The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'cyberpunk'
In VICE's Motherboard forum, Claire Evans (one half of hippyish art-rave duo YACHT) interviews various science fiction authors about what happened to cyberpunk:
William Gibson: Cyberpunk today is a standard Pantone shade in pop culture. You know it when you see it.
Benjamin Rosenbaum: Just as the innovation of the early rock and rollers and the British Invasion had degenerated (from the punk rock perspective) into the bloated pretensions, the light shows and orchestral follies, of 70s dinosaur bands, so too the authentic speculation of Golden Age SF had degenerated into a series of tropes — FTL galactic empires, humanoid aliens, nefarious AIs, loyal robots — which represented (to the cyberpunks), not thinking about the future, but merely using it as a set dressing. The real future was happening all around them, in waves of privatization and deregulation and postindustrialism and the end of jobs-for-life, in the Apple ][s and 7800 baud modems and BBSs… and the dinosaur bands of SF were ignoring it in favor of the light shows of interstellar colonialist adventure. Now, of course, cyberpunk itself has suffered the same fate. Noir antiheroes in mirrorshades and black trenchcoats hacking into corporate and government systems, the internet envisioned as an immersive (even physically invasive) world — these are no longer daring speculations: they are Hollywood staples. The internet is here and much of its nomenclature derives from cyberpunk’s visions; the world is full of the real-life successors of Case and Hiro — network manipulators with flexible moralities, independent streaks, and a willingness to hide in the nooks and crannies of the Matrix — from Nigerian scammers to Julian Assange. But of course, now that they’re real, they’re harder to imagine as Keanu Reeves saving the day.
Pat Cadigan: Nothing “happened,” it’s just more evenly distributed now.
Douglas Rushkoff: For most people, it was surrendered to the cloud. For those who understand, it stayed on their hard drives.
Neal Stephenson: It evolved into birds.
Bruce Bethke: But out here in the larger world time has moved on, and those kinds of stories look as quaint now as did Chesley Bonestell’s beautiful 1950s spaceship art after Apollo landed on the Moon. The cyberpunk trope, as a literary form, is still stuck firmly in the 1980s, with no hope of ever breaking free.
Jack Womack: Last time I saw cyberpunk I threw 25 cents in its hat.
In Brazil, the street finds its own uses for obsolescent US military satellites. For over a decade, Brazilians, from long-haul truck drivers and villagers out of the reach of the mobile phone networks of the cities to illegal loggers and organised crime factions, have been bouncing radio signals off a US Navy satellite system using jury-rigged off-the-shelf amateur radio equipment. The satellite system, known as FLTSATCOM to its owners, is colloquially referred to as "Bolinha", or "little ball".
To use the satellite, pirates typically take an ordinary ham radio transmitter, which operates in the 144- to 148-MHZ range, and add a frequency doubler cobbled from coils and a varactor diode. That lets the radio stretch into the lower end of FLTSATCOM's 292- to 317-MHz uplink range. All the gear can be bought near any truck stop for less than $500. Ads on specialized websites offer to perform the conversion for less than $100. Taught the ropes, even rough electricians can make Bolinha-ware.
Truck drivers love the birds because they provide better range and sound than ham radios. Rogue loggers in the Amazon use the satellites to transmit coded warnings when authorities threaten to close in. Drug dealers and organized criminal factions use them to coordinate operations.
When real criminals use these frequencies, it's easy to tell they're hiding something, but it's nearly impossible to know what it is. In one intercepted conversation posted to YouTube, a man alerts a friend that he should watch out, because things are getting "crispy" and "strong winds" are on their way. Sometimes loggers refer to the approach of authorities by saying, "Santa Claus is coming," says Brochi.One problem for the users is that the US military is still using the satellites (a replacement network isn't due online until later this year), and don't appreciate their communications being degraded by cheering football fans and random dodgy dealers. Bolinha activity is illegal, both in Brazil, and the US, and the authorities don't have too many problems triangulating the signals.
The crackdown, called "Operation Satellite," was Brazil's first large-scale enforcement against the problem. Police followed coordinates provided by the U.S. Department of Defense and confirmed by Anatel, Brazil's FCC. Among those charged were university professors, electricians, truckers and farmers, the police say. The suspects face up to four years and jail, but are more likely to be fined if convicted.("Operation Satellite?" Either something got lost in translation, or the people who name operations at the Brazilian federal police aren't the most imaginative bunch. Surely high-level operations should have cryptic, vaguely abstract names, redolent either of neo-Classical grandeur or square-jawed military machismo, like, say, "Operation Prometheus" or "Piranha December Blue" or something. But "Operation Satellite?")
In February of last year, FCC investigators used a mobile direction-finding vehicle to trace rogue transmissions to a Brazilian immigrant in New Jersey. When the investigators inspected his radio gear, they found a transceiver programmed to a FLTSAT frequency, connected to an antenna in the back of his house. Joaquim Barbosa was hit with a $20,000 fine.
(via Boing Boing)
Yet steampunk has also evolved as an aesthetic unto itself, drawing on a number of diverse references. Goth, which has its own anachronistic sensibility, borrowing heavily from Victorian styles such as corsets, offers an early glimpse of steampunk. Punk lent elements of leather and metal, as well as the DIY attitude. The film "Brazil" is of particular inspiration, where technology looks like junk, and the rebel fights against a technocratic authority. But one of the most important influences has to be Japanese animation, or anime, which is replete with images of mechanical robots, neo-Zeppelin starships, goggle-wearing hackers, and the melding of the techno with the organic.
Objects like the Infumationizer show that steampunk is also simply a love of the fantastic. Steampunk hackers are often science fiction geeks at heart. There's a love of things that don't exist, except in some alternate world, like the "Peltier-Seebeck Recycled Energy Generating Device" and the "Aetheric Flux Agitator Mk2." One of Datamancer's other inventions is a modified enclosure for his desktop computer, which he calls "The Nagy Magical-Movable-Type Pixello-Dynamotronic Computational Engine." He used the cabinet of 1920 tube radio, a turn of the century Underwood typewriter, and various parts and pieces to create a functional, completely anachronistic, impossibly real computer.
In all of the new steampunk design there is a strong nostalgia for a time when technology was mysterious and yet had a real mark of the craftsperson burnished into it, like the "Nagy" of Datamancer's "computational engine." In the Victorian era and at the turn of the century, people watched in astonishment as technology changed their lives, but they were also in awe of the inventors and scientists, some of whom became celebrities in their own right, like Edison and Tesla.The article mentions that steampunk is partly a rejection of the disposable, opaquely unmodifiable nature of consumer electronics today, and a sort of technological libertarianism, akin to the copyfighters who oppose DRM and the hackers who crack the locks on gadgets from XBoxes to iPhones because the locks' presence offends them.