surviving a Maker Faire expedition

it’s better than the circus, the local carnival or a parade. the Maker Faire has been held at the San Mateo County Fairground since 2006. the event has changed over the years. it gets bigger adding more vendors, talks, exhibits and interests to a growing crowd that doesn’t seem so much like a crowd because everyone is there to learn and enjoy. some of the Faire seems more like a trade show than a faire and maybe that’s not a bad thing because it means that ideas have turned into businesses that are thriving.

lots of people see the Maker Faire as a technology event. but it’s not just tech. half of it is traditional crafts like sewing, screen printing, pottery, jewelry and many other “made by hand” things. all of these skills also translate into the same skills you need for working on robots, cars, or making in general. when I was growing up sewing was something “girls” did thus I didn’t want any part of it until I got into backpacking trips where the sewing skills made things to help the trips work better.

I’ve been to the MF since the beginning. and while I have skipped some years (notably last year) I have plan that keeps me wanting to go back. and you’ll want to make your own plan because every expedition needs a plan. I think of the two day weekend as an expedition because there is a lot of ground cover and because it’s so big I want to make sure I know where things are before I get there because once you’re there it’s too late. you’ll see when you get there.

load your phone
there’s an app for the Maker Faire that works on iPhone and Android. it’s supposed to contain the schedule of the stages, has a map of where things are and is a gateway to other information. sigh. it might work better if it was self contained. but it’s web based. meaning there will be slow load times given the fact that 40,000 nerds and geeks will crush the surrounding coverage. but you don’t need that app.

copy / paste / collapse the information on the main schedule page of the and paste that into the notes section on your phone. make a page for Saturday and for Sunday. that way you’ll scroll less. take a screen shot of the Map, and drag that to a photo album so you can open it more quickly than a PDF. of course you could always schedule events that you MUST see in your Calendar with alarms set to remind you before they happen. 15 minutes is a warning is plenty of time to get to anywhere on the grounds.

get there early
it opens at 10AM but that doesn’t mean you need to wait until 10AM to travel. the road to parking lot was full enough that it took 40 minutes from the tail end to land in parking lot. so plan around that slowness. for example if you really want to see Adam Savage on Sunday at 11AM you really need to leave… by working it backwards. 11AM talk. 20 minutes to walk from the car to the hall. 40 minutes in traffic. 50 minutes travel time. 20 minutes for coffee and donuts. 2 hours 10 minutes is how much time you need to travel to ensure seeing half a Mythbuster.

another reason to get there early is that the workshops, hands on and kid building things fill up. but worse is that sometimes they run out of materials. if you want to fly a rocket, learn to solder or be part of other makes it’s best to be the early bird. I have never seen a more sad kid than the time I saw the volunteer say to him, “I’m sorry. We’re out of rockets.”

think of the Maker Faire the same way as you think about hiking. it’s a lot of walking, standing and some of it is outside. if you wear the same gear when you walk the Marin Headlands or Point Bonita Lighthouse you’ll be fine. if you wear the same clothes that you wear to make things be sure that your shoes are up to the task. if you need it spelled out here’s the short list: sunglasses, hat (optional but some of it is outside), layers depending on the predicted micro climate, walking shoes, pants with big or many pockets.

yes. bring your camera (or just use your phone), video camera, dSLR, Lomo, sound recorder, laptop (it better be something light weight). there will be lots of tech around you too. so don’t be shy about getting right in there with your tech. my take on this is try to travel light. take “a camera” not two. if your devices need lots of power consider extra batteries or make or buy a booster pack. while there is lots of power around the fairgrounds don’t assume that you can just plug in to what you find.

what to take
there are lots of things to take away from the Faire like flyers, brochures, posters, books, kits, kites, parts, toys, anything that you can buy… it’s all interesting right? thing is that interesting brochure becomes another and another then pretty soon you have a pound of paper in your bag. there are two things that I like to do to avoid paper: take a picture and make a note in your phone or notebook. all this stuff is on the web so you can avoid taking any paper with you at all.

before going on an expedition you should start that journey with a good breakfast. or at least a bagel and an apple. but don’t worry if you can’t because you run out of time there is plenty of things to eat. just about every space between the buildings has food of all kinds. you name it, it’s there. and none of it seemed outrageously priced. and for the planning ahead minded person there’s nothing stopping you from packing a launch for your backpack. or load the trunk cooler and feed the whole family.

drink water
there is water, water every where. the thing I noticed is that there are drinking fountains in almost all the buildings. bring your refillable vessel or bring plastic throw away bottles with you. there is always water for sale. sometimes that nicer because it’s ice cold.

a backpack is only going to make you miserable by the end of the day. so if you take a backpack with you make sure it’s more empty.

Saturday night
if you have the time stick around for the things that are set on fire.

don’t worry
there are so many things going on that you won’t be able to see everything. interesting talks sometimes overlap one another. it happens. the good news is that most everything is recorded so that everyone around the world can see. that way if you get stuck in traffic you’ll still be able to hear that guy. some of the demos run both days. meaning you can get a better seat tomorrow because you’ll have a better idea of what to expect.

it’s layers and layers. as #10 mentions there is so much to see that you won’t. but don’t skip over something because it “looks” boring. the table that held the most heavy metal ball in the world looked just like that. it was just a table with a guy standing next to a silver ball that looked like a baseball. everyone knows what a baseball weighs. it was a real surprise picking up this object. cool right? practically everyone missed it.