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Monday, February 2, 2015

A Conversation with Marty Beets, a Maker

Beets in his handmade Shazam costume, Halloween 2011
Marty Beets, of Riverview Ave., has long been a maker. Born in Clinton, Tenn. in 1974, he moved to Covington in 2003 and then to Fort Thomas in 2008, where he now lives with his wife and two daughters. His creations have included built-in bookshelves, the restoration of a 1979 International Harvester Scout II, a MAME arcade cabinet and elaborate Halloween costumes. Beets is the Technology Operations Manager at The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, and he was instrumental in the development and opening of the library's MakerSpace last week. 

Here we talk with Beets about his love of making, past projects and future plans (think: hovercraft). 

Where did your love of making things come from? "I’m not sure why I enjoy creating things, but it must come from my father. He is an incredibly talented man who can build, fix, or do just about anything. He has added extensions to his house, roofed, done plumbing and electrical works, fixed engines and built by hand almost every piece of furniture in his house. Sadly, my talents are not nearly as practical as his. He is skilled enough to remedy any home or mechanical problems that occur, but I'm more drawn to building impractical oddities. I view him as a craftsman and myself as a hacker. His strength is in his text-book knowhow and my strength is my resourcefulness and imagination. I wish I had spent more time learning from him, but while he was repairing engines I was building faux wrestling championship belts."

One of Marty Beets' more practical creations—built-ins

Tell me about your Halloween costumes. What inspires the subject? "I never set out to start building elaborate costumes. It actually started because the costumes I want to wear don't usually exist. I've always preferred the slightly more obscure to the mainstream. My favorite superhero as a kid was Shazam, not Superman. My favorite baseball player was Dave Concepcion, not Pete Rose. Several years ago I decided to be Alexander DeLarge from the movie "A Clockwork Orange" for Halloween. That necessitated me making the whole costume from scratch. My costumes have tended to become more elaborate, but it's only because my confidence has grown.

"The Lego costumes I made for me and my (pregnant at the time) wife are the most time-consuming costumes I've made. I easily spent more than 100 hours on those. I must admit that I liked the attention we received from people. It’s satisfying when people appreciate the novelty and scope of something I build. One of my "maker" highlights was when Whitney Matheson of the Pop Candy blog shared photos of us in a post about her favorite pop culture costumes of the year."

Daughters Mya and Zoey as astronauts in the spaceship Beets built for them, Halloween 2013

Lego costumes for Beets and his wife, Angel, Halloween 2010

And your MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) arcade cabinet? "Like most men my age, I spent a lot of time at the coin op arcades when I was a kid. When I found out I could build a machine that would play all of those old games I couldn't resist. Angel, my wife, didn't mind when I told her I was going to do it, but I think she underestimated the scope and didn't realize I was going to sand and paint it in the living room. It took a few months, but when it was finished I could play almost any arcade game through the mid 1990s. It supported four simultaneous players and even had a light gun for shooting games. I still have it, but I have to replace the computer to get it working again."

A MAME arcade cabinet, which allows you to play almost any arcade game through the mid-1990s.

Tell me about your International Harvester Scout. "My most ambitious project has definitely been my International Harvester Scout II. I bought it in 2009, just a few weeks after my first daughter, Zoey, was born. Angel, who is usually bizarrely understanding of my projects, was not crazy about the timing of this one. In hindsight, I was pretty naive about the amount of time being a father would take—so I didn't make much progress for a few years. It's a 1979 convertible SUV and it was in good mechanical shape when I bought it, so most of my attention has gone towards the aesthetics. I've redone every inch of it cosmetically. I stripped the interior, added a roll on bedliner and a vinyl interior, refinished all the interior parts including the seats, changed out the hard top for a convertible top, added a roll cage and much more. 

"Finally, last summer I had it mostly where I wanted it and drove around in it a lot. My girls, I have two now, love riding around with the top off. Taking it out with them on a nice sunny day is one of my favorite things to do."

1979 International Scout Harvester II

What purpose does making things serve in your life? What parts of the process do you most enjoy? "The entire process really works for me. I enjoy the act of creating and feel a sense of pride when I'm done. I also like the attention. I think I'm most proud of my resourcefulness. When people look at and touch my Lego costumes they have no idea what materials I used to make them. I've always been able to find a way to build what I want. During every project, at some point I find myself wandering around Lowes looking for something that might not exist. Almost every time I come home with something that was never intended for what I'm using it for, but something I can make work." 

What project do you have next in mind? "I've been waiting for a decade to have a finished basement so I can build a bar monkey. That's basically a computer-controlled machine that will automatically mix hundreds of different cocktails for you at the press of a button. I've also been thinking about building a hovercraft for a long time. The idea never completely goes away."

Tell me about the birth of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County's MakerSpace and your involvement with it. What do you plan to personally make in the space? What are you most excited about? "I love that I work for an organization that is willing to do something as ambitious as a 9,000-square-foot makerspace. We are not the first library to build one, but our commitment to the maker movement is unmatched. Aside from a large space, we've also placed our makerspace in premium location front and center with panoramic views of downtown Cincinnati. Not only do the users of the space have a great view, but people can see the space from the road. 

"I was an advocate for building a state-of-the-art makerspace at the Main Library. I was the co-chair of our MakerSpace team and with input from the team designed the layout of the space and selected the equipment, supplies, and policies. It is the most satisfying project I've ever taken part in. In the first few days I've watched a retiree come in to learn Photoshop so she could make a gift for her children, an inventor print prototypes on our 3D printer and a teen make his first 3D model and print it in only a couple hours. 

"For me, the laser engraver and vinyl cutter/printer are the two most exciting pieces of equipment. For every one physical thing I've created I've made 20 digital creations. Those two pieces of equipment help me take my digital creations and bring them to life."

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