This past weekend, the Tinkering Studio participated in the East Bay Mini Maker Faire for the first time ever. A few of us attended the faire last year as participants and felt that the smaller environment would be a good change of pace from the big faire and chance to bring some new ideas to a community event. So on Sunday, we set up a booth outside on the beautiful grounds of the Park Day School campus and brought a few activities and exhibits we've been prototyping around the theme of 'playful programming'.
Nicole set up her arduino powered bubble machine in the front of the booth. This was the second version of the whimsical robot that first debuted at Austin Mini Maker Faire a year ago with the addition of the clear case toallow visitors to see the arduino "brain" of the machine. This prototype exhibit felt like a really friendly and natural introduction to what you can do with simple programming and electronics and provided a starting point for many conversations about our theme.
We created a small nook right behind the bubble machine for a couple of activity prototypes that we have just started testing out. In the morning Nicole set up a Scratch-powered xylophone that people could program through the arduino extension to the software. It was a quick way to start messing around with using the computer to control something in the real world and people spent quite a bit of time composing melodies. Eventually, we plan to create a Scratch "orchestra" with several instruments, so this was a good way to test out that people would be interested in the process.
In the afternoon, our guest tinkerer-in-residence Lucas brought out a new idea that combined some of our physical programming experiments with the linkages investigations that we've been working on over the summer to create drawing machines made from two slow moving motors, cardboard, and markers. By changing the speed of the motors, the placement of the arms, and the position of the pen, participants could create beautiful designs reminiscent of the drawing board exhibit at the museum.
In the booth, we dedicated a larger workshop space to continuing our experimenting with beetleblocks, incorporating several ways to make a physical version of the designs. It was our largest set up yet for this activity with five computers for people to practice programming and another section of tools, including the watercolorbot, vinyl cutter, and 3D printer.
Ryoko made some example code handouts for people to start from, but many of the participants really tried to create their own unique designs and were quite intentional with all the small changes nessecary to perfect the programm. For all of us, it was a good chance to practice our faciliation skills in this slightly different mode of making and tinkering on the computer screen.
As well, I noticed some really nice interactions between parents and children, since many of the younger participants had more experience with visual programming languages like scratch and could show their parents and guardians how the system worked. I appreciated these oppotunities for authentic collaboration that I hope can continue if the participants go to the website and keep working at home.
Although there were the expected technical difficulties running all three tools in the booth, I really loved that there was a chance for people to create something on the computer and then decide which tool to use to produce a real-life version of the design. A couple things that we did to smooth the process was to have a sign in sheet for each machine (like a restaurant wait list) so that we could keep track of the queue and having all the computers signed into the same username on beetleblocks so that each participant could save their code and then reload it on the computer connected to the proper tool.
While sometimes it feels like 3D printers are ubiquitous at Maker events, many people told us that this was there first time seeing something print, and it was especially cool to see it work on something that they designed. I liked how we situated the printer among other digital fabrication tools to focus on the process of designing the code, while allowing people to get a small sense of some of the abilities and disadvantages of several machines .
All in all, to me, the East Bay Maker Faire felt like a really great way to continue experiments that we have been working on in the Tinkering Studio. Some of us have felt that the larger Bay Area Maker Faire in San Mateo has been overwhelmingly huge for the past couple of years and can be increasingly difficult to make real connections with families and other makers. It will be fun to continue to try out our new prototypes and experiments in smaller community-based settings around the bay area when possible and to progress in our investigations of playful programming, digital fabrication tools, and other new (for us) ways to tinker!