I like to call myself a geek. Unfortunately calling myself one doesn’t really make me one. Real nerds and geeks come in different flavors- the hacker, the computer genius, the physicist, the math whiz and more. And today, thanks to a revitalized and burgeoning Maker movement, geeks are the flavor of the town. This past weekend, I attended my first ever MakerFaire and I was blown away by the innovation, creativity and sheer genius of a lot of people there. This post is about that experience.
I have been following the growing Maker movement via the tweets and G+ posts of Tim O’Reilly. I was intrigued but never made the effort to see in person what it is all about. You see, growing up in India, one doesn’t get an incentive to do things themselves. The cost of labor is so low that everything from carpentry to electrical work to plumbing has a coterie of folks willing to work for very reasonable prices. As a result, although I am an electrical engineer by degree, my electrical engineering skills are questionable and very rusty. So the MakerFaire was a great wake up moment for me. With a 5 year old at home, this would be the right time for me to start all over again.
It was a nice and warm Sunday to be out . The 8th annual Bay Area MakerFaire was being held at the San Mateo County Event Center. My friend and I parked about half a mile away to avoid traffic and walked the rest of the distance. Upon entering, we were greeted by this huge area filled with thousands of people and all kinds of weird stuff- a fire breathing dragon, a Motorola sponsored phone hack van/booth and lots more. I can try to describe it but it would do little justice to the cornucopia of the exotic and unique that hit my senses. Rest assured, the stage was set.
There were a lot of things to capture and process. There was a section for the MakerCamp co-hosted by Google+ where kids were doing stuff with batteries and LEDs to win t-shirts. There were outdoor displays of all and sundry with very tall people (thanks to leg contraptions) and vehicles that defied explanation. Steampunk was well represented all over the place including vehicles and an area where kids were working on their own steampunk goggles.
In one of the many cavernous closed door stages, there was all things to do with Arduino, Raspberry Pi and 3D printing. This took much of my attention as each of them are burgeoning markets for DIYers and has a lot of potential for experimentation. Specifically 3D printing is something I am hoping to eventually get into and it was interesting to see the various 3D printers on sale and their capabilities. Makers large and small were selling their wares and trying to grab mindshare of the audience.
There was a section for craft which was filled to the brim with people on large tables doing all kinds of craft. Different vendors had display sections for folks to come and work on things.
Legos were all over the place. Of interest was a big booth by the Bay Area Lego Users Group which had some fantastic Lego projects on display and a big pool of blocks on the floor for kids to occupy themselves with.
Moving on to a different stage, this one was all dark with LEDs of all sizes and shapes all over the place. There was a show going on which was crackling fun. Large size LED displays and LED gaming sections were the focus in this section.
Between these large stages there were local food vendors. There were also outdoor booths for specific product types like woodcut printers and such. There was a RadioShack booth where they were selling Arduino, Raspi, and other kits. There was also an area where kids were being taught how to solder. It was pretty neat to watch folks lining up to be taught how to solder.
For folks wanting to buy some of the things on display, there was a big MakerShed with thousands of products ranging from packs of resistors to books to 3D printers. This was geek paradise and I really wish I had the resources to buy them all.
There was a section for local artists to sell their wares and lots more food too. I ended up picking a subscription for the Make magazine (which is well worth the price IMHO).
By the time we walked out, I was excited to get back to doing something with all the knowledge I had gathered in my five hours at MakerFaire. I had debated if I should take my 5 year old with me and finally decided not to because I wasn’t sure of what to expect. In hindsight it was a good idea- I got a good feel for the event. Now I am definitely taking my son to the next Bay Area MakerFaire. I am sure he will have a blast.