Hello, World Maker Faire

Maker News
Hello, World Maker Faire
Diet Coke and Mentos at UniSphere
Diet Coke and Mentos at UniSphere Photo: Andrew Kelly

“Here in Queens you can find anybody and everybody,” said Marcello, my cab driver, who was taking me to the airport. I thought it was a perfect summary of World Maker Faire in Queens. Marcello told me his wife and their two younger children came to World Maker Faire on Sunday, and I was happy to hear that. He had moved to the U.S. from Argentina in the 70s, served in the military, and married a woman from Columbia. They have four children, the oldest of which has graduated from college and the two youngest came to the event.

Queens is the most ethnically diverse urban area in the world, according to Wikipedia. 48% of the people who live in Queens were born outside the United States. Minerva Tantoco, the Chief Technology Officer for New York City who spoke at MakerCon, grew up in Queens. She said there were only two other Asian families in her neighborhood when her family moved there in the 70s. Today, the city of Flushing in Queens has one of the highest concentrations of Asians on the East Coast, and it is constantly changing. It’s incredible to have Maker Faire here and have it reflect the diversity of Queens. I can see it by just walking around and talking to people.

Maker Faire in Queens
Maker Faire in Queens

Being in Queens at the New York Hall of Science means that we are also connected to and inspired by the 1964 World’s Fair. The Hall of Science was built for the World’s Faire, and the rockets placed on its grounds were brought there at that time, over five decades ago. The World’s Fair was a huge event attended by all kinds of people. It celebrated what the future might bring for us, but it also brought a sense of optimism for the future — that great things will happen and that we will all benefit from the new technology and inventions that are coming. We seek to carry that spirit forward in World Maker Faire. (And thanks to our partners, the New York Hall of Science.)

The Unisphere is the remarkable symbol of the 1964 World’s Fair. This year, we moved Eepybird’s Diet Coke and Mentos fountains attraction out in the NYC Park (with their kind permission) to have the UniSphere as a backdrop. It was amazing. We had a marching band lead the way to the show, and lots of people followed. Fritz and Stephen have never had such a spectacular “Arms Up” finish.

Marching band and marchers at Maker Faire (photo: Andrew Kelly)
Marching band and marchers at Maker Faire. Photo: Andrew Kelly

For all these reasons, when we first started Maker Faire in New York City, we decided to call it “World Maker Faire.”

Official Greeter

As I think about my role at Maker Faire these days, I have the job of going around and saying hello to people. And not just the Makers, but the people who are coming as guests to Maker Faire. You can usually find me at one of the gates. On Saturday morning, as we opened, I asked Lisa Glover of KitRex to bring her cardboard dinosaur outfit and help me in welcoming everyone to Maker Faire.

Welcoming guests to Maker Faire with KitRex (photo: Becca Henry)
Welcoming guests to Maker Faire with KitRex. Photo: Becca Henry

Soon, the cardboard dinosaur was joined by a 3-person marching band on stilts, a wonderful combination that you would only find at a Maker Faire, and the dinosaur danced to their music.

KitRex dancing (photo: Becca Henry)
KitRex dancing. Photo: Becca Henry
A boy watching KitRex and the marching band. Photo: Becca Henry
A boy watching KitRex and the marching band. Photo: Becca Henry

I enjoy meeting the people who come to Maker Faire. For many, I don’t know what brought them here, how they heard about it, and what it means to them. I’m curious to learn more. I’m also looking around at the expressive faces of children who share their joy and wonder.

A dad and his 12-year-old daughter came up to say hello to me. They came last year and the father said his daughter really wanted to come back this year. She was smiling, and she talked about her interest in science and technology with a mixture of shyness and confidence. Then she turned around to show me that she was wearing an LED panel display with the words “Welcome to Maker Faire” scrolling. She had made it herself.

The Kaleidodome was fascinating. (photo: Becca Henry)
The Kaleidodome was fascinating. Photo: Becca Henry

I said hello to an elderly couple who told me they came down from Boston for the day. The man said that while he was standing in line to get in, he struck up a conversation with a young boy who told him about his Raspberry Pi project. The boy pulled the board out of his pocket to show the man, and the man was astonished.

The man had some connection to the music industry and he mentioned that he knew the punk rocker and artist Patti Smith who lives in Queens. I said how much I liked her music and wished he would invite her next year. Before I left the couple, the man asked me if I would consider giving a talk to his Harvard class’s 50th reunion. “They need to know that this going on,” he said. Later, he wrote me an email and recounted that his wife said while leaving Maker Faire: “This restores your faith in humanity.”

Playing with the Platonic Solids. Photo: Becca Henry
Playing with the Platonic Solids. Photo: Becca Henry

A teacher from Wyomissing Area School District in Pennsylvania stopped to thank me, and said: “You are giving me the cover I need to do what’s best for my students and get them making at school.”

I was introduced to Dr. Elsie Quaite-Randall, who is the Chief Technology Transfer Officer from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California. She gave me a kiss on each cheek, in gratitude for Maker Faire. I was caught by surprise but delighted that she saw something in Maker Faire that spoke to her. I spoke to a group from the Department of Energy about Makers and how they might work with them. Dr. Ellen Williams of ARPA-E, a research arm of the Department of Energy, was our keynote for MakerCon.

Meeting with Dept of Energy
Meeting with the Department of Energy. Photo: Andrew Kelly
Lisa Marie (photo: Andrew Kelly)
Lisa Marie Wiley. Photo: Andrew Kelly

On Friday night, at a NYSCI dinner, I saw Ashley Dara who has been involved in Made in Space, which put the first 3D printer in space. She has also done humanitarian work in Haiti. Dara introduced me to Lisa Marie Wiley, a small, thin woman with a fierce look in her eyes. She wore jeans cut-off at the knee and her left lower limb was a black 3D printed prosthetic that she had designed with Dara. I asked them both to address the audience gathered for the dinner. “I might not look like a soldier to you but I am,” said Lisa Marie. She had fought in Afghanistan and lost her lower right limb. Because she was small, existing prosthetics did not fit her well and they were expensive. With Dara, she designed a better prosthetic that could be 3D printed and made for under $20.

I met young Ahmed Mohamed who had quite a time at Maker Faire. He wasn’t particularly interested in me when I was introduced to him over at the Power Wheel Racing track. Like any 14 year old, he was more interested in seeing if someone would let him ride one of the Power Wheels Racing cars. Minutes later, he was at the Power Tool Drag Race getting a turn. While Ahmed was busy, I met his family and talked at length with his father who was very kind and gracious. He told me that Ahmed had met “his people” here and he was grateful for this event. I was glad that Ahmed had the chance to experience Maker Faire as a kid.

I met Jim Dallam, a retired engineer from Ohio affiliated with Hive13 in Cincinnati, who helped build the Power Tools Drag Race as “something to do.” He brought it to Cincinnati’s Maker Faire a few weeks earlier and then packed it up and brought it to New York. It was a popular attraction where people can choose a modified Power Tool (and the modification might involve My Little Pony or some such toy) and then race them down a wooden track. One race I saw involved a toaster mounted to a circular saw. Power Tool Drag Races began in the Bay Area at Ace Junkyard and they came to the first Maker Faire. Dallam liked the idea, and made his own more kid-friendly version. It was very popular.

Experiment Boy came from France to do science demos.
Experiment Boy came from France to do science demos. Photo: Becca Henry

A senior official from NASA came up to me and said “This is a revolution, it’s unbelievable,” he said. He was happy as could be as were all the NASA folks I met at World Maker Faire. It’s pretty clear that the people at NASA love what they do and they love to share that with others. Maker Faire is a perfect venue for them.

Father and son with NASA photos
Father and son with NASA photos

A young boy with a full head of curly red hair asked me: “Are you Dale?” When I said I was his face turned red with a big smile and he had trouble getting his breath. “I really wanted to meet you,” he said. “You are my hero.” I hardly knew what to say. I hugged him and took a picture with him and his mom.

Jared Ficklin's LED display (photo; Becca Henry)
Jared Ficklin’s LED display. Photo: Becca Henry

A group of Makers were demonstrating an open source ground monitoring station for tracking satellites. The idea is that we need more ground stations throughout the world, and why not get lots of people to build them as hobbyists or school projects? I asked one of the Makers where they were from and he said most of the team were from Greece. I thought he meant they were Americans of Greek origin but no, they had come all the way from Greece just for World Maker Faire.

Zoa Chimerum shows off her 3D printed necklace. Photo: Becca Henry
Zoa Chimerum shows off her 3D printed necklace. Photo: Becca Henry

I met two teachers who had opened a makerspace at their school in Charlotte, North Carolina. They had full backpacks full of kits, books, and other information that they were bringing back with them. They didn’t know about the Charlotte Mini Maker Faire, which is happening October 10.

A woman told me about a makerspace for kids that she has been running in Manhattan. We talked about making as play. She said that parents can be the biggest problem for kids. “I wish parents would leave their kids alone,” she said describing how parents intervene too often, directing kids and taking control away from the child. “Just let them play.” Her words reminded me of the Pink Floyd lyric aimed at teachers: “leave those kids alone.”

Young girl inside cardboard box
Young girl inside a cardboard box. Photo: Becca Henry

Balam Soto in an interactive, experimental artist from Hartford, Connecticut. I saw him at his exhibit in the dark room. I was so impressed by his touch-sensitive instrument called Exp.Inst.Rain, which I can’t explain at all. What I saw was how it mesmerized people, young and old, bathing them and the instrument in waves of orange circles..

I said hello to Damien Murtagh, an architect from Dublin, Ireland, who came to show ArcKit, a 3D model-building system for architects. It allows them to use standard components to create a 3D model of a home or building.

I met an old school rapper, Jazzy Jay, who was in the Intel booth with Thud Rumble. “I get this event,” he said with obvious joy as he shook my hand. “I’m a geek myself. I love seeing all of this.” Thud Rumble is Richard Quitevis (DJ Qbert) and Ritche Desuasido (DJ Yogafrog). There’s yet another Ritchie who is the brains behind the scenes, as a programmer and builder. He’s been integrating the Intel Edison board into the sound systems they use. Speaking of Jazzy Jay, Ritchie told me that in the early days of hip hop, Jazzy Jay was building his own home recording studio because nobody could afford a professional sound studio.

Photo: Andrew Kelly

Divine Bradley, who’s an educator with the Future Project in Newark, New Jersey, spoke on a panel at the Education Forum on Friday. He talked about creating a culture at schools where students “don’t need permission to be great, to do great things.” He, his wife, and their two daughters showed up at Maker Faire on Saturday.

Divine Bradley speaking at the Education Forum. Photo: Becca Henry

Kiruthika Curic, Masakazu Tks Takasu, and Bartholomew Tinq came to World Maker Faire from Singapore. Curic is the organizer of the Singapore Maker Faire, along with Takasu, who hails from Tokyo. Tinq makes things out of cardboard but he begins by creating the design in a 3D CAD tool and then having the cardboard cut for the design. He first built a large head for a cardboard teddy bear and then built a Formula One racer on Saturday. It was great to see all of them come to World Maker Faire.

Takaksu, Kiruthika, myself and Sherry Huss (photo: Becca Henry)
Takasu, Curic, myself, and Sherry Huss. Photo: Becca Henry

An African-American woman from Brooklyn I met on Saturday morning was having trouble carrying bags and locating her group, which was Cirque Amongus from Detroit. I gave her a ride in a cart and she found one of her boys, and went on her way. On Sunday, she was walking out with four boys and when she saw me, she came over and gave me a huge hug that surprised me. I don’t know if we exchanged words, but we didn’t have to with such a hug.

I love it when people show up wearing something they made. I spotted a young person with a futuristic outfit and said hello. She explained that there was dry ice in her backpack so that smoke would come out the nozzles on the bottom.

Young person in homemade outfit
A young person with a homemade jetpack

The People Behind the Scenes

One reason I can walk around and greet people is that we have an amazing crew that organizes and produces the event. It’s incredible what they do and how hard they work. What sets them apart is that they really get why we’re doing this event and it drives them to make it better each year. Sherry Huss, Louise Glasgow, Jonathan Magnin, Bridgette Vanderlaan, and the entire team want the Makers to have a great experience at Maker Faire, and we want our guests to enjoy themselves.

The Great Fredini, the wonderful Fred Kahl, has scanned and 3D printed almost all members of the Maker Faire crew. The crew populates his 3D printed replica of Luna Park in Coney Island, as it stood 100 years ago. Our crew totally deserves to be commemorated with action figures.

Action-figures of Maker Faire Crew. (photo: Jess Hobbs)
Action figures of Maker Faire Crew.

It goes by rather quickly, the four days from MakerCon through the weekend’s Maker Faire. Yet what sticks with me is something that we have all created together – and are part of — a maker community. It’s a community with lots of energy, skill and passion. That combination along with the idea that “anybody and everybody” is welcome is what allows the Maker Movement to become such a positive force for change. That’s the joy and wonder I see and feel at Maker Faire. Thanks to everyone who made it so special.

Robot Resurrection by Shane Evans with Rockets (photo: Becca Henry)
Robot Resurrection by Shane Evans with NYSCI rockets in the background. Photo: Becca Henry
Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

DALE DOUGHERTY is the leading advocate of the Maker Movement. He founded Make: Magazine 2005, which first used the term “makers” to describe people who enjoyed “hands-on” work and play. He started Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, and this event has spread to nearly 200 locations in 40 countries, with over 1.5M attendees annually. He is President of Make:Community, which produces Make: and Maker Faire.

In 2011 Dougherty was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change” through an initiative that honors Americans who are “doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” At the 2014 White House Maker Faire he was introduced by President Obama as an American innovator making significant contributions to the fields of education and business. He believes that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform the educational experience of students and introduce them to the practice of innovation through play and tinkering.

Dougherty is the author of “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing our Jobs, Schools and Minds” with Adriane Conrad. He is co-author of "Maker City: A Practical Guide for Reinventing American Cities" with Peter Hirshberg and Marcia Kadanoff.

View more articles by Dale Dougherty