The annual southern Californian convocation known as Grindfest has come and gone again. Appropriate for the times, the gathering was themed around conflict and discord, with a view towards scientific resolution and also a fair amount of devilry. The general air of friendliness and acceptance which is a hallmark of all these events was all the more appropriate for that, and all attendees were excited to begin work. People gathered in groups to test theories and devices.
The first day, as people and groups poured in, was marked by a great deal of boisterous (but carefully monitored) experiments. A number of improvised shock weapons had been invented and were brought to be tested on volunteers. An electric Captain America shield, made by noted bodyhacker and general electrical enthusiast Mark Proteus, was tossed around. It was capable of administering a fairly unpleasant shock, and certain people who didn’t know that turning off a device isn’t enough to disperse current in a circuit learned some valuable – nay unforgettable- lessons.
In the evening, once the group was fully assembled, a discussion of general rules of conduct was had and various testing plans set up. Emphasis was placed on ensuring that people would have full information available before proceeding with an activity, which was important for groups of people who don’t have regular contact and may not be familiar with general guidelines of safety. Grinders as a community are often stuck between the impulse to indulge in the pointedly dangerous as a form of art and the conscious desire to do no harm to others, so this was a proactive and positive step taken in advance of any injuries. Of course, it was taken shortly before combatants entered a wire-lined scream arena and fenced with electric knives.
The evening progressed in spirit of good humor, with the general air of a sporting competition adding to the energy. Later on, baseline/stressed metabolic data was collected with the help of some light waterboarding, which was a truly eye-opening experience for several of the participants. (Significant enlightenments on the topic of whether or not it was torture, for example, were a recurring theme.) The first evening closed with a discussion of the significance of religion in conflict, and what, if any, possible developments in a theorized ‘technology of religion’ could be made. Considerable nonsense was advanced and discarded in lively discussion.
The next day, the group decamped for a desert retreat, where further discussions on pain tolerance and the nature of conflict continued, punctuated by gunfire and the occasional explosion as various devices were tested- always at a minimum safe distance. Several rounds of modified antipersonnel ammunition were tested on ballistic gel torsos, but overpenetration proved to be a killer for effective testing. The original plan- to conduct some scenario paintball involving capture the flag and traps of varying ferocity- was thankfully discarded in favor of more desert exploration and range shooting. Into the evening, as the desert sky turned dim, we were treated to the sight of two cyborgs in amicable conversation loading and firing a black powder musket and punching holes through the various targets.
The next day the caravan returned from the deep desert with a new appreciation of OSHA guidelines. The day was spent preparing for a long run of new implant installations, as well as discussions about recently released products. Representatives of Grindhouse Wetware discussed their forthcoming releases, and much was made of the newer Firefly 2.0 coated tritium implants (which are quite impressive when you see them in normal darkness, but especially interesting contrasts in starlight). Details of new implant coatings were discussed and a regimen of testing prepared to help with a long-term goal of the grinder community, settling on a common implant coating that would be easier to produce and share in large quantity. Several people volunteered to be triple implant recipients to test three different coatings to establish a baseline for reject rates- the kind of science the grinders are known for, certainly, but undertaken with utterly clear-eyed determination and willingness.
The last major revelation of the weekend was a new microwave surgical cautery, set up with the original intention of performing radio frequency burn cautery brands on those who volunteered. A little casual experimentation on store-bought meat revealed that the settings on the device, which ranged from “upsettingly easy to use” to “a horrifying quantity of vaporized porkbelly,” were not suited for artistic purposes. Several attendees got small placeholders for later designs, however, and the machine was an interesting diversion on the way to more sophisticated efforts
The end of the final day is always a melancholy time. The departure of the various groups, some of them still wincing and smarting from new implants, is cause for fond farewells. It is a time for reflection on the future direction of Grindfest as a whole. This year had fewer new scientific advances, as much of the development in the last year has come from refining existing implants instead of crafting entirely new ones. The conscious decision to exclude the press (with certain ill-advised exceptions) was also new, but one that preserved the convivial atmosphere that characterizes the best research groups. For future events it was mentioned that exceptions may be made if the journalists will get modified during their time at the festival – a proposal that meets with my full-throated approval. The final evening saw the community meditatively drawn together around various projects, until with the coming of dawn a last round of installs drew down the curtain and the last of the crews departed to their home bases.
Grindfest is a time of curious renewal. For all that it has a certain grim aesthetic, and certainly never shuns a chance to present a ghoulish face, it is a time of camaraderie and one that strives, every year. The group grows and becomes more diverse every year. Not only new people, but new schools of thought, new fields of research enter the group – materials science and nootropics are becoming popular fields of endeavor, as well as, bizarrely, black powder musketry. And already, people are diagramming circuits, designing stacks, and practicing their fencing for next year.
Photos courtesy of Jes Waldrop.