Saturday, August 10, 2013

Bronycon Retrospective

My printer printing at the convention, on a camera far better than mine, courtesy of Twitter

I'm back from Bronycon, and boy do I have a story to tell! Hear all about it after the page break! I just wish I could've posted about it sooner.

My story starts a day before Bronycon (technically it starts months before, when I started printing for the convention, but whatever). My father agreed to drive to the convention with me despite his busy position at IBM - great guy by the way, agreeing to come help me despite his thousands of emails per day and many responsibilities to his company. Anyways, he got the afternoon on thursday off, but not the morning, so I ended up sitting at the IBM Watson center with nothing better to do but 3D print. I set up shop, and was soon surrounded by interested researchers, some even making requests for me to 3D-print stuff for them. It seems I really stirred up some interest! I hope it leads somewhere - maybe I can convince them to collaborate with the folks at Harvard. I certainly wouldn't mind if IBM designed a 3D-printing software suite, or mass-producible arduino-compatible 3D-printing chips, or something else along those lines.

When it finally came time to leave, we carried the printer out into rain (I was pleasantly surprised with how robust the circuitry was), and packed it, along with some other supplies, into our car for a 7-hour trip to Baltimore that would've been just 4 hours if not for terrible traffic and rain. Proud to say I drove perfectly, despite this trip being the first time since I got my license. After arriving and unpacking we went to sign up for the convention. The Baltimore Convention Center itself is impressive, spanning a number of city blocks, with walkways over the streets - the loading docks give off an almost Battlestar Galactica vibe and it almost feels like the thing could take off into space, were it not for it's sheer size and bulk. The place was probably almost a kilometer across, so it was a surprise to find that the line to get on to the registration line snaked through probably half the building, and the registration line itself filled an entire event hall, snaking back and forth.

As a vendor, my registration process was much simpler, taking all of five minutes. At that registration line I saw Laserp0n3 again, whom I'd been meaning to talk to, to see if we could collaborate on a 3D-printing technology similar to MIT's Formlabs printer. He seemed busy at the time so I let him be. Too bad I didn't see him again: running a booth turned out being more work than anticipated and I didn't even have time to look for him... Anyways, after registering we explored the convention center a bit, aside from the areas that were closed, then went back to the hotel. Last notable thing that happened that day was that, while in the elevator with three other guys and a girl, my father asked "So who's going to Bronycon?". All us guys raised our hands and the girl asked "What's Bronycon?". We all laughed about it a bit, except the girl who was genuinely confused until we explained it, but I do wonder if the community is slowly becoming more polarized towards guys. In the end, lots of girls went to the convention too, so maybe it was a fluke, albeit a funny yet poignant one.

The first actual day of the convention, I brought in my 3D-printer to find that it worked! ...Which is more impressive than it sounds, because open-source Reprap printers have been known to de-calibrate in transport, and because I was running the whole thing off a 10-amp outlet that couldn't even run my soldering iron (fun fact - we engineering students sleep with our soldering irons like kids sleep with teddy bears. ...Wait you beleived that? No! Not really- well... maybe a little - just keep reading -_-). I calculated that it would work ahead of time, but it was still impressive to see it in action. Sooner or later I'm probably going to start powering it off a solar panel. Replacing a 10 amp outlet with solar cells, while maybe making the printer require even less power, seems do-able, and using low-power printers to print in a biodegradable, biocompatible starch-derived plastic just might be the greenest 3D-printing I've heard of.

I couldn't make it to many of the panels, but I saw lots of that stuff on the web after the convention anyway and most of you guys, if you're here, probably have seen all that stuff by now, so I'll focus on other aspects of the convention. As with other brony conventions I've been to, the general feeling was as important to characterizing the convention as the panels - reminds me of Star Trek conventions when those were still new. Lots of nice, outgoing, friendly people from all walks of life, simply having a good time sharing their interest in their respective subculture. All that plus the occasional bursting out into song and/or hive mind-like meme references that remind one of a flock of turkeys. Some of the panels got cancelled - I guess some of the panelists were even more new to their medium as I was to being a vendor. There was so much scheduled anyway that it hardly made a dent in the programming. Besides panels, there were rooms dedicated to board games, video games, Youtube-watching, et cetera - informal but fun stuff that was open for the duration of the convention. Honestly, those features kind of reminded me of my college on weekends... My college is awesome... It doesn't have as much cosplay though - not that I mind. At any rate, thanks to this convention, or rather some of the cosplayers, my father now knows what steampunk is. I approve. Oh and I almost forgot, the Traveling Pony Museum was back this year! Their collection is starting to get quite impressive. I talked with the folks in charge for a bit, turns out their business model ended up working! Well, marginally, but they're off the ground and they've got momentum. They also asked me if I could make custom 3D-prints for their collection. I can't wait to help out!

Inspired by Bronycon? Maybe.

For some reason there were tons of people playing MTG. TONS. Enterplay really made a good decision dreaming up their MLP card game - I bet that will take future conventions by storm. All those card games and no Cards Against Humanity as far as I know... I guess it was supposed to be a kid friendly convention, but I at least wish someone had invented Applejacks to Applejacks or something along those lines - a pony themed version. I have a feeling that already exists and I just haven't looked hard enough. One other eccentricity was that the convention center seemed to have a lot of really nice outdoor spaces with gardens and sunlight that ended up for the most part unused. Odd, unless... We're not all stereotypical outdoors-fearing vitamin D-deprived stereotypical internet nerds, right? ... Right?

Bronypalooza seemed fun, though loud music and late nights aren't really my thing, and some people making dubstep showed up at my vendor booth anyway. Not sure why, but Dubstep and 3D-printers complement each other really nicely. The up-side to skipping much of that is unlike lots of the other con-goers, I didn't have to wake up to an alarm. Frankly I'm surprised how many people these days use alarms - I just don't feel as rested when I wake up that way.

Er... Thanks Yakko. I did meet a lot of people though! There was a nearly constant crowd in front of my booth. Clawed Nyasu was selling 3D prints way more expensively than I, but they were very post-processed, acetone-vapor-polished, painted and sanded, so the quality was good. Kinda defeats the purpose of using a 3D-printer if it needs so much post-processing that you might as well have molded clay instead, but I guess it sells and they've found a niche. On the engineering end of the spectrum instead of the artistry side, SkyNetBeta and company cleverly produced 3D-printed molds for mass-production of other stuff, allowing him to have cheaper prices and more volume of products for less work - very smart guy. The quality of his prints are very nice right off the machine and he knows how to work a 3D-printer. So far he's been playing with the proprietary stuff, but like me he's amassed enough experience to start tweaking things and customizing his printers. Perhaps he (they?) and I could collaborate. I'd certainly like that. I also had the fortune to meet Uncommented, Whom I found out uses Blender, just like me! For now it seems his 3D-modelling skills are also better than mine, lol. So me plus them - that makes four people who are still 3D-printing these days, aside from the folks working more directly with KP-Shadowsquirrel. There is some worry after what happened on Shapeways, but these people are smart - a sustainable, productive, not-clashing-with-IP way forward will be found.

There were lots of other people I saw besides just the 3D-printing folks - Gail from Enterplay, for example. If Enterplay ever needs my help prototyping textured cards, or anything else for that matter, I hope they know I'd be happy to help. At one of the other booths I saw Andy Price, but he was constantly busy. I wanted to ask him about the Observer ponies, but I guess someone else got the chance during their panel. very cool to know for certain that he stuck that reference in there. I met Dr. Redden and Dr. Edwards yet again, and it seems like their findings are mostly the same still (update - apparently they had a bunch of new stuff, but because I missed most of their panels, I missed that part). Even so, I picked up some new points that made me have to rethink the architecture of the fandom. Always neat stuff to ponder... social structures. I guess I wish I were better at it. Dustykatt, Joe Stevens, and some of the Everfree Network folks stopped by over the course of the convention too. Apparently Dusty has a friend who can't print some of my Thingiverse models properly... I don't know who you are, but I will find you, and I will help you... Then of course I met a couple folks from the various sites now networked with DD through the skype chat, old friends from prior BronNYCons, one guy who was starting up a makerspace in - where was it - Ohio? As part of a makerspace I'm sure I could help him out. I found space to post-process some of my prints in the convention 'gopher hole', where I was happy to see an army - though small at times, of helpful volunteering convention-goers, some more qualified than others, but all doing their best to keep the convention running smoothly. Kudos to them. I was even lucky enough to meet Haybuck, (though I imagine he was very busy with convention stuff) Whom I made a custom print for, which he gave to a friend of his at the closing ceremony. But perhaps I spend too much time on the subject of meeting people - in general I met thousands, all of them friendly.

As for sales, the first day went horribly, and left me very worried that I wouldn't break even on the convention expenses.

I even designed a flipped table to suficciently express my exasperation.

 The next two days, I guess word spread around, because business was a lot better. Once we broke even, we sold some prints at a lower cost, to just replace the cost of the plastic while allowing more people who wanted prints to have them. By the last day of the convention the ATMs around the convention center were pretty much cleaned out, so even people who wanted to buy prints couldn't. I guess for future conventions I'll know to accept credit cards. And besides, I was a vendor at the convention to spread the word about my 3D-printing service (page not fully functional yet), not to make a profit off stuff that could maybe under certain circumstances be described as similar to FIM merchandise - especially with what happened to Shapeways recently... By the end of the convention I still had some leftover prints, one of which I was able to gave to the charity auction after the convention. The rest of the prints people didn't want, I'll probably melt down to recycle the plastic.

When the convention was all over and done, I had accrued some merch of my own. Actually managed to startle a couple bronies with this:

Which was probably the scariest cosplay at the convention - at least for the paranoid. I also ended up with an SDCC Vinyl Scratch... Not even sure how, since this wasn't even the right convention for that 0_0... I also ended up getting two Twilight Sparkle Enterplay exclusive cards because I'm awesome (but really it's because my father had a convention badge too, but is not interested in collecting cards... srsly - awesome guy) and traded some 3D-prints for a special-edition cover of MLP:FIM #9. 

TL:DR - Tons of nerdery and a little more pink than usual.

P.S. Convention goers, stop asking me if I can 3D-print guns. Just... No. -_-
P.S.S. Sorry for the lack of pictures, my camera is ancient. There's plenty of stuff out there now, including pictures and video of my booth! Thanks to the many folks on the web who did get audio and video - not only of my booth, but in general.

And here's another:

"My daughter loves the aquarium" ... lolwut?