Attending Maker-Faire for the first time – Part 1 (a summary)

The last weekend of July 2011 is over, and my first trip to Maker Faire is completed. I took my son along with me on a 500 mile roadtrip to Dearborn, MI to attend Maker Faire:Detroit at The Henry Ford. This summary, or review as it might be interpreted, is an honest recollection of how it felt to be an attendee for the first time. It may contain some overly critical reviews.

The event took place in the parking lot at The Henry Ford museum. Parking for the event was at lots across the street from the museum. The parking staff volunteers were extremely friendly, and I actually felt as if I was individually welcomed, as opposed to being another “head in the crowd.” I initially expected a friendly environment, due to the nature of the event, before arriving and I was not disappointed.

I do want to note one minor issue at this point. Upon entering the grounds, I was holding passes to get in. There was a line for pass holders and a line for those needing to buy tickets. Since food and drinks were bought using a coupon system, I was told that if I wanted to purchase food and drink, I cannot use the pass holder’s line because I needed to purchase my food coupons in the tickets line. So, I waited in the tickets line (as the pass holder’s line moved much more swiftly).Nobody told me that there are several locations in the event where I could buy food/drink tickets. Had I been told that, I could have entered the grounds much sooner using my passes. A little note for future event operations personnel, please don’t misdirect attendees so unnecessarily. All it does is delay the enjoyment of the experience.

QR Code used at the event to download Maker Faire:Detroit smartphone app

Eventually, I got in.

After passing a small tent containing a handful of replica classic vehicles, including one with a Benz Motorwagen Engine in it, along with those made in later decades to resemble original vehicles, I ended up face to face with the driver of an electric couch. I don’t know what startled me more at first, the fact that the couch is moving along almost on its own, or that it was such a gaudy 70’s color. I realized that it’s probably best to perform these kind of modifications on an older (the term “older” being a much understated term) style couch than to mess up the spouse’s fine living room furniture. I then turned to my son and said, “This is what Maker Faire is all about.”

I was in Zone 5, for those who are following along on the Maker Faire:Detroit smartphone app. Not to be outdone, one could find a self-propelled La-Z-Boy recliner, with umbrella, along with a large, mobile chocolate cupcake, sure to antagonize any dieter who also attended the Faire to get their mind off of snacks for the day.

Self Propelled Couch
The "I Rock" - Z!!
Snacks To-Go

We didn’t get to visit and spend time at all of the exhibits. I wanted to, but I also wanted my son to do the exploring for the both of us, so we mainly went where he wanted to go. As such, we did not attend any of the How-To events going on nor participate in a number of hands-on activities. Apparently, there was a wristband system in place where you were allowed a wristband which color coded you (or mainly, your children) based on acceptable level of risk. Certain events had a higher risk of injury and those with the wrong color wristbands would not be allowed to perform that activity. The line to get wristbands was quite long when we got to the tent, so we opted not to get a wristband and take our chanced being entertained by everything else that was there.

"Moore's Law aftermath" or "Resemblance of my basement"
Johnny Number 5 - "No disassemble!!"

One table, which did not require wristbands, was a table full of electronic  equipment (Zone 6). I don’t mean test equipment, I mean consumer and business goods like printers, music players, etc. The “junk” on the table was destined to be torn apart by anyone who had the desire to do so. If you were the kind of person whose Mother would always yell at you for trying to take apart your toys, this was YOUR exhibit. The vendors would give you a choice of the remaining items to choose from, hand you tools (yes, even without the safety wristbands), and let you proceed to disassemble the item (much to the chagrin of Johnny 5).

I only stayed at Maker Fair for one day. I asked the table vendors what is to be done with the parts people remove and they said that they will attempt to build something from them. I just wish I had a chance to see what was done with the parts. More importantly, I hope it helped event visitors come up with creative ways to re-purpose old tech gear instead of simply throwing it away.

The concept of DIY and “making” something isn’t just for electronic items. There are also many facets of DIY available for the home and garage. There were tents and exhibits demonstrating weaving, sewing, or looming skills of some kind. To be honest, I don’t know to what extent they were demonstrating such skills, my son and I were not really interested in it. We did get a glance in passing though.

Homemade Flywheel Engine

One exhibit I thought was interesting had the old Flywheel and Hit and Miss homemade engines which were being demonstrated (also in Zone 6). By homemade, I mean that old components were re-purposed into engine components. The engine shown here was apparently created using components of a steam system. I hope I got that fact completely correct. These engines, although very cool in their simplicity, were also very loud. I had some difficulty understanding what the engine owner was describing.

Zone 4 is where most of the hands-on activities and sessions were taking place. Oddly enough, this is one of the areas my son and I spent the least amount of time. The activities covered many facets of DIY from learning to solder, to basic arts and crafts. None of these interested my son. Then again, he’s a little like me, preferring to learn on my own rather than in a learning environment. We both get more satisfaction from figuring things out on our own. Therefore, there is little for me to report on Zone 4 activities, other than making sure we bought a marshmallow shooter kit before leaving for the day.


Zone 3 contained one of the biggest exhibits. It is also the one we were expecting to witness when we got to the Maker Faire event; the lifesized Mouse Trap. A massive mesh of safe dropping metal reminiscent of everyone’s favorite board game and Rube Goldberg machine. Although every component of the Mouse Trap game wasn’t represented, this exhibit shows what can be done with some ingenuity and lots of metal. It doesn’t take long for the entire contraption to complete its run from start to finish. There was a fair amount of showmanship with women in mice costumes before the final event. The contraption’s run ended with a 600 lb. safe dropping onto the bed of a small pick-up truck. To give you an idea of the impact force, I must have been standing about 50 ft. away from the truck and could feel the ground “thud” under my feet.

Elsewhere in Zone 3 were solar energy exhibits, Lost Arts (which I think involved soap and candlemaking, etc. I did not go to those exhibits), and some “Locally Grown” feature exhibits. I didn’t spend too much time in Zone 3. Many of those exhibits did not interest me, besides the solar exhibit, but I’m versed well enough on that topic from consulting my Dad on installing solar energy systems at his house.

Zone 2 had the MakerShed retail tent. I spent a considerable amount of time in here, looking for kits and parts to work on more project ideas. In the end, I didn’t buy anything for myself, not wanting to commit vacation monies toward something I could simply order online. I did however get my Son a solar toys kit. For most of the duration on the seven hour drive back home, I had various solar powered toys operating on the dash of my car. I also picked up a discounted subscription to Make Magazine, since they were offering it for only $20 at the time.

We got lunch while we were in Zone 2. The big cafeteria tent was located here. After waiting for a bit in the very LONG main course line (hot dogs and sausages), we decided to go to the “snacks” line, which was considerably shorter. There was suitable sustenance at the snack tent. I got a surprisingly tasty tossed salad along with a strawberry shortcake dessert. Since my Son is at that stage of growth where he eats like a bird, a heaping plate of nachos with cheese was all that was needed to satisfy his hunger.

Our lunch tent happened to have some entertainment running while we were eating. It was a sullen, two person band whose name I did not determine, as if I would ever buy an album from them anyway. I’m not saying that they weren’t a “good” band. I just wasn’t fond of what they were playing. From the gist of the talking they did between songs, I understand that all their instruments are homemade; including the Theremin that was sitting at a table beside them. Mainly, their instruments were homemade “guitar like” devices, along with whatever vocal harmonies they could belt out, all in sort of a medieval folk rock style (think 60’s, peace, love). There might have been some other instruments of the Felis catus variety which I could not see because some of the sounds coming from their end of the tent (opposite from where I was sitting) resembled the sound of someone stepping on cat tails. Live cats, that is… That observation was originally not my own, but a paraphrase of what I heard from a nearby patron. I just happen to agree with his statement. While I wholly appreciate the effort this band put into their presentation, along with the understanding that their homemade instruments reflects the spirit of the Maker Faire event, I just want to say what ultimately turned me off in the end. Note to band: Maker Faire is attended by both CHILDREN and adults alike. Please refrain from somber, detailed lyrics describing Vikings raping and pillaging small villages. This is NOT the forum to be singing about their plight!

This is the end of Part 1 of my Maker Faire:Detroit summary. The second and final part will be posted in the near future….

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