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Travels With Woot: The Maker Faire

by Scott Lydon and Sean Adams

This weekend, Seattle welcomed the 2012 Mini Maker Faire! Only two men were brave enough to represent Woot at such an important event… but they were too expensive, so we drafted Scott and Sean.

Scott's steampunky pistols were designed by Nina Jurczynski, and after the jump, you'll get the full story about what Scott and Sean, did, thought, and saw. Warning: you might just learn something before it's done.

Before the line was even formed, there it was. The chariot of doom we nicknamed DethTrike, designed by Gabriel Cain. It was a good omen for the adventure to come. For those who don't know, the Seattle Mini Maker Faire is a chance for the brilliant and the nerdy to gather and show off what they can do when freed from marketing directors, project managers, and lawyers. It only stands to reason that, in a situation like this, you can get away with a lot.

And that's the beauty of a geek gathering. If you know how to talk the language, you're embraced! If you don't but you're eager to learn, you're welcomed! Everyone at the Mini Maker Fair is there because they're doing something they love, and be it robots or fabrics or microwaving light bulbs, all you have to do is walk up and smile, and you're about to make a new friend.

You'll see more of this guy's invention in the podcast later on. Basically he wrote (in one night!) a sort of visual theramin, where motions translate into shapes from a laser. Great for video, terrible for still photographs. And that's a problem we ran into a LOT.

The very first presentation was "Unsafe Microwave Experiments" and it was full of beautiful chemical/electric reactions. But in still photographs?

Well, you at least get the idea. So our advice is to keep an eye out for the podcast, because it'll be a lot flashier.

However, we still did a lot of great stuff. For example, this robot that combines the scariness of an inhuman machine with the scarierness of a semi-human Bratz doll head! That's what that is, right?

In fact, it seemed like everywhere we walked, there was some new kind of robot. Some were driven remotely, like that guy above. Some followed their own programs, like this little dude in the food court:

Some just kind of wandered around with cameras, snapping pictures of only the most attractive, photogenic attendees. And others still weren’t so much robots as pieces of hand-made folk art.

Ken Judd makes these little guys out of reclaimed materials he finds or buys. They're adorable and each one is original. Check out his website and watch this space, because we'll be talking more about him soon.

On the opposite end of things were the D.I.Y. projects, such as this upscale cardboard box sun viewer. Everybody remember using one of these to check out an eclipse? Well, there's no design that can't be improved.

By adding a lens and a filter, looking around the sun need no longer be 100% blinding! Of course, you're also not getting 100% vision either, but it's more a proof of concept thing right now. Maybe in 2013.

Not only did the guy at Mosaicify have awesome wood-cut business cards that made us feel jealous and inadequate; he also had one of the most interactive booths at the fair, inviting passers-by to help them sort dice to create portraits of famous world leaders. You know, like Barack Obama or Elvis.

With the help of a dice-sorting program, anyone was able to break an image into 10x10 blocks, fill them with dice, and feel like they'd accomplished something. Perfect for that rainy day activity, as long as you have about 1200 six sided dice.

Naturally Sean decided to take advantage of the opportunity to do some arts and crafts. The soldiering booth didn't really hold his interest, but he had a lot of fun learning to sew!

As you can see above, it only took him a few minutes to sew a boring anti-bully t-shirt into a sweet anti-bully tote bag. Who's gonna have the best post-ironic accessory in the Whole Foods? That's our Sean!

Back in the exhibit hall, Scott was getting schooled by two very intelligent young ladies. Marielle and Kalindi took the time to explain the University Child Development School's Arduino boards and how they could be programed to make catchy little sound and light projects. Here's a quick visual explanation of the steps:

Understand it all? Yeah, neither did Scott. But these little kids could program, set jumpers, plug in the batteries, and do it all while running a booth. Thumbs up to the University Child Development School for making learning so interesting.

The team at Scrapblasters were also into reclaiming, but what they gave back were some serious speakers. The old trunk became a bass-heavy boom box that could have flattened the room, and their vacuum speakers were pretty good as well.

Plug an iPod in and you've got the best of 20th Century design from start to finish!

On the other side of the room we met Jerry Whiting and his custom Altoid tins. Naturally he had a few USB drives and some geo-caching drops, but what struck us as the most interesting was his Buddhist technology.

The custom tins ranged from a sort of visual pun (see the three jewels of Buddhist faith?) to speakers for pre-recorded prayers. There were also USB sticks made from LEGO full of prayers and holy symbols, and Jerry had the best stories about meeting the Dali Lama himself. Did you know Buddhist monks enjoy 2Pac albums? Who knew! We also enjoyed his tiny barbecue grill, as seen below.

Yes, transformation was in the air. Everywhere you turned there was something that had been turned into something else: light into sound, sound into light, mint tins into speakers, pictures into dice. It seemed like these guys change anything into anything! However, we found this wasn’t true when, around lunch time, we asked a scientist-y looking guy if he could turn our memories into pizza.

But even with our minds full and our stomachs grumbling, we did manage to have a little fun of our own: Sean played an old-timey game called Puka, which threatened us at first until we realized it was basically just horseshoes…

…and Scott went to find all creatures great…

…and small...

…and Seattle.

And really, except for putting Sean in a giant colon there wasn't much else left for us to do! Thanks for the warm welcome from the people at the Seattle Mini Maker Faire 2012, and thanks to everyone who came up and asked for monkeys. We had an absolute blast. Unlike the guy who made the Tesla Gun.

Can you believe the fire marshall wouldn't let him fire it for us? Since when does safety trump science?