by Bob Parks
O’Reilly / Make
I’d hesitate to call these people — these Makers — a new breed. The Garage Revolution has been around for much longer than the garage, and the figure of the solitary inventor, changing the world in his mad garret, is one that’s fairly embedded in Western culture. From tinkerers grew hackers, in the purest and original sense of the word. People who enjoyed making things do what those things weren’t supposed to, finding out new ways to extend the use of junk just a bit longer, and reveling in the sheer arcane lore of their inventions as much as in the invention actually functioning.
Lately, “hacker” has come to take on a computer criminal connotation, so it’s probably good to redub this group. They do have one major difference from their predecessors — the internet, the world’s biggest and most lenient whiteboard. With information so easily shared, people are putting together more complex endeavors, supplanting their off-the-shelf parts with seemingly off-the-shelf (and free) plans, parts lists, and so on.
Which is where Make Magazine and this coffee-table companion book, Makers, comes in. The mag (4 quarterly issues, $35) comes filled with projects out of a sci-fi Popular Mechanics, while the book focuses on individual people and their particular obsessions and accomplishments.
Take for instance Richard Hull, a Virginia electrical engineer who dabbles in creating nuclear fusion. Or Tom Jennings, who refurbished a Data General Nova 4 minicomputer from 1978, when “mini” meant “fridge-like.”. Make that “big fridge-like.” And Liz Zazulak and Reagen Ward in Austin figured out how to make a gigantic pinhole camera that exposes on blueprint paper.
And so on. There are about 80-100 profiles of these people and their projects. Each one, for a page or three, gets to display their ingenuity, sense of humor, dedication to unorganized amateur science and what have you that led them down this strange and jagged path. One of these people — if not in this book, then one of their kind — will likely come out with some simple product, process or idea that will forever change the way things are. Get ready for some weird stuff.