Top 5 Surprises at World Maker Faire 2013

This is blog #2 about our Maker Faire 2013 experiences. I recommend reading blog #1 first – My Top Five Favorite Things at Maker Faire 2013.

1. Bumping Into Friends from Connecticut

I first got to know Sabina and Michael at a Family Nature Summit in New Brunswick in 2005 when they took my class on green lifestyle choices. They followed up with me later, enthusiastically describing their experiences with Freecycle (one of the recommendations in the class). They do everything enthusiastically I think, but at the time, I thought I was getting special treatment.

Sabina and Michael seek and live for innovation, so seeing them at the Maker Faire should not have been a surprise. But the fact that they came from Connecticut and we came from Virginia, and we did not know the other was coming, and we ended up standing right behind them in line to enter the Maker Faire. That was a surprise. Mathematically, improbably, a surprise. And a delightful one because they have been so sweet to me over the years, encouraging me on my Trashmagination journey. Yeah for surprise Shelbys!

2. The Trailer Park

As you can imagine, these events are wall-to-wall people. A moment of peace is really special. Right smack dab in the middle there was this little trailer, and no one was around it, but when you went inside, there were plants and benches. It was meant to be a park inside a trailer – a portable park that you could take to places that don’t have a park.

Now it sounds cheesy, a joke on the term “trailer park,” but it actually worked. It was peaceful. Nora and I visited it probably ten times during that day. It speaks to the power of nature, even completely contrived nature, that we liked this little spot so much. And Russell, who hates spending time outside, this might be the one way I get him to be “in nature.” The trailer park was made by artist Kim Holleman and you can hear her interviewed on NPR about her appearance at Maker Faire.

Park inside a trailer (or trailer park)

Park inside a trailer (or trailer park)

3. The Biolite Stove

Many inventions at Maker Faire can be odd and, to be harsh, useless. One of the most popular topics this year was 3-D printing, and I saw at least 100 3-D printers slowly oozing out plastic in the shapes of people, rings, buttons. More plastic – ugh. If I put on my optimist hat, I’m sure one of those pieces of 3-D plastic could form a new kind of pain-free needle or something awesome like that. But at a glance, it was a bit sad to see so much plastic.

Then I saw the Biolite stove. The inventors had spent time in Africa, and saw that many people had cell phones but did not have reliable sources of power. They also saw that burning wood inside homes without windows creates serious problems with air quality, creating respiratory illnesses for the women who cook and the children they watch.

They created a camp stove that burns anything (even dried manure) and in the process, produces electricity. The electricity powers a fan, which makes for a very efficient flame. It produces more than enough electricity to power the fan, so you can plug in other items to charge them right from the stove. What an amazing thing! So they made a version for campers that is smaller and a larger one for people to have in their homes in countries where people cook by burning fuel.

I think this is amazing, and seems less stressful than filling up a stove with fuel or tossing old propane refills. And anything we can do to further this company’s mission to bring these stoves to folks who need them, that would be a wonderful thing!

Biolite Stove

Biolite Stove

 4. Nora is a very adorable cat

I guess this one should not have been a surprise. She clearly was a cat in a former life. I was surprised that Purina was a Maker sponsor and I don’t know if I really understood why after visiting them. They were making cat toys out of paper (but not a very exciting design) and taking photos of people like this one of Nora. Hey Purina – I have a very cute catnip toy made from recycled materials that I can help you feature at the next Maker Faire!

Nora as a cat, Purina booth, World Maker Faire

Nora as a cat, Purina booth, World Maker Faire

5. There were fewer people making awesomeness from trash than I expected

This was a surprise. The busiest areas were, by far, the ones with the robots and circuits and 3-D plastic printing. Oh! And the show where they dropped Mentos into diet Coke to make something like a fireworks show, that was crowded too. But there was not as much content for my Trashmagination heart as I had imagined.

It made me sad, on a certain level. But it was a good thing to know. It is good to know that when people say “Maker,” they mostly mean people making things that I would call “technology.” And that’s a step forward from not making things at all. After all, my whole career has been in the online space, so I know you can use technology to get at agendas you really care about. But it taught me that if I want to be a part of the “Maker movement,” I should be prepared to walk into a room with a lot of people talking about “Arduino” and “Raspberry Pi” and other very techy topics. I did see a monkey toy made from recycled fibers that was run with an Arduino brain by Mario the Magician. The monkey’s lips are made from carved wine corks and its skeleton is cut-up metal coat hangers, so these worlds can mix. These peas and carrots can touch.

Since the Maker Faire, I learned from a neighbor that there are two local Maker groups, and that was very exciting. I am looking forward to attending their meetings to see if there is space for Trashmagination. And if that space is not immediately obvious, perhaps I am the person who needs to create that connection. After all, if they have already created a space that is “Maker-friendly,” I can just bring them new kinds of Makers.

We’ll see if I have it in me to write one more blog about the Maker Faire in New York. I would like to write about:

  • what I observed while watching children at Maker Faire
  • what I noticed about the people with handmade crafts there
  • meeting people from local Maker groups

We’ll see if I get time!

One thought on “Top 5 Surprises at World Maker Faire 2013

  1. jeff hanlon on

    Don’t be too sad about the “usefulness of 3-D printing.” Using plastic is an easy way to demonstrate the technology. There are other related “3-D printing” techniques using metal and ceramics that show promise in solving some tricky manufacturing steps. Look up “direct metal laser sintering” to get an idea of what 3-D can do.

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