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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Made By Hand

I recently finished the audiobook version of "Made by Hand : Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World", By Mark Frauenfelder. Mark is the founder of one of my favorite blogs, boingboing, and editor in chief of my favorite magazine MAKE Magazine. He recently won Stephen Colbert over with The Most Useless Machine. His geek cred's longer than my 2 year old son's Thomas the Train collection, and that's no small feat. So I don't take what this man has to say lightly.... I'm not being paid to say this, I've only met Mark once at the last Maker Faire, but he's a hero to all of us Maker Geeks, I've been followed him for years.

What I love the most about the book, is his courage for sharing his failures. The fear of failure is what keeps most of us from attempting. That is because the fear is often legit, you don't even know enough to estimate the chances of succeeding, and failure usually comes at a higher cost than you are willing to risk. It is an honest fear that you will screw things up, because you most probably will. I will never get over the fear of
failure, but I'm getting better at accepting it in my art and hobby, and thrive on the challenges of doing something new.You loose the fear once you've learned, and you learn by taking the first step, by trying. You don't often forget your mistakes, in fact, Mark makes it clear that failure is necessary for success. Every little success builds onto a better foundation for future projects.

Mark's honesty in his book, about his own maker history, was very inspiring. I learned a lot reading about his failures, and feel connected and proud of him, when he mentioned his successes. I think this is a trait of a maker, perhaps it's just human nature, to find things more impressive when you can relate to them, especially when you can see the human element in the things we love.

Here is something I'd like to share with my experience in inspiring others, and what I mean by the "human element".Years ago, at the first Maker Faire, I was really nervous about presenting my steam robots, this was my first exposure to the public with them. It's one thing to hide behind the internet as this "crabfu" thing, but quite a different animal to show my hobby to thousands of people, and to answer a million questions about the absurdity of "steam powered robots". Not only the public, but here are real makers of real robots, of real kinetic art, real stuff that these masters have made by hand. And how did I end up showing my stuff here? I mean, I didn't even make any of this stuff.... I felt really embarrassed about confessing to people, who rushed to my table, that I mearly combine stuff together in unusal ways, and didn't actually make the parts. In fact, I feel more like an hip hop artist in this respect, than a real "maker". I combine stuff, and make something new and different, as a whole. To my suprise, when I told people that I only Frankensteined the parts together, and I don't actually know how to work a lathe, or a mill, or use much more than my trusty dremel, that's when they became REALLY impressed. How could this be? I thought they would chase me out of this "Maker" faire, because I don't have the skills to use a CNC machine, but they were far more impressed at that fact. It took me a while to wrap my head around this, and to the reason why. I believe the answer is, when people were exposed to how I had made and hack these things together, it made them realize that they could do it too. I told people what worked, what didn't, and how I ended up with the final design. This is empowering, and probably the best motivational kick you could give someone, to let them know how they can do it too, and to make the project tangible, relevant, and human.

This, is the feeling I got from Mark's book. The great stories of how he learned the skills, is more of a human story, and not really a "how to" book. He gives you the sense of how cool making these projects are, which hits me right in the sweet spot. I now want to make a cigar box guitar, raise chickens, maybe even get back into wood carving, and many others projects mentioned in this book. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in making things. In fact, I think this book is great for people who have always wanted to learn to make stuff, but don't, because that little voice in your head saying: "I don't know anything about how to do this, I don't want to f*)#* it up". Get yourself a nice cup of coffee, kick up your feet, and get ready to be inspired. I've gota get back to researching more about this chicken rising business....

You can find a print version here on amazon, or audiobook version here on audible.

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