Archive for June, 2007

Mechanical Clockwork Screensaver

clock_screen02.jpg

Found via Brass Goggles, here is a really cool  mechanical clock screensaver. It was free for a day which I seemed to have missed but even the shareware version, which has some limitations is pretty cool. Check it out here.

http://www.3planesoft.com/pages/clock.html

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Wooden Robots!

fujinraijin.jpg

Via Wired Blog Network) Someone in Japan has the excellent idea of making wooden robots, the result is just amazing. The website is in Japanese but even if you cannot read Japanese the eyecandy on the website is good enough that its worth a visit. Here is the URL:

http://take-g.com/crafts/big.html

Retrofuturism and the meaning of Steampunk, Clockpunk etc

Henry Jenkins (via BoingBoing) has an essay on the origins of Retrofuturism and Steampunk. Jenkins explains the origins of retro-futurism in the essay and besides it has a stamp of approval by Cory Doctorow so its highly recommended. Here is an excerpt.

From the start, however, science fiction has also functioned as a genre which enabled us to reflect upon the past. Time travel stories, such as H.G. Well’s “The Time Machine,” were among the first science fiction stories written, even though the metaphor of traveling back into history fit rather poorly within the rationalist scientific discourse that otherwise defined early science fiction as a genre. To tell such stories, one had to shed the idea that the genre was governed by reasonable and plausible extrapolation based on known science. Time travel stories, such as Orson Scott Card’s PastWatch or Sterling’s “Mozart in Mirrorshades,” (also published in the Mirrorshades collection), continue to have currency. A second strand of science fiction, alternative history, takes us back to key historical turning points and asks what if scenarios, imaging how the world might have taken a very different shape if the outcomes had been different; alternative future stories, thus, imagine what would happen if the South had won the Civil War, if the United States had not entered World War II, or if Stalin had continued to dominate the Soviet Union down to the present day. A third strand of science fiction seeks to extrapolate based not on contemporary understandings of science but rather on earlier historical formulations, constructing science fiction stories based on ancient Greek, early modern, or Victorian conceptions of science. The term, “steampunk,” was coined to refer to science fiction which built on Victorian society and technology, a genre inspired as much by contemporary representations of the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, as by anything actually produced during the late 19th century. Sterling and Gibson’s The Difference Engine, explores what might have happened if Charles Babbage’s experiments had been successful, paving the way for a pre-20th century version of the digital revolution. Finally, retrofuturism takes earlier science fiction as its raw materials, revisiting mid-20th century constructions of the future from a more contemporary perspective. For the purposes of this essay, I will be focusing on works that mobilize the iconography that emerged through Hugo Gernsback’s pulp science fiction magazines, through Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon comic strip, through films like Just Imagine and Things to Come, and through the 1939 New York World’s Fair, among other sources, but there are other retrofuturist works – for example, Christian Gossett’s comic book series, Red Star, which built on Soviet science fiction and socialist utopian literature – that revisit other historical constructions of the future. These various subgenres suggest that science fiction may be as effective as a genre for imagining the past as it is as a genre for projecting the future or commenting on the present and the key point is that its social commentary works by reading one time period against another.

Check out the full essay here.

“The Tomorrow That Never Was”: Retrofuturism in the Comics of Dean Motter (Part One)

Clockwork Girl

cw-girl.jpg

Clockwork girl is a new comic book which is basically a new and unique take on the Romeo and Juliet story where “Juliet’s” family believe in the superiority of technology and the family of “Romeo” believes in the superiority of biology. As the title suggests the “Juliet” is a Clockwork automata. Here is a description of the story by the author.

A nameless robot girl has recently been given the gift of life from her creator. While exploring the wonders of an ordinary world, she meets an amazing mutant boy and they share a friendship that must overcome their warring families.

The Tinker is the Clockwork Girl’s creator and the world’s leading machine scientist. He blames the natural sciences for holding back the machine age with a zealous fervor.

Dendrus is the Tinker’s former friend, chief rival and the creator of Huxley, the monster boy. He cares for his “son” a great deal, but is overly protective and shelters his son as much as he can.

Huxley, the monster boy, is just like every other pre-adolescent boy, only more so. He’s reckless and emotional, impulsive, but has a good heart. He wants to be free of his father’s restrictions regardless if the world is ready for him.

The Clockwork Girl is innocent, curious, but not stupid. She looks at strangers like a kid in a candy store and wants to know everything about this new world around her.

T-Bolt is the Clockwork Girl’s older “brother” and the Tinker’s first automaton. He’s not as primitive as he might appear, nor as a harmless.

Maddox is Huxley’s best friend, and the only sane one in the entire story. He likes apples.

The Duck Automata of Vaucanson

One of the most famous automata builders of the 18th century was Jacques de Vaucanson about whom Voltaire said, ” “A rival to Prometheus, [Vaucanson] seemed to steal the heavenly fires in his search to give life.” Although he built a large number of automatas his most famous was the duck automata (pictured above). The automata could flap its wings, and even eat grain. A replica of the duck has been created at a Museum in Grenoble, France. The following is an excerpt from Wikipedia on the cultural impact of the Duck automata.

The Digesting Duck of France was unveiled by its creator, Jacques de Vaucanson, as the first automaton able to metabolise food and digest it, expelling waste just as a mortal duck, in the spring of 1739. During The Enlightenment, a time of mechanisation of labour, the idea that human beings could be replaced by these enigmatic, never-tiring aberrations of nature created a cultural revolution. These mechanisations of eighteenth-century France probably inspired the illustrious duck of the master toy-maker, Jacques de Vaucanson, which won the heart and admiration of the whole of Europe.

Vaucanson’s Digesting Duck followed the principles of Descartes’s mechanistic universe, and bolstered the Enlightenment-era belief that animals were just meat machines, but automatons nonetheless. The ability to create life no longer was the domain of God and of living organisms, but was now captive in the hands of man’s genius. These ideas terrified and excited many people, but were one of the major ideological changes from a natural to a mechanistic world view.

Vaucanson quickly capitalised on the commercial success of his first android, modelled after a recent sculpture by Antoine Coysevox then in the gardens of the Palais des Tuileries, with the launch of a shepherd who played the tabor and pipe. The most acclaimed member of Vaucanson’s trinity of entertaining equipment, however, was the notorious eating, digesting, and defecating duck. Whereas the rustic flutist inhaled, exhaled, and dexterously moved his fingers over a musical instrument, this barnyard variant of Phil’s and Hero’s bejewelled birds eagerly swallowed kernels of grain to excrete them in the metamorphosed shape of pellets. Unfortunately, this amazing transformation proved fraudulent. The delicate droppings were not the natural result of simulated peristalsis, but of a secondary device triggering the sphincter where a masticated plop lay hidden.


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“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.” - Leonardo Da Vinci