Trip Report: Mini Maker Faire Ottawa 2012

NOTE: This post has been sitting as a draft for the last few months. Rather than extensively edit it and thus postpone posting, I opted to make minimal date-related edits and hit Publish.

I (Randy) had the pleasure of attending Mini Maker Faire Ottawa the weekend of October 13th. The Faire was reason enough to come, but the fact that I could also attend my friend Sean’s birthday festivities made the trip a no-brainer overall. I’ll try to break down the Faire itself below, and leave the birthday party itself to the participants, and not the general public (there were lawyers there, and you can’t trust those people).

Maker Faire Organization This was a very well-run Faire, from my standpoint. The location - Shopify’s lounge area - was just the right size for the number of exhibitors we had (though it did get crowded at times). The organizers and volunteers were friendly and very helpful overall, but there are a few key points I want to highlight:

  • Tables: much better quality tables than at other Faires. Other places tend to go with your standard rental tables that are probably quite old and definitely covered in the pen-written ramblings of a decade's worth of malcontents, but these were nice and new. I suspect that they were Shopify's lunch tables.
  • Water: there were two bottles of water ready to go on our table when I got there. A very nice touch - I don't think we got anything like that at Detroit or New York.
  • Refreshments: the refreshments area was very reasonably priced - 50 cents for fruit or water, a dollar for a can of pop, a dollar for a chocolate bar or bag of chips. Also, as a Maker, I got some vouchers for the refreshment stand each day, which was really nice. When you're talking to people all day, plenty of water is required.

Overall, a very well-run show.

Other exhibitors I didn’t get a chance to talk to all of the other exhibitors, and definitely didn’t get to talk to the ones I did talk to for long enough. As much of a trainwreck that sentence is, I can’t think of another way to put it at this point. So a review of the ones I did get to talk to follows.

  • N-Product: their neighbourhood maps laser-engraved into reclaimed wood were beautiful, and the iPod Nano watchband with mini cassette-like loading and recovered bike tires for the band made me seriously consider buying the nano so I could get the band
  • Pelling Lab: lots of interesting DIY biology equipment, like an Arduino system to measure culture growth and a cheap way to make an incubator. The freakiest part was the apple modified to grow muscle fibers - all they really had to do was remove the apple cells with a detergent and infuse muscle cells, they differentiated and formed muscle fibers on their own, apparently.
  • Mod Lab: really neat project where they had people getting their names laser-cut in cardboard and added a blinking LED to it. Being an LED guy, I heartily approve, and the Mod Lab people I met were all really cool. If you're looking for an Ottawa maker/hackerspace, check them out.
  • Bibz: a video game for Xbox 360, HTML 5 or PC with artwork and level design driven by kids. Really, really cool. I'm wondering if there's a way to make a custom controller kit so the kids can drive that part of it too.
  • Everyone else. Every one was showing off cool stuff and was incredibly nice.

Our performance I brought four projects: Interro, StatusLight, the Christmas Ornament and a new one, Project Dickinson. They were all well-received. Those who work in cubicles immediately got the point of the StatusLight. A number of teachers and trainers liked the Interro, which just reinforces the need for field trials to start ASAP. The number of people wanting to buy the ornaments kind of blew me away. Overall, I have a lot of encouragement to start looking at commercializing these projects. That’s going to have to be a key goal for 2013.

A couple of the buzzers finally succumbed to overuse - the buttons in them died. An easy repair to be sure, but it probably means that the final Interro needs to use the 80 cent buttons, not the 20 cent ones. That’s going to raise the cost a bit, I think. I will say that they might have lasted longer had the same couple of kids not come by and slapped / leaned on them nearly constantly Saturday, despite my protestations. Maybe if their parents had been, you know, watching them?

Project Dickinson was well-received as a concept, but not as much in practice, mostly because it worked for about 45 minutes on Saturday morning, and never again after that. It also only started working about 45 minutes before the Faire opened on Saturday, so I probably just need to be more careful about bringing unproven prototypes. I’m holding off on describing it until it actually works, which will hopefully be soon.

Lessons learned

  • Bring spares. Both of project components, and entire projects.
  • Don't go it alone. Getting breakfast and lunch is important, and is very hard to do if you're the only one running the booth.
  • Take photos. I have two photos from this event. Should've learned this lesson in Detroit, but see above.
  • Booth location. Try not to get the booth directly adjacent to an art project for kids that very quickly turns into a barely-supervised playground.

Conclusion Overall an excellent Faire and well worth the trip to Ottawa. I plan to exhibit again next time!