 20, 2010, 02:18:47 pm »


 'is X steampunk ?' is the wrong sort of question and it doesn't really mean anything. Rather more useful questions are is this relevant? is it useful ? does it have value ?

Well, there you go, being all reasonable and suchlike...

I find that very few things (objects or concepts) are intrinsically Steampunk, excepting, of course, giant coal-fired mechanical robots.  Context and intent are key.

Are penguins "steampunk?"  No. 
Unless they were trained to infiltrate and sabotage an Antarctic base of Wellsian Martians, or if a single penguin is fitted with a jet-pack, or if the penguins were given a dose of Hyde Serum and turned in to evil maitre d's, then these penguins are Steampunk.

Yes, I am firmly in the camp of "steampunk is a style of literature."  I admit to having conceptual difficuties with the "steampunk is a way of life" group, some of whom are as enthusiastic as any fen I have ever known.  Having outgrown both FIAWOL and FIAGDH, I find the local level of passion amusing.
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