Part science show-and-tell, part county fair, part question mark - the Maker's Faire pushes the boundaries of DYI invention. It is a gathering for gadget makers and the tech-curious alike to talk shop and show off their newest creations. Hardcore DIY enthusiasts ourselves, Team Slims took a field trip to Corona Queens this past Sunday afternoon to see what America's best and brightest were tinkering with.
Taking place in the backyard of the 1964's World Fair, as well as the current site of the New York Hall of Science, this sprawling exhibition had indie food vendors, new age craftsmen, and grand pavilions sponsored by tech industry heavyweights like Microsoft and Makerbot. What all this really meant to us: CHILDREN EVERYWHERE. It was all good though, because this event also had beer and we could enjoy our Slims both inside the museum and out.
As we walked through the entrance gates we heard the sounds of someone playing a mean slap bass. Our eyes darted around hoping to find Les Claypool. Not exactly Primus, we saw a man by the name of Andy Graham spanking away on a long metal rod. Andy's invention, the Slaperoo, is a metal rod fixed with a steel band for which the player bends and slaps to achieve the slap bass sound (think the theme song to Seinfeld).
Feeling our souls were in a funkier place, we made our way through the museum and out to the other side of the lawn. Which, at first, was kind of a let down. We walked past these little aluminum pieces of space junk kind of wobbling as if there was some sort of wind-up mechanism inside of them. There were kids typing away on laptops while others danced on a floor that lit up when they danced on them. We were assured by security we were past the age group to dance and that we should put our shoes back on. Aside from the promising Slaperoo, we were starting to feel as though this was a little below our experience level in gadgetry.
That's when we spotted this guy wearing a suit made entirely of MetroCards. We imagined he may have some authority here and could steer us over to the cooler shit. He pointed us in the direction of the beer tent. Beyond that is where all the cool stuff lies, he said. He then held out his hat and we all tipped him in spent metro cards.
Sure enough, the man was right. We first made our way to the gift shop, which was really a huge tent selling a lot of the tech on display. Then, we saw like a bajillion 3D printers. What more can I say about them? They are pretty neat if you want to print out the bust of Mark Zuckerberg's head. There was 3D printers that could print out tools. And some could build houses. At one point we were actually standing in pavilion created by the printer. We all just kind of stood there mesmerized as a hot pink garden gnome slowly materialized.
I was impressed to finally see Raspberry Pi in person. Raspberry Pi makes a credit-card sized computer for $35 that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. It can also be used to develop/write your own computer programs. I grew up with older siblings who coded on Amigas and Texas Instruments. Somewhere in the 90's, my generation, video games and the internet largely wiped out the home programmer as a children's hobby.
In a world where technology can often be simplified for any idiot to work with, I have always wondered what would become of the truly advanced kids who would've tinkered around a bit with primal computing technology. As a person worried our future is doomed to fail us, I was happy to see at this event that children were fully engaged by the Raspberry Pi. We even overheard a 9-year old ask about its open source capabilities.
Making our way past tech, we stumbled onto what I can only describe as a pop-up county fair with a Brooklyn edge. This we found just as fascinating. The idea that the Maker Faire is more than just a science fair but truly designed to engage creators at all levels could not be more imminent here. We ate cookies with Swedish fish in them. We talked terrarium talk with fellow terrarium makers. Tattooed vegan soap peddlers swapped recipes with micro cupcake makers. Llama wool hats from Vermont and Long Island goat butter makers churned out their message to curious consumers. It was the message of the maker movement - there is a better way, we don't need to depend on mega corporations to fill all of our needs and whims, we just need to learn how to do it ourselves.
The Do-It-Yourself work ethic has always implied a sense of rebellion. It is punk rock for people who prefer to make robots or figure out a new gastronomic recipe. A chance to challenge and improve norms, or even better a chance to make people feel actually impressed. No better way can this message populate and participation increase the maker movement agenda than by creating a forum for it outside the anonymous walls of the internet. A real public forum where people don't need to wait for the image to upload, the email to be sent, or the account information to be confirmed.
As one event exhibitionist who made a simple 1-inch LED display that was piping in his email messages one letter at a time said to me, "If it weren't for this (Maker Faire,) I really don't know where I would show off my invention."