A couple of months ago I went to Geekcon. For those not familiar – Geekcon is a “conference/hackathon” for makers – you come, build a ridiculous project, eat some food, barely sleep at all, play a bit with other people’s projects, and then go home.
The idea about the project being ridiculous – it has to be something that not useful – or something that you wouldn’t start a startup for. So each project has two elements – an art element and a tech element. Some projects are very much about the tech, and some are about the art, and most are a mixture of both. The thing is – to build something cool – the art part is just as important as the tech, sometimes even more so!
This wasn’t my first Geekcon. I went to a few back in 2008 and 2009, when I tried to build a lunar lander and an automatic guitar improvisation script. Then I had a long break where I mostly worked on various startups and felt like I didn’t have the time, until right before COVID started in 2019 I went to the project demonstration and thought – I really miss this. I went to “Geekcon kids” with my son, and now that Corona was reasonably under control in Israel, I went with a couple of friends – Dekel and Tomer, and we built FPFS – First Person Fish Swimmer. Here’s the project description:
Discover how it feels like to swim with the fishes! Originally planned as an RC controlled submarine that can be placed in an aquarium to give you a first hand experience of being a fish, we converted to a boat giving you the same.
The RC controls the motor and direction of the boat, while a gopro camera provides an HD view of the aquarium’s denizens.Geekcon 2021 projects list
Here’s the link to the final source code for the Arduino controller.
Geekcon was Thursday to Saturday – and by end of Friday (by which I mean, ~4am Saturday) we got it working reasonably well, and we had the rest of Saturday to take it easy and try out the other very cool projects.
Here are a couple of tips that I thought other people might find useful:
Build something achievable
I think this is the most important tip. Yes – going crazy is a great idea, and in Geekcon Failure is an acceptable outcome for the project, but still, it’s much more fun and satisfying to build something that works. So make a plan – and then make it simpler, and then even simpler, and then simpler still, and build this. Don’t give up on your dreams though! Consider the more complex stuff a stretch goal.
What you’re going to discover – even the simple stuff is going to be hard. For our project – I really wanted to do a submarine, but with barely any preparation I knew that building something that ambitious has zero chance of success. So we settled for a boat with an underwater camera. Even getting that to work was surprisingly hard.
It turns out that building something that floats well is this game where you want to make it light and wide to float, small to make it useful for an aquarium, and heavy enough to make it stable. Put on some propulsion, control and a heavy camera, and it’s even harder. While working on our project we iterated through three different designs until we got to one that worked well.
Art is as important as tech
As a hands-on guy that doesn’t really care much about appearances, walking and reviewing the other projects, I saw that many of the other impressive and exciting projects weren’t really all that complex technically. Some even had zero tech (e.g. a huge bird statue made of recycled computers). So if you spend some time planning and building the art of your project – you’re going to be that much more happy about it. Consider making a team member responsible for that area specifically.
Bring as much stuff as you can
For Geekcon – if you have equipment or spare building materials, spare electronics, spare whatever – bring it. During Geekcon we borrowed and bought so much stuff from other teams, and right at the beginning we even went shopping to get more equipment and project building materials. Don’t hesitate bringing more stuff. If you’re not going to need – someone else probably will.
To me, Geekcon is about building crazy stuff and having fun. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Try to make friends among the great maker community who comes to the conference. Eat some good food. Spend some time playing with other people’s projects. Volunteer and help. It’s going to be worth it!