If you can stand the music of Shovelman you might find something of interest among the odd, whimsical and clever devices to be found at the Maker Faire. Their theme 'Remaking America' is more fanciful than likely but who could possibly be against whimsy?
I am not and will not stand against whimsy, but does this leach over into foolishness? I think it depends entirely on the intent of the inventors, which I started to consider when I looked at the steam powered scooter. Putting myself into the shoes of a steampunk mechanical engineer, I immediately thought how cool it might be to rev up my scooter and have nothing but safe and harmless steam come out. I'm sure you could pull a lot of greenie chicks with that move, unlike some slick dude in Chevy v8 even whose hair represents unsustainable dependence on foreign oil. But then on second thought, what's my steam deally using to create the heat? Well, I obviously couldn't burn coal, or fuel oil, or gasoline - maybe propane?
Yeah propane! Surely the accumulated bourgie biases against the hickness of propane can't survive an onslaught of enlightened conservationism. Well, my bet is that they'd collide and the end products of the reaction will be obscurity and mumbling. After all, propane has been a clean burning, cheap fuel for decades as any redneck or blackneck camper or upscale cabin owner knows.
But there's not only propane, there's also methane aka natural gas. Both can be compressed or liquified for easier transportation, and of course the technology for doing so it old, boring and reliable. And there's nothing sexy or sophisticated about it, well, not like steampunk scooters. So you'd have to hide your canister of CNG behind some facade to make the chicks think that the whole thing is run just on steam alone. Might as well add some patchouli oil to make your steam fragrant and claim that the air that goes in is dirtier than the air that comes out. That's the line that always kills 'em. To choose between methane and propane, well. That would be a commercial and scientific decision, something that has to make sense of markets and the dynamics of combustion. In other words, the rationality of making a truly rational choice for the heat source of your green steam would have to rely on dealing significantly with physical and economic reality. Exit whimsy.
Of course there aren't going to be any mass production of these clever devices. I find it unlikely that the Maker Faire is a real showcase for emerging technologies that would actually change America. Unfortunately for the clever dudes and dudettes around that way, there are other people with similar knowledge who are employed in organizations that tend to master markets as well as science. They are 'trapped' in the industrial complex of America engaged in this thing called 'business'.
Growing up as I did on the Left, it was a very hard lesson to learn that there was a difference between products and technologies. A product, you see, has to arrange and prioritize the assemblages of technologies in response to or anticipation of demand in markets. Unlike a Faire, where you pay to be an exhibitor of cool technology, a market pays you. Unlike punks and geeks, the market is not impressed that something can be done with technology. The market always selfishly asks, what's in it for me?
But markets can be twisted, and given enough disposable income and idiotic memes, people can be persuaded to demand all sorts of whimsical devices which are thus transformed into profitable products. Sometimes a better, more rational and efficient product comes along, and sometimes you're stuck with AT&T or Oldsmobile and you can't easily get out of your commitment. This is called buyer's remorse, something teenagers and wealthy weirdos basically don't understand. And so niche markets are maintained and everybody's happy. We know that teenagers with disposable income and showoffs with bank help to maintain the myth that 'if you build it, they will come', and it's a nice myth to have. But really, try to remind your kids exactly what a Faire is.