This Saturday, I was part of the ham radio booth at the 2011 Detroit Maker Faire. What a blast. As I’ve preached before, Makers are our kind of people. That is to say they are people interested in actually doing stuff. And that includes both the exhibitors and the attendees.
To be honest, I didn’t get to see much of the Faire myself. If you take a look at the website, though, and some of the pictures taken by Roger Rayle, you’ll get an idea of what was being exhibited, and how much fun it was.
As far as ham radio goes, we had quite an operation, thanks in no small part to James, W8ISS, who was our organizer. It included two HF stations, my Morse Code display, and a satellite station. The real coup here was that James got museum personnel to erect two antennas for us up on the museum roof. One was an R8 vertical; \;the other a multi-band dipole.
We were so lucky with radio conditions. Conditions on both 40m and 20m were really good on Saturday afternoon, and we generated pileups on both CW and phone. It was a real blast to be on the other side of a pileup and get to work stations one right after the other.
As I mentioned, my contribution was a Morse Code setup. I had my touch keyer, a bug, my J-37 straight key with leg clamp, and my Kent paddle all on display. As I usually do, I tried to induce people to step up and send their names in Morse Code. With this crowd, it wasn’t too difficult to do.
What I would do is ask them the initial of their first name, and then show them how to send that using the touch keyer. Then, I’d encourage them to look up the other letters of their name on the chart I had on the table. If they were able to successfully do this in a more or less understandable fashion, I would extend my hand and say, “Nice to meet you, Lindsay (or Julius or Aidan or whatever their name happened to be).” That would usually get a surprised smile out of them.
Perhaps even more important than teaching people something about Morse Code or ham radio, the “send your name in Morse Code” display gave me a chance to make contact with people. I passed out a lot of cards at this event, and invited many to attend our next one-day Tech class.
One interesting contact I made was with a woman who was home-schooling her two children. While the boy and girl played with the keys, I had a discussion with her about why I thought ham radio was a good fit with home schooling. I noted that it not only taught kids something about science and technology, but also about geography and social skills.
She agreed and noted that she thought that many other home schoolers would be interested in getting their kids into ham radio. She gave me her e-mail address and said that she would be willing to plug me into the home schooling movement. Stay tuned for how that goes.
In nearly every way, the Detroit Maker Faire was a great event. We made lots of contacts, both on-the-air and in person, we taught a lot of people about ham radio, and had a lot of fun in the process. The only thing that could have been better was that it could have been about ten degrees cooler, but that’s something we could deal with.