Maker Faire NYC 2011 Report
We're back from New York City and the World Maker Faire 2011 event, and what a weekend it was! The main event was a week ago Saturday and Sunday, September 17th and 18th, but our trip began on Thursday and didn't end until about 3am on Monday. We've been recuperating over the last week (literally, since we both got sick), and now I've finally got a moment to write an update.
Courtney and I opted for multiple reasons to drive up to NYC, rather than fly up. Despite the extra time involved, it easily saved many hundreds of dollars on travel costs and allowed us to skip the hassle and headache of airport security and limited baggage. Armed with a trusty GPS, we had no trouble navigating at all, right up until we had to drive through the Holland Tunnel and emerged into the concrete jungle that is the south end of Manhattan. One of the downsides of having your own car in NYC is that you actually have to drive it there, at least until you can find some place to put it. I've driven in downtown Los Angeles a few times before, but New York City was a new experience for me. I'm glad I got to do it once, in hindsight, but I'll try to avoid it in the future. Astonishingly, no pedestrians or other vehicles were harmed, and we never really got lost (though I have to credit the GPS for that success).
We drove up Thursday starting right after lunch, arrived late Thursday night at our hotel in Queens, used Friday morning to visit Times Square, Liberty Island, and Ellis Island, and familiarize ourselves with the subway system a bit. Friday afternoon, we checked in with the Maker Faire people and setup the Keyglove booth. Fortunately, the booth setup didn't require much effort--just the table arrangement and banner stand assembly--and we were able to walk around the enormous New York Hall of Science grounds and relax for a while in the evening.
Saturday morning, we gathered up the rest of the materials and electronics that we hadn't left overnight and headed over to our spot at Maker Faire, arriving about half an hour before the official start of the event at 10am. We finished the last preparations in plenty of time, and so we were prepared when the people began pouring in. The actual New York Hall of Science grounds cover a huge area and we were a little ways in from the entrances, so it took a few minutes before people started to show up, but then they didn't stop. For about nine hours. And it was awesome.
The basic speech that I repetitively gave to everyone who visited our booth was very similar to the one that I gave at the NexGen Science Fair this past June, but I felt like my overall presentation was more honed and concise, and people seemed to be pleased with my answer to the most important question ("what is it good for?"). That might have been partially due to the fact that people come to Maker Faire expecting to see all kinds of odd things, not just consumer-ready products, but I like to think at least some of their agreement and excitement was because of my superb elocution. (Yes, that's a joke.)
A whole lot of people got to try out the prototype that I brought, and I even got to do a couple of audio and video interviews, which I expect should be forthcoming in the next couple of weeks. I'll be sure to share them with you when they make it online.
We brought an external monitor this time instead of relying only on my laptop screen for a demo, and that turned out to be a very good move. Everyone could easily see what was going on when they tried out the glove. I also got a new collapsible banner stand to use instead of the PVC one we used at NextGen, and that was tremendously more convenient.
Not everything about the trip went well though, and as seems to happen often, I learned a few valuable lessons for next time:
Don't get sick the day before the event.
I know, that one's hard to avoid. But it happened to us this time; I started to get a cold late Wednesday, and by Saturday, it was pretty well established. It wasn't particularly bad, but when you combine a cough with a nine-hour stint of talking in a loud outdoor area, not even DayQuil and Tylenol can save the day. By the end of Saturday, my voice was entirely gone, which didn't make for a promising outlook for Sunday.
Build demo prototypes for durability.
It's great that a lot of people got to try out the prototype that I brought, but by the end of the first day, it was pretty worn out. I kind of figured that might happen, but it still would have been nice to prevent if possible. Of course, one of the main things I'm still researching is exactly how to build the physical glove better, so I don't know what I could have done to help this time around. On the bright side, it's given me more helpful information about the parts of the current design that tend to fail first (the sensor wire attachment points).
Bring more than one demo prototype.
This is another obvious one, and I honestly tried hard to manage it, but I pushed everything too close to the deadline and ended up with one finished glove and one almost finished glove. Everything was so hectic and busy Saturday that I didn't have a spare moment to finish up the last bits of the second glove, so I was stuck with only one demo device. Even just two would have been phenomenally better.
Print more materials to give away than you think you'll need.
This is especially true if you don't have an estimate for how many people will come. We ended up giving away almost everything we had by the end of the first day, which was a great success in one sense, but a mistake in another sense, since we were left with almost nothing for the second day.
Schedule all the development to be finished weeks in advance.
If I'd actually followed this rule, there would have been a lot less scrambling at the last minute, and some of the other points would have been taken care of. My schedule got too full though, and I was left with only one functional prototype instead of two, and without some of the fantastic demo software I envisioned but couldn't write in time.
After we made it back to the hotel Saturday night, we assessed the whole situation and decided not to return to exhibit on Sunday, even though we'd planned to be there for all of both days. It was disappointing, but the prospect trying to spend another eight hours explaining the Keyglove in a loud environment when I had no voice, no energy, and very few materials just seemed like a very bad plan for us and for the visitors. We were able to make it back home to Roanoke almost a whole day early as a result, which provided an opportunity for some much-needed rest.
These adventures always give me things to learn from, but that's just part of the process. I'm glad to be able to take advantage of each opportunity that comes up, since it means I'll probably be able to do just that much better next time around.
Don't get me wrong, though; Courtney and I both had a great time There were a few really great moments that made my day (more than once in the same day, if that's possible). Quite a few people came in groups, and often I heard them talking excitedly about the Keyglove as they approached the table, having read about it some weeks or months earlier. A boy who was probably 11 or 12 told me he'd written a report on the Keyglove for a school assignment. Another one, after playing with the prototype for a few minutes, told his dad that the Keyglove was "absolutely the coolest thing he'd seen all day"--which, being said in the afternoon at Maker Faire, was quite a compliment.
I also got to meet up with a few of the people I've corresponded with about the project over the last few months. Getting to see someone whom you've previously interacted with only on Twitter or Facebook is always a lot of fun.
If you're interested in seeing the full album of almost 40 choice photos, including quite a few photos of other interesting stuff at Maker Faire, you can do so here:
Additionally, you can see a video that one of the visitors took of part of an explanation I gave at the Keyglove booth, here on YouTube (it's about 1:40 long):
That video gives you a taste of the ambient noise in the area as well. Next time, I'm bringing more throat lozenges even if I'm not sick.
Enjoy the attached photos or the linked album or video, and keep your eyes open for another update from me after the interviews make it online. Thanks again for your support and interest, and I'll keep pushing forward on the design!