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December 16, 2005

Filed under: fiction»brainjuice

Meathook Remix

Reflections on a USB/Gamecube/PS2/Dreamcast adapter from Lik-Sang.

The day that the United States crashes, falls apart like the last soggy bits of overcooked fish fillet, I am in a dingy African apartment, watching a young man (who tells me to call him "James Brown" since I cannot possibly pronounce his real name) neurotically twist-tie hundreds of cables into place. The cables wrap around a huge wire structure in the middle of the room. From the back, it is like grey, barren ivy devouring a trellis. From the front, the cables are barely visible. They are hidden behind row upon row upon column upon column of Dreamcasts, a huge wall of obsolete gaming bliss, each glowing orange triangle forming a grid of cheery apostrophes.

"Now look," James says, as he finishes the last cable tie and emerges around to my side of the white wall. An old laptop stands on a milkcrate, hooked into the cables. There's a blinking Linux prompt on the screen. James runs ps, looks at a list of bizarrely named programs, nods to himself, and then types:

oasis

All those orange status lights flicker at the same time as the Dreamcasts load a fat chunk of code. Fans kick in as they digest it. And then, as the laptop screen clears, every LED in the wall begins to blink in a pattern, forming a seemingly random binary display. "This," says James, "is the farming database for three towns. Now they will manage their crops, check sale prices from their homes. They will be more efficient." On the bed, his girlfriend yawns and turns the page of a cheap fashion magazine.

I scribble in my notebook. Earlier that day James showed me the "computers" that the farmers will use when they "dial in" to the cluster of networked Sega hardware. To my surprise, they are not cased in plastic and resin but in wooden boxes, carefully carved and heavy. Opening one reveals a mish-mash of parts--a hand-soldered breadboard, a DVD drive with the PS2 logo still on the front, a Palm VIII with the backplate missing and the antenna wired to chunks of circuitry I can't identify (though they are vaguely familiar). An old IBM Presario keyboard plugs into the front. I write:

remix culture vs. grim meathook

James tells me that all of the parts came from overseas friends who went dumpster-diving, or bought the technology in bulk on eBay. Some of it is likely stolen, but none of it is really worth anything, so no serious effort was made to catch the thieves. "You throw so much away," he says, shaking his head. "And what did you need it for in the first place?" I ask him if he had heard about the initiatives from a few years back, to create cheap, wireless, hand-cranked laptops for developing economies, and James laughs. "Why would we want that?" he asks. "What would we use them for? To look on the Internet, measure how poor we are?"

I have no idea where to go with this. I just find my train of thought running somewhere along these lines nowadays. The Grim Meathook Future is (c) 2005 Josh "No Relation to Warren" Ellis.

Future - Present - Past