Opportunity

Maker Faire is a gathering of makers, essentially anyone who builds stuff such robots, electronics, clothes, tools, and equipment.  It’s a very heterogeneous culture of people young and old, and includes do-it-youselfers (DIYs), teachers, engineers, scientists, hackers, and geeks.  Think of Maker Faires as hamfests for makers.  I attended Maker Faire New York City this year, my first Maker Faire.  Think of Maker Faire NYC as the Dayton Hamvention of hamfests.

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Any drive into The City, as we call it around here, is adventurous.  This Faire was located at the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI) in Queens.  You couldn’t park anywhere near the event, but there were numerous public mass transit options and two offsite parking areas with shuttle buses.  We chose to park at Queens College and take the shuttle in.

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The Faire consisted of mostly outdoor and some indoor exhibits, including ones that are part of NYSCI.  I can’t do this event justice with the pictures I took, but there’s a pretty good slideshow on the Maker Faire site.

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The most popular area, at least judging by the line of people awaiting to enter, was the Radio Shack booth, believe it or not.  They had a build your own drone activity that people seemed to be falling all over themselves to get in.  If only Radio Shack could get lines like this in their stores.

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The coolest contraption in my humble opinion was a toasted cheese sandwich machine.

On the Faire map I was pleased to see an area labeled Amateur Radio.  I donned my baseball cap embroidered with my callsign, normally reserved for the annual Dayton pilgrimage.  The way the map was labeled, I expected to find a whole row of amateur radio stuff.  There was one booth with two pop up canopies, manned by perhaps four hams.  One side of the booth had a portable rig mounted in a plywood enclosure with some accessory boxes, perhaps a digital station.  The other side of the booth had two tables with components and some kids soldering.

I want to be careful not to diminish or criticize the efforts of these amateurs and the organization they represented.  After all, these guys made the effort and had an amateur radio booth (which is more than I can say for other organizations).  But admittedly I was disappointed.  I was really dismayed there weren’t more booths, especially considering the number of amateur radio operators there are in NYC, probably more in a five mile radius than I have in my entire rural county in PA.  This is undoubtedly the largest gathering of people on the east coast who are interested in how things work, how to build things, and they’re smart people.  Wireless for many makers is just a shield that you buy and plop on an Arduino or a USB dongle you plug into a Raspberry Pi.  Amateur radio has so much to offer.

ARRL needs to have an exhibit at this event, in a big way, and not in the fashion they do at Dayton.  There needs to be interactive hands-on displays by enthusiastic high energy amateurs.  Not hardcore contesters or DXers, but amateurs who build stuff and can talk about practical applications that these makers can relate to and integrate into their existing projects and pursuits.  Even CW displays would be interesting for this audience, it just needs to not be presented as a code proficiency course or a rite of passage, but something that is fun.  Retro tech intrigues these people.  Vacuum tubes would be considered cool by many makers, especially if you had some homebrew rigs built on plywood with filaments lit up and some RF meters dancing around or big old speakers crackling with the sounds of code or sideband coming from a direct conversion receiver.  Fox hunts.  This crowd would eat that up.  Make a crystal radio with six components.  There are plenty of high power AM stations in NYC that you can receive on a simple crystal radio.  Kids holding Arrow antennas and listening to a satellite passing over.  There’s just so much that could be done to showcase amateur radio at this and other Maker Faires, and draw people into the hobby.  We’re missing a huge opportunity.  Huge.

This article was originally posted on Radio Artisan.

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