“So, let me get this straight. You’re going to Detroit, which is 6 hours away, by car, with people you’ve never met before?”
“Yes, Mother…”
“And you’re planning on spending the weekend with them, these people who you’ve never met?”
“Yes, Mother…”
“And you think this is a good idea?”
“Why not?”
“I wish you hadn’t told me”

Initially, my mother wasn’t pleased that I was going on an excusion with strangers. In fact, I don’t know if she’s pleased now it’s been done.

Regardless, on Friday 29th July, I took my life in my hands and got in a car with a chap named Mark and his friend, Jose, both of whom I’d never met.  To make matters worse, (and don’t tell my mother this), the only actual relationship I had with them previously was that their friend, Dan (who I met on a chatroom on the internet many moons ago), had told me they’d be picking me up. Even bits of my brain thought I was maybe going a bit far.

As soon as I met them, however, my brain relaxed. They were both friendly, relaxed and non threatening. Of course they were. They’re geeks, just like me.

Y’see, that’s how I ended up in a car with two strangers who were friends of an internet friend. To be honest, I don’t actually see any  other non threatening situation where that’s possible. We have a thing in common - a passion for general nerdiness. Not being-hunched-over-a-computer-all-the-time nerdiness, that’s only a small part of it. The kind of nerdiness that brings people together and makes them produce awesome things like this:

Fire Breathing Dragon

Yes, that is a firebreathing dragon. Yes, it’s absolutely huge. And yes, some nerds made it. It can even be driven. Insane. Absolutely, brilliantly, insane.

I had met some of the guys from LVL1 Hackerspace, Louisville, Kentucky. We were going to the Maker Faire at Detroit, 2011. A chance to see more of the USA for me, and a chance for the Americans to see this bizarre Scottish guy intent on exploring their country.

Yes, the Maker Faire was fantastic. Tens of thousands of people go there to show and see their creations - The LVL1 guys had things at their stalls like a Plasma Speaker (think lightning that is controlled by music), a firebreathing pony, a high altitude balloon (which is how I met them), a laser cutter and an isomorphic keyboard. 

Part of the joy of the Maker Faire is it’s celebration of DIY and ‘maker’ culture. Everything was on show there - nerd projects, music and homemade instruments, embroidery, new types of petrol engine developed on a kitchen table, the local star wars fan legion and so much more. It is very difficult to describe without the usual American hyperbole and accompanying pictures. 

Weird Stuff Race

Where else will you get to see a guy on a ‘Time Machine’ built by high school students racing a solar-powered car and 6 people on a cycle-type-thing.

There were a few weird stuff races, and power wheels races, which are kiddies electric ride-in cars that have been given the Xzibit treatment and pimped out, as LVL1 did with this Mustang. It even had a ground-lights kit.

LVL1 Power Wheels Racer

It’s very hard to describe the Maker Faire without getting lost in how much there is to see and experience.  Have some more pictures…

Portable Steam Engine 1

This reminded me of home - I’ve been involved in similar projects

LVL1 White Star

This was a scale model of the transatlantic Balloon Dan, Brad and the rest of the White Star crew from LVL1 are planning on flying.

Reclining Big Wheel Bike

I thought this bike looked pretty awesome.

So, I had two days in Detroit looking at pretty awesome things made by some of the most motivated and hard working nerds you’ll ever meet. Cool.

But I met some of the most amazing people I’ve ever crossed paths with in Detroit. We attended a party at the i3 Hackerspace. The whole process of making something and the beauty of groups of people using their skills together to make something brilliant is what Hackerspaces are about. Being a sit down geek is only a small part of it - you need arts and crafts, machine operators, programmers and more to have a vision come to fruition. You risk learning some useful skills too. Check out this website for more info.

I guess what amazed me about the people I met there is that they’re living to be themselves and doing what excites them. No longer is being a nerd something to shy away from - on the contrary, it’s being taken to the streets of America and paraded behind a giant flaming dragon for emphasis. I can’t describe how much that excites me.

It’s thanks to the kindness of strangers that I had such a fantastic weekend, and found a little bit of myself that I knew existed but had never taken the time to accept and reflect on in Detroit. I doubt I’ll forget it in a hurry.

They’re not strangers any more, either.