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dadiangokart My Dad was a MakerSomeone who read about the upcoming Cleveland Mini Maker Faire told me “that’s something your Dad would have loved.” They’re right. John Krouse would have loved the Maker Faire and I’m sad that he’s missing it. (He passed away too early from cancer, about three years ago.)

I’ve been thinking about why he would have loved this event and, really, this whole movement. Sure, he was the kind of dad that built go-karts and electromagnets and helped me create spaceships and robots out of trade show samples he brought home from business trips. He was also a graduate of the Case School of Engineering and the editor and publisher of Machine Design. His background helped answer my questions about why C3PO makes that whirring sound when he walks, how a torpedo really sinks a ship, and why the speed of light is such a big deal.

But makers don’t just make; they want to understand how something works and, perhaps most importantly, want others to understand how things work. Anyone who ever heard my dad talk about writing knows that description fits him perfectly.

He spent much of his writing career (at Penton Media and then as a freelance consultant) making complicated engineering relatable to anyone. He hated jargon and searched for succinct and meaningful language to communicate the fundamentals of how things worked. His piece The Sound of Legend is typical of his atypical approach to writing about something like sound and vibration software:

You know it’s a Harley as soon as you hear it, before you even see it. The throaty pounding and off-centered drumming beat are part of the signature sound that uniquely defines the persona of the machine and clearly differentiates the manufacturer from its competitors. Buyers don’t just want transportation to get from one place to another. They want a riding experience, a big part of which is the classic sound of the bike. It’s all about the thunder, roar and rumble riders expect when they rev up the engine.

I wanted to write this not only as a tribute to my Dad, but to all the people here in Cleveland (and everywhere else) that feel the same way he did: explaining how something works is just as important as building it, selling it, or buying it. If we lose that ability and desire to explain, then we lose the ability to truly innovate.

There are moments at a maker event when you see beyond the technology and craft and realize that this isn’t just about demonstrating or exhibiting; it’s a movement that strives to make complicated things simple to understand. If we make technology (or anything, really) complicated, we put the power to innovate in the hands of a few. Makers strive to do the opposite, saying, “Here’s something complicated, but it’s really easy to understand if you look inside.” That’s what my dad would have loved most of all.

James Krouse

James Krouse is a playwright, author, and new media consultant. He is currently the artistic director at Ingenuity, a Cleveland-based non-profit exploring where people and technology connect. Ingenuity is the primary producer of IngenuityFest and the Cleveland Mini Maker Faire.


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