[ I'm duplicating this post to the General Discussion forum so that we have some hope of finding it again ]
Despite the intentionally eye-catching title, we had a very successful Raspberry Jam in Silicon Valley Saturday afternoon at the Computer History Museum. However, please read on to see what you can do to make your Jam even better based on the knuckle-dragging and Wily Coyote antics of those who have preceded you in evolutionary terms (aka an education in the School of Hard Knocks).
I was concerned about getting overwhelmed by making a big announcement weeks in advance as there would only be limited space, so, I started publicizing the Jam about a week before the event, after casually mentioning here the intent to hold the event upwards of several weeks beforehand. We wound up in a conference room about as far away from the main entrance and lobby of the museum as is possible. There was an 8.5 x 11 inch sign next to the reception desk with the Pi logo and the Raspberry Jam title which directed attendees to await escort to the Jam site. For the Jams next month and beyond, I hope to be able to have about a 1 x 4 (H x L) meter banner with the logo and Jam name hanging from the second floor railing above the lobby to increase awareness by the general public.
We wound up with a few dozen attendees during the four hour duration of the Jam, with about half of the people remaining the entire time and the others coming and going intermittently. We had a delightful and surprising number of kids attend, about a third of the total, of which about half a dozen actively participated for at least three hours. Given the short notice and it being one of the most popular weeks for families to be on vacation travel, it was very heartening to see such a response. It turned out that almost everyone attending had at least one Pi, although only about a dozen boards were set up by a core of the more experienced folks. The kids were a bit reticent when they first arrived, but, with only a modicum of prodding, they quickly realized that we had actually set up machines for kids to play with them. The next thing we knew, Scratch and Python games were busting out all over!
We had a 1080p HDMI projector to throw video up on a wall-sized screen, and that was great. We had some wired network issues until a properly-functioning RJ-45 wall connector was found and later, we brought in a 24-port network switch given the rapid rise in the number of boards showing up. The museum has pretty much moved on to WiFi beyond their offices and front-of-house infrastructure and, while we had brought WiFi access points that could bridge to a wired segment connected to the Pi boards, we didn't have time to really set up our own infrastructure the way we would for a serious business event. After all, it was a lazy, sunny Saturday afternoon, and we were there to have fun above all else! When the number of attendees gets larger, we will definitely arrive hours early to set up, debug everything, and keep things running smoothly with people dedicated to the task. That will be especially true in the cooler months, when physical activity will be more welcome than in the mid 90s F weather we had Saturday.
Hal Heydt and Liam McLoughlin very kindly provided much-needed technical assistance to the kids and adults alike throughout the event, and Liam was able to set up a Quake 3 server. He helped others load the client binaries and get started in the game, and I can foresee where a game session could be a very popular part of every Jam. Perhaps we can take a cue from the Raspithon kids and have attendees do some level of coordinated preparation of components for a Game-of-the-Jam each month, which would be finally integrated, debugged, and played at the Jams. The same would be possible for "Piduino" devices used in equipment such as robots and other hardware-oriented projects.
I talked with one of the parents who suggested that the Jams should be coordinated with local volunteer groups that mentor kids in Summertime computing activities such as CodeDojo. There is a very popular CodeDojo group that meets in San Francisco, but, none in Silicon Valley itself, which is one of those ironies that permeates the Valley (San Francisco is a city of millions of visitors this time of year, and it's difficult to get there, park, etc., especially with a vehicle full of kids). People just assume that every kid here is born with a keyboard in their hands and knows how to program by age three and, while there are a few exceptional prodigies that come close, most kids are just kids, and need some guidance and coaching to get started. We will be exploring this in depth with these groups and the museum's educational staff.
Because of the network issues and setup of late-arriving boards, we didn't get around to some of the things on our very loose list of nice-to-achieve milestones. The DDoS attack on the Raspithon kids' site meant that we couldn't really share with them, but, now that our RaspenJammer (rhymes with Katzenjammer) Kids know how much fun there is to be had, they can't wait to come back and play a lot more. Being able to do it with kids all around the world will just be that much more awesome.
I did get my Atrix lapdock set up for all to ogle at, and everyone was very impressed with the light weight, low cost, ease-of-setup with the Pi, and high quality of the materials and construction (think MacBook Air, but, even lighter). Now that cables/adapters with microHDMI/USB female connectors are becoming more available via Amazon and eBay and shipping from within the U.S., I believe we may have inspired the purchase of dozens more of The Little Lapdocks that Can. It really is a perfect mobile platform for the Pi with its integrated display, keyboard, trackpad, dual USB ports, battery, etc.
Before we knew it, the Jam was yet-another notch in the belt of history, and it was time to tear down and go home. We didn't even get a chance to race a Pi against the Babbage Difference Engine at calculating Pi to at least 26 decimal places. Well, we had to leave something to the imagination to get people back. We expect the word-of-mouth coming out of this Jam, combined with a barrage of real publicity, and when Valley denizens are actually all still here, to help increase the number of attendees in the future easily by an order of magnitude. That will require a larger venue than the conference room that got hot immediately since it's on the West side of the building, with large windows warmed by the Sun, and multiple monitors and people further adding calories to the room, vs. the cool beaches and mountain peaks where more sane people are this very moment.
OK, so, what about the title of this thread - How to Not Hold a Raspberry Jam? Well, we did slip up here and there, but, on balance, things went pretty much exactly as planned. Since there was no real plan, that was certainly easy to achieve! One lesson learned was to make sure visitors are logged in and out and secure everything if they will be playing/working on equipment we provide. I still have heard nil about my missing Pi, and I'm hoping whomever took it did so in an honest mistake and will be returning it immediately. Leaving a drivers license or credit card with the greeter or even taking a deposit should be considered, even with a small group like ours Saturday. I am now dead-in-the-water without my Pi and the SD card with the latest Pi-finity! code on it. The other two boards I set up were borrowed and returned to their owners, so, I am back to where I was without any way to effectively develop the game system.
I can't afford people walking off with my hardware because every spare penny I earn goes toward caring for my 90 year-old combat-and-POW decorated WW-II veteran father at a rate approaching six figures per year. I spent nearly twice as much as the cost of a Pi just on gas driving the hour-and-a-half each way to the Jam, so expenses for these events add up fast. The Pi was actually a special gift to me, and I have no means to replace it since I won't be seeing income from teaching again for another couple of months, and it's at that time during the Summer when finances are thinnest ($4.50+ a gallon gas didn't help earlier this Spring/Summer, either). I wish I could attend DefCon next weekend to see Eben and Liz again, but, $1,000+ for the conference sessions alone makes that impossible, to say nothing of the other $1,000 it would cost to travel and stay there.
Having someone assigned to logging visitors in and out should include getting as much contact information from them as possible. Print up name badges in advance for registered attendees and leave the background blank for people without a Pi, and include a Pi board photo as the background for people who do have a Pi. I found that few people found out about the Jam the same way, and it would have been more useful to have demographic data (even just an e-mail address) to help tune upcoming publicity blitzes. Speaking of publicity, I used EventBright.com to manage attendance and spread the word, as well as PR.com and Manta.com, which did result in the local San Jose Mercury News automagically featuring the announcement in their events calendar. I Tweeted it daily leading up to the event and asked influencers such as Liz to retweet, which they did, but, it was only a day, or so, before the event, at that point. I will essentially be starting to roll out the announcements for the August Jam today, based on the extremely positive feedback we received from even this modest and fumble-thumbed attempt to gather a few birds of a feather.
I didn't get to set up my camera and digital camcorder until the last half-hour of the Jam, only to discover that I had forgotten to charge their batteries! We already had far too many wires and cables stretched out all over the place, so, I just abandoned any hope of optical documentation. Fortunately, others did take photos and I hope to be able to use those to fill out what I missed in our posts to the forum and other outlets. There are only so many things one harried organizer can do, and I need to find someone who's good at photos/video to take those media on distribution-wise.
Due to our remote location relative to front-of-house amenities and the need to be escorted through areas restricted to the public, it was difficult for people to access the cafe, rest rooms, etc. This was a peculiarity of the unusual location, and with a larger attendance, we would have been in an area with full access to all of the front-of-house facilities. However, we weren't being charged the thousands of dollars for the conference facilities that the museum normally earns even from other non-profit groups, so, we appreciated what we had, restrictions and all. Since I didn't know in advance precisely where we would be located, I couldn't foresee the need to provide easy access to food and drink. Although some people did bring small coolers with drinks and others were escorted to the lobby where the cafe was, we really should have coordinated some sort of ordered-in, potluck, or bring-your-own food and beverage in an area adjacent to the conference room.
This will be particularly important when we arrive at least a couple of hours early to set up in the future. There is no way food and particularly drink could be accommodated at the conference table with the bramble of wiring covering it. Bare printed circuit boards and drinks do not mix well, especially when the latter are powered up - even if only with a few watts! As it turned out, the conference room we were in was adjacent to an outdoor patio area and, given the warmth of the room, was a welcome respite for people to take breaks and sit in the fresh air (90+F degree air, but, fresh!).
I didn't know how many people were actually going to show up, and I wound up so busy setting up the rats' nest of cables on several Pi boards that I didn't always have time to properly welcome each new group of guests who arrived during the event. There were a couple of families who I think left soon after arriving because everyone was madly typing, clicking, and dragging as they worked on their respective projects. We did have some very highly appreciated help from parents in getting their kids playing with the Pi, but, once they latched onto the keyboards, mice, and monitors, it was all over but for the cheering! If we have things set up in advance, that will give us the time we need to cordially greet new arrivals and get them settled in. I didn't want to institute a lot of bureaucracy in something pretty simple that might only be a one-time event, but, it's obvious that everyone wants to meeting monthly. As numbers grow as anticipated, we're going to have to buckle down and do some more planning, organization, and, yes, administration. At least now we know the demand is there to make it worthwhile.
As our numbers grow, we're either going to have to charge admission or find sponsors to defray the costs of meeting facilities. There are a number of potential sponsors in the Valley who already provide funding to the museum itself. Perhaps Allied (RS Electronics partner) and Newark (Element 14 partner) might be able to help since they are making some level of profit on the accessories being sold with Pi boards, if not the boards themselves. There are plenty of vacant buildings sprinkled throughout the Valley that are used by seasonal non-profits such as holiday gift-giving trees and back-to-school backpacks full of school supplies for high-needs kids. Perhaps we can find at least one place where kids can meet to work and play together beyond the monthly Jams at the museum.
So, in summary, we need to:
- Begin publicity at least a month in advance, as it takes an average of 11 advertising impressions before people take action to attend such an event
- You can never have enough stuff, so explicitly tell people to bring their Pi and as much infrastructure as they can in the form of monitors, keyboards, mice/trackpads/trackballs/etc., power strips, network hubs/switches, USB hubs, power supplies for every device, and cables, cables, and more cables - did I mention bringing cables?
- Coordinate the event with related local computing education organizations, such as CodeDojo, etc.
- Start seeking sponsors immediately even if you don't need them initially as, once your growth starts exploding, it will be too late to start looking at that point
- Make a list, check it twice, and assume that you won't get to at least half of the items for a variety of reasons, but, that way you always have the next item identified when a planned item can't happen as anticipated
- Set up the infrastructure hours in advance and debug, debug, debug the network into submission
- Set up photo and video equipment early to ensure batteries are charged and that the best visual vantage points are staked out early
- Coordinate how food and drink will be handled, especially for those who will be coming early to set up
- Have someone designated as greeter and administrator to get people oriented and signed in with as much identifying info as possible
- Print up name badges for attendees and leave the background blank for people without a Pi, and include a Pi board photo as the background for people who do have a Pi
- Identify the gurus who can not only perform technical miracles, but communicate how they did it to mere mortal visitors - it's a rare combination of skills!
- Provide room and power/network distribution for people to bring in their own hardware
- Register people to take responsibility for equipment that has been set up in advance to prevent accidental removal of items that don't belong to them, or intentional pilferage (sadly, it appears that even a $35 computer can be a target for theft)
- Have a variety of activities planned and announced, as different people will be interested in divergent activities, especially as the group gets larger
- Disseminate a draft agenda well before the event to allow core members to review it and shoot holes in it before the teeming masses of the public arrive and do it for you
It would have been impossible to keep things under control without the greatly appreciated help from our host, Dag Spicer, senior curator at the museum. We're going to have a post-mortem soon and his initial feedback is that he's very enthusiastic about continuing to support future Jams at the museum. He will very likely be nodding in agreement to most, if not all, of what I'm typing here, and we'll be working on a plan to ensure future Jams go without a hitch, or at least the hitches I identified here. Once the school year starts, we will need to coordinate Jams with both parents and teachers, as well as students, along with the museum's educational programs director, Lauren Silver, and the executive director, John Hollar, who has strongly endorsed events like Jams as part of the museum's computing education for the public beyond paid entry to exhibits, tours, demos, etc., required as part of its non-profit charter.
Now that Pi boards are showing up in the area in volume, I expect that we're going to be busier than ever during the August Jam, and a bunch of the 4,000 people receiving their boards from Eben and Liz at DefCon next week will likely be beating feet to future Jams. It's all good and I'm looking forward to helping more people, although I collapsed in a dehydrated and exhausted heap Saturday night after the hour-and-a-half drive home. I haven't slept that well in years! I'll undoubtedly think of other issues as I'm sure others will, and I really need to replicate this in a more organized way into a blog to keep others from being put to sleep here.
Thanks very much to everyone who showed up to our Jam, and to the two of you who were the only ones to make it this far in my babbling. I'm really looking forward to future Jams and I can't wait to see the kids in action again. Anyone who isn't already organizing their own local Jam doesn't know how much fun they're missing!
The best things in life aren't things ... but, a Raspberry Pi comes pretty darned close!
"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." -- W.B. Yeats