The Coolest Things at World Maker Faire 2011

New York City saw a waterfall swing, robot drummers, and lots of other DIY gadgets

2 min read
The Coolest Things at World Maker Faire 2011

This weekend, Maker Faire took over the New York Hall of Science for two days of DIY revelry. Visitors were circled by solar-powered adult tricycles and cut off by pet-sized robots that wandered underfoot and overhead. In the booths, kids practiced their lock-picking skills and discovered 3-D printing in a village of MakerBots. But occasionally, visitors could simply stand, relax, and listen to the sounds of experimentation: from the raucous rhythms of drumming robots to the gentle trickle of falling water.

Dash 7 Design's waterfall swing was one the most successful exhibits, at least as measured by the long line that circled the structure. Suspended from the 20-foot frame, two swingers passed back and forth through a sprinkling sheet of water, each of the 178 streams controlled by an independently actuated solenoid valve. A previous incarnation of the device controlled the streams to spell out letters and words. Add a motion detector, and the valves are modified to just barely miss soaking the swingers on each passage. Here explaining the design are Ian Charnas and Drew Ratcliffe.

Slightly higher in decibels were Tim Laursen's MIDI-controlled robot drummers, three structures that greeted visitors with their bright colors and intricate rhythms just beyond the ticket booth. Somewhere behind the imposing, slightly creepy figures, you'd find a mixing board, a 24 VDC power supply, eight 50-ms pulse generators, and a Highly Liquid MIDI decoder that turns the MIDI signals into eight on/off switches. But why not let the musician/builder explain himself:

Other highlights included the Arduino Pavillion, where visitors found projects based on that open-source electronics prototyping platform. Applications ranged from an electronically-controlled sous vide cooker to a haptic glove that, using its 100-plus hand positions, can act as a one-handed keyboard.

For more from Maker Faire, visit the daily blog curated by Make magazine.

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From WinZips to Cat GIFs, Jacob Ziv’s Algorithms Have Powered Decades of Compression

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Photo: Rami Shlush
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Lossless data compression seems a bit like a magic trick. Its cousin, lossy compression, is easier to comprehend. Lossy algorithms are used to get music into the popular MP3 format and turn a digital image into a standard JPEG file. They do this by selectively removing bits, taking what scientists know about the way we see and hear to determine which bits we'd least miss. But no one can make the case that the resulting file is a perfect replica of the original.

Not so with lossless data compression. Bits do disappear, making the data file dramatically smaller and thus easier to store and transmit. The important difference is that the bits reappear on command. It's as if the bits are rabbits in a magician's act, disappearing and then reappearing from inside a hat at the wave of a wand.

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