Biohack conference 4th april, 2016

Bionyfiken put together Swedens first biomaker conference in Stockholm this spring, and of course I went. There was a mix of speakers and topics, and most of them were overviews of organisations rather than actual projects or knowledge-sharing. Overall the mood was more of a meet-n-greet for folks involved in related areas. The title of the conference was “biomaker” rather than “biohacker” which might be more inclusive; even though “hacking” has a better reputation today than ten years ago there’s still a stigma associated with it.

One can’t have everything one would like, but I missed more speculative ideas of what the movement is about – we speak of a “maker movement” and this has over time crystalized into an understaning of what fablabs are and what hacklabs are, and I guess it will get easier with time to see what people are actually doing and use that as a basis for defining the movement. But apart from a brief introduction by one of the hosts, there was very little overlap between the different presenters, outside of the fact that they’re all working with “biological systems” in one way or another.

For me, who’s not coming from a technical background I would have appreciated a “state of biohacking” presentation. Legislation, economics, ambitions, open source or not, culture, etc – are all issues which could have been covered – and I hope they show up more on the next conference.


a few of the participants deal with quantified self – something which overlaps with the selling of pills or books about regiments – and although I don’t have the self discipline to participate in that part of the movement I appreciate that people are doing it, and it will likely provide a trove of data for later scientific analysis provided that there are control studies, that people are rigorous in their logging and that there are protocols which allow for accurate tracking.

Nevertheless, and intersting overlap with quantified self is the grinder community, and it’s overlapping mostly because it’s about modifying ones own body. In the presentation by Jowan Österlund from BioHax International he talked mostly about the technology of today and specifically NFC implants for managing access – but he envisioned that implantables will become more sofisticated and possibly have computing power and be able to internface with our bodies, and not only work as sensors. This would then overlap with the QS group in that they would have to come up with what they’d like these implants to do – at this point we will be more of the cyborgs as we’ve envisioned them in popular fiction, and we’ll have a more direct way of manipulating our bodies; not only through nootropics and other supplements working through the digestive or blood system, but perhaps stimulate a particular set of neurons directly.

Today though, I don’t really see the point of NFC implants beyond the apparent convenience of having your buss pass with you at all times. It ties into the Internet of Things movement, and considering how positive most people – even hacktivists who ought to know better – are to IoT, it’s not an empowering technology but rather one which turns you into a node, a Thing on Internet. Which I can’t for the life of me see as something positive as a whole, considering how the internet works and the obvious risks of exploits and nefarious uses, but also because of the unavoidable feature of being data mined by commercial and state enteties – or even just your neighbour. But that’s a different diatribe.

iGEM was represented by Gustav Edman from Gothenburg who gave the most technical presentation of the conference – unfortunately an overly technical presentation in parts – but that’s what you get from a mixed crowd and different expectations.


I’ve been thinking about possible future scenarios a bit, and since no-one covered those topics in the first session I asked to put up a sign at the unconference after lunch, soliciting peoples’ ideas for “the unintended concequences of biohacking”. I had some interesting conversations, but I didn’t get a single submission. Not very surprising seeing as I was competing with people who had actual information and knowledge to share, and not just a questioneer solicitng speculation. Regardless, I’ll try to follow up if for no other reason than that such a collection of speculations would be an interesting document ten or twenty years down the line, when we could match our predictions with what actually happen. Part of the whole “unintended consequences” thing is that what is unintended is also exceedingly difficult to predict. Also, because I hadn’t prepared any material I was just assuming that poeple understood the question in the same way as I did: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Another thing: Because the DIY movement is relatively new within biology, there’s little talk of drawbacks or negative consequences (not that “unintended” has to be “bad” mind you) and there’s also of course a defensive posture of people who are working hard on their projects. I guess asking “so, how will your project fuck shit up?” isn’t the best conversation starter. People are more likely to start talking about the obstacles to their success, or what the prerequisites are, rather than what might go wrong – which they haven’t even predicted yet.

The Swedish memory champion – apparently memory sport is a thing? – did a presentation, but I can’t really recall what it was about. I thought it was cute that the company that he was working with (if I recall correctly) were selling over-the-counter nootropics, and proudly diplayed “No GMO’s” on the label. I don’t know if that raised any discussions at the conference, but I guess it ought to. A Pakistani researcher I spoke with was upset that the whole GMO/anti-GMO debate was so polarised in the EU, and that we have Monsanto on one side and enviromentalists on the other, with not enough in common to actually carry on a discussion.


Probably the most rewarding discussion was with Danielle Wilde who is running a university sponsored course in DIY bio in Kolding, Denmark. She teaches students how to set up a wetlab, about protocols, educating citizen scientists and engaging the city of Kolding. Her’s was an interesting presentation and I’d love to be able to participate in something like that. Most of the course material is based on the Waag society curriculum for creating a biolab, and either of those places would be awesome to visit and study at.

There were people presenting trans cranial direct current stimulation – but no hands on presentation that I could find – and others doing simulated electronic body control; letting one person with electrodes on her arm control the arm of a test subject. That one had a live demo but the queue was more than I thought worth it. You can see a demo of it at TED, and it seems to be a straight-forward experiment.

One thing I was hoping to achieve with the conference was to get inspiration enough to continue exploring biohacking in Gothenburg, perchance even to meet someone to cooperate with. The latter didn’t pan out, but the conference was inspiring enought that I’m going to keep at it. At the moment, I’m starting up Laborator: Gothenburgs first biohacklab. Right now it’s just a Mailchimp list and a homepage, but we’ve had a few meetings and I’m setting aside a couple of hours each week to getting it up and running. Bionyfiken took three years from inception to first lab, and I’m hoping that by learning from their experience we can get going faster.

MateuszBiohack conference 4th april, 2016

Fever dreams for pun and profit!

Since Sunday evening I’ve been knocked out by a flu. Temperatures well above 39°C and a resting pulse of 110 bpm when lying down. My collegues at work had taken ill previously, and this flu season seems to be extra ambitious. Haven’t been this sick for this long in a while.

Today is the first day I can string a coherent thought together for more than half a minute so I thought I’d write this up. Apart from sweating like crazy in the night, the most disturbing feature of fevers are the dreams. As long as I’m in them I can’t reason myself out. Usually when we speak of dreams we have a common vocabulary—it was you, but it wasn’t you, y’know?—but I can’t for the life of me tell you what the past few days fever dreams were about.

I did come up with an analogy of how I experience fever dreams though, and it’s the similarity to compulsive behaviour. On a lark I started platespotting when we got a car. The idea is that you need to see the plates in consequitive order, with 001 first, then 002, etc. It’s oddly addictive, and whenever I’m out driving I keep one eye on the road and one on the plates of oncoming traffic. I’ve also become proficient in reading numbers in the rear view mirror.

My analogy to the fever dream is this:

When there’s a lot of oncoming traffic, your eyes are zipping back and forth very rapidly, scanning the plates. What number am I looking for? 26! Is that 26? No! What number? 26! Back up, was the last car 26? No. What number? 26! Is that 26? Part of you dissociate into a stream of compulsion, and at least for me this can leave me with mild nausea and a buzzing head.

Fever dreams remind me of this because of the relentless focus and looping. There is something you need to do. Did you do it? Yes. Ok, did you do it? Yes! There is something you need to do! Didn’t I just do it? You need to do it! I’m doing it again. Did you do it? Yes! Ok, do it! I did! There is something you need to do! I did! Do it!

There’s an overwhelming sense of that this is really important and that you have no choice—sometimes it’s more like events are looping rather than your behaviour, but the repetition and the urgency is the same every time. Even if you drift in and out of sleep you’ll still have this sense of urgency, and a suggestion that understanding is just beyond your grasp. Only way to get rid of these dreams is to medicate and lower your temperature.

I found a few explanations of what might be happening in the brain when we have fever dreams, but I didn’t find many descriptions of the dreams themselves. Higher temperature give higher levels of activity, but why not just increase the dopamine and bliss us out in a calm ocean of fluff instead of these repetetive loops? Is this a pure malfunction or is there an evolutionary benefit to these dreams? I didn’t get any hits for “fever” in the journal Dreaming but I’m sure someone must have looked into it somewhere.

In addition to the fever I’ve been coughing my poor lungs out. Someone has taken a parmesan grater to my throat and occasionally I break whatever lining it is which keeps my blood on the inside. If our bodies are made up of 10 times as many foreign cells as our own, they must consider me a very unfair landlord as I’ve been evicting them profusely and colourfully.

I noticed an amusing thing for a couple of hours when the fever was nearing 40°C the other day: I could hear my eyeballs move! It sounded like fabric rubbing together, or perhaps as when you drag your fingernail quickly across fine cotton. Did my brain twig to the electric activity in the muscles or had the muscles swelled and rubbed against something? There’s a condition called SCDS which causes one to hear ones body, but it’s chronic and carries with it other symptoms. Perhaps it wasn’t anything more than the fever and mucous increasing the density somewhere and allowing for some sounds to conduct which normally wouldn’t. This might be the only silver lining to the lung lining I’ve lost.

To the surprise of absolutely no-one there’s a forum for spotters, albeit not very active:

And in Swedish, there’s a mockumentary as well: Albin the platespotter

MateuszFever dreams for pun and profit!

My Saturday, by Mateusz

So for the Mateusz of posterity, lets sum up how I spent my weekend.

Sara was working in Borås Saturday, so I got up early and we had coffee. I played Hearthstone for 30 minutes—only scoring a 3–3 in arena—and then had breakfast. Then I started reading Thinking with type, Ellen Luptons book which is required reading for the 50% typography course I’m taking at the moment, and got one third through. After this I had some more coffee and played Killzone 2 on the PS3. I was at the final boss fight on the hardest setting and didn’t progress any further, which was frustrating but still rewarding for whatever part of my brain which likes to twitch.

After this I cleaned the dark-field condenser for the microscope, and tried fitting a T-adapter to the camera-ocular as well—only after a while realising that I couldn’t test it since my DSLR is at work. I printed the trace mask for the PCB of the gel electrophoresis PSU using GerbView onto different kinds of paper, and using the acetone/alcohol transfer method I tried to get the toner to stick to the copper plate, but no dice. After four attempts I still didn’t have complete transfer. I think the pressure on the board might have been uneven, so I’m going to try to use a vice and planks next time. Also, I used regular 80gsm copier paper as well as preprinted pages from a glossy magazine, which isn’t ideal.

In between the PCB soaks I played more Killzone 2, progressing one or two save-instances, barely. The L3 running control doesn’t work very well since every once in a while it also changes to melee or grenades, and there’s no way to remap individual keys. FPS is such a sham on console, but the couch is so much more comfy than sitting in front of the computer.

In between the toner transfer and Playstation, I was reading about nazis having a demo in Stockholm under the banner or “protecting our women” and looking for immigrant to beat up. The pace at which racism in Sweden is escalating is stunning, and also really depressing. It really starts to remind me of the ambiance of late 80’s, when AFA [Antifascistisk Aktion] started going after neo-nazis. Not until there was a violent anti-fascistic movement did we get any national respons to the racist organisations, and perhaps that’s the case this time as well?

I read a bit more, made scrambled tofu for Sara who came home late, drank some vodka and watched three episodes of Ripper Street. All in all an uneventful day, and while I wouldn’t categorise it as totally wasted, certainly not a day I’d remember had I not decided to write it up here.

MateuszMy Saturday, by Mateusz

Biohacking and the things humans do

The past two years I’ve been trying to read up on synthetic biology. Back when podcasts was a niche and geeky thing I was listening to Changesurfer Radio, which is a transhumanist radioshow which focuses on issues surrounding bioethics and human improvement, and the host Dr J often brought in interesting people to interview and generally gave a broad view of the state of art biotech and its implications. Recently though, and especially since the advent of CRISPR cas9, biohacking has received a lot more attention and seems on the verge of blooming into the next 3D-printer type geeky endeavour.

Since I’m studying alongside work I get access to all kinds of fun databases, but even without university access there is a ton of material available for lay folk who’d like to keep up. O’Reilly has the BioCoder quarterly and recently published the book BioBuilder which I’m going through at the moment – and even though I’m nowhere near being able to synthetic DNA, I’m on my way to building my own PCR machine and at least potentially dabble in genetic manipulation.

Right now, I’m mostly trying to learn to analyse biological things. Which means playing around with the microscope, staining things and doing sections – basically following the outlines in Illustrated Guide to Home Biology Experiments in my own meandering way. What I’m lacking is a clear goal beyond just learning things and following instructions – I guess an idea will pop into my tiny head sooner or later, but without a clear goal everything becomes a gimmick or toy. There aren’t that many biohackers in Gothenburg that I know of, but having a group of people all learning and experimenting together would be swell.

Apart from the practicalities, with synthetic biology looming as a real DIY possibility sooner rather than later, questions of ethics become important. As opposed to autonomous killer robots – where it’s mostly governments which have access to the technology and make decisions on the ethics – biological systems are self-replicating and potentially have reprecussions which scale exponentially, so whatever discussions we’re to have about ethics ought to start now before someone inadvertently or misguidedly creates an invasive species or kill all crops…


Genetic information is some powerful stuff: It can countermand information that’s been passed down through a family, provide a clue to lost relatives, and even offer unexpected insights into one’s origins. But did you ever think that genetic information could be used as an access control? Stumbling around GitHub, I came across this bit of code: Genetic Access Control. Now, budding young racist coders can check out your 23andMe page before they allow you into their website!

→ SD Times Blog, Alex Handy: Using DNA for access control

Across the country, no two community biolabs are alike, and neither are their members. “It’s a real eclectic mix of people,” says Tom Burkett, founder of a brand-new community lab in downtown Baltimore that has already attracted molecular biology graduate students, artists, computer scientists, retirees, and more. “There are a lot of people who are really interested in biotechnology for lots of different reasons, but it wasn’t previously accessible to them.”

→ The Scientist, Megan Scudellari: Biology Hacklabs

Obviously, as Richard Dawkins stressed, there is a difference between suggesting that a fetus ought to be aborted and saying of a child that it ought never to have been born. The latter would be downright vile. Dawkins’ point was this. Systematically deselecting new people with Down’s syndrome shouldn’t concern those already among us. We should be allowed to discuss this possibility without offending anyone. My concern, though, is that this distinction might not be as sharp as Dawkins imagines. Is it possible for someone to contemplate a screening program where the consequence (if not objective) is that these children are no longer born without showing a degrading attitude towards such children?

→ Orienteringsforsøk, Vidar Halgunset: Slow corruption


At age sixteen he fell in with a gang of pickpockets with a particular hustle called “dummy chucking”—street slang for feigning a fit. Clegg had found his calling. Soon, he was traveling the English countryside, chucking dummies while an accomplice picked the pockets of curious onlookers. He chucked dummies in churches and at funerals; arrested, he “chucked a beautiful dummy” in court and was released. Later, convicted of a stabbing and destined for solitary confinement at Milbank, he chucked a dummy and was transferred to the more pleasant airs of Chatham. He chucked again and was sent to Woking, then Dartmoor, Parkhurst, all along the way chucking himself into lighter labor and more benign treatments, until he landed a daily prescription of a pint of porter “to keep up his strength.”

→ Laphams quarterly, Daniel Mason: Rogue Wounds

In my view, the main reason for the uneven management sex ratio is our inability to discern between confidence and competence. That is, because we (people in general) commonly misinterpret displays of confidence as a sign of competence, we are fooled into believing that men are better leaders than women. In other words, when it comes to leadership, the only advantage that men have over women (e.g., from Argentina to Norway and the USA to Japan) is the fact that manifestations of hubris — often masked as charisma or charm — are commonly mistaken for leadership potential, and that these occur much more frequently in men than in women.

→ A.V. Club, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic: Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?

“If someone was uploading animal abuse, a lot of the time it was the person who did it. He was proud of that,” Rob says. “And seeing it from the eyes of someone who was proud to do the fucked-up thing, rather than news reporting on the fucked-up thing—it just hurts you so much harder, for some reason. It just gives you a much darker view of humanity.”

→ Wired, Adrian Chen: The Laborers Who Keep Dick Pics and Beheadings Out of Your Facebook Feed

Today, despite his hospital treatment, Jean Paul still bleeds when he walks. Like many victims, the wounds are such that he’s supposed to restrict his diet to soft foods such as bananas, which are expensive, and Jean Paul can only afford maize and millet. His brother keeps asking what’s wrong with him. “I don’t want to tell him,” says Jean Paul. “I fear he will say: ‘Now, my brother is not a man.'”

The Observer, Will Store: The rape of men: the darkest secret of war

MateuszBiohacking and the things humans do

And returning to the course

So, the “Drawing with a chainsaw” course went well. Together with the course participants we worked through the weekend and produced some big prints. It’s fun to work on such a large scale, but quite exhausting to ink full sized plywood sheets.

Apart from DWACS the rest of spring, summer and fall has passed by like so many blurry trees seen from a tram window. I don’t know what happened, but it feels as though I spaced out for a while. I’ve been trying to learn some chemistry, I have my first steady job ever, and this winter is supposed to be dedicated to biology and some electronics projects.

I took a course called biology for philosophers at the uni – I love how higher education is free in this country – and have been dillentanting my way through biology books, trying to learn how to use the microscope and do stains and PCR and such. I’m learning a lot but not producing much – I lack a context in which to work, and since I don’t have an inner auteur which needs expressing there isn’t an impulse to create stuff.

Maybe part of my apathy is the political climate of Sweden. The third largest political party in Sweden is a racist one, and they’ve gotten free reigns to set the framework of public discourse for the past years. A while back I complained that instead of dealing with issues of global solidarity, women rights and global warming, we’ve now set the clock back far enough that we’re facing the reemergence of fascism. It’s utterly depressing and I don’t know what to do about it. I guess what I ought not to do is just whine…

MateuszAnd returning to the course

Staying the course

Together with Eric Saline I’m holding a course at KKV GBG in less than a months time. It’s called Drawing with a chainsaw and we’re going to do huge relief prints using non-traditional tools. Like for example, chainsaws. We’re cutting the boards here in Gothenburg, and then we’re trucking them up to KKV Bohuslän where we’ll use their giant press to make the prints – ought to be exciting! I made a video for this, and since it’s done on company time I can’t very well use it in lieu of my own projects here on the blog, but whatevs.

MateuszStaying the course

Project week 4: Glue, bugs everywhere!


I didn’t get the drone promo video done yet, but I did glue another 20 packages, so if you’re feeling to order a whole bunch of drone pins I’m ready for you! Apart from that, it’s time to get seedling started for the growing season, and while Sara was looking over the tomatoes which are poking out through the dirt she also found some aphids among our other plants and went on to exterminate them. But before doing that, she thought to identify the species and so we set the microscope up and had a peek. We’re no closer to identifying it than we were before, but we saw that it had wings and to Saras horror they didn’t die quickly in the acetone we used to wet mount them, but rather squirmed and wiggled their poor little legs pityingly.

So Monday evening ends with a fascination for how complex and diverse life is all around us, and a silent prayer of thanks that we most likely won’t be killed by acetone poisoning. As always, remember that it can always get worse.

MateuszProject week 4: Glue, bugs everywhere!

Fucking Werewolf Asso at Musikens Hus, March 2015

The video above is last weeks project – an edited version of the video I shot at Fucking Werewolf Asso’s gig at Musikens Hus a couple of weeks ago. It’s not my tightest edit, and the audio quality is so-so considering I used the built in microphones, but I figure one has to support good local bands so there you go.

FWA has changed their sound a bit lately. They’ve gone from being a drummy 8bit screamfest, to a more mainstream hardcore band. As far as hardcore music goes they’re quite good, and the keyboard blipblop is still there (albeit drown out by a constant guitar) so it’s still fun to listen to, but some of the more playful stuff is missing. I might be damaged from listening to the earlier stuff too much, but I do hope that they continue to experiment and get the audience and recognition they deserve.

MateuszFucking Werewolf Asso at Musikens Hus, March 2015

Project week 3: A gift

Audience at a gig of Fucking Werewolf Asso in March 2015, at Musikens hus Göteborg

I’m rediscovering the joys and perils of video editing. At work, I did en edit of the woodwork course I participated in last weekend (Take a look here: and shot a promo for Drawing with a chainsaw, a course I’m offering with Eric Saline where we still need to rustle up more participants. (That edit isn’t done yet)

Privately, I went to a gig with Fucking Werewolf Asso and tried out my new Nikon P7800 and was reminded of the value of external microphones; I used only the built in ones, and it’s inadvisable to stand in front of PA speakers if you can’t set levels manually. I’d hoped that I’d have a video done by tonights deadline, but alas. Ought to be done this week though, so although delayed I’m still doing something else for next Monday.

I’ve never been one for good timing when it comes to my projects, but I really should get the drone promo done before the discussion about the Swedish-Saudi weapon deals dies down completely. Not that the deals with Saudi Arabia are much more offensive than the ones we have with other dictatorships, but still. So although timing has never been my forte I should give it a shot – after all, mine is a project about the democratic control over technology, and it’s rather fitting that I slot that into the tail-end of the discussion of selling surveillance equipment and clandestine weapon factory projects.

MateuszProject week 3: A gift

PROJECT WEEK 2: Head of wood


The past week past in a blur; Friday through Sunday i spend in the KKV woodshop, taking a course in how to use all the tools without losing any fingers. We were six people who all made boxes of some sort, and I decided on making a small box for microscope glass slides. Of course, being a smartarse I wanted to make my box with parallelogram sides, which quickly had me revisiting grade school math in order to calculate angles and such. It’s surprising how difficult it is to hold more than one number or idea in ones head when you’re at the same time learning new machinery!

At the end of each day I was exhausted and had probably gained weight from all the dust I’d inhaled. I’m pretty sure that if I’d dried and flatten all mucus and snot, I’d have a respectable piece of veneer. Sort of like those goats who eat and shit whole coffee beans, or the guy who brewed beer from yeast cultured from his own beard: Nasal veneer.

The finished box came out crooked and is unusable – most likely I hadn’t used the planer correctly on the first day, but it wasn’t apparent until I started gluing the parts together. It felt reminiscent of when I brought my mom a 2kg turned coffee cup from “clay day” at school – look ma, I made this all by my selfs! But more practically, I now at least know how to use most of the machines in the woodshop, so feel slightly more comfortable in taking on building projects.

A couple of years ago, when I got a largish grant and had more money than sense, I considered subscribing to wood. You’d get samples sent to you a couple of times a year, and you were also encouraged to exchange wood with other members so that you’d get a feel for different qualities from all around the world. I didn’t go through with it then, and probably won’t do it now, but I’m definitely eager to learn more about it now. So you shouldn’t be surprised if you see me fondling wood with a joyful expression.

MateuszPROJECT WEEK 2: Head of wood