The Maker Movement

As the Maker Movement has gathered increasing momentum over the last several years, makers have been showcasing their ingenuous inventions from tentacle lamps to video games. Now one innovator and former wall street executive is finding ways not just to fuel is passion for gadgets, but to share it with students around the country.


As the Maker Movement has gathered increasing momentum over the last several years, makers have been showcasing their ingenious inventions, from tentacle lamps to video games.

Now, one innovator and former Wall Street executive is finding ways not just to fuel his passion for gadgets but to share it with students around the country.

Michael Dubno, thanks for joining us.

So, let's talk a little bit about this, the odd route that you've come to being an inventor or being a maker.

How did Wall Street get you to video games, get you to this basement that we'll talk about?

Well, I think we have the order slightly backwards.

It was actually video games that got me to Wall Street.

And so I had written a Top 10-selling video game in the 1980s, and it turns out the technology for doing real-time trading has a lot of similarities to a video game.

If the video game doesn't operate at full speed and things like that, it doesn't really work very well, and the same is true for high-speed trading.

What got you into designing a video game in the first place?

I found it fun to play, and so, just like any kid, I enjoyed video games.

But I always liked to take things apart to figure out how they worked.

So any time I saw any game that anyone else wrote, I wrote it, as well.

And any time I saw anything in hardware, I did that, as well.

So, after the banking experience...

The traumatic banking experiencing...

Traumatic banking... After that, you had a little bit more time on your hands.

What made you want to sort or double-down on going back to the workshop and inventing?

Well, I never totally left it.

So, what I would do at night, after I was doing, you know, running a very large organization, is I would actually tinker.

I would tinker with software, I'd tinker with hardware, and in fact, during that period of time, I actually built a robot that was capable of navigating around the room accurately, talking, picking up things, and that was 31 years ago.

So I never really left it.

After I stopped working full-time on Wall Street, it just became clear that this was a fun thing to spend my time doing.

You know, tinkering used to be this sort of RadioShack subculture, et cetera, et cetera, but the Maker Movement has really become a much more mainstream idea -- kids trying to do this in their high schools, encouraged to do so, fairs that are happening.

You started one, literally from your own house, as well.

So, we started an event called Gadgetoff.

We had jet-powered Merry-Go-Rounds, we had a giant spider that would drive through, and we also had the person in charge of Solar System exploration for NASA.

So we had a very interesting mix of people.

And a lot of that was actually serendipity of invention.

So if you think about all these people, they're all inventors of some sort.

Some are inventing things that one would say are frivolous or artistic, and some are inventing things that may save lives in the end.

But it turns out that they all worked together in this synergistic way, and they get benefits from meeting each other.

So, let's talk a little bit about this basement that's becoming legendary.

It's not like any other Brownstone in New York.

What's in it?

Well, most people wonder whether I have a permit, is the first question.

So there are laser-cutters, plasma-cutters, computer-controlled mills, welders...

It seems like everything necessary in every Batcave, right?

I mean, what prompted you to get all this stuff and put it that close to home?

Well, it's interesting.

So, sometimes, tools actually stimulate what you invent.

So I bought a laser-cutter, and what I found with the laser-cutter is I can easily cut plastic ears.

And it turns out, there's a 2,200-year-old computational device called the Antikythera Mechanism.

That device is 30 gears or so, that they know of, and another 20 or so that they're uncertain of.

And so I was able to cut that on the laser-cutter and put this together instead of having to hand-machine every single piece of bronze that the ancient Greeks did.

How do you encourage young people to get into following this passion?

I mean, a lot of kids like to play video games, but how do you expose to them the idea that they can actually help create it and that says fun?

So, let's even talk about the initial problem, right, which is a lot of the way school is taught is by rote.

It's almost a religious type of teaching.

'This is how to do this formula.

This is what the answer is.'

We teach, and then we practice that, and then we test it.

And so, what we want to do is we want you to experiment and fail, and so it's learned.

And so we want you create while doing it.

So teach, practice, test.

Of course, if someone teaches you something that is wrong, that's problematic.

It may lead to a dangerous society.

But if we actually get you to solve problems, then you see that any problem you can solve going forward.

So what we do is we give you a problem, in fact, that's too hard.

And the robotic stuff that we do, the problem is too hard.

You don't have enough time, you don't have enough people, you don't have enough money.

Wait a minute, that sounds like business, right?

And then, amazingly, you solve it because we didn't tell you how.

And you started to research online how to solve it.

You experimented, you failed, and you got there.

And the confidence, the abilities that come out of the kids that go through this are substantially greater to the point where institutions like MIT actually seek out these kids.

You mentioned this, the STEM Center.

This is almost a little bit of a prototype.

What are you trying to build, and how can it scale?

So, there's a STEM Center, or more a physics education center in Israel called Hemdat.

And what they were doing is they realized that the school system in Israel wasn't really capable of teaching deep science to the kids.

Either the science was changing, the equipment was too difficult to maintain, too expensive, the expertise was too difficult to maintain, and so, what they did is they created this institute, and they bring kids, high school age, into classes.

They teach them a real class, and then they go back to their school.

And so what we want to do is actually similar but across all the STEM fields and focusing specifically on technology and engineering, simply because those are not well-taught in the New York City school system.

And how much money does it take to build one of these, and then how many of these can you build?

Well, we have different models, and so we have looked in the back of libraries, in unused space.

That is not really what we're hoping to accomplish.

And so, it'll be something in about the $5 million to $10 million range, to open up a real center that actually tests what we're trying to test.

And it will hopefully serve a number of schools in a district, maybe 20, 30 schools in a district.

I think it's incredibly important for people to actually learn and understand how the world works.

I think it's really dangerous to the world when they do not.

And I think our last election might have shown some of that, where people believe facts that are not necessarily facts.

And so if you have a discipline for learning something, questioning something, taking it apart, and understanding it yourself, then you might come to really strong conclusions that are based on facts as opposed to based on mythology.

Michael Dubno, thanks for joining us.

Thanks for having me.