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Maker's Mark: Q+A with the Master Editor of MAKE Magazine

NEW YORK, NY -- For avid members of the DIY, hackerspace, maker movement, Mark Frauenfelder (as seen in photo 1) is the supreme leader. He is the editor-in-chief of MAKE magazine, a quarterly publication dedicated to an array of projects from metal and woodworking to robotics to sewing and crochet. Every year, Maker Faire becomes a mecca for engineers, scientists, designers, and artists–from multibillion corporations as well as unmowed backyards. Mark is also the founder and co-editor of Boing Boing, which started as a cyberpunk zine in the late 1980s. Since then, Boing Boing has exploded into one of the most influential indie pop culture blog for everything from films to astrophysics to gadgets. MAKE magazine has also become the defining compendium and showcase for DIY innovations and can be called the media authority on these projects. When he’s not juggling critical responsibilities for MAKE magazine and Boing Boing, Mark makes cigar box guitars, draws, paints (he likes Dadaist art and the Surrealism movement), cooks, and comes up with more whimsical devices. thalo had a chance to sit down with Mark Frauenfelder.

thalo: What is a Maker and who can be one?

Mark Frauenfelder : A maker is anyone who builds things, or modifies or repairs things that others have built. Anyone can be a maker, especially in the age of the Internet when how-to instructions for doing anything are readily available.

th: When and how did you get involved with Make Magazine (seen in photo 2)?

MF: I got involved in Make magazine in 2004 when founder Dale Dougherty called me and told me that he was starting a new magazine about making things. He knew of my prior experience as an editor at Wired magazine and as the founder of Boing Boing, and thought I would be a good person to help him put together the prototype issue.

th: What does your daily work schedule look like as the editor-in-chief of Make magazine?

MF:I don't really have a set schedule. Most of my time is spent working with contributors to develop project ideas and coming up with editorial themes for future issues. I also host and produce the Make: Talk podcast.

th: Give us some examples of the most interesting projects you came across as the editor of Make magazine.

MF: Here are some that I like: a machine that throws a ball so that a dog can chase after it and return it to the machine, which will throw it again for the dog. A little robot that rolls around a room looking for things to tap on with its pair of drumsticks that it's holding. A movie projector built into the back of an adult sized tricycle. A remote control lawnmower. A machine that zaps mosquitoes out of the sky with lasers. It’s a mix of anti-utilitarian devices, kind of like Rube Goldberg machines, as well as practical, simple personalized items (as seen in photo 3).

Right now I am working on a minimalist chair made out of plywood and rope and two wooden dowels. I want to come up with a very comfortable and easy way to build chair, because I think it would be fun to introduce people to furniture making even if they don't have a lot of woodworking tools.

th: What are the top five tools that a Maker cannot be without?

MF: That's a very hard question to answer, because the world of making is so varied. But here are the five tools that I find indispensable: a drill press, a band saw, a soldering iron, a solderless breadboard, and an Arduino.

th: Do you see the democratization of design and manufacture as a threat to professional designers and manufacturers?

MF: No, I believe that the professional world welcomes new ideas and will incorporate innovations driven by makers into their own work. A lot of professionals have technology-related hobbies, and you can often find them at maker spaces working side-by-side with people who are not professional makers. There are a lot of opportunities for learning new skills.

th: How do you think the Maker community and spirit will impact the future (see photos 4 - 5)?

MF: I think more people will discover that they have more of a say in the manufactured world around them than they realized, and when that reaches critical mass we will see an explosion of innovation and creativity, which will be good for people spirits and for the economy. The biggest challenge right now for the Maker community is to not get caught up in the latest and greatest gizmo or new tool that appears, and to remember that making things is more important than the tools you use to make them.

th: If the apocalypse is happening tomorrow and you could only take one piece of equipment, would you rather take a laser-cutter or 3D printer? (Of course, you’d have to find a plug first but let’s assume someone DIYs a hand-cranked 3-D printer or laser.)

MF: As of now, I would definitely take a laser cutter because you can use it to make 3-D things out of 2-D cut sheets! Laser-cutters are generally more useful in the shop and more value in terms of utility. 3-D printing technology, on the other hand, has greater potential for the future.

th: So let’s be honest, as the Elvis of nerds, how many die with more than six sides do you own?

Quite a few, but I don't use them nearly as often as I'd like to! When my younger daughter gets a bit older, I think I will have a good gaming partner, though. For now, my younger daughter and I are writing a program for a retro arcade-style video game. We’re using a program called Scratch, developed at MIT’s Media Lab. We have written the program together and she’s created the art for it. I think she will definitely be inheriting my entire die collection one day.

All photos courtesy of Cathy Zhu Chen