Tagsteampunk

#Burgerpunk

Short sci-fi by Tim Maughan:

“‘Burgerpunk?’” Tamsin squinted at me over the rim of her ironically ugly spex. “And that’s…what?”

Her eyes aimed down again, I could tell she was reading from some non-existent document floating in her own private space, my portfolio I presumed. It was also painfully obvious this was the first time she’d seen it. I stifled a sigh.

“Well…it’s a phrase I coined when I was in Shanghai. It’s…let me think. You know what steampunk is, right? Do you remember that?” She was probably too young.

“Sort of.” She half nodded. “Vaguely. Cogs and robots dressed as Colonial Saunders. Airships.”

“Yeah, that’s it. Pretty much. It was this romanticised idea of Victorian Britain but with this…this steam powered technology stuff. Anyway it got really popular in the States mainly, the reasoning being it allowed Americans to fetishise this sanitised, romanticised British Empire, because they’d never had one. I mean they had an economic, military and cultural empire – but not a physical, old school empire with an exciting history, right? Their empire never showed up on any maps.”

“Okay.”

“So, the Chinese have the same problem, right, but slightly different – they’ve got this economic and maybe military empire, but they don’t even have a cultural one. Because of the language thing. Nobody outside China apart from a few nerds is watching Chinese movies, reading Chinese comics. So they’ve started fetishising America’s cultural empire. Burgerpunk.”

“Right.” It didn’t seem like Tamsin was completely following me, but I carried on regardless. It was too late to stop, I guess.

“So over in Shanghai and Beijing they’ve got all these AR parks and shopping malls and restaurants, where these salary men and factory workers take their families, and they can sit and eat burgers and milkshakes in fake ‘50s diners served by robots that look like Ronald Reagan and Lady Gaga while clips of the Vietnam war play on flat screens. Just outside Beijing there’s actually a theme park where you can dress up like gang members, and drive around this hyper-real recreation of an anonymous LA retail park – all burger franchises and outlet stores – in replicas of exactly the sort of gas-guzzling US muscle cars that the Chinese government has just had to ban.”

Full Story: The Orphan: #Burgerpunk

Real-Life Steampunk Wants to Hack the Power Grid

Danielle Fong

Caleb Garling, my colleague at Wired Enterprise, writes:

You might think of Danielle Fong as a real-life incarnation of Steampunk, that science-fiction literary genre that re-imagines Victorian technology in a post-apocalyptic future. The difference is that her prototype isn’t fiction. Fong’s original plan was to put her tanks into cars. She holds up Elon Musk, the founder of electric car pioneer Tesla, as a role model. “He was willing to go all out,” she says. But rather than equip cars with combustable engines or rechargeable batteries, LightSail planned to fill them with compressed air. The hot air would drive the pistons in a new breed of automobile engine.

But after a nudge from their backers, Fong and team decided that — whatever Musk has accomplished with Tesla — convincing old-school automakers to put these tanks into their vehicles was an almost insurmountable task. So she chose another almost insurmountable task: Reinvent the power grid.

Full Story: Wired Enterprise: Steam Punk Remakes Power Grid with Compressed Air

Researchers Trying to Build a Functioning Babbage’s Analytical Engine

 A photo of the Difference Engine constructed by the Science Museum based on the plans for Charles Babbage's Difference Engine No. 2

A photo of the Difference Engine constructed by the Science Museum based on the plans for Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 2 by geni

Forget big data:

The project follows the successful effort by a group at the museum to replicate a far less complicated Babbage invention: the Difference Engine No. 2, a calculating machine composed of roughly 8,000 mechanical components assembled with a watchmaker’s precision. That project was completed in 1991.

The new effort — led by John Graham-Cumming, a programmer, and Doron Swade, a former curator at the museum — has already digitized Babbage’s surviving blueprints for the Analytical Engine. But the challenges of building it are daunting.

In the case of the Difference Engine, a complete set of plans existed. The Analytical Engine, by contrast, was a work in progress, as Babbage continually refined his thinking in a series of blueprints. Thus, the hope is to “crowd-source” the analysis of what should be built; plans will be posted online next year, and the public will be invited to offer suggestions.

New York Times: It Started Digital Wheels Turning

How to Do Asian Steampunk Right

Zheng Yi Sao, 19th centry female pirate
Zheng Yi Sao, 19th centry female pirate

Jess Nevins wrote an article on “the problem with Asian steampunk.” Nevins points out that most people default to ninjas, samurai and geishas when they try to do Asian steampunk, but there’s a much richer world of possibilities. “Pirates, submarine captains, hard-boiled reporters, female private detectives… these are all part of east Asian history and popular culture in the steampunk era. Steampunk writers and cosplayers, expand your horizons!”

Here are some examples:

  • Zeppelin pirates are a staple of steampunk, but nautical pirates were a reality in the waters of Southeast Asia. Notable among these were the female pirates, from Zheng Yi Sao and Cai Qian in the beginning of the 19th century to Lo Hon Cho and Lai Choi San in the early part of the 20th century. These women were captains and admirals, commanding dozens of ships and leading them into battle from the front, gaining reputations as fierce fighters. According to a contemporary Chinese account Cai Qian Ma even commanded ships with crews of niangzijun, “women warriors.”
  • The hardboiled, crime-solving reporter was a part of Western mystery fiction from the 1880s, but in real life there were large numbers of reporters just like that in China, especially Shanghai, where the competition between newspapers was intense and reporters and editors did anything they could for a hot scoop. These newspapers were modeled on American and English newspapers, and though many of them were aimed at the Europeans in China, some were written by Chinese for Chinese.
  • Roguish treasure-hunters need not automatically be white. Since the 11th century there has been a tradition among Nyingma Buddhists in Bhutan and Tibet of a special class of lamas, the gter-ston or “treasure hunters,” who “discover” gter-ma (scriptural treasures) which have supposedly been hidden away during the Buddha’s lifetime so that they can be found and revealed to the world at a foreordained time. The gter-ston were active through the 19th century, and while some were genuine many were fraudulent.

TOR: The Problem With “Asian Steampunk”

Steampunk Band Releases Single on Wax Cylinder

Cylinder Records

The band The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing will be releasing a single on a wax cylinder:

One track of their next album, called Now That’s What I Call Steampunk – Volume One, will be available on a wax cylinder. The CD album and single wax cylinder track will be available from 1 June.

“As far as we’re aware, it’s the first album to be sold with (at least a partial) wax cylinder release for the best part of a century,” she said.

Anyone buying one of the 40 copies of the track on wax will also get instructions for building a phonograph to play the cylinder.

BBC: Tech Know: A journey into sound

(Thanks Bill!)

The art of Tom Gauld

end level boss

noisy alphabet

Tom Gauld’s web site

(via Jorn’s shared items)

How Robber Barons hijacked the “Victorian Internet”

In many ways this story is far field from our contemporary debates about network management, file sharing, and the perils of protocol discrimination. But the main questions seem to remain the same—to what degree will we let Western Union then and ISPs now pick winners and losers on our communications backbone? And when do government regulations grow so onerous that they discourage network investment and innovation?

These are tough questions, but the horrific problems of the “Victorian Internet” suggest that government overreach isn’t the only thing to fear. In 1876, laissez-faire “freedom for all” meant (in practice) the freedom for Henry Nash Smith to read your telegrams if he didn’t like who you supported for President. It meant freedom for Associated Press to block criticism of Western Union, and even to put potential critics and competitors out of business. And it meant freedom for a scoundrel to hijack the system at his leisure.

Sure enough, the technologies and debates are different. Still, one wonders what Charles A. Sumner would say today if told that net neutrality is a “solution to a problem that hasn’t happened yet.”

Ars Technica: How Robber Barons hijacked the “Victorian Internet”

(via Social Physicist)

Biomass-Eating Military Robot Is a Vegetarian, Company Says

There’s an update to this story:

contrary to reports, including one that appeared on FOXNews.com, the EATR will not eat animal or human remains.

Dr. Bob Finkelstein, president of RTI and a cybernetics expert, said the EATR would be programmed to recognize specific fuel sources and avoid others.

“If it’s not on the menu, it’s not going to eat it,” Finkelstein said.

“There are certain signatures from different kinds of materials” that would distinguish vegetative biomass from other material.”

Fox News: Biomass-Eating Military Robot Is a Vegetarian, Company Says

(Thanks Theoretick)

Upcoming Military Robot Could Feed on Dead Bodies

Update: Company says the robot will not eat dead bodies.

A Maryland company under contract to the Pentagon is working on a steam-powered robot that would fuel itself by gobbling up whatever organic material it can find — grass, wood, old furniture, even dead bodies.

Robotic Technology Inc.’s Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot — that’s right, “EATR” — “can find, ingest, and extract energy from biomass in the environment (and other organically-based energy sources), as well as use conventional and alternative fuels (such as gasoline, heavy fuel, kerosene, diesel, propane, coal, cooking oil, and solar) when suitable,” reads the company’s Web site.

That “biomass” and “other organically-based energy sources” wouldn’t necessarily be limited to plant material — animal and human corpses contain plenty of energy, and they’d be plentiful in a war zone.

Fox News: Upcoming Military Robot Could Feed on Dead Bodies

(via OVO)

Steam powered prosthetic arm

steam powered prosthetic arm

Goldfarb reckoned that current battery tech was never going to offer an arm with decent strength and endurance at a reasonable weight. He’d previously run up against these limitations working on a DARPA exoskeleton project, and he reckoned he had the solution: the arm needed to be powered by a small rocket motor.

No, really. Goldfarb’s design uses high-test hydrogen peroxide fuel, formerly used mainly in rockets and torpedoes. Concentrated peroxide breaks down in the presence of a catalyst to produce high-pressure steam and oxygen. In Goldfarb’s arm, the vapour is used to drive pistons, just as in a steam engine: but rather than turning a wheel, the various pistons heave in or let out tension belts against springs so as to bend or straighten the elbow, wrist, fingers, etc.

According to Goldfarb, a small sealed canister of hydrogen peroxide that easily fits in the upper arm can provide enough energy to power the device for 18 hours of normal activity.

There have been a few little problems, though. The steam comes out of the generator unit at oven-like 230-degrees-C temperatures, making parts of the arm baking hot. But Goldfarb and his team have used strategically-placed insulation “to reduce surface temperatures enough so they are safe to touch”. An initial tendency to hiss and chuff noisily was fixed, too.

The Register: US boffins demo steampunk artificial arm

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