If you don’t know what a Maker is, let’s start with a definition:
1. a person [or thing] that makes or produces something, e.g. creator, manufacturer, constructor, inventor, designer, architect, fabricator or constructor.
It’s been a slow burn, but the transformation from DIY enthusiast or Ham Radio fiddler is complete as the Maker-Movement has finally shrugged of mocking monikers and the days of subcultural skulking in a shed in the garden is over, This global movement has spurred companies like MakerBot and Nest, open-source movement Arduino, communities such as Thingiverse and Instructables and a growing number of successful Indiegogo and Kickstarter projects, like smart-watch maker Pebble.
Twenty years ago, when I started making things the maker, and for many – the passion of making, was referred to somewhat snidely as that of a ‘hobbyist’. In the maker community of the time though, being a Hobbyist was just about tolerable; it bestowed a noun, a proper noun almost, that endowed some respectability on a pastime that could easily have been viewed as nerdy or non-sensical, but it wasn’t really something anyone admired. It was a wide-spread belief amongst the [vanilla] population that Hobbyists would remain romantically unentangled for all time, they may achieve moderate academic success but grow into solitary, rambling, flotsam characters in middle-age destined to gather the dust of life, much as the unfinished projects that sat on the shelves of their sheds, rooms, or shacks would do.
It was probably Blue Peter that stirred my interesting in making things. The celebrated children’s program, still running more than 50 years after it started broadcasting, was a general entertainment show for kids, less focussed on science than the 1970s Canadian import, Professor Moffet’s Science Workshop, but Blue Peter contained wonderful vignettes where a presenter talked you through making a fold-away puppet theatre, background-scene for your model railway or a even a rather daring sled. Often these projects involved a scissors (get a parent or grown-up to supervise), often they involved cutting up a Cornflakes (breakfast cereal) box but invariably you needed Sticky Backed Plastic or Sticky Tape. The mysterious substances known obtusely as Sticky Back Plastic and Sticky Tape were Fablon and Sellotape, but naming brands on the BBC at the time was a no-no and the decoy probably caused parents to frown around the country as they tried to pacify a pre-teen child intent on improving the view for their Hornby Flying Scotsman passengers.
In this wonderfully prescient excerpt from an episode of Blue Peter broadcast in 1979, Lesley Judd showed kids of the day how to make what we’d now call a wearable device, at the time it was a Blake’s 7 wristband. David Maloney, the Blakes 7 Producer had received letters asking to make the wristband, and referring the request on to Blue Peter, Lesley Judd set about replicating the device – albeit without the cosmic connection to Blake’s spaceship, The Liberator. Today, we’d be able to add wireless communications, a Bluetooth connection or a small LED screen to a maker project like this, but what they achieved on camera illustrates that the maker-movement was even then, gaining traction in mainstream society, and it displays the remarkable vision of the Blue Peter team at the time. Three and a half decades ago, in a pre-teen boys world, the Maker-Movement was up and running and I was watching.
There is an artisan spirit intrinsic in the maker community, but there is also a spirit of rebellion, a desire to make one last change, one last improvement that will improve upon the previous attempt and when makers succeed on a commercial scale this can make for breathtaking success and beautifully made products. Last year I met three remarkable professional makers, Tony Fadell the Nest founder, Dr. Conor McCormack of McCor Technologies and Linda Franco, CEO of Machina Wearable. They run companies at different stagesbut they all exhibit have that Maker passion, and spirit. The spirit of rebellion that breathes through their products; if they’re putting their name to something, it will absolutely be the best that they can make it.
With that spirit of rebellion, that desire for improvement, I think I’ve also observed a wry cynicism in the Maker. The Maker is keen to improve on what’s commercially available or the status quo and that cynicism is a healthy quality that breathes innovation in to artisan products and even culture. A few days ago, Aleator777 published a project on Instructables.com for an Apple II Watch. It is a parody that is both a nod to a company with a remarkable history of innovation but it is also wonderfully satirical. Aleator777 decided not to create a miniature Apple II, but a device inspired by the Apple II and the technology of its day. It has a micro-controller running at a cheeky 75MHz encased in an enclosure which he 3D printed. Although it doesn’t run Apple DOS or BASIC, there has been talk online already of other makers using Damian Peckett’s Apple II emulator for an authentic leap in to the past.
There were no queues in Apple’s Regent Street store in April 10 – people weren’t queueing to see Apple’s new Wonder Watch, but it will no doubt sell-out. It is a product that we don’t need, even the iOS users amongst us don’t need one but Apple is a company who have proved more than once that if you make something beautiful, people will want it, when they didn’t even know they needed it.
The time of the maker is truly upon us, and Aeraotor777, je vous salue!
CUPERTINO, California—September 9, 1984—Apple Computer Inc.® today unveiled Apple // watch™—its most personal device ever. Apple // watch introduces a revolutionary design and A BASIC USER INTERFACE created specifically for a smaller device. Apple // watch features A KNOB, an innovative way to SCROLL, without obstructing the display. The KNOB also serves as the RETURN button and a convenient way to PRESS RETURN. The CATHODE RAY TUBE display on Apple // watch features TEXT, a technology that ALLOWS YOU TO READ, providing a new way to quickly and easily access BASIC PROGRAMS. Apple // watch introduces a built-in VERY SMALL SPEAKER that discreetly enables an entirely new vocabulary of alerts and notifications you can HEAR. Apple Computer custom-designed its own 6502 PROCESSOR CUT IN HALF to miniaturize an entire computer architecture onto a PRINTED CIRCUIT BOARD. Apple // watch also features TWO DISK DRIVES to pair seamlessly with your MAGNETIC STORAGE DISKS.
External Links & References
- Download Aleator777’s (glorious) instructions : PDF
- Sign up for a free Instructables account : share the making
- The Smartwatch finally makes sense : Geoffrey Fowler : WSJ
- Woz on Making : Founders at Work
- Find a Maker Faire near you : MakerFaire
- David Forbes’ Nixie Watch is available to buy (ready made!)