If You Can't Make It To Burning Man, Check Out The Next Best Thing

fire sculpture at Maker Faire

Photo: Matt Rosoff

If you want to understand the true culture of Silicon Valley and can’t make it out to the desert in September for Burning Man, attending Maker Faire is the next best thing.Now in its sixth year in Silicon Valley at the San Mateo Fairgrounds, Maker Faire is like a county fair for do-it-yourselfers, filled with weird science projects, giant robots, and the geeks who build and love them.

It’s put on by Make magazine, an O’Reilly publication for the do-it-yourself community, and this year had some big corporate sponsors like Google and GE. 

But it’s still got an amateur and slightly dangerous feel, like a county fair meets rock festival. For instance, because a lot of the rides are built by tinkerers, everybody has to sign a waiver of liability before being allowed to ride them. The solar-powered merry-go-round took a few hours to warm up. The water swing, where the water was supposed to turn off right before you passed through it, didn’t work right and ended up drenching everybody.

We spent a few hours there this weekend, and here are some of the crazy things we saw.

It looks like a normal merry-go-round...

...but it's powered entirely by solar panels.

It was first shown off at SXSW in March -- check out the video here.

A bicycle-powered sound stage.

Put on by Fossil Fool.

Five bikers powered the amplifiers. It was plenty loud.

See the green and red pole on the left? The bikers also powered an air pump that pushed an aluminium can up and down depending on how much power they were delivering. For the sound stage to work right, the can had to be in the red zone at the top.

A choreographed version of the famous exploding Coke and Mentos experiment.

Demonstrated by the folks at EepyBird, who time the chemistry to form huge geysers that go on and off like the fountains at the Bellagio in Vegas.

Russell, the electric giraffe.

It struts through the fairgrounds.

It's built by Lindsay Lawlor and programmed by Russell Pinnington. Find out more at their Web site.

The waterfall on this water swing was supposed to part every time you pass through it.

It didn't work right and everybody got drenched. It was warm enough that people didn't really mind. Created by Dash 7. Better luck next time.

This metal beast was controlled by a keyboard -- the musical kind, not the kind with numbers and letters.

A steampunk player piano.

It was driven by this coal-powered steam boiler.

Operated by Kinetic Steam Works. The smell will make you glad we have other forms of energy nowadays.

There's an entire club devoted to making R2D2 replicas.

Here's an interview with one of the builders, Chris James.

A fire-breathing sculpture.

A man in a metal suit getting electrocuted.

In this project by ArcAttack, various people took turns in a metal cage, where they were hassled by electrical bolts from a pair of Tesla coils. This guy did it without the cage.

The 40,000-pound Colossus, making its first appearance since Burning Man 2005.

It's 70 feet tall and weighs 40,000 pounds. Kids took turns spinning those boulders around. Designed by Zachary Coffin, who is interviewed here. Here's a time-lapse video of it being built.

Maker Faire isn't the only geek fest in town.

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