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The PopTech conference is currently underway in Camden, ME. We sent some emissaries from MAKE, namely Zach and Kim DeBord, Mike Gould, and Stuart Gaines. Zach is an artist and BEAMbot builder. He did the awesome bots (and photos) for my “Pummer, Dude!” [PDF] piece in MAKE, Volume 08. Mike Gould has a project, “Lunchbox Laser Shows,” in the upcoming “Kids of All Ages” issue, Volume 20, of MAKE. Stuart Gaines writes:

In Camden Maine this week, the annual PopTech conference has taken over the town’s beautifully-restored 18th century opera house where an “A-list” of speakers contemplates the “re-invention” of America.

Just down the block, on Elm St., in a converted auto garage, two master makers are demonstrating how to take everyday objects, found in the techno-trash or commonly sourced on eBay, and re-invent them as high-tech gadgets with new purpose. It’s a mini-Maker Faire amidst the dazzling fall foliage. All day long, a steady stream of PopTech attendees wander into the garage. In the first bay, they meet Mike Gould and learn how he embeds red, green, and blue lasers into lunchboxes and slide projectors. In the next bay, Zach DeBord and his wife Kim are fashioning buzzing, twittering toys, soldered together from junked calculators, spare motors, wires, and postage stamp-sized solar cells.

Just down Route 1, in nearby Rockland, a lucky group of PopTechies got a chance to pull a spoke-shave at The Apprenticeshop, one of the oldest traditional boat-building schools in the country. Lance Lee, founder of the Apprenticeshop, was on-hand to explain the joys of working with wood, and his boat-building projects, including a smaller version of Tremolino, a 19th Century lateen-rigged Mediterranean workboat used by Joseph Conrad.

Back at PopTech, speakers expound on the impact of new technologies with a thought-provoking mix of optimism and fear. A disturbing contrast to “creative re-use” was photographer Chris Jordan’s photographs of seabirds brought down by plastic refuse. Jordan has just returned from Midway Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. His photographs were literally “breathtaking.” The opera house audience was left speechless by his story of the destructive impact of these everyday materials. See “Midway: Message from the Gyre” on his site.

PopTech runs through Saturday, October 24.