clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Making things is now a global movement. But is the U.S. making enough?

Make Magazine editor Mike Senese and Maker Faire founder Dale Dougherty weigh in on the latest Recode Decode.

If you buy something from a Vox link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Nick Offerman and Amy Poehler, the hosts of “Making It” NBC

Over the past decade, the idea of making things because you can — even though you don’t strictly need to — has blossomed into a full-on “maker movement” in the U.S. And just this year, the movement reached a new milestone of mainstream popularity in the NBC reality show “Making It,” hosted by “Parks and Recreation” stars Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman.

But on the latest episode of Recode Decode, Mike Senese and Dale Dougherty — the editor in chief of Make Magazine and the founder of the Maker Faire, respectively — said they have concerns that the inertial culture of buying-rather-than-making is winning out in the U.S.

“I’m worried about a generation that thinks that Amazon is the answer to everything for them,” Dougherty said. “Here’s the difference in China: They can make anything they see, and make it in greater numbers more easily. They’re terrible at figuring out what doesn’t exist, right? And that’s the creative part of this.

“Someone once said to me there, ‘They’re great at one to a million, they’re terrible at zero to one,’” he added. “And they will get there. They will definitely get there.”

You can listen to Recode Decode wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts and Overcast. Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited transcript of Kara’s full conversation with Mike and Dale.

Kara Swisher: Today, I’m delighted to have Mike Senese and Dale Dougherty in the studio. They’re both hugely important to the Maker movement. Mike is the editor in chief of Make Magazine, and Dale is the founder of the Maker Faire and more, or, the rest of the company.

Dale Dougherty: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

This is a hugely important movement in Silicon Valley and beyond, and these two are kind of the godfathers of it? Okay, Mike and Dale, welcome to Recode Decode.

DD: Thank you very much.

Mike Senese: Yeah, thank you.

And I want to talk about a TV show? You got all kinds of stuff going on that you guys are doing.

DD: Well, we didn’t do the TV show.

No, but Make is now a big deal.

DD: Yeah, exactly.

Kind of a thing. So, let’s talk about ... my kids have gone to Maker Faire and things like that. Let’s talk about ... Dale, why don’t you start talking about the background of how this started? ’Cause Silicon Valley has, at its heart, a Make movement.

DD: Exactly. Long before I started using the word, there were Makers. They weren’t always identified to each other. They often thought of themselves as, you know, sort of tinkerers and things on their own, and this helped to form a community of people and say, this is kind of the way people learn technology and science, and often not in school but through just their own interest in developing that. And I think coupled with that, was ... you know, the internet has sort of two qualities to it. It can make you ... you can learn to do almost anything, and it also can just make you more of a consumer.

Right, right. Where you just suck up screen time.

DD: What I’m really interested in is the creative side of, you know, we have this technology. We could create wonderful things with it. Or, we could just treat it like television and absorb it and consume it and do more of it. So, the idea of Maker really is to invite people to see themselves as makers, as creative people — any age, at any portion of their life — to do just do things because they enjoy it and it’s rewarding and fun and it actually keeps us together.

So, go into the background of it. Tell me about the background, and then I want to get to the magazine.

DD: Well, I started the magazine in 2005 at O’Reilly Media.

Right. You work with Tim.

DD: Right. I told Tim in the back of a cab on the way to an open source convention that I had an idea for a “Martha Stewart for geeks.” But, sort of projects ...

Ha! You don’t look like Martha Stewart.

DD: No, I don’t. But, the idea was ... I think she understood that we do things as a way of connecting to other people. And that’s really what I meant. You make a pie when people are coming over, ’cause you want to tell them you made it for them. And I think a lot of things, even technology could be looked at that way. In ways, Make is like a Popular Science or a Popular Mechanics of the ’50s, when there was a culture of hacking ... they didn’t use that word.

Well, Popular Science was the magazine. I remember reading it every month.

DD: But Popular Mechanics goes back to the early 20th century and has this wonderful, broad permission to do this and do that, and you could make a garage, you could make a birdhouse, you could make a boat that sails.

Yeah, one summer, my brothers and I made everything that was in a cartoon in ... it was either Popular Science or Popular Mechanics. It probably was in Popular Mechanics. We made like a garage door opener with a tennis ball. We did rockets. We did all kinds of things, which we don’t do anymore at all. Nobody does.

DD: Right. Right. But I was inspired by that, and wanted to try to ... I wanted to see if I could bring that back in some ways.

Right. Bring back Popular Science, Popular Mechanics.

DD: And kind of reconnect it to the digital age of both physical and digital things, and whether it’s robots or rockets or other things. But, it seemed like this ... you know, I just wanted to encourage people to do it, based on people I found that were already doing it. So, cool things. Fun things.

So, you do a magazine. A physical magazine.

DD: A physical magazine with projects in it, and say, “Here’s how you do that.”

And then it turned into Maker Faire.

DD: Then we started Maker Faire, partially because, just meeting really interesting people. And I thought, would it be interesting to ask people about, you know ... “Here’s their project. Talk to them about it.” It’s kind of like an art fair or a craft fair or a science fair, really. But it’s really the people that inspire you. When you talk to someone who cares a lot about it.

What I’ve also found is some Makers are shy, maybe socially awkward, but when they’re talking about their project, they open up and they are expansive. And it’s a great way to really experience this and be inspired to do it yourself.

Right. So, Mike, tell me about how you came to doing this. Are you someone who tinkered?

MS: Yeah. Absolutely. I always thought that I had this unique story of having that science-fair-type dad. You know, the ’50s science fair geeky dad who took me into his workshop at a young age.

Did you?

MS: Well, I did, yeah. I grew up wanting to take everything apart and seeing if I could put it back together again. And through the years, I realized that quite a few people actually have the same exact story. We all have the same origin story, and there is this desire for all of us to use our hands to make things. I’ve spent my whole life taking things apart, putting them together, and making things. I went to college, started on an engineering track, changed course and then from there I just sort of became ... this has become my focus. It’s become my career. Telling stories, helping tell other people’s stories.

Of how to do things.

MS: How to do things. The inspiration of making.

So Dale, talk to me about the idea of Make, because this was at the heart of Silicon Valley. As you said, you’re a maker. I say it a lot, actually. Either you’re a maker of you’re not. Like you create things ... and not just physical objects like a robot or a drone or whatever, but companies and things. The concept of crafting.

DD: Yeah. In fact, I think sometimes it’s really misunderstood of how this is learned. You know, Steve Wozniak is a classic example. The Homebrew Computer Club, where he says — they couldn’t buy computers so they built them themselves and they shared the designs.

Wood. There was wood involved.

DD: And he says, “You know, I would do it for free for the rest of my life.” It was that thing, they could figure out how to do things that was really, I think, core to this, and I think it goes back to the semiconductor industry and everything else.

Well, tell me. Tell me.

DD: Well, one of the founders — his name escapes right now — there’s a great piece that Tom Wolfe the writer ... passed away this year ...

It’s Doug Engelbart, probably.

DD: He called it “The Tinkerings of Bob Noyce.” That’s his name.

Mm-hmm. Bob Noyce. So, that’s right. It was a great piece. Yeah. It was in Esquire.

DD: Great piece. And he talks about how as a kid he read Popular Science with his brothers, and ... Wolfe’s whole point was, “Why did the giants of the information age grow up in small towns in the Midwest?” as opposed to the large metropolitan areas. And it was to some degree this sense of play and taking things apart and putting things together.

Noyce has a quote that, you know, “When you live on a farm out in the middle of nowhere, you can’t buy what you want. You have to make it.” And for me that sort of resonates of the ... that’s in the core of ... you know, they acquire that, almost through practice of doing this. When they later go to college and things, they map theory into that practice, and they become really smart at doing things.

That’s essentially the argument for bored out of your mind. And so ...

DD: Exactly.

Like you had nowhere else to go. There’s no movie theater!

DD: Well, there’s a great story ... Three brothers read a story about building a kite that could lift a human being off the ground. So, they go to build it, and he almost kills himself. I mean, they jump off the barn to try to get enough lift. And they drag it behind a car. But, you know, it was this idea that, you don’t just read something, you try to do it. You try to figure it out.

And I think, what I kind of wanted to penetrate is like, we read a lot about technology, and sometimes it’s kind of at this abstract layer, we actually don’t know much about it. How do we penetrate more deeply, and just understand how it works?

And, you know, obviously, a lot of our technology today is sort of wrapped up for us, and we can’t open it and use it. We’ve had this phrase, “If you can’t open it, you don’t own it,” so I say with the magazine, it’s just encouraging people to get in and customize, personalize, change things to make it the way they want to. And that’s my original insight around this, was that’s what hackers were trying to do.

Were trying to do, right.

DD: Not to ... they wanted to make it work for them.

Not the Russians, but go ahead.

DD: Right. Not the Russians, but just, when we talked about hacking in a positive way-

Well, they’re trying to make a change in the electoral process.

DD: Absolutely.

So, I guess that’s right, so ...

DD: Yeah. Exactly. Well, I think probably so.

They have a goal. That’s their goal. That’s what they want to make.

DD: Break the system.

Whatever, it’s a making thing.

DD: Exactly.

So, when you think about doing that now, in this day and age ... ’cause, you know, there used to be, again, all these magazines and all these ways to communicate with people. And we do know a lot about technology, but you’re right. People aren’t involved up to their elbows, essentially, in it anymore. It’s a much more ... there’s a step from the way it was. So, how do you then cover ... how do you look at it? Because it could be looked at as a hobbyist kinda thing.

MS: Well, yeah, I think that part of what we were seeing as the Maker Movement really started to take root was the hobbyist side of it. But, from there, it’s ...

So, like, make your own pump.

MS: Yeah. You know, and one of the great things that happened just as Make was launching, there were various technologies that came about that really helped democratize technology. Made things easier than ever before. Prototyping. Electronics prototyping. Arduino being one of the hugest ones. Open source electronics that suddenly everybody could do, if you wanted to create ...

DD: Cheap.

Cheap, yeah.

MS: Yeah. Affordable, easy, and with these growing huge communities of people who could all contribute and help you learn how to do something, without going to 12 years of electrical engineering school. And so, from there we’ve watched this go from hobbyist into education, and then, from there now, it’s influencing beyond that, into the professional career world. It’s become vocation.

All right. Let’s talk about that concept of it becoming ... ’cause when you go from hobbyist, when you have kind of this is what you create ... one of the things I think — and we’ll get into these topics in the next sections about, you know, is there 3-D printing and how people are going to manufacture in the future — how do you ... When you think about where it’s gone ... we have to move from our hobbies to doing it, even as there is more and more Makers, there’s less and less reason to make. You know what I mean? You know, like everything is provided for you.

DD: Yeah, I thought of that a lot. You know, I’m probably ... Our parents’ or grandparents’ generation, growing up during the Depression. They made out of necessity.

Completely. And continue to do it, even ...

DD: And in other parts of the world, that’s still a dominant mode of thinking. But what I saw around this particular ... given the internet, and other things ... that we were making as a form of self-expression. That this said something about us.

Yeah. Absolutely.

DD: And, it was just like writing a blog, or ...

Well, even desktop publishing, right?

DD: Yeah, exactly. All those things. And you think about early Apple computers, I mean, people using desktop publishing, graphic arts. “Oh, I could make a newsletter.” And, this ... it’s really the creative use of technology for your own purposes, and what seemed to be ... what Mike was talking about was, now there was just new components which could be mixed and put together, and software actually could connect this stuff together.

I think a lot of what’s making this possible is that the software is kind of embedding a lot of the expertise that you used to have to learn to do something, like, you know, computer-aided design. You could kind of do it without being an expert at it. So, that does start with hobbyists, but I think it broadens to the broader population, that amateurs can do things that professionals used to do.

Right, right, right. Absolutely. But when you were doing that ... Talk a little bit about the concept of the magazine, because a magazine is something people don’t make any more. Like, they don’t ... they don’t create ...

DD: Yeah, it’s true. But niche magazines still have their role out there, and I had done the first commercial website in GNN in 1993, so I knew the web.

Oh my God. You were at GNN? Oh. Wow.

DD: Yeah. I started. But when I’d looked at this ... what excited me about this versus other O’Reilly things ... were a lot of books were about code, and this was visual. I thought, “Well, let’s try a magazine.” I kinda designed it to be somewhat like a collector’s item that you would keep. It’s evergreen content.

Like Cook’s magazine.

DD: It’s sometimes stupid to do a print magazine, today, but I find that there’s still a real appetite. We have a digital edition, and people prefer the print edition. Even among kids, there’s a kind of a different psychology around some of this. But, at the same time that we do a Make Magazine, there’s lots of resources online. People are using YouTube and Instructables and many, many sites to find out about how to do things.

Right. So, how do you approach that? When you have a magazine versus a ... I’m thinking my kids use YouTube a lot, to find cooking ... my one son cooks a lot, the other likes to watch to video games on Twitch and things like that.

MS: Right. Well, you know, one of the things that’s interesting with making Make is that the hardest part about doing it is selecting the content. There’s no shortage of maker content that’s out there. It’s become such a big community and they’re just cranking out projects nonstop.

They submit a lot of stuff — all the makers — it’s nice to be in Make Magazine. So that part is ... that’s our big challenge. How do we select the right mix that tells the right story, that we’ve got the ... on the story arc. We’re not a news magazine. And, as Dale’s saying, people, they hold on to their collections, so we want to give them something that fits into their library.

What would be the news from Make? “Oh my God, sump pumps are in!” Because people think the world is ending. I don’t know. I suppose ...

MS: New 3-D Printer.

DD: Yeah.

Make-your-own ... I don’t know, like, whatever the crisis happens to be.

MS: Yeah.

DD: Well, yeah.

Make-your-own non-flammable something, right now in California. We’ll talk about that. I wanna know where things are going, actually. But go ahead. Sorry. So, you’re ... when you’re doing this, you have to think about ...

MS: It’s like a cooking magazine.

Yeah, yeah. Like Cook’s.

MS: It’s like figuring out what’s ...

Yeah, I’d rather look at Cook’s magazine. You’re right.

MS: It’s just ... it isn’t just the recipe. There’s a little romance around it, of like, what’s the story? Why do people do this? And usually, I have to say, our things are not beginner level, necessarily. They really are aspirational for a lot of people. Like a travel magazine would be. “I’d love to go there. I’d love to do this.” But I think people learn because of that. They think, “How did they actually do that?” My goal is that they apply that to something of their own. They don’t do, necessarily, the project of the magazine, but they go, “I figured out how they did that, now I can do something independently.”

Talk a little bit about what’s trending. Mike, why don’t you start? What is now ascendant in Making? I’m looking at ... you brought me several magazines. One is “Connected Everything.” It’s one of those things that those robots ...

MS: Yeah, so that’s ...

I was married to a maker once.

MS: Oh. That’s great.

It was irritating, actually.

MS: Oh.

They had a lot of things around the house. Toys. Cyberpunk.

MS: Yeah. I do too.

Yeah, look at this: “The pocket oscilloscope, the Raspberry Pi radio, the voice changer, the mini voltmeter, and an LED glove.” All right. Okay.

MS: Yeah. That’s a good list. It is.

“AI or Die.” Oh my God, look at this.

MS: That’s a great story. So that’s Mike and Lisa Winter. They are “Battlebot” alums. That’s a father-daughter duo. They’ve been fighting, doing combat robots on TV for the last 20 years, since she was 13. Their newest endeavor is this competition to see if a human-controlled robot can best an AI, an autonomously controlled robot.

Right. I got that.

MS: And so, Mike is building the AI side. Lisa is on the human-controlled side. They’ve built an arena and now they’re conducting tests and having battles.

Who do you think is going to win? I say the human one.

MS: I think at this point the humans still ...


MS: Yeah, but you know, as ...

Oh, no, they’re going to ... ultimately, AI is going to treat us like housecats, kind of thing.

MS: Yeah.

So, talk about what’s hot now ... on here, let me look, “robot motor basics, vinyl cutting stickers, get to know your miter saw,” that is like ... that’s a little saucy.

MS: Yeah well, you know.

That’s a little saucier.

MS: It’s ...

“Get to know your miter saw?”

MS: You got to treat them with care and respect.

Okay, all right. I would never not treat a miter saw with care, but explain what’s hot ... tell me what’s hot, and I want to hear from you, Dale, what do you think is ... what’s the trend? AI, obviously.

DD: Yeah, AI is hot. Connected, everybody want to talk about IoT, and it’s interesting because there are things ... this is now ... it is ...

Explain for the people what IoT is.

DD: Internet of things.

All right, good.

DD: It’s connective devices that create something, you know, create a garage door that will open up when it detects that your car is entering your cul-de-sac.

Right, or a talking refrigerator, or whatever. We don’t want one.

DD: Yeah, we’re probably not doing talking refrigerators on the maker scale just yet.

Right, right, right.

DD: But I’m sure somebody’s working on it.

Right, right, so they are.

DD: Yeah, they are.

They’re in Korea, they’re doing that. They actually are. I’m not joking about Korea, but they’re still doing that.

MS: You know, beyond that, one of the big things that right now we’re working on is our digital fabrication issue, which we do every year ...


MS: It’s 3-D printers, laser cutters, water jet cutters are coming in ...

Oh, explain that, explain what ... All right, first, 3-D printers are printers that print 3-D stuff, and there’s a big debate, which we are going to talk about is making guns.

MS: Right.

Which has been the big ... like that’s all of a sudden every TV show is like, “Can you make guns and print them?!”

MS: Yeah, the story is back, actually — because that story was around six years ago — so we’ve got 3-D printers, additive fabrication ...

Explain that.

MS: It’s creating things out of plastic but it’s ... you have a digital file, it’s a 3-D CAD file, and you’re able to export that to a printer that then, depending on what type of technology you’re using, it will create layer by layer a physical rendition of what your object is.

A plastic version.

MS: Plastic, or in some cases, nylon. Well nylon’s a type of plastic, but steel, and some of the machines are using ceramics and so forth, yeah.

Right, right, okay. So, that’s a big thing.

MS: That’s a big thing. But beyond that — and we’ve been tracking that for a long time now — we’re watching laser cutters become accessible, affordable and much more easy to use than ever before, and that’s something that will be a big part of our story for this next issue of —

Laser cutters in your home?

MS: Laser cutters in your home.

Personal laser cutters?

MS: Personal laser cutter. Yeah, and they’re great.

I’m still worried about scissors, but okay, all right, okay.

MS: Yeah, they’re good. They’re fast, they’re precise, you can do some really fun things with them. But the next thing there is a couple of companies that have now come out with personal water jet cutters, which ...

Okay, explain that.

MS: It’s a technology where ... it’s been around for ages in the industrial level.


MS: High-pressure, really precise jet of water that can cut through anything.

All right.

MS: Thick steel, wood, fabric, leather ...

And why would you want a water one versus a laser one?

MS: Well, lasers are useful for certain material types — wood and plastics, and you might do some light etching on metal — but you’re probably not going to be able to afford a laser cutter that can do metal cutting. The water jet cutters, you could. I think we’re talking in the $6,000 range, which is ...

Oh, yeah.

MS: It’s cheaper than a Harley ...

Right, okay.

MS: Which some people like to buy and have for their hobby. But now this is something that instead of having to go to the industrial side of town with your big project ...

You can do it yourself.

MS: …and try to source a huge, thick, sheet of steel, you can you can cut anything, you know, in your garage.

Such as?

MS: Well ...

DD: Metal.

MS: Metals is one of the big things. You’ll see people doing a lot of artisan work with it. The hobbyist knife makers ...

I see.

MS: ... they’ll be jumping all over this.


MS: And then you’ll see people that are doing industrial projects.

Industrial. All right Dale, what do you think is hot?

DD: Well, let’s go back to AI for a little bit. I think one of the things is ... in some ways these cloud-connected devices can operate pretty simply, and then use the cloud to have a lot of the processing power, so things like face recognition ...

Right, we’ll get to that in a minute, but yeah.

DD: ... and things like that are just really ... instead of programming it into the device, it’s just a service out of the cloud from one of the big companies. So I think there is a vision of the world that’s like, here’s one device that’s in your pocket, but there’s another vision where there’s lots of different devices and you kind of see that around ...


DD: Cameras in your home, and ...


DD: ... all these things, and so they can all be connected and do different things, and it’s not that hard for you to figure out.

I think one of the things that’s interesting that we cover a little bit in the magazine is it’s also possible to create solutions to problems that don’t seem very important to other people, like businesses ... so assistive technology, something for the blind, or a person that’s confined to a wheelchair. They have a specific problem ...

That a mass group is not going to fix.

DD: Right, that a company’s not going to form and create a product around it. But in a makerspace or something, they can solve for that, or students could do that for them.

Right, right. What else do you think is exciting?

DD: I think the most exciting things are actually in education. I would have never predicted, five or six years ago, that we would be getting makerspaces into lots and lots of schools.

Yes, there are.

DD: Some done well, and some maybe not, but this is not coming from a federal or state level, it’s being brought in by teachers. I always think it’s a little bit the analogy like school gardens.


DD: Someone thought it was important and they start to build it and put time into it.

What makes a good one?

DD: People.


DD: Being a place where there’s a feeling of community and support and welcoming, and you can learn there rather than, “I already know what to do, leave me alone, I’m working in the corner.”


DD: Often, I think the bad makerspaces buy the equipment and figure out the space, but they don’t figure out how to staff it or how to really get people in there doing it.

Doing stuff.

DD: But it’s really a very different way of learning that most kids have not had that exposure to.

No. They used to.

DD: They used to. This is the whole thing about this. This is something that used to be mainstream, you know, as late as the ’60s.

Home economics, or crafts.

DD: Shop class.

I had shop class. I almost cut off my hand, but that’s another story.

DD: A lot of people ... it wasn’t that you were going into a trade job, but you learned to do things, and for people ... I’m really interested in the kids not that are at the top and they’re going into the top schools, but really the two-thirds of the kids that don’t even know what they can do.

Right, a hundred percent.

DD: Right, and this is where making I think really is finding a home. It’s an alternate way of learning for spatial thinkers, for people with special needs, they can actually watch someone do something, and do it themselves, and they ...

You know, we have makerspaces in juvenile halls. These are largely kids that are truants that are not going back to school, but they think of themselves as failures.

Right, that they discover they can do something.

DD: When they can make and learn and say, “I’m able to do something,” even creatively, that ...

Interestingly, a lot of those professions are actually highly employable, too.

DD: Exactly.

Like, it’s really interesting that like plumbers ... I was talking to my plumber yesterday, there was an issue in my house, and I was asking about his background and how he got into it, for some reason we started talking about it, and I’d never really had a conversation with him about it, and it was really an interesting ... And I thought, “Wow” — and he makes a lot of money doing it, and it was a really interesting thing, and I was thinking — and he knows I write about tech, and he said, “Oh, is my job being replaced?” And I said, “No, actually.”

MS: Exactly.

“You’re actually okay,” and he’s like, “Oh, phew,” and I’m like, “No really, I don’t see how we don’t need a plumber.” I guess you could digitize part of it, but it’s very hard to digitize some of these makers’ ...

MS: It really is.

DD: Yeah.

... jobs, which is really interesting ...

MS: It is.

... which was to me electrical stuff, and things like.

MS: And I think it really kind of plays into this workforce idea around here of how do you develop people that way, and schools really aren’t concerned with that.

No. Not at all, not at all. Do they have shop classes in schools now?

MS: It’s very much on the decline.

It’s the first thing that they ...

MS: Makerspaces are a way of reinventing it, making it better, I think, but it’s often not just that they have or don’t have the equipment. It’s really the imagination around how it’s used.

Absolutely. I still have a mail holder that I made in eighth grade, and I enjoy it to this day, 400 years later.

MS: Exactly. That’s the point.

It works just fine.

MS: The other is ...

It’s plexiglass. I molded it ...

MS: You did it, right?

... I cut it, oh yeah, no.

MS: And it means a lot to you ...

It’s super ugly.

MS: ... and that’s that expressive power of the object that, when you created it, it means something.

Yeah, it’s super ugly, but I still got it.

DD: When someone wants to — you know there’s a bunch of high-tech machines like in a makerspace in Boston, in FabLab, and kids from the neighborhood were making stuff, but they were using the screen printer, and I said, “Why do you just focus on the screen printer?” Well, they’re making t-shirts, and they wear those t-shirts out in the community, and someone comes up and says, “Where did you get that?” and he says, “I made it.”


DD: It’s like, that changes the way they’re thinking, right?

We actually did that at Code this year. We had people making their own t-shirts, which is interesting.

So, what else is ... so AI, printing, 3-D printing, drones has got to be hot, right?

MS: Yeah, drones. The thing with drones is they came up through the maker groups.

They did.

MS: Just a few years ago, the only way you could get a drone would be to build your own.


MS: And now the technology’s progressed so much, and a handful of companies came in like DJI ...

Mm-hmm, yeah.

MS: ... and they’ve created these little micro aircraft that are well beyond what almost anybody could try to put together in their garage. The amount of engineering and technology that’s inside of these things is pretty staggering, and so actually it’s a really fascinating case study of watching ...

Something move.

MS: ... yeah, and seeing something go from garage tinkerers to major industry.

DD: And there’s this brilliant progression we can see historically of things starting off as kits long before there were ever products.


DD: The first kit computers, before you could buy a computer, and I think the drones, 3-D printers, are the same way. They’re really ... again, 3-D printers were available in the industrial market for $100,000, and some makers said, “We want one of those ourselves. We’ll build it.” And that’s how the RepRap project started.


DD: But it evolved into a kit, and then became a product made by a few people, and now it’s pretty much a consumer product.


DD: Like, something that’s out of the makerspace purely ...

Right, that’s moved beyond.

DD: ... but it’s moved beyond that, and drones are kind of the same way, so you kind of see those things move through.

So what’s in a kit now? What’s ...

MS: Robotics.


MS: Yeah, robotics, kits.

DD: Robotics kits are still ...

So there are still all these robotics companies, which are still are seeing ... like Google’s selling theirs, but ...

DD: Right, yeah.

MS: And the thing with robotics kits, a lot of those are for education.

DD: Yeah.

MS: You’ll see ... and I think it’s great because it’s a great way ...

You’ve got robotics on this cover.

MS: You’ve got robotics ... you know we’ve got robotics on pretty much issue of Make.

“Let’s Robot?” Is that like a verb?

MS: Let’s Robot is one of the most wonderful new platforms that came up ... That’s Jill Ogle on the cover there.

She’s the mother of robots.

MS: She created this new online platform called It is a network of DIY telepresence robots. You go into this, and you can control them yourself, and it’s controlled by groups, so you’re kind of ... you’re wrestling for control of these robots.

You can go into the Make office and we’ve got one of those bots rolling around and it’s got microphones and speakers.

DD: Can they hear what I’m saying?

MS: They can hear what you’re saying.

They can hear what you’re saying.

DD: Yeah, I know.

Come on, let’s just assume that, Dale. Dale. Catch a clue, Dale!

DD: It’s just hitting my shoes. I don’t know ...

No, Dale, it’s there to steal things from you, including all your ... and your soul, eventually.

DD: Exactly.

MS: Yeah.

Just so you know. So one of these things on here is “RFID fingernails?”

MS: Yeah. Oh, that’s a fun project.

Please explain.

MS: Tanya Fish, a great maker out of the U.K., she embedded RFID into chips into her fingernails so that she could activate, and program them to activate your door opener for your office.

So embedded in human beings ... embedded stuff in human beings is fascinating to me.

MS: Yeah, yeah.

DD: So, this one, I mean, I think she’s just putting it into a fake nail, right?

MS: That is right.

I want something in my neck, like ASAP.

MS: The neat thing with these ones is that the electrical signal ... actually, it activates them so when she goes near an RFID transmitter, they light up, there’s LEDs inside of them.

Oh, wow.

MS: So her fingernails start to glow.

Oh my God, wow.

MS: Yeah, cool.

... and then “Hovercraft,” obviously. Is that a big ... because you’ve got Larry Page working on Kitty Hawk and stuff like that.

MS: Yeah, that’s a fun one.


MS: That’s one of those whimsical RC-car-type projects to make, and have fun with it.

Right, but not yet. The only thing I can make in this magazine here is the “easy rubber band helicopter.” I think I could manage that. But most these things ... oh, “3-D printable doggie cart” ... oh, that’s interesting. Oh, that’s for a dog that doesn’t have legs, right?

MS: Right, yeah.

Yeah, all right, okay.

MS: Assistive technology.

Assistive technology, and there’s all kinds of things, “LED party shoes,” this water jet cutter, which I think is fascinating, “braille embosser,” all kind ... “audio oscillators,” I’m just trying to ... arduino, obviously. So is our country more innovative than it used to be, or is it less? Because a lot of people feel we’ve lost our innovation to China, and other areas. Is that ... should we even be talking about it that way? Dale, come on.

DD: It’s a really good question.

Yes, so I’d like a very good answer.

DD: I think, on one hand, other countries would love to be as innovative, at least how they perceive it ... China — and I think we often misunderstand where innovation comes from ...


DD: I think one of the core ideas I had in seeing the makers initially was it actually, in my view, originates in play, in a sense that things can be changed, and, “Who cares what happens, I’m just experimenting, I’m learning what something can do and what it can be.” I think that is the origin of innovation, not some formal practice, or going to school for it. It starts in your own thought process in doing things, and learning what you get from that, but it also takes place in our culture where we recognize and support it, and that’s really what I’m trying to do at Maker Faires is to celebrate it.

So, in China, you know, being different isn’t really necessarily welcome.


DD: They would love to have those devices that you’re manufacturing designed in China, but creatively they’re not yet coming from there, and so how do you ... when you have a sort of homogenous culture in China, how do you get this creativity? I think, when they send their kids to school over here, they think it’s the schools teaching them, I think it’s actually the culture teaching them how to think differently about different things, that we don’t all agree, and we push and shove and try to get there.

Are you worried about that innovation given everything is so plug and play?

DD: Yeah, I think ... I’m worried about a generation that thinks that Amazon is the answer to everything for them.

Yeah, click and get.

DD: To some degree innovation comes from a place where you figure your ... you know, here’s the difference in China: They can make anything they see, and make it in greater numbers more easily. They’re terrible at figuring out what doesn’t exist, right? And that’s the creative part of this.

Someone once said to me there, they’re great at one to a million, they’re terrible at zero to one.

Right, although getting better.

DD: Yeah, and they will get there.


DD: They will definitely get there.


DD: And I think our culture is kind of resting on its laurels a bit, I think, as we have this culture of very big companies controlling lots of money. It’s hard, I think, to have these ... Silicon Valley is a little bit its own thing.

One of the things that’s interested me a lot is the maker movement has kind of spread everywhere, and everywhere that it spreads it’s local. So it’s a real different model than everybody has to be in Silicon Valley, it’s a, “Well, what are the resources of the community and the ideas that you have there?”

I think that’s where I’m hopeful that innovation can take root and come at it differently. That we might have small businesses instead of startups. We may have people that make a good living doing something but they’re not billionaires.

Right, right, absolutely.

DD: That’s my hope here.

Yeah, because for every startup that’s not successful there’s a zillion that aren’t. Then everyone loses. It’s a lottery system.

DD: If we could shift a little bit of that as a country, have policy to enable more small businesses. Even these small cities that wanna be like Silicon Valley pump tons of money into that and ignore the small businesses that are growing up there.

I agree completely. I think one thing that everyone has to be is entrepreneurial, period, going forward. You cannot not be entrepreneurial. We’ve got to somehow teach that. It doesn’t mean you’re gonna have a hot startup and be the new Mark Zuckerberg, it’s that you’re gonna have a business that makes a certain amount of money.

DD: And it’s hard.


DD: I think that’s the issue here. We’ve seen people that start as a hobbyist, and then the classic story I get from Maker Faire is, “Someone came up and really liked what I did, so they asked if I’d sell it to them, and I’d never thought of that so I go home and figure that out.”

That’s what you want.

DD: Yeah, I think that leads to a logical payout: “Hey, I have customers, I can build something they want, I can get paid.” We don’t necessarily have that logic.

Right. What do you think?

MS: I think that we’ve got some good examples of companies that are coming up through the Maker community that are highly innovative and really successful, like Adafruit and Little Bits.

Explain Adafruit.

MS: Adafruit is a manufacturing company that’s based in New York, they’re in Manhattan. Limor Fried, who’s an MIT engineer, she created an electronics component company out of her dorm room and is now, I think she’s, they’re the largest manufacturing company in New York. They’re big, everybody that is making something, every hobbyist maker to the professional side are using Adafruit products.

Then you got Littlebits which is Ayah Bdeir’s company. This series of magnetically clickable components.

Yep, I got a lot of them in my house.

MS: Great, great. So you know it.

I have a son who’s a maker.

MS: Okay.

He’s gotta stop making, I gotta tell you.

MS: Yeah.

There’s a cardboard box, there’s something going on.

MS: So both of these companies, really successful. I just read that Form Labs, based up in Boston, they were just, they just got a million dollar, or billion dollar valuation.

And they make?

MS: They are a 3-D printer company.

Right, sorry.

DD: A resin printer, which is a really different process.

MS: Yeah, they’re taking a different approach to how they do 3-D printing and suddenly they’re worth a billion bucks.

Do you imagine everyone will have a thing in their house where they make things? Not “Star Trek,” but food is suddenly made out of, they can do that obviously, I’ve seen cookies and stuff like that done.

DD: Not immediately, it’s a very slow process.

It is. You got to get the bags of crap to print off.

DD: I think it’s still ... When the web comes along and say everybody’s gonna create their own website. And they did, in a way.

Yeah, and then they didn’t.

DD: But then they didn’t.

Then some people did.

DD: I think this is how technology sort of bumps along sometimes. If you really want something made you’re gonna find someone who’s good at doing that and pay them to do it.

Right, well, like Amazon. So how do you resist that, Amazon?

DD: It’s hard.

It’s hard, right? It works beautifully.

MS: Yeah, I mean for me ...

Why even bother going to the store? I try to go to stores and they never have what I want and then Amazon always does. It’s really kind of ...

DD: Yeah, shopping is not what I would like to do with my free time.

MS: There’s a little nursery in my town.

Which town is this?

MS: I live in the East Bay. I live just east of Richmond. Little nursery called Adachi, mom-and-pop shop, been there for 60 years, closed down last summer. Broke my heart and it made me realize I need to make sure that, whenever I have the option, I’m going to these types of places. That’s made me rethink the Amazon thing, and it’s made me rethink the big-box stores. I’m trying. I’m one guy trying.

Wonder what’s worse, the big-box stores or Amazon.

MS: Yeah, I don’t know.

I gotta say the big-box stores. I’m going with the big-box, yeah. Although you wonder what’s gonna happen to all those retail jobs.

MS: Yeah, now I’m trying to go to the big-box stores. Now that my nursery closed, I’m going to Osh, because I’d rather have my neighbors that work at Osh have that job, and I can go there and I can get my tomato seeds, than —

Yeah, it is interesting to think about. Let’s finish up talking about this show that’s coming on. There’s a maker show now, right? Do you think that there’s a return, this is Amy Poehler and what’s his name?

MS: Nick Offerman.

Nick Offerman. What do you think about that?

MS: I think it’s great. It’s a testament to the concept that making is mainstream. The two of them are hilarious. So I mean, first of all you’ve got that, and so whatever they do is gonna be great. But it’s really thrusting this concept, this hands-on, let’s be creative, let’s express ourselves, let’s feel good about this stuff that we make and do, into the absolute mainstream. Doesn’t get more mainstream than network television.

No it doesn’t, but do you think that that gets us … more to a place? Dale, do you?

DD: That’s a good question. I don’t always think so. It depends a little bit. It’s kind of like, you were saying this a little bit, like “Project Runway” in terms of its model. How many people thought of being a fashion designer?

Right, or the cooking shows.

DD: When they see other people, the cooking shows, people say, “Well, that’s approachable. I could see myself doing that.” They kind of start with gourmet chefs and those channels end up taking ordinary people and thrusting challenges at them.


DD: It can help change that kind of thing. I always say what I like about cooking, when you mention baking, things you can do yourself are meaningful. You don’t have to be the best at them, you don’t have to be the “Top Chef” kind of person, but if you do it at home and you’re good and you enjoy it, well, that makes your life better.

I think that can help: “I could do that, I have something, I’d like to do that.” That’s, again, when we think of Maker Faire, is just, we don’t think we have stars or celebrities at Maker Faire, we just have ordinary people that do things.

Who’s a celebrity at Maker Faire?

DD: Nobody.

MS: Everybody.

DD: Maybe Adam Savage comes on Sunday and gives a talk. He’s the closest.

No, I know who he is, yeah. Why is that?

DD: It just worked out that way. We call it the “Sunday Sermon” from him. I think people like to hear from him. I think he’s inspiring, and for a lot of kids they map into that space. There’s a new show coming out, “Mythbusters Junior,” that I’ve heard about.

Wait, they’re having one of kids Mythbusters?

MS: Yeah, Adam Savage and a team of children.

Oh, wow.

DD: Yeah, blowing things up. I can’t wait.

I gotta tell my kid about that.

DD: That is probably the real show.

Yeah, he’s funny. They’re funny.

DD: Again, it’s ... I think one of the things is I have a goal — this sounds outrageous — but in some ways I’d like to see making as important in our culture as sports is. That it’s something that’s celebrated by our society, it’s in our community, it’s in our families. Everybody gets to participate.

There’s been attempts through these robotics competitions, but they always degenerate into wars. It’s fascinating, like they have to make them ...

DD: It’s competitive.

They have to make it into wars rather than tasks.

DD: We always say Maker Faire’s about exhibition, not competition, so much that creative work doesn’t necessarily compete against each other.

But I see why they would do it to attract people to it.

DD: Yes, and there are kids that really like the sort of competitive robotics side. But, I was thinking, I’d like to have a competition where robots make me laugh, or they do stupid things that you wonder how they do it.

Which is interesting, it does degenerate into wars, it’s always robot wars.

DD: Defensive and offensive categories.

Yes, exactly, or needlessly complex. I remember being at an Agenda one year, and there was a bunch of guys making a robot. They were trying, it had to pick up a bunch of ping pong balls — or tennis balls or something like that — the fastest, and get back to home. A bunch of guys were over-designing it, and this bunch of women, it just did one simple task, and it did it, and they won. It was very funny to watch.

But it got super-complex. Like, it was fascinating to watch the thing. That was a competition, but actually an interesting one to watch.

DD: Actually, when you say that, it makes me think of your question on innovation. I think, one of the other answers is that really innovation can come from anyone. We wanna create a culture where there are fewer obstacles for that, those people. That is what we’re trying to do with the maker movement. It’s like everybody can think about things very differently and they don’t have to be experts to figure that out.

Right, exactly, I think there’s a gating mechanism to a lot of tech that keeps it out. I wanna end on that, last, we just have a few more minutes. But one of the things I’ve noticed is there’s a lot of women on your covers.

DD: It’s the year of the women.

Right, I get that, but is it still a dude fest?

DD: It is. Well, I think it’s changing. I think it’s ...

Well, there’s a lot of women involved in robotics, for sure.

DD: Statistically, you look at things, you might see it one way. But we have probably 40, 45 percent women at Maker Faire.

Well, that’s higher than most averages.

DD: I know. It’s probably because we have families. We’re a family event and we want this idea to be approachable in that context. We see parents who wanna get involved because their kids are learning something, then we encourage them to get involved too. But I think you’re also, we’ve been at it about 15 years, almost. So you’re beginning to see some of the impacts, that this is more accessible. Certainly there are women who say that there’s still these obstacles that shouldn’t be, or they go into engineering programs. But I think culturally, there’s some progress to be made.

And not just women, but people of color ...

DD: Absolutely.

MS: Definitely.

DD: And we see that around the world too, with just the different places that Maker Faire is happening.

Well, there’s talent everywhere.

DD: Exactly.

It’s just a canard that there’s talent, it’s just they don’t have the ... I was telling this, I forget who I was being interviewed by, and I said, “I know there’s a little girl in a small country, a person, a little girl of color somewhere who’s gonna solve cancer and she’ll never do it ’cause she’s not able to.” She’s gated in some way, we’re missing these opportunities if we don’t give people the ability, the tools to do this.

MS: Yeah, that’s a great point.

DD: And that’s why, back to the sports analogy, someone once said to me in Atlanta, especially if you’re a boy, you can’t grow up without playing football. They force it on you. It doesn’t matter where you live in the city. So why doesn’t everybody get the same opportunity here to play, to engage and try this?

Well, this is something you don’t have to be big or small to play.

DD: Right. And especially if they enjoy it, they’ll keep doing it on their own, as well as in organized settings.

Right. Anyway, last thing. What’s your favorite project this year? Each of you.

MS: I gotta go with this, LetsRobot.TV, it’s just such a hoot to have this thing rolling around the office. This one woman, she’s created this platform that anyone in the world, they can create a robot and have it broadcasting, and anyone else can control it. There’s actually some funny stories in there, of them going on television and shooting ping pong balls, having their community shoot ping pong balls at TV hosts.

Oh, all right, good, I like that.

MS: It’s a blast.

And yours, Dale?

DD: Well I kinda like this, it’s called ... Matthew Mohr is a community college professor, he basically takes a selfie of you and explodes it into a huge image that is comprised of all these small LEDs. It’s in the Columbus, Ohio, convention center.

And why do you like it?

DD: Iit plays with this idea of identity and culture today.

And selfies.

DD: And selfies. And that, almost in place of statues, it’s ... we’re cycling through the people that are walking through that convention center.

Yeah, I think it’s really critically important. I was saying with my plumber, he ... For some reason, a gasket was left on the floor. I didn’t know what it was and I sent him a picture of it. I was like, “Do we need this? Did we leave out a screw we needed?” And he goes, “It’s a gasket, you can throw it away, it’s not important.” It was fascinating. “It’s an old gasket, you don’t need it.” I was like, “Why don’t I know what this is?” I of course know everything about gaskets right now. But it’s a really important thing to understand in this sort of age of continual removal of ourselves. We get immersed in technology, but we remove ourselves from it and just become creatures of it. That we not do that.

MS: Well, yeah, it’s a struggle. It’s by design.

One of the most striking things I ever had happen. Van Jones, of all people, was at Glide Memorial, I was talking to a bunch of young kids from the city. And he said, “How many of you download stuff from the internet?” They were all sort of like, “This idiot, of course we do, everybody downloads stuff onto your phones, or songs or movies, or consume things.” And he said, “How many of you upload stuff?” I was really moved by what he was saying. None of them raised their hand. He said “You’ve got to upload stuff, because if not, you’re a creature of them. You don’t have a say in it.”

It was such ... these kids, they thought they were so smart making fun of him. They got it. They understood that they were just consumers and not creators. It was such a very ... I thought it was one of the smartest things I’ve ever seen someone do.

DD: That’s a core message.

It was.

DD: I remember when I saw the iPad came out, and it’s like, “Here, it is just a consumer device.” There are no tools on it when it first came out, to really create through it.

Well, now it has more.

DD: Yeah, it does now.

You saw the recent commercial?

DD: Right.

Their commercial’s wonderful, actually.

DD: But you know old Apple had hypercard ...

I know, but it was good.

DD: And things that were really broadening, the creation capabilities. It was more like, well, you just consume all these things.

Yeah, yeah absolutely. Well, hopefully not so, with you guys doing it. Mike and Dale, it was great talking to you. Thanks for coming on the show. When is the next Maker Faire?

DD: In New York, September 22nd to 23rd at the New York Hall of Science in Queens.

Okay. How many people will be there?

DD: About 80,000 people.

Okay, all right then. Thank you.

DD: Thank you.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.