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MakerFaire 2010: the State Fair for Mad Scientists
By: Terri Wells
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    MakerFaire 2010: the State Fair for Mad Scientists

    (Page 1 of 2 )

    Nearly 80,000 people descended upon the San Mateo County Event Center the weekend of May 23 and 24 for MakerFaire 2010, the fourth annual fair held in California for makers of all ages. Robots, steam punk, crazy cars, amazing contraptions, and plain cool ideas competed for attention at an event that celebrates the creativeness in all of us.

    First, let me give you a little background. MakerFaire is put on by MAKE magazine (), owned by O'Reilly. They seem to have all but jump started the latest incarnation of the do-it-yourself movement. The first MakerFaire was held in 2006. The following year saw two of them: one in California, and one in Texas. Since then they've spread to other states and countries; this year, in just the U.S., there have been MakerFaires in California and North Carolina, with upcoming ones in New York and Michigan. You can check out the MakerFaire site itself to track down more specifics.

    The whole point of MakerFaire is to give garage and basement tinkerers a chance to show off what they'd made. Some makers offered their work for sale, but many of them were there just to show it off or even give away plans or software. For example, one maker showed off the Battle of Kokopelli. It's similar to Guitar Hero – only instead of a fake guitar, you're playing a real recorder to progress through the game, and instead of being a rock star, you're the nature spirit Kokopelli and you're trying to save the world.

    Music was actually pretty pervasive throughout the fair. In addition to the performers on various stages (including a human-powered stage driven by bicycles), there was a large percussion-based “band” of sorts in the main expo hall that was operated by computer. There was also a performer whose drum set also featured amped digeridoos and some very strange-looking stringed instruments. There was also an experimental music area where one could find novel instruments, games that combined music and light effects (and took advantage of the iPad's touchscreen), and much more.

    Of course, no description of the music at MakerFaire would be complete without mentioning Arc Attack. Their largest instrument is a pair of eight-foot-tall Tesla coils. You haven't heard the Star-Spangled Banner until you've heard it performed on Tesla coils. Later, the group gave a full performance, which featured one of their members in an insulated suit getting between the coils and playing with the lightning radiating from them.

    The Tesla stage, as it was called, inhabited a room kept deliberately dark...so naturally it was filled with objects from other makers that glowed or otherwise grabbed attention. Items like five-foot-tall alien abduction lamps. Shaped like a lava lamp, these featured a flying saucer at the top and a toy cow floating inside the clear glass section, which was filled with bubbling liquid. Or the two-foot-tall glass Buddha; put your hand against its glass hand, think of a question, and get your answer on a digital display. Or better still, the neon-lit remote-controlled sharks, which the children loved to chase.

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