Photo by Drew Fustini
Southern California is not known for its harsh winters. In fact, it’s probably safe to head out in flip flops and a hoodie on any given day all winter long. With that assumption in mind, that’s exactly what I was wearing when I headed south to Orange County for my very first Sparklecon. The weather would soon show my folly, but it wouldn’t dampen the fun awaiting me.
If you’re not familiar with Sparklecon, it’s an annual gathering of hackers, artists, tech aficionados, and everyone in between, for a weekend of talks, demonstrations, workshops, games, and socializing. It’s organized by 23b Shop, a makerspace in Fullerton, and its neighbors, the National Upcycled Computing Collective (NUCC), and the Plasmatorium. With doors wide open at all three shops, musicians and deejays performing, and tents, couches, and a fire pit occupying the road between them, Sparklecon felt like the best nerding-out block-party I’ve ever been to.
Day One: Rain, Wind, and Fire
We don’t get much rain here in Southern California, but the week leading up to Sparklecon was decidedly wet. The weekend, and Sparklecon itself, were no exception.
It rained. And poured, and drizzled, and then rained some more, though that fact didn’t appear to be dampening any spirits.
It didn’t take long for attendees to re-dub the event “Sprinklecon.” Nonetheless, many of the outdoor activities, like car hacking with Will Caruana, went full steam ahead.
If people weren’t in the mood to drive hacked cars, they could always drive a hacked couch instead.
The day continued on with a talk by Helen Leigh on how she took the mini.mu musical glove from development in a maker space all the way to production.
Saturday also included tips on how to get unruly 3D printers to behave, a discussion on different ways to publish research, and a workshop on social engineering from an information security perspective.
Meanwhile, an open table that the NUCC folks had named Kevin spontaneously emerged as a hub of hardware hacking. Roger Cheng brought out his KISS Tindie band and supplies for others who wanted to try their hand at freeform wire sculpture. Beau Ambur busied himself building a pair of synth kits he brought back from Germany. And Jaren Havell tinkered on a tiny Tesla coil kit he had picked up after arriving in town.
By the time the evening rolled around, the worst of the rain had passed, and the outdoor party came to life. A game of hammer Jenga was as much fun for the players as it was for the spectators.
A bonfire kept folks toasty warm.
While the mobile lounge from Hackaday kept them cozy.
And music from Tim Trzepacz, Unicorn Dream Attack, jiffypop23, and ICETRE kept things lively.
Day 2: Hacking Away and Packing Up
For those who were brave enough to climb out of bed in the early morning cold, Day 2 kicked off with breakfast at the Mexican joint down the block. After a relatively late night of partying to finish of day 1, I was not enough of an early riser to get there by 7:45. But I did arrive in time for a fireside chat with Barb on how she’s managed to be one of the most amazingly productive makers around. Her ongoing project, the Dodecahedrum, was a hit with the audience.
Roger and Jasmine gave a well-attended talk on the recent Hackaday circuit-sculpture contest, and how Roger’s KISS Tindie band came into being.
The hardware hackers from the day before (myself included) reunited at the table they had claimed inside NUCC. This time, I was prepared, and brought my own stuff to hack on. Jaren took a quick interest in my CRT projects, and it wasn’t long until we had The Matrix running on my little green screen.
We also tackled my Very Tiny CRT eyeball project, and Jaren helped me get it running like a champ.
Sparklecon was an absolute blast. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet a diverse set of people with an even more diverse set of interests and skills, and it was flat-out fun from beginning to end. I didn’t make it out to last year’s event and now I know I wish I had . Rest assured I’ll be there for Sparklecon next year, rain or shine.
For other perspectives on the weekend, be sure to check out the recap video by Barb:
You can also get a deeper look from Roger Cheng’s blog posts for day one and day two of this excellent conference.
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