Earlier this year my wife and I spent a day walking around a steampunk festival in Waltham, MA. Some of the festival was a little weird; a large contingent of sci-fi fetishists were wandering around in clothing that was covered in broken watch parts, and other elaborately contrived devices. But some of the festival was interesting. And the Charles River Museum of Industry was showing off a number of cool things. It sparked a number of conversations about art, and technology, and so on.
One of the things that I finally noticed is that all of the fantastic contraptions, contrived as they are, are designed to augment humanity, and not to replace it. I saw a costume with an oversized mechanical hand. There was a painting of a huge mechanical creature with four arms, controlled by a brain in a jar, that was even more outlandish. (Outlandish, but still being controlled by a human brain.) And in the realm of the real, there was an old watch case engraving device on display in the museum; it took normal human movements within a 2 foot circle, and scaled them down in speed and scope to fit those designs onto watch cases. This would enable a normal person to engrave the finest of details in silver, without needing such fine motor skills and perfect eyesight. It was really cool. Real or imagined, the machines still imply and require the presence of a human mind to make everything work. But my biggest concern with steampunk (fetishist costumes aside) is that the notion of humans accomplishing incredible things, even with mechanical embellishment, is starting to be regarded as fantasy.
|The Everett Mill|
My building superintendent told me a few things that he learned about the neighboring building that he learned while they were preparing to turn it into condos. The walls taper in thickness going up, but it’s so gracefully done that it’s not obvious without using a plumb line. They surveyed it before turning it into condos. The diagonals of each floor were measured to see how square the building was, and the diagonals differed by three quarters of an inch. This kind of detail is impressive on its own, but more so when you consider that it’s a 7 story building hundreds of feet long, made of hand laid brick.
|The Wood Mill|