This was my first trip to Maker Faire in three years. The last time I went, in 2011, it seemed almost completely like 2010 and the only thing I remember standing out was a small square tent in opaque black that was wound inside with firefly lights and fake vines. I probably would have bought that and set it up somewhere if there were room for it. But other than that, it really felt like the event had hit the wall.
Flash forward three years.
It’s gotten bigger, make no mistake. A lot of things that used to be indoors are now outside under tents, especially the craft and fabric-related stuff. Not to mention a wide array of blacksmiths, fire-breathing octopi, mechanized snakes, and of course the ever-popular recreation of the Bellagio fountains with Coke Zero and Mentos. (It used to be Diet Coke; I can only assume there’s a marketing angle here somewhere.) Inside, there’s dedicated dark space for the glowing Tesla coils used to make music. And there’s a lot more in the way of food-related stuff, and I don’t mean dining: there are vertical hydroponic racks suitable for growing tomatoes in the space of a phone pole.
The biggest things now are drones and 3D printing. There were all sorts of 3D printing exhibits, applications, hardware specials, the works. Basically the same old “the street finds its own uses for technology” – snap-together cosplay helmets printed one palm-sized piece at a time, custom-extruded Crocs made on a scan of your actual foot and fit perfectly to size, auto parts replaced by scanning and printing and lost-wax casting. Plus assorted quadcopter-type things with HD cameras attached – some big enough to fly over streaming video of El Pulpo Mechanico live to the Internet, some about the size of your hand looking like an extra prop from Agents of SHIELD. And there are corporate booths, of course, but they tend to be more like Radio Shack’s “Learn To Solder” booth.
Plus there’s the old standby, all of them – the naval battles between ball-bearing-firing warships on the water, the model trains propelled by live steam with tiny coal boilers, the marshmallow shooters of PVC pipe (customize your own!), an entire village of steampunk outfitters, wallets made out of seat belts and a human-sized version of the old Mouse Trap board game. And a whole array of costumes, for every and any reason or no reason at all, whether Goth or steampunk or comic-book-ish or neo-Victorian-in-Wonderland or just made up out of your own head. (And don’t think the opportunity to cyberpunk it up hasn’t drifted through my head once or twice, if only there were more fog and less sunlight out.)
Maker Faire, at heart, is what Burning Man used to be and tries to pretend it is. It’s what SxSWi wants you to believe it represents (instead of spring break for startups). Maker Faire, at its heart, is a celebration of creativity and imagination, not freighted with the baggage of ten thousand Williamsburg/Mission hipsters or techie douchenozzles (the whole day Saturday, I saw exactly three pair of Google Glass, not one of them on an exhibitor). And it’s all forms of creativity and imagination. Do you quilt? There’s something for you to see, irrespective of whether you’ve ever touched a smartphone in your life. Do you just like to put Lego together? Go for it. No pink feathered boas and/or skinny jeans required. Calligraphy? Iron cutlery? Fashion made out of Target bags and produce mesh? A working electric piano made out of cucumbers? It’s all there.
And there was one company offering an electrified folding scooter for $800. Cheap? Maybe – tops out at 20mph, costs only pennies to charge, folds up into a 34 lb package suitable for going on any transit, not just the bike car, and ideal for bridging the last mile (and possibly sidestepping some of the issues I have commuting to work) – I didn’t splash out for it, but it got me thinking about how to reinvent how I get to work and back or get around as a whole. And that’s what something like this does: spurs the imagination. And imagination is something we could generally use a lot more of.