Saturday, November 08, 2008

Highlights from Maker Faire 2008 (October 18-19, Austin, Texas)

I won't blog much about Maker Faire this year, because the most interesting exhibits were the same as last year. This includes art cars and bicycles, and pedal-powered merry-go-rounds by Cyclecide. You can read about those wonders by accessing all posts with the label "Maker Faire".

I took two new pictures of the Cyclecide devices that weren't here last year (or at least I missed them): a merry-go-round of two hanging bicycles that may or may not be known by a more elegant name Bike Rodeo, and Axe Grinder that plays sounds resembling an electric guitar when a rider pedals it. I guess you can play some rudimentary music this way. For some reason there was a written sign forbidding Stairway to Heaven. ;-)

Last year I somehow also managed to miss the Life Size Mousetrap. It is a giant Rube Goldberg-style chain of devices inspired by the desktop Mousetrap game.

Here are some images of Life Size Mousetrap: 1: the mousetrap rests between demonstrations, 2: the curiously dressed people who run the mousetrap, 3: a one-woman band Esmeralda Strange, 4: the guy bring in the "cheese" for the mousetrap, 5: the World's Sexiest Mice come in, 6: the World's Sexiest Mice are bound with ropes, 7: volunteers hoist the 4000-pound black cube, 8: the 4000-pound black cube has been hoisted into the air, 9: a "mouse" collects donations after the show, 10: collection of donations, 11: a World's Sexiest Mouse and a Lizard Boy make a victory tour, 12: the desktop Mousetrap game that inspired the life-size one.

Here is my YouTube video of the Life Size Mousetrap in action.

A low-tech but cute gift for a science fiction fan in your life: journals with covers made of vintage science fiction paperbacks.

Technical and cute: Armadillo-shaped car.

Among the more offbeat: knit plarn bags. Plarn is "plastic yarn", made by cutting up plastic grocery bags into long strips.

There were robots and robot competitions too numerous to name. And microcontrolled devices were really popular at Maker Faire. In addition to homegrown makers making toys with microcontrollers, Microsoft had an entire pavillion devoted to promotion of their .NET Micro Framework. It gave people an opportunity to create their own applications right there at the Maker Faire. One could also enter a Microsoft contest that starts later this year. A Microsoft guy attending the booth told me that people like me, who have only developed web applications in .NET, are a prime audience for .NET Micro Framework. But... doesn't programming embedded devices requires knowledge of hardware? I asked, puzzled. No, said the guy, .NET Micro Framework abstracts it all away. According to him, all you need to do is to read the manufacturer's specifications that came with your microcontroller, so that you would know how its pins are numbered, and then you can write code directly to the pins. He encouraged me to enter the contest. Yet, as an application programmer, this is hardly my idea of fun. The conversation wasn't in vain, though: he gave me a Microsoft t-shirt. Now, would I dare to wear it, given how much I associate with free software people? What a conundrum.

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