May 25, 2010

1692 words 8 mins read

Wrap up: Maker Faire 2010

In the weeks preceding Maker Faire, feelings went from excitement, to nervousness to frustration and finally to the pleasant relief that it was here. As for the Faire itself? What more is there to say than it was awesome! So without further adieu, my brief wrap up of the events of Maker Faire…

== Friday ==

I took all of Friday off, initially I only had a half day from work, but there was too much to do and too little time. By about 1pm I was out the door and on my way to San Mateo with all the gear I’d need for the entire weekend. For such a small booth (in the grand scheme of things) it sure felt like we needed a lot of stuff, including the TV off my own living room wall. I arrived at the Expo center by 2pm and was pleasantly surprised to not have to wait in line an hour to register.

This year the Faire organizers issued everyone a 4 digit “Maker” number. This was the critical piece of info you needed to know. It was a great system since there was no delays in the “Who are you registered as?”, “What is your name?”, etc departments. I gave them our number, they gave me an info packet and the badges and I was on my way to setting up.

Possibly the most challenging part of setup was finding our space. I can read a map, and orienteering is a skill of mine. The problem was that while the spaces were chalked out on the ground, none of them were labeled. Luckily the guys from iFixit were already there setting up, and turned out to be our neighbors (more or less). They pointed out where they were on the map, I pointed out where I was… and we got the exact location pinned down.

I got most of the basic setup done before Phoebe arrived. Unfortunately she had all the equipment from the Foundation (including the computers) and the “niceties” like table cloths. It didn’t really take that long to get everything setup in a fairly reasonable manner. After all there is only so much you can do with a 10′ by 10′ space. I think the most time we spent on anything was discussing how to put up the banners & posters we had. After that it was dinner, free from the Faire. Oh, and free beer too. Being a Maker has its perks. By 8 we were on our way off the grounds to the Hotel.

This year I decided to stay at a hotel nearby. Phoebe has always done this as she was making a 2+ hour trek, which didn’t really give her a choice. For me, Home to San Mateo is “only” an hour, but it makes for a VERY long day when I have to get up at 7am, to get out the door by 8am to get to the Faire by 9am.

== Saturday ==

The Wikimedia Foundation Booth, at Maker Faire © CC-BY-SA-3.0 Slaporte

Blissful of the fact that I didn’t have to get up at 7am, I was on my way over to the Faire grounds by just after 9am. I rather quickly ran into a fair amount of traffic, about a 15mn wait, trying to get into the main parking lot. This turned out to be the really only irking part of the Maker Faire organization for the year. Last year you could buy a parking pass from the Faire (for Makers only) that was good for the weekend and got you into a “Maker Only” lot. This year, no such lot. It really sucked. They really need to bring back the Maker only parking… but oh well.

There wasn’t a lot to setup in the morning, but we had to put away the night sheets, make sure the computers were all good to go… the little miscellaneous stuff. I realized that morning that the internet was going to be “interesting” for the Faire, simply based on the download speeds I was getting (Firefox needed updating). Little did I know how “interesting” (Editor’s note: oh gawd, oh gawd, we’re all going to die?) things would be getting later.

The Faire opened at 10am with a line of people that ran completely out of the boxed ticketing area. At first things proceeded smoothly for us, but rather quickly we started to have issues with the internet. See, last year we had an Ethernet drop to use, this year we were on WiFi. Luckily all of our machines were WiFi equipped, but that doesn’t say much about the WiFi being equipped to handle us (and 80k of our closest friends). Fairly soon we started to have machines popping on and off of the WiFi randomly and by 11am we were full blown into what I call the “Great WiFi Debacle of Saturday Morning”. Even if the machines were getting on the Maker Faire provided wireless, we weren’t actually getting anywhere. Turns out that having several hundred Makers (at least half with computers), robots, electricity related projects and all sorts of projects that ran on things like zigbee which reside in the same unlicensed spectrum… does terrible things to WiFi. That doesn’t even get into the thousands of visitors, many of whom were carrying around WiFi enabled devices (cell phones, pdas, computers, iPads, etc).

Thank you god thatJack from WikiHow had brought a Verizon USB data-dongle. They setup a little WiFi network (to share between their two machines) and were kind enough to share with us. Granted, I only used it to keep our visualization machine on the air, but that alone was extremely useful.

Luckily, Brion (and Marti) were hanging out with us for the morning. Brion, being the uber kick ass dude that he is, whipped up an offline version of "Guess The Language" and installed it on several of our iMacs. At least we had something to show the visitors stopping by. In the end, it actually turned out to be extremely popular with our guests and we made sure to keep it up the entire weekend.

By mid-day, the Maker Faire network tech had managed to get our area an Ethernet run and a switch. The guy did a great job in the amount of time he had and the craziness (and size) of the Faire taken into consideration. Lucky for us, we happened to be in an the area of the highest computer density, so we got networked first. After we switched over to hardwired, we had no more problems with the internet for the weekend.

I'll admit, the rest of Saturday was sort of a blur for me. I wandered out and explored the Faire a little bit, mostly when I was making food runs. I didn't get to see a whole ton of it, but that was my fault. The Faire wound down at 8pm and it didn't seem that bad, Sunday would be a different story. There was trip to Japanese for dinner which is always a bonus in my book. Shortly thereafter, there was sleep for me.

== Sunday ==
Ah Sunday... I started even earlier than Saturday for a few reasons. First, I needed to get packed up and checked out of the hotel. Second, I needed to get to the Faire before parking sucked (again). Third, I wanted to run around and take pictures of as many of the booths at the Faire as I could before the gates opened at 10. I got to point 3 by about 9am, leaving me an hour. In that hour I managed to photograph everything in the large expo hall, get good coverage of the smaller (of the 2 large) halls and run all around outside. My casual cruise resulted in 470 photos. I think I amused many people in my spree because I never stopped walking (quickly at that). I aim, zoom, focus and shoot on the go. I sacrificed some quality, but in the name of speed... what can ya do?

The booth staffing wasn't quite as well balanced on Sunday as we had on Saturday, but it still worked out. Having 3 hour "shifts" definitely worked out for the better. With the fact that we were still hardwired, we didn't have any internet issues. The biggest problem we had, on the technology side, was the death of an LCD (which belonged to Phoebe). I don't know exactly what happened to the screen but at one point in time it just went off. I tried the standard IT diagnostics/fixes (sans rubber mallet, since I didn't bring mine) to no avail. We pulled it off the table and continued on.

While Maker Faire officially runs until 6pm on Sunday, things started to get slow by about 3pm. By about 5, everyone was ready to go home. I chatted briefly with our rear neighbors, Atoms & Electrons and he mentioned his desire to call it a day. I also noticed that one of the guys across the way from us at OpenChord (Kazoo hero?) look like he was about to fall asleep in place. I can't really blame them, I was itching to get out of there myself.

At 5:50pm exactly, we called it a day. Why? Because they came by and took our network away. No Ethernet = No Internet = No Wikipedia. I said "That's it, we're goin' home" and started unplugging things. All things considered, we got shut down and cleaned up right fast. We were completely out the door and on the way home by 6:45pm. I felt myself falling asleep on the drive back, I was that tired.

== Conclusion ==
Was it worth it? Hell yes. Was it awesome? Hell yes! Am I a little sad I didn't spend more time exploring the Faire? Yes, but that's my fault — I never spend enough time exploring it. I actually enjoy doing the booth thing. Will we do it again next year? More than likely. Will I run it again next year? I say no now, but I'll probably forget and do it again.