Family Activity: Maker Faire is Mythbusters meets Burning Man

Giant Spider Scultpture was on Display at the Maker's FaireEarlier this month, my wife and I took our girls to the Maker Faire at the San Mateo Fairgrounds. This was our third visit in three years. The faire motto is “build, craft, hack, play, make” and in that spirit, the faire is a mighty gathering of people who like to like to do just that.

Mostly, the faire features exhibitors who just want to share the cool stuff they do in their garage or studio. The Invader sculpture is just one example of whatKayden and R2D2 you might find at the faire. It is an eclectic group, and you will see a fascinating mix of high tech, low tech, artistic and industrial ingenuity.

Maker faire crowd watching coke and mentos showSpeaking of who else you might find: Click on the picture of the Maker Faire crowd on the left. Can you find Paulano in the picture? I’m the guy with the white shirt and grey cap, just under the grey house. You can see my head, and the right side of my body.

One line I heard at the fair made quite an impression on me. An exhibitor was asked why she was so freely sharing her methods and ideas. Didn’t she want to protect her intellectual property? Her answer was typical of theArnold Pulls the Chariot whole faire environment. “Honey, if any one is smart enough to copy this, Tall Lady at Makers Fairethey’re going to have their own ideas.”

In various years, the girls and I have seen Adam, Jaime and Grant of Mythbusters fame at the fair. We have seen 230 pound battling robots. A chariot pulled by an Arnold Schwartzenegger android. The original Coke and Mento’s guys from www.eepybird.com. Cars that get over 100 miles to the gallon. Muffin Mobiles. Blacksmiths. 40 foot high statues made out of cable. A machine that makes lightning. A larger than life recreation of the old Milton Bradley Board Game Mousetrap. All sorts of interactive exhibits for kids of all ages. And tons more.

Pill Box Gift for the Maker in your lifeIf you plan to go to the faire, you should get your tickets online. This will help you avoid the lines at the door. Also there is so much to see. Plan to go for a whole day at least. If possible, preview the fair schedule the night before so that you can decide ahead of time which demonstrations and exhibits you want to see. The Faire is held only twice each year. The May show is in San Mateo. The October show is in Austin, Texas, October 18th and 19th, 2008.

It might also be a good idea to have a cooler in the car. Instead of buying your food from the vendors at the Faire, you can save a lot of time and money by going out to your car to eat.

Kyle Design has all sorts of gift ideas for the maker in your life. Is your Dad a maker? Is your Grad a little gadgety? Does your Summer-time birthday Girl or Boy like to tinker? Father’s Day, Graduation Day, and Summer are all just around the corner. Be sure to check her website for personalized tape measures, rulers, bookmarks, and switchplates.

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Book Review: The Man Who Loved Only Numbers by Paul Hoffman

Dollar Sign Design Money ClipHave you ever uttered the words “I hate Math?” I hear it all too often, even from my own kids. As a parent, it’s really disappointing to hear your children dismiss an entire system of thought before they get into the seventh grade. One possible reason for kids’ aversion to math is that all too often math is portrayed as nothing more than a “slave of commerce“, and state approved curricula never get beyond a narrow set of mechanical processes.

Erdos Book CoverThe Man Who Loved Only Numbers” by Paul Hoffman is an effective antidote to the “I hate Math” mindset. The book does a great job of introducing the fascinating field of mathematics to a lay audience. After reading it, I was literally on a two-week high. I could not stop talking about it, and I “fascinated” my family with anecdote after anecdote from the book.

The book centers on Paul Erdos (pronounced air-dish) a prolific, rather eccentric 20th Century mathematician, and all of the brilliant people with whom he collaborated during his lifetime. Among his great gifts, Erdos possessed 2 qualities that in my mind stood out. First, when conjecturing about some property of numbers, he had an incredible ability to ask just the right questions. And second, Erdos was an inspiration to countless young mathematicians and helped them to get their start in mathematical research.

Education Design LanyardOne motivational method he used was to put nominal bounties on unsolved problems. The sense of achievement enjoyed by a high-schooler who was able to solve a $1 or $5 Erdos problem was priceless.

By the time he died, Erdos had a fairly large cult following, and to this day, mathematicians world-wide have their own version of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game. If you ever collaborated directly with Erdos on a published mathematics paper, you have an Erdos Number 1. Number One GiftsIf you ever published a paper with someone who collaborated directly with Erdos on a published mathematics paper, you have an Erdos Number 2. And so on. The highest known Erdos Number that is an integer is 7. If you have never published a mathematics paper, your Erdos number is Infinity. Hmmm, I wonder who THOSE people might be. For more information on this, check out the Erdos Number Project.

Chef Place Setting Design“The Man Who Only Loved Numbers” should be an easy read for most high schoolers, so if you have kids younger than that, read the book yourself, and pass your newfound enthusiasm for Math on to them by playing games with primes and Fibonacci numbers at the dinner table!

Math Design Keychain

If you have trouble keeping all your Erdos bounty money in one place, you might want to consider buying some neat money clips. If you are looking for just the right mathematician’s gift for the mathematician in your life, be sure to check out Kyle Design. One thing Kyle offers is Key Chain with a mathematics design. With respect to Erdos, this is a bit ironic – he did not own a house or a car.

Paulano gives The Man Who Loved Only Numbers 5 Stars: the highest possible Paulano rating.