Maker Faire attracts tech heroes and kids alike

Thousands come to get their hands dirty with the best in do-it-yourself geekery. Photos: Faire days

SAN MATEO, Calif.--In the middle of the field, No. 64, a stocky man with a graying beard, bears down towards the goal. He feints left and then lets go with a shot that sails just a little too far to the left. The crowd, such as it is, groans.

To those who recognize him in his bike helmet and dark sunglasses, No. 64 is Apple Computer co-founder and geek hero Steve Wozniak. He's roaming the field at the Maker Faire here as a fierce ambassador for the relatively new sport of Segway polo, in which well-heeled techies riding the gyro-stabilized two-wheel transporters compete in a very 2000s version of the ancient game.

And in between matches, Wozniak is all too happy to promote the sport, and to explain his philosophies about being one with his Segway.

"You have to think offensively and defensively and see where your opponent is going to go," said Wozniak, who explains that he and his teammates have been playing Segway polo for more than two years--longer than any other team. "Your mind has to be totally aware of the whole situation. That doesn't come the first time you play."

Segway polo was just one of the main attractions here at the Maker Faire, the all-weekend do-it-yourself-o-rama hosted by Make Magazine. Among the hundreds of exhibitors on hand Saturday and Sunday at the San Mateo Fairgrounds, there was no shortage of delights for fans of all ages of science, computers, fire art, robotics, Lego, crafting and wooden bicycles.

Indeed, the fair was a haven for thousands of boys and girls and men and women, perhaps one of the few times when such a smorgasbord of geek fare attracted such a diverse crowd. And a big part of it was that almost all the exhibits allowed attendees, especially kids, to get their hands on them and play with them.

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"Kids (got in) free, and to see the kids and see the gears turning and (to think) that maybe this will have a profound influence on them" is rewarding, said Phillip Torrone, a senior editor at Make Magazine and one of the organizers of Maker Faire. "Where can you bring your kids where you can go, 'Oh, let's go home and build something'?"

Robert Kavaler, a Maker Faire attendee from Kensington, Calif. and parent of a 5-year-old son, agreed. As his son jumped up and down with excitement at the thought of all he'd done Sunday, Kavaler talked about the particular appeal of the event.

"What appeals to (kids) is very different than what appeals to an adult, but they have both here," Kavaler said. "He liked the rubber chickens, and they didn't really float my boat. I'm an electronics guys. I think it was interesting to see what other people are doing with electronics stuff. And I like being able to have fun with my kid here."

To be sure, Maker Faire was jammed full of attractions for all ages. One that was mobbed was Tom Noddy's demonstrations of soap-bubble blowing.

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