More Maker Faire

As my husband and I were roaming from tent to tent at Maker Faire on Sunday, we were recognized, but not for any reason that you might expect. “Hey, I know you,” a guy said as he turned around from examining a table. “You got hit in the head with that plane.”

Yes, our claim to fame at Maker Faire was being that couple, the ones involved in a minor incident with a remote control stealth bomber that spent much of the afternoon circling skies between the life-size game of Mouse Trap and  the stage for Eepy Bird, the Mentos and Diet Coke guys. We’re fine, but we scanned the air space above us cautiously a la Chicken Little for the rest of the afternoon.

Collisions and vague infamy aside- Maker Faire was fun. There was plenty of potential nauseousness for some– the 360 Swing:

The 360 swing at 45 degrees

Continue reading More Maker Faire

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Building with my own two hands

I’m looking forward to Maker Faire NY this weekend. I’m not  directly involved, but I love this concept: people coming up with new ideas, building things, sharing what they’ve learned with other people.

Mark Frauenfelder, Editor-in-Chief of Make magazine (the sponsor), describes the educational value in do-it-yourself in the most recent issue of the Atlantic.

Unfortunately, says Gray, our schools don’t teach kids how to make things, but instead train them to become scholars, “in the narrowest sense of the word, meaning someone who spends their time reading and writing. Of course, most people are not scholars. We survive by doing things.”

Even though I earned scholarly academic credentials, one of the satisfying parts of doing chemistry was synthesis, setting up reactions and producing a product. Granted, those products weren’t necessarily exciting or beautiful– on a good day, they were white powders, on messier days, clear sticky oils. (Yes, those are the trials of working with sugary molecules). They weren’t even directly useful, but I’d have to devise the experimental conditions, order the right chemicals, find or borrow equipment, and even draw glass structures that a glassblower would then produce for me. Design and even improvisation provided both a challenge and a reward.

a vase made with my own two hands
a webbofscience original: a vase I made myself

I love to learn, but I love to be able to hold a final product in my hands. As a writer, my work sometimes feels a little too ethereal– I’ve become more of a scholar than I was in the laboratory. I volley with ideas all day, and my written product is often as ethereal as a web page. Ultimately I think that’s one of the reasons that most writers feel like they should write a book at some point. I don’t often get to hold a hard copy of my work and know that my labors produced something tangible. But feeling pages in my hands, printed and bound, that I helped to produce help me feel like I contributed something physical to the world.

People need to build with their own two hands (in the video feature). I’m glad I don’t have to make all my own clothes or furniture. But crocheting a scarf or an afghan makes me feel human. I’ve revisited ceramics in the past year. I’m still learning, but I love the feeling of clay spinning under my hands, a form emerging from the push of my palms, the flex of my fingers.

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Urban versus rural nature

Maybe it’s in the zeitgeist: this week’s New York magazine waxes poetic about ecology in  The Concrete Jungle. Not what I was expecting when the city has been teeming with fashionistas and urban wildlife on the pop edge of culture. But, there it is in the first photo: Staten Island turkeys!

In our heat island, enveloped by concrete and lush parks engineered to look natural, the nuance here goes beyond rabid coyotes and bears in the suburbs.

An ecological feedback loop is a natural extension of the idea that nature exists in the city, but it requires a change of thinking that is equally profound: There is no difference between urban nature and rural nature. It is all one ecology, adjusting and cross-pollinating in the face of change. This can be disturbing, since local stresses threaten to disrupt wildlife hundreds of miles away. But it is, in fact, a hopeful idea. If New York City’s ecology has taught us anything, it is that nature likes intrusions—counts on them, even. Change makes for vibrancy. We are not just a city of bedbugs and rats; we are a wellspring for regional vitality.

But it’s a challenging metaphor for the City and our global community. As urban dwellers, we’re both part of the problem and part of the solution.

Scientists believe genetic diversity is as important to species survival as sheer numbers. It has a lot to do with the mix, in other words, and if it is characteristic of human nature to look at things metaphorically, then it turns out that the city serves the same function for nature as it does for human beings. It is an intersection, a place where outsiders arrive to set up camp anew, to commingle, to move on, carrying influences and encouraging dynamism elsewhere. Like cities in the seventies, our global ecosystem is in trouble; we are flirting with environmental bankruptcy. If we are to save nature—which is to say, save ourselves—then we need to embrace that which is around us.

Over Labor Day weekend, I got to spend time on a friend’s farm in western Colorado– a wonderful experience that left me more than a wee-bit jealous of wide-open rural spaces. I love my city, too, and I’m glad to appreciate it as nature, too.

UPDATE Sept 30th: This post got a nice shout-out in New York magazine’s comments.

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