Waiting for China to Re-Open, From Huaqiangbei

The Chinese New Year is something we keep in mind at least half of the year, and probably still don’t plan for properly. In case you’re new to the situation: The Chinese New Year celebration empties out Shenzhen of its more than 12 million residents for the better part of a month. It’s the one time of year that manufacturing sector workers (and everyone that supports that ecosystem) travels home to visit family.

For those involved in manufacturing goods in Shenzhen, this part of the year leaves us cut off from one of our vices and we count the days until our tracking numbers and order confirmations start to show signs of life. It’s an inconvenience of an entirely different nature if you are one of the lonely few that stays in the city during the holiday. [Ian] over at Dangerous Prototypes wrote a blog post from his office in Huaqiangbei which is a sub-district of Shenzhen, China to share the experience with us.

Shenzhen is uniquely a migrant-worker city, and when emptied of the factory employees there are not enough people to patronize local services like markets and restaurants so they also shut down. But an empty city offers its own interesting entertainment like wicked fireworks sessions. As always, [Ian] does a great job of sharing this peculiar part of Shenzhen culture. He also kindly points out some of the offensive offers that come through the inter-webs from desperate customers who have poorly planned around the holiday.

Bunnie’s Guide to Shenzhen Electronics

[Bunnie Huang] is now officially the person who wrote the book on electronics manufacturing in Shenzhen, China. His Crowd Supply campaign for The Essential Guide to Electronics in Shenzhen has blown way past the initial goal. [Bunnie] is the first person who comes to mind for anyone needing help getting their electronics built in the region.

The books is meant as a travel companion. Hackaday was in China last June and toured the markets of Hua Qiang Bei. They are incredibly overwhelming, but people are very nice, willing to help, and none of them speak English. [Bunnie’s] approach is pages with squares you can point to in order to express your meaning. Standing at the capacitor stall? There’s a page for that. Gawking at a booth packed full of LEDs and need them in reels instead of tape? That’s in the book too. Even better, this isn’t a one-way thing. You should be able to understand well enough what they vendor is trying to convey as they point at the pages to answer your questions. This is certainly better than our method of trying to find pictures of addresses and Chinese characters on our phones. Everything is at the ready.

It doesn’t end there. The images of the book’s table of contents shows that you’ll get help with getting into the country, getting around once you’re there, and making the deal when you do find what you need. If you’re ever going to make the trip to Shenzhen, this is the first thing you should put in your backpack.

Since you’re already in the mood to purchase something made of paper, we think you’ll be interested you in this gorgeous Hackaday Omnibus Vol 02. It’s 128 pages of the best original content published on Hackaday over the past year, including the stunning artwork of Joe Kim.

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A Hackers Guide to Arts, Crafts, Food, and Music in Shenzhen

When you mention Shenzhen, many people think about electronic gadgets, cheap components, manufacturing, and technology. I’m there quite often and find that all of the technology and manufacturing related stress can be overwhelming at times. Sometimes I feel the need to escape it all so I go to markets and places that aren’t traditionally associated with technology so I can clear my head as well as expose myself to something different. It provides me with a constant source of new design ideas and also allows me to escape the persistent tech treadmill that Shenzhen runs on. There are a lot of places in Shenzhen that I consider hidden gems that don’t get a lot of press since mainstream media associates Shenzhen with either factories or technology. Here are my favorite places to window shop and de-stress in Shenzhen.

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Hackaday Links: January 10, 2016

Everybody loves cheap stuff, and we hate telling everyone about coupon codes. That said, TI has a new LaunchPad development board they’re promoting. It’s based on the MSP432, the ARM extension of their MSP430 line. The MSP432 is an ARM Cortex M4F, low power, and planned for production later this year.

Here’s your daily CES garbage post. Through a collaboration between Sony and Nissan, a car has become a video game controller controller. A controller plugs into the ODB II port, reads throttle, brake, and steering wheel positions (and buttons on the dash/steering wheel, I guess), and translates that into controller input for a PlayStation 4. What games do they play with a car? You would think Gran Turismo, Rocket League, or other games with cars in them. Nope. Football.

Dangerous Prototypes is a legal Chinese company! [Ian] didn’t say anything about the process about becoming a legal Chinese company because he wrote a blog post, not a book. Shenzhen Dangerous Prototypes Electronics Technology Limited allows them to have an office in the Shenzhen electronics market, hire local and foreign hackers, host Hacker Camp Shenzhen, and allow people to apply for ‘Authorized Authority’ visa letters for the people who need them. Great news for a great company.

The Forge hackerspace in Greensboro, NC is growing. In just over a year they have 160 members and they’ve already outgrown their 3,400 square foot space. Now they’re moving to a larger space that’s twice the size and they’re looking for donations.

People have been taking old iPad screens and turning them into HDMI displays for years now. [Dave] got his mitts on a panel from a Macbook Pro 17″, and turned it into a monitor. It required a $50 LVDS adapter, but the end result is great – a 1920×1200 panel that looks pretty good.

The Factory of the World – Hackaday Documentary on the Shenzhen Ecosystem

When it comes to manufacturing, no place in the world has the same kind of allure as the Pearl River Delta region of China. Within just an hour-long train ride, two vastly different cultures co-exist, each with its unique appeal that keeps attracting engineers, entrepreneurs, and hustlers alike. On the mainland side, cities like Shenzhen and Guangzhou bring the promise of cheap components, low-cost contract work, and the street cred of “having done the Shenzhen thing.” And on the island, the capitalist utopia called Hong Kong glows with all of its high finance and stories of lavish expat lifestyles.

As the “new” China evolves, it seems like it’s exactly the convergence of these two cultures that will bring the biggest change—and not just to the area but to the whole world. Still, understanding what exactly is going on and what the place is really all about remains a mystery to many. So, this June, we jumped on the bandwagon and headed east, trying to get our own feel for the whole thing.

Here’s what we came back with…

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The Spirit of Hackaday Shines in Shenzhen

Hackaday loves to spread the message of the hardware hacking lifestyle. That’s only possible where there are hardware hackers willing to spend their time getting together to talk the future of the hardware industry, and to celebrate where we are now. We’re honored that you came out en masse for our Shenzhen Workshop and Meetup!

Zero to Product

[Matt Berggren] has presented his Zero to Product  workshop a few times now as part of our Hackaday Prize Worldwide series. This spring that included Los Angeles, San Francisco, and ten days ago it was Shezhen, China.

We partnered with MakerCamp, a week-long initiative that pulled in people from all over China to build a Makerspace inside of a shipping container. Successful in their work, the program then hosted workshops. The one caveat, Shenzhen in June is a hot and sticky affair. Luckly our friends at Seeed Studio were kind enough to open their climate-controlled doors to us. The day-long workshop explored circuit board design, using Cadsoft Eagle as the EDA software to lay out a development board for the popular ESP8266 module.

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The Thrill of Shenzhen — Candyland for Electronics Geeks

Just getting to Shenzhen is an adventure for a different post, but the Hackaday crew made it and spent our first full day in the city last Thursday.

Unlike Wednesday’s experience in Hong Kong, most people you run into do not speak English and the signs generally don’t have English words on them. This makes getting around hard in that it’s difficult to figure out where it is you’re going. It’s equally tough to convey the destination to a taxi driver or translate it into public transportation. I was able to get to the Software Industrial Base via taxi because I had saved the Chinese character address on my phone and showed it to the cab driver. But when the trip ended I had trouble figuring out how much to pay… the meter reads 10 Yuan but there is an additional charge of a few Yuan which I only realized in retrospect. But my driver was very nice about this and helped me with change and a smile.

Visiting Seeed Studio

You might think finding the correct building would be simple. But the Shenzhen Industrial Software Base is a huge complex of similar buildings. A friendly security guard looked at my saved address and used the squares in the sidewalk as a map to non-verbally get me headed the right way. Seeed Studio, our hosts for SZMF, have a beautiful new office which is industrial-modern in its decor. There are glass-walled conference rooms but the majority of the space is open in design as it wraps around the exterior of half a floor in the six or seven story building.

Hitting the Markets

After doing some planning for the Hackaday workshop the next day, [Chris] from Seeed offered to take us to the electronics markets. How do you pass up that offer? We first stopped off at a Korean restaurant for lunch, then hopped a slightly-crowded cab to meet [Matt] and [Alek] who were already at the market.

The Huaqiangbei markets are multi-story buildings filled with booths. We first went into the wrong one, which turned out to be the used equipment building. Vendors specialize in refurbishing electronics. There were floors and floors of booths filled with equipment — often three tiers or more of laptop computers (open and running) wrapping each booth which were about the footprint of a king-sized bed.

IMG_20150619_184322523Back on track we made it to a brand new building which was seemingly built already completely packed with booths. The place has everything, generally divided up by floor. The top two floors are mostly LEDs of every kind, or drivers for them. We were on the hunt for addressable LEDs, but there didn’t seem to be any legendary bargains available. This may have been an issue of volume because I later heard from a friend that he acquired 25-meters of 12V WS2812 strips for a song.

Next it was the hunt for the “baby phone”. This is an Android phone built to look like a miniature iPhone. They’re cute. The blocks, and blocks, and blocks of walking, backtracking, running into acquaintances who joined the hunt, and finally ascending shady stairs and dingy aisles did pay off. Ta-da, [Sophi’s] new phone!

We hopped the subway to get back from the markets. I love trying out public transportation in different cities and this didn’t disappoint. The stations are so clean, and after 85 degrees F and 80 percent humidity all day the air conditioning is heavenly.

Awesome Subways

Shenzhen-Subway-Token-cropped
Image Source: WhereAmI.org (also an interesting Shenzhen read)

You purchase a token which is a green plastic disc about the size of two american quarters stacked on top of one another. Very light weight and very tech-oriented. Each is an RFID (or some other non-contact) tag. Tap it on your way in, drop it in the slot on your way out. Midway during our return trip we realized we were changing the location for Hackaday’s Saturday Shenzhen Meetup. We got off the train, rode the other way, switched lines, and popped out in a beautiful part of Shenzhen. Everything in this city seems to be new and under construction. NYPD Pizza is in the middle of a very partially completed complex but has the hip, trendy, divebar-neveau that made for an awesome meetup. Check back on that yarn which deserves it’s own post.

A bit exhausted, we made it back to the hotel for a bit of dinner and relaxation. But who could pass up the opportunity to head to an outdoor BBQ party marking the end of Hacker Camp? This creation, started by Hackaday Alumni and Dangerous Prototypes founder [Ian Lesnet], invites engineers and hardware creators to come tour Shenzhen and pick up as much manufacturing knowledge as possible in between epic evenings of socializing.

Dripping wet BBQ Party

Again, figuring out where to go is really hard! We jumped on the subway and made it to the correct stop, but getting to the BBQ alley in what feels like a residential neighborhood required a aimless wandering, and bumping into two different people who had already been to the party.

The atmosphere was sticky and blazing hot. Everyone was dripping with sweat and drinking a very large beverage. Check out this hi-res album for the proof. There were a few restaurants, an open-air bar, and a bodega with bombers of Tsingtao for under a buck (USD). To me it seemed to be a dead end street, but every few minutes a honking motorbike was waddled through the shoulder-to-shoulder crush of sweaty bodies. Hardened ex-pats and locals drank beer from glasses, but the foreign visitors seemed to stick with bottles.

This definitely registered as one of the most exciting days of my life. I love the adventure. The city feels safe and friendly — but travel (especially at night) adds a thrill.