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Maker Faire
"Once there was a haunted loop
Of your deep, fallen tears
A forehead resting on a record shelf
Amid moving boxes stacked
I'm still waiting for the right words
Make of that what you will"

A.C. Newman "There Are Maybe Ten Or Twelve"

Last weekend I went to the Maker Faire, held every year art the San Mateo fairgrounds, halfway between San Francisco and San Jose. You can see me getting sprayed (in 3D!) with Diet Coke and Menthos at the website http://makerfaire.com/bayarea. I'm the guy in the red baseball cap at the extreme right side of the screen who runs away at 0:54 in the video. Yeah... there was a limit to how sticky and wet I was willing to get!

Make Faire had lots of other things besides Diet Coke and Methos fountains. There was a giant life-sized version of the "Mousetrap" game. Tesla motors was there, while other people brought their own "art cars" covered in legos and other things. The steampunks brought fire-breathing nautilus sculptures, burlesque shows, and lots of goggles. There were punk rock shows, jugglers, welders, painters, farmers, and barrel makers. Basically it was an event for anyone who creates, builds, or dreams: knitters, engineers, the SCA, programmers, robots, and teachers. And I had a fantastic time. Check out my flickr page for photos at:




I have mixed feelings about Maker Faire. One hand, it's a fantastic opportunity, a Burning Man right in my own backyard. But still I have an uneasy feeling. The problem is that the whole event is supposed to be about D.I.Y. culture. Think about that for a second... "do it yourself" sponsored by a large corporation who publishes a magazine telling people the "right things" to build.

I like the sponsor, O'Reilly Publishing. No, let me take that back... I *love* O'Reilly. I think they publish the best computer books out there. They usually don't include a worthless CD-ROM or DVD. That cuts the cost right there. And if you send in the title page, you can cheaply upgrade to the latest version of that book when new versions of the software come out. I think I've spent about a thousand dollars on books from O'Reilly for both work and school.

But now they are trying to codify something that was growing organically. I am reminded of that moment in the nineties when "grunge" went from a great art and music movement into a commercialized advertisement for soulless youth culture. Target was selling pre-ripped flannel shirts. TV commercials featured the Screaming Trees. They made the movie "Singles", which caused Kurt Cobain to kill himself.



Here is my problem: check out the piles and piles of boxes for sale. I remember as a kid playing with science kits. You mixed one fluid with another fluid and it turned blue. Was it fun? Hell yes! Did I learn anything? Nope. That's not science... it's a cheap trick to amuse hyperactive children. I used to spend hours by myself pouring water down things... the sink, down the gutters, just to see the way water moved and cavitated. I learned more about physics from bouncing rubber balls than I ever did in elementary school.

And there were kids *everywhere* at this thing. It was one giant playground for tots and adults alike. People with ADD would have a hard time. Neon art and tv screens showing animation and people in costumes were everywhere. But instead of making things... the event seemed to be about CONSUMING. 




There were some hot men there too. Sword fighters and coopers (barrel makers) and guys covered in grease and oil from working on steam engines. Yum! And I met daved010 and bigtallnoljandy  for the first time, and they seem like really great bears (see above).



I love the idea of steampunk. This fetish came out of *nowhere* for me. I mean, I had seen Victorian cosplay in the nineties, and saw a lot of anime ("Howl's Moving Castle" and "Steamboy" come to mind, but there were tons of others earlier than that). Now all of a sudden, people are having conventions about the theme. It's wonderful when a whole community springs up that didn't exist before.

I'm hoping to go to Steamcon this summer, or the California Steampunk Convention though I'm hoping to not be living in California by then. However, I a fantastic idea for a costume that really turns me on. Maker Fairs gave me one of those "Eureka" moments where everything clicked and I figured something out. Times like that are wonderful.




I'll be interested to watch the future of Maker Faire. This is the fourth annual one. And while it was well-attended, I'm wondering if the center cannot hold. I mean... who *doesn't* make anything? If absolutely ANY occupation can have a booth there, what does being a "Maker" mean? Is there some Silicon Valley arbiter of tatse who says that custom car painters are cool while perfomance artists are not? It's typical California: hip and exciting and revolutionary at the same times as being oddly close-minded and exclusionary and annoying.





I don't want to get down on Maker Faire. I had a great time. There was a Camera Obscura you could go in and see and upside-down image of the world. I played pinball for free, and sat down at a REAL (not Rock Band) drumset for a jam session with a 10 year old kid and his dad. I did the backwards-spinning hula hoop trick my Pakistani neighbor taught me as a kid, and the moppets were amazed. I thought of bentwright and picked up ads for welding and blacksmith classes and told myself that I was finally going to learn a trade and hobby that left me black, grimy, oily, and happy. I only wish the fair didn't stop at 6 pm so I could have seen all the Tesla coils and fire-breathing sculptures at night, as the Makers intended.





I have more than a bit of jealousy here. My life is busy. I have not had the time or space to do my hobbies. I would love a HUGE workspace filled with tools (and an oil pit to store the excess sludge from my projects!) I once had a friend who would go to rock concerts with me. He would cross his arms and scowl. He would pick apart the smallest imperfections, and rip the band to pieces afterwards at the coffee shop. It turned out that he was unhappy he wasn't in a band. He saw people doing on stage what he wanted to do, and it drove him crazy that they weren't doing it "right"... the weren't doing it the way he longed to do it. I felt like that at Maker Faire. The projects that excited me weren't the ones that were great... it was the ones who missed the mark and I knew I could do better. 






Why make stuff? It's cheaper to buy a new MP3 player than to buld your own. Are you just trying to impress some other hipsters on how well you fit a 386 mouthboard into a toaster? Well hooray for you. I'm glad you're having fun.

Today's circuit boards are coated with epoxy. You couldn't desolder and pull the parts if you wanted to. When I was a kid, the television sets had these HUGE capacitors, resistors, and vacuum tubes that you could remove and use in your own projects. Even though I'd love to disassemble my roommate's new plasma TV just to see what it looked like inside, I doubt the project would be rewarding.





But I am so energized right now. I want to make a list. I have not been doing much on my New Year's Resolutions. But I have a few "million dollar ideas" in me. Many of them are stupid, most of them impractical, but there's nothing like have a dream and then doing things to make that dream a tangible reality.

I think they call that sort of behavior "making".

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Holy Wow!!! That is amazing! You're taking me to this one day! :-)

Only if I can weld you into a walking talking robot costume!

I vehemently disagree with your assertion that Make is about telling people the "right way" to do anything. From what I've seen, it's articles about A way to do something, and people can go on from there. One of their articles may give someone an idea to go haring off on a unique tangent.

My trail marker lights were inspired by the "led throwie" concept, for instance.

Stuff that isn't in Make magazine: flower arranging, stained glass, life insurance (actuarial science), woodcarving, painting, quilting, accounting, and a million other hobbies that Americans do every day.

That's my point. There is not One Right Way to do anything, but evidently some arts-and-crafts are cooler than others and worthy of inculsion in the magazine and at the Faire.

Edited at 2009-06-05 01:02 am (UTC)

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Now that I think of it... there were a few booths of "fabric arts" selling yarn n stuff.

And many of those hobbies you mention already HAVE magazines, clubs, etc.

Now, if someone finds a nifty way to incorporate knitting and electronics - I'm sure MAKE would run an article about it. ;)

We've worked out all the details, and you can now register for this FrayedWire workshop online at http://frayedwire.eventbrite.com! There is a 25$ materials kit fee. If you are already registered for FrayedWire and want to do the workshop, you can paypal the materials fee separately. This one is filling up fast so act now!

Workshop: Making Electronic Fabrics: Conductive Thread, LEDs, LilyPads, and Soft Switches

Have you ever wanted to incorporate electronics into textiles, clothing or fashion accessories? This workshop will be a hands-on session focused on integrating electronics into soft fabrics and making soft switches out of snaps and hooks. You will make your own switch turn on and off an LED. You will also learn a little about the Lilypad (Arduino for fabrics) through a demo.

Oh my holy g-d. it seems like if you joke about something tech, there's someone out there trying to do it. One day, I ranted about wanting to "rip" my book into txt files as easily as making an MP3. A day later, I read that lo and behold... Google is doing exactly that.


I think I'm going to go into a cave for a while, or somewhere where there aren't any computers or cell phones...

I dunno.......... you might not recognize anything when you come out again!!!!!!!

Even weirder; I was thinking I'd have to search the dorkbot archives for that, and there was a new letter in my e-mail box, when I opened it!

I sort of view Maker Fair as an arm of the Burning Man culture. A lot of the same people and same sculptures/cars/etc. I've never been to the Fair but the magazine and website have always seemed more like "this is how I did it so you can start there" than "this is the way you do it" - sort of like open source for the meat world. That's very Burner - all info sharing and enthusiasm.

Thanks for posting pics. It looks like a blast.

I edited one sentence from saying that O'Reilly was telling people the "Right Way" to build things. That sentence now says the "Right Things" to build. I hope that clarifies my point. Sure, you can make anything you want. But only the cool kids playing with robots can join the club.

Where were the red staters? How is the Maker Faire different than the Iowa State Fair? They make shit there, too. You answered it... these are Burning Man hipsters, living in the land of IPOs and tech startups.

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It was crowded to see, and too WAAAAY too long to set off, so I left as the 1000 pound metal safe was being lifted by the crane to start the game. So I didn't get to see it in motion. But yeah, it was cool.

Edited at 2009-06-05 01:11 am (UTC)

I wish there was a Maker Faire East, something like this over here. I grew up doing stuff like that.

Wow! And I partially met you! Great to see you guys... I added you as a friend. And I hope to see you in person again someday.

Wow! What a cool event! I admire your curiosity and zest to experience and see it all.

An aside: Speaking of Coopering. When I worked a the Del Monte pickle plant (San Jose) while in High School and JC, they then had coopers. It was interesting to see the barrel making process (barrel making builds muscle(the coopers were hot!). Those barrels made it to the fields to where the cucumbers were stored in the hot sun, and topped off daily, with brine (this among other sweaty stuff I did :). Unfortunately, the idea of Fresh Pack evolved (the cucumbers pickling themselves in a jar), to compete in production numbers with the other makers. The coopering trade died. The "new brand" pickles, to me, were just not as good. Eventually the cannery (there since 1900) died, closed, and land sold for housing development. Sometime old things just should not be tinkered with... and old trades, and things that the makers make revered.

Um, am I forgetting the conversation where you asked me if it would be okay to publish some (presumably private?) conversation I barely remember on a public forum?

Could you refresh my memory: where/when was I bashing Maker Faire as badly as you make it sound I was? Link?

Edited to remove any mention of you. Sorry to use something you said as an anecdote, but it really struck a chord in me... inspiring this post. I apologize for labeling you, and won't do it again.

The only thing I can think of that I have said on the subject was along the lines of "we were Makers before Tim O'Reilly made it cool".

If I said something more than that, I'd sure like you to remind me. (I KNOW I am forgetful).

We'll just forget the whole words-in-the-mouth thing happened. :P

PS: had to remove your from my friends list on Flickr - no offense or hate intended, but I like to be able to use / view my Flickr page at work - including my friend's pages - and I don't need to have genitals popping up on my work computer. :P

Looks like the Maker Fair was a good time. I'd like to check it out next year. I have a hard place for creativity of all forms. Thanks for sharing this!

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