The Joys Of Shipping From China

Trucks A few months ago, news of a new PCB fab service headed up by [Ian] over at Dangerous Prototypes leaked onto the Internet. It’s extremely cheap – $14 USD for a 5cm square board with free worldwide shipping. [Ian] admits the boards aren’t the greatest quality, that’s not the point; the site’s motto is simply, ‘No bull, just crappy PCBs.’

What began as an internal website to handle all of DP’s PCB orders was now on the Internet, and orders were flying in. At first, shipping a few dozen PCBs around the globe every week was easy, but since Dirty PCBs hit the big time, customers rightfully or not, started freaking out because of the oddities of Chinese shipping and logistics companies.

[Ian] is using Espeed Post for all their shipping, and if you’ve ever ordered anything from China off of Ebay, it’s possible you’ve had something shipped through Espeed before. Because of the oddities of shipping, and the fact that Shenzhen and Hong Kong are right next to each other, even the people at Dangerous Prototypes don’t know which countries your PCBs will go through on the trip from the fab house to your front door. This has caused much consternation with DirtyPCB customers that don’t seem to realize they’re getting custom PCBs for under two dollars a board, shipped to them across the world in a week for free. Some people’s children, huh?

Things get significantly, ahem, dirtier, when Chinese holidays are taken into account. China has a lot of them, and they’re long. They’re just wrapping up the National Day holiday, 10 days in the first week of October. Everyone is backlogged, and the China/Hong Kong border is the mess of trucks seen above.

If a holiday isn’t bad enough, the new President of China is cracking down on corruption. 500 officials were fired at the largest land border with Hong Kong, due in no small part to vans full of meth and tons of counterfeit currency. Every package leaving China is inspected individually, and shipping times have exploded.

To deal with this, Dangerous Prototypes has posted a big red warning on the dirtypcb site, but experience in dealing with people on the Internet tells them this won’t be a viable solution. They’re now dealing directly with DHL, and are apparently getting priority clearance through customs. It’s not fun, as DP will now have to figure out how to work with DHL’s API. It’s a lot of work and a lot of trouble, but DP still has a few tricks up their sleeve – they’re working on an online schematic entry and PCB layout site and the extremely interesting DirtyCables – custom cables shipped to your door.

THP Judge: Ian from Dangerous Prototypes

ian-dangerous-prototypesAs we start to get into the swing of The Hackaday Prize we want to take some time to talk to the judges.

[Ian Lesnet] is an accomplished hardware developer. He is, of course, near and dear to our hearts as a Hackaday writer emeritus.

During his time here he came up with an idea for an amazing tool that would let you work with components using a multitude of protocols before heading off to write your firmware. The tool was called the Bus Pirate and [Ian] built an formidable Open Hardware community up around this and several other tools and unique ideas.

[Hackaday] Why do you think people should put together an entry for The Hackaday Prize?

[Ian] There’s never a bad time to hack something together, but with an incentive like SPACE!!! how can you refuse?

[Hackaday] If you could enter, what style of project would you build and where would you try to go with the idea?

[Ian] We like to make electronics hardware that helps debug stuff, but lately we’re rocking more potentially deadly machines that do things. I’d finish up our death chomp robot that slices and dices reels of components into handy kit-sized lengths, while printing values and part numbers on the back paper. Definitely not a winner, but it looks great when it’s chewing parts!

[Hackaday] Is there anything that participants can do with their project write-ups to make your life easier as an adjudicator?

[Ian] Writing and English classes are a special hell for me, but there are some good tips for clear communication. I always start with an overview – “tell them what you’re going to tell them”. This usually means a description of the hack, the major components used, and how they work together. The introduction should have enough info that another hacker can piece everything together without digging through the whole writeup. An overview illustration or hand drawing explaining the methodology is really helpful for visualizing a complex hack.

[Hackaday] You have vast experience with Open Hardware projects. I think one of the tough things for beginners is navigating the Open Hardware licenses available. Do you have any advice for noobs to learn more about licenses and perhaps on narrowing them down?

[Ian] If you want the world to be a better place put all your work in the Public Domain (Creative Commons Zero) for anyone to use however they want. That’s the license with the least bullshit attached. If you have a billion dollar secret idea by all means keep it in your closet and show it to no one, because that’s about the only thing that will protect it from innovators and imitators. Other licenses fall somewhere in the middle, but for our stuff we’ve decided to go Public Domain wherever possible.

[Hackaday] We’ve seen a lot of collaborative projects come out of DP. Do you have any advice you can share for finding collaborators for a hardware project?

[Ian] The best advise I’ve heard (not mine) is to wait until a project is done to decide ownership share. Hackers are quick to settle on equal ownership, but during the project (or the long haul support period) collaborators may loose interest or be unable to continue as planned. With equal ownership remaining team members must finish the whole project just get a portion of the future gains. It demotivates the remaining team members and kills momentum. By waiting to see how things play out you’ll have a much better idea how to divide ownership for a successful long term collaboration.

[Hackaday] Can you name a favorite piece of bench equipment and tell us why it is at the top of your list?

[Ian] For years I used $10 “fire starter” soldering irons, even for surface mount soldering. An adjustable iron is a nice thing to have though, along with a bright light and head magnifier. A hot air rework station is the tool I can’t live without. It’s for fixing mistakes, which I make constantly, and when it dies everything crashes to a halt.

[Hackaday] What do you think of the evolution of the kit and small-run electronics industry over the last decade? Where would you like to see it go, and do you have any insights about what will get it there, or possible barriers that stand in the way?

[Ian] It’s huge now. Crowd source funding sites alone have become home to how many cool hacks, designs, and projects? Local, short-run assembly houses using a fairly standard set of components would make it a lot easier to get into hardware without 1337 soldering skillz.


SpaceWrencherThe Hackaday Prize challenges you to build the future of connected devices. Build the best and claim a trip into space or one of hundreds of other prizes.

Shenzhen Tour and UnHuman Soldering Classes with DP

dp-hacker-camp

If you’re free the first week of April and don’t mind sitting on a plane for a looooong time you should check out the Hacker Camp that Dangerous Prototypes is planning. We’re sure you remember [Ian Lesnet] who is a Hackaday Alum, creator of the Bus Pirate, and geeky world traveler. Now’s your chance to try out what to him is a way of life.

The event is April 3-5 in Shenzhen, China. Although marketed as a “Hacker Camp”, to us it sounds more like training for those interested in running hardware companies that use the Shenzhen manufacturing district as the anchor of their supply chain. Part of the prep-work for the trip includes submitting board files which will be fabbed and ready for you on the first day. [Ian] and his crew will be your guides for the culture of the area; complete with meals and bar time. But there are also soldering workshops as part of the package. Don’t pooh-pooh the idea. This is unhuman soldering… BGA and QFN soldering instruction from the people who repair cellphones and other microelectronics.

This [Rick Steves] style adventure is the first that we remember hearing about that targets the open hardware community. But we must admit, it sounds like a lot more fun than a European river cruise!

[Thanks Akiba]

Any-size SIL connector kit

any-sized-SIL-cable-kit

Etching and populating a board is childs play compared to finding connectors which link several components. But Hackaday alum [Ian Lesnet] and his crew over at Dangerous Prototypes have come up with a solution that makes us wonder why we haven’t seen this long ago? They’re prepping an any-size ribbon cable kit.

So lets say you do find the type of connector you want. You need to cut the ribbon cable to length, crimp on the connectors, then seat those connectors in the housing. We’ve done this many times, and being cheapskates we use needle-nose pliers instead of buying a proper crimper. This solution does away with that grunt work. The kit will ship several different lengths of ribbon wire with the connectors already placed by machine. This way you peel off the number of connectors you need, select the proper house size and plunk it in place. Also in the kit are several lengths of male, female, and male/female jumper cables you can peel off in the same way.

Now what are we going to do with the rest of the spool of ribbon cable sitting in the workshop?

[Ian's] Global Geek Tour: New York

[Ian Lesnet], founder of Dangerous Prototypes and Hackaday alumnus, entertains us once again with his Global Geek Tour. This time around he’s visited New York City for the Open Source Hardware Summit, Maker Faire, and a tour of the geeky attractions the city has to offer.

There’s a 25-minute video embedded after the break. [Ian] starts off with an homage to [Anthony Bourdain] but don’t worry, that subsides after a couple of minutes. This year he skipped the hotel and rented an apartment in the village for the same price. After making a survey of the local food offerings he heads off to the OSH Summit. There are interviews with a lot of big names in the industry, as well as a look at some distillery hardware and a mobile hackerspace built in an old ambulance acquired from Craig’s list (go figure). Next it’s a tour of Hack Manhattan, a hackerspace from which the screenshot above was pulled. We loved seeing the box labeled “abandoned projects” and were surprised to see the hackerspace is keeping bees. Are there any other spaces doing this? Before heading over to the Maker Faire [Ian] checks out some of the local shops. There’s a stop a Radio Shack, the Makerbot store where even the display cases are 3D printed, and finally a tour of some local component shops.

We’re always entertained by these world travelling videos. Here’s one he did in Seoul, South Korea.

Checking in with [Ian] from Dangerous Prototypes

Former Hackaday writer and electronic wizard [Ian] from Dangerous Prototypes made his way to the Maker Faire last weekend. He had a ton of cool stuff to show off, and luckily we were able to grab a few videos.

First up is a chainable Nixie module. [Ian], like all gurus of his caliber, had a box full of Nixie tubes waiting to be used in a project. These tubes never quite made it into their planned projects, mostly due to the difficulty of getting these old Nixies working. To remedy this problem, [Ian] created a chainable Nixie tube module – just hook up a high voltage supply to the board, connect it to the microcontroller of your choice, and you’ve got 2 Nixie tubes for your project.

[Ian] also showed off an ingenious solution to one of every maker’s problems. After designing a few cool boards like the Bus Pirate, Flash Destroyer, and Logic Sniffer, he realized he never made two boards that were the same size. This meant it was nigh impossible to have a standardized set of cases for his (and other maker’s) projects. The result is the Sick of Beige standard for electronics projects.

This standard provides PCB layouts in both square and golden rectangle formats complete with mounting holes, radiused corners, keepout areas, and suggested placement locations for USB ports and SD cards. The idea behind Sick of Beige is to get makers and fabbers using the same board dimensions so a set of standardized cases can be constructed. It’s an awesome idea and something we highly recommend for your next project.

Videos after the break.   [Read more...]

2012 Open 7400 Logic Competition

The Open 7400 Logic Competition is being held again this year. Start thinking about your entries, they’ll need to be finished and submitted by October 31st. As motivation, Digilent has put up two of their Analog Discovery kits as prizes. They can be used as a dual channel oscilloscope, function generator, or 16-channel logic analyzer. Last year was the first time the competition was held. As hype for the event built, more and more prize sponsors signed on and we hope to see the same thing happen this year.

Your entry can be just about anything as long as you show your schematic, explain the project, and use logic. It can be 7400 TTL, 4000 CMOS, discrete gates, or even a CPLD. Last year’s entries spanned a wide range of themes from LED blinkers, to unorthodox 74xx chip hacking, to boards packed full of chips. Good luck and don’t forget to tip us off about your work!

[Thanks Adrian]

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