Fed up with commercial air travel? Build your own plane.
Ari Krupnik will show you how at this weekend's Maker Faire, a celebration of creative mayhem with the region's wildest and wackiest geek elite.
Part of a growing revolt against a consumer culture of learned helplessness, Krupnik will display part of his homemade aircraft, which he's piecing together in his Sunnyvale one-car garage.
"I know it'll be safe, because I made it myself," said Krupnik, a software engineer. Called a MiniMAX 1100R, his single-seat wooden craft has a wingspan of 25 feet and will fly up to 160 miles on a tank of gas. He's also contemplating an electrical version - if only someone could donate a big enough battery.
The San Mateo event recalls a time when it was OK to build your own radio, fix your own car and pry open a toaster just to see how it worked.
But it has an edgy 21st-century twist. Exhibitors will demonstrate how to reuse, recycle and reinvigorate - rather than buy and consume. One father-son team will convert a 1967 Honda S90 motorcycle into a state-of-the-art plug-in vehicle.
Is there a dead VCR in the closet? Turn it into a time-release cat-food dispenser! The more outrageous, the better.
There's thrill in destruction, as well. Some of the finest creations explode or catch fire.
Part physics, part parody, the fair features such things as steam-engine robots and pool heaters made from barbecue grills. For homebodies, there are lessons in solar cooking and soft-circuit embroidery. For gearheads, there are power tool drag-racing competitions.
A self-propelled three-story Victorian House - which can roll around the fairgrounds - will host a wedding. Also on display are robots that make cocktails and a 17-foot-tall, one-ton walking electric giraffe.
The Maker Ethic is simple: innovation through self-expression.
Mechanics, hackers, artists, technorati and garage inventors, these are folks who are seduced by "don't try this at home" warnings. Without fear of voided warranties, fried fingertips and lawyers from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, they build things for the most irrational of reasons: to have fun.
Declares one T-shirt: "If You Can't Open It, Don't Own It."
"There are the Einsteins and the Edisons of the world. Both are needed for innovation," engineer Tom Zimmerman of Cupertino said. "Our universities are geared to the Einsteins; they're book- and theory-oriented.
"The Maker Faire is the Edisons - the garage hackers who are hands-on, who learn by building through trial and error," he said.
In its third year, attendance is expected to surpass last year's crowd of 40,000, which was double the first year. Sponsored by the publishers of the Sebastopol-based Make Magazine, supporters include Google, Adobe, Microsoft, HP, IBM and others.
Among South Bay-built devices are Zimmerman's electronic drum - built out of PVC pipe, guitar string, foam and aluminum tape, then connected to a drum machine that kicks out beats to create an '80s disco sound.
Students from the Latino College Preparatory Academy high school in East San Jose, who helped him build it, will show how it works.
"They learned that things are not always as easy as you think - and sometimes you have to just go ahead and build something to see what problems you encounter," said Zimmerman, whose work was funded by his employer, IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose.
Also featured is a San Jose-based $500 homemade Segway Clone vehicle that can drag race on sand. Its lead creator, 48-year-old engineer Mike Phillips, will drive it around the grounds.
In a world where people are overwhelmed by complicated gadgets, Maker Faire exhibitors say it's time to re-exert control - even personalize technologies into works of art.
For instance, Krupnik will display a large image of New York City's historic Flatiron Building created out of physical pixels. He wrote a Python software program that calculated the layout, which instructed a laser to create an elegant image out of holes drilled into Home Depot particle board.
There is a primal side of human nature that yearns for connecting through hands-on creations, Phillips said.
"People have been starved for a place to show what they've made," he said. "Our society has created a vacuum for people that are crafts-oriented. It took it all away. You can't do anything except sit and watch TV or play video games.
"This fair is filling that vacuum - and is exploding. It's a thrill and a joy."
Contact Lisa M. Krieger at firstname.lastname@example.org or (408) 920-5565.