Back for its seventh year, the Calgary Maker Faire was once again one of the biggest show-and-tell exhibitions in the province.
The Calgary event, one of hundreds of gatherings internationally held under the Maker Faire brand, was held over Saturday and Sunday. The Calgary edition launched in 2012, with the original starting in San Francisco in 2006.
Visitors had a chance to take in local makers and businesses showing off an incredible diversity of pop, geek, science and engineering culture. From getting to be part of the Starship Enterprise bridge crew, to competing for the longest distance for handmade airplanes, taking in how to chase storms, launch rockets, and even write your own novel.
Plus, watch robots battle it out in the Plexiglas arena.
“We’ve had so many people come up to us—young and old—just fascinated looking at things,” said Sean Smith, a local maker and owner of Aardnor Minatures.
The event was hosted by non-profit Roots 2 STEM, with funds from the faire going towards Rotary Club of Calgary Chinook programs for under-serviced youth.
It’s cool to be a geek now
Smith began Aardnor Minatures after spending 23 years as a creative director for a digital firm. He said that it was a great job, but needed a break from the high-paced, high-stress environment.
“So I quit just prior to the pandemic, not knowing the pandemic was coming and didn’t know what was going to do,” he said.
He found that he was able to combine his love of Dungeons and Dragons, a game he’s been playing for 40 years, with the joy of building miniatures. Throughout the pandemic, he was able to build a thriving business that has shipped miniatures to many countries worldwide, and has put him in touch with some of the biggest names in D&D, and in Hollywood.
“Actually it’s the first time I actually truly feel like an artist, creating, building, selling stuff,” he said.
Currently, he is working on a massive commission for Joe Manganiello. That came about after someone posted one of his creations on Instagram, which caught Manganiello’s attention.
“So on a daily basis I talked to Joe Manganiello, which makes my head explode because he’s one of the biggest guys in D&D. It’s an extremely bizarre world, and it’s such a welcoming and whole encompassing universe. It’s so amazing.”
OK to talk about people’s passions now
He said that Dungeons and Dragons, much like maker and geek culture, is just something that no one talked about in the 1980s. But now, that has completely flipped.
“We grew up in a time when you didn’t tell people you play Dungeons and Dragons, because you didn’t want to deal with the headache that came with it because of the bad associations to the Satanic Panic back in the 80s,” said Smith.
Now web shows like Critical Role, the prominence of D&D within massively popular shows like Stranger Things, and the overall cultural acceptance of gaming as being a fun past-time means that businesses like Smith’s can be started and thrive.
“We always joke back in the 50s, you’d see the old men there, playing cards with the big cigars, and it was the guy’s night,” he said.
“That’s kind of what D&D is, and for me it’s not only just the game, it’s those people—tonight, I’ll be playing with friends from 40 years ago that still get together, and that’s a special place in my heart that I still get to see them.”
Making maker culture more accessible
Smith gives former Mythbuster and owner of Tested.com Adam Savage a lot of credit for making maker and geek culture popular.
“Just amazing work bringing the community together to do these things, and you just walk around the Maker Faire here And you can just see all this creativity—all this stuff is just so amazing.”
Richa Srivastva is a member of The Intimitrons from AREA 51, the first all-girls team in the FIRST Robotics Competition. Teams build robots from the ground up to complete different challenges every year, from shooting a ball into a goal, navigating rocky terrain, to spinning colour wheels.
“Every year, the challenge changes, and every year different teams like make the robot fit that specific challenge however they want to do it,” she said.
Srivastva was at the Maker Faire on Saturday to help young kids, especially young girls learn about and become excited to participate in engineering challenges.
“I feel like when you hear about different careers it’s always like I want to be a doctor, I want to be a teacher, but no one really says I want to be like an engineer,” she said.
“I want to make it especially known to young girls, because I feel like women are very underrepresented in STEM communities. And it’s kind of hard for young girls to enter into that world because it’s really intimidating to join a team that only has boys on it, which is the case for a lot of FRC teams.”
Inspired to take part
The Intimitrons were formed in 2012. The team gives young women the opportunities to enhance their engineering abilities, learning practical skills like soldering, machining, computer-aided design, and software programming. They also teach practical skills like project management, team work, and business skills like public speaking, marketing and networking.
“So I hope that a lot of young girls can hear this and know that it’s really fun. It was really engaging, and they don’t have to be robotic experts. You’re here to learn, and everyone’s here to learn, and it’s a really fun experience overall,” said Srivastva.
Slade Chase was one of the participants in the Maker Faire’s robot combat competition over the weekend, put on by the Calgary Combat Robotics Club.
The first-time competitor was inspired to build his own robot to compete in Kilobots XLVI after watching Battle Bots on TV.
“I got into battle bots, so of course, why not have my own even though it was quite expensive,” he said.
Chase competed with his bot Foxtrot in the antweight division.
“It’s a relief to see it working, my bot didn’t work the last match so I was hoping that in this one I could finally get that relief.”
The robot combat was one of the most attention grabbing events at the Makers Faire. Boys and girls, young and old alike, if there is one thing that everyone holds in common it’s that watching robots smash one another in the arena makes for a good time.
Citizen science in action as well
The Prairie Thunder Storm Chasers were on hand to share their experience documenting and sharing the experience of extreme weather in Alberta to faire visitors.
Neville Johnson talked about how storm chasing was an activity that combined all of the various disciplines that make up maker culture.
“We’re here at the at the faire, which is based on science, technology, education, math and arts, and storm chasing incorporates all of that,” he said.
He said that his team, which is made up of members of his family, regularly engages in all of those things during a chase. Scientific aspects like meteorology, the use of technology like radar, educating the public, the mathematics used to sufficiently plan for fuel use in remote areas of the province, and of course the art of photographing storms.
Ruth Anne Johnson is the principal photographer, and was displaying her stunning images of some of the wildest weather that occurs in the province. She said that she leaves the photos largely as she shot them, preferring the reality of storms.
“I do leave them raw because I feel that people colour them too much, and that’s not what the world is,” she said.
The Prairie Thunder Storm Chasers regularly contribute their findings to Environment Canada, helping to better inform and protect Albertans through citizen science. One of the multitude of items they had on display at the faire for the public was a scale and calipers, which they use to accurately measure the size and weight of hail.
“The average person that sends a picture of a hailstorm next to a loony or toonie, that’s great, but we do the little more scientific thing that it’s a little more accurate,” he said.