HackerBox #0021: Track My Hack

The latest HackerBox came yesterday, which is about a week earlier than expected. Unfortunately I saw the Instructables guide and know the contents, so an unboxing video would have been uneventful. Since this box doesn’t have a ton of individual items I thought I’d do a quick value lookup.

  • HackerBox reference card – $1 (estimate)
  • HackerBox sticker – $3 (estimate)
  • 6″ PCB ruler – $4.68
  • Half-size breadboard & jumper wires – $6.09
  • MicroUSB cable – $5
  • GY-273 Three-Axis Magnetometer – $3.77
  • MicroSD Card Reader Module – $7.98
  • RobotDyn Arduino Nano V3 – $6.99
  • NEO-6M GPS module with integrated antenna – $12 (couldn’t find the same module)
  • 16GB MicroSD card – $9.49
  • MicroSD card adapter – $9.99

Prices are from Amazon. Several of these items are cheaper if you buy packs of them, but I used all single item prices. I’m sure HackerBoxes gets discounts buying in bulk and some of the items are definitely knockoffs, like the SD card. Total cost of putting together this box on my own would run about $69.99 from my quick searching. Good value for my $44 subscription.

I don’t have any of the Arduino Nano style microcontrollers, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it compares to other boards. I’ve messed around a little bit with the accelerometer (Three-Axis Magnetometer) on Circuit Playground Classic, but it will be neat to have a standalone module. The GPS module is the coolest part of this box. Would be neat to make something for the car or for running. I’m starting to accumulate quite the collection of breadboards and jumper wires.

HackerBox #0020: Summer Camp

I managed not to look at any spoilers before HackerBox #0020 arrived, so I recorded a video when I opened it and talked through the items, trying to figure out what the theme was.

So, yep, it’s a badge inspired by the badges for Def Con (I had seen this story a week or two before, which HB shared as a hint on their Facebook page). Due to vacation, it was a couple of weeks before I was able to put this thing together. Hope you enjoy all of my mistakes in the assembly video. 🙂

There is a lot more to think about when recording what you’re doing and trying to keep talking throughout. I think it was an improvement over the video I did for the 5v relay module though. I really need to build a tripod or overhead mount of some kind so the GoPro is more stable. I may look into a newer GoPro as well with better battery life and a screen.

More details about the badge and demo code provided by HackerBoxes can be found on the Instructable page for this box. My customized demo code is in a hackerbox0020-demo repo on GitHub.

5v Relay Module – Part 2

A couple of weeks ago I built a 5v relay module, but realized the relay wasn’t sufficient for my needs. So I had to order a heftier one that could handle more than 0.5 amps of current.

I was under a time crunch and couldn’t wait for a 5 or 10 pack, which had longer shipping times, so I had to go with a set of 2 for $5.99. These are basically the same relays used in all of the manufactured modules you can buy for less than $5, especially if you buy multiple units.

I set up my GoPro overhead and talked through the build process of my new relay module. It was not a smooth process, because I finally messed up my wiring, which I’d been so proud of hitting a 100% success rate on first attempts when putting together circuit boards. I not only messed up, but I realized my mistake, and then fucked it back up after thinking I was right the first time.

I forgot to take any good pictures of the completed relay module this time around, so here is a blurry screenshot I grabbed from the video, showing the original relay module, the non-working version (which I’ll eventually fix up), and my final version. Similar to whenever I screw up and lose a bunch of code, I made it a personal challenge to turn out my best work on the redo. As you can see, my final version saved a lot of space.

relays

Now that I’ve created my own relay modules, I won’t do it again unless I have specific requirements. Buying the same thing already made is a lot more time effective. It was fun and a great learning experience though. Here’s what the wiring diagram looks like spaced out on a breadboard. There isn’t much to it.

fritzing-relay-no-led

You can grab Fritzing files over on GitHub. Two things that helped me out a lot with this build were a video Homemade 5V Single Channel Relay Module Shield For Arduino, PIC, AVR and an article Turn Any Appliance into a Smart Device with an Arduino Controlled Power Outlet. Between finishing my build and writing this post, I also came across Arduino Controlled Power Outlet on Electronics Hub, which is a neat site with a lot of great circuits and tutorials.

Wire Loop Game

Kennedy and I made a wire loop game, using some basic cheap electronics.

  • 9v Battery
  • Buzzer
  • Old light switch
  • LED
  • Various wires
  • Nuts and bolts
  • Electrical tape
  • Wire screw caps
  • Cardboard box

The initial wiring and cutting of the box took more time than I figured and she started to lose interest until we got around to the top. We did this all on-the-fly, but there are plenty of tutorials (like one on Instructables) you can follow.

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A Quick Multimeter Fix

The last couple of times I went to use my multimeter, it wouldn’t read voltages or do a continuity test. I didn’t really need it at those times, so I set it aside. Well, I needed it tonight to diagnose something causing problems in a circuit, so it was time to figure out what was wrong.

After unscrewing the back of the multimeter and looking inside, I noticed there were contacts where each of the cables plug in. I got out some alligator clips to use as test leads and the device worked fine. Then I did continuity tests on the cables and the red one failed.

It was time for some surgery so I hacked the ends off. The wire inside was so small and fragile that it had pulled apart from the probe’s end. I cut a new cable using some silicon wire I bought last week since it’s really flexible compared to the wire I use to build circuits. Soldered the ends back on, put some heat shrink tubing over the connections, and I’m back in business!

AdaBox004

I received the latest Adafruit AdaBox last Thursday and made this unboxing video.

 

As you may have guessed, AdaBox004 has a music theme. I’m excited because I’ll be using several of these parts in my current project. I need to finish it before the weekend so I guess I better get my ass in gear.

When you lay it out, this one seemed a light compared to the first 3 AdaBoxes, so I added up prices from the Adafruit store. It came to $73 without factoring in the empty white box for making a custom project enclosure, collectible “Boomy” pin, SD card, Make volume 57 signed by LadyAda, and free shipping. Probably about a $90 value for $60 as a subscriber, which is worth it. The $25 Music Maker FeatherWing with the $20 Feather HUZZAH really drove up the price, limiting what else could be included.

If you enjoyed the music in the video, it was released by Adafruit’s in-house musician to go along with this box. Check out “ADABOX004” on SoundCloud. BartleBeats also has a full album I’ve been listening to a lot while working at my hobby desk. “Frequency” is available on SoundCloud or via iTunes.

Next up… this morning I received the tracking info for HackerBox #0020. Note that AdaBox uses a 3 digit identification system, while the HackerBox uses 4 digits. The difference between a quarterly and a monthly subscription I guess.

5V Relay Module – Part 1

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.

Check out Part 2.

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.

Buy a Circuit Playground, Give One to Girls Who Code

Adafruit and Digi-Key have teamed up to support a great cause, Girls Who Code.

We’re a national non-profit organization dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology.

female-students-computing.png

For any purchase of a Circuit Playground Classic from Digi-Key, they’ll donate one to Girls Who Code.

At only $20 the Circuit Playground Classic is a really neat board, packed with goodies.

  • ATmega32u4 Processor, running at 3.3V and 8MHz
  • MicroUSB port for programming and debugging with Arduino IDE
  • USB port can act like serial port, keyboard, mouse, joystick or MIDI
  • 10 x mini NeoPixels, each one can display any color
  • 1 x Motion sensor (LIS3DH triple-axis accelerometer with tap detection, free-fall detection)
  • 1 x Temperature sensor (thermistor)
  • 1 x Light sensor (phototransistor)
  • 1 x Sound sensor (MEMS microphone)
  • 1 x Mini speaker (magnetic buzzer)
  • 2 x Push buttons, left and right
  • 1 x Slide switch
  • 8 x alligator-clip friendly input/output pins
    Includes I2C, UART, and 4 pins that can do analog inputs/PWM output
  • All 8 pads can act as capacitive touch inputs
  • Green “ON” LED so you know its powered
  • Red “#13” LED for basic blinking
  • Reset button

With so many features, Circuit Playground is a perfect board for someone learning to program. There are endless possibilities for fun projects. I ordered one to support the program. I’m hoping they’ll get some of the new Circuit Playground Express boards in stock and extend this promotion to those because I’ve been tempted to get my hands on one. If they do, I’ll gladly place another order.