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Dale Dougherty Promotes Making

Aired June 24, 2012 - 14:00   ET


SANJAY GUPTA, HOST, THE NEXT LIST: Welcome to THE NEXT LIST. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta in Sonoma, California. You're about to meet Dale Dougherty. He has a simple belief -- that all of us are makers.

DALE DOUGHERTY, CREATOR, MAKER FAIRE: For many years or many almost decades, we've kind of talked ourselves out of being makers, that we're smart shoppers or consumers. And I really want to turn that around and say we are makers. We make our world.

GUPTA: Dale believes everyone should be passionate about making something. Food. Clothes. Woodwork. Or even crazy stuff like electric muffins. We'll explain that in a second.

He's created something called Maker Faires around the world, where tens of thousands of people meet to show off their creations and collaborate. What began as a simple idea has snowballed into a worldwide movement.

DOUGHERTY: I think as an overall philosophy of making, it is something that just seems basic to who we are. It's not necessarily about technology, it's really about people. But I think technology creates a lot of the interest today.

Cooks are makers. People who create garments, dresses and things are makers. But so are people that tinker with electronics and carpentry and other areas as well. But I think one of the things that happens in making is that we are gaining some control over the world we live in. We are actually doing something important and valuable, and it's making a personal connection to that thing.

When I see a young kid connect a battery and a light, and they realize the two work together and the light goes on, and they kind of just disconnect and connect, disconnect and connect, just almost make the point that they're controlling it.

I think this world is awfully complex, and it's hard sometimes to figure out what are the building blocks, you know, how do you get going, how do you get started. Now you might not like the hobbyist who takes 20 years to do something, it might take you that long to have great impact, but you can have impact today. You can do things today and encourage yourself to participate to build things, make things.

In the 1960s or so, things like tinkering were more mainstream. They were like middle-class virtues. If you could improve your home or repair your car, you save some money, you got something that might have been hard to get otherwise -- as you couldn't pay for it -- and so you were smarter. You were resourceful. And I think that kind of mind-set is just important.

For many years or many almost decades, we've kind of talked ourselves out of being makers, that we're smart shoppers, or consumers, and I really want to turn that around and say, we are makers, we make our world.

I'm really interested in what individuals and small groups can do. Maker Faire is one of those I think positive special places where you can see lots of different ways that people are working to create new things, to do things that you might not think possible. Maker Faire this year will be in its seventh year. It started in the Bay Area in San Mateo, and we've held it there each year since then. And we started with about 15,000 to 20,000 people in our first year, and that was pretty amazing. Last year we had around 100,000 people.

GUPTA: If someone were at a Maker Faire, what does it look like?

DOUGHERTY: Well, it's kind of a science fair, an art fair, a little bit of Burning Man and things like that. It's kind of wild and crazy, but in a very simple way, it is about a conversation with an enthusiast whose eyes light up when you talk to them, who is excited about what they've built. And it's the kind of conversation, hey, where did you get that idea. You know?

And one of the things that reminds me that to build something and then be able to play with it. Like the electric muffin, is like you get to enjoy that. And it breaks down. So they have Acme Engineering Garage at Maker Faire, and they go and they have to repair it. But it is something to be able to play, and it performs, it does something, and go back and make it better, it's all kind of that same process.

The surprising thing I think is that this is stuff that's in people's backyards and basements. It's not always visible. So it kind of flushes this out from the community, and we get to see the innovation, making and creating, it's kind of an everyday thing that lots of people do. It's not -- it doesn't have to be elevated. It's not something that just geniuses do.

We are all inventors. We're all makers.

Last fall in New York, I met a young man who -- and his mother who said, last year he came to Maker Faire in a wheelchair. He had some kind of disease that his immune system had shut down. Doctors really said there's not much more we can do with him, and I don't know if he'll make it. And his mother kind of said, is there something you'd really like to do? Because I want to fulfill that wish. He said I want to go to Maker Faire. And so he came. He learns to solder. He learns to do this. He likes it already. And last September, he shows up again with his own robot, a telepresence robot that he recovered in his health, and his mother says, you know, that period of coming to Maker Faire turned him around. You know? So you can't help but get like choked up over something like that when you realize what it means to someone. This became something really critical to him, and he took his project and he brought it to Maker Faire, and he won the science fair in his hometown, and, you know, he's part of the community now.

So we're just going to make a mess. OK. Every good kid wants to do.

GUPTA: You calling me a kid?


GUPTA: Welcome back to THE NEXT LIST. I'm Sanjay Gupta. Dale Dougherty's reach goes farther than yearly Maker Faires. He also publishes "Make" magazine. It's a glossy, jam-packed, do-it-yourself magazine, filled with ideas on everything from how to make a robot to an airplane. And the magic begins right here at Dale's Labs in Sonoma, California.

So this looks like a pretty interesting space. What goes on in here?

DOUGHERTY: Well, this is our lab, and really what happens here is we have interns that take things that we think might be in the magazine, and they try to recreate them. They take the author's recipe in a sense and test it. So we're like a test kitchen for makers.

I'm really interested in the experience of making, and how a magazine is meant to encourage you to do something. And I think we can look back 100 years of magazines and things like "Popular Mechanics" and "Popular Science" that inspired people to just do stuff.

GUPTA: This is where "Make" sort of comes in as well.


GUPTA: It's sort of the same size. And same sort of concept.

DOUGHERTY: Absolutely. And it was a bit of just an homage to those magazines.

GUPTA: So what are some of the examples that people, if they read this, what would they make?

DOUGHERTY: Well, this -- I thought you might be interested in this. This is an issue that just came out. And we call it mod your bod. (inaudible) is a surgical roboticist. Professionally she's building tools that assist a surgeon, but in the magazine here, we have this really cool air guitar hero. Says, you know, rehabilitation exercise for people with amputations. How can you play Guitar Hero guitar if you don't have hands?

GUPTA: Right. Right. You do see the term hack. It says hack the connect. Hackable. Hacking throughout. What do you mean by that? DOUGHERTY: I think we have a history of hacking here that we're building on computers and other things. Usually means to open something up, be able to take it apart, understand how it works, and re-purpose it towards your own goals.

The idea I had with the magazine was actually when I went back and looked at these old magazines, I thought the voice of them was similar to the hackers. You know, that these guys were hackers in their day. They were looking at it and saying, how do I build a 30- mile-per-hour fun boat for $38? It had to be cheap. It had to be doable. And so that kind of attitude -- I just found, hey, if it was in the past and it's in the present, this must be something that's not just a trend.

GUPTA: Everything in here is something that people could make.

DOUGHERTY: Absolutely.

GUPTA: They could do it on their own.

DOUGHERTY: That's the whole goal of the magazine, to not just talk about technology, but show you how you can do something with it.

GUPTA: When you come to Make Labs, one of the things you'll immediately notice is that when you're here, you play.

DOUGHERTY: This is a project called squishy circuits. It's really a simple, one-page project in a magazine that comes from an engineering educator, Emory Thompson (ph), out of Minneapolis. And she just started playing with Playdough as a conductor for electricity, and it gives kids a way to sort of interact with the basics and build circuits with something that doesn't seem technical.

GUPTA: Right. Right.

DOUGHERTY: It seems more like a craft project. The difference -- we're going to make insulating conductors. Conductor means electrons flow through there. Salt helps it, so what she did with her recipe is add more salt than the usual amount to Playdough. OK? And then we substituted sugar to decrease salt in the other ones so we don't want electrons to flow very well in this, and we do want them to flow in this.

GUPTA: So right in there, there's a lesson.

DOUGHERTY: Absolutely.

GUPTA: With salt, it's going to conduct better.


GUPTA: Because of the charge.

DOUGHERTY: Right. Yeah. So we're just going to make a mess. Like every good kid wants to do.

GUPTA: You calling me a kid?


DOUGHERTY: So here's a model of just taking, you know, we put two pieces of the conductive Playdough in between the insulator. This is just keeping the conductor part separate. Right? Because it will short them out if they touch. First off, we're just going to put a battery on, and so a lot of these things have simple orientations like a positive and negative. There we go.


DOUGHERTY: So we are able to--

GUPTA: That's pretty amazing.

DOUGHERTY: -- plug that in anywhere. We were doing this with fourth-graders in the Bronx this week, and they want to see how many LEDs they can get on it. It is demonstrating a basic vocabulary around a circuit, which is almost in everything we own these days, but we don't really understand what's going on there.

GUPTA: So instead of having a textbook that explains polarity and insulation and conduction, it's Playdough.

DOUGHERTY: Exactly. How do strawberries grow? I want to know firsthand. How does this work?


DOUGHERTY: We're on the outskirts of Sebastopol, California, which is about an hour north of San Francisco. We are at my house here, which -- we built and moved in about in 2004. We have about ten acres here of pastures and gardens, and an old barn which was here which we kind of liked.

Kind of the last thing in the fall to really have color is a persimmon tree, right around Thanksgiving its fruits turn bright orange, and they're very astringent. I tried Thanksgiving, I made a persimmon sorbet from them, and it just sucked all the -- everything out of your mouth. So I had to treat it with cider.

I think making starts in this sense that, what can I do, really what can I learn to do? How does kale grow or how do strawberries grow? This is something called hyssop. It's just this leaf has kind of a licorice type flavor, very sweet.

I want to know firsthand how does this work.

I was born in Los Angeles. Family of six kids. But in 1967, we moved -- my father got a new job and we moved to Louisville, Kentucky. I was a bit sick as a kid, had a bone disease, osteomyelitis, and I was in the hospital by myself. And it's just sort of I think formative, in -- I said I'm not going to be board. I remember making models like creature of the black lagoon, or a car, or things of that nature. It was just a pretty simple form of making, just gluing things together, but it entertained me, and kept me going.

I never saw myself as having any particular skills. I was kind of a liberal arts major. I ended up liking literature and history in particular. I moved to Boston after college, and eventually met Tim O'Reilly and you know, we got O'Reilly Media started in 1984, 1985, is when I started working with him.

We were technical publishers. We kind of had this sense that we wanted to create books that obviously were valuable and useful to people, but they didn't want to be academic, they wanted to be straightforward, just like conversational in tone, this is how you do something. And so "Make" is a how-to magazine, and it's dealing with subjects that are more technical than any other how-to magazine out there. It is a close cousin to a cooking magazine or a woodworking magazine.

I have three children. They're all in their 20s. I think they live in an environment where they're very capable, and they're independent thinkers and independent doers. So I have to say they got the mind-set. You know, and I think that's what matters most.

This is my starter for bread making. You know, I like to cook. Having access to food from the garden makes you a better cook, I think.

I have to add 100 grams of water and 100 grams of flour here. I want to know, I want to -- but I don't want to just know. I want to be able to do something.

You notice the feel of the dough on your hands, the interactions with that? I think they're all kind of interesting.

I came across a phrase in one of our workshops that I was at that has stuck with me. You know, what can you do with what you know? It really interests me what can you do. Things that we sometimes -- just like bread making. There is a sense of pride, but there is a certain mastery that you do it multiple times, you get a little better at it. And I'm not going to open a bakery, but to serve bread for a family or give it away as a present for when you visit someone, it's just a very nice to be able to do, satisfying. That's all I can kind of describe it as.

GUPTA: You were just as excited as those kids, as far as I could tell.

DOUGHERTY: I am. I am.


GUPTA: You recently got a DARPA grant. Is that right?


GUPTA: Yes, DARPA is -- is something -- a part of the Department of Defense, right?

DOUGHERTY: Right. It's a research arm of Defense. And I mean, they're behind the Internet and lots of things.

I think the rationale behind this is they don't see kids in high school interested in science and technology to the degree that matters, but they're not making things. Kids aren't looking to say, I want to -- I want a career in making something. I saw that and that's why I went on to apply for the grant, and see can we get this into high schools.

GUPTA: You want innovators and innovation being taught in every classroom.

DOUGHERTY: But I want it experienced. You know? It's not something you tell someone to innovate. It's like creativity. You don't tell people to be creative. You invite them to, you know, and you open a context for them to do that, so it really resonates inside of them. It's not something you impose on them.


This is it. This is what you are talking about. The classroom.

DOUGHERTY: This is a maker space in an educational setting. I call it Project Make. I work with a local high school to give the opportunity for kids to make things. The basic idea is -- what do you want to make?

GUPTA: Right.


GUPTA: You can feel the energy in here. And they just came right in and immediately got to work. So let's take a look at some of the projects they've been working on.

DOUGHERTY: Absolutely.

GUPTA: As much as you can explain.

DOUGHERTY: Sure. So this is something -- these are maker kits that they built last semester. And run your hand over that one. So there's a sensor in there that's figuring out what you're doing and responding. Right?

GUPTA: That's pretty amazing.

DOUGHERTY: Yes. So they soldered -- there was this board and underneath is the -- they soldered those connections and --

GUPTA: Pretty good work. Pretty good soldering. Yes. Nice job.

DOUGHERTY: Absolutely. And so these are kids that have never done that, have never figured this out, and they've just been given the opportunity to do that.

This is a pilot program here for just proving, I think, in ways that kids want it.

GUPTA: What is that you're trying to make here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A solar lunch box.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like, here's mine.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You basically just leave it out and it will charge up its battery, which is going to be inside the lunch box. And then from there, we're going to fit a USB adapter, so it would be able to charge up an iPhone or an iPod or whatever. And then also you have this switch that could be for a light if you need it. It is just kind of like a prepared survival --


GUPTA: That's great. Have you done this kind of work before?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I, no, nothing -- I always played with electricity, but just lighting up a light with a switch. Nothing really this advanced. So it's a lot of fun.

GUPTA: Would you have learned this in your regular school or no?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, definitely not in regular school. I mean, I never would have had this opportunity. So this has been really cool.

GUPTA: I got to say, it's so exciting over there. The kids are just incredibly excited, aren't they?

DOUGHERTY: Yes. They're engaged, they are doing stuff, and they're happy. They're working together. How do we move it from really if we think of like the user experience of school, of sitting in chairs and listening to one person talk to everyone, how do we make classrooms interactive? How do we use technologies and stuff to really engage kids? That's what I see the opportunity here with making.

GUPTA: You had a model here. So what is this model of?

DOUGHERTY: Yes, so a couple of guys, Robert Bridges (ph) from MIT, had designed a shelter for Haiti that could be put up in a couple of hours. And they brought it to Maker Faire in New York. I saw it and I thought, this looks like a shed or a kind of structure that you could put outside a school and invite kids to come in and make stuff. A clubhouse. And just as school gardens have become something that has taken off, I want to put this next to a school garden.

GUPTA: You were just as excited as those kids, as far as I can tell.

DOUGHERTY: I am. I am. First of all, to see what they're doing, I mean, this is what drives me. I would say like my mission is to make more makers. And this is how we do it, is to invite them in, allow them to do things. And they start building up their own vision of what they want to do and where they want to go with it.

GUPTA: Dale Dougherty wants everyone to be an innovator. He sparked an entire movement of innovators, and he won't stop until he sees his maker movements in classrooms all over the country. And that's what earned Dale a spot on THE NEXT LIST.

For more on THE NEXT LIST, you can go to, or visit my live stream at Thanks for joining us. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. See you back next Sunday.