Featured Maker: Steve La Riccia, Steamworks R&D Labs

Steve La Riccia

Meet Steve La Riccia, a self-described “self-unemployed” artist living in Elmira. Steve has been a fixture in the Eugene art scene for over two decades. He is the Gallery Coordinator at the New Zone Artists Collective, and has been the producer of the annual Salon du Peuple (formerly the Salon des Refusés) art show since 1991.

Steve spent many years producing hand-altered photographs using a Polaroid “instant” camera. You may have noticed, if you’ve been camera-shopping lately, that Polaroid instant cameras and film are hard (but not impossible!) to come by.

Faced with the prospect of his favorite art-making technology becoming obsolete, Steve decided to turn the tables — he’d use the obsolete technology itself to make art.

Land's Metamorphosis - Steve La Riccia

“Land’s Metamorphosis” was the first in Steve’s Steamworks Research and Development Labs series. It was built from the very same Polaroid SX70 camera with which he took many of his artistic photographs. The transformed camera takes on a “Steampunk” look, bringing to mind a century’s worth of photographic technology that has been swept aside in the digital age.

Since completing Land’s Metamorphosis, Steve has produced many more “contraptions” that recall technologies of the past century. These works not only require an artistic eye, but a technical hand. Steve is self-taught in a staggering variety of old and new technologies, “from fixing vacuum-tube televisions to building ultra-light flying machines.”

Oppenheimer's Enigma - Steve La RicciaFor the Eugene Mini Maker Faire, Steve plans to display “Oppenheimer’s Enigma,” a machine that combines old and new technologies into a unique work. It’s mesmerizing to look at, and it’s even functional! Visitors will be able to use the machine to stamp their own “dog tag” which they can take home with them.

Steve is very excited to be participating in his first Maker Faire with us next month. He especially looks forward to bringing his art to kids of all ages. “All of my work is interactive and enjoyable by kids ages 3 to 93.” We are thrilled to have Steve as part of our Maker Faire to share his technology-inspired art with us!

Be sure to check out Steve’s web page to see many more of his contraptions. If you’d like to meet Steve, learn his process, and see Oppenheimer’s Enigma in action, be sure to join us at the Eugene Mini Maker Faire on June 15th! Advance tickets are available, and we are extending our early bird discount until May 31. Use the code “early13″ when you purchase your tickets to receive $1 off each ticket.

Featured Makers: South Eugene Robotics Team

One of our audience favorites from last year’s Faire was the basketball-shooting robot built by the South Eugene Robotics Team. We are thrilled that SERT will join us once again, this time with a whole new robot in action… one that throws frisbees! And in case that isn’t enough to impress you, it can also climb a scaffold. The climbing action is hard to see in the video above, but check out the match below for some real acrobatics!

SERT built their robot to compete in “Ultimate Ascent,” the 2013 edition of the annual FIRST Robotics Competition. In this program, high school students from around the world build robots to compete in regional, national, and international competitions. This year’s Autodesk Oregon Regional was held in Portland March 6-9. SERT competed against over 50 other teams from all over Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

FIRST has been working for over a decade to inspire young makers with robotics programs for all ages. Now that their competition season is over, SERT looks forward to the chance to share their work with an audience of young and old alike. At the Eugene Mini Maker Faire, we hope that you’ll be inspired by the amazing work of these high school students!

Time to get excited!

The 2013 Eugene Mini Maker Faire is less than two months away! We’re thrilled with the number of maker applications we’ve received so far from people all over the Northwest who are excited to share their projects. In the coming weeks, we’ll share some of their profiles with you.

If you have a project in mind but you’re still on the fence, now’s the time to commit to joining us! The call for makers closes on May 18th. Take a look at our Makers page for more information about what we’re looking for. And if you’re ready to join us, fill out our application!

We’re also excited to start selling tickets! We’ve even got a special discount for those of you who register early… use the discount code early13 before May 18th on our ticket site for $1 off each ticket!

We can’t wait to see you on June 15th! Stay tuned for more updates…

The Science Factory at The Mythbusters Show

Science Factory Fliers

Science Factory Fliers

The Science Factory had a table in the concourse area of the Matthew Knight Arena last Friday March 15, 2013.  They brought along with them some homemade conductive and non-conductive play dough.  Attendees were invited to stop by the table and build real working electrical circuits out of play dough, batteries, and LED’s.

Play Dough Circuits!

Play Dough Circuits!

People piling into the theater

People piling into the theater

The Science Factory also built their own ping pong ball cannon that uses the power of air pressure the accelerate a ping pong ball to several hundred miles per hour!  They used the cannon to blast holes in 1/8″ plywood and to puncture three empty soda cans at once.  This was all just using an ordinary ping pong ball and air pressure.

Vacuum pump

Vacuum pump

Huge cannon barrel

Huge cannon barrel

Cannon barrel

Cannon barrel

Nick explaining how the vacuum cannon works

Nick explaining how the vacuum cannon works

Maker Profile: Thomas Hudson

When Thomas Hudson contacted me just prior to last year’s Mini Maker Faire, I thought that our lineup of makers was already more or less complete. Little did I know that what we really needed to round out our program was a bee counter.

A bee counter? Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Or maybe a “bee turnstile” would be more appropriate. Put simply, the device is an entrance/exit to a beehive that uses an array of sensors to keep track of the number of bees entering and exiting the hive. Given the proliferation of urban beekeepers in Portland and concerns about declining honeybee populations, it’s no surprise that there would be inherent interest in such a project.

Tom is no stranger to the maker movement. He tells me that he attended his first Bay Area Maker Faire in 2007, and was instantly hooked. With such a wide array of projects, it seemed that “everyone was at play… a curious type of play that was electrifying.” After that experience, Tom became a member of DorkbotPDX and began contributing his projects to Instructables.

Eugene was Tom’s first opportunity to show off his honeybee counter at a Mini Maker Faire. Tom reports that he had a great time in Eugene, loved seeing the diversity of maker projects, and was especially pleased to help bring the fun of Maker Faire to an audience that was largely unfamiliar with it.

Tom explains his bee counter to visitors at the Vancouver Island Mini Maker Faire.

After exhibiting at our Faire last June, Tom went on to other Pacific Northwest minis over the summer, including Vancouver Island and Portland. By that time, he had connected with some of the people who would be most interested in his project: beekeepers! In Portland, member of the Willamette Valley Beekeepers Association provided an observational hive (with 40,000 bees!) to which Tom could attach his counter.

Eugene and Portland were preludes to Tom’s next big event: The World Maker Faire in New York! With over 50,000 visitors passing through to see the exhibits, Tom felt “completely drained and exhilarated at the same time. People spent time with me one on one out of all the chaos to impress on me their ideas and in the end it was another extremely positive experience.” He even had the chance to converse with a big name in the computer world: Stephen Wolfram, designer of Mathematica. Tom also talked to people in the fields of education and marketing, as well as other beekeeping experts. Such an exchange of ideas among people from such diverse fields is something that you only find at Maker Faire!

Tom at World Maker Faire New York!

Tom has continued working with apiary experts at Oregon State University to improve his design and market it to potential customers. He is also working on other projects, such as an LED strip bike light. He has also become involved in education, offering classes in Arduino in and around Portland.

I’m genuinely thrilled that Tom’s bee counter project seems to be off and running, and I’m especially glad that the Eugene Mini Maker Faire could serve as a stepping stone to his success. Tom’s project embodies the ideals of Maker Faire in so many ways: a simple and elegant solution to a real-world problem, the chance to network with amateur and professional experts to improve the solution, and an eagerness to share the results with others to come up with even better designs.

If you have a project that captures some of the same elements of the maker spirit, I hope you’ll join us for this year’s Eugene Mini Maker Faire! Maker applications are still being accepted. See you on June 15th!

Busy Makers

Our partners at Eugene Maker Space have been busy lately! Last Saturday, they had their first-ever Make-O-Rama open house, which featured soldering lessons, 3D printer demos, and much more. Most of the membership was on hand to show off past and current projects.

The makers also spent an afternoon at the downtown Eugene Public Library earlier this month, where they launched paper rockets and allowed kids to play with other toys. We love partnering with EMS not only because of their awesome projects, but because of their dedication to getting young people involved in making as evidenced by these events.

If you’d like to find out more about what EMS does, try going to one of their Open Hack Nights on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Check their web page for more details. Look for them to be a major part of our Faire in June! (And YOU can be a part of it too, by signing up as a maker, buying tickets, or sponsoring the event.)

Spend your Summer Making (and making a difference in kids’ lives)

Looking for something to do this summer? How about a summer job where you can be a mentor to future makers?

One of the newest projects from the people who brought you Maker Faire is the Maker Education Initiative. This new non-profit initiative has just launched Maker Corps, a summer program for young adult makers. If you are accepted into this competitive program, you will work at one of one of dozens of host sites around the country (including OMSI in Portland) to present maker-centered educational programs for kids. (In other words, the coolest summer job ever!)

Find out more about Maker Corps on their website, or read about some of this summer’s host sites on their blog. Applications are due March 1st. We’re very excited to see how this program takes off in its inaugural year. Inspiring the next generation of makers is a mission we can really get behind!

Why We Make at the Science Factory

Last Friday at the Science Factory, we hosted the second in a new series of no-school-day programs all about robotics. In these programs, kids in grades 3 to 6 have the chance to work in teams to build and program their own LEGO Mindstorms robot that will complete a given mission. Within the constraints of the robotics system itself, kids have an amazingly wide array of possibilities that allow them to make a robot that is truly their own creation.

While we have included building and tinkering activities in many of our lessons before, this series represents our first attempt at building an entire day around “making” something from the ground up. As much as we hope the students are learning from it (more on that later), it has certainly been a learning experience for us. Some kids are LEGO experts, while others have hardly played with them in their lives. Some have a little bit of programming knowledge, but most have none at all. Some are more than willing to jump in and get their hands deep into the Legos, while others are more timid and need encouragement and direction.

Perhaps hardest of all, some kids are comfortable working in teams while others would much rather do all the work themselves. On an intense, complex project such as this one, going it alone is simply not an option. Finding ways to make these kids work together is crucial to the success of the project. I talked to one kid in the middle of the afternoon who was nearly in tears because of frustration with his teammates. He was not the first of our kids to be in this state, nor do I expect that he’ll be the last.

Why go through all of this frustration? Surely there must be easier ways to convey engineering concepts. While there are plenty of ways to give kids the information that will let them pass a test or get an “A” in class (and these are important too!), there is no substitute for diving head-first into a project that will teach all of this information and more in the process of completing the project.

Learning by making is really hard. It’s hard for the students, who might take lots of wrong turns and meet many dead ends before finally finding a solution. It’s hard for the teachers, who must be comfortable being a guide and mentor for a project where the finished product isn’t known ahead of time. But I believe that the lessons learned through making — not just in programming and building concepts, but in cooperation, teamwork, and perseverance — are a payoff well worth the trouble. By the end, that kid on the verge of tears was beaming with pride in his team’s completed robot.

We are hardly the first museum to realize the potential for bringing maker culture into our educational programs. Many large museums are creating innovative exhibits and events around making and building things, including the Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio and Open Make at the Tech Museum. By hosting the Eugene Mini Maker Faire and bringing other making-oriented programs to our visitors, the Science Factory aims to join these museums as places where children and adults can find their inner maker and learn by doing. We hope you’ll join us, too!

Why We Make

Last year’s keynote speaker at Maker Faire Bay Area was Adam Savage, co-host of Mythbusters. In a lively talk filled with personal stories from his past, Adam explained why he is passionate about making things, and why it is essential that we all participate in a culture of making.

I really enjoyed the way that Adam approached the question of making something truly new versus making “what pop culture feeds you.” I think that we often define “creativity” too narrowly, leading us to put too much value on the products of creating and not enough on the process. The act of making “what you can’t not make” is an extremely valuable learning experience, even if the end product originally came from someone else’s imagination.

Adam Savage and his mythbusting partner Jamie Hyneman will bring their live show to Eugene this March. Tickets are on sale now, and your Mythbusters tour tickets will get you a discount on admission to the Eugene Mini Maker Faire. If you’re excited about Adam and Jamie, we hope you’ll be just as excited to see how our local community is carrying out Adam’s vision of “a generational shift back to making.” And if you’re really inspired by Adam, maybe you’ll consider making something of your own to show off at our faire!

Big news!

We’re thrilled to announce that the 2013 Eugene Mini Maker Faire is ON! The second-annual faire will be held on Saturday, June 15th at the Science Factory. Even though it’s six whole months away, you can still make a commitment to take part in any of the following ways:

We’re looking forward to making this year’s faire even bigger and better than last year’s. There will be much more information available here in the weeks and months ahead, so stay tuned!