If you ever wondered what MacGyver might have looked like as a voice cracking pubescent boy, I can happily point you to my brother at age 12. He could make everything out of nothing and it was magical to see how he could transform anything he could get his snotty little hands on. Nothing was safe. Hide your spirograph, hide your jump rope, hide your glue gun. This is well before the era of the internet where you could look it up and still screw up what you were doing because you didn’t read the step by step Instructables tutorial, well, step by step.
Alongside my brother, I grew up making. It doesn’t mean I am good at it, but it does mean I am not afraid of getting my hands dirty and more than likely, failing until I didn’t. We built treeforts, a doll house that remained forever unused, rockets, a go kart with a bar stool, potato guns, paperclip guns, come to think of it, a lot of guns. It still is the same – we still like to build stuff and tend to spend the few moments we do get to spend time with each other, on a project. He’s fascinated but intimidated by the programming, and I’m just wondering at what grand moment am I going to electrocute the shit out of myself,and worse, if anyone will be there to witness.
Okay, okay. How the hell am I going to turn this around and make it about Maker Faire? Well, growing up, and even until I moved to NYC, the closest I could get to a Maker Faire type of idea was to visit the local hobby shop. This meant the selection of interests was limited to remote controlled anything or model anything. It also meant that finding other makers was hard – discovering that Ottawa had a hackerspace both confused and astounded me – how did I not know? How was it, no one knew? So going to Maker Faire was very much like a going on a overdue pilgrimage. A few years back, I went with a friend and we spent hours looking at all the individual projects like the guy who would embroider anything with his sewing machine like an artist might draw on demand. There was the kids wearing EL wire wings and the guy who built famous historical and architectural landmarks out of toothpicks. It was a place to go to be awed and to be inspired.
I went on the Sunday to Maker Faire which was held over at the Hall of Science in Queens. Despite getting there early, I was assured that it wasn’t as busy as the previous day, although it still felt pretty congested to me. I attended to help support work – we had a huge tent that featured a bunch of our technologies, many of them lesser known like Gadgeteer which is much like the Arduino, but for .Net. A highlight had to be watching the kids play with Project Spark – once it was demoed, they were quick to hop in and start building their own games. Watching something like that, you truly start to understand the potential and power behind something like Project Spark.
Now imagine you come across some robots. I am talking full size, agile robots and you discover one of them has a mean left hook. Welcome to the Kinect controlled fighting robots which was a huge hit, packing the tent the entire time I was there. Kids were going crazy over it, and it was just as entertaining to watch some of the adults start to play. That area probably could have used a bit more space.
The 3D area was just as big as it was last year, if not larger as the practical applications for it grew. The number of food trucks and tents grew exponentially. The craft area was probably about the same size – I was a bit shocked not to see more service oriented tables here like “make a mini 3d model of yourself”. There were definitely more families and more activities for kids to take a part of – from learning how to solder to building your own pen bot.
If I had to sum up this year, it would be that it was more about products, than projects. I really wanted to see things that people built, but it felt like the number of projects decreased, while the number of tents and tables devoted to selling increased. It seemed like a few more speaking sessions were going on in the various tents as well – with a new session running every hour on different topics.
I did come across these guys who built their own lifesize puppets out of food containers – which was amazing. They were fairly young and quite proud of what they produced.
I did end up re-newing my Make magazine subscription for 20 bucks and purchasing a few things like a new Raspberry Pi Camera. Even the Maker Shed , where you go to buy things, kinda felt uninspired with all-in-one kits really driving the product selection. My day was made when I spotted for the second time, a female wearing Google Glass. She was hiding in a corner and I wondered if she was having a domestic with her own microprocessor tucked away behind her ear.
All in all, Maker Faire has changed a lot. For families and learning, I think its a great thing. For inspiration, maybe not so much – which will be why I will probably think twice about attending next year.