‘Gym for nerds’: Makers Meetups at Surrey library (photo)

WHALLEY — It’s called a "Makers Meetup," and I didn’t know what the heck to expect going in. Bread makers? Candlestick makers? All scrubbing their way out to sea?

Turns out the term "maker" is experiencing a renaissance of sorts.

Sure, a maker can make just about anything, including bread and candlesticks. But the trendy stuff, the stuff already feeding a techie minirevolution, involves a mix of engineering smarts, DIY ingenuity and, most often, a hodge-podge of electronic parts and/or Lego-like computer modules that have only recently become this prevalent and this affordable.

All this and, of course, a fervent desire to make stuff.

Old-schoolers might remember Heathkit. Through the mid-1990s, Heathkit made ready-to-assemble kits. With some kits, you could build a radio. With others, you could build a transceiver or a home stereo component.

Makers do the same sort of thing, except from scratch. No kits. And they experiment. If, for example, a given product does not exist, they try to figure out a way to create it.

And that’s where the "Meetup" in Makers Meetup comes in real handy. The website Meetup.com is a social media portal where people with similar interests can introduce themselves and potentially get together. Being somewhat of a counter-culture still gaining traction, the "maker" crowd has really taken to the Meetup concept. A quarter-million of them have joined up worldwide, in 1,300 groups.

In Surrey, makers have banded together under the name "Maker Cube." They meet Friday evenings at City Centre Library.

And that’s where I met Lindsey Woo. Like everyone else at a recent Meetup, Lindseysports an IQ of about 2,000 and would rather spend her free time in intelligent discourse than knocking back brews. She’s also into new-age stuff like zen meditation. She says "Namaste" at the end of conversations.

Woo wants to broadcast inspirational messages throughout her home, at intervals she determines. She wants to do it for very little money. She thinks a Raspberry Pi (essentially a mini-computer on a $30 credit card-sized board) is a good start.

With the help and advice of her new Maker Cube mates, and after just one week on the project, Lindsey now sees a solution. She’ll use her Raspberry Pi, along with an FM transmission module and a makeshift antenna, to broadcast her messages through nearby radios. She will, in effect, run her own localized FM station.

Namaste.

J Sivakumaran, one of the earliest members of Maker Cube, calls the Meetups a "gym for nerds.… You don’t expect people to buy $5,000 worth of equipment to keep fit. So the workout people go to a gym. Same thing here."

Brendan Matkin, a grad student at nearby SFU, and a guy who’s spent a lot of time recently "trying to connect with traditional methods of creation" (he’s taken up baking, for one), talks about "trying to get people to come out of the woodwork."

He also talks excitedly about the new Maker Cube, rented space just down the road (at #202-10663 King George Blvd., 604-754-8882) with storage and tools, 24/7 availability and key-card access.

There, he says, members can get down to serious work together — or on their own.

As Matkin speaks, Tomoe Yoshihara, a clearly brilliant SFU mechatronics student who converts regular bicycles into electric bikes when he’s not in class, whips by. He’s riding an electric skateboard of his own creation that’s capable of 40 km/h using recycled batteries.

It’s very much a prototype, with lots of electrical tape holding things together and a tire from a bicycle, and it’s crazy impressive — especially on the second floor of the library.

Meanwhile, over at one of the other tables, Kimball Anderson holds electrodes to his head. Laughing, he says he’s trying to measure brain activity or some such stuff. The guy’s likely a genius who could probably build a machine to remove my brain if I annoy him. So I believe him.

Nearby is Sri Lekha. She’s called Sivakumaran over and is currently picking his brain about something. She seems like the inquisitive type, and is sincerely animated as she speaks. Within 15 seconds of meeting me, she says she’d love to learn so much more about photography. Yep, inquisitive.

Members of the group post photos, discussions and more (including info about "board game evenings") at Meetup.com/Surrey-Maker-Meetups-hosted-by-Maker-Cube. They are also on the web at Makercube.ca.

Goble@shaw.ca

Makers Showcase in Surrey on Sept. 26

Members of Surrey’s Maker Cube group will take part in Surrey Libraries’ inaugural Maker Showcase, on Saturday, Sept. 26 at City Centre Library, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“The official submission period is now over, and we’re planning on having nine presenters” at the showcase, Cristina Teixeira, Information Services Librarian at Guildford Library, told the Now.

“We have people showcasing 3D printers, Lego NXT mindstorms (so there will be a robot battle!), Meccano models, interactive arts and crafts, and video pieces, to name a few. Some of them are individuals and some are groups, including Surrey Maker Cube and the Fraser Valley Makerspace.”

Also participating is Arts Umbrella, SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT) and a library-led A/V Club that meets once a month at Guildford Library, Teixeira added. Event details are posted at Surreylibraries.ca/makers.

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