Star Wars, Steampunk and Smattering: San Diego Mini Maker Faire

Kittens, if the chilly, San Diego rain wasn’t a prompt to play indoors this December, the siren of invention, engineering,  technology and design was enough to lure a capacity-crowd of the curious to the first San Diego Mini Maker Faire. Ringing its knell from the warm beauty of the Spanish Mission-styled Del Mar Fairgrounds, this newest stop for the San Diego geek train proved bustling, hectic and promising. Besides, it’s Del Mar, kids! Even a permanent guest at the Hotel del Coronado needs a change of scenery once in a bit and this girl needs only an eighth of a reason to pop over “Where the Surf Meets the Turf”!

"In cosmological terms, S.D. Maker Faire was what is known as a big bang event." Photo: Jeff Kubina
“In cosmological terms … S.D. Mini Maker Faire was what is known as a big bang event.” Photo: Jeff Kubina

Billed as The Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth, Maker Faire is a congress of the imaginative and a place to share, and sell, ideas and wares. Known as the Maker Movement, this creative-following is gaining steam worldwide, with Faires staged from the Bay Area to New York, from Dublin to Rome, from Tokyo to Sydney. December 2K13 was San Diego’s initiation with its first ever, and hopefully annual, Mini Maker Faire. (Why Mini? Based on New York’s version, there is much room to grow.)

An all-ages gathering of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors, artists, students, and commercial exhibitors, Maker Faire worldwide is a cerebral wonderland for anyone with an imagination and the temerity to do something with it. Like a geeky cocktail party, minus the good booze (although some form of vile, domestic, beerwater was available at John Dillinger prices), the gathering is, as Maker Faire claims, a family-friendly festival of invention, creativity and resourcefulness … part science fair, part county fair, and part something entirely new.

Waiting in a very long, very slow, very wet line to enter San Diego’s first Faire, a talkative and cheerful USD student spoke authoritatively about the Bay Area venue, claiming it to be, with just a dash of good-natured condescension, “much bigger, way better and lots of actual symposia and lectures”. Fretting about the $12 entrance fee, wishing she had purchased the cheaper, $10 ticket online, she hoped San Diego’s effort would be worth it. Sizing up the hall’s exterior from under her fur-trimmed parka-hood, she sneered a bit and said with a twisted smile, “Kinda doubt it.”

Whilst the entry fee, plus $15 parking was relatively steep (Consider the Grand Dame of geek fests, San Diego Comic-Con, runs $12-$42/day) and the line was agonizingly slow (only two ticket windows), the cerebral and visual stimuli inside Bing Crosby Hall assuaged the lighter wallet and damp boots. Awaiting the rain- and line-weary crowds was a bevy of crafting booths, science experiments and technological demos, including a proverbial explosion in the popularity of 3-D printing: Yoda heads, TARDIS and Millennium Falcons proving the most popular products of the 3-D craze. The most inspiring, fascinating and useful of the 3-D buzz? Robohands: building appendages for those with hand anomalies, in mere hours! Don’t have $80K for a prosthetic? No worries. A set of blueprints and a 3-D printer (approx. $2K to purchase; a pittance to rent; maybe even one exists in your office) and you’ve got a hand by day’s end.

If one’s avocation, vocation or profession tends toward technology, real science, science-fiction or even steampunk, one would be pleased in the tightly-packed confines of the Faire. To boot, Comic-Con and WonderCon regulars would note some friendly faces on the periphery: San Diego Star Wars Society and San Diego R2-D2 Builders Club, to name a couple.

San Diego Star Wars Society: ask for Thomas! Photo: JSDevore
San Diego Star Wars Society: ask for Herr Thomas! Photo: JSDevore

San Diego Star Wars Society and San Diego R2-D2 Builders Club shared a space and, as one would expect of them, brought a fan’s enthusiasm to the franchises. SDSWS is like AA, for Star Wars geeks. If they put out a calendar, Tina Fey-as-Liz Lemon-as-Princess Leia-as-hologram would be their centerfold. Meet-ups are a way for fellow San Diego Star Wars freaks to gather and geek out over any and all things SW. From movie marathons to cosplay-and-props workshops, from collecting and gaming to convention field trips and even charitable events (notably Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation: Fighting Childhood Cancer, One Cup at a Time), the simple goal of this SoCal space sodality is to have a good time with like-minded dorks.

If Thomas, a kindly Swiss San Diegan manning the booth, is any indication of the folk you’ll meet at SDSWS, this coterie of Chewbacca connoisseurs would indeed be a pleasant diversion from the leagues of snarky, snippy, Star-savants out there, of both Wars and Trek. Welcoming, informative and inclusive, Thomas was anathema to so many Star Wars experts blitzing about the planet, propelled by their own hot air.  Smiling and eager to chat, hopeful to bring anyone into the fold, even the wholly uninitiated, Thomas offered no snorts of derision or condescending blinks when fielding even the simplest questions from children and adults alike. Enthusiastically, and with the slightest Teutonic accent, he shared the simple mission of SDSWS: “Come and join us to talk about Star Wars and have a good time!”

If the future isn’t your gig, but futuristic is, Gears & Roebuck: Rusty Junk Emporium and The San Diego Steampunk Community (including the Adventures of Drake & McTrowell: Perils in a Postulated Past) were on-hand, in very wee numbers, it should be noted, to hawk a few antique wares, tell some tall tales and share the collective mission of steampunkers worldwide: “We fight with invention, we fight with ingenuity. Full steam ahead! All aboard!” Our own Dr. Lucy, naturally was in Heaven; the gears in her own noggin whirring and ticking as she flitted between the two booths, trying on air-conditioned pith helmets and mechanized corsets, and testing the efficacy of thermometer-regulated moon backpacks and giant, sterling silver spoons for feeding her pet octopus Onslow, back at our Hotel Del.

Capt. D.D. Cumulus and Lady Opal Nightstream, I presume? Photo: JSDevore
Capt. D.D. Cumulus and Lady Opal Nightstream, I presume? Photo: JSDevore

Generally a well-read, sartorially-intense and whimsical crew, the Victorian votaries are tinkerers extraordinaire, taking cues from the likes of  Jules Verne to Bill Gates. Steampunk inspiration reaches back to Sir Charles Wheatstone and his stereoscopic imaging (predecessor to today’s 3-D imaging) and forward to Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. If you’ve yet to explore the world of steampunk, do acquaint yourself. If you’re already in the know, and living in San Diego, the San Diego Steampunk Community just might have the perfect, Phileas Foggesque, space-age tool to scratch that ruddy itch.

Will the Maker Faire make it to San Diego again next year? The Maker Movement is gaining traction in metropoli everywhere.  Judging by the Mars-level heat generated in this sardine-packed venue, it seems plumb stupid to not capitalize again on the funky, inventive and creative nature of San Diego folk. However, like Kim Kardashian’s jeans, the Bing Crosby Exhibition Hall was packed to the seams and ready to burst if anyone took a deep breath. My recommendation, promoters? Bigger jeans and maybe some air-conditioned pith helmets.

Air-conditioned pith helmet: a necessary device for any con! Photo: JSDevore
An air-conditioned pith helmet with every ticket! Photo: JSDevore

Full steam ahead! Ahoy! Abyssinia and Merrie Christmas!

 

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