Maker Faire 2009

Fire-breathing Snail

Fire-breathing Snail at Maker Faire

I attended Maker Faire 2009 this last weekend with Sarah and Theo. I was not quite sure what all to really expect other than “burners”, art cars, and other alt-artists. It is definitely a scene for Bay Area hipsters.The fire-breathing snail truck, motorized one-person cupcakes, tesla coils, fire-arts displays from The Crucible, body art, etc. set that vibe for sure.

If it were just this, it would have been fine, but it was so much more than this. We went as a family, and the number of activities and other things geared toward kids and families was really great. Theo was totally into it. Of course, for a six-year-old boy, the main buzz was word of a large Legoland display and activity area. Theo wouldn’t settle down until we found it, and then wouldn’t leave it once we did. (We could hardly escape to do the things WE wanted to do.) There were many other building, science and educational activities and presentations going on from groups like NASA and Exploratorium. Sarah and I both came to the conclusion that the Weekend Pass is a good idea; the Faire really demands a two-day visit, and next year we thought we’d spend one day largely devoted to kid stuff, and one day to explore all the stuff we really want to see. I was disappointed to entirely miss Survival Research Labs among other things.

Among the things I checked out was the experimental and computer music section, which was definitely cool. There were individuals there with their own creations, like computer controlled prepared piano, home-built electronic zither things, guitars with sound-sensitive color displays built into the body, and more. I also discovered organizations like Sound Arts, which work to support the sound arts community in a variety of ways. I was actually inspired to try to participate next year. I’m eager to start composing electronic music again, and perhaps put it together with photographic imagery. There were several multi-media tools on exhibit, and the possibilities for interactive mash-ups appear to be very extensive. So, we’ll see..

Beyond the fun of electronic noise-toys, it seems to me that the notion of making your own fill-in-the-blank, instead of relying only on mass-produced consumables for furnishing one’s life, is more important than ever. A quick review of the story of stuff should convince you of that. In fact, among the most interesting and yet slightly disturbing activities we did at Maker Faire involved making things out of discarded stuff, mostly computer stuff. There were gigantic piles of computer gear that were available for dismantling and use as raw material. (I’m not really sure which Theo enjoyed more, destroying a computer keyboard, or assembling its pieces into a robot ship.) The fun aside, the sheer volume of discarded material present here gives one pause as to what must be going into the world’s landfills. Thank goodness for groups like the Alameda County Computer Resource Center, which was a participating organization and probably the source of the “art supplies”, for what they do to stem the tide of electronics discards.

Not that everyone is going to build their own computers. But there were exhibits and activities on everything from sewing, to gardening, to “slow food”, to green energy technology, to bicycling, and how to make your own robot. I’m already looking forward to next year.