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08/08/2011 / thriftomancer

Maker Faire 2011

On Saturday, July 31st I attended Maker Faire Detroit on the grounds of the Henry Ford Museum.

For those of you who’ve never heard of Maker Faire, it’s a convention/fair that was created by Make magazine to celebrate DIY culture. What makes it so much fun is that it’s not just DIY, it’s extreme DIY. The people exhibiting at Maker Faire have not simply made things in their backyards, they’ve created hulking juggernauts of progressive whimsy, some of which carry massive potential for both fun and destruction.

For example, this pony:


This is a Fur Real Friend pony that’s had its plush false fur skin removed and its gentle pony programming rewritten so that it can be operated with a Wii nunchuck controller and will do this on command.

Robopony - Active

That’s right, a fire-breathing robot pony. The dear creature has a fuel tank hidden inside its body cavity with a fuel line leading to the electric igniter mounted in the mouth. In a word: Awesome.

That’s the spirit behind Maker Faire. An entire event devoted to building, reworking, hacking, customizing, and otherwise taking what you have an making it your own. Which, of course, made me deliriously happy from the moment I walked in the gates.

Not in small part because this was the first thing I saw:

The Roborat

Yes, that is a massive robot rat skeleton. Yes, it’s mounted on a car body and is mobile. It also has speakers  mounted all along the sides and blares rock. I want one.

But Maker Faire isn’t all mad science projects either. There are artists both local and from afar selling their wares; tables set up with volunteers to teach the attendees how to knit/weave/crochet/embroider and other crafts; booths dedicated to renewable energy and green technologies; local hackerspaces showing their stuff, and more.

It’s a great time, totally worth the admittedly steep price tag for admission ($28 for a day and $50 for the whole weekend, but that includes admission to the Henry Ford Museum)  and I heartily recommend it to anyone who lives in the area and/or the surrounding states.

Here are some more images from the day:

Ferro fluid

This stuff is called ferrofluid. It’s a colloidal suspension of magnetic (ferrous) metallic particles in oil and is possibly the most fun you can have with magnets short of a cow-launching gauss rifle. What happens when ferrofluid is exposed to a magnetic field is what you see. The particles try to follow the lines of force in the field, making those dramatic spikes and semi-organic looking forms. As you move the field, the fluid reacts accordingly and changes shape. It’s entertaining beyond measure.

Several of the hackerspaces had projects on display that involved ferrofluids. (That’s how I ended up with some on my sleeve, I got a little too close.) One was a this:

Ferrofluid contraption

It’s a pan of ferrofluid suspended between two magnets. Both magnets were mounted on moving platforms and could be raised or lowered by turning a crank, allowing you to alter the magnetic field’s strength and play with the shape of the ferrofluid. Pretty simple machinery, but… I ended up playing with it for a half hour.

Another must-see project was a game called Super Street Fire. This is the ring:

Flame off

Two players are outfitted with position and acceleration-sensing bracers like those on the lad below, then sent into the ring to fight to the KO using a series of specific motion commands. Those commands are jab, hook, uppercut, and hadoken. That’s the “Super Street” part.


Observe the bracers. (Note: I don’t know this guy at all. His t-shirt identified him as a student at Kettering University, but that’s all I’ve got. He was a pretty rad dude though. Threw a mean hadoken.)

When the game commences, the players swing madly at each other and, when a proper hit is landed, the “Fire” part shows up because all those jets you see around the ring do this:

Flame on

It was hilarious to watch, mostly for the hadokens. (Especially when the 501st’s stormtroopers showed up to play. Stormtroopers + hadoken + fire = highly entertaining) I would’ve tried it myself, but when it’s 80-some degrees out, surrounded by fire is the last thing I want to be. Mayhap next year.

Speaking of the 501st Legion, the local chapter had a booth inside the museum ( with a Gonk droid!) and were circulating throughout the fair.

The 501st's troopers

On a less flammable note, a whole section of the fair was devoted to fabrication. There were a host of dealers exhibiting and/or selling cutting lasers, CNC machines, 3D printers, and all manner of design software. What really drew my attention though, geek that I am, was this set of polyhedral dice.

Thorne Dice

These are 3D printed in stainless steel by Shapeways (their Thorn dice pattern if you’re interested in buying) and brought tears to my eyes, both from their sheer beauty and the fact that I accidentally stabbed myself with them.

For all of you who’ve never heard of 3D printing before, it’s exactly what it sounds like. You have a printer that works in three dimensions (X, Y, and Z axes) and lays down a polymer or metal in the place of ink. Instead of having a single picture to print like a normal 2D printer, the 3D printer has multiple images that it prints, each a cross-section of the 3D object it’s to make. The technology is a real boon to people working on the small-scale who would otherwise have to contract for fabrication, but can do it themselves inexpensively using a 3D printer instead.

This hackerspace used their 3D printer to make a turret from Portal!

3D printed turret

Adorable, isn’t it? (I admit, I instinctively tried to retreat when I first saw it in my peripheral vision.)

The final highlight of the fair I’ll share (for now) is the iron pour. There’s a section of the fair that’s set up for demonstrations that are exceptionally hot and dangerous. It’s a large-scale sandbox to absorb the heat, along with a cordon of gates to keep the crowds to a safe distance and it’s within that space that they do the raku pottery and iron casting demonstrations.

Here’s the iron crew getting ready to take some molten metal from the furnace.

The iron crew

They open up the furnace spigot on the other side and collect the metal in their crucible.

Molten iron

And take it over to pour into the awaiting molds.

Pouring iron

It was interesting to watch. And is it just me, or is the color of the flowing iron in that last photo the exact same shade as the orange gack they used to dump on people on Nickelodeon? There was green gack and orange gack and the orange stuff was that color.

Anyway, they melted and poured until they filled all their molds and then it was the watermelon’s turn.

The melon

I mentioned it in my last post, but to use up the final dregs of iron they had hollowed out a watermelon and were planning to fill it with the metal. This, of course, sounded well worth watching to all of us in the crowd, so we stuck around. Thing is, none of us, not even the crew, knew what was going to happen when they did pour it.

If you don’t know, normally when you drop molten metal into water or onto a wet surface, it explodes. The metal superheats the water, turning it to vapor nigh-instantly and the force of expansion from liquid to gas flings the still-molten metal all around. In light of that, the pour crew asked us all to step back a bit. (That’s why the next few photos have the safety gate in the frame, I was too far back to avoid catching it.)

As it turns out, this is what happens when you pour molten iron into a watermelon:

A melon erupts! 1

Give it a second…

A melon erupts! 2

It starts to spit. That’s not a messy pour you’re seeing, that’s flecks or iron shooting back out. Then…

A melon erupts! 3

Things get crazy.

A melon erupts! 4

Yonder fruit transforms into a volcano!

It kept at it for a while, spitting and sloshing metal out for a few minutes, then settled down to a baleful simmer. It wasn’t as explosive as we were all expecting, but to be honest I’m okay with that. An exploding watermelon phobia is something I’m happy to do without.

In short, Maker Faire is an incredible event. Certainly the most fun you will ever have in a parking lot. Just ask the Commodore.

The Commodore

(If you’d like to see more pictures from Maker Faire, take a look at my Flickr. I’ll be uploading pictures on and off over the next few days/weeks as my quota allows.)


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