At 9:15am on August 10, the back parking lot at the corner of Westminster and Aborn Street had a few cars sprinkled here and there, but for the most part, the glorious morning sun shone on empty spaces. It was easy to grab a plum spot a few feet away from the back door of the Pell Chaffee Performance Center, where RI Maker Faire exhibitors would be wowing crowds in only a scant four hours. My friend, professional geek and FGPVD co-volunteer Rob Scripsack was more than prepared for them. He had built a “naked computer”, the fully-functional inner workings of a Dell PC encased in particle board and a plexiglass window, watchable while the computer was running. As he and I set up our booth just inside the door, I tried my hand naming the parts I could see.
“That is an IDE cable, right? This one over here, could that be a molex?” I felt rather impressed with myself. Rob was gentle.
“No, that one’s a power supply cable. This one’s actually a SATA hard drive header.” Close enough.
As Rob booted up Linux Mint 15 on the PC, I strolled around for a few minutes taking in the other booths. I could already see the trend towards 3D printing technology that would dominate the Faire in the hours to come. Fortunately, we had our own secret weapon.
“Super Mario Brothers All Stars”, we announced to passers-by. I explained the connection while one of the exhibitors’ children picked up the wireless USB controller. “Free Geek Providence is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that takes in used PCs and installs open source software on them. Here we have a Nintendo emulator running on Linux Mint, which is an open source operating system.” My audience looked skeptical, but I had yet to make my killer point. “Once we have the PCs working with Linux, we give them to local nonprofits that need computers. You can also volunteer for Free Geek Providence and earn your own free computer after volunteering 24 hours. Twenty-four non-consecutive hours,” I added. Always good to be specific.
Before we knew it, the clock struck 1pm and the doors opened. It did not take long for the barrage of questions and comments to ensue. “Are you a nonprofit?”…”How do you make money?”…”I have computers – take them!” Tragically, we also got another question from a few of the 10-12 year old crowd. “What game is this?” Nearby teens were more than happy to help us with that one.
Rob and I were joined by Forrest Sutton, long time FGPVD-er and Board of Directors chair, as well as Alozie Nwosu of the Steering Committee and Daron McIntyre, soon to be of the Board of Directors. We watched from our corner as the space around us went from dense to crowded, finally to a madhouse. On our left was neighbor booth Mathworks with an aerial drone plus Kinect rock-paper-scissors. To the right was Pinventions with custom pinball machines. With Waterfire, Foo Fest and RI Maker Faire all happening at once, I could only envy those who had the time and the stamina to navigate the entire showcase, full to the brim and overflowing with talent and imagination. And the kids loved it. Everywhere you could see them, eyes wide with discovery, tiny hands sensing and learning as they played while the evening wore on.
Our takeaway was that Providence and Rhode Island itself is growing, in all the right ways. The closeness of the community, which some might interpret as smallness, does not suppress but in fact births outlets for creative self-expression. This fertile environment, home to spaces and movements such as The Steelyard, Hope Artiste Village, Betaspring, Farm Fresh RI, and of course, AS220, allows artists, techies, entrepreneurs of all sorts to thrive. We at Free Geek Providence have added our small stone to the soup, and it is brewing.
Huge thanks and massive hugs to Brian Jepson, our friends at RI Maker Faire and AS220, and Rob, Forrest, Daron and Alozie for making it happen!
Don’t forget to check out the many other Makers who exhibited at RI Maker Faire on August 10, 2013.