SAN JOSE — While an instructional ’80s-era robot named Topo may have been the official mascot of the Mini Maker Faire on Sunday, it was a restored Mozzarella Mitzi that stole the show upstairs in the Empire Firehouse.
Mitzi, who in a previous life entertained diners at a ShowBiz Pizza Place, where she served as a rodential cheerleader a la Chuck E. Cheese, now looked more like a robot than a fuzzy mammal. She batted her eyes and waggled her ears and thrust her mousy paws about herky-jerky, but those were the only body parts mounted on a metal animatronic skeleton.
While the visage was more reminiscent of a “Terminator” movie than a cutesy kid-pleaser, 13-year-old Jack Turner was happy to show her off.
“I didn’t make it, but I restored it and refurbished it.” said Jack, who attends Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School in Palo Alto. “I got it at an auction, and it had no control system.”
Jack said he wants to eventually make a career out of animatronics to entertain people and figure out new ways to use the technology. And that’s the kind of hands-on, can-do attitude that the Mini Maker Faire, like its larger counterpart on the Peninsula, aims to foster.
“We loved the whole feel of the original event in San Mateo, and there wasn’t a Maker Faire here in San Jose,” said Alida Bray, president and CEO of History San Jose, which hosted the event at the History Park section of Kelley Park. “And we are the original innovators here in the Valley. The original makers. We said we’ve got to have one here, and we’re trying to show that this is where it all started.”
The one-day event, in its second year, was expected to draw about 3,000 people and had well over half that number before lunchtime. Bray said they had 90 makers exhibiting, and they were strict about their entries, turning those away who wanted to sell crafty items they didn’t actually make themselves.
“We really want the vendors who are here to be able to offer something, to demonstrate what they are doing,” Bray said. “It really is about teaching.”
As such, Bray said the maker exhibits complemented the History Park offerings perfectly. There were the usual displays of blacksmithing and printmaking, right next to a TechShop trailer and steampunk fashions with motorized moving gears. One recent permanent addition to the historical collection was the Bay Area Glass Institute, which arrived in January after the group lost their Japantown digs.
“The people who come here to the Maker Faire are the kind of people who are interested in this kind of stuff,” said Damon Gustafson, director of the instructional glassblowing shop. “This is great exposure for our little operation.”
Attendees included numerous young kids who took special notice of the robots and things that fly — John Collins the Paper Airplane Guy was there to show folks how to make his world record-setting airborne origami. And compressed air rockets had a crowd going through oohs and ahhs as pointy-tipped cardboard tubes hurtled more than 100 feet in the sky before returning to terra firma amid joyous cries of “Incoming!”
Gan Kumar, an engineer who lives in San Jose, took his 11-year-old daughter Meena to the faire to spur on her continued interest in sciences. She took to the compressed air rockets and robot exhibits, which Kumar found encouraging.
“Maybe, hopefully, she will get into aerodynamics,” he said. “Maybe there is an engineer here.”
Jason Goldsmith, also of San Jose, said his 9-year-old daughter Maddie, who was waiting with her younger sister for a turn on a 3D printer, has already taken to math. He said he wants the girls to see that exciting stuff can come from crunching the numbers.
“I especially want them to be interested in science, and see all the fun things that can come from it,” he said. “I tell them, ‘Do your math homework now, and see what you’ll be able to do with it later.'”
Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.