Maker Faire KC

Maker Faire KC was the primary focus of today's segment in the exploration of technology in the Kansas City metro area. This gathering and expo of makers and hackers will be happening June 25 - 26, 2011, at Union Station.

The day began with an adventurous drive from I-35 and West 95th Street up to the Kauffman Foundation on Rockhill Road. Before heading north on I-35, I looked up directions on Google Maps. Looked like an easy trip. I-35 North to 56E, then take 56 E all the way to Rockhill Road and, voila, there's the Kauffman Foundation.

Not so. Turns out that several roads are labeled 56 in that general area. And nobody from Kansas City calls the roads I wanted to be on "56." After deciding I'd missed a turn somewhere, I pulled into a auto repair garage at the corner of Southwest Boulevard and Pennway. The extremely friendly and helpful auto mechanic at the garage was gracious enough to explain that I didn't really want 56, and he gave me directions for wending my way back south and east to the Kauffman Foundation. It was not the last time today that I'd see his garage...

Fortunately, I'd started my trek through the city plenty early, so I had time to spare before my breakfast meeting at the Kauffman Foundation. Taking the roundabout route to get there had the side benefit of getting to see more of the metro area. I even went past a "billion dollar experience," which is how the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City describes its tour.

Made it to the Kauffman parking lot with about
ten minutes to spare. Luis R., who is a designer, web developer, hacker and very much involved in organizing the first 'official' Maker Faire Kansas City, had agreed to meet with me to talk about the event. When I was at the CCCKC hackerspace on Friday, it sounded like Luis might be able to use some help with last minute items on the Maker Faire. However, after talking with him this morning over a delicious breakfast which he graciously provided in their cafeteria, it appears he has things pretty well worked out, and assistance from DHMN and other Wisconsin hacker / makers won't be as needed as it would be at a typical barcamp or other unconference. The Maker Faire KC seems to be much less participant-led than the unconferences, and more like the typical expo event put on by an expo venue, such as the McCormick Place in Chicago or by an event management company. Luis built the Maker Faire KC website, coordinated the maker registrations for the Faire, coordinated the layout of all the maker booths and activity area, and, in general, was pretty much one of the key players for getting things done and making sure the event will be a resounding success.

Luis brought along to our meeting the floorplan drawings of Union Station, the facility where the
Faire will be held, so I was able to see what the general layout will be like. They've got over 150 makers registered for displays, with everything from Arduinos and soldering to robot wars, Power Wheels racing, steampunk leather hats, hydroponics and urban gardening. The Pumping Station: One hackerspace from Chicago will be running the Power Wheels racing, and it sounds like there will be contingents from the Milwaukee Makerspace and some of the Detroit area hackerspaces participating in those races. Makers are also coming from various other parts of the US (and maybe international??). Luis feels that 2011, the inaugural year for an 'official' Maker Faire in Kansas City, will be a learning year. They've already got lots of ideas about how to do things differently and better next year, and a lot of people who are exposed to the concept
of a Maker Faire for the first time this year will likely participate in the 2012 event.

After my meeting with Luis, I headed back across the state line to the KCK mayor's office. I was fortunate to be able to meet with one of the KCK residents who has been involved with the Google Fiber project to explain my interest in the community involvement aspects of the project. We had a good discussion about ways in which the KCK community-wide project can be made most successful and some of the issues that will benefit most from additional energy, focus and resources. His feedback regarding the topics we discussed today will be very helpful in better understanding how the gigabit network can be most effectively leveraged to benefit the residents and organizations of KCK.

The afternoon was spent doing online
research and working on a couple Wisconsin projects. After the evening rush traffic subsided, I got back on I-35 North to visit Union Station so I could better visualize what the Maker Faire will be like. As I got off the freeway in downtown KCMO on my way to Union Station, guess what I drove past. The landmark from my unexpected morning tour of downtown KC -- the auto repair garage on Southwest Boulevard! Familiar territory... I'm sure every time I drive past that now, I'll smile. One of these days I'll have to stop in and ask the mechanic if he wants to get together for coffee some time or stop after work at his favorite pub.

Made it to Union Station without getting lost again. Between my morning jaunt and Google
Streetview, I knew just what to expect and what the streets around Union Station would look
like. Parked in the multi-story parking garage (first half hour is free), then took a bunch of pictures on both the outside of Union Station and the inside. It's a pretty impressive building and will be really cool when filled with a crazy assortment of makers and all their various creations. The building reminded me a lot of the Denver, Colorado, Union Station which I visited a few years ago when I took the train from Chicago to San Francisco. The Kansas City Union Station has impressively high, ornate ceilings that create a special feeling which can't be gotten from a more utilitarian and function building that only has ten-foot high ceilings to save on construction costs and energy bills. Union Station will be a Maker Faire venue that out-of-town makers are going to enjoy and remember for a long time. In addition to the Union Station expo building itself, the same complex also holds a Science Center and Planetarium, so the makers and their families will have plenty to keep them busy in KC!

There are a couple more KC area technology visits on my schedule for this week which are relevant to the Google Fiber KCK project. If all goes according to plan, I'll wrap up this visit tomorrow and head back to Wisconsin for a few days before getting back on the road for Maker Faire KC...



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