He's been welcomed into the White House for recognition of his achievements as an innovator and agent of change. He co-founded a couple of cutting-edge businesses. And he was key to the creation of a madcap, hands-on festival that's being emulated around the world.
It would appear that Dale Dougherty has it made. The truth is, he prefers to make it himself.
This is an especially busy week for the kinetic Sebastopol resident, who has just turned 58, as he prepares for the weekend's Maker Faire in San Mateo. Dougherty and the fair and his Make magazine and Maker Media, a spin-off of O'Reilly Media, all pursue the same end:
To rekindle in post-industrial homo sapiens the primordial urge to tinker, create and advance the state of things we make with our hands and imaginations, and the technological extensions thereof.
"It's something deep in us," Dougherty said at Maker Media's suite within the O'Reilly campus on Gravenstein Highway North. "We're kind of wired to make things."
The sorts of things that his enterprises help people to make are difficult to quantify, because at its heart the Maker movement promotes not things but the intrinsic quest to create. Even 50 years ago, the possible creations were endless for an inquisitive mind and a chemistry set or a Popular Mechanics magazine — and today a maker's tools include computer electronics and the Internet.
Among the projects at the fair that will take over the San Mateo County Events Center this weekend are underwater robots, 3D printers that produce intricate hold-it-in-your-hand objects from digital models, fighting machines, a life-size mousetrap, creations of laser cutters, all manner of personal locomotion contraptions, rockets, high-efficiency paper airplanes, music makers, foods, mobiles, model boats, tornado machines - the array is boggling.
At 11 a.m. Sunday, Adam Savage of Discovery Channel's "Myth Busters" is set to sing the praises of the maker mindset.
Last year, 110,000 people flooded the San Mateo expo, which has grown each year since Dougherty and others from O'Reilly Media, which he co-founded, launched it in 2006. Also since then, Maker Faires have spread to 40 other locations in the U.S. and 20 overseas.
"I visited the first one in Seoul, Korea, last summer," Dougherty said.
What's the point of the fairs, or the do-it-yourself kits that Maker Media sells, or of Make magazine articles like the one on how to make a ukulele from a cake pan? Pure fun is a substantial part of it. A kid who creates a banana piano by linking pieces of fruit to a small circuit board and a computer — and discovers he can make music on it — is glee personified.
But Dougherty and others in the movement cite personal and cultural benefits of making, which is active and engaged, as opposed to the passive nature of using things that were made by others and whose workings we don't understand.
Dougherty senses that transitioning from a receiver of things to a maker "is like being in the passenger seat and moving to the driver's seat.
"You have a more interesting life when you're in control of that."
Makers take on challenges presented by the world, and they learn by doing. Dougherty directs much of his efforts at inciting in children the curiosity to know how things work and to conspire to make things of their own.