The 2006 Makers Faire

April 22-23:

Wow! What a complete hoot! The Makers Faire is the most fun a hacker can have with his pants on!! I had a flashback of what it was like, living in Santa Barbara ages ago, going to a relatively lame event and recognizing one or two familiar faces. Here I was, hundred of miles from SB, 75 miles from my new home in Santa Rosa and I had a chance to chat with dozens of people I either knew, or knew of, that I'd wanted to meet. Where else could a mere mortal go and actually talk to the Woz? (Dumbstruck by the opportunity I couldn't think of anything spectacular to say, but that's life, eh?) And the stuff on display these people and many others had brought (or were talking about building) ranged from better-than-average to somewhere beyond spectacular.

The event was much larger than I had anticipated too: instead of the bunch of geeks huddled around card tables topped with tiny displays and laptop computers like I had feared, the displays and interactive events took up more space than other stuff does at the county fair! Seven buildings were bulging with displays of functioning stuff, lectures and hands-on workshops for all ages. The crowds matched or exceeded what one would see at a "normal" event; I daresay the clever folks that dreamed up Make magazine are happy campers.

Following, in pictures, is an all-too-brief summary of things that caught my eye. Below these photos, as I acquire them, I'll append more links to other sites with info relating to the event.

Photo #1: One of several windmills; these were made from bicycle parts and commonly available hardware store items. Blades are metal flashing, bent and pop riveted to spokes on a bicycle wheel. An alternate design from another group was available in kit form for a mere $100.-! I'll post their URL when I remember where I put it..
Photo #2: I have an abiding interest in all things flame-related. This was one of several Playamobiles on display, complete with flame effects device on top. I got several photos of plumbing as well, to help me build flame effects into my own art car project.
Photo #3: Gotta make me one of these for the backyard! He used campstove burners, turned upside down and supported above the welded bottom with spacers, then buried in sand. This arrangement creates a plenum that distributes propane throuought the sand. When it's lit, flames dance all over the surface: very neat effect that the photo doesn't capture completely.
Photo #4: My pal Trevor Blackwell takes a whack at riding one of his "manual" unicycles. He also had his computer-enhanced self-balancing unicycle and his hopped-up homebrew Segway, but both were recharging when I happened by.
Photo #5: One of the very neat "hybrid" steam vehicles displayed by Mr Crabfu. These vehicles are bodged from Wilesco and the now-defunct Cheddar steam engines, mated to modified robotic kits from the Gakken Mechamo series of kinematic whatchacallits.
Photo #6: I got the impression this prototype was going to become a very high-end R/C model kit at some point. Neat idea though, with the "tail rotor" re-tasked as a variable pitch pusher prop.
Photo #7: A nicely made Stirling engine. I've watched this one evolve over the span of several events that the builder attends and now, completed, it's quite a beauty.
Photo #8: Another Playamobile. Built by Steve Hosking, he calls it Satan's Calliope. I have yet to hear it honk; maybe later this year?
Photo #9: A gang that travelled across the country brought along this electronically enhanced bus which featured a programmable array of LEDs along its sides. Note the conductive traces (which appeared to be painted on) that flow from the control circuitry to individual LEDs.
Photo #10: Junction between traces and control board. Looked to me like wires were held fast between the steel sides of the bus and the traces by round supermagnets.
Photo #11: At first I thought they were Playa hotties, but there's this interesting fashion craze in Japan. I can't remember the name of it but it appears to have hopped across the Pacific Ocean. The Fair's central courtyard and one of the seven buildings were given over to the arts-and-crafts crowd, with many traditional crafts well represented. These two were adorned with many examples of same and seemed to me to be particularly stylin'!
Photo #12: This contraption is quickly evolving from the creative minds at The Shipyard. The engine is single cylinder double-acting with Stephenson valve gear. The boiler is a Lamont that they snagged from Triangle Machine for $75.-!! Not sure how they plan to fire it yet..
Photo #13: Another shot of the vehicle. I'm told it started out as a traditional Irish "dog cart", so called because the facing bench seats are too small for adults and only have room for a dog between them!
Photo #14: The ultimate "air guitar": with thimbles wired to a modified MIDI rig this guy could summon riffs and beats depending on which thimbles he touched together.
Photo #15: Quite a bit of stuff was on display from Squid Labs, but this bit of retasking caught my eye. Nicely done, eh?
Photo #16: A completely portable glassblowing studio. Many beautiful things were on display but the crush of the crowd made it impossible to get a decent photo. Nice mobile shop though..
Photo #17: More great recycling: a bass guitar incorporating motorcycle fuel tanks and quite a bit of artistic skill.
Photo #18: Shot of the propulsion and control center of one of several blimps that were programmed to swarm together as they cruised inside one building. Created by Jed Berk and Nikhil Mitter, graduate students from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.
Photo #19: Is this glorious or what? This is the Meccano Difference Engine. I've got a movie of this thing solving a polynomial equasion. He took longer inputting the data than he did to, literally, crank out the answer. He generated the sine of an angle in something like ten seconds of cranking. The gears were particularly clever, made from strips of Meccano steel studded about their circumference with round head bolts that acted as meshing teeth. This thing needs its own hour-long video to describe all of the clever bits. In operation it reminded me a bit of the old click-and-bang mechanisms used at telephone exchanges.
Photo #20: My favorite contraption because, unlike the Difference Engine, I think I might be able to build something like this without going nuts! This is the one, the only Electric Giraffe. Watching this thing literally strut its stuff was really something. Although the builder Lindsay Lawler has toned down the musical accompaniment for the relatively civilized venue, it was still amazing to watch it go. I chatted with him about his plans to increase forward speed and to add turning to the beast's repertoire. With luck all of the above will be functioning in time for Burning Man.
Photo #21: The driver's rather posh accomodations are complete with a well laid out dashboard. Motion forward and backward is controlled by changing the position of the two blue handles. As far as I can figure the left hand console monitors consumables like battery charge, propane for special effects, gasoline for the generator etc. and the right hand panel controls lighting effects including strobe lights, LEDs, etc. The upper area looks large enough to hold the operator and maybe two or three passengers.
Photo #22: I find it incredible how well he's captured the essence of giraffe in its head. When the neck is raised the ears, which are hinged and have intentionally weak springs, waggle in a very lifelike manner.

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