Hacking? Making! All is fair at Vancouver Mini Maker Faire 2014

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What surprises would I see at the Vancouver Mini Maker Faire? Held the weekend of June 7 to 8 at the PNE Forum, the first surprise? Makers is now the it word for hobbyists and inventors—terms that are so 1950s.

The exhibition had the traditional (puppet-making); the revival (letterpress); the expected (building robots, a fad that never seems to go away since Lost in Space aired on TV in the 1960s); the homemaker (knotwork bracelets); and the kid (constructing with Lego).

The second surprise? Hacking is making. Yes, hacking is a good word. When one hears “hacker” we think of a bad guy anywhere in the world who motivated by malicious intent accesses without authority and in many cases impairs computer systems or online accounts.

One of the exhibitors, the Vancouver Hack Space, defines hacking as, “the re-configuring of a system to function in ways not intended by the owner, administrator, or designer”. As an example, deconstructing children toys that effect sounds by bending their circuits to create an entirely different blare. An object for play has been re-purposed as a sound-making machine to be used for a multitude of audio applications. VHS said “hackers generally spend most of their time tinkering and exploring, which often leads to new inventions or innovations”.

Indeed, some computer experts are advocating that computer criminals should be called “crackers” and not hackers. Good luck!

Mozilla showed off its Webmaker tools.
Joseph Lopez

This reclamation of the good-guy definition of a hacker was reinforced in a workshop at the Mini Maker Faire by Mozilla, as in the Mozilla Firefox browser. Through their Webmaker tools, one can “hack” existing web pages to re-create what looks like a legitimate page but with your own content instead of the original. The Mozilla workshop facilitators showed this writer on how to hack or “remix” my own Straight.com article with an entirely different heading, copy, and image but have it stay looking like a Straight.com entry. How can you tell it’s not legit? Look at the URL.

According to Mozilla, their Webmaker movement seeks to empower a generation on the web by teaching coding and hardware programming that even elementary students can comprehend through “hacking” or “remixing”.

Symmetry Group brought its Domedecahedron.
Joseph Lopez

The last surprise was that the spirit of invention for invention sake has not been lost. “Making” need not necessarily be engaged in to produce a functional instrument or contraption. Made of plastic (Coroplast), the Domedecahedron is a dome made from recursive domes of decahedron. A decahedron is composed of 12 pentagonal plates, with three conjoining at each vertex. A member of the Symmetry Group and one of the makers, Adam Barlev, when asked about the purpose of the igloo-like, laser-cut architectural origami, emailed back, “Hi Joseph, sorry, I found your question a bit too philosophical. What’s the point of climbing Mount Everest? The point is to push the limits of what’s humanly possible and to explore the unknown.”

The spirit of invention, oops, making, lives on.

Joseph Lopez is a writer based in Vancouver.

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