Maker Faire 2019 Notes
Kick out Keurig!
The Rockafire Explosion
this is the animatronics from Chuck E. Cheese, reborn and playing all their old hits and what appear to be new one for passers by at Maker Faire. Kind of creepy, but Chuck E Cheese where everyone had at least one birthday party during elementary school where I grew up. They had both Tron games, Moon Patrol, Galaga, and lots more.
Crafted paper models and musical robots. Plus, a robot that will draw your fortune on the blank side of a paper. On the other side is the interpretation of the fortunes. From Japan. Musical robots were playing hauntingly familiar tunes but we just couldn't place them. Table-top in size, cleverly decorated and really well done.
Meccano is making some sort of comeback with updated designs of their parts. Colors and different fasteners. You could make a small project and take it with you from their tables.
Dassault was there. They were featuring Solid Works. Dassault has gone on a buying spree recently and has acquired several software packages ranging from 3D modeling to radio frequency modeling. Not all of the experiences recently with Dassault have been good, as the hobbyist license for the RF design software was curtailed without much notice. But the fact that they are at Maker Faire is very interesting. Maybe it's an indication that more open and accessible hobbyist licenses are in the works. Action Item: find out.
The shop tools area was crazy off the hook cool. Shopbot, Lightburn, Tormach, Avid. All demos had working robotic CNC machines doing all sorts of amazing things. Some of them are affordable. Some are financeable. All of them put powers into your garage or shop that simply were not available before. Long conversations occurred with Lightburn about Fashion Freedom Initiative work.
There are some faultlines here with what laser cutters they can support. For the one operated at colaser.org, Lightburn isn't really a solution right now. For the efforts at Fashion Freedom Initiative, it might be the exact right fit for the job, especially for leather cutting. We also learned about how water jets can cut many layers of denim at once.
There was a neat videocast called "Frank Makes" playing above the Avid booth.
Several things were being cut in the booths on the various tools as demonstrations. A Tori gate, furniture, plaques, and more. The larger machines all had at least fourth axis controllers installed.
Warhammer 40k Adeptus Sororitas Cosplay was in force! Nicely done. One little boy was too intimidated to have his photo taken with them.
I learned about Thingergy http://www.thingergyinc.com/ They do giant robots, space suits, makeup, trophies, and props. Several of their projects are things I've seen on television and in the movies. There was a contingent of prop makers in the Cosplay section, and all of them seemed to be professional outlets. One had a vacuum former in the booth and was showing how to make the components of a science fiction themed helmet.
One of the must-do items on the list for Maker Faire was to find and talk with everyone in the amateur radio section. It was marked on the map, and we found what we thought was the right place. The first table was Themis, a GSPDO for HPSDR. That was it. Or so we thought. We were wandering away from the corner in disappointment when we noticed an antenna through an open doorway past the Themis booth. This was the ARRL VEC where the amateur license exam sign ups were happening. It also turned out to be where people took the exam. Past the ARRL booth area was WW6BAY, the "Bay Area 21st Century" amateur group. They had a great demonstration with a variety of people volunteering behind the tables. SDR-based test equipment was the next table, with CalQRP and QRPGuys stuffed in on the edge. Bay Area Raspberry Pi Ham Radio Group was next with a lot of projects out on the table.
Elecraft was there, but no one was at the booth the first time I went through.
North Texas Microwave Group had a footprint and slide show, Bitx40 construction demos were out, K3s set up showing some sort of activity, and some low frequency gear. KX3 backpack deployment was shown with all the tricky bits done up with cord, so it looked ready to roll up and walk off with.
Finally, KH6WZ and "Not your grandpa's Ham Radio" was there. They had plenty of microwave and audio quality content, and were doing their usual promotion and explanation of modern amateur radio. I believe they had a HackRF set up and were explaining SDR, but that may have been the next table over.
I talked with Wayne Yoshida (KH6WZ) for a while about Maker Faire and the amateur radio scene. He's a familiar face to me since he's practically local to me in SoCal.
The amateur radio exhibits were off in their own room. The floors and walls and ceilings were solid concrete and the lighting was faint fluorescent. There was no signage and the event map made it look like the Themis table out in the main hall in the corner of the building was the only ham exhibit. We agreed that this was a huge step down from the location that the ham radio exhibits have been in the past. Compared to outside in the main space, it was practically deserted.
While disappointing in location, the content was pretty good. The booths were draped in SDRs and embedded processors, and did show how fun modern amateur radio can be - while there were people at the booths. There was not an obvious connection to the soldering workshop. Making waves was emphasized over making boards or circuits this year.
The "Maker Movement" seems to offer a huge opportunity for amateur radio. There are several organizations and publications in the ham radio sphere that have identified Makers and Maker Faires as new audiences. The Maker scene, as measured by Make Magazine in surveys, is young, well-off, and well educated. It's also overwhelmingly white and very male. There has not been, in San Diego, much traction between the Maker Faire scene and the traditional club scene. People that identify as makers and do anything with radio are quite often hams, but it's interdisciplinary. Amateur radio supports and is included within their maker activities. They are not going to join a club and comply with the traditional club scene activities and customs, especially when it's proscriptive and exclusionary or rigid.
The growing number of interdisciplinary hams in communities like GNU Radio and the Maker scene means that modern, digital, innovative ham radio is alive and well. But, these hams are not going to "save" any traditional pure ham radio organization with membership numbers, time, or dollars. The reason could be that people that make things in the (very) broad maker community are there because they have a focus on making and doing, and not being or belonging. Negativity towards digital electronics, digital modes, software, involving the internet, and an almost complete lack of interest in what's perceived to be "traditional operating procedure" are some additional factors. Traditional club scene ham organizations are perceived as not "doing" anything or "making" anything. This is not universally true, at all, but there are a lot of clubs that are monoliths devoted to passive consumption of commercial gear and only operate traditional modes. The largest "club" in the US is ARRL. They are perceived as publishing safe books about safe activities, and seem devoted to a silo of single-sideband HF. They are ponderous and slow and stay in their lane. Makers, if they know about ARRL at all, know them as the old white men in ball caps that administer the exams at Maker Faire (exams are good!) and lecture them about things like incentive licensing and ancient technology and "rag chewing" (this isn't great).
The non-traditional radio amateur is already familiar with and part of the Maker Faire scene. In some ways, the traditional club scene isn't really a great match with the makers.
After ham radio, I went back out to the main floor. The light was superior, everything was crowded, and the energy was completely different. I hope the hams get back out on the main floor. The closed off and dim room would be a not-bad support or logistics area for the Faire, or maybe a good place for a volunteer lounge. For exhibits? It's terrible.
Sugar Plush Sewing Kits zomg so cute I wanted all of them.
There was a robot booth that looked like it was Mr. Potato Head with LEDs.
Codermindz was next: "CoderMindz - A STEM AI board game invented by a 10-year-old girl to get everyone excited about AI and coding in a really fun way! Are you ready to challenge yourself and be a Code maker? Come play CoderMindz and learn AI and coding concepts!" Ok I tried it and lost.
Vintage Computers and Games exhibit from the Computer History Museum was next. It was mostly game consoles from the distant past, but there were some gems, up and running.
Midnight Science Club had a LOT of demos and kits and things to do. It had the vibe of "this could be part of your STEM curriculum" but for once that didn't take away from the feeling that it might be fun and involve at least a little bit of risk. Which, is my primary complaint about STEM-approved-worksheeted-to-death curriculum. No risk.
ReFLO "magic box" is on Crowd Supply right now with the tagline "The compact, open, and smart PCB reflow oven. Bake your dream!" Home reflow, people! I have two different ways to do reflow at home, or I'd be a customer I'm sure. This one is run from your phone.
Oh, what's that? Another reflow oven? Contraleo3. Oh and another! Well. Good!
Full size Nuka Cola power armor was next so I admired it for a long time.
Dark Angel and Ultramarine full size props from another of the Cosplay company exhibits really made my day. Warhammer 40k for the win.
It was raining hard but we braved the drops to head over to the "Homegrown" exhibit hall. This turned out to be all homegrown end products. Small batch fermentation, soap, pickling, micro greens, kombucha, and so on. I was expecting "how to grow" not "what I grew and want you to buy". There was one aquaponics demo outside when traversing to the next building, but the rain made it hard to stay, and it was a familiar design.
Chatterbox was next. It's an open source clone of Alexa that is safe (doesn't require internet) and aimed at teaching kids how to take over smart speaker assistants for learning. Learning what? Not clear.
The next thing was voted Most Likely to Be Done Here at Home. This was modular clothing. Basic shapes (rectangles, triangles) of fabric. Each panel ranged in size from about 1 foot to about 4 feet. All edges of the fabric panel (lightly quilted) were lined with snap fasteners arranged to where every other snap faced the same direction.
See where this is going?
Stacy Scibelli is the designer.
Look at this: http://stacyascibelli.com/
The shapes snap together however you like to make whatever you like in terms of clothing. Outerwear is the most obvious, but anyone making anything and putting it on the mannequin at the booth got their photo taken with their creation with a really nice setup. The one I saw a girl make was a full-up dress with structure. This was awesome and I am going to experiment and try it. The snaps were the same that I used for the reversible jacket I made for burning man. The kit comes with the tooling to punch down the snaps. Tedious but effective. I bet there's a better tool than "place snap here and hit with hammer then use other doodad to do the other side and crush inwards".
Seriously, this was a really *really* neat innovative and cool maker approach to textiles. More on this next time I sew.
This was cyberpunk fashion house stuff with actual glowing panels. I couldn't get close enough to see if it was really functional or just for show but it was darn cool looking. Either this booth or the one next to it had clothing made from pop tabs from soda cans woven together like chainmail with crochet binding them up in a really nice fabric with superior drape.
Next booth we saw of note was Jedi Training Device. You whack balls that come at you with a toy light saber and the scoreboard keeps track. There was a line across the front and around the side to try it.
"If you can't make it perfect at least make it adjustable" -seen on a t-shirt
Massive rain, all day.
We went to the Dark Room and wow Myriapoda! How did I miss this at Burning Man? It's an enormous millipede robot that walks across the playa. It was "on blocks" and "safely wiggling" at Maker Faire.
"While studying steam engines, David Date discovered a mechanism which mimicked the kinematics of walking insects and became the inspiration for Myriapoda Robota." They don't name the mechanism in the Indie Gogo page, but it's a familiar one from the mechanics handbooks. "Flat step, quick recoil". Trying to find the right name, but you can see it in the videos at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/myriapoda-robota-burning-man-honoraria-2018#/
The rest of the dark room was really great. "The Next Great Maker" had dolls with glass globe heads with textures on the bottom that were magnified by the sphere. Some had user-controllable LED lighting.
Axis Mundi was a small house with laser cut filigree wood sides backlight with huge numbers of diffused RGB LEDs. Inside was a kaleidoscope. Look at this: https://makerfaire.com/maker/entry/70103/ Very Burnery.
On to the other building! And Experiments in Space! ISS Above was there and we talked with them for a long time. Spheres is an ISS monitoring station. new updated versions going up soon. NASA, DARPA, etc. There's a code challenge for the space station sensor. People can enter their code idea and if it passes muster then your code operates the sensor pod on the ISS.
There was a booth with Electronic Cats. It was the closest thing to #badgelife that we saw. JACDA.
Next was IchigoJam. We ended up buying this. It's a small embedded board system from Japan that runs BASIC.
Beaglebone was there and will have Beaglebone AI in September. Yep! Artificial Intelligence. It's largely sort of taking the place of the X15. Also, there's a Beaglebone Blue for $67 tuned for robotics. Looked useful! They had "Exploring Beaglebone" new book out on the table (2019).
Are they giving up on the X15? "Not really". They say it's just the next generation. It's smaller - it's the same form factor as the rest. If you remember the X15 is larger. The AI is more versatile. Dual band Wifi and BlueTooth are included.
Microchip had a demo at the Arduino booth. It's "not wifi, not bluetooth, not LoRA". Yep, you guessed it. It's 6LowPAN. It took some asking to get that clarified, but it's 900MHz 802.15.4.
It's called MiWi and has lots of proprietary goodies from Microchip. The engineer showing it off was Bob Martin.
We're interested in 900MHz here in San Diego for a variety of reasons. In general, it's an underutilized band (as Faraday RF can attest) with excellent propagation. LoRA is wonderful, but tops out at something like 120bps. Gateway is required. The 6LowPAN stuff can (and does) mesh right up.
The board is a SAMR 30 with an M0x and a 900MHz transceiver. The UHF is done with a chip antenna. There was a small vertical on the board.
Hack-computer.com was there showing off their Chromebook competition. Looked really really nice. We got to meet the CEO. It's up for pre-order on amazon. Way nice demos and dashboards for some sort of scratch like programming. Kids were cluttered all around playing with the ones out at the booth.
Phase Dock "Project Dev Kit" was next. This is a way to make your breadboard circuit look nice for showing to (we presume) nontechnical people. https://www.phasedock.com/ Lots of 3d printed mounts, acrylic laser cut and engraved boxes. It was all very nice but not really something we would use.
Movi Arduino Shield is a speech synthesizer and speech recognizer. Speaker independent. No cloud, does it all on board. 150 full sentence commands. I bought one to see if it could help with radio accessibility on Phase 4 Ground. https://www.audeme.com/movi.html
GG Labs retro computing! Fun! Recognized everything they had to show off. https://gglabs.us/taxonomy/term/6
Nvidia Jetbots and Nvidia Nanos were prancing around at the Nvidia booth. So we asked to buy a Nano. They weren't selling! Nvidia had decided to come to the Faire only a month ago and didn't get their vendor stuff done in time, or had decided not to. We asked how many people had asked about buying the Nano and it was "a lot" with a grimace. Heh heh heh. Seeed had Nanos out but weren't selling any either. They were sold out on line. It's good because I bought a pile of other things and had yet to see the Spresence from Sony.
Phiz 3D Scanner was there but didn't look finished.
Itty Bitty City! Fun with robots!
Pockit Meter (pokitmeter.com) is a very very very small multimeter, scope, and data logger. It's narrowband so we admired and moved on.
Mozilla Webthings wants to remove all of your proprietary hubs for all your smart home devices and run them from your router. Great demos. Not convinced this is going to survive grumpy companies making it super hard to do this, and given the Nest collapse, this space is treacherous at best. We listened carefully for a while and there's a lot of thought going into this. Zigbee IoT at home but you control it.
Next was the "Product I Came Most Close to Buying Their Entire Line". Sony Spresence. Completely pro'd out booth with lots of Sony staffer types explaining all sorts of details with documentation and full demonstrations that were overbuilt in every possible way. The slide show looked like it had been honed from 12 or 13 industry presentations and the machine learning content could have been an ad on the back cover of IEEE Spectrum. https://dl.sony.com/
This is edge computing with lots of bling in a very small, very low power form factor. With lots of stuff like camera modules and the usual expansions. You can code up separate cores using Arduino IDE instances. This got some attention from us. It's called Multicore Development Environment.
nScope is a lab for every laptop https://www.nscope.org/ I meant to go back here but did not get a chance. It's a portable electronics lab, but it wasn't immediately clear what you get that something like the Red Pitaya doesn't already get you. Maybe more general case or less expensive.
The Piper Kit from Seeed was one of the more visually arresting things. The case is laser cut wood.
We rounded out the Faire with Drone Training and Battles. This was fun because I made friends with a very young boy and girl there with their parents. We discussed all the finer points of drones, flying, shapes, repercussions, and potential mishaps. The drones are in a big net area. There were Ball ones, VR drones, and quad copters. The ball drones and all the others did somersaults and had trailing cords and stuff to ruin other drones' days. If you can drape a cord into another's props then down they go. It took a long time for them to get organized for the last battle of the day, but it was worth it when the larger drones smacked each other out of the sky. There were a lot of self-owns of course, and the scissors lift came out at the end to disentangle a drone from the net way up high.
Of course had some Paella and visited the steam tractor. I recognized it from the playa. They had it hooked up to a generator that was running some Jacob's Ladders, but it wasn't going to fire it off in the rain. Flaming Lotus Girls were there with some recent fire art. The outdoor shopping booths were all buttoned up against the rain, so we unfortunately had to skip those.
The rest of the time we met with Phase 4 Ground and Fashion Freedom members, decompressed in the fancy hotel, and did some decisioneering about boards and parts lists for various things.
It was a great weekend with friends celebrating all things made. :+)