Traveling to Maker Faires, conferences, etc

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Bay Area Maker Faire (San Francisco, California)

  • Video:
  • Airline:
    • 2012: Air France. Amsterdam->Paris->San Francisco. Flight was ok, but getting our whole crew seated together was a huge nightmare involving what seemed like the worst informed customer service on the face of the earth.
    • 2011:British Airways. Amsterdam->London->San Francisco. Every flight on British Airways is the worst ever. Old crappy planes, really poor connections through London Heathrow.
  • Airport transit: BART subway. We stay in downtown San Francisco for a few days to eat tacos in the Mission District and hang out at Instructables and Noise Bridge. Easily accessible by BART.
  • Car: Required. Supposedly you can take public transit to Maker Faire: end of BART to CalTrain, but it would still be a whole lot of unpleasant walking along roads and really hard if you're lugging a display. We stay downtown for a few days then take BART back to the airport to pick up the car. Rental cars are pretty cheap in California, we always find Enterprise to have really awesome, over the top service, and the shortest lines at the pickup counter. Avoid Hertz, the people in that line always look miserable.
  • Hotel: Renoir Hotel downtown, Hilton Garden Inn San Mateo secondary conference hotel for the Faire. About a 15 minute drive to Maker Faire. We stayed in the secondary conference hotel again in 2012, even though the primary hotel was available (hey, Finnair points at Hilton!)
  • Event size: Huge and unwieldy. If you're presenting expect to talk constantly 12hours+ per day.
  • Food: Taco crawl from 16th and Mission (16th street BART stop, near Noise Bridge hacker space) to 24th and Mission, then down 24th street for even more. If you like hoppy California ales and fancy bratwurst, check out the restaurant on the corner of 24th and Mission before getting back on the BART.
  • Prepaid data plan:
    • 2012: T-Mobile prepaid. $3/day "4G" unlimited. The AT&T plan is gone (good riddance), but T-Mobile was *MUCH* better. We even won the most tweets award from Maker Faire this year with more than 51 pictures!
    • 2011: AT&T Go Phone. $2/day unlimited calling, $25 for 500MB data.

New York Maker Faire (New York, New York)

  • Airline:
    • 2012: Delta. Amsterdam->New York JFK direct. It's Delta, you know it's going to suck even more than KLM or Air France. Whattca gonna do?
    • 2011: Aer Lingus. Amsterdam->Dublin->New York. One of the top flights ever. Brand new Airbus A330, polite and helpful crew, easy connections. Great leg room in coach. Free WIFI in the airport. If you're in Dublin early and see your server crashed, there's a bar that serves Guinness and Whiskey from 6am. We will only fly Aer Lingus to New York in the future.
  • Airport transit: Abysmal. The taxis have a racket on airport transportation, public transit is almost out of the question (5+ transfers by bus). It'll cost $30 to get to the conference hotel in Queens.
  • Car: Don't even think about it. Go to the hotel by Taxi, then take the subway everywhere else. Maker Faire was two stops by subway, Times Square was 30 minutes away, Maker Bot cave and NYC Resistor are a full hour. Subways run 24 hours, which is helpful.
  • Hotel:
    • 2012: The OHS is in Manhattan this year so we rented an apartment in the East Village instead
    • 2011: Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel. Two subway stops to the Maker Faire, but an hour from the city
  • Event size: Medium. Not as busy or big as Bay Area, but still good sized.
  • Food: Expensive. The conference hotel was in a China/Korea town, so we ate a lot of Chinese food with the guys from Seeed. We sought out several of our favorites in NYC, but overall food was expensive and disappointing.
  • Prepaid data plan:
    • 2012: T-Mobile prepaid. $3/day "4G" unlimited. The AT&T plan is gone (good riddance), but T-Mobile was *MUCH* better. Yoshi had problems with his Japan issue iPhone 4.
    • 2011:AT&T Go Phone. $2/day unlimited calling, $25 for 500MB data. Barely usable.

Homecamp (London, UK)

  • Airline: British Airways. Amsterdam->Gatwick (outside London). Another crappy BA flight, but at least they could only screw this one up a little.
  • Airport transit: Gatwick is 'conveniently' located about an hour from London via a $50 Gatwick Express train ride to Victoria station. From Victoria station it is a few stops to Kings Cross (of Harry Potter fame) where Homecamp4 was held.
  • Car: Don't even think about it. Public transit the whole time. There is a 7pound all-day transit ticket that is a great value if you're checking things out before or after the conference.
  • Event size: Intimate. You'll get to know lots of people and their projects personally.
  • Hotel: Swinton Hotel, 1 block from Homecamp. Cheap but pretty dingy, mum wouldn't stay there, but at least it's not a hostel. Remember to hand over your key every time you leave.
  • Food: Expensive and bland. We were hopeful about several huge street food markets, but all the food was expensive, bland, and not made with very high quality ingredients.
  • Prepaid data plan: Vodafone, you can't go 10 feet without finding one. 10pound SIM included 10pounds credit plus free 300minutes and 1GB data, more than we used the whole time.

Make Tokyo Meeting (Tokyo, Japan)

  • Airline: Finnair. Amsterdam->Helsinki->Tokyo. Best. Flight. Ever. They wined and dined us the whole way, even the short hops. Brand new, spotless Airbus A330. They even cleaned the bathrooms during the flight. Most leg room of any flight we've been on. Cheerful and polite crew continued the barrage of food and drink even during the night hours of the flight. Power in every seat, even coach! Easy 10 minute connections both ways in Helsinki. Finnair is running the cheapest and shortest flights from Europe to Asia, and we'll only fly them in the future, including our trip to Maker Faire China in a few months.
  • Airport transit: $30 Skyliner bullet train (36 minutes) from Narita airport to Nippori station in Tokyo. Put your ticket into the gate at Nippori to transfer to the subways and JR line trains, you won't get the ticket back. At Nippori use a machine to buy a Pasmo card - 1000Yen gets the card with 500Yen credit, that should get you started on the trains and subways. From Nippori we took Yamanote line to Meguro (30 minutes), which is only a few stops from the Make Tokyo Meeting 07 location and Tokyo hackerspace.
  • Car: Don't even think about it. Public transit is superb and runs every 2-3minutes from 6am to 12am. JR line has a 730Yen day ticket, but it isn't good for the subway. There is an equivalent ticket for the subway, but we mostly rode JR trains.
  • Event size: Medium-large. Not as big as the US Maker Faires, but still very busy and popular.
  • Hotel: Princess Garden, 5 minutes from Meguro station. Was cheap and extremely clean. Amenities included a fridge and fancy Japanese toilet.
  • Food: Wild. Our favorites were noodle bars, Tokyo Food Show in Shibuya, the shaved-beef-on-rice chain, and anywhere salary men gather after work. Food prices are really reasonable, beer is gonna cost you $10-$20 a pint though.
  • Prepaid data plan: Sadness. Sjaak roamed for $12/MB. Ian didn't know he could roam until the last night.

Shenzhen Maker Faire (Shenzhen China)

  • Airline: Finnair. Amsterdam->Helsinki->Hong Kong. What else? To be honest there was a big delay on the way to Hong Kong that put a big bump in the road.
  • Airport transit: $13 high-speed train from the airport to downtown Hong Kong. Then the metro or cabs. Cabs in Hong Kong are very cheap.
  • Transport to Shenzhen: A 30 minute metro ride takes you to the main crossing from Hong Kong into Mainland China. You will need a Visa, and most people need to apply before leaving their home country.
  • Car: No way. Taxis in Shenzhen are ridiculously cheap, we paid $13 for an hour long ride. Metro in Shenzhen is also ultra cheap and very modern, clean, and air conditioned. Hong Kong metro is equally great, and taxis are also cheap.
  • Event size: 1000+. For the first Maker Faire in China it was spectacular. We used a half Seeed box of business cards and stickers.
  • Hotel: Lushan Hotel Shenzhen near the train station, two metro stops from the market, and 1 hour taxi ride to Seeed Studio. Pretty boring area, pretty dirty, awful hotel. First they lost our prepaid reservation and we had to call the US for a new one. Then they checked us out a day early while we were buying goodies at the Hua Qaing Bei market! Next time we'll stay in the market area.
  • Food: It's China, if it looks good eat it. We enjoyed hotpot, and anything with a bit of rice and meat. In Hong Hong we were fond of the Temple Street live seafood restaurants.
  • Prepaid data plan: A 100HKD SIM got us unlimited 14.4MBPS internet for 7 days in Hong Kong, with English instructions. We also bought a China Mobile SIM in Hong Kong that gave us 500MB of data in Shenzhen for about 78HKD. It seemed easier to buy the Shenzhen SIM in Hong Kong, but all the instructions were in Chinese so it wasn't 100% clear what we bought.

Global Geek Tour Seoul, South Korea

  • Airline: Finnair. Amsterdam->Helsinki->Seoul. What else? Seouls airport is consistently voted best in the world. We thought it was easy to get in and out, but didn't think it was one of the best we've been through in the past year.
  • Airport transit: A $20 high-speed train runs from the Airport to downtown in about 30 minutes.
  • Car: We got around with the metro and a stored-value card.
  • Hotel: A boutique hotel in Iteawon, a tourist area. The hotel was good but we'd stay elsewhere next time, the area was very international.
  • Food: To be honest we weren't on the ground long enough to eat. If you tour Cheonggyecheon, be sure to hit the fabric market on our map, it has some crazy good mung bean ground, fried, pancake things.
  • Prepaid data plan: If you're there for more than 3 days you can apply for a data SIM, otherwise plan to roam. We used out magic SIM that seems to roam everywhere with no charges.

Singapore Maker Faire

  • Airline: Emirates. Amsterdam->Dubai->Singapore. By total concidence we were on the first A380 out of Amsterdam. Evidently Amsterdam was the first A380 ready airport, but KLM/Air France fly junky old 747s so one has never flown there. Emirates is taking a stab. We had WIFI on the brand new plane, $3 for 5MB or $15 for 30MB, it worked great but with long latency. A380 is pretty nice, wide seats, wide aisles, and smooth quiet flight. Food was ok. Dubai was insane, most global airport ever. Arrived at midnight and it was 104F outside, the water in the toilets and urinals was steamy - something well documented on the web by seemingly unexplained. Transfers were speedy, dignified, and easy, as was entry and exit from Singapore. We wanted to fly Finnair for this route, but the summer prices were 5 to 10 times normal prices.
  • Airport transit: 99.% percent of the time we take public transit from the airport. It's cheap, good for the environment, and easy to use. This time, however, after 24 hours of travel, we took a cheap taxi ($25 SIN with tip, about $20 USD) to the hotel to get to the shower faster.
  • Car: Nope. It's a city state on an island. Walk, take a cab, jump in the metro as needed. Taxis are cheap here, downtown to Maker Faire at the Science Center was less than $20 USD with tip.
  • Hotel: Hotel 81 Bugis Singapore. Hotel 81 is a big Singapore chain, and this one is walking distance from Sim Lim Tower/Square and the Singapore hackerspace. Nothing special, but fit our budget at less than $150 per night. Rooms were small, but twice the size of a Tokyo hotel. We had a fridge.
  • Food: Food in Singapore is amazing, fresh, and cheap. India, China, Malaysia, Japan, and Korea are all well represented. It's the best eats we've found in Asia so far. We ate almost exclusively at hawker centers, indoor street food stands. Our favorites, and what we ate there, are listed on the Global Geek Singapore Google Map layer. If you're really into food check out the Makansutra Guide, and both of Anthony Bourdain's shows from Singapore (especially Layover). Here's a Google Map layer with just hawker centers (see the main layer for our notes).
  • Prepaid data plan: We used StarHub's prepaid SIM. $15 SIN ($12 USD) got us a card with $18 SIN credit. $7 SIN bought 1GB of 14.2MBPS data for 7 days, more than enough. The rest covered a few SMS/text messages. StarHub green cards are supposed to be available in 711, but we had to go to the StarHub store in the basement of Bugis Junction to get one. You will need to show a passport or local ID, but there's no delay (like South Korea) so we consider that acceptable.

Maker Faire tips

  • Bring a table cloth, tape, etc. You don't want to be the only one with an ugly table do you?
  • Bring extra connectors and cords. If you bring extra you might get an invitation to London by loaning one out.
  • Bring business cards. We go through around 2000 in SF and NY, 1000 in Tokyo.
  • Check out Hackerspaces close to the faire event. Having a local geek-guide brings you to really awesome places and creates many local contacts.
  • Don't expect internet. Internet is always an issue.

Check out our video: How we prepare for Bay Area Maker Faire. Stuff we bring includes:

  • Tablecloth
  • Dangerous Prototypes banner
  • Projects packed in anti-static bags, stored in plastic boxes
  • Descriptive sheets and small acrylic display stands for each project
  • Selection of connectors, wires, and tools for debugging
  • Handful of USB cables
  • Business cards and stickers. Two big Seeed Studio boxes for Maker Faire Bay Area
  • Hackerspace passports and Dangerous Prototypes stamps
  • A simple point and shoot camera, now primarily a smartphone for live Twitter picture posts
  • Lots of batteries, and flash cards for the camera
  • Spy kit with local money, transit cards, phone SIM cards, and discount club cards

See our video of the Bay Area Maker Faire 2012 from the presenters' perspective, and get tips from veteran Maker Faire participants. What they bring:

  • Businesses cards
  • A friend to cover your booth
  • Power strips
  • Favorite tools, tool kit
  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Sun screen
  • Comfortable shoes


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