2 Weekends, 2 MakerFaires, 2x the Fun!

“Maker” is a moniker I’ve espoused for the last several years. While you could probably define it as a lot of things, to me it attaches art to science and engineering. With the increase in access to manufacturing and technology people can create in a way that previously required a full machine shop and electronics lab. What happens when you get a bunch of those people together in a field? MakerFaire!

Over the last month, I managed to attend two Mini-MakerFaires. MakerFaire is an organized Fair put together by local makers with a little help from Make Magazine. Early in  June my wife had a friend up visiting and they decided to take off to Washington for a fun-filled couple of days of hiking. So I had to figure out something to do.

MakerFaire: Seattle

Earlier in the week I had discovered that Seattle was holding a Mini-MakerFaire (not to be confused with the original in the Bay Area). With a weekend to myself, I packed into our SmartCar and drove up to Seattle.

There was a lot to look at, but a handful of things stood out to me.

  • By far the most impressive thing to me was this aquarium tank made by a group called Magnicians. This aquarium was filled with soapy water, and a lot of flecks of nickle. Also in the water were 4 electromagnets, attached to an amplifier outside the tank. By applying current to the magnets, they create a field and the nickle floating in
    the water aligns itself around that field. Shine some light on it and the effect you get is delightful. You can see the magnetic field!

  • Microsoft had a big presence at the Faire. Growing up I always thought of Microsoft as just a big, evil software company. It turns out they have a healthy, active robotics and hardware groups. Microsoft had a couple of robots on the floor wondering around. Their focus was around the Kinect. They had two robots wondering around, distantly followed by a keeper to make sure they weren’t abused. One robot carried around a camera. Once it got your head into it’s viewing area (detected by the kinect) it said “Smile!” and took a picture of you.The second robot, wearing a T-shirt was armed with a Kinect to follow your commands. By gesturing, the robot could take direction to turn, and come or go.
  • This simple machine proved to be a challenge for everyone I saw trying to use it. 4 pulleys and cranks attached to single hook. With a person at each side, you had to guide the hook around the eye of the block and somehow manage to get it into the arm of the unstable platform. Typically there were actually 5 people running this – one on each of the cranks and a 5th “leader” providing directions.

I had a blast. More fun than I imagined I would have had. So I was delighted when I read on Hackaday that Eugene (2 hours south) was holding their own MakerFaire a few weeks following.

MakerFaire: Eugene

The Eugene MakerFaire was a decidedly smaller affair than it’s Seattle counterpart. I somewhat expected this because Eugene is just a smaller city. Still, having arrived I had a lot of fun. The faire was held at a children’s Museum and “Exploration Dome” called The Science Factory. Indoors were the full contents of the museum which included a number of hands-on exhibits. There were displays on Unmanned-Aerial-drones and a Bee Counter.  There were just handful of “booths” outside:

  • Eugene’s Makerspace had a booth showing off at least three 3D printers. As well as mystery lockpick box. I spent tens of minutes talking to the women who was in charge of the 3D printers.
  • The Eugene Model Rocketry club had two different attractions to show off. The first was a hands-on activity: Build your own rocket and launch it! These Rockets were made of paper and a lot of tape. They’re launched using compressed air. The particular setup they had made used empty propane camping cylinders as air tanks and a sprinkler valve to control flow. The remote trigger used a cat5 cable that plugged into a custom handle with button.It turns out a lot more tape was necessary than I used. My rocket’s fuselage split apart on launch. We all had a good laugh.
  • The second attraction of the Rocketry club was that of real model rockets – specifically solid-fuel rockets. While we were there they showed off several different rockets. Among the more interesting ones were
    • A rocket designed only to fly up 15 – 20 feet. At the height of it’s arc it released two gliders which slowly made their way down to the ground.
    • A rocket carrying a UFO – this flipped itself over and fired a second rocket for a controlled landing

Both Makerfaires were delightful. For a few years now I’ve wanted to go to the big MakerFaire in San Francisco, the opportunities in Seattle and Eugene gave me a chance to experience a little of that while not having to make the trip so far out. I’ve been in contact with some individuals plotting a MakerFaire of our own right here in Portland. We’ve got a nice block of Makers to share projects and help others join the fray. Stay tuned for next summer.

 

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