The cover story on the Boston Phoenix this week is a wicked, long feature on steampunk!
The 19th century ushered in the era of the amateur: a wild-eyed tinkerer in a lab had the capacity to stumble upon a discovery that just might alter society, a common theme paralleled in Victorian and Gothic fiction and, now, in Steampunk. “I find the optimism of Steampunk rather refreshing,” says Rich Nagy, a/k/a Datamancer, a popular Steampunk artisan originally based in New Jersey but now living in California who was represented at the Maker Contraptor’s Lounge. “Steampunk has a way of making technology, which is becoming more transparent and taken for granted every day, seem novel and fun again,” adds Nagy. That much is clear in his finely wrought pieces, like the “Computational Engine” computer casemod and his sophisticated “Steampunk Victorian Laptop,” a Hewlett-Packard ZT1000 laptop with a clockwork-under-glass display that, when it’s closed, looks like an ornate antique music box. It turns on with a clock-winding key. In effect, Steampunk is poised to bring the proletariat craftsman his 21st-century renaissance.
Though Steampunk’s artisanal outputs have stolen much of the mainstream limelight so far, there is a whole other creative side to the scene that has received little attention in comparison. Countless bands have formed, filing their music under the Steampunk genre or citing Victorian fantasy as a muse. One of them, Vernian Process, is the solo project of San Francisco–based Joshua Pfieffer. A true testament to the notion of the ambitious dabbler, Pfieffer has no musical training, and writes songs with the aid of basic audio-production software.
Heather sez, "A new painting & print from the fabulous Suzanne R Forbes is on Etsy. $10 of each print purchase goes to the EFF. "
Miss Eva G posed for me in her SOMA loft, dressed in her own fabulous steampunk finery, with an antique crossbow she brought back from China. The painting took several sittings with Miss E and then many hours of work painting in the detailed background. She is defending early implements of the computer revolution, Jacquard punch cards and IBM cards, a CDV of Ada Byron, and Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 2. An apple core represents Turing, eaten up by the intolerance of his era.
Also prominently displayed are so
me wonderful modern creations- The Steampunk Laptop by Datamancer and the Steampunk Flatpanel and Keyboard by Jake Von Slatt- who were kind enough to allow me use their work in the painting. The packet-sniffing rat under the desk is a nod to the EFF’s most recent victory; the EFF logo appears among the luggage stickers on the trunk. I added the bullet shells at the last minute when I learned that Miss E. is a crack shot.
I've written before about Datamancer, a master steampunk maker whose creations are some of the finest-wrought examples of the form. Now he's posted his latest creation, an elaborate steampunk fancy of a laptop, along with build-notes. It's really something.
This may look like a Victorian music box, but inside this intricately hand-crafted wooden case lives a Hewlett-Packard ZT1000 laptop that runs both Windows XP and Ubuntu Linux. It features an elaborate display of clockworks under glass, engraved brass accents, claw feet, an antiqued copper keyboard and mouse, leather wrist pads, and customized wireless network card. The machine turns on with an antique clock-winding key by way of a custom-built ratcheting switch made from old clock parts.
The Boston Globe's Peter Bebergal has a long feature on steampunk -- including a nice little section on the literary roots of the field -- that discusses the work of makers like von Slatt, Datamancer, Kaden, i-Wei and other Boing Boing favorites:
"The iPhone might be sleek and well-designed within its mode, but there's no way it can compete in luxe qualities with some Victorian equivalent," said author Paul Di Filippo, the first to use the term "steampunk" in a title of a book, "The Steampunk Trilogy." Steampunk "embodies both handicraft and mass-production elements in a rich visual vocabulary totally lacking in today's plastic, cheap-jack gadgets."
These steampunk engineers are also part of a broader surge in the do-it-yourself mind-set, fueled by the sharing spirit of the Web. It was the do-it-yourself spirit that powered the first Apple computers and the early days of the Internet, but much of the technology developed from these things has become a closed system: DRM-protected music, Microsoft's proprietary nature, even the dependence on single carriers for cable television and cellphones. There is a punk ethos to the social communities of today's Web, in which users are trying to wrest content away from the marketers and commercial media. But hard technology has mostly resisted this little rebellion. When opening up your computer to hack around a little bit for fun voids your warranty, better to leave it alone until it's time to buy a new one.
Master steampunk maker Richard "Datamancer" Nagy is the subject of this three-minute short video from the Wall Street Journal. Nagy talks eloquently about his steampunk urges, but what really stands out are the moving images of his superb creations, which have often been featured here.
The designer of this hand-built steampunk PC explains his motives: "Due to both the lack of creativity in most of the technically inclined and refinements in plastic forming and mass production, the home computer was denied what I feel to be the proudest time in the life of any technological device. It was robbed of the fleeting, wonderful period right after invention, where it is celebrated and honored by the finest craftsman and creative minds, and given a structure befitting its potential and greatness. It was essentially denied a 'novelty period'."