Sparks Of Magic: Vignettes From Maker Faire KC

It’s mid-afternoon Saturday: The great hall at Union Station is packed, shoulder to shoulder. There’s a crowd at the far end, straining to see the ArcAttack! Show of singing Tesla coils and a willing volunteer plucked from the audience to dance along to the electric music.

There’s a lineup of kids near the bike that generates electricity. One after another, kids clamber onto the bicycle and pedal as fast as they can, all to see if they can generate enough power to make a light bulb glow. One after another, they drop off the bike, legs tired and wobbly, but knowing that they accomplished something with their own muscles.

Nearby, there’s a pile of goo bouncing around on a speaker. “It’s Flubber,” the guy announces with a grin, then adds that it’s really just a cornstarch and water mixture that makes these intriguing shapes in response to the sound waves.  Everybody around grins back.

The 3-D printer operators are non-stop busy. Hundreds of questions, over and over: “What are you making?” “How long does it take?” “What it’s made of?” “How does it work?” “How much does it cost?” There’s an element of delight when one operator explains that he’s making a series of replacement parts for another 3-D printer. The printer is making a replica of itself, bit by bit.

In another corner, small robots chase each other around a racetrack taped on the floor. Nearby, a larger robot draws laughs as it collects and deposits golf balls on command. The laughs come from the look of exasperation on the face of the teenager who had just finished picking up and loading all the golf balls from that same basket. Sigh. Start over. Again.

An enthusiastic announcer, like a circus barker, makes a convincing case for building rockets even if they don’t go very far. “That can be a benefit,” he declares, “cause then you don’t have to chase them as far.” Nearby dozens of rockets of varying sizes and shapes are racked, waiting to be handled.

The spinners were mostly quiet, sitting at the ancient wheel, turning out fine threads. Another spinning wheel was around the corner, along with a display of yarns created near a series of odd little foam and disc machines, dipping, turning, circling. Some had magic markers attached, so their somersaults drew spirogyra-like shapes while they danced.

There were jewelry makers, salvage artists, printers. There were food kits, toys, paper arts. There was a sensuous looking wavy wall – made of corrugated cardboard, from a computer-controlled machine. There were rich-looking costumes in styles from centuries past; a few steps away from holiday ornaments featuring mad scientists and odd inventions. There were lasers and soldering guns, paint and pens, music and machines.

It was day one of the Maker Faire, when Kansas City filled the great hall at Union Station with questions and awe.

More impressions of the day from Nancy Shawver …

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