Before attending the recent Maker Faire in San Mateo, I met with Dale Dougherty of O'Reilly Media, editor and publisher of both Make and Craft magazines. Make and Craft are celebrations of creativity and the art of reuse, and illustrate exactly how limitless the imagination can be given the proper tools, a glue gun, some copper wire and maybe a piece of felt. Make is a DIY monthly dedicated to technology projects. Where else can you learn how to transform your iPod into a transistor radio or install a working video screen into your platform shoes? Craft is for those more inclined to work with fabric, showing readers how to transform a pair of shoes into roller skates, or make a vibrating pillow using the motor from a pager.
The fact that some 50,000 people were expected to turn out at this year's Maker Faire is a testament to how hungry people are to see science, art and inspiration in action. The fair was full of folks who submitted their ideas through the Make website. Dougherty says that they had originally planned for more of a screening process, but that the things people submitted were so cool that the process quickly became one of logistics as opposed to picking and choosing. How to handle, for instance, a 50-foot sculpture with flapping wings that sits on top of a Dodge van? Where to put it? How to separate the small and quiet from the large, noisy and/or flaming?
We have so much stuff in our lives, Dougherty says, but how much of this stuff do we actually have a connection with? When you make something yourself, it adds a level of meaning. The Maker Faire is an opportunity to share the things we are making and get motivated to make more, and where people can ask questions, share what they know and inspire each other to think outside of the box. Reuse, recycle, remake.
The Maker Faire is this ethic in action, and the results are so stunning that the only regret I and the four boys I took with me had is that we didn't get there early enough. I'm still having a hard time letting go of the fact that I was somehow unable to catch even a single robot battle. This is a loss I will be unable to recover from until next year, and right now May 2009 feels very far away.
Even events as amazing as this one, however, have their down moments. Ours came when we realized that following thousands of other people to the same place dramatically changes MapQuest direction times. We didn't reach the gates until almost 4pm, at which point we realized we then had to stand in line for 45 minutes because we were one ticket short. One could say tempers were running a little thin, so the boys with tickets went in, and I and the forlorn, ticketless child stood in line and thought bad thoughts.
Once in, we found the others sitting rapt at Sebastopol's own Science Buzz Cafe, where Daniel Osmer, the self-proclaimed "Ambassador of Science," put together a captivating show for science lovers of all ages. We watched a man lay on a bed of nails, and it was all fun from where we sat. While the boys were obsessed with the robotic-warship combat arena, I was captivated by "Crude Awakening," three 30-foot tall figures constructed out of rebar. Designed by Dan Das Mann and Karen Cusolito, and literally flaming from within due to the expert skills of the pyrokinetics team, the figures were breathtaking.
But the Maker Faire is not just massive flames, looming sculptural pieces, lightning machines and ball-bearing-shooting battle ships. This is a place where you can find notebooks made from recycled library books, learn how to make a mandolin in two days or watch a guy play his drum set while knitting a sweater with his drumsticks.
For more information on the Maker Faire and exhibitors go to www.makerfaire.com. For more information on 'Make' or 'Craft' magazines, go to www.makezine.com or [ http://www.craftzine.com/ ]www.craftzine.com.