The Maker Faire festival is a mecca for inventions, arts and crafts in a kind-of re-imagined county fair. Organized by the staff of the magazines Make and Craft, the Faire tries to inspire attendees to roll up their sleeves and become makers themselves. I traveled to the recent Faire that took place in San Mateo, California. There I found that nothing is too sacred that it can’t be tinkered with, hacked or modified by the many inventors there.
The Gamelatron at the Maker Faire
Take for example, the Gamelatron: the world’s first fully robotic gamelan orchestra. In a radio piece produced for KUSP, I interview the invention’s creator, Taylor Kufner.
Its a bit late, but in preparation for the 1st issue of my new zine, DIY 2010, I’ve been compiling a list of notable events from 2009. Is there something important to DIY culture that you don’t see here? Let me know!
New device uses laser beams to project your own lane from the back of your bicycle,
Shooting of Oscar Grant in Oakland, California, sparks months of protests and clashes with police,
Canada is no longer a safe place for U.S. war resisters
Faythe Levine releases her documentary “Handmade Nation” alongside her book “Craft’s New Wave”,
FCC Free Radio begins broadcasting
Make Magazine begins airing a new national TV series
Bolivia approves of a new constitution that creates a ministry in support of indigenous autonomy
No, I wasn’t expecting much for the DIY crowd at SXSW. At a conference that charges hundreds of dollars to attend (even the low-end student rate is around $300) and refuses entry to anyone without a badge, there isn’t a lot for folks who prefer to do things their own way. So this blog will be providing an alternative view on the SXSW conference.
One of the immediate ironies I spotted on the list of panel discussions was one titled How Social Networks Are Killing the Revolution. It turns out the panelists had very different ideas of what the revolution meant, often referring to people as customers. They weren’t listed in the program by what movement they’re working on, but what company they work for, including a woman from the Detroit Red Wings! Maybe they’ve got a secret commie agenda?
Some of the audience members actually expected some meaningful conversation to come from this panel, voicing dismay that they would recommend social networks that engage in questionable practices such as invading user’s privacy. I could ask the same question to many self-identified activists who use MySpace and Facebook religiously. Most seem to accept that to get our revolutionary message out there, we have to sacrifice our morals to some degree. One of the panelists conceded: “We’re screwed.” Continue reading →
On my recent electronic music show, Plugged In, I had the pleasure of having a friend guest DJ a set of old skool Electro. He ending up bringing an dazzling tool to do this. The open source hardware monome can mix and add effects. Its extremely minimalist interface gives you no visual indication of what the buttons do, they just flash in amazing patterns. Its beautiful to watch, especially when you turn the lights down.
The machine takes some musical know-how, but also a bit of DIY tinkering, as you buy the components and them assemble them yourself. And it is fully customizable to be connected to your computer and programmed as you like. As the website FAQ states, “by having separate light and button systems, the device can be reconfigured infinitely. new applications and uses are continually being invented.”
The Personal Telco Project is a Portland nonprofit dedicated to the idea that people should have a bigger say in how their electronic networks are operated.
They began in 2000 by turning people’s houses and apartments into wireless hotspots (or “nodes”), and then set about building networks in public locations such as parks and coffee shops. If you’ve tried to connect to a wireless network while at a local cafe, chances are you’ve connected to one of these.
Here’s a google map that shows the expansive reach of their current nodes (green) and also locations that are listed as a potential note (yellow):
Zoom out and you’ll see that the network reaches into Gresham, Beaverton, and Vancouver, Washington. There is a more interactive map on their website.
How does it work? Their website describes the network as simply local businesses and individuals who have voluntarily opted to share their wireless signal. Participants only need to modify their router settings to unlock access and let members of the community know that they are part of the Personal Telco network. This makes your network public but Personal Telco volunteers can help you if you want to keep parts of your network private. With a grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust, volunteers have also been able to initiate new hotspots:
Personal Telco believes that telecommunications should be driven by the community, not corporations. Companies like Comcast, for example, can set very high rates for their internet services, partially due to a legal loophole by defining what they offer as “entertainment” rather than communications. Legalese does a very good job of illustrating how the corporate world has no interest in the participatory potential of new technologies.
Like many cities, Portland has watched wireless initiatives come and go, with MetroFi being one of the larger services to end its operations last year. The private company won the city’s bid to cover the metropolitan area but their business model of using advertising to fund their service had failed. The network they began to build around Portland has left a number of their transmitters behind, which has led some to suggest that a community-driven effort, such as Personal Telco, put them to good use. The hardware will be considered forfeit if MetroFi does not remove them by April, which is very unlikely at this point. Continue reading →
What is a Beat Off? Well maybe not what you think.
Recently, local joint Holocene hosted one of a series of these where electronic musicians are given a variety of short samples of music and are challenged to come up with some dope beats in one hour. Wanna hear what it sounds like?
The challenge is open to the anyone who signs up (until capacity is filled – they cram as many people as they can onstage).
Each contest seems to bring new musicians into the fold and inspire others. Many use laptops with custom sampling software while others keep it old skool with MPCs – machines that run as a MIDI sequencer and drum machine.
Organizer Erik Beats has been setting the recent ones up and he came on to my music show to explain the process. You can listen to that interview here with some samples of the performers music.