This weekend, Maker Faire touched down in New York. Sponsored by O’Reilly publishing’s Make and Craft magazines, Maker Faire is a craft and tech expo that happens in several cities throughout the year. Exhibitioners included robot makers, tee shirt makers, garden makers, radio makers…seeing the trend?
It happened at the New York Hall of Science in Queens. It was definitely a welcome recharge, and by the end of the bus ride back to Philly I discovered that I’d filled nine pages of a notebook with new sketches and notes. Here are some of my favorite participants that are making me re-think my stance on working alone.
I had a blast talking to Brie and Michael about their Philadelphia area slow-fashion clothing company, Reboot. They make simple, beautiful sweaters and jackets from the ends of industrial bolts of wool that would otherwise be discarded by large clothing manufacturers. They are clearly very thoughtful about their work, describing their hesitance to use the word “sustainable” because it’s impossible to know what’s truly sustainable. But their garment construction is unambiguously solid and well thought-out. I walked away with a gorgeous hooded sweatshirt and plans to collaborate on a wool-based workshop sometime soon. We had a great conversation that flitted from the ups and downs of small-scale manufacturing, to technology education for girls. I can’t wait to watch them grow.
My wonderful friend Maggie Avener spent much of the weekend teaching small groups of people how to make a tiny FM crystal radio receiver, which she says is kind of unusual–usually crystal radios are AM. But these little radios are just strong enough to pick up a signal from a transmitter very close by, and it was a great intro to basic soldering, electronics, and radio concepts. I saw Maggie teaching a kid who looked about 7 years old, and she followed along flawlessly. Not surprising, as Maggie is one of the best technical teachers I know.
Food justice and land use
There was a sustainability corner at the Faire, and 2 projects in particular caught my eye. First was a program whose mission it is to let people know that they can get fresh produce from farmers markets and elsewhere with SNAP/EBT benefits. We chatted about PhillySNAP, an app developed during Random Hacks of Kindness that allows users to text an address to 267-293-9387 and find the nearest SNAP-participating location that sells fresh produce. We also talked about the Food Trust’s Healthy Corner Store initiative and the potential to work on food justice, availability, and urban farming all in one space.
I also really enjoyed talking about the blessings and curses of vacant public land with the kind folks from 596 Acres, “a public education project aimed at making communities aware of the land resources around them” in Brooklyn. Here in Philly, where a rep from the Redevelopment Authority openly stated that it views community gardens as an “interim use” (at a Sustainability Forum no less!!!), it frustrates me that green space that is tenderly cared for by a neighborhood, is basically seen as a cheap way to pretty-up a derelict property, which raises the property values, which fetches a higher price for the property, which is then developed, which erases the very amenity that raised the value in the first place. Wouldn’t it be a better investment to leave the treasured space and let it raise the value (and thus property tax revenue) of the whole block? Ranting aside, these folks are focused on making these opportunities visible to the communities that host them. I’ll be interested to follow their work.
2D to 3D
There were lots of projects that exploited sheet goods, CAD, and precise cutting machines like laser cutters and milling machines to pull gorgeously contoured objects out of flat stacks of blah. I really liked Sketch Chair, which makes surprisingly comfy furniture out of precision cut plywood.
I really enjoyed seeing the other woodworking exhibits, especially watching a couple of ShopBots, heavy duty CNC machines that can carve intricate patterns into or through thick wood. Around there I chatted with an instructor from the Yestermorrow Design/Build school in Vermont and admired the work.
Appropriate Tech and Medicine
I stopped briefly to talk to Alex Dahinten, an engineer intern from Engineering World Health, an NGO that tries to extend the life and usefulness of medical equipment in the developing world. From their glossy brochure, “Millions of dollars of medical equipment are donated each year to hospitals in the developing world…yet it is estimated that 80% of that equipment will be out of service in 5 years, and almost 40% never worked in the first place.”
So they develop clever hacks like replacing expensive, broken EKG contacts with new ones made of bottle caps and clothing snaps that are reusable up to 100 times with proper cleaning. I don’t know much about them, but their designs are open source (yay Open Hardware!) and they seem pretty rad.
There was lots more, like tons of 3D printing, a fire-breathing dragonbot, hackerspace organizers, and microcontroller mayhem, but I had fun taking my time through a subset of what the Faire had to offer. It’s an exciting time to make things.