5V Relay Module

You can buy all sorts of 5V relay modules on Amazon for as little as $3-4 (probably even less if you get really cheap). They even sell boards with multiple relays if you need to switch more than one thing. Since I had all of the necessary parts I built my own. Yesterday I finished the board, because I had to do something before National Week of Making ended.

It worked great switching power from a 9V battery, but the real test was hooking it up to mains power. Electricity gets a lot more dangerous at 120V! It was a little scary plugging everything in and flipping the input, especially after reading so many warnings online, but there were no sparks.

Tester shows the wiring is correct.
I need to pick up a plastic outlet box to house everything so it’s safer with the exposed soldered circuit board in there; I don’t know what I was thinking when I bought a metal one. I’ll publish a more detailed post this weekend when it’s complete.

Update: I realized the relay I used in this module can’t handle the amount of current I need, so I ordered a different type of relay and will be making a new module. I’ll take the opportunity to make a more compact design as well. I did shrink this one a bit and cut off some of the board. I’ll save this module in case I ever need it for a project.

The Silicon Valley of Hardware

When I read The Hardware Hacker, the part that stood out the most was when bunnie discussed Shenzhen, China. I don’t remember ever hearing about the city until recently and it was actually in relation to the book. Shenzhen is where most of our electronics or (and components) come from. Foxconn, located in Shenzhen, is probably the largest electronics manufacturer in the world. They make most of Apple’s devices as well products for other big companies like HP and Microsoft.

With all of the factories producing electronics in the area, they also have the largest electronics component market in the world where you can buy anything you can imagine. Due to the supply chain and access to manufacturing, if you hook up with the right people in Shenzhen you can get a first prototype of your product created in as little as a few days. Plus, the costs there are much cheaper than anything you can buy or get done in the United States. In his book bunnie wrote…

The trouble is that aside from the label on the product that says “Made in China” or “Made in the USA,” consumers really don’t care about the manufacturing process. What markup would you pay for a gadget that said “Made in the USA” on it? The cost premium for US labor is 10 times what it is in China. Think about it: can the average US factory worker be 10 times more productive than the average Chinese factory worker? It’s a hard multiplier to play against.

Remember this the next time Trump says Apple should manufacture everything here instead of in China. Would any of us pay several thousand dollars for an iPhone? I doubt it.

With access to so much technology in Shenzhen, there is a subculture there called the shanzhai. They’re responsible for most of the copycat products you’ve probably heard about. For example, a really good iPhone clone in China might sell for 1/7th the price of a real one in the States. As you might have guessed, IP is treated differently in China than in the United States.

To give a flavor of how this is viewed in China, I heard a local comment about how great it was that the shanzhai could not only make an iPhone clone, they could improve it by giving the clone a user-replaceable battery. US law would come down on the side of this activity being illegal and infringing, but given the fecundity of mashup on the web, I can’t help but wonder out loud if mashup in hardware is all that bad. I feel there is definitely a bias in the US that “if it’s strange and it happens in China it must be bad”, which casts a long shadow over objective evaluation of new cultural phenomenon that could eventually be very relevant to the US.

Tech Trend: Shanzhai by bunnie

The speed at which the shanzhai operate and iterate is impressive and exciting. I’ve read about it being similar to the early days of computers, where people like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were sharing their projects and it was pretty much all open source hardware at the time. Some of that is coming back with the maker movement, but it seems like IP and copyright stall innovation so much in the United States. This is why I’m so proud to work for Automattic, where we place a high value on sharing with the world by open sourcing as much as we can.

bunnie teamed up with WIRED for a documentary on Shenzhen. Here’s the trailer for it.

It’s really good. You can watch the full documentary on YouTube, which is 68 minutes long. If you prefer bite-sized segments, it’s also available in parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Ranked Styles of French Fries

This French fry style ranking by Food Republic was getting attention on Twitter last week, even though it was published over a year ago.

French-Fries_V2.jpg

There are definitely some flaws to their selection of “styles” as they call them, but I’ll roll with it. If I had to choose my own top 10 from this list it would be:

  1. Sweet Potato Fries
  2. Cheese Fries
  3. Waffle Fries
  4. Tater Tots
  5. Steak Fries
  6. Crinkle Cut
  7. Shoestring/Matchstick
  8. Chili Cheese Fries
  9. Cottage Fries
  10. Potato Wedges

I’ve always though curly fries are overrated so they definitely don’t make my list. A few months ago I ranked fries from local fast food joints.

What would your list look like?