Sunday, July 24, 2016

BCM Maker Faire (follow up)

I spent 10~5 yesterday on the boardwalk in front of the Boston Children’s Museum with a table presenting samples of Japanese joinery and my woodwork, most of which could easily be assembled and disassembled by small children. Here’s a snap of my table:

It was in the 90s (˚F) yesterday, so I drank a lot of water and was at least in some shade under a large tent with many other exhibitors. The vast majority of exhibits concerned robotics, battlebots, R2D2 controlled by joysticks, and the like. Booths devoted to more old fashioned things, like mine, were rather few and far between. Across from me were two others with old school stuff, one dealing with Japanese looms and weaving, and the other a project to teach poor urban Junior High kids how to make a plywood skiff in 11 sessions.

I had a lot of kids come by with their parents and it was a pleasure to watch them discover something about joinery as they took the models apart and put them together. Some kids were quite entranced and I had a few return visitors. Some parents knew a little something about the subject area of joinery, though many were as uninformed as their kids. Probably the two most interested kids that stopped by were a pair of 12 year old girls who asked me a great number of questions and were quite fascinated by the whole thing. That was rewarding.

I certainly got a lot of questions, and some, interestingly, cropped up time and again.

Here are the top 3 questions I received on the day of the Maker Faire, in order of frequency:

  • “Did you use a laser to cut that?”
  • “Are these puzzles?”
  • “What is all this?”

I heard each of the above questions at least a dozen times, from both children and adults. One adult, of Indian background, came upon my table with his young daughter and, scanning the scene, asked, “what is all this?”. After starting to hear my answer, he snorted that, “there’s nothing here for my daughter to interact with.” As he started to move off, I said, “well, actually…”, and I showed his daughter who stood in front of him, around 8 years old if I were to guess, how to take apart one of the joints. As soon as she began to play with it, he pulled her away. Off to the next thing.

It is interesting to see how people’s preconceptions and snap judgments color how they perceive reality.

The questions about using a laser were humorous if it weren’t for the fact of their frequency and that adults were usually the ones asking that question. A lot of people just don’t have any familiarity with wood joinery, so I was able to at least introduce something new to them, but, it is a little sad to me all the same. Many, upon seeing an assembled joints, assumed that the parts were cut in the same manner as a jigsaw puzzle, and were flummoxed as to how I had made the cuts with, to them, nearly invisible lines. So I did a lot of explaining about that.

One fellow, a Chinese guy who I think was from MIT’s robotics lab, seemed dumbstruck that wood could be cut to fit tightly together without the aid of CNC equipment. He kept smiling in puzzlement and seemed at a loss for words. That was a curious moment.

Quite a few adults asked me if I used CNC, and when I told them I used rather more mundane tools to make the joints, were almost in disbelief or astonishment. Then I told them that the joints were deliberately made a little loose to aid in being interactive, and some had trouble taking this in. It’s as if they no longer imagine humans can do close-tolerance work. I pointed out to one person that the most perfectly round sphere ever created, was polished to final roundness by hand by Achim Leistner, as “his precision in handcrafting spheres was [found to be] superior to any machine”.

It was a long day, starting for me at 6:00 am, and I was pretty much on my last legs when I got home, a 2-hour drive. I think if I participate next year I can find a few ways to improve my presentation. It seems that joinery remains outside the scope of a lot of people’s awareness, so working to improve that is certainly worthwhile I think.

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