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22 March 2009, 06:53

Community Live: Newcastle Maker Faire, March 14-15, 2009

A D.I.Y. Faire for Technology Geeks

by Piers Cawley

Maker Faire's got started in the US, the first being held on April 22 – 23, 2006 at the San Mateo Fairgrounds. Created by Make: magazine these events celebrate D.I.Y. technology with all kinds of weird and wonderful creations ranging from toys to artworks and gadgets. This year Newcastle hosted the first UK Maker Faire.

MakeThings.jpg
Source: Image by moleitau
This mock propaganda poster by Matt Jones is the perfect response to the Keep calm and carry on poster which seems to be everywhere nowadays. It could well have been the motto for the Newcastle Maker Faire, part of the Newcastle ScienceFest.

When I was a kid, my dad was an aero-modeller and wannabe model engineer, so a couple of times a year we'd troop off Wembley for the Model Engineer exhibition, or to an old RAF base for a day of aero-modelling related hi-jinks. Usually you'd find one or two stands where blokes were doing something a bit quirky. For my money, these were always the best stands. The Maker Faire was like a small version of these shows, filled with nothing but those stands. The Centre for Life.
Zoom The Centre for Life.

The Soul Of The Faire

Horse
Zoom The fire breathing horse.
There was performance tech - a fire breathing horse on wheels, a puppet god being serenaded by a blue man with a soprano saxophone and, somewhere in the Centre for Life, the Fighting Robots Featherweight UK Championships.

But, for me at least, the soul of the faire was the tent in Times Square, just outside the Centre for Life. This was where the makers hung out. There was a real buzz in here - makers proud of what they were doing and a constant flow of interested visitor. The crowd was different from the crowds I remember - there were more families (whole families too, not just dad and the kids), fewer solitary men, and the usual number of obsessive camerapeople. Maker Faires, it seems, get _recorded_.

Adrian McEwen was showing off Bubblino, a jokey machine that blew bubbles every time someone mentioned either 'bubblino' or 'makerfaireuk' on twitter, alongside his rather more serious and important Mazzini project, a controllable electricity monitor that, rather whimsically, was hooked up to a lava lamp and set so that the lamp was turned off when the national grid was running at peak load. When I arrived, it was lunch time, so the lamp spent its time turned off.

The chaps from BBC backstage were showing off some cool bits and pieces from the BBC's R&D department, including an open source multi-touch sensor which makes cunning use of a web-cam and can just about manage to track 10 fingers (though not so easily on the prototype they were showing because the surface was so small). They also showed a _very_ clever software image stabilisation system which worked with the picture stream from dumb, but high definition cameras.

[pagelink Lunar Landers]Next: Lunar Landers, Arduino and Retro Computing[/pagelink]

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