This past weekend, I made a trip to NYC with my son, primarily
to attend Maker Faire 2011 NYC. This was my first time at a real
maker faire, and my first time at the Hall of Science in New York
City. The Maker Faire is a family-friendly event. IMHO, that means
school-age, as the under 5 set will get bored and tired fairly
The Maker Faire covered the gamut of things that people can
make. You had giant metal sculptures, a human-sized game of Mouse
Trap, soldering stations where you could build your own circuit, a
solar powered carousel, crafts and weaving, robots galore, a giant
swing with a waterfall timed to never hit the riders, alternative
transportation, 3d printers and much much more.
Yeah. A giant fire-breathing stegosaurus. You had to go sign all
your parental rights away for a special armband (appropriately
colored red) to let your kids climb on stuff like that. Of course
we did without hesitation :)
Once at the top, you could control the tail from one end, and
the head from the other. No safety equipment here; that's all hard
steel with squared off corners. Maybe that's why I noticed more
dads than moms here ;)
Microsoft @ the Maker Faire
Most people don't associate Microsoft with "maker" type stuff.
However, we have a lot of things going on there both in R&D and
in the CLR (where Micro Framework resides). I'm a huge fan of our
efforts here, as I just love robotics and gadgets. At the Maker
Faire, Microsoft was represented by folks from Microsoft Research, showing off cool things
with the .NET Micro Framework, Robotics Studio, Kinect and more. On
the Micro Framework side, the FEZ Spider, an implementation of the
.NET Gadgeteer, was the star of the show.
Microsoft had an entire tent, with a large Microsoft Research
Connections sign facing the concourse. The sign promoted the .NET
Gadgeteer, Kinect for Windows SDK, and Robotics Developer Studio 4
Inside, one of the first things you saw was the .NET
Gadgeteer table. There were a number of neat things on that
table from a touch-screen camera app (clear plexi) for creating
stop-motion video/flipbooks, a video game console, proximity sensor
and more. My son liked how they were easy to plug together, a real
bonus when compared to the arduino form factor devices I usually
Opposite the Micro Framework table was the kinect robot area.
Yes. Kinect Robot.
Here, my son (with fresh mohawk) is controlling a robot using
the Kinect. The robots are on the other side of the fence and have
on-board Kinects for vision.The robots were a version of the Parallax Eddie with Lenovo brains on-board
using Robotics Developer Studio 4 Beta which supports
the Kinect out of the box.
Another.NET-powered robot roams around taking photographs of the
people sitting opposite the robot area. I hear it was terrorizing
little children, chasing them around and snapping their photos
Oh, and freebies, of course. Here's Ben sporting a mohawk and
cool Robotics Developer Studio 4 shades.
What can I say? I love home manufacturing technologies like CNC,
photo-etching, 3d printing and more. I have a small CNC setup at
home. I haven't build a 3d printer yet, but you bet I will. The
resolution is starting to get pretty decent on those. The machines
varied from plexiglass to ones built RepRap-style with simple rod
and nut assembly, to large ones with milled aluminum, linear
slides, and 8020 extrusions. Some were even themselves made of
parts that were made by other 3d printers.
Here are a few of the more interesting home made and kit-built
3d printers in the "3d printer village" at the Maker Faire. Maybe
I'll wire up something cool with .NET and show it off at a future
And here is a selection of parts made on the 3d printer at one
particular table. I picked a few up; they're sturdy and usable
right off the machine.
On day 1 (Saturday) we spent the entire day at the maker faire
(11:00 on, as we stopped at Fao Schwartz after arriving at 9am on
the train). It was exhausting, but enjoyable.
New York City in General
The hotel we stayed at was not in the greatest area in Queens,
but it was an official Maker Faire hotel. We walked from the Faire
to the Hotel before supper on Day 1. Ben got to see his first rat
that day. I wanted to make sure he had a better view of NYC than
that, so we did a ton of stuff the afternoon of day 2.
Having purchased end-of-day tickets for the Statue of Liberty a
few weeks before, I knew that they wouldn't allow anything larger
than a small backpack. That meant that Ben and I had to travel
light, with everything for the weekend (including purchases) for
both of us stuffed in my work bag. My shoulder is still sore ;)
In the second half of day 2, Ben and I took a look around
Manhattan. He had been dying to see the Statue of Liberty in person, so that was our
main goal. Being Sunday and September, we were also able to get up
to the top of the Empire State Building with almost no wait. The
wait is typically a few hours as I understand it. (Ben was
disappointed that the mooring mast was not actually a giant laser,
as he thought when he heard the name "Empire".) Seeing New
York through the eyes of a 5 year old is a new experience. Having a
child with you seems to unlock your own ability to rediscover and
enjoy what you see. I had a great time at both spots.
In our short time in the city, we caught:
- A parade of revolutionary war drum and fife playing the Star
Wars theme song
- A full-blown parade with floats for a Mexican celebration
- The view from the top of the Empire State Building
- FAO Schwartz (you can't bring a 5yo to NYC and not stop there).
I did draw the line on getting the 2' long lollipop, though.
- The Statue of Liberty
- The new One World Trade Center under construction, up
- A protest in the park near 1WTC, complete with hipster standing
on top of a box, shouting
- A 2 hour 45 minute train ride between Baltimore and NYC.
- Many city taxi drivers :)
- Oooh oooh that smell