April 24, 2006 4:00 AM PDT
Maker Faire attracts tech heroes and kids alike
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As hundreds gathered to watch, Noddy presented a comical series of bubble tricks, including one where he filled one large bubble with smoke and then pushed it against a second empty bubble. As he pushed, the two bubbles slowly merged until, suddenly, they became a single bubble half filled with smoke and half empty.
But perhaps his most popular trick involved blowing one big bubble and then a ring of several small ones inside it. Then, with a small pipe, he blew air into the main bubble, causing the ring of bubbles to spin inside the bigger one without it breaking. The crowd cheered enthusiastically.
Another popular demonstration showed hundreds how to fold very effective paper airplanes.
Stacks of paper had been made available and as the speaker showed how to fold the planes, most of the people in the audience folded along with him.
And when he finished, there commenced about 15 minutes of pure paper airplane pleasure: a steady stream of planes flying around the hall, landing, and being picked up and thrown again. And even as the crowd slowly thinned, several kids stayed around and continued throwing their planes, over and over and over again.
"It was fascinating and intriguing," said Kyle Douglas, a 12-year-old from San Rafael, Calif., speaking of what he'd thought of the paper airplane demonstration. "Just all the other types of airplanes and how they flew and the physics behind it.
Douglas said he'd particularly enjoyed two models the presenter had showed called the F-14 and the "Eggbeater."
"The F-14 had a very cool design, and the 'Eggbeater' had a very interesting way...of flying. He took a piece of cardboard and pushed it forward, and it kept tumbling in front of the pieces of cardboard while it was in the air and stayed aloft for a long time."
Robots, magnets and steam
The Maker Faire brought together hundreds of exhibitors from around the world. The exhibits were spread throughout a series of buildings and on a central lawn at the fairgrounds. Exhibits ranged from Jim Mason's Power Tool Drag Races to a demonstration of Lego's Mindstorms NXT programmable robots to the Graffiti Research Lab's throwable LED magnets to Tim Robinson's Computing by Steam.
Robinson explained that his project, which looked something like an abacus on crack mixed with an erector set, is what he called a "difference engine."
Based on the 1848 design by the Brit Charles Babbage, the machine is a homemade manual calculator involving more than 25,000 parts and which can, with many turns of a crank, perform all manner of mathematical calculations.
"It's a glorified adding machine," joked Robinson, who estimated he spent 2,000 hours over 18 months building the machine. He said he built it "just for fun. I've been interested in the history of computers and old mechanical stuff for a long time."
Torrone said he'd been asked to compare the two events several times during the weekend and that he thought there were some similarities. But he also said he believes Maker Faire is more democratic and more accessible to real people than NextFest.
"You can have a future car no one can even afford or Mr. Jalopy" that you built yourself, Torrone said. "There (are) times when you want to see the future, but what I say is: If you want to see the future, you can build it yourself."
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