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Do-it-Yourselfers prep for Maker Faire

On Maker Day, the many people creating the countless projects that will thrill and delight tens of thousands of people this weekend get their creations ready.

Two days before tens of thousands of people will stream into the third annual Bay Area edition of Maker Faire, the art projects were still few and far between, and the ones that were already in place were only partially done. Here, the Neverwas Haul, a steam-powered, mobile, Victorian house sits waiting to be completed.
Daniel Terdiman/CNET News.com

SAN MATEO, Calif.--The best thing about going to Maker Faire a couple of days before the gates officially open is watching it grow.

Walk a couple of times around the fairgrounds here, where the do-it-yourself bacchanalia will welcome tens of thousands of people starting Saturday, and you'll see new projects appear each time you go around: A stream of trucks keeps coming through the gates, each one hauling a new group of people and whatever fantastical art, heavy machine, oddball musical instrument or other insane contents it might be carrying.

Over on one side of the fairgrounds, a large steam-powered, mobile, Victorian house called the Neverwas Haul sat all alone, a single person inside it doing some work. Its guts were visible on one side, something I wasn't used to after seeing the wonderful Neverwas Haul twice at Burning Man and at Maker Faire last year.

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Over on the other side, a giant booth was being built for Microsoft, expertly packed boxes and exhibit infrastructure standing out from the rougher, more artistic fare around it.

And then there were three giant human figures made from chains, wood and other industrial detritus in various poses of worship. These were by artists Dan Das Mann and Karen Cusolito and were originally part of their incredibly ambitious Burning Man 2007 project called "Crude Awakening."

This was Maker Day, a day for the many, many makers whose individual DIY projects are Maker Faire to meet and greet and hear a series of talks on issues near and dear to their hearts: extreme crafting, the future of making, how to make money with open-source hardware kits and much more. And to see these projects come to life.

I was surprised, despite having been through this process last fall at Maker Faire Austin, at how barren the fairgrounds were only two days before the gates open on Saturday. In Austin, I had wondered if a bunch of makers simply wouldn't show up when, even the day before the event began, there were vast swaths of empty space.

Artist Karen Cusolito works on the hair of this giant human figure made from discarded metal during the set-up for Maker Faire in San Mateo, Calif. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News.com

But, my experience then was that somehow, overnight on Friday night, the makers magically materialized, and by Saturday's opening, Maker Faire Austin was fully functional and operational. I have little doubt the same will be true this year.

At the very first Maker Faire, here in San Mateo, about 30 minutes south of San Francisco, in 2006, 20,000 people showed up. Last year, for the second go-round here, that number doubled. Now, as the organizers--the event is put on by Make magazine publisher O'Reilly Media--get ready for the third Bay Area iteration, no one knows how many to expect. But given that someone told me that pre-sales for this year's event were double last year's, I think it's safe to say that anyone heading out here this weekend should expect a packed house.

Still, that doesn't mean you will have a bad time. The fairgrounds are huge, and there's plenty of space for everyone. Plus, there will be endless dozens of makers on hand to showcase their insane creations and their brilliant minds.

For Maker Faire organizers like Louise Glasgow, the best thing about doing the event over and over again--this will be the fourth time they've done it, counting Austin last fall--is watching it grow and watching the birth of new makers.

"We're making makers," Glasgow told me Thursday. "There's so many new makers who were (Maker Faire) volunteers last year, or assistants (on other people's projects) or attendees who learned something here in a class."

Indeed, that is one of the great things about this event: people come for the first time, take a tutorial in something like making things with felt, and the next year they return with their own felting business. That was the experience of a friend of mine, who first came to Maker Faire here in 2006 and returned in 2007 with her new concern, NifNaks.

There's something for everyone at Maker Faire, including the many children who will be amongst the tens of thousands who show up in San Mateo, Calif., for the event this weekend. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News.com

For me, seeing Glasgow pull up on a golf cart, her level of energy cranked way up, was a fun reminder of the several hours I spent with her in Austin last fall as she raced around during the set-up of Maker Faire there, making sure everything was going smoothly. It takes a lot to put one of these events together, and Glasgow and the whole Maker Faire team really seem to have this process nailed down.

Yet, to Glasgow, it's a whole new event each year.

And for the thousands of people who show up here this weekend--even those who have been here before--that's sure to be true. Especially for the many children who will never have seen anything like this stuff before.