Minne Maker Faire 2012

By John, 23 April, 2012

Wow! I'm still amazed, and I'm not sure how to write about it. But it's been two weeks since the Minne Maker Faire and this post is getting long overdue!

I had never been to a Maker Faire before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I've never had my own booth at an art fair or anything like that, but I've been to a few art fairs so I just decided to wing it. I had no idea if this was going to be more of a show and tell kind of event, or more of a selling products kind of event, so I came prepared for both. Unfortunately, I really only had one product, my Stella Amp kits, so I decided to get a bunch of cigar boxes and speakers and I had those available as well. If someone wanted a kit, they could get a speaker and a cigar box too, if they wanted.

(Well, I'm not going to make you wait in suspense: I sold exactly one kit to a friend of mine who was already waiting to buy one from me. But that's okay, because it turned out to be more of a show and tell kind of event anyway.)

I got in a little late with only 45 minutes to unpack and set up. I apologize for the near complete lack of photos, but I was so busy I completely forgot to take any! (If you have any of me or my booth let me know!)

For my main display, I had a sign behind me. Later, when I have time, I'll put a picture up of the sign because I was pretty happy with it.

On the far side of my booth, I had an Apple G4 iMac (the really old one that looks like a lamp), which was set to display full size images from my assembly instructions for the Stella Amp. I loved this, and I wish I had time to edit and tweak the images a bit more (it was heavy on soldering images, I wanted more pictures of the final assembled amps) but I completely ran out of time.

I had four amps set up. One amp (the one in the picture above) was just hooked up to my iPhone with a stereo 1/8th inch to mono 1/4 inch cable. I put a nice jazz playlist on infinite repeat on the iPhone and had everything set up so that I could just turn up the volume and it would come on, and turn it down, and it would turn off again. I powered this amp with a single 9 volt, and I was really impressed with the battery life. It was on the whole time and never ran out of juice (although, to be fair, it wasn't amplifying music most of the time). Actually, none of the amps ran out of battery power even though they got some heavy use.

Another amp was mounted in a cigar box but it had no speaker in it, I just ran the speaker wire to a 12-15 inch Axman Surplus woofer that was mounted in a guitar amplifier style wooden box (gotta give credit to my friend John for making the guitar amplifier box, it's VERY well made, he just didn't have time to finish it up and rather than throw it out he gave it to me). This amp was connected to my bass most of the time, and was on the far end of the booth, on the opposite side of the iMac. This is the only video I shot during the Faire, so you can see and hear this amp for yourself:

Yes, it's quiet. It's only about a watt or two, powering a bass! The Stella Amp, as a bass amplifier, is always going to be a quiet little practice amp. (Sorry for the sound quality but I was using kind of a crummy camera so it is what it is.)

The third amp was just a basic amp, powered with 4 AA batteries. I usually had this one hooked up to my guitar.

The fourth amp I made just for the Maker Faire, and I was really happy it all came together at the last minute. I'm going to have a more thorough write up later (I need to take a few more pictures and edit the pictures I've already taken), but this amp was solar powered! (EDIT: I finished the write up.) The Solar Stella wound up looking great and sounding even better. I had a lamp hovering over it to demonstrate the powering circuit, but since the solar panel is powering a li-poly battery, it didn't matter whether the lamp was on or off. I don't have any pictures of the final assembled amp, but I did find this one on Flickr:

The solar powered Stella Amp in a cigar box enclosure

You can see that the solar panel is mounted on the lid of the box, and the lid is held open by another cigar box underneath it. The lamp is just out of frame above it, turned off. The coolest thing about this amp is that it sounds amazing when you play a harmonica through it. So I had this one pretty much hooked up to a microphone (Shure SM-58, with an impedance matching transformer) full time.

I never did get a photo of my booth, I forgot to even ask someone to take one. So this is the best one I've found (you can see me in the background wearing the hat, click to enlarge) on Flickr:

I'm in the background of this photo wearing a hat

At any rate, I was still setting everything up and people started coming in. Slowly at first but they just kept coming all day. I had my wife go out and get me some food and it was an hour or more before I was done eating it, snatching bites here and there. (Hard to eat, because you can't have any food in your mouth if you are playing the harmonica, which I was, quite a bit.)

My nearest booth mate was Adam Wolf from Wayne and Layne. His big project everyone came over to see was a Van de Graaf generator he made out of a pop can, an old motor, and some PVC pipes. Adam was great, he was managing his booth and the Make magazine booth, and if I had to step out to use the bathroom he'd keep an eye on my stuff. I don't know how he felt about it, but it was fun for me when he would step out for a bit. Being next to his booth(s) I got to overhear everything he was saying, so when he stepped out, I just stepped right in, fielding answers from three groups of people at once.

"It's a Van de Graaf generator made out of a pop can and PVC pipe."
"Yeah, go ahead and grab a button, the buttons are free"
"It's a guitar amplifier, I designed it because I wanted more flexibility in how my amplifier sounded compared to existing kits out there."
"This kit is REALLY awesome. See how the LEDs scroll like that? Well, you're not limited to what the kit starts off with, you can make the scrolling message say ANYTHING you want by going to their website. No, no, you don't have to plug it in to the computer. See this? It uses these optical sensors to read the program right off the website, the website blinks the program into the micro controller one bit at a time. I know, isn't that cool!"
"Make magazine is running a special, if you subscribe during the Maker Faire, you can't get a better price anywhere else!"
"Here, let me show you how the amplifier sounds."

It was a lot of fun.

On my other side was Michael of Nootropic Design. His big attraction was this RGB panel from Adafruit that he had programmed up to display a number of retro 8 bit game sprites. This panel is BRIGHT, and even though it's not very big, it's one of the first things you'd see when you came in the room.

He also had a Hackvision up and running with Asteroids and that was very popular, especially with the kids.

Ever since the faire ended, I've been completely swamped with being a dad and general family concerns. I am sorry this took so long to write. But I do want to say THANK YOU to everyone who came out! I had a lot of fun meeting everyone! And next time I'm going to spend a bit more time going around and checking out the rest of the Faire instead of staying chained to my booth.