Thursday, May 1, 2008

Maker's Mark [The Onion AV Club]

The Onion AV Club, May 1-7, 2008

Design a box while thinking outside of it at the Maker Faire

Make and Craft magazines' Maker Faire is part world's fair, part science project, and part Burning Man (minus the drugs, sand, and naked people), with entertainment and inspiration found in DIY crafts, robotics, technology, mad science, art, and everything in between. This year's event promises to once again be the most exciting thing to happen in San Mateo all year, and will probably even impress your friends who claim to be too cool for a fair spelled with an "e." What follows is a guide to some things worth checking out at the third annual Maker Faire.

Green days
With global warming going full blast, "green" is turning into an overused marketing buzzword, but the movement is also offering new opportunities for invention and innovation. This year's Maker Faire is spotlighting the concept of green living by bringing in people who recycle old clothes into new wardrobes and costumes, teach container composting, and demonstrate using alcohol for fuel. There's also going to be a father and his teenaged son converting a gas-powered motorcycle into a plug-in vehicle (no, it's not Robert Pirsig), and The Neverwas Haul--a steampunk art car modeled after a three-story Victorian house and created from 75 percent recyclable materials--is making its second appearance and will host the first-ever Maker Faire wedding. Elsewhere, you can pedal around in Cyclecide's rodeo of completely impractical bicycles, or help keep DJ Fossil Fool's pedal-powered generator running as he performs live at the Rock The Bike area.

Heroic guitarists
Last year's ukulele performance of Ziggy Stardust promises to be challenged by the Electronic Music Fest, with a program that includes the Stanford Laptop Orchestra, which pushes computer-generated avant-garde music to scientific extremes, and The Guitar Zeros, a group of software geeks who turned Guitar Hero controllers into real instruments capable of producing a variety of synth sounds. Attendees can also learn how to build guitars from a kit, mandolins from a template, and electronic drums from supplies found at The Home Depot, and there will be several pirate-radio tutors teaching aspiring Hard Harrys basic broadcasting technology.

Extreme crafting
The crafts found at Maker Faire don't resemble the ugly socks your friend made after she got dumped and started knitting. Crude Awakening's welding workshop offers a shot at making weird steel sculptures, while The Crucible will let you do everything from blacksmithing to glassblowing. For the slightly less adventurous, GalaxyGoo will demonstrate how to use clay to make replicas of cells, while "Zen paintball painting" gives you license to make your own Abstract Expressionist work. Those with young ones will have fun hanging out with crafters offering hands-on opportunities, including The Sawdust Shop's woodworking demo area (which includes a place for kids to make their own ping-pong shooters) and award-winning paper-airplane designer John Collins.

Explosions in the sky
The robots at the Maker Faire rarely disappoint, and tend to be some of the weirdest and most fun projects at the event. Put aside robot holocaust fears and check out Sparky 2.0—built from trash and designed for roving video chat—and Roboexotica's MindReadingMartiniMaker, which specializes in perfecting the classic cocktail. The Life-Sized Mousetrap is back this year, hopefully with a platform and less mechanical glitches, and EepyBird—the creators of that Diet Coke and Mentos explosion made famous via YouTube—will be performing a live junk-food imitation of the Bellagio fountains. After getting nice and sticky, swing by Institute For The Future's Make The Future Pavilion to learn about forecasting the future (no crystal ball required).

It's getting hot in here
For those who are into fire and art cars but don't want to drop $300 and have their cavities filled with sand at Burning Man, Maker Faire's Saturday Evening Fire Spectacular provides an alternative that isn't as expensive or annoying. After the main portion of the event shuts down at 6 p.m., the nighttime fun begins with live music, lots of fire, and power-tool drag races.

Note that the concession lines can get crazy, which means you may wait half an hour for a corndog, and tall cans of Tecate go for $10, so plan accordingly. Do yourself a favor and make friends with the martini-making robot. — Jess Hemerly

Maker Faire takes place May 3-4 at the San Mateo County Event Center from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $10-$25 and are available at or at the door.

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