Books You Should Read: The Hardware Hacker

There’s no one quite like Andrew ‘Bunnie’ Huang. His unofficial resume begins with an EE degree from MIT, the author of Hacking the Xbox, creator of the Chumby, developer of the Novena, the first Open Source laptop, and has mentored thousands of people with dozens of essays from his blog.

Above all, Bunnie is a bridge across worlds. He has spent the last decade plying the markets of Shenzhen, working with Chinese manufacturers, and writing about his experiences of taking an idea and turning it into a product with the help of Chinese partners. In short, there is no person better suited to tell the story of how Shenzhen works, what can be done, and how to do it.

Bunnie’s The Hardware Hacker ($29.95, No Starch Press) is the dead tree expression of years of living and working in Shenzhen, taking multiple products to market, and exploring the philosophy that turned a fishing village into a city that produces the world’s electronic baubles.

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Akiba: Shenzhen in 30 Minutes

Multi-talented hacker extraordinaire and electrical engineer [Akiba] is based in Japan, and this makes it just a hop, skip, and a jump over to Shenzhen, China, the hardware capital of the world. He’s led a number of manufacturing tours aimed at acquainting hackers with the resources there, and now he’s giving you the benefit of his experience in a 30-minute video. It’s great.

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Founding A Company In Shenzhen For Eight Days

Nadya Peek is one of the hackers that should require no introduction for the regular Hackaday reader. She is a postdoc at the Center for Bits and Atoms at the MIT Media Lab. She’s responsible for Popfab, a CNC machine that fits in a suitcase and one of the first implementations of a Core XY stage we’ve seen. Nadya has joined the ranks of Rudolf Diesel, Nikola Tesla, Mikhail Kalashnikov, and George W.G. Ferris by having a very tiny piece of the Novena laptop bear her name. She’s built cardboard CNC machines, and taken the idea of simple, easy to build printers, routers, and drawbots worldwide.  She just defended her thesis, the gist of which is, ‘How to rapidly prototype rapid prototyping machines.’ She’s also one of this year’s Hackaday Prize judges, for which we have the utmost appreciation.

This year, the organizers of the Fab 12 conference on digital fabrication in Shenzhen turned to Nadya and her team to bring their amazing experience to conference attendees. A workshop was in order, but Nadya didn’t have time to organize the logistics. The conference organizers made a deal: the Center for Bits and Atoms would teach a workshop, but getting all the materials and electronics was the responsibility of the organizers.

Upon arriving at the Shenzhen Sheridan, Nadya found the organizers didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. The cardboard, motors, electronics, and glue were nowhere to be found. A “rider” doesn’t quite translate from English, it seems. This is Shenzhen, though, where you can buy all the cardboard, motors, electronics, and iPhone clones you could imagine. What was the solution to this problem? Founding a company in Shenzhen for eight days.

Half a tourist’s guide to Shenzhen and half a deconstruction of what goes into cardboard CNC, Nadya’s talk for the 2016 Hackaday SuperConference covers what happens when you have a week to build a company that will build machines that build machines.

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Ask Hackaday: What Should Father Christmas Bring From Shenzhen?

Imagine this, you have a friend who grew up in Shenzhen, China. The place from whence all your really cool electronics come these days. They speak Chinese in a way only someone born there can, and given that you know them through a shared interest in hardware hacking you can assume they know their way round those famous electronics marts of their home town.

Now, imagine that in a rash move, your friend has offered to pick up a few bits for you on their next trip home. A whole city-sized electronic candy store opens up in front of you, but what do you ask for them to seek out?

Before you continue, consider this. Why has Shenzhen become the powerhouse of electronic manufacturing (and everything else) that it is? Economists will give you pages of fascinating background, but if you want a simple answer it is that those electronics are produced for export, and that its citizens are only too happy to export them to you. Therefore if you want to get your hands on electronics from Shenzhen you do not need a friend who is a native of the city, all you need is a web browser and a PayPal account.

We have all become used to seeking out the cool stuff and eagerly waiting for a padded envelope from China Post a week or two later, so there are very few items that are worth putting a friend to the extra task of finding. At which point you realize that it is the candy store rather than the candy itself which is so alluring, and you ask your friend for a video walkthrough with commentary of their travels through the electronics marts. Oh, and maybe a Chinese Raspberry Pi with red solder resist, just for the collection.

If you had a friend about to board a plane to Shenzhen, what would you ask them to find for you that you can’t just buy for yourself online? Remember, nothing that’ll land them with awkward questions at either airport, nor anything that’ll land them with a hefty customs bill. That’s a very good way to end a friendship.

Huaqiangbei skyline image: Edward Rivens (PD) via Wikimedia Commons.

Hackaday Links: June 5, 2016

CERN is having a hackathon. It’s in October, yes, but the registration is closing on the 15th of June. They’ve been doing this every year, and the projects that come out of this hackathon are as diverse as infrastructure-less navigation, cosmic ray detectors, and inflatable refrigerators.

Have one of those solder fume extractors? Here’s an obvious improvement. [polyglot] put a strip of LEDs around the frame of his solder fume extractor to put a little more light on the subject.

A few months ago, [Bunnie] started work on a book. It was the Essential Guide to Electronics in Shenzhen. It’s made for hardware hackers to figure out how to buy stuff in Shenzhen, using a neat point-and-understand interface. Those books are now being shipped to people around the globe. I got one, and here’s the mini-review: it’s awesome. Is it a complete travel guide? No, but if you dropped me off at Hong Kong International, I could probably 1) Make it to Shenzhen 2) Buy random LEDs 3) Find a hotel 4) Get a beer 5) Not die. Pics below.

You’re hackers, and that means you’re the people who build stuff for all those ‘makers’ out there. Don’t have an MBA? No problem, [Dave Jones] has your back. He re-did his Economics of Selling Hardware video from several years ago. It’s 25 minutes long, and gives you enough information so you’re not a complete idiot at the business end of design.

Like Raspberry Pis stuffed into things? Here’s a Pi Zero stuffed into a MegaDrive cartridge. Now someone grab a Sonic and Knuckles cart, build a ROM reader, and do a proper cart-reading emulator.

If you’re into R/C, you know about Flite Test. They’re the folks that make crazy, crazy model planes out of Dollar Tree foam board, and have gotten hundreds of people into the hobby. Flite Test is having their own con, Flight Fest, in a little over a month. It’s in Ohio, and from last year’s coverage of the event, it looks like a really cool time.

So, No Man’s Sky is coming out soon. It’s a space game set in a procedurally generated, infinite galaxy. Does anyone have any idea on how to form a Hackaday clan? Somebody should start a Hackaday clan/alliance/thing. I’ll meet you guys at the core.

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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