A Random Collection Of Technological News and Random Musings on Current Events
Maker Faire 2010
By Alex Ferro on May 29, 2010 1:24 PM | No Comments
I visited the Maker Faire in San Mateo on May 22. We had a carpool arranged with an exhibitor who had to be there at 7, but it fell through that morning because our alarms didn't wake us up. We invoked our backup plan of driving to the Maker Faire and arrived in San Mateo ~15 minutes before the gates opened. We parked in one of the free parking lots and walked to the faire. When we made it to the actual faire, we were greeted with a block-long queue of people waiting to get in. Thankfully some one spotted our Will Call receipt and pointed us to the much shorter Will Call line.

A few days before we left for the Maker Faire, I read that SparkFun would be having a SMD soldering workshop with a donation to the Rosalie House Emergency Shelter and The Exploratorium. The workshop signups were first come first serve. I got to their booth about 10 minutes before the first SMD workshop was due to start, signed up and sat down with eight other people signed up for the 10:30 workshop. 

I dropped the first part we soldered by opening its package a little too quickly. I am glad it was a five pin boost converter rather than the 0603 resistors and caps we soldered later. I then proceeded to swap a large and a small capacitor because I didn't check that the silkscreen matched the part. Expecting stuff like things to happen, SparkFun brought the tools to repair SMD boards, namely a hot air rework station. After they fixed the board, the power supply was tested and confirmed functional. I could now begin soldering the ATmega328p and its supporting components. I tacked and corner of the chip and soldered the other three sides. Three sides were soldered on aligned reasonably well but the fourth was not lined up by about a third of a pin. As I found out later, it looked okay, but didn't actually work. 

When SparkFun went to program the boards, they discovered that while they left Colorado with two working AVR programmers, they arrived at the Maker Faire with zero working programmers. They asked the SMD class if anyone had an AVR programmer at home and wanted to take their project home with them. Otherwise they were going to take home this class's, and the 30+ other people's projects scheduled and program them and ship them to their owners. I had an AVR programmer, but I didn't exactly trust my soldering, especially after seeing the weird way I had the mega328 soldered, and wanted my project to be in the hands of someone that could fix it. 

I dropped by the booth later in the day to see if they were able to figure out what was wrong or hack something together. It turns out that the programmers were fine, but the external ribbon cables had failed. The most efficient way to program a board if you do not need to have the programming header soldered in permanently is by just angling the pins against the PTH to make electrical contact. Traditionally that is done with either a pogo pin bed, or by sticking the header in the cable from the programmer. Since the cable had failed, SparkFun disassembled the programmer and used the header directly on the board to program the board sans cable.

Going back to the soldering of the mega328, a programming attempt verified that I did in fact have the pins soldered badly enough that they had to be fixed. 

SparkFun also brought a project they were working on entirely for their own amusement at the Maker Faire. They built a flame out of electroluminescent wire and hooked it up to an EL sequencer. This sequencer is then hooked up with some Xbee radios to three black stools with red buttons on them. These stools are unmarked and non-descript and when the button is pressed, the sequencer sequences through the sets of wire. These stools we placed in random locations throughout the Expo Hall. It was kind of a question of "How many people will hit a random button on an unmarked stool?"

The rest of the Maker Faire

After I finished the SMD kit, I wandered through the rest of the Expo Hall looking at the cool stuff people brought. At the center of the room was a big shiny moving sculpture thing. I also saw the usually nixie and scope clock. There was a robotics competition that my team was part of through WRRF. I participated in a few giveaways/contests, but didn't get anything besides stickers. 

I was planning on going to see the Evil Mad Scientists booth and their tabletop pong game, but completely forgot about it once I was wandering though the hall. I did not see most of the outside stuff. When I was leaving the car it wasn't very windy and felt warm, so I left my jacket in the car. That was a bad idea; it was freezing cold once the wind kicked up. I still am kicking myself for that. I also missed the light and sound building for other reasons.

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