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Saturday, 19 May 2012

Maker Faire 2012 trip report

The Maker Faire is one of those awesome Bay Area things that always fills me with excitement and gets my imagination going.

Zoe and I went again this year to check it out, as best we could within the time constraints we had to work within (opening time and her nap time, minus travel time). She definitely enjoyed herself.

We took the Caltrain, because historically driving and parking has been a bit of a nightmare. The optimal train to get to get there before it opened (at 10am) was the 9:19 train from Mountain View, which was scheduled to get in at Hayward Park a little before 10am. It just so happened that there was a Giants game on in San Francisco today as well, and the train was absolutely packed. We only got a seat because one kind gentleman was getting off and explicitly gave his seat to us. One lesson learned: don't try and take the BOB stroller on the train. Even when collapsed, it's way too bulky. For future Caltrain outings, I'll take our City Mini stroller instead, as it folds much flatter.

I also took our macpac Possum child carrier backpack, and Zoe was pretty happy to just sit in it for the bulk of the time. I think it had novelty value for her, as we haven't used it for a while. I probably could have gotten away without taking a stroller at all. I was very glad I took the backpack, as it gave her a much better vantage point for everything that was going on than she would have gotten from sitting in the stroller.

There was supposed to be a free shuttle from the Hayward Park station to the Maker Faire, but there was a huge crowd waiting for it, so I decided to just walk. It didn't take too long. For the return trip, I think I exited from the wrong side of the fairgrounds, and couldn't figure out the shuttles, so I just walked to Hillsdale station. At least the return train wasn't crowded. Overall, using Caltrain to get in and out was successful. Zoe was very well behaved for the ~30 minute train ride each way.

The Faire was quite a bit bigger this year, and has spilled out into the parking lot on one side. I'd heard stories that O'Reilly had quadrupled booth prices as well.

Trying to abide by the program was too difficult, so we mostly just wandered through the main Expo hall and looked at various booths. I just did a full read through the website of all the exhibitors to see what I missed out on.

Here's some of the stuff I saw in person, or discovered via the website:

  • there was a really excellent looking Dalek running around (way better than the photo on the page linked to here). I also learned that there's a whole Dalek-making website. Awesome.
  • RAFT (Resource Area For Teaching) had lots of really simple, low cost projects for demonstrating various concepts in physics and science.
  • Linux for makers was represented
  • This Arduino-controlled automatic fish feeder looked cool. I didn't get to see it in person, I discovered it while I was trawling through the list of exhibitors.
  • Shop-in-a-box. I'd have liked to have checked this out.
  • Build a bug habitat. I'd have liked to check this out out as well.
  • Solar bike trailer. My Dad would have liked this, as he has an electric bike. I imagine this wouldn't be all that hard to make. The trailer looked pretty long from the photo though, but hey, no pedaling.
  • The water causeway. Now this looks interesting. I would have loved to have seen this one in person. I love clean tech. There's a whole bunch of videos linked off the page for this.
  • Wave energy capture model. Another clean tech thing I'd have liked to have checked out.
  • Roominate looks really cool. Something for Zoe when she's a bit bigger.
  • There was a table extolling the virtues of growing your own algae for consumption (as spirulina) and bio-fuel. I'm interested in finding out more about the latter.
  • I saw some HEXBUG-related stuff near the Geekdad table. This looked like a dressed up version of the "take a toothbrush head and glue an electric toothbrush motor on the back" type project. I'm curious to see how expensive the kits are, as they looked like a lot of fun.
  • Ratduino sounds intriguing, but I can't find out much about it.
  • Urban scale wind turbines. One that I needed to have seen in person. Unfortunately I missed it.
  • GlueMotor looks cool.
  • Low-cost push-button clicker. I'd have liked to have found out more about this. If it's what I imagine it is, this could be quite revolutionary in the classroom.
  • Hardware Startup Showcase. I have ideas. I'd like to see them get out of my head and into existence. Turns out there's even a MeetUp group.
  • Kits by Kids. I'll have to check this out to see what sort of stuff I can do with Zoe when she's a bit older.

Kickstarter is really becoming huge in the maker community. There were heaps of exhibitors there with (mostly robotics) projects that were past the initial prototyping phase and were seeking funding on Kickstarter to go into mass production.

Some of the talks I'd have liked to have seen:

Zoe was really well behaved for the entire expedition. I don't think she really gave me any grief at all. There was a brief period where she wanted me to carry her, but I managed to negotiate her back into the stroller after not long.

I think her favourite was ArcBotics, which had a robot insect that would dance and wave at her. She kept asking for it to do more dancing.

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