Maker Faire

Maker Faire is an exhibition which was created by Make Magazine as a way of celebrating of the art of making stuff – a chance for all the people who tinker away doing robotics, costuming, book-binding, knitting, rocketry, or any other craft or DIY hobby, to come and show off their creations to the world. It was first held in California in 2006 and was followed by many others in the USA. The first to be held in the United Kingdom was in 2009, and so far it has been held annually as part of the Newcastle ScienceFest. This year HACMan applied for a stall to show off some of the things we’ve been working on.

Five HACMan members ended up going to Newcastle. Bob and I hired a van and loaded it up with stuff from Madlab before heading north-east. The others made their way there on public transport. The journey there was made slightly more eventful by somebody running into the back of us and driving off – This was especially worrying for me since the van was hired using my credit card, but when we arrived we discovered that the back of the van was, thankfully, completely undamaged.

We turned up at the Centre For Life in Newcastle, and picked up our passes, lanyards, free T-shirts, and other goodies. Then we emptied the van. The main hall was massive with an extra mezzanine, and then there was a smaller room off to one side. Because one of our projects played the drums, our stand was located with all the other loud and annoying things at the end of the main hall. Bob and I set the stall up with just one or two hiccups, such as forgetting to bring the computer which powers the Project-A-Sketch, and not being able to get an internet connection for the Twitter Drummer. After setting up, we met up with the other guys in the pub before getting food and retiring for the night.

On Saturday morning, we spent all of our set-up time trying to interface the Twitter Drummer to the wifi network through a laptop. Eventually, the lovely guys on the Mbed stall next to us allowed us to plug directly into their hub. And Maker Faire was go!

The event is basically a two-day cacophony of sensory overload, with so many things providing noise, light and interactivity. It was a great event to take kids to. There was so much going on that any attempt to describe the things on show will inevitably fall short, but here were some of my favourite things…

Ball-Bearing Runs!Real Live Daleks! Giant Cardboard Spider! Rockets! Animatronic Creatures! Knit your own brain cells! Tesla coils which play popular music from the 1980′s incredibly loudly! DIY Pie! ! Light Graffiti! Retro Computers! Single-Wheel Skateboards! Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicles! Lunar Lander for real!

There were plenty of things to interest people who maybe had not much prior ‘making’ experience. Mitch Altman, from the Noisebridge Hackspace in San Francisco, oversaw a soldering workshop where he taught hundreds, possibly thousands, of people to solder over the weekend. There were also people like Minty Geek, Oomlaut, and Jimmie Rodgers selling beginners electronic kits, and people teaching knitting, book-binding, and all sorts of other stuff.

Many of the other exhibitors were people we were aware of beforehand, and in some cases had been in contact with through the internet or in person, so it was a good opportunity to meet up and network with our peers, especially members of other Hackerspaces around the country. We also spoke to a great many members of the public, almost all of whom were enthusiastic and interested in finding out more about our projects, and hackerspaces generally. In fact, there was a great feeling of friendliness and camaraderie about the whole event. I ended up chatting to a wide range of people, from the director of the ScienceFest, to a cameraman from The Gadget Show. By the end of the two days we were all totally exhausted.

To be honest, the whole event is now very much a blur. There was so much going on, it really was overwhelming, and this report doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of it. I can’t overstate how brilliant an event it is. I can’t imagine anyone who would not enjoy it. Even during the event, we were thinking of projects to make which we could take to next years event, which we will almost certainly be attending. Hopefully, you will too.

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With many thanks to the wonderful Paul Plowman, friend and accomplice of MadLab!

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