In previous years Maker Faire has usually been inconveniently timed for me. However, this year was the exception since it followed a week after BayCon, when nothing else was grabbing my attention and for once I wasn’t in the middle of a mad flurry of con-prep. So I was finally free to get down there to take a look at what all the hubbub was about.
Thanks to Leigh Ann Hildebrand I managed to score some free weekend tickets from KQED’s giveaway on Twitter. Looking at the packed event schedule, I decided to go down on Sunday when the crowds would be a bit smaller. After a slow start due to some unfortunate transit mishaps, public and otherwise, I eventually made it through the gates of the San Mateo Fairgrounds just after one o’clock in the afternoon. The Caltrain Hayward Park station was very convenient to the fairgrounds, and I was just one of many folks taking the train down so the conductor was helpful in announcing the best stations to get off. Even without the announcement, my fellow travelers’ destination would have been obvious from the high number who were dressed or at least accessorized with home-made fashions. And even without the large crowds to follow, there was ample and clear signage leading the way. The weather was nice and sunny, if a little bit breezy, and the atmosphere very much like what I imagine county fairs are like.
The front gates had several large whimsical exhibits, including three big Doggie Dinner heads that seemed to fascinate passing children. After winding my way through robots, art cars,and a bunch of other attention-grabbing eye candy, I met up with Leigh Ann and we left her Leo to wander off his way while we checked out the exhibits.
The place was packed, much more crowded than I had expected for some reason — like a busy Saturday at WonderCon. A lot of the attendees were kids, and there were plenty of exhibits aimed at this audience including some carnival rides. This is a good thing and probably contributed to the county fair atmosphere, but it was a little less up my alley than what I had visualized. The lines for the food and beverage stands were also a little long, especially the beer which only seemed available from one vendor but which was admittedly pretty tasty, as was their root beer.
Among the crowds were quite a number of Steampunk outfits, as well as random costumes and a dizzying array of alternative locomotion including stilts, pogo sticks and some giant rolling cupcakes that weaved through the crowds. We ran into plenty of familiar fannish faces like Kevin Roche and Andy Trembley, as well as other local geeky peoples, mostly trending toward the computer and gamer circles from what I could see, although there was also an SCA presence. The EFF, Make Magazine and Instructables seemed omnipresent.
Exhibits of particular note for me were the giant Tesla coil, which I didn’t get to see go off unfortunately, the TechShop warehouse which was full of great equipment, and some of the larger outdoor exhibits such as the Neverwas Haul and a Snail Art Car which we later found out can shoot fire from its antennae, as well as the wonderfully photogenic centerpiece composed of giant spinning metal Angel Wings. Nearby was one of the stages on which a series of musical acts performed throughout the day including an old-timey Depression-era-styled band called Five Cent Coffee. We also wandered through the crafts hall, which had many interesting vendors selling all sorts of handmade bits and pieces and had a clothes swap going on, which was a great idea that I wish I had known about.
The big event for Sunday afternoon seemed to be the Mentos and Coke fountain, which a huge crowd gathered to see. I considered waiting and getting some photos but it took forever to start so I didn’t stick around for it. Besides, the concept was amusing enough but kinda old hat once you’ve seen it on YouTube, and although it’s a neat trick it’s basically a wasteful gimmick which strikes me as not particularly suited for the general hacking, making, reusability and sustainability ethos on which most of the rest of the Faire is focused.
I wandered over to the Homegrown Village, which was the area where gardeners, mycologists, homebrewers and the like were situated. We chatted with folks who were into micro urban gardening, which was really interesting, and we also managed to get some samples from the cheese and chocolate booths, both of which were very tasty. Eventually I was peckish and decided I’d take the opportunity to try that fairground classic, Funnel Cake. I got powdered sugar all over myself and felt a little queasy after eating half of it, but it was worth it.
The last event we saw for the day was in the main auditorium, where we happened to wander in just in time to see Jake Von Slatt take the stage to discuss why the 19th century is such a fertile ground for maker culture. He covered some of the points he had made at Steam Powered, and seemed to have polished his maker manifesto a little since then. It was fun to see him do his thing again. His enthusiasm is infectious and the man is incredibly talented.
Although I did enjoy myself and was nicely tired from wandering around looking at all the neat stuff, by the end of the day I felt like we had seen everything twice, which surprised me given the size of the event and the fact that I had really only been there about four hours. I plan to go again next year if I can, and will maybe try preparing a list of the things I want to see for a more focused exploration, perhaps making an effort to attend some of the workshops as well.
SF/SF Issue #88, June 24, 2009