When I was asked if I would like to attend Maker Faire this year, I jumped at the chance. Several of my friends had been telling me how awesome it is over the years, but I never quite seemed to get around to going myself. So, as a n00b and wanting to be prepared, I asked Jon what Maker Faire was like. I was more than a bit surprised to find that he had a hard time explaining it to me. Even more surprising, this seemed to be a theme with everyone I asked. The consensus was that Maker Faire is just awesome, as if that would somehow convey everything I was asking in one word. Interesting. So, instead of looking it up on the Web, I decided to just go and see for myself. I was not disappointed.
Jon and I would be Volunteering with the Wikimedia Foundation to help run the Wikipedia Booth on Sunday. So, we started off by meeting at Starbucks at an ungodly hour so we could avoid traffic for both the Faire and Bay 2 Breakers. We arrived in San Mateo a bit over an hour before opening and headed in to setup the booth.
The first thing I noticed was the massive amounts of… stuff. I say stuff because I had no idea what most of the (still quiet) machines, robots, toys, and other things did or what they were doing here.
Was that a massive cupcake? On wheels?
After we setup the Wikipedia Booth, we went to go look around before opening. The hall we were in had booths from hundreds of different tech companies. From huge setups for Oracle and TechShop to small ones with arts, crafts, and projects for children to play with. There seemed to be a bit of everything, from electronics to spin art and handmade jewelry.
There was a “Bizarre Bazaar” loaded with booths full of handmade art, crafts, clothing, and even vegan soap. There was a Robot Petting Zoo and a disconcerting number of fully functional R2D2s scuttling about chasing small children (and Space Marines from Warhammer 40k).
The next open area had more of a Steampunk feel. All of the people running the booths were dressed in Steampunk attire whcih gave the place a distinctly Victorian feel. There were dozens of steam inventions displayed. Cars, bicycles, even a self propelled helicopter, and a steam tank.
Chevy had blocked off a large space to allow for Volt Test driving and there was a massive mechanical dragon that could breath fire, literally.
So to say I was impressed (and mildly disturbed) would be an understatement. At this point, we decided to head back to the booth, as it was close to 10 AM, and investigate the rest later. As we made our way back to the tech hall, we passed by one of the entry gates. There was a massive amount of people lined up to get in and they were literally being held back by the staff from entering early.
As we passed they began to count down the last 5 seconds until opening.
They descended in a mad rush like starving college students at a free buffet.
Once we made it back to the relative safety of the booth, things settled into a good working pace. We answered questions and gave information about the Foundation, its projects, and helped users learn how to edit and contribute in other ways to Wikipedia.
Some might think it dull, but I found it to be extremely rewarding. It was wonderful to hear how much people loved Wikipedia and how it helped make their lives easier. I enjoyed answering questions and hearing feedback from contributors, teachers, students, programmers, and engineers.
One of the most amusing moments was when I was checking out the exploratorium booth nearby (I was wearing one of the Wiki T-Shirts and a Wiki vest) and a girl pointed me out to her mom and said, “Look Mom, that girl is Wikipedia!!!”.
After a few hours I took a break for lunch and got to wander around more. The Faire had definitely gotten busier. There was a “classroom of the future” hall with interactive technology for children and classes on how to make apps. A hall about sustainable foods and classes on how to can and preserve food, along with a booth about harvesting honey and keeping bees.
There was a small caravan of Steam vehicles milling about in the general vicinity of the lock picking classes. (I will SO be taking that next year)
Outside, there was live music everywhere. Working sculptures that could spout water or fire (or both). Beautiful metal work…
And a roving Steam Tank that was chasing the Cupcake Cars around.
One of my favorite halls was the DIY Kits. There were literally thousands to choose from. Everything from building your own robot or electronics, sewing and growing mushrooms to making your own beer and pickling vegetables.
One thing that really stood out to me was how well staffed the event was. There were crew members everywhere – helping with demonstrations, security, children’s events, and setting up the stages for performances. Everything was very orderly (or organized chaos, if you prefer) and all of the staff were extremely polite and helpful.
The next thing that surprised me was how kid-friendly Maker Faire is. Almost every single thing there was hands on and there were hundreds of activities and classes for children to participate in with their parents. It was really interesting to see, as usually at big events children are barely even considered at all, aside from the odd play center or day care area. Here they were allowed to have just as much fun as the adults; they were not left out of anything. The exploratorium had a huge booth in our hall and there were hundreds of toys and kits for them to play with.
There were plenty of toys for the adults too. One of the best was the Vintage Gaming Museum. It had hundreds of different gaming consoles and games from PC gaming to 8-bit Nintendo. You could even adopt retro games.
The whole thing was actually extremely exhausting. There was so much to do it was a blur. As the day ended, our group had one more thing to look forward too: the Solar Eclipse.The Eclipse was starting just as we began to pack up the booth, so we took turns going outside to watch its progress. The Eclipse itself was an awesome thing to see, but it had an unexpected side effect. As it became darker out, the shadows cast by trees, people and objects became blurry and exaggerated. This made for some really cool effects and we ending up having an impromptu shadow puppet show of sorts. Check out what the Eclipse did to the shadows of this tree:
So all and all I must say that my first experience at Maker Faire was a blast and I will definitely be helping Wikimedia out there next year.
And as to how to describe what Maker Faire is to someone who has never been… It’s. Just. Awesome.