Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

Sub Cultures

July 2014

By Mike Gould

WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote … Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.
…Chaucer, Canterbury Tales

Stay with me here, just trying to add some badly-needed culture to this otherwise very geeky story.

You see, back in the day (a Thursday, in 1475), Geoffrey Chaucer published his collection of tales about people gadding about the country to go gooning at conventions, or something. Lotsa racy stuff here about the Wife of Bath, et al, but the point is that people like to travel to exotic far-away lands in groups to hang with others of similar ilk and persuasions.

In this regard, things have changed very little over the centuries; we and our personal posse still gather with other people’s peeps to perpetuate positive, uh, something that starts with p.

Anyway, summer is here and it’s time to hit the road and talk tech or whatever with folks in exotic places like Detroit and Monroe. Here are a few destinations for those with a technical bent (or who would like to learn to bend technically) around the state.

A hamfest, or swap, is a gathering of radio amateurs who get together to sell each other (and you) all the great electronic junk they have accumulated in their basements and garages over the years. People load up their pickup trucks and vans with radio transmitters, antennae, old tubes, and bins of resistors, and head for a local fairground or school to do business on a Sunday morning. It’s a flea market for the tech-enabled. In addition to the radio stuff, there are lots of computer parts, rusty tool sets, guitars and amps, and other things that go zzzzt, blare, and pffft. There is a lot of pfffft, so you always want to test things before buying.

Vendors are there as well so you can stock up on heat-shrink tubing, solder wick and other things you need in your day-to-day life.

I got into this activity decades ago when I had my recording studio. I would go off to Detroit-area high schools in the pre-dawn cold of winter and cruise the gyms where dealers, hams, and just plain Joes sold their wares. There I bought mic stands, antique audio gear, and an occasional tube amplifier. Good times. I have a friend who is a ham, and we ride in together – he to hobnob with friends he talks to with his radio, me to look for useful oddments I can build into laser lightshow devices.

The summer fests are much nicer; you are outside, walking from van to truck, chatting with old guys about soldering and antenna farms. (That’s where they grow antennas, apparently.) Search Google for ARRL (Amateur Radio Relay League) sanctioned events, and you will find a hamfest just about every weekend somewhere in Michigan, usually on a Sunday morning. I’m heading for the Monroe swap tomorrow – can’t wait.

Science Fiction Conventions
Some people watch an occasional science fiction movie, some read books and comics, and some people totally immerse themselves in the world of the future. I am kinda between the latter two; I read a lot, and as a laser artist, am kinda inventing a futuristic art form, so I can relate to cons in a big way. I used to go all over the country to these gatherings, partying my way from Kansas City to Boston.

The big event this summer is DETCON1 (URL below), which takes place at the Renaissance Center Marriott July 17-20. Here you will see a lot of very intelligent, creative, and festive folk making merry with robots, aliens, and time travelers. And that is just in the lobby; upstairs there are panel discussions, an art show, costume contests, and a wonderful merchant’s space where you can pick up the latest paperbacks and antique pulp magazines, etc..

Technology companies take note: if you are looking to recruit creative staff with scientific backgrounds, cons are a good place to hang out. I can testify: we found our ace programmer Krunal at PenguiCon, a science fiction/open source convention. He built some very cool gear for us, accompanied us to several other cons, but was then snatched up by a tech company in Seattle who hired him to go asteroid mining (true story). That company came to a convention where he was speaking with the intent of recruiting him, which they did. We are a pretty cool laser biz, but ya can’t compete with asteroid mining. Kids today…

Maker Faire Detroit
I’ve covered this before, back in 2010 (URL below, 100,000 Garages). This event, which takes place July 26-27 at the Henry Ford Museum, is the place to be if you make stuff, weld stuff, create giant streaks of lightning, build robots, or shine lasers around like I do. We are hoping to find our next programmer here…

What we have here is a big science, crafts, and engineering fair, where everybody who makes cool stuff in their basements or garages trots it out for the amusement and amazement of all. This is now a world-wide movement that has been going on since 2006, when the first Faire was held in San Mateo CA, organized by Dale Dougherty, the publisher of Make Magazine.

This encouragement of home-built technical accomplishment is seen as a powerful goad for the resurgence in American technology now taking place. Apple, HP, and scores of other tech companies were started by people messing around in garages, and Maker Faires are designed to celebrate and promote this.

If you go, look for our interactive laser displays, probably back in the aviation area.


100,000 Garages

Maker Faire Detroit:

Mike Gould has more culture than yogurt, was a mouse wrangler for the U of M for 20 years, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Training/Digital Photography mega-mall, builds laser display devices, performs with the Illuminatus 3.0 Laser Lightshow, and welcomes comments addressed to

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