Maker Faire: Happily Ever Crafter
By Wayne Alan Brenner,
4:30PM, Wed. Oct. 24, 2007
Imagine, if you will, the ghosts of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla puking their wackiest dreams of science all over the Travis County Expo Center grounds. Puddles of the stuff, filled with wires and gears, wheels and capacitors, invention and obsession. Shining inside the outdoor tents, grinding away under a vast metal roof more accustomed to sheltering livestock, whirring and spinning inside the air-conditioned main building. This is grass-roots technology gone apeshit. This is Maker Faire, conjured as if fullblown from the head of O'Reilly Publishing, manifesting in a ragged and diverse collection of DIY euphoria and abetted by dozens of bigger-name sponsors who'd like nothing more than to successfully tap the Relentless Tinkerer market that's forever stretching, as if genetically driven, the boundaries of Good Old American Know-How.
I attended this Faire with my daughter Angelica, that we might improve the hours of our weekend with its diversions. And also, yeah, to have something to report for this blog.
Some of what we saw was pretty fucking amazing.
Understand, dear websurfer, that Maker Faire wasn't exclusively driven by techno-geeks. Understand that, among the crowds of electrical wizards and engineering masters or wannabes – who were displaying their projects or were part of the milling throngs or both – there was a strong contingent of crafters: those who sew, those who knit, those who make silkscreens of images and transfer them onto clothing recently ganked from Goodwill and Frankensteined toward cooler style.
There were food crafters, too, little displays of indie-produced honeys and teas and breads holding their own among the more common corndog and pizza and soda booths.
But, yeah, a lot of what there was was machinery.
And some of that machinery was brand new and hadn't been manufactured before, whether crudely homebuilt robots attempting to Harryhausen their way across a stage or the fancy prototypes of alterna-powered vehicles gleaming under a corporate spotlight. And some of that machinery comprised regular cars and bikes that had been assaulted with art, transmogrified to beauty (or at least to someone's creative self-expression), or machines – like ShopBot and other lathey and drillish devices – that could be used to manufacture still more machines.
There was a lifesized version of the old Mousetrap boardgame, a huge Rube Goldberg contraption triggered and retriggered by the motion of several consecutive bowling balls until it released a 4,000-pound safe, held 15 feet in the air, onto a pumpkin.
There was a three-rider Ferris wheel that, astoundingly, had no base but moved independently (guided by a few handlers) across the fairgrounds.
There were laser beams and Tesla coils and Van de Graaf generators and there may even have been a machine that went "Ping!"
There was an air-conditioned store packed with people, crowded by tables stacked high with geek-centric publications that could tell you how to build some of these machines and more.
And we wandered among these creations and their creators and the attendant crowds for about three hours, Ange and I, gawking and talking, reading and eating, and, eventually, feeling like total slackers for not actually contributing, for not Making something ourselves. We could've sat and engaged in any of the creative activities offered here and there around the Faire, activities that both kids and adults seemed happily engaged in. But we had a comic book project to work on back at Studio Brenner, after all, and those panels weren't going to border themselves.
So, literally, back to the drawing board we went, our minds filled with low-tech wonders and gizmo dreams and images of strangely modified bikes criss-crossing the concrete baking under the big Texas sky.