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04.01.2023: Maker Faire Syracuse

Updated: Apr 5, 2023

A celebration of curiosity and creation!

Makey Robot Pin, assembled and soldered by yours truly!

Syracuse held it's second annual Maker Faire this past Saturday in the recreation center on the campus of LeMoyne, the same day as the CNY Science and Engineering Fair science fair, which was held in the next gymnasium over. The maker faire was a celebration of creativity, creation, curiosity, and community. The Maker Faire had no focus but making, be it using microwaves to speak with fellow hobbyists hundreds of miles away, Star Wars droids and cosplay, wood working, model rockets, steam engines, or creating new musical instruments.

A Whole Hall of Hobbies and More

The overall vibe was that of grade school show and tell. Everyone I met was eager to show and share their thing. I spoke to microwave HAM operators, Ron Panetta (WB2WGH) and Frederick Relyea (KC2CHK), who eagerly told me of how their hobby, and how they things like bouncing signals off thunderheads to chat with operators hundreds of miles away. At booth after booth I watched as people gave demonstrations, mostly hands on, of their crafts and hobbies.

Is this the hobby you're looking for? If so, check out!

I myself was shown how to make the glowing eyed robot pin pictured at the top of this article. I watched as Renée Patterson of Tufty & Co helped people use a tufting gun to make a Maker Faire carpet, as the guys from weBLEEDfpv let people strap on goggles to see the fair through the eyes of tiny drones zipping around the show floor, and as The Bassett Street Hounds taught kids to Morris dance.

Like a tattoo gun, but bigger, and you need both hands...

The highlight for me was My personal favorite was the Arise booth. While not a hobbyist organization per se, Arise is a volunteer driven non-profit with the goal of "access and independence for all." They provide a large variety of services to people of all ages in the community, including a mental health clinic, intellectual disability services, and the Arise and Ski program for disabled skiers, but the booth at the fair was focused on their work with adaptive design, and in particular their adaptive design work to help kids. Adaptive design is the catch-all term for how Arise volunteers support people with disabilities by designing and fabricating devices and modifications to off the shelf consumer products to improve their accessibility for people with differing abilities. On display things that Arise had created which can improve the quality of all aspects of daily live. There were gadgets worthy of Bed Bath and Beyond, like chunky pencil grips, a bottle opener to help people with strength and dexterity issues get off twist tops from soda and water bottles and to a 3D printed device to make it easier to use a nail clippers. There were toys where the power buttons and switches had been replaced to allow them to be played with when they otherwise might have been impossible for someone to operate.

Some of the solutions provided by Arise, such as the nail clipper holder and some modified toys.

The item that first drew my attention was a modified Power Wheels toy with a teddy bear passenger. As it arrives from the factory, it's a skid steer toy like those zero-turn lawnmowers you see landscapers driving, where they steer with a lever in each hand. Arise modifies them with custom circuitry, controls, and software to essentially be "My First Power Wheelchair." When they're done, the former toy can be controlled with a single joystick for the rider, as well as options for parental control ranging from a corded joystick box (complete with safely detaching magnetic connector) to a key fob to shut down a child's unsafe driving. Arise fabricator Tracy Flemming explained to me why they are so much more than a toy to the children who receive them: they represent independence. Insurance companies rarely cover power wheelchairs for children under the age of 5 because they are very expensive and outgrown too quickly, yet having the ability to independently navigate their world is critically important to the development of children that young. He told me the success story told to him by a parent, of a child who thanks to the Arise Power Wheel power chair was able to play in the backyard with his sister, giving her rides and and pushing her on a swing, normal types of play we take for granted in able bodied children, and the quality of life Arise aspires to enable for their clients. If you're interest in learning more, or maybe even volunteering with them I encourage you to reach out. They even have an annual event where they modify toy

Tracy Flemming with a Power Wheels toy after Arise had worked their magic.

I spent a couple hours walking the floor seeing all the displays and talking to people. Over and over I was struck by the sheer joy on display at the Maker Faire. More than any run of some run of the mill arts and crafts show, it was a gathering of people connecting over their passions and creating a community of all the various forms of personal expression; sharing what makes them happy in the hopes that trying it will help others find something new that makes them happy too. Who knows, maybe next year I'll be there with a booth on photography, and human interest reporting?

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