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Monday, June 1, 2009

Sunday: Maker Faire 2009 at the San Mateo County Expo Center

Posted By on Mon, Jun 1, 2009 at 10:03 AM

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Maker Faire
Sunday, May 31
San Mateo County Expo Center
Photos by Sam Prestianni

Better Than: watching Star Wars with my robot girlfriend.

Freaks and geeks welcome! That was the unofficial motto of the 4th Annual Maker Faire, Make magazine's premier showcase for do-it-yourselfers of all stripes who live to build unusual, beautiful things and sometimes blow them up.

Burning Man regulars were there, of course, from Acme Muffineering with their giant bicycle-powered cupcakes, to the visionary techies responsible for daring to imagine the Electric Giraffe, a 1700-pound, 17-foot-tall, skeletal replica of everyone's favorite zoo attraction. Also on the local freak front, pyromaniac Charles Gadeken (of Flaming Lotus Girls fame) torched the hell out of an outsized rusty blossom, while the mad scientists of Steampunk and Kinetic Steamworks brought their trademark machine sculptures to life via the power of very hot air.

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On the geek side, countless robot fetishists dazzled the event's 70,000 attendees with a range of inspired creations, from life-like facsimiles of R2-D2 and that "Danger, Will Robinson!" character from the '60s TV classic "Lost in Space," to an absurd parrot named Ethel that danced around like a Christmas-gift reject to bad music blaring from blown speakers. Bay Area Tankers, out-of-shape old guys who like to maneuver their remote-controlled Sherman tanks through homemade minefields, could not compete with the Western Warship Combat Club, a group of boyish men who used to bomb model ships with firecrackers in their youth. At Maker Faire, they staged fun-loving war games between the Allied and Axis naval fleets for a capacity crowd packed onto bleachers around a sizeable pool. The excited emcee gave us an NHL-style play-by-play as the ships gunned for each other with mini canons that shot ball-bearings. Whenever a vessel went down, we'd get an earful: "Oh, my goodness! Oh, the carnage! Oh, the humanity! Holy mole!" We left before a victor was declared.

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Beyond this kind of silliness, there were a number of magical works of kinetic art, including MK and Company's Timberkits, meticulously crafted "Marvelous Mechanical Models" made of wood that ranged from dragons to monkeys to musicians. These were a big hit with the kids, as were the pedal-cranked guitar windmill and "Spread Eagle," a fantastical metal sculpture by Sonoma artist Bryan Tedrick. Inviting audiences to step into the open center of the Rodan-size wings for a merry spin-round, he said the piece is meant to symbolize "transcendence, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness." Indeed, Tedrick's eagle soared.

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There's too little space here to address the dozens of other mind-bending projects on display, from lightning machines and Tesla coils, to Gayle Still's mushroom-dyed silk shirts and Comicknits' one-of-a-kind comic book "Handknit Heroes," whose protagonists (believe it or not) fight evil and knit marvelous head scarves with pockets. Is this freaky? Is it geeky? At Maker Faire, such distinctions didn't matter.

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Sam Prestianni

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