Trip Report: Mini Maker Faire Ottawa 2013

Mike and I took the pinball machine to Ottawa for the Mini Maker Faire there this past weekend. It’s my third time attending, and second time exhibiting, at this Faire, and this one was the best (and biggest) yet.

Getting there

Given that Mike had to get back from work before we could leave, and the amount of stuff that had to get done before we could get underway, we were destined for a late arrival from the start:

  • Pick me up in Oakville
  • Pick up the monitor I bought on Kijiji for the pinball machine
  • Load the pinball machine into the Exploder
  • Pack a bag for Mike

It was just around 8 by the time we left Mike’s. We hit some traffic on the 401, and wound up getting dinner in Oshawa once we got past it. Then we picked up some beer for the hotel room. Then we got on the highway, realized we needed gas, and got back off.

We got to Ottawa around 2:00 AM.

The Hotel

We stayed at the Courtyard Ottawa East. It’s a bit pricier than our usual for Maker Faire hotels ($130ish per night vs. the $110 per night in Dearborn), but it had a clean record for bedbugs, very good reviews on TripAdvisor, was reasonably close, and was built in the last few years.

The room was huge, as was the bathroom, and very well equipped. We’re talking LCD TV, mini fridge, microwave, bar area, plenty of outlets on the desk, HDMI port near the desk for the TV, and a few chairs around the room. The wifi was fast and had decent signal strength. The beds were quite comfortable. Overall, I was happy with the place.

Our hotel room, part 1 Our hotel room, part 2 Our hotel room, part 3 Our hotel room, part 4 Our hotel room, part 5 Our hotel room, part 6 Our hotel room, part 7 Our hotel room, part 8 Our hotel room, part 9 The ramp The ramp, part 2 That ramp, again

Our exhibit

We were outside in a tent this time. Given the cooler weather, this was far more bearable than 2012 in Detroit. It also helped that the Faire had volunteers going around offering Makers bottles of water throughout the day. I seriously have no idea why other Faires don’t do this - Detroit was a bit better this year in having discounted water for Makers, but it was only in one area, and it’s hard getting away from your table. Huge thanks to the organizing team and volunteers for doing this.

For the first time at a Faire ever, we had an Actual Tablecloth, rather than a disposable plastic one. This looks much better, and if you find yourself ever exhibiting at a Faire, get yourself to Walmart or wherever to pick one up. On said table, we had some photos of the inside of the machine (since it was playable once we had power), a blank Base Board for demonstration, our spare Pi with CANbus board, and a flipper assembly. We also had the monitor and keyboard for the Pi in the pinball machine.

Our area in the tent had a few problems. It was getting kind of warm for a bit until someone took down the side of the tent to open it up. That solved that issue. We also had no power for the first couple of hours on the Saturday, though the museum crew got that sorted out. The biggest other issue was that the gravel made for a tricky time levelling the machine. We wound up lifting a corner to push gravel under the leg to get it close, but there was still a slight twist that made getting the play field in and out a bit tricky. Overall, though, we were happy with our arrangement.

People love pinball. We were busy almost constantly, though we did have time to play a few rounds ourselves. Next time, we’ll have to bring a stool for kids to stand on. It seems some kids are slightly too short to see over the edge of the machine, and while they’re interested in pushing the buttons, they can’t see what’s going on. The machine worked well, with the 30V supply cutting out a couple of times, and the CANbus dying twice. We know there are issues with the CANbus driver we’re using in Linux, but there’s an alternate one, so I’ll have to try that. As for the power supply, its replacement is already on the way.

People were also asking a lot of questions about the LED nametags, so I’m going to have to get those done and documented soon.

Unlike previous adventures, we have actual photos of us in the booth.

Mike playing pinball Mike and his baby Mike and AF-TOR Randy playing pinball Randy, still enjoying a game Randy, with the machine

Other Makers

In a stark departure from previous Faires, we actually got around and interacted with other Makers, and even got some photos in the process. This list is by no means exhaustive - this is based on what I was able to get to, what I remembered to take photos of, and what I remember enough of to actually make comment on. I am definitely missing some cool stuff in this writeup. I know for a fact that I completely missed seeing Piper, so there’s got to be more I don’t know I didn’t see. Check out the Faire’s site for more of the makers.

We’ll start with our neighbours:

Jeff Murchison

Jeff was right beside us, showing his Arduino-powered foosball table - sensors in the table transmit scoring data to an overhead scoreboard wirelessly. The table was a huge draw. He also had some kits for sale - a Simon Says game and an Arduino ISP programming shield. Neat stuff, and a cool guy. Jeff’s stuff can be found at

Jeff Murchison's foosball scoreboard. Jeff's table and signage Jeff's table again Jeff's foosball table

Richard Maurice and Marc Adornato

Richard is radio collector - he told me he has in the neighbourhood of 400 antique sets - who restores them to working order. He’s got some very beautiful specimens. Some of the ones he can’t restore, he winds up using to fix other ones. He’s been doing it for about 30 years, and knows a great deal. He was showing me one unit that was made by Rogers. That would be Ted Rogers Sr.’s company - he who developed the first radios that could run off of AC power in the early 20th century. Rogers Sr.’s son went on to start Rogers Communications.

Others that Richard can’t restore, he gives to his nephew, Marc - an Ottawa artist. Marc combines the antique cases with modern electronics to add MP3 playback, Bluetooth connectivity or DVD players to them, mixing new technology and beautiful old wood enclosures. Really nice stuff. More of Marc’s stuff can be found at

An antique Rogers radio The Rogers nameplate Wait, that shouldn't be flat... Inside the TV Bluetooth radio Behind the Bluetooth radio


ParLUGment is the Ottawa Lego User’s Group. They were showing a variety of different constructions from their members - some gigantic, some intricate, all awesome. I don’t know why, but I especially loved the OCTranspo bus. More on their stuff at

OCTranspo bus IMG_5862.JPG ParLUGment Lego! No! Very tall tower Very tall tower 2 Dutch Canal Houses Dutch Canal Houses 2 Jedi base, I think

Ottawa Robotics Enthusiasts

The ORE were divided between a table in the tent, and a picnic table outside under a smaller tent. Inside, they were showing off a couple of small robots. These included a balance bot and a colour tracking system from a member whose name I didn’t note down. He used an STM32 F3 board, which I’m going to have to get one of after seeing what it’s capable of. Another one inside was a small line following robot with a PCB as the frame, from Robotpile. Didn’t get any photos of that, unfortunately.

Outside were a couple of guys showing some bigger robots, including three firefighting robots, for the Trinity College firefighting competition. These were really neat - UV sensors for flame detection, thermopiles for temperature tracking, sonar for object tracking, and lots of processory goodness for tying it all together.

More info from

Balance Bot Colour Object Tracking Fire-fighting robot, part 1 Fire-fighting robot, part 2 Fire-fighting robot, part 3 Fire-fighting robot, part 4 Fire-fighting robot #2 Fire-fighting robot #3 Fire-fighting robot #3, part 2

Lumipendant Firefly and Squirrel

Darcy Whyte (, Michael Grant ( and Mark Stephenson ( were showing off the Lumipendant Firefly, as well as Darcy’s Squirrel elastic-powered airplanes. The Firefly is a battery-powered, Arduino-driven, wearable LED pendant that communicates via infrared, allowing each one to evolve its own behaviour based on the social interactions of the wearer. This is going to make a huge splash at the upcoming Nuit Blanche Ottawa Gatineau. Naturally, though, I forgot to get a photo of the pendant.

More information on the Firefly is at

InventorArtist's Squirrel Rubber Band plane Michael Grant and Darcy Whyte

Rimstar’s 555 Music Box

Steven Dufresne was showing a very cool music box, sort of a 555-based player piano. It uses a paper tape to hold the “program” with slots cut in it. Copper wires for each note act as contacts, and when a slot comes along, they make contact, hooking up resistors to a 555 timer to generate the desired note. Very neat build. More of his stuff at

555 Timer Music Box

Enigma machine

Just Some Guy Productions (no website, sadly) was a family exhibit, with a very cool Enigma machine. PIC-based using a PS/2 keyboard and an LCD, it’s a compact little unit and a lot of fun.

Enigma machine (on) Enigma machine (off)

Engineeringshock Electronics

Engineeringshock was showing a bunch of kits they’ve developed, including a supercap charger that they’d integrated into a flashlight, some paintball-related props, a laser tripwire system, and a few kits involving a speech synthesizer. Really neat stuff, and Patrick and his business partner (whose name I missed) were cool to talk to. I’m definitely going to check out more of their stuff.

More at

A bunch of kits from Engineeringshock Super Capacitor Battery Charger Laser Tripwire Laser

The Creepy Eyeball

Andrew Macdonald took OpenCV, a MacBook Pro, a webcam, some servos, a Phidgets servo controller and some very nice construction to make the Creepy Eyeball, which certainly lived up to its name. It tracked faces and turned to look at them. The iris around the camera only enhanced the creepiness.

Creepy Eyeball Creepy Eyeball 2

The Puck Mill

Rich Loen’s Puck Mill was possibly the most Canadian thing I saw at the Faire. It’s a CNC router designed to engrave custom designs into hockey pucks. A very clean build with a custom controller complete with E-Stop, it was mesmerizing to watch as it did its work. He and his son were running the machine for basically the entire Faire, and were kind enough to give Mike a very special two-sided puck of his own.

More information at

Puck mill Puck mill A puck and its owner Puck mill Puck mill Mike's puck, side 1 Mike's puck, side 2

3D-printed arm

Students from Carleton’s HCI lab were showing a Servo-driven 3D-printed arm. By the look of it, the printer they were using was a lot smaller than the arm, so there’s a lot of individual pieces that have to be designed, printed and put together. I’m looking forward to seeing the whole thing wired up.

More at

3D-printed arm

Kobo Mini hacks

Yagnesh was showing off some Kobo Mini hacks. To be honest, when I saw this on the list of Makers, I thought that we’d see a console on the screen and little else, but I was surprised to learn that there’s a decent Cortex-A8 processor in there, and that the hacked apps - he showed one for OCTranspo schedules - looked actually quite nice, with decent, crisp typography. Apparently even running hacked apps, the thing lasts a month on a battery (so long as it’s not running constantly). I was impressed enough that I ordered one as soon as I got home.

More from Yagnesh at

Notes on Kobo Mini hacking Kobo Minis Kobo Minis, covered and uncovered


I didn’t get a photo of Enviables, but I do remember talking to them last year, when they were showing off an Ultimaker 3D printer. Apparently they’ve developed some interesting new ways of 3D printing jewelry, casting metals out of the 3D printed plastic. A very cool looking booth - very professional, but still fit in - and I wish them a lot of success.

Their site is

Team 2994

The robot from All Saints High School, I saw twice. Once, it was tossing frisbees on the front lawn. The other, it was inside, doing chin-ups - apparently they have a pyramid that it can climb - and generally looking menacing. Well done, team.

More from

Team 2994's robot


Ecotonos, I didn’t get to see much of - I talked to one of their guys about a small Persistence of Vision gadget they designed. It’s been used in a variety of protests for spreading messages but being easy to conceal, and can go on the spokes of a bike wheel to display messages as you ride. It’s Arduino-based and Lithium Polymer-powered, and they’re looking for a way to make it powered by the bike.

They had some other stuff, including a 3D printer on display, but they were busy with a bike generator while I was there and I sadly never made it back over.

More from Ecotonos at

Bike-mounted POV display More bike-mounted POV display

The Venue

I got to see five areas of the museum: the washroom, the hallway, the café, the indoor exhibits area, and the train roomlocomotive hall, where the Maker Mixer on Saturday was held. The food was both tasty and not terribly overpriced (a win), and the museum exhibits that I saw on the walk by looked interesting. I’ll have to head back one day soon and check out the museum itself. The staff were friendly and helpful to the Makers.

It’s not too hard to find the museum - it’s on St. Laurent, and it’s probably the only building there with a lighthouse, rocket and locomotive out front.

The actual Faire setup was a tent for some exhibits (like us) and an indoor area for other exhibits. There was a bit of a hike between them, which the organizers indicated with spray painted (probably actually chalk, since it was wearing off) “M”s and robots forming a path between the two.

The tent area Crowd, part 1 Crowd, part 2 Locomotive Locomotive, locomoting Banner outside the tent

Also, because I have nowhere else to put it, here’s a video of the keychain jar at the information table lighting up when you touch it - something I think STEM Design Lab had cooked up Aitor and Kira cooked up (thanks for the update, Britta):

Faire Organization

This Faire was very well organized. We knew where we were going to be about a week before the Faire itself started, and on our arrival, each table had a labelled gift bag with buttons for each member, and a coupon for admission to the museum. Volunteers brought by water for us often (as I noted above) and plenty of people offered to help as we moved the pinball machine in and out. Power issues aside - hey, technical glitches happen - everything went very smoothly. There was even security arranged for the exhibits so we could have left the machine overnight, but we thought that dew might wreak havoc with the system and preferred to keep it in the car, underground at the hotel.

This Faire was also bigger than last year’s - staggeringly so. Last year was maybe a dozen makers, and this year was three or four times that many - I’m not sure of an exact count. Really impressive that it was still as well-run as last year. It was mentioned that there were more Makers there than were listed on Mini Maker Faire Toronto’s list, which is a huge feather in Ottawa’s cap. Attendance topped 4000 this year, I’m told - I think it was in the neighbourhood of 2000 last year (WRONG - SEE UPDATE BELOW). Predictions for this year were 3000 attendees, so congratulations to the organizers!

UPDATE TO THE ABOVE: Attendance was 600 last year. I was way off. Final attendance was an ## astounding 4420 people. (see here and here, straight from Britta Evans-Fenton, organizer of the Faire).

Progress made at the Faire

Our projects evolved quite a bit at the Faire. Mike and I worked out a fair bit of game logic, frequently restarting the pinball machine as we finished another hack or two. Mike spent an hour or so Saturday night in the hotel room with the Raspberry Pi, monitor and keyboard, finishing some code that worked for the most part the next day. So while we had zero working lights on the machine when we started on Saturday, we had like five or six by the time Sunday ended. I also went on a bit of an eBay / AliExpress shopping spree back at the hotel, ordering an audio amplifier and some replacement LED bulbs for the machine.

I also made some progress on the LED nametags. These are a project I’ll have to document soon, but suffice to say that the last board was finished Thursday night, with the intention of writing some firmware for them on our arrival Friday night. Given the lateness of our arrival, that got pushed to Saturday night, and Sunday we had our names and the project name up in lights. I’ll have to investigate power usage and battery size, though, as the 2x2 Ah batteries I bought only lasted until mid-afternoon, with a static display and few lights lit. Might need to upgrade to 4 Ah units for next time.

Late night badge hacking Late night badge hacking, part 2 Late night badge hacking, part 3

The trip home

The trip home was largely uneventful, except for a long wait at the OnRoute just past Kingston. We really should have just stopped in Kingston - would have saved some time.

We moved the machine in or out of the Exploder six times this weekend - six. It’s one of the heaviest pinball machines ever made, I’m told, and though removing the old power supply’s transformer lightens that somewhat, it’s still really heavy. We’re getting WAY too good at moving it.


Mini Maker Faire Ottawa 2013 was a very well-attended, well-organized Faire, and we had a lot of fun there. I’m really looking forward to seeing how big it gets next year. The pinball machine was really well-received, and worked really well. My name badges were also well-received, which is giving me some ideas.

Thanks to the organizing team, and to the sponsors, Design 1st, Macadamian, Magmic, Shopify, Goethe-Institut, Artengine and of course the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Other coverage

Random Photos

Here are the photos that didn’t fit anywhere else:

Vacuum forming table IMG_5853.JPG IMG_5854.JPG Outside Red Lobster