Monday, June 8, 2009

Maker Faire: More Than Meets The Playa-Jaded Eye


"WE'RE DOOMED" reads the user pic for Live Journaler mrneutrongodeon. And in an attitude befitting his avatar, he skewered this year's Maker Faire for having lost its DIY mission to Burning Man hijackers and their wacky, impractical machines.

If you follow this fallacy, the 621 makers who traveled from as far as East Virginia had nothing eye-opening to share. All 75,000-plus members of the audience could have skipped Maker Faire this year, dropped acid and ridden around the playa on an art car - and probably had a better time.

At first glance, "WE'RE DOOMED" seems dead on the money. The loudest, most colorful exhibits - the car shaped like a large cast iron snail, for example - were usually the least likely to play a beneficial role in the real world. They're certainly not the answers to Pres. Barack Obama's call to "Remake America"(which this year's Maker Faire set out to do).

Anyone who strolled about the plein air exhibits without ever dipping into the enclosed areas, where true innovators and idea people were busily at work discussing their latest projects would walk away with the same doomed impression.

Admittedly, I wasn't strongly compelled to approach the booth belonging to Dustin Zuckerman. His props? Not much more than a bucket wrapped in a tool belt, a hammer and a few flyers. And yet Zuckerman's simple idea, to create a tool lending library in Sonoma County, is a DIY project that's sure to spawn more DIY-ing.

I wish I'd known about it before I dumped my life savings at Home Depot.

The best inventions aren't as flashy as they once were, and there's good reason. Innovators do their tinkering online, or recycle old wasteful products into items that serve a social or ecological purpose. Or they rebuild the engine of the Prius, making it capable of running purely on electricity. But guess what? The post-op Prius is a dead ringer, on its shell, for a Prius before CalCars laid a hand on it.

And TechShop saves makers 80 to 90 percent of their development costs, but you've got to look inside their 3D printer (ZPrinter450) to see its tiny final result.

Sure, there was plenty of eye candy - the explosive devices, the cupcake on wheels. But let's not pretend as though the non-burners didn't kick some butt this year. Before you write off this event the way "WE'RE DOOMED" did, check out some of the best stuff in this video.

Hat tip to Brittney Gilbert's Eye on Blogs for bringing mrneutrongodeon's post to our attention.

To see some great photos of this year's Maker Faire, check out Nicole Andrijauskas' blog.

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