Tinkerfest 2018 Recap

Tinkerfest 2018 exceeded expectations.  Going into the event, I was hearing museum staff say they anticipated 8-9 thousand people.  An hour before the event closed, I heard that they exceeded 10,000 guests, making it the largest single-day attendance ever in the history of the museum.  The final official attendance count was 11,134, although the actual number was much higher because many people came through the entrance without checking in.  Thank you to all the staff and volunteers of Science Museum Oklahoma for making this such a fun-filled, educational, and entertaining day.

As for my own Build Your Music exhibit, the experience went very well.  I arrived on Friday night to get a head start setting up.  The staff was very friendly and eager to help me with whatever I needed.  I was surprised by how many people knew my name.  Some of them, I know I had talked with at Make Faire Tulsa, but others must have just familiarized themselves with the list of guest tinkerers.  I had requested two 8-foot tables, and the museum gave me three, which turned out to be just right.  I put the main robotic xylophone in the middle, and the Arduino Music Lab on either end.  It took me about an hour to set up.  Here are some photos of the exhibit:


And here is a video tour:

Again I did a short Facebook Live broadcast prior to the event starting, where I shared the story of how I ended up coming to Tinkerfest.  I noticed that a few friends on Facebook even joined the broadcast live.


I also gave a Facebook Live tour of the exhibit, which is archived here.

Tinkerfest opened at 9:00 AM on Saturday.  I was towards the back of the museum so for the first hour it was fairly quiet.  But after that point, there was an almost non-stop stream of people coming through.  The general audience makeup was a little different than at the previous two Maker Faires.  Whereas at Maker Faire, there were a lot of people who were interested in the in’s-and-out’s of the robotic xylophone, at the Science Museum, most of the people just wanted to see it play some songs.  (Although a few were interested in the more technical side.)  Some visitors were in front of the xylophone for 10 minutes or longer, just listening to it play the different songs.  Ten minutes is a long time to hold people’s attention, considering that at a museum, people usually move from one exhibit to the next fairly quickly.  A few times, I saw the same person come back more than once bringing a friend or family member to see the robotic xylophone.

Here are some pictures of the exhibit throughout the day:

This was also my first chance to try out my new Arduino Music Lab.  Overall, the lab went very well, and the lab end of the table was constantly busy with kids wanting to put together their own Arduino parts.  I did have a few lessons learned.  First is that you can never test your stuff too much before putting it in front of people.  I built two of the “xylophone assembly” part of the lab, and verified that both were working Friday night and Saturday morning.  You can even see the xylophone portion of the lab working in the video tour.  However, one of the first guests who tried to do this lab went through the instructions, but still wasn’t able to make it work.  They had all the wiring right, but for some reason, the xylophone portion of the lab was not playing any songs.  I couldn’t get it to work myself.  Fortunately, I had two of the xylophone assembly, and so I could direct the person to the one at the other end of the table, so they could complete the lab and hear it play music.

The other thing I noticed is that even though I thought I simplified the lab as much as possible, it was still difficult for many kids to put the pieces together correctly.  Part of it was that the wires and pin labels were so small.  I suppose I could have redesigned the lab to use banana plugs, but then kids wouldn’t be putting together actual Arduino parts.  Also, midway through the day the jumper wire pins started breaking off and getting stuck in the Arduino header pins.  Sometimes we could pull them out with a wire stripper, but often the pins broke too far in.  When that happened, we had to take the broken parts out of service.  By the end of the day, there were still a few functional pieces, and the last people were still able to complete the lab.  But a lesson for next time could be to bring more spare parts.

I was impressed with the patience of many kids in putting the Arduino pieces together.  And some worked at it a long time until they got it right.  Some were working at it for 10-15 minutes, again, a long time when there are so many other things to see at the museum.

I was very happy to have had several volunteers throughout the day helping me with my exhibit.  Altogether, there were 8 extra people working the exhibit.  Thank you to all of you who helped, and thank you especially to Norbert and Dean who spent several hours out of their day helping with all the visitors, almost as if it were their own exhibit.  The Arduino Music Lab needed a lot of help, with all the small wires, and there is no way that I could have done all this by myself.

With all the volunteers helping, I was able to leave my exhibit a few times during the day to wander about the museum, and see the other exhibits and special activities.   I saw a lot of other interesting exhibits at Tinkerfest including, Cranky Contraptions, Violin Making, a Robot Car, a Banana Car, Air Powered Rockets, Dog House Building, and Disassembing Cars.  I also had a chance to play the Theremin.

So what’s next for Build Your Music?  At this point, I don’t know exactly.  After weeks of preparing, a long day on my feet, and my day job awaiting when I got home, it’s probably time to rest a little.  But it might not be too long before I start thinking about Tinkerfest 2019.

A In front of exhibit


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