The Maker’s Faire

Makers Faire lead image GoA conclave of the extraordinary, the unpredictable, the astonishing, and the innovative… but no llamas (non-robotic, anyway).

The extravaganza (of which there are the like all across the globe, but the San Mateo event is one of the flagships) is intended to showcase creativity across computing, engineering and science – although not overtly discriminating against the producers of gewgaws and flummery – promoters of useless bling were fortunately few. In spite of the high bar, the Faire encourages the pitch in and do rather than the stand by and consume; in fact, many of the exhibitors sport hands-on tutorials, as my pal David Barker and his supercomputer emulator was keen to conduct.

I was on the outside looking in once, and resolved that this year, I would be on the inside looking out.

But you have to qualify, or at least pay big.


January 1- was all over the Make site trying to find the Where to register for the Faire.

Nothing. I was ahead of the play. An email to the kind folks at Make drew the response: hold yer horses. Too ahead of the play.

In the fullness of time there appeared, like the Flying Spaghetti Monster to the faithlessful, a pathway. One must submit one’s credentials to be considered, in my case, my website.

Cred was, again, in the fullness of time, found to be of Make Quality. An accolade. Still months until the Faire. Time enough to squirrel away the jack ($550) for ante.

Next: solicit Supersmythe.

Supersmythe (in the person of my pal David Barker, or as is properly pronounced in Australia: BAH-kah) was tapped to be the cosmic opposite of JohnsonArts and its structures in wood. Supersmythe is Super Computing.

The case mod but without shellac - can clunky be streamlined?

The case mod but without shellac – can clunky be streamlined?

Not knowing, wondering if some Maker’s Faire stricture forbade high tech to low tech miscegenation, or worse, two Makers getting in for the price of one, I built a case mod for one of SuperSmythe’s properties. Wouldn’t call it a fools errand, it had its own reward, but as it turned out, was unnecessary.

The Known Unknowns were these:

1. Where is the JohnsonArts Site at the Faire?

2. Will it be outside, on grass, under a tree?

3. Where will the JohnsonArts factor camp?

4. What will fit into the truck and how?

JohnsonArts and Supersmythe site just under the robot's left shoulder.

JohnsonArts and Supersmythe site just under the robot’s left shoulder.

Numbers 1 & 2 would be solved in the meter of time. Number 3. required some skull time. Emailed the San Mateo Elk’s Lodge, which was but a walk from the Fairgrounds, can I park my RV (pickup) overnight and if so how much (Many, but not all Elk’s Lodges support this). Response: “No, try South San Francisco.” Erk.

Worst Case: four round trips between San Mateo and home = 4*182miles. More Erk.

By the time – two weeks prior – that I had established with the Maker’s Faire correspondent that the MF had no provisions for overnight parking BUT another entity at the Fairgrounds DID manage parking lot camping, it was too late. Already booked solid. Erk**2.

Number 4 could have been solved with a 3D scan of the truck and all my goulash (valuable hand-crafted cabinets), but that was overkill. Be solved day before, I reckon. Erk/2.


Stacking the two Kabs on the left allowed copious room on the right.

Stacking the two Kabs on the left allowed copious room on the right.

Critical was the usual terrible coffee necessary for four dimensional thinking, and already having the two signature cabinets – Kabinent Slash and Kabinet Krenov – already positioned in the sub-basement. Semi-critical was how to stack Krenov on top of Slash. A dicey endevour, but vital. Unless this could be effected, the Barker bins laden with goulash would not fit.

Attaining the Seventh Chakra inside out and using all my feet, the stacking happened. What followed was mere packing and stowing and stacking and slacking. Three hours.


As the gates to the Fairgrounds were open for set-up at 1000, I wanted to be Scotty on the spot. I assumed there would be absolute bedlam. There was, but not today.

To get to San Mateo, the 101 is the natural route; BUT instead of this hypotenuse, cagily I took 85 to 280 to 92. The thinking? That 101 would be bollixed. This longer route promised, I thought, clear sailing.


85 was all 405’ed, including the southern aspect of 280. Grrrrr. Plain dealing once past Stanford.

Zone 4 Site D-4: plenty of room to stretch out and sell.

Zone 4 Site D-4: plenty of room to stretch out and sell.

The Fairgrounds: Hey, not too bad, less than a hundred vehicles on site. Getting my Maker Credentials was straightforward and chop chop I was in to Check in with Adrian the Zonemaster #4.

There was a bit of delay as Bose needed to spot their trailer via my patch, but soon enough the pergola was up, the tables were laid and I was done for the day. Supersmythe not on the scene, would set up on the morrow.

Now – for lodgings. There was no person in the parking lot supervising the on-site camping, well, I can call later, once I’m home.

To the San Mateo Elk’s Lodge. The size of a mid-sized town high school, nearly deserted this mid-day. I happened upon one of the office staff: “I’m exhibiting at The Maker’s Faire (she didn’t know what that was) and I’m looking to camp overnight Friday and Saturday, may I?” “Sure, just fill out this form.” “How much?” “Oh, we won’t charge you anything.” Fair dinkum.

Proves the maxim that if you don’t get the answer you want, you are asking the wrong person.


Needed a llama to ride the half mile to the Fairgrounds from here.

Needed a llama to ride the half mile to the Fairgrounds from here.

No prob north on the 101. Parked in the free field a half mile from the Fairgrounds. No llamas. Nice to able to walk that far. All was well with the JohnsonArts set-up, security adequate. But who is going to want to kief a box?

Uber-geek with all the customary accounterments, note pocket protector....

Uber-geek with all the customary accounterments, note pocket protector….

Appears Supersmythe who sets up his display. He’s demo’ing a hand-built supercomputer emulater made from two Raspberry Pi’s. The most expensive component? The tiny bronze animal feet. His pitch was that due to the inexpensive nature of the Raspberries, a high school kid could get into the hardware and commence to learn open-source supercomputing, set themselves up for a career even before hitting college.

The Raspberry Pi computer - the acrylic tube is a ventilation funnel, fan on bottom.

The Raspberry Pi computer – the acrylic tube is a ventilation funnel, fan on bottom.

The Faire opened to the public at noon. I expected a swarm. There was no swarm, but there was a swarmette in the form of packs of middle and high school students, which were Supersmythe’s target demographic, hardly mine. He got a lot of attention.

Our neighbors across the pavement (African Comfort Food, who knew?) were not on station this day, a telling fact. Bose was demo’ing a $150 speaker kit that walked the buyer through how speakers function. Just over the hedge is a fellow in mid-19th Century garb taking tintypes. Beyond him was a mini-van sized hunk of scrap metal in the shape of a human heart which periodically belched forth flames and flame farts. And just opposite the fart heart: Future Man II.

To the right, the Farting Heart, over to the left, the unremitting hammer site of Future Man II.

To the right, the Farting Heart, over to the left, the unremitting hammer site of Future Man II.

Future Man II was the human embodiment of hitting things with sticks. No not throwing sticks, drum (not turkey) sticks and he was hitting drums and cymbals. All Day LONG. Never stopped. It got so that I wanted to offer him twenty dollars just to put the sticks down for half an hour.

Maybe it was the heat. Temps in the mid 80’s, not summer hot by Bay Area standards, but 15 degrees above my comfort zone.

Closing Bell at five. I sold nothing, but told myself that the Real Players would be standing line to barf cash on my goulash of the morrow.  If I were to do this Faire again, I’d set up Thursday just as I did, but entirely skip Friday and show up Saturday.

What now? Supersmythe was amenable to following me over to the Elk’s Lodge, dropping the truck, then nosing it north to Burlingame and the Steelhead Brewing Company.

Good Call.

I didn’t know it existed until that morning when I ran a search for brewpubs in San Mateo. None there, save the BJ’s Brewery, which I remember from yaron’s ago as adequate.

But the traffic was heavy south and east, less constipated north toward Burlingame.

Supersmythe and I took stools at the end of a capacious bar in a bigger-then-barn sized drinkery. Fell into conversation with a couple, turns out the guy is a descendant of the Trivithick accredited as one of the pioneers of steam engine utility. A career I knew was in the mines of Wales. Also turns out that Martin, for that was his name, knew of Ed Ricketts but had never visited The Lab. We put out invites, maybe we’ll see him next tour….

Parched as I was, I staid with the Blond, and the satay was everything it ought.

Supersmythe was pressed for time, had to get back to his trialor in Sunnyvale and so he dropped me back to the Lodge. Could I cadge a much needed shower?

In the bar, few were. A dozen beer taps, and Nacho Perez. No, I am not making that up. Nacho, the Wonder Wetback. A woman, so he say’s, drew him across the border, then left. Somehow, he cadged a job at IBM, this in the early 60’s. IBM sponsored him, paid for his college and allowed him to earn citizenship. He’s in his 70’s, still plays soccer.  A tremendous American success story, of the kind America should be proud.

This only one of the five gyms I saw....

This only one of the five gyms I saw….

Brian the barman buys me a drink and shows me around. Locker room and exercise facilities better than most community colleges.

Good shower. Spot the truck at the back of the parking lot under a line of eucalyptus and the wall between the Lodge and the suburban houses a street over. Nobody has it this good.

Or should have. The rocket engine testing at nearby San Francisco International shut down for the night about 1 AM and all was peaceful save the intermittent truck starting, door slamming, alarm screaming until 3 AM. At that time, it was on the clock for the local nightingales or bats to commence operations. Then at 5 AM a quorum of all the crows of San Mateo County met for a coffee klatch in the eucalyptus trees overhead to discuss the plan for the day before setting out for work.


It was a weary Maker who then searched for coffee. But apparently, at least here in South San Mateo, no one wants coffee until 0800.

Nothing for it but make the Faire; but I like deserted hotels. Since this was hours before opening time, I had the run of the place.

This was the 3D printing, CNC portion of just one of the exhibition halls.

This was the 3D printing, CNC portion of just one of the exhibition halls.

To properly ‘do’ the Maker’s Faire, I’d advise the savvy visitor to buy a three day pass. Be there at the opening bell, then leave two hours later, before the mob throbs. Even outdoors, and much of amazement is to be seen inside, where the heat drives the throng starting about noon, the human wave prevents leisurely browsing and cut-purse fending.

Okay, today is the day. The Players will be here, they will lather over my goulash, and pony up, big time.

Thats the Flat File front and on the right ready to find a new home.

That’s the Flat File front and on the right ready to find a new home.

Time passes. Plenty of lookie-loo’s. I knew that my flat file would draw attention, and so I put it front and center. If I nailed a dollar for each time a punter would pull the top drawer out, I guess to assure themselves that it really WAS a drawer, I would have made a profit. By afternoon, I wanted to write and place in the top drawer “Surprise, Surprise Surprise – This Really IS a drawer” but maybe too smarmy, even for me.

There were a few bright moments. Guys would just come into the tent, sit down and we’d have a palaver. Supersmythe was constantly on the move, his fratchet adored by uber-geeks such as himself.

As the day matures (heats up) the throng prongs to the shade, and I become more and more snarky.

After the typical punter encomiums, “Oh your woodworking is so cool.” or “Oh I love your work.” I break down. Pointing at my open palm, I say, “Show me the cool, show me that cool green, show me the love.”

50% of the time, the punter will offer up something like this: “OH, my brother (fill in Uncle, Father, Ex-cell mate, parole office, son) does woodworking!”

I know why humans do this; it is a natural response to the Different to attempt to show resonance to The Different. And I Hate IT. Instead of talking about The Different, which is the point of the exercise, they will verge off topic in a well-intended (I suppose) attempt to show affinity.  It shows me nothing.

50% of the time the excuse: “Oh, I need to get rid of some things, I have no room.”

The response in more than half the cases: “Oh, I don’t have anything to display.” This in spite of my measured tutorial about a childhood doll, your first baseball glove, a handful of tee from the golf courses that you have played.”


Sense my frustration?

In spite of constant hydration, I’m nackered at the closing bell. Supersmythe must away, and I must attend to the Elk’s Lodge for a much needed shower.



Although the San Mateo Elk’s Lodge reigns supreme across its physical plant (as compared to my home lodge), its bar hours are akin to putting the baby to bed. Last Call: 7 PM.

Steelhead Brewing? Mais certainment. Three blonds (ales) and a blue cheese burger and I began to feel whole again.

Strolled about the original downtown district, not quite given over to Beverly Hills – Rodeoidification, but that is clearly what the town planners want.

I wanted rack, and so it was.


Even the crow quorum gave me a break. Thus refreshed, piled in early to The Faire, sporting the $25 necessary to park close to the East Gate. Why? Because at closing time, I knew there would be a scrum trying to get onto the grounds to pack and load. The closer I was, the sooner I’d join the conga line.

Finally, a llama!

Finally, a llama!

As I did yesterday, I had time, before hours to thrill to the unpredictable.  Less unpredictable is the current cult status of 3D printing.  Still in its infancy, and with a universe of potential.  One day, a guy (with the skill set of a satellite dish installer) will open up your knee joint, start a topographical scan while simultaneously the replacement implants are being printed in the joint itself.

They are not running on combustion, obviously, but they are functional, and beautiful.

They are not running on combustion, obviously, but they are functional, and beautiful.

Here’s an example: scale model engines, the printer is there working away forming an quarter scale engine block.  I view modelling, when not prototyping a product as akin to pushing your Tonka trucks around in a sandbox, but these fully functional models were a delight to behold.

Different crowd this day. NASCAR and the Stockton Heavy Metal Fest must have been doling out half price Faire Tickets, extra discount for more than 10 tattoos. (per leg).

Even so, Supersmythe was busy all the live long day. JohnsonArts was batting a thousand in selling nothing.

Of the 250 people who looked over my wares, only two asked for price. Same lame excuses, same compliments, same no sales. Long day.

Began packing about 4:30 in anticipation of the close at 5, and the lag ushering the horde out the gate.

And then the fun began. It played out just as I had imagined: a swarm of vehicles all bumper to bumper edging toward the East Gate. I was lucky, must have been one of the first few dozen. There were two other gates unused on that side of the Fairgrounds which seemeth to me what ought to be have used.

The entire affair was expertly organized and managed….except for this one, last fandango.

The guy running the African Comfort Food kiosk helped me load the Kabinets, wanted to know about my fly boots.

Barker was nowhere to be seen. Good thing I didn’t wait for him. As I exited the Fairgrounds parking lot, he was 50 cars back still stalled out waiting to get through the one gate.

Daylight all the way south to Gilroy, no traffic issues.

Home. Spent in emotional and fungible capital.


visitors eye viewWhy didn’t sell anything? I have few answers.

Was the nature of my display cases and cabinets too foreign for even this, a supposedly forward looking set of consumers?

Of the hundreds of potential customers, there were about 10 who got the aesthetic, looked like Players, and smelled of money.  Wallets tight as a pickle jar lid.  What gives (not)?

Could it be that my exhibition was like tossing a stone into a pond compared to much of the rest of the Faire which was rocket ships to Mars with extra tattoos.  Sensory overload is the norm – if you work through all the images here of the Faire, you’ll get some sense of it.

Did the near-universal set of limp-dick excuses about not having room or not having a cherished keepsake to display mean that my display case product line was all wrong for this event?

canoeWas the mood one of Show and Tell versus Consumption? No, right next to us was Bose peddling their speaker kit. Just over the hedge was the bloke selling tintypes ($120 for the Large size 8′ x 12”).

Was my site sub-optimal, in terms of location? I have an answer for this one too, and it is yes. I was off the main traffic paths, indeed on the periphery, and so may have missed another two hundred potential buyers.

Would price tags on the items have helped? I don’t think so. I made myself plain from the get-go: All this is for sale.

Was my salesmanship adequate? Clearly not, but what should I have done differently? Smooth talk and banter and false smiles? Not me. If the woodworking isn’t doing the selling by its very nature, I cannot enhance that with a politician’s grin.

Was the crowd soft as compared with other years? This I could not know.


uninspiringI’m out hundreds of shin plasters, not to (not) mention the hours packing and schlepping and repacking and unpacking. Happily, miraculously, not one pane of glass was broken.

And so, was it worth it?

Where else can a bloke be simultaneously humbled and inspired?

Yes.motorized snail