Sunday, May 31, 2009

Swamp thing


Swamp beast, from the 2009 Maker Faire.

A very mild political tinge to this year's version:
Following on President Obama's call to "begin again the work of remaking America", Maker Faire 2009 will be organized around the theme of Re-Make America.
Or in other words, America may have lost almost all of its industrial manufacturing capabilities, but at least we still have technohipster artists who can make custom vehicles in the shape of a giant metal snail that shoots flames from its eye-stalks. Can they save us?

The present-day computer industry stemmed from an interesting confluence of large-scale government/academic/industrial forces and the counterculture. You can feel the Make people trying to recreate something similar for the more physical world of manufacturing, but it's not quite there yet. The times are different and so is the domain. Still, the kind of energy that this movement is collecting and unleashing is one of the more hopeful things in today's world.

Another random favorite: Hackerbot Lab's machine for shrinking a coin by applying 15kjoules of electricity.

A more serious and interesting service: Ponoko, a company that lets designers upload plans, manufactures the pieces on demand using a laser cutter, and makes a marketplace for the resultant gewgaws (sort of like the next level of Etsy, who was also there and apparently now has a developer API).

[Update: well, I picked a good day for this observation. But the conflence of the Faire and an American manufacturing icon sliding off into bankruptcy and the dole gave me an idea: the government should fund the creation of hackerspaces (more the machine-shop kind than the computer kind) in communities where there are massive numbers of laid-off blue-collar workers, like the town in Tenessee whose population grew by 16x due to Saturn plant which is slated for shutdown. It would give them something to do, possibly a way to learn new skills, and who knows, maybe the next steam engine or personal computer might come out of it.]

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