Next Friday (July 6), Mitch Altman’s nationwide AMTRAK tour of hackerspaces rolls into Philadelphia, and Hive76 will be welcoming him in style. Stop by our space on Friday night for an free lecture and electronics hacking workshop officiated by Mitch himself. There will be food, drink, merriment, and of course the opportunity to swap ideas and stories with a living legend in the DIY community.
If you haven’t followed Mitch Altman’s career, you probably still know of some of his very cool projects, like his TV-B-Gone remote, or his Brain Machine glasses, and his many cool articles for Make: Magazine. Despite the great commercial success of his inventions, Mitch helped pioneer the Open-Source Hardware movement by publicly refusing to patent his ideas, and continues to inspire the maker community by advocating the free exchange of DIY electronics knowledge.
Come by on Friday, July 6, as Mitch demos his latest inventions and kits, and leads a fun hacking workshop suitable for everyone from total novices to advanced solder-smiths! Its guaranteed to be a great time!
Date: July 6, 2012
Location: Hive76 (915 Spring Garden St.)
Price: ADMISSION IS FREE! (kits for the workshop start around $10)
Adam and I have been talking for a while about a little collapsible photo studio for posting images to the blog and to instructables. Well, its here now, for all to use! All I did was take a roll of photo background paper and mount it semi-permanently above our main workbench. To use it, pull down a length of paper to cover the desk, then turn on the fluorescent work-lamps. The paper rolls back up out of the way when you aren’t using it. Here are some spiffy test shots I took of one of Chris’ sculptures. Neat, huh?
If anyone is up to the challenge tonight, I’ll be bringing in copies of “Crystal of Destiny,” a new and possibly even fun boardgame I’ve been working on with my friend Aaron. I would really love it if some curious folks would come join us for a few test rounds of play, and then give us your honest feedback. The game features scheming, spell casting, double-crossing, and some crazy insane patent-pending dice that you have to sign a waver just to look at. Each round should only take about 30 to 45 minutes, and I’ll repay your time with some cold beers and pizza.
When: Tonight at Open House (around 7:00)
With all the anti-China, anti-globalization fearmongering lately, its instructive to take products we know and love and trace them back to their source, whether to marvel at or be disgusted by the depth of America’s economic interconnectedness with the rest of the world (I’m a marveler, myself). This week, I’ve been working on an invention I plan to manufacture in China — and I found some great websites for globalization super-sleuthing. They are really fun to poke around on.
As a starting point, I noticed that my invention, a light-up playing dice, is pretty similar to one that is already made by ThinkGeek — their “Critical Hit D20 Dice.” Since they retail it on their site for only $9.99, I figured they must be outsourcing its production, and I was dying to know where. So I checked out a free trial of ImportGenius here (promo code: IMEXHELP). It is is so cool! Kinda like that stream of numbers that make up The Matrix, ImportGenius is a portal to the huge database of shipping manifests collected by every port authority in the U.S — anything that goes in or out of our country is searchable there. Even the notoriously secretive Apple spilled the beans on their upcoming iPhone2 release by shipping a “New Awesome Phone Thingy” (or something to that effect) months beforehand. With my ImportGenius account, I could get down to some serious industrial espionage.
Actually, all I did was search ImportGenius for shipments “ThinkGeek” signed for in the past year, and I’ll be darned if “Critical Hit D20 Dice” wasn’t the very first search result! Apparently Thinkgeek ordered a 900lb shipment a few months ago from Trendex Inc. in Ninbo, China. F**k yeah Ningbo!
OK, so now that I had identified a supplier in Ningbo to churn out my dice, I tried to find a source for my most expensive components — the batteries and battery holders. I had been prototyping with a great battery holder made by Linx Technologies in Oregon, and at $0.18 it was the cheapest American brand — suspiciously cheap to have been made here. Import Genius came up empty-handed, so I searched the exact part number on Alibaba.com, a global storefront for the devoloping world’s overeager manufacturing sector. Sure enough, the exact same part was being made in Shenzhen for $.04 a pop– Linx was simply etching their name on it and selling it with a 400% markup. They didn’t even bother to change the part number. Good ol’ American industriousness at work.
The amazing thing is that Chinese re-sellers often undercut even the original manufacturer’s prices. For example, Microchip sells the PIC10F200 direct for $0.32, whereas I quickly found the same chip in China for $0.25. They are undercutting their own supplier! And they love giving free samples! The heck you say!
By the way, Chris gave me a great tip: if you plan on getting quotes from suppliers on Alibaba.com, you shouldn’t use your primary email address, unless you want to keep up to date on the latest discount Viagra deals. Another tip is to send your request late at night/early morning, during Chinese business hours. One more tip: Alibaba’s search tool is pretty bad, so try Google instead — just include “domain:alibaba.com” in the search field. FYI.
Another fun reverse-engineering webtool I found is the reverse-image search at Gazopa.com. It lets you search by image-similarity. Since Alibaba is a little spotty about describing products in English, I figure searching by image instead might be easier. I haven’t had any success stories yet with Gazopa, but it sure is fun anyways. For example, I wanted some inspiration for a rainbow-themed boardgame I’m helping to develop, so I searched for similar images to this one: http://www.abm-enterprises.net/fractal-art/rainbow-swirl-wallpaper.jpg. Got some really trippy results, including lots of screenshots from the Simpsons, weirdly.
Well, thats my spy story. Hit me back with your own outsourcing stories and tips in the comments section!
Two days to go until Christmas, and after a full day of last minute shopping, I still hadn’t found a decent gift for my mom. Around 9:00, the bookstore closed up, and I was still S.O.L. Then, inspiration struck, and I raced over to Hive76, where I worked into the early morning handcrafting the perfect D.I.Y. present for my artist mom: a wooden paintbrush organizer! Luckily, there were some choice pieces of birch plywood at the space, and a really nice scrollsaw (which was actually a gift from my mom last Christmas, so I was putting it to good use). Amazingly, all the pieces fit together beautifully, and my mom was thrilled with her gift. Hive76 saved Christmas!
No Joke! Jon Kalish from NPR visited our space for a raucous open house last month, and witnessed the amazing font of Chaos that is Hive76. This week, he featured us in his Weekend Edition piece about American hackerspaces! Whoot! The segment features Brendan and Chris’ boombox suitcase, Chris’ Meatcards, and Jack’s USB Typewriter, among other great Hive76 projects. Have a listen and hack on!
Next Monday, on the ides of November, Hive76 is hosting a Sci-Fi Movie Night for all of Philly geekdom to enjoy. You provide the soda, beer, snacks, and your own wonderful selves — Hive76 will provide the movie, the pizza, and the 20′ projection wall theater experience that will melt your face. We’ll be showing Danny Boyles “Sunshine,” which will start around 8:00, but show up at 6:30 and have some drinks and food with your Hive buddies beforehand. If you have any questions, contact your hosts, Sean and Jack.