I headed off first thing to get some parking and was pleased to find that Newcastle College had some cheap parking - £4 for the day. I arrived 45 minutes to early, thankfully the security guard was a chatty type who wanted to know what all the fuss was about so we filled in time while waiting for my friend Aidan to turn up.
We got talking about cars as that was his thing and so by the time Aidan turned up in his Tesla, the guy was itching to see it and up to his armpits in questions.
I’m so pleased this has turned out to be a success over the years – there was a time when “makers” – were treated a little dismissively by the public but today everyone wants to come and see what they are up to.
The first thing we came across was a self-balancing one-wheel vehicle and we had a great time talking to the designer – this is not a production job or commercial in any way, he built it because he wanted to – and it works extremely well. Yes, the pad on the front is for “emergencies”.
Rather than design in a modern way, the panelling was very retro – something my friend Melanie-Jane would love to have seen.
As we walked around we were amazed by the variety of stuff people do – from machines that do knitting, to robot hands,to retro gaming machines. A friend of ours Tony was responsible for a mini-version of the PAC-MAN arcade machine, though it had a flat top and I did remind him that the miserable pub people had this changed to round quickly as people were putting their pints on top of the machine. Well, if you’re going to spend all night playing you need somewhere to put your beer!!
Next off we came across an interesting idea – a bunch of clear tubes maybe 12” diameter and 6ft or more high – with air blowing up them. The public was provided with cups. paper plates, glue and sticky tape and invited to design the gadget likely to reach the top of the tube without falling to bits or coming back down. Aidan could not resist the challenge and so while I manned the phone he proceeded to build a very high-tech device – which actually went in – out the top and continued on for some time – no doubt setting a world record – but then – that’s what I’d expect.
If have to say, if you saw the contraption he built, there was no way this was going to fly – but it did! Flimsy as it was the device went into the tube and headed straight up at tremendous speed and cleared the top of the tube by a long way. I’ll bet the kids who were competing were hopping mad. Afraid you can’t beat a gadget man who is also an experienced, qualified pilot…
Big round of applause and we were off to get some coffee before the next challenge..
Next stop, there were LOTS of tables with things that people had made – LOTS of them – some trivial – a few flashing lights – but not this – a genuine mini-version of the old classic, the PDP-8 computer – all done with wood, loving care and a Raspberry Pi. I’ve been planning to build an IMSAI for some time but this was just wonderful.
There can be no doubt that modern computers are fantastic – and the computers from mid-last century were toys in comparison – but the difference is – you could SEE and understand what they were doing (well, a relatively small number could – most people don’t know how their TV remote works but they’re probably not reading this blog) – it’s almost worth having one of these just as a piece of furniture – in some ways it reminds me of the bank of flashing lights on “Voyage to the bottom of the Sea” or “The Time Tunnel” and similar. But this is a real, working machine. If you can click the image and scale it up – you’ll see it was made with love.
Open source robot hands, open source 3D printers – what a combination. We met up with an old pal of ours Dave Alan – a fellow who I met at the start of the microcomputer revolution – he has speech running on a 6800 processor WAY before the big boys thought of doing it (funny enough I had the same on a PIC and have an award on the wall to prove it – then along came PC speed and that was the end of that).
We saw and had explained a new 3D Printer – no more than £350 inc. VAT which used a new recycled plastic which does not bend and warp like older materials – and I have to say, some of the parts they built with this were almost production quality – a non-technical person would not know the difference between that and a milled plastic part – VERY impressive – and not even a special heated cover over the thing!!!
Want one (but then I want a router and a laser cutter and….)
Among other delights there was a genuine dinosaur wandering around with his (her?) handler. Very impressive. Oh and you see those drawers on the right – wow – I SO miss the old radio rallies and computer shows where people brought their old junk 0 but better, suppliers brought tons of surplus stuff and sold dead cheap. And so it was that the bearded fellow on the right – SO missed this – he decided to resurrect the idea – he had many dozens of £1 trays (3 for £2) and the prices were REAL bargains – anyway I think he’s called ABX http://stores.ebay.co.uk/abx-labs
And that was about it – we talked to loads of people including friend Tony at the Newcastle Maker group – I hope to get to go see them in the autumn when we come back to the UK. A GREAT day out for all the family, good prices on food – which makes a change as sometimes these things are a rip…
If you you are in the area next year, same time I strongly recommend a visit but of course such events are on all the time, all over the western world really. If nothing else you can guarantee that if you put a bunch of techies together – they’ll be dying to tell you how they made their stuff – and that is what makes these events so special. Well done to everyone involved in organising this.