April 22, 2006 8:40 PM PDT
Maker Faire a geek's dream
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In fact, the crowd is a fantastic mix of Burners (Burning Man attendees), crafters and robotics geeks, Aaron Muszalski, a visual effects instructor at San Francisco's Academy of Art University suggested to me. He imagined Maker Faire, with a delighted gleam in his eye, as a breeding ground for the many kids here who he sees as the do-it-yourselfers and hackers of the future.
"I didn't get to see stuff like this until I was in my 20s," said Muszalski. "What if you get to see this stuff when you're five? We're recruiting (them)."
It's hard to disagree with him. A little earlier, someone had been riding around the central lawn area on a bicycle tricked out with a broom for a frame so it resembled something Harry Potter would ride in a quidditch match.
And as people grinned and laughed at the sight, an attendee named Nifer Fahrion called out the real truth of the situation.
"I mean," Fahrion said, "tell me how many kids would love that."
In truth, Maker Faire is what anyone who loves science or computers or robots or welding or fire art or high-tech crafting or Lego should come to.
To be sure, not everything at the event was noteworthy. In truth, much of the exhibits were rather mundane and easily slipped past. But every few minutes, as one wandered around, something would appear that would make you stop and stare in wonder.
Some of those, of course, were entirely simple. For example, I talked with Thomas Zimmerman, an IBM researcher whose "Z's Stop-Frame Animation" table was a big hit with kids. The idea, he explained, was to provide an after-school program that would teach little kids the art of stop-motion animation and photography.
So he would provide them with index cards and pens and pencils and show them how to draw on each card, a single frame in a multi-frame animated story. Kind of like the books of images you used to flip to reveal a rudimentary cartoon. In this case, the kids would draw the cards and then photograph them using a home-made camera built into a piece of PVC pipe. And then a piece of software would blend the pictures together into a short animated film.
Nearby was a self-fencing machine, in which two robot arms controlled battling swords. No robots were harmed in the making of this machine.
And perhaps the most fun I saw people having in the course of the day was in one large room where hundreds of kids and parents were eagerly ripping apart old computers and trying to put them back together again.
The sounds of breaking plastic, metal and glass dominated the room, as did laughter, shouting and a feeling that if this wasn't geek bliss, what is?
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