Hacking When It Counts: Spy Radios

World War II can be thought of as the first electronic war. Radio technology was firmly established commercially by the late 1930s and poised to make huge contributions to the prosecution of the war on all sides. Radio was rapidly adopted into the battlefield, which led to advancements in miniaturization and ruggedization of previously bulky and fragile vacuum tube gear. Radios were soon being used for everything from coordinating battlefield units to detonating anti-aircraft artillery shells.

But it was not just the battlefields of WWII that benefitted from radio technology. From apartments in Berlin to farmhouses in France, covert agents toiled away over sophisticated transceivers, keying in coded messages and listening for instructions. Spy radios were key clandestine assets, both during the war and later during the Cold War. Continue reading “Hacking When It Counts: Spy Radios”

From Project To Kit: Instructions Are Everything

A printed copy of the instructions for our example kit
A printed copy of the instructions for our example kit

We’ve had two previous articles in this series on turning a personal electronic project into a saleable kit, in which we’ve examined the kit market in a broader context for a new entrant, and gone on to take a look at the process of assembling the hardware required to create a product. We’ve used an NE555 LED flasher as a simple example , from which we’ve gone through the exercise of setting a cost of production and therefore a retail price.

The remaining task required to complete our kit production is to write the documentation that will accompany it. These will be the instructions from which your customers will build the kit, and their success and any other customers they may send your way will hang on their quality. So many otherwise flawless kits get this part of the offering so wrong, so for a kit manufacturer it represents an easy win into which to put some effort.
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Yak Shaving: Hacker Mode vs Maker Mode

When I start up a new project, one that’s going to be worth writing up later on, I find it’s useful to get myself into the right mindset. I’m not a big planner like some people are — sometimes I like to let the project find its own way. But there’s also the real risk of getting lost in the details unless I rein myself in a little bit. I’m not alone in this tendency, of course. In the geek world, this is known as “yak shaving“.

The phrase comes obliquely from a Ren and Stimpy episode, and refers to common phenomenon where to get one thing done you have to first solve another problem. The second problem, of course, involves solving a third, and so on. So through this (potentially long) chain of dependencies, what looks like shaving a yak is obliquely working on cracking some actually relevant problem.
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From Project To Kit: Getting The Hardware Right

In the previous article in this series on making a personal electronic project into a saleable kit, we looked at the broader picture of the kit market for a new entrant, the importance of gauging whether or not your proposed kit has a viable niche and ensuring that it has a good combination of buildability, instructions, and quality. In this article we will look at specifying and pricing the hardware side of a kit, illustrating in detail with an example project. The project we’ve chosen is a simple NE555 LED flasher which we haven’t built and have no intention of assembling into a kit for real, however it provides a handy reference project without the circuit itself having any special considerations which might distract from the job at hand.

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Electrostatic Loudspeakers: High End HiFi You Can Build Yourself

If you have an interest in audio there are plenty of opportunities for home construction of hi-fi equipment. You can make yourself an amplifier which will be as good as any available commercially, and plenty of the sources you might plug into it can also come into being on your bench.

There will always be some pieces of hi-fi equipment which while not impossible to make will be very difficult for you to replicate yourself. Either their complexity will render construction too difficult as might be the case with for example a CD player, or as with a moving-coil loudspeaker the quality you could reasonably achieve would struggle match that of the commercial equivalent. It never ceases to astound us what our community of hackers and makers can achieve, but the resources, economies of scale, and engineering expertise available to a large hi-fi manufacturer load the dice in their favour in those cases.

The subject of this article is a piece of extreme high-end esoteric hi-fi that you can replicate yourself, indeed you start on a level playing field with the manufacturers because the engineering challenges involved are the same for them as they are for you. Electrostatic loudspeakers work by the attraction and repulsion of a thin conductive film in an electric field rather than the magnetic attraction and repulsion you’ll find in a moving-coil loudspeaker, and the resulting very low mass driver should be free of undesirable resonances and capable of a significantly lower distortion and flatter frequency response than its magnetic sibling.
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Firearm Tech – Are Smart Guns Even Realistic?

At frustratingly regular intervals, the debate around gun control crops up, and every time there is a discussion about smart guns. The general idea is to have a gun that will not fire unless authenticated and authorized. There’s usually a story about a young person who invents a smart controller and another company that is struggling because they just can’t get “Big Guns” to buy into the idea. We aren’t going to focus on the politics; we’re going to look at whether the technology is realistic, and why a lot of the news stories about new tech never pan out.

Let’s start with an example of modern technology creeping into established machines: the car. These are giant hunks of metal with nearly constant explosions, controlled by sophisticated electronics that are getting smarter and more connected every day. Industry is adopting it with alacrity, and the vehicles are getting more efficient and powerful because of it. So why can’t firearms?

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From Project To Kit: So You Want To Sell Electronic Kits

Many of us have enjoyed building electronic projects that come not from our own inspiration or ingenuity but from a ready-made kit. It makes sense, after all in buying a kit you should receive a tried-and-tested design that you can assemble without some of the heartache associated with getting a self-designed project right. And though in recent years the barriers to entry into the professional PCB market for small projects have lowered significantly, there is still an attraction to a kit that comes with a decent PCB and case.

The kit version of the Sinclair ZX81 microcomputer. By Smaddison (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
The kit version of the Sinclair ZX81 microcomputer. By Smaddison (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
If you start your electronic odyssey through kit-building, you gain more than a set of electronic projects. You learn about the circuits you build, and you gain a feel for how a well-designed project should go together. Eventually this feeds into your own projects, and in time you are producing builds that equal or surpass those you can buy as kits.

From the point of having a nicely executed project to that of wondering whether it too could be sold as a kit is not a huge step. This is the first of a series of articles that will examine the kit manufacturing process from project to customer, and will with luck deliver some insight to those of you who have always wondered whether you could make it as a kit vendor.

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