Intervention 2013

Intervention 2013

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Make It Happen

27 August 2013 | Written by Maxxum

Intervention is a geek's geek convention. Though smaller than similarly themed conventions, there are two qualities of the event that are immediately evident; a tolerant environment, and, the absence of barriers between guests and attendees.The event was founded by Onezumi Hartstein, and her husband James Harknell and features many of the well-known segments of geek culture, including geek themed music, cosplay dancers, and notable industry guests.

This year's guest of honor was Mark Frauenfelder, the Editor-in-Chief of MAKE magazine, and co-founder of bOING bOING. I spoke with Mark about himself, MAKE, and the modern DIY movement.

Maxxum: When did you start focusing on journalism as a career?

Mark: It was in the late 80's, I was working as a mechanical engineer in Colorado, and I had always been interested in writing. And, so I contacted our local paper the Boulder Daily Camera and asked them if I could do software reviews for them. They said "yes, send them to us and if we like them we'll run them". So, I started writing reviews of tax preparation software, and some games and things like that, and they started running them, and I enjoyed the experience so much that I stated pitching articles to other magazines and surprisingly people said "yes", they wanted me to write for them.

So, I just started doing that more and more, and I started my own magazine called bOING bOING, my wife and I, in 1988. And, so, that was, at that point, it was so much fun, and having such a good time, that I ended up quitting my job as an engineer and moved to California, and got a job at Wired Magazine as an editor, and I guess I just kind of slowly evolved into becoming a journalist.

Why do you focus so much on Pop-Sci?

So, I think that technology has always been interesting to me, similar to you, I was really influenced by William Gibson's novels... really liked that a lot, "Cyberpunk", science fiction, and one of the reasons I went into engineering I think was just because I thought that science and technology was really cool - that you could actually make a change in the world with that kind of training. And, so when I branched into journalism I was just naturally interested in what technologists were doing, and reporting on what they were doing; that was the most interesting subject that I could think of, think to write about.

About MAKE Magazine, The Economist described it as "...the central organ of the maker movement". Most of that movement has been in tech savvy countries - have you seen an interest from 3rd World Countries in the maker movement?

Yes, I have, and there's been Maker Faire Africa, there have been Make Faires all over the world in developed and undeveloped countries, and if you go to a place like, you can see that there's activity all over the place. And, so I think that that's interesting, and every country and culture put their own spin on what the maker movement means to them. So, on a continent like Africa the idea, the creations are really how to improve the quality of life for people there. So many in the United States, where people are fortunate to have their basic necessities covered, are kind of looking at different things, maybe more artistic expressions, or home automation, those kinds of things.

Have you personally seen, or are you aware of increased scrutiny against the maker movement since a company publicly released blueprints for a 3D gun last May?

A little bit, I think that there's some hysteria, and politicians are saying this is an opportunity to fear monger a little bit. People have been able to make their own guns for a long time, and in fact, it's legal to make your own gun. People ordered the one control part of the gun called the receiver, as a piece of molded metal, and they'll take that home and machine it.

That's for the automatic firing, right?

Yeah, or really for any kind of gun too. So, it's not new, making guns is not new, it's a new way to make them. It's something that is kind of inevitable with any introduction of a technology is that there's going to be good uses and potentially negative uses for it.

What do you feel is the most significant DIY project that you've seen in the maker community?

Let's see, that's a good question. I think probably this project called SafeCast, and it was created by a hackerspace in Tokyo, in conjunction with a hackerspace in Los Angeles, and what they did was, when the Fukushima disaster happened, the Japanese government was giving radiation readings, publishing them, but they were not that accurate, because they only had one testing station in Tokyo, for example. And, so a lot of people were wondering can we rely on this information, can we trust what the government is doing, how can we verify it? So, the folks at SafeCast worked to develop a device that's about the size of a large cellphone and contains a Geiger counter and a GPS unit, and wireless capability. And, so what they did is they made a bunch of them, like several hundred, and then gave them to drivers, and they put them in their car, and they drove just all around, Japan, they [SafeCast] said don't plan a route anywhere, just drive where you normally drive.

And, giving this many out, they had readings all over the entire country, the entire island of Honshu ... they have this map now, they've taken 10 million data points, and it's open-source, and people can see time-lapse, has the radiation spread, hasn't it spread, where is it dangerous, where is it safe. It's like, imagine if a government tried to do a project like this, it would cost millions and millions of dollars, and there'd be all sorts of bureaucratic red-tape, and contractors would be getting gazillions of dollars, and here these guys made it for tens of thousands of dollars instead of millions and millions, and again it would be in the government's hands, and who knows if you can trust that data - this way it's open for everyone. So, I think that's a great example of what the maker movement can do to make something, a pretty profound change in the way we live.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

Let's see, well mine are so much more modest than that. I have just been thinking a little bit about auto-balancing mechanisms, the long-term goal would be a bi-pedal robot that could walk without falling over, that could correct itself, so what I'd like to do is start out with seeing if I can make a stick that can self-balance once it starts tipping, that it has feedback for it to correct itself. So, that's I think the next fun thing that I'm going to be, just y'know, to satisfy my personal curiosity.

Photos by Maxxum