Geeking out: Segway polo and flamethrower cars at the Maker Faire

Don't mind that old fart ConFonz — this weekend's Maker Faire was a two-day rockfest of hackers and crackers sprawled across the San Mateo Fairgrounds. This was a fair with sponsorships from Lego and Digg, this was a festival with an official scooter. MAKE Magazine pulled its best and brightest — MAKE blogger Phil Torrone, editor and BoingBoing blogger Mark Frauenfelder — into a campus of hangars and lawns, where the crafty boys and girls smashed, launched, and hacked the hell out of everything in sight. I showed up to write, and Laughing Squid's Scott Beale showed up to shoot.

Geeking out: Segway polo and flamethrower cars at the Maker Faire


MAKE Magazine ed-in-chief Mark Frauenfelder goes to 11.

At one booth, a transhumanist-turned-spime showed off his implanted RFID chip ("I never lose myself any more!") and taught visitors how to put the chips into hardware — or themselves. At another, a geometrical sculptor showed off 3D-printed art. If Bruce Sterling showed up, he'd have cried tears of joy.

Geeking out: Segway polo and flamethrower cars at the Maker Faire

Steve Wozniak had a grand old time at the Faire. All afternoon, the Apple co-founder played four-man Segway polo in full regalia (helmets? why?). Players also included Victor Miller, the writer of Friday the 13th now working on "All My Children." One hacker told me, "When I saw these guys, I just muttered 'Well that's lame' — by reflex. I didn't even mean to." She used a few more pejoratives, but let's be nice to Woz — he looks so cute in uniform.

After the jump, Woz gets dumped, Microsoft fails to impress, and hippies turn off TVs.

Geeking out: Segway polo and flamethrower cars at the Maker Faire

Vlogger Irina Slutsky (say it: "slute-ski") interviewed the Woz for Geek Entertainment TV (video coming soon); bystanders aren't sure if Irina knew who he was, or if she thought she was just talking to some Segway-riding nut. Given her previous work at the Red Herring, I'm betting she knew — she's just brilliantly irreverent.

Finally, Woz let children dump water on him for the benefit of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (probably to fight some big company like Apple). If you watch Eddie Codel's video here, wait for the end, where Woz savors the last drops of his dunking.

Geeking out: Segway polo and flamethrower cars at the Maker Faire


Mark spots CNET journalist Daniel Terdiman and sets phaser to "kill."

Geeking out: Segway polo and flamethrower cars at the Maker Faire


"Are you ready to synth? Ah said, Aaaaare you ready to synth? Let's rock, San Mateo!"

I ran into Mitch Altman, inventor of the TV-B-Gone. His shirt was tie-dye; so was his hair. We headed to the Microsoft hall to check out their prototype mini-tablets.

Microsoft's booths looked too CES-ish. Mitch handed his TV-B-Gone (I have one, they're great, you should get one) to a friend, who started aiming it at Microsoft's widescreen displays. We giggled like kids — Mitch is patient for a guy who must do this a thousand times a week. I played with the tablets — they're pretty cool, but at the Maker Faire you just want to break these things open and play with the pieces.

The rest of Microsoft's building was fantastically dull — maybe MAKE needed a napping spot for attendees strung out on sensory overload. A kid shouted about the guy at the MSN Spaces photo booth: "That man looks scary!"

Below, kids play with a twist-and-tilt tabletop map viewer. It's topped with Formica, so you could stick your coffee on it while you work — until you tipped the whole table over, anyway.

Geeking out: Segway polo and flamethrower cars at the Maker Faire


Flickr's Heather Champ is unaware of doom from behind.

The Yahoo booth was equally non-Maker-Faire-y — the whole booth's a metaphor, with cardboard cut-out saws and hammers. And rumor is, they had the nerve to hire a booth babe.

Nearby, Flickr had a booth representing its digital photo sharing with...physical photos. Some attendees are confused. "They had a computer, and a printer. That's it." But the wall of photo prints sure looked gorgeous.

Geeking out: Segway polo and flamethrower cars at the Maker Faire


It's amazing what you can make with a Bic lighter and what used to be your child's favorite toy.

Geeking out: Segway polo and flamethrower cars at the Maker Faire


"Electric drilling is how I solve all my problems."

Geeking out: Segway polo and flamethrower cars at the Maker Faire


Phil Torrone and the Roombas (which would make a great band name), moments before they turn on their abusive owner and rip him to shreds.

Phil Torrone, writer of the MAKE blog, makes up quiz questions onstage for a giveaway. "What's the seventh digit, after the decimal, in pi?" Audience members shout answers — am I the only one who memorized it to 40 places? — and Phil goes online to check. "The wireless is down! I can't Google it!"

"Pi must be somewhere on that," shouts a hacker. "It's a computer!"

Geeking out: Segway polo and flamethrower cars at the Maker Faire


When Because We Can designer Jillian Northrup takes you to the moon, she's playing 50s cocktail lounge music the whole way there.

Geeking out: Segway polo and flamethrower cars at the Maker Faire


Tim O'Reilly (whose O'Reilly Media publishes MAKE) doesn't mind; this dunking booth is actually his home shower.

Of course, packing hundreds of badass hackers into a commercial fairground brings a little friction. One attendee, Twid, says he loved "the EFF with their holier-than-fucking-thou 'people who use DRM are idiots' stance, when to get into the Faire you had to have your backpack searched for outside food. 'WE STAND FOR YOUR RIGHTS. UNLESS YOU WANT A HOMEMADE CHEESEBURGER.'"

Final video: Phil Torrone gets distracted by a rocket launch.

Photos: Maker Faire Photos [Laughing Squid]
Other press: Maker Faire a geek's dream [Daniel Terdiman on CNET]
Maker Faire 2006 coverage! [MAKE blog]
Maker Faire videos (including a robotic giraffe) [Social Customer Manifesto]