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Guest Blog – Three creative, inspirational makers you should know about

The author (2nd from left at back) with Tim Hunkin (3rd from right) and members of Nottingham Hackspace at Tim Hunkin's workshop Suffolk October 2011

The author (2nd from left at back) with Tim Hunkin (3rd from right) and members of Nottingham Hackspace at Tim Hunkin's workshop Suffolk October 2011

Having heroes is healthy, heroes are to be emulated and not passively adored. We should choose to live our lives as we imagine our heroes would. I want to tell you a little about three heroes who have been a great inspiration to me in the last few years and I hope they will inspire you too.

Adam Savage

Savage is best known as the co-host of Discoveries “Mythbusters” to which since 2003 he has brought a humour and vigour making it a highly entertaining show. For those who might dismiss the show as being a whoopy, dumbed down explosion-fest, I’d ask you to consider the techniques, thought, maths, rigour and time that goes into the builds for small scale testing. A particularly memorable maker moment for me is the episode called “Lead Balloon” which as you might image involves a balloon made out of lead.

Mythbusters is filmed at M5 Industries in San Francisco, California. M5, the workshop of co-host and special effects artist Jamie Hyneman, is a workshop kitted out with almost everything you could need to build almost anything at all and it’s not a great leap of the imagination to see that the Nottingham Hackspace has the same aspirations and asthetic.

Adam’s work on the show is well documented. His skills as a professional (and hobbyist) prop maker, sculptor and artist are not so well known. From the age of 15 he has spent many hours trying to recreate Deckard’s blaster the gun prop from the film “Blade Runner”. Which he documented in great detail on “The Replica Props Forum”. He built a full scale model of R2D2 as well as sculpting a replica of “The Maltese Falcon” which formed the basis of his excellent talk on obsession that can be seen on Fora.tv. Adam makes the very valid point that making something isn’t really about finishing it, it’s about the act of making it.

Adam has written for Make Magazine on several occasions and has recently started to perform stand-up as well as fronting a stage show with Wil Wheaton (yes from Star Trek) called w00tstock. I have heard that Adam intends to do more public speaking and teaching, specifically sculpture at a local college in California. He would of course always be welcome to speak at Hackspace.

Limor Fried

MIT graduate and New Yorker Fried is an engineer and business women who should be emulated. Self styled as Lady Ada after the first programmer Lady Ada Lovelace, Limor runs a successful web based educational electronics company from a low rent office in an empty block in New York’s financial district (they were going cheap after the credit crunch).

Fried’s company Ada Fruit Industries sells their kits online (http://www.adafruit.com/) but also shares all the information you’d need to copy and make that kit for yourself. Just like Open-Source Software, Ada Fruit are pioneering Open Source Hardware. By sharing her electronics work on a Creative Commons Licence she no longer cares that her work might be ripped off by a corporate giants. This strategy has benefited Ada Fruit Industries who provide an excellent service. Limor was named “Most Influential Woman in Technology” this year as well as being featured on the cover of Wired Magazine in the USA

Tim Hunkin

You have probably seen some of Tim Hunkin’s work, his career has been prolific and has included architectural sized bonfires, a variety of mechanical clocks including the water clock on the Holland & Barrett shop in Covent Garden, mechanical collecting boxes, interactive museum exhibits and cartoons (until 1987 he drew “The Rudiments of Wisdom” in The Observer.) He’s responsible for the flying pigs and sheep used by Pink Flloyd on tour, which was parodied in The Simpsons as well as for his arcade machines at Southwold pier in Suffolk.

We’ve been lucky to host a talk by Tim at the Nottingham Hackspace in August 2011. Tim spoke enthusiastically and animatedly about the “Under the Pier Show” a rather Pythonesk collection of arcade machines and simulators Tim has adapted in cunning and amusing ways. Hackers were lucky enough to be included on a trip there run by “Engagement Party” a Nottingham based artist’s group I would encourage anyone to visit the pier it’s well worth the journey and Southwold is a lovely town (with a brewery tour too!)

Tim’s approach to making is very pragmatic, when discussing welding I said I’d not tried it yet, as I’d not been trained, Tim laughed “it’s like a glue gun for metal”. On a trip to his workshop he simply handed me a plasma cutter nozzle (a high voltage metal cutting tool) and encouraged me to get on with it, no health and safety briefing or risk assessment needed!

I think in common with all prolific and successful makers, Tim isn’t afraid of failure. After-all if you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t making anything. He has a wicked sense of humour and I think he finds messing things up a great joke. In his workshop there were about 8 small angle grinders, when asked why he had so many he explained “you can’t have to many, they are so useful to cut apart messed up welding!” He also has a great optimism in reflection of the great projects he has worked on, even when eventual and inevitably they fold and reach their end.

Hunkin is best known for his television work from the late 80s “The Secret Life of Machines” which you are encouraged to download or watch on You Tube. The secret life is the best primer I know into learning how to understanding the way things work short of taking them apart yourself (do that too!).