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Steve Simmons talks to Faire-goers at the R2 Builders Club table at the Maker Faire, at the San Mateo Event Center in San Mateo, Calif. on Saturday, May 18, 2013. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)

SAN MATEO -- Tens of thousands of people descended on the San Mateo County Fairgrounds on Saturday for the eighth annual Maker Faire, the enormously popular Do-It-Yourself festival that features everything from bicycle-powered sculptures to Tesla coils to stilt walkers.

Billed as the "Greatest Show (and Tell) On Earth," the event draws garage hobbyists and engineers, regulars of the Burning Man festival and a growing number of families with young children.

"Makers" of all ages and stripes are everywhere. One woman wore a green T-shirt that said "Talk Nerdy to Me."

The event is a visual smorgasbord that can be overwhelming and overstimulating. Organizers urged attendees to take public transportation or shuttle buses from remote parking lots, including some miles away at the College of San Mateo. Organizers estimate that more than 120,000 people will attend the event, which continues Sunday.

Mark Cruz, a 38-year-old Oakland architect, said of all the things to see and do Saturday, his favorite was an "art car" known as the Sashimi Tabernacle Choir. It features 250 electromechanical fish and lobsters bolted to an old blue Volvo. The fish and lobsters dance to music play lists.

"It's the perfect combination of art and ingenuity," Cruz said.


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The Sashimi Tabernacle Choir's "maker" is Richard Carter, 54, of Houston, Tex., who made the vehicle 10 years ago and regularly brings it to festivals. But this year marks his first Bay Area Maker Faire.

The car has batteries weighing more than 300 pounds, a computer, 31 custom circuit boards and five miles of control system wire.

"This is called an art car, but I don't consider it art," said Carter, a mathematician by training. "It's just something I do for fun. I'm a smart aleck with technical skills."

The multitude of exhibits are both outside and in large event halls, and the sheer volume of things to see--along with the beeping sounds of so many robots--can exhaust even the most die-hard fans. Veterans of the Maker Faire advise first-timers to wear sunscreen and a hat and to carry a water bottle.

Hundreds of artists and inventors shared their creations this year, and many crowd-pleasing favorites were back. The life-size "Mousetrap" game -- an interactive kinetic sculpture atop a 6,500-square-foot game board -- was a huge hit.

In recent months, a film called "Caine's Arcade," featuring an East Los Angeles boy who made arcade games out of cardboard, went viral on the Internet. So cardboard creations are a big theme this year. One entire area of the Maker Faire was devoted to a "Cardboard Challenge."

While parents relaxed in the cool evening breeze, many kids were still actively working on their projects.

Daniela Obringer, 11, was among dozens of kids sawing through cardboard boxes. Some made houses, others cardboard costumes.

"I don't really have a goal in mind yet," said Obringer, a sixth-grader at Valley Christian Junior High in San Jose. "I'm going to see what develops."

Diego, another 11-year-old who only gave his first name, proudly showed off the shield and sword that he'd made out of cardboard.

"I made it at the DIY place," he said, as a pink, motorized, all-electric cupcake zipped past him.

"This is my robot suit," chimed in a 7-year-old named Nicholas. "We used straps with duct tape for the shoulders. When I get home, I'm going to play in it more."

Contact Dana Hull at 408-920-2706. Follow her at Twitter.com/danahull.

maker faire
The Maker Faire continues Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets are $35 for adults, $25 for students and $20 for youth.
Alternative transportation is strongly encouraged. Ride sharing, train, bike and bus route information is available at http://makerfaire.com.