The large pod pictured above can walk across the ground when operated by someone inside. It reminded me a lot of the walking machines in the early Star Wars movies, which is appropriate since I saw it at the East Bay Mini Maker Faire and people in Oakland, California, think that George Lucas got his ideas for some of those walkers from the huge cranes at the Port of Oakland.
The pod was exciting, but what made the Faire such a thrill was the range of technology from impossibly ancient to things we might have considered science fiction a month ago along with the sheer beauty of human creativity in action.
At an educated guess, the oldest tech I saw at the Faire was the drop spindle, which dates back to the Stone Age. There was also a lot of metal work, including blacksmithing, which is also quite old. And fascinating to watch. There’s something about heating iron up until it is malleable and then shaping it that appeals to me greatly.
At the same time, there were robot-building projects, various electronics built using the Arduino platform, and 3-D printers. Not to mention biotech. One of the 3-D printers was set up to print out things created from human cells. Since my aging knees were complaining by the time I got there, I started thinking about building my own replacement knee cartilage.
The high tech was all small projects — creations from people’s basements and garages, from hackerspaces, from small nonprofits and budding entrepreneurs. Smart people today are playing with biotech as well as what can be done with electronics.
It really is possible that some of our coming scientific and engineering breakthroughs are going to come from people outside of the universities and government labs. The cost of the necessary equipment has come way down, and people are getting good at building tools that work — like 3-D printers — on the cheap. If a group of people go together, they can afford more tools and better equipment, so cooperation is part of the game.
What was really cool was seeing the old alongside the new. We may have mechanical processes to make yarn these days, but every knitter, weaver, and other fiber artist I know really likes playing with hand-spun yarn. Just watching a blacksmith work is enchanting. And I personally am fascinated by metal arts in general. I may have to learn to weld one of these days so that I can create a few things that keep coming to mind.
There were practical things and toys and art. There were books for sale — especially some artistic ones involving old-fashioned paper making. There were musicians. And of course there was food and drink. It felt a lot like a Renaissance Faire, except that the attendees weren’t in old-fashioned costumes (though some were clearly dressed artistically) and the displays and participant activities ranged from the very old to the very new.
The only thing the Faire lacked was storytelling. I think it belongs there. It’s an art form even older than spinning and, because it is constantly reinventing itself, as new as 3-D printing. I’d like to see a stage of old fashioned tellers and poets, perhaps a play, some video productions, booths on ebook production and how to do online video, and probably some new way of telling stories that hasn’t even occurred to me yet.
What I want is a modern Renaissance Faire that includes the arts, sciences, and crafts of the past, the present, and the day after tomorrow.