May 26th, 2012


Robots, fire, solar eclipses: all things we saw at Maker Faire

Maker Faire was a little bit more like work this year as we did more scheduled interviews than usual and concentrated a little more on companies we could write about, but there was plenty of just really cool stuff as well.

I wrote up a piece for Tom's Guide that I pitched as the quirky side of tech - robotics (robot plant waterers, robot camera tripods that follow you around filming), DIY hardware, 3d printing, tiny computers like Raspberry Pi, milk jugs that tell you when the milk goes off, conductive paint (so you can literally draw a circuit board), electroluminescent screens you can print like a T shirt and the future of the kind of hardware projects that will show up on Kickstarter. You can read about all that and more over at

We interviewed Eben Upton of the Raspberry Pi foundation and reminisced happily about 8-bit computing and game writers who made so much money they bought Porsche's they were too young to drive; that's coming soon on TechRadar.

I took lots more photos than fitted in the feature, many of them of delightful flaming sculptures; we also got to watch the solar eclipse through a handheld safety viewer, a pinhole in a sheet of card, a stretched sheet of mylar, the shadows of the trees and a proper telescope with safety filters that let us see a sunspot.

More pictures on my SkyDrive

The weekend was great fun as usual, very tasty thanks to 4505 Meats whose 'pork; the noun not the verb' T shirt is in my future as a tribute to deep fried mac and cheese with bacon-studded frankfurter & sweet chili pork rinds, and exhausting. It was so nice to tumble into a hot tub afterwards. This whole trip has been fun, informative, tasty and exhausting and we're only halfway through. So far:
- we flew to LA (I met a charming raconteur on the plane who regaled me with stories about mass lobster dinners and the music business), tried a new breakfast place with maple bacon biscuits, drove to Vegas via Barstow and the usual excellent cheap Mexican restaurant
- walked about 4 miles a day and wrapped out heads fairly thoroughly around the possibilities for managing Windows 8 &amp; Windows RT as well as how System Center and Intune will manage iPhone and Android. Dinner at Shibuya, birthday lunch at Olives with a table on the patio to see the fountains, the ever-reliable BLT and lunch with spikeiowaspikeiowa</span> and Tom who were in town for Corflu, at Morel's Steakhouse at Palazzo which is outside on the strip, with a view of the Sirens, excellent Blood Orange margeritas and very nice food but slightly too small umbrellas on a bright bright day. The impressionist garden in the Bellagio and the impressive fountains outside were photographed.
- we headed back to Barstow and on to Paso Robles where we fitted in two new wineries (Looking Glass where they have a lovely garden to taste in and Sculpeterra where they have sculptures and pistachios) and dinner at Artisan (sweet potato bacon tater tots with ramps dressing and rabbit sausage) and then on to San Jose so we could get up far too early for
- the Creative Suite 6 announcement in the de Yonge museum accompanied by inflatable CS logos that were so inflated they nearly lifted the fountain they were tethered to into the sky, and drink-n-interview time on the top floor of the de Yonge tower where you can see out to Point Reyes up the coast and over the hill to the tips of the Golden Gate Bridge. Ritual Coffee and purchasing of my lovely insulated tea glass and then down to San Jose for a week sitting in Barefoot Coffee and writing furiously
- got up far too early to fly to Orlando and talk to RIM about BlackBerry 10; the new CEO has a convincing mien and talks well but didn't have time for the kind of one on one interview where we can really assess how he thinks, but we did have time to talk to Dan Dodge, the QNX founder who impresses us a lot (and laughed heartily when I said QNX reminds me of Plan 9). RIM is working like a startup, with late nights and pranks and more energy than it's had in years. Nice ideas we said to them; now you have to execute. Then our plane was delayed over three hours by potential fog which I hope isn't an omen for RIM. The Virgin America gate staff kept the passengers amused with quizzes (guess the cumulative age of the gate staff) and paper airplane contests and we took off late but in a good mood. Watched Tower Heist which was funnier and more poignant than I expected. Alan Alda continues to rock my world. Landed at 1am SF time, took an hour (an hour!) to get the luggage and the rental car and got to San Jose in hem-hem record time
- proceeded to sleep off the trip, sit in the hummingbird-visited sunny garden of friends writing furiously, enjoy hanging out and catching up, fit in a few meetings with security companies, visit the Facebook campus, visit Parc (a Xerox company), queue for the longest time for a crab/shrimp/crawfish boil that was very yummy, have lunch in the excellent Mayfield Bakery restaurant in the Town & Country (much more than a bakery - fantastic chicken and steak sandwiches and a refreshing pomegranate lime spritzer) and pop over to San Jose to pick up some rose at David Bruce (where we got to meet the winemaker and hear about the chardonnay from the Judgement of Paris he'd tried the previous week). And dinner at Dish Dash (yummy Mediterranean)
and dinner with friends and dinner at Caffe Ricci where the sculptures are screamingly funny - the washerwoman is a woman with a washer-drier on her head
- we decamped to downtown San Jose for the Nvidia GTC conference: virtualising GPUs, learning the reason for locust swarms (can't stop, locust behind me will eat me) which the daily newsletter reported in the style of a con newsletter, and pondering the amateur lunar rover that will launch on a Russian rocket next year. Ate at *all* the downtown San Jose restaurants; Original Joes, Il Fornaio, The Grill on the Alley AND McCormack & Schicks. Do you get points for restaurant bingo? The event party had roulette and blackjack (which I know how to lose at) and poker and craps (which I don't) but we watched the excellent jugglers instead. Nice patter, nice pattern juggling, and chainsaw juggling to the music and pace of The Blue Danube.
- thence a day of writing and errands and on to Maker Faire for the weekend, followed by a two-day drive to Santa Barbara (coffee, cherries, fried chicken and crab and lobster we hammered into submission at Arch Rock Fish) and on to Laguna Beach (scary LA traffic is crazy and scarey) for this week's conference, Future in Review. This is a treat, although a conference that starts at 8am and carries on through conversations and film showing and dinner lectures until at least midnight every night is exhausting as well as fascinating. It covers everything from cloud to the language of prairie dogs, melting glaciers to the uniquely US approach the FTC has to privacy (speedbump to innovation on the information superhighway to how technology could help human trafficking to interviews with Mark Hurd and George Dyson, plus David Brin and Kim Stanley Robinson bringing their towels on stage. Chatting to them afterwards turned into lunch talking SF and different cultures and then a walk on the beach picking up shells and testing the water temperature. Special mention to O Sushi in the mall across from the hotel, which has excellent sushi, sashimi and rolls, all made with real crab the way I like them, plus cripsy fried antenna. I feel like my antenna are crispy fried now (we've been writing this week as well) so bed calls.

full steam ahead

My tweets

  • Fri, 16:42: George Dyson: I believe technology is part of life; my dad believes life is part of technology #firex
  • Fri, 16:58: RT @shanselman: If you ask the question "is it poisonous?" and you are in Australia, the answer is YES.
  • Fri, 17:51: David Brin & Kim Stanley Robinson celebrate Towel Day that adds up to 42 & talk SF tropes #firex
  • Fri, 17:56: KSR: writing is a technology, language is a technology, justice is a technology,economics is a technology; what we could use them for #firex
  • Fri, 18:00: KSR: Most novel writing not matter of creativity springing full blown; writers who think that way writing trivial &uninteresting art #firex
  • Fri, 18:00: CONT What it is, is a sensitive receiver of what's going in and try to write a story of interest to people who know what's going on #firex
  • Fri, 18:03: KSR: science fiction is a larger question of the sciences &the humanities; conversation on values guiding application of science/tech #firex
  • Fri, 18:40: Better food labelling would reflect the true costs & externalities, explain why organic costs more by showing contaminants avoided #firex
  • Fri, 18:46: Software with everything #zdnetuk
  • Fri, 18:52: handy MS page showing if you have Do Not Track enabled in your browser w instructions for turning it on (not just #IE)
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