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Maker Faire, NYC 2013 Was A Family Affair

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 09/24/2013

I’ve been at every New York Maker Faire now, except for the first year—and that’s only because my wife was very pregnant that month, and I missed year-one in solidarity. That was NYC 2010, but I’ve been to 11, 12 and as of this past weekend, 2013. The good ol’ faire is a-changing… becoming even more family-friendly and mainstream—and that is a good thing.

I long for a world where geeky science projects compete successfully with vegetative pop culture distractions. We have achieved it, or at least have an awesome start. As a kid, I tried building robots, radio-gadgets, and all manner of superhero accessories. Wow, if I was growing up today with what we now have… pshwew! Maker Faire is the geek promised-land, if you’re the brand of geek to whom making is a bigger thrill than comic books.

Suffice to say, I believe in what the Maker Faire represents, and I plan for my kid to get the best of it too. The Maker Faire is an annual part of her official education now, so far as I’m concerned. And thankfully, I am blessed in having a wife (who some of you know as @jewyorican or @elboombito) for whom this matter was an already settled issue. Were I not to insist on getting our butts to the Maker Faire, she would. We are a geek family.

It’s finally, the year for a 3D printer As such, our kid seems to be destined to be exposed to all that was maker/hack/geek culture. Yet, I’ve rested certain expenditures and distractions over the years. Most notably, I’ve forcibly made myself pass-over 3D printers each year. In 2011 I made myself pass on a tiny brushed-metal refrigerator-looking thing for $900, but I forget the company name. In 2012 I talked myself out of a $1,500 Affinia. The unit was rugged, idiot-proof and awesome, but for some reason I couldn’t pull the trigger. Well, this year, the $299 assemble-it-yourself PrintRBot got me.

But back to the general faire and kid-friendliness before we talk the PrintRBot purchase. This year, right from the field adjacent to the main entrance when you walk in, there were young-child-friendly boat-races from milk-carton boats, there was a giant pink elephant to paint, there were sit-down rest tables in abundance, and far more and better food than in years prior. If the family needed to split-up, because daddy wants to hear some engineer speak, there are good places for the kids to go be engaged in something maker-y. Even if that’s food…

Oh, the food! There was some real good ethnic future-comfort-food here. I would go as far as to say that the Octopus and Shrimp balls from the Teriyaki booth is some of the best street-food I ever had, and I will be actively seeking them out in the future. I took a pic, and I crave it right now looking at it. These are some of the first things I noticed about the faire in 2013: the food and the kid-friendliness.

Purina’s The True Nature of Cats: Social Media? So, what exhibitors were tuned-into the #makerfaire hashtag and reaching out? Purina! I am happy to see that a company that I heavily support with my Amazon Prime Meow Mix and Beneful subscriptions is so tuned into me culturally. They recognized the location of the Teriyaki fish-ball stand from my food-tweet, and said we’re right near them. But by this time our almost-3-year-old daughter already discovered “the cat booth” and was making her way into the “being a cat” photo booth.

Adi Cat

Purina’s booth consisted of (among other things) a costume photo-booth where you could stick your head and hands in hole and look like a cat on the other side—paws and all. You then have a series of pics taken that become BOTH an animated gif they will email to you AND printed-card you could carry away with you. The general theme of the booth was how to make your cat work a little bit for their food to satisfy their natural hunting instincts. So, thanks to Purina, even just the first thing we stopped to see made the entire trip a success from that point on, from a family-man point of view. This was actually going to be fun for the whole family!

The whole family watch a presentation on bug robots… almost all the way Next, we listened to a talk by a PhD student about the march-towards bug-sized robots. If you think today’s drones raise issues, wait until these bug-sized things are ready for prime time… I’ll tell you! He was a pleasure to listen to, and gave good advice about how to do some of the hobbyist versions of the million-dollar experiments that he depicted in a series of videos he showed of the state of tiny robots.

The bit in this presentation about soft-bodied robots was particularly interesting, in that they are mobile, yet have a rubbery sort of resilience that could survive a hammer-strike in a way that would obliterate to smithereens the tiny precision-machine milled bee and cockroach robots. Running with 6 legs, by-the-way. reduces the processing power required to control running. Nature has some sophisticated designs.

My daughter lost her concentration maybe maybe about two-thirds into the bug-robot talk and stepped out with Grandma to discover and buy just about the coolest bear-hat you’ve ever seen in the crafts section. Adi slept in this hat the first night, and is still donning it and growling like a bear and bowling people over with cute. In addition to learning how to make things, the Maker Faire is a wonderful outlet for people who do make things, and are looking for an audience who can really appreciate it. Products being shilled at the Maker Faire have to be pretty genuine. We got some items that will be an important part of her life—starting with her new favorite hat.

Doing our part for the economy Speaking of purchasing for Adi… last year, we met Debbie Sterling in her tiny kickstarted booth with her GoldieBlox product prototype lego-like storybook vaguely turing-machine-like building block game for girls. This year, we actually picked up a real boxed finished-product from the Maker Shed—the cute name for the tent where the Faire’s own marketplace resides—and have a product we were impressed by last year, this year in our possession. Ah, the impulse-purchase Maker Shed, with it’s sound of Cha’ching! Cha’ching! This is where I met Brook Drumm, the founder of PrintRBot.

In the Maker Shed, I was enthralled by the first 3D printer that I saw that had the 3 following qualities simultaneously: It was tiny, it was a beautiful object, and it was cheap! I told him that on my 3rd year on the fence regarding 3D printers, it was finally his product that made me take the plunge. Upon hearing this, he immediately thrust out his hand for a handshake. It feels good to directly support entrepreneurs who took the plunge and are chasing their maker-dreams. Thinking about GoldieBlox and PrintRBot Simple, I get the chills thinking about their paths into my and my family and child’s life, and the role they are going to play in her development. Thanks, Debbie and Brook!

Another interesting device I came home with is the BioLite Stove, which burns wood chips and its own smoke to make heat for cooking, and to even generate a little bit of electricity delivered in a USB port for convenient phone charging—as a bonus. This is the THIRD example of things we actually bought instead of actually make… but my daughter did make a bunch of crafts, everywhere from the LittleBits booth where she magneted together parts to spin and buzz to the boat-race exhibit where kids essentially used trash for hours of entertainment.

The Maker Faire is now an annual part of my child’s education I can tell that with each passing year, the sophistication-level of what Adi can partake in will advance and color much of what I get out of the faire. Last year, Adi was barely able to appreciate watching the life-size Mousetrap that we found strangely anticlimactic, and even the Coke-And-Mentos synchronized fountain display. This year, she sat down and really made stuff. Next year, I’m expecting she’ll be able to zero in on favorite things, and before long, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s exhibiting.

So while it’s true, there was probably so much there this year, that any one of the specialty tents would be enough to keep you occupied all day, and even both days isn’t enough to absorb everything the Maker Faire has to offer these days, it is surprisingly easy to take your whole family here. The food was good. The makers were there in person to demonstrate and share their passions with you. And organized events put the little ones on the right path to becoming little makers themselves… or shall we say, never lose the maker spirit that is already naturally inside of them.