This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending Makerfaire and, I’ve got to say, if you’re a geek that’s never gone, you really need to try to fit one in sometime.  I can honestly say, it was one of the most magical places to which I’ve ever been.  Obviously, it wasn’t the actual “place” that made it magical, but rather, that mythological creature: The Maker!


In many ways, Makers are like students from Hogwarts in that, there is nothing overwhelmingly distinctive that lets you easily distinguish between a Maker & a “nominal” human.  However, that does not mean there is no way to identify a Maker – there are these subtle clues:

  • Does the person have small finger calluses from hours of using a solder iron?
  • Can the person root a cell phone as easily as a nominal human peels a banana?
  • Can the person troubleshoot a schematic while still bouncing a child on a knee?
  • Has the person spent more time compiling programs than watching TV?
  • Does the person not only help an old lady change a tire but tune up the car too?

If you’ve spotted a person with any or all of the above characteristics, you may have found yourself a Maker!  But, unlike the classmates of Harry Potter, Makers actually exist & ACTUALLY can do some magic.  It may be some fabrication magic, such as using a 3D Printer to (oh so apropos) create the word “Make” (for example):


(some other stunning pictures of random parts & Skulls & Stellated Rhombic Dodecahedron)


Or, it may be a little more macroscopic fabrication magic, such as Richard Hilleman (Chief Creative Director of Electronic Arts) putting a small jet engine into a hybrid sports car.


(yes, images of the Batmobile Jet Engine came to my mind too!)


And still others focused on Software Magic, like our friends from MIT that made the SCRATCH Programming System.  Now, if you’ve never heard of it & have kids, you’ve just found the answer to the “what to do this summer?” question! What is it exactly?  Well, the short version is: letting children program in Java by using Flow Charts instead of typing out complicated syntax. For example, image the Java Code you’d need to get a game character to walk up a hill.  Now, here’s how you do it in Scratch:


When you press the space key, the cat will move to the right until it hits the hill.  Then it will move up a bit & start to move to the right about.  This action will continue until it gets to the edge of the screen.  It took me 3 minutes to create this.  Sure, it’s simple, but there was no “{…}” to write or semicolons to remember.  The picture of the cat (which is also the Scratch Mascot) came included & I made the simple hill with a built in paint program, but I could have made something fancier, say using Paint.NET & imported if I wanted to.  The point is, over 1 MILLION “projects” have already been uploaded to Scratch.  While some are surely simple (like the very interesting “marble motion” one) others can be quite challenging, despite a deceiving simplicity (tell me how long it takes you to solve the “revolving maze in the dark” – I gave up!).  However, no matter how simple, by sheer volume, Scratch is 5 TIMES more popular that the iTunes store – and this is with most people not really knowing about Scratch & everyone knowing about the iPhone!  Imagine what would happen if the simplicity of programming in Scratch was married to the openness & volume of the Android Operating System (which is already designed to be programmed with Java)!


And, that’s actually the key point.  Any 1 part of Makerfaire is cool – but when you walk around & see the First Lego League or “Peddle-to-Play” Video Game System or see kids that are too young to write in cursive learning to solder (courtesy of SparkFun) – that’s when it hits you: The Magic is what happens when you start adding all this together!


For example, I saw this very interesting display called the “DIY Magic Mirror.”  Wow, what a great start.  But, imagine if, kids were able to program it in Scratch? What if it ran on Android & could do both Speech-to-Text (listening) and Text-to-Speech (talking)?  What if, with a little help from Mom & Dad, they could connect it to the light in their room?  What if, instead of an old laptop, it ran on the new $150 Intel® Embedded Development Board 1-N450 (which can be followed on Twitter: @DevBoard) that has both VGA out (for the magic mirror) and a higher definition output for a monitor from which they could watch Hulu or YouTube?  Add that all together & your child has been magically transported almost 150 years into the future, around the time of Star Trek Enterprise.  You know, when people can just say: “Computer – lights” & then come on?  Except, your child could live most of that future now, with a little hard work & some Intel Embedded Magic there to help you. 


And that, quite simply, was my #1 takeaway from Makerfaire.  Before going, I thought I worked in the “Intel Embedded & Communications Group” but now I realize I really work in the “Intel The-Science-Fiction-of-Tomorrow-Starts-Today Group” – we just haven’t named it right yet.


But, let me know what you think?  Did you go to this Makerfaire or previous one?  Where you not able to go, but want to see more pictures?  I’ve posted many of my picture through my Twitter account (@Geek8ive) but you can also follow @Intel_Jim & @Intel_Stewart who were there with me as well.  And, while you’re at it, let us know how we can better help your Science-Fiction-of-Tomorrow projects get started a little faster today ;)