Unix Command Line Workshops

 

At the last python workshop there was an interesting reaction: “I love the command line, it makes you feel like a hackerz, I wish I knew more about it”. So we did a class. Actually that is a good extension to any programming class as trying to program without at least some notions of command line is much harder.

Several people came. Adrian wants to do some data science and it can really help to pipe a few text tools together to clean up a few data files. Noriko wanted to extract more power from the linux on her laptop. Jacintha (taking pictures) was really excited at the networking tools. Masa, the unix veteran, did not learn new things (except that on modern Ubuntu you can now delete non-empty folders without the -f flag) but came to help. Yves enjoyed teaching that group.

Oh, and the cat that joined us is actually named Unix. He enjoyed it too.

A company born from the hackerfarm: Lazy Dot Mania

A new company is born from the Hackerfarm! Lazy Dot Mania sells cute and colorful decorative lights and is preparing new products. This company is the creation of Noriko Miura, an awesome mom who is part of the hackerfarm.

This is an article about how it started. As she is far too shy to say nice things about herself, this article is written by a totally neutral external observer: her husband.

Noriko always had some ideas when it comes to decoration. Seeing Akiba import various lights, LEDs at various stage of assembly, connected her interest in tinkering and her love for polkadots. She realized that you don’t have to study electronics for years before tinkering and customizing models.

 

After a quick refresher of the basics, a first prototype was quickly assembled with ping pong balls and color-changing LEDs.

But a prototype is just the first step to a finished product. We would have probably stayed at this point if not for an event organized by the hackerfarm.



 

 

The maker’s family in Shenzhen

Our niece Ark, 13 and our son Loïc, not yet 3. And the dad, much older but still 10 in his head.

In April 2017, Jacinta and Akiba organized a Hackerfarm Shenzhen tour. Unlike last year’s tour, it was mostly people from our local community who knew each other well already. It really gave the event a family trip feel to it. And we contributed to that atmosphere by bringing the whole family in.

The organizers of the tour are Shenzhen veterans who actually routinely order and manufacture things in Shenzhen. The idea was to make everybody see the behind the scenes of the whole process. The fact that Noriko had a working prototype was really interesting to them as she would be able to actually try starting a manufacturing process instead of doing what we all did: discover it only in theory.

Our first stop was at Hua Qiang Bei to visit the electronics components markets. Many people have written about this place. A Masa, a Japanese member, said it felt like how Akihabara used to be: you can find several buildings full of small shops, with different specialties. Some would sell raw components, some half-assembled boards, others finished products.

There, in one of the many buildings, we ended up in a two stories space devoted to LED manufactrers. Dozens of small shops that are fronts for LED factories. Noriko felt like she had reached heaven.

 

 

 

A very good advice to designers trying to manufacture things in China is to come there knowing what you want, (and if possible with a working prototype) but to adapt it with what they have available for cheap there. In other words, be able to change your design on the fly so that instead of creating a thing from scratch, you can reuse elements that are already available for cheap.

 Here Noriko found two designs that had elements she liked but needed to shrink the size of the light bubbles. She found a factory that was doing things similar to what she needed and who accepted customization for a small minimum order quantity.

But don’t you have to speak Chinese to do all of this? Well it does help and Noriko had some notions (enough to negotiate), but people in Shenzhen are used to deal with foreigners and will make a genuine effort to understand what you want.

We also had a very useful aid: Bunnie Huang’s excellent Essential Guide to Electronics in Shenzhen. ( Adafruit link ). Akiba had explained that with that and a calculator to haggle on the prices and volume, you have all you need for closing a deal. But Akiba speaks Mandarin too and I was wondering how true it was. One day I hunted for a case and batteries for a small side project and I must say that it worked handsomely. Speaking Chinese is indeed optional there.

 

First batch

 

Yellow-taped packages from China quickly arrived to the porch of the hackerfarm. There are tons of things to write about shipping from Shenzhen, especially if you want to group several components from various manufacturers but in our case it was simple: one product, one factory, one address.

The first batch looked nifty, but they had a problem: they flickered on color transitions, something the factories’ sample version did not do. Its color cycle would also occasionally and brutally reset. This is where it was useful to have a well-equipped electronics workshop in the neighborhood. With Akiba’s help we could quickly see that they had put a cheaper power supply in the customized order. It was probably working fine under the 220V of Shenzhen but on the Japanese 100V, it could not supply enough voltage to sustain operation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strong words were exchanged on WeChat, then negotiation occured. We got a strong discount on a second order and free power supplies to repair the first batch.

Our house continued to fill with stock and yellow-taped cardboard boxes…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now begins the hard challenge: marketing! A website has been set up, several venues explored, the first bulk order received. This is yet another challenge for the makers family!

Here are the first two products, with a link to their shop:

Repair: Nexus 5 Phone

One of the most useful repairs I do is fixing phone screens. I break my phone screens all the time due to stupid things like dropping my phone, stepping on it, or having it bang around with something in my pocket. Fixing phones isn’t a trivial task since you have to deal with really small things like near-microscopic screws, tons of small parts, and really strong glue. Sometimes you have to pry parts off because the glue is so strong and you risk damaging the phone. However if you’re able to do it, it’s completely worth it to learn how to repair your phone of choice. You no longer need to be worried about dropping the phone or damaging the phone. A standard LCD+digitizer (front glass) assembly is around $20 which is the main cost of the repair. The rest is just fiddling around with the innards of your phone to move all the parts over to the new screen.

In this repair, I show how to replace the LCD + digitizer assembly for my Nexus 5 phone which just stopped working today. Luckily I had an extra screen lying around so I could do the repair the same day. Here is today’s patient. It’s an LG Nexus 5 with a bad crack and broken LCD. It was actually limping along for a few months but finally gave out today. I think I must have bumped it in a crucial area which rendered the LCD unusable.

Here you can see that the LCD just outputs a bunch of gibberish. It’s completely unusable.

I start by taking off the back cover of the phone. For the Nexus 5, its quite easy and I can just pry it off with my fingernail. Once you have the back cover off, you can see that its possible to access the battery and other parts. I also change my battery on the Nexus 5 every year or so. New batteries cost about $10 and it breathes fresh life into the phone. You don’t have to run around with a mobile battery all the time. It’s surprising how quickly batteries get run down and lose their charging capacity.

Now I’ve removed the top plate protecting the main circuit board. All the parts are exposed like the cameras, speaker, microphone, and antennas. Also, the screws are super tiny so you have to take extra precautions so that you don’t lose them. If you do repairs like this, I recommend getting a magnetic workpad specifically for mobile repairs. I also keep strong neodymium magnets on the workpad and put my screws on it. That way, I won’t lose a bunch of screws if I accidentally knock the pad since they’ll be stuck to the neodymium magnet.

Took out the main logic board and most of the other parts. The front camera is still in there and the bottom logic board as well.

Now the complete assembly has been removed from the LCD. We’re ready to start transferring the parts over to the new screen.

Here’s the new screen (left) with the old screen (right). The new screen also comes with new double sided tape to hold down all the parts. You have to peel off the blue areas to expose the tape.

Added in the main logic board and cameras. Also had to add in the button switches on the side for main power and volume up/down. Those don’t come with the new screen.

Bottom logic board has also been added, connected up the antennas, and put on all the protective plates. We’re pretty much ready to go now.

Finally closed up the whole phone and it’s ready to be powered up. You can see the old screen on the right is looking pretty sad.

Success! Can finally check the internet, read my ebooks, and post stupid facebook messages again. Yay!

Like I said, phone repair, especially screen repair, is one of the best repair skills you can have. I never worry about dropping my phone and always keep a spare screen around in case something happens. Also, if something bad does happen, you can just throw on another screen and be up and running in an hour or two. This is especially important if you have a lot of contacts on your phone as well as crucial messages and information.

Hope you like this post and let me know if you have any requests for specific repairs to blog about 🙂

Hackerfarm Whiskey Bar Popup

It’s not officially announced yet, but Hackerfarm is actually getting a second cafe. This cafe hasn’t been used in quite a while and rather than trying to run it as a cafe, we’ll be using it as a community center and events space where people in the community can host private gatherings.

To test out the concept, Jacinta, Adrian, and I opened up a private, popup whiskey bar…twice. It was a lot of fun and it’s something that we’ll probably do on a regular basis.

Here’s us three at the first whiskey bar in almost sub-zero weather.

One of the Hackerfarm cats, PDP-11, decided to join the bar festivities too. Both our cats know how to open the doors so PDP just let himself in and jumped on the table.

Jacinta and Adrian were having a spirited conversation about agriculture while PDP was wondering what I was doing.

Last night, Jacinta had the second trial of her whiskey popup bar. She brought out her single malt scotch collection and let us choose the scotches we wanted to try.

We ended up going with the Laphroaig, Ardbeg, and Bowmore. Jacinta then proceeded to tell us about the history of the whiskey, what she liked about it, and how we’ll be touring Scotland someday to visit all the whiskey distilleries. We also had general discussions on agriculture, our upcoming Mexico trip, and the meaning of life.

Adrian had a go at being behind the bar also and quite enjoyed being the barmaster. We’re thinking to pick up a bunch of tequila on our upcoming trip to Mexico and curate a tequila tasting night. He was explaining all the details about tequila that I never realized, like how it was made, how to properly drink it, what it can be used for, etc. I didn’t realize that me and most of my friends have been drinking tequila incorrectly our whole lives.

It’s really nice having a private whiskey bar and we’re thinking to open it up once a month to friends for whiskey tasting, smoked food, and good conversation.

The cafe is across the street from Hackerfarm and we’ll be opening it up as both a community space and as a co-working space where people can drop in for a cup of tea, work on design projects, listen to music, and then head over to the hackerspace to build things. We’ll be announcing it and other exciting developments soon 🙂

 

Repair: Ryobi Impact Driver

This is a new series we’ll be doing on the Hackerfarm website. Here at Hackerfarm, we’re constantly taking things apart to figure out how they work and how to fix them. We don’t have a lot of money so one of the techniques we employ is to buy broken items from Yahoo Auctions for super cheap and try to fix them. We do this for power tools, Dyson vacuum cleaners, and many other products that cost too much to afford new, but can be bought cheap as a “junk” device and repaired.

This Ryobi impact driver was one of the items we bought about four years ago to bolster our impact driver collection. We have to do a lot of carpentry out here to fix floors, houses, barns, and general renovation so impact drivers get a lot of usage. This particular one stopped working a while ago and we have some big jobs coming up to renovate a beautiful old house and barn. I wanted to get all of our impact drivers up and running with fresh batteries so we could get more people to help out with things. This is a Japan-only Ryobi model BID-1220. They were about 30,000 yen new but we picked a pair of them up without batteries for around 3,000 yen.

Here’s a shot of the pair of Ryobi impact drivers we picked up circa 2015 along with some drills. We standardized on this Ryobi series because they all used the same batteries.

For batteries, we generally buy old battery packs, take them apart, and install fresh 18650 rechargeable batteries inside them. You can actually solder 18650s if you’re careful, so replacing them mainly consists of re-soldering the old wires on to new batteries. The reason we like old battery packs is that the circuitry inside is the most valuable part and handles the charge control and communicating with the chargers. The new 18650 batteries are about $1/cell in Shenzhen and we usually have a bunch of them lying around hackerfarm. We’ll do a battery teardown and replace in a later article.

For this repair job, the Ryobi had stopped working, even with fresh batteries inside. I was worried that the motor burned out but since we didn’t use it for anything heavy duty recently, I didn’t think that was the case. It had been left on a shelf for a while because we haven’t done a floor since last year. Perhaps the humidity got to it. Anyways, it’s always best to take something apart to understand it.

Here is the problem impact driver. It’s sporting a freshly charged battery. You may notice that the battery isn’t a factory model. We also buy cheapy NiMH batteries from China when they’re available for the power tools we have. At this point the impact driver didn’t respond to pressing on the trigger.

I pulled out all the screws so that I could take apart the handle. There is also a screw hidden in the base that’s recessed deeply inside a hole there.

Before I could separate the handle, I found I had to remove the head first. There were four screws holding it in place. Once they came out, you could easily remove the head. This held the turning mechanism, gear reduction, and the weighted “impact hammer” that makes it so powerful. There was also a lot of grease on the gears. I can imagine that if the seal ever becomes bad, sawdust mixed with grease could cause a lot of problems for the drills.

Once the head was removed, I used a screwdriver to pry open the two halves of the impact driver. There was a lot of dust and debris inside. The dust was a bit wet like a paste. Possibly, there was residual grease that sawdust mixed with. I had to blow on the trigger mechanism and area around it to clean out the debris.

I plugged the battery directly into the trigger mechanism and measured the voltage. I had to be careful since plugging it in backwards could potentially damage the driver. On the other hand, it might just make the motor go in reverse. Ha ha ha.

The battery voltage was okay but I wasn’t seeing any voltage on the wiring at the trigger. This meant that there was a bad connection either on the battery contacts or on the trigger contacts. I continued blowing and cleaning the battery contacts and trigger contacts with the wires. I also scraped the battery contacts to remove oxidation that had built up on it.

Finally I got it to work. The problem was oxidation and debris on the battery contacts. After scraping it a bit, I could get the motor to turn.

Closing up the impact driver was pretty straightforward. It’s almost all motor and just has the trigger switch and contacts to the battery. I did need to be careful with putting the wiring back into the wire guides to make sure it would close up properly though.

Impact driver as good as new. Luckily, this was an easy fix.

Yay! We could salvage the tool which will be a huge help. We will be rebuilding a bunch of floors soon on a house that Jacinta and I will be moving into. That’s part of a different story though 🙂

Hackerfarm 2017 Bounenkai

It’s the end of a crazy year at Hackerfarm that saw a lot of great changes. I’ll write a separate post about that later since it’s quite exciting, but before that, it’s bounenkai season!

Japan bounenkai are the Japanese version of the end of the year parties, but the meaning is a bit deeper than that. They’re a celebration of the year and the last chance to say goodbye to the year with all of your friends, colleagues, or in our case, hackerfarm members. It’s also a chance to say goodbye to any troubles you’ve had in the past year so you can start the next year fresh and new.

For our bounenkai, rather than meet at a restaurant, we decided to have a BBQ in freezing winter weather at our cafe. The party went rather late into the night and for Jacinta and I, we had splitting hangovers the next day. But next year is going to be the start of an extremely exciting year at Hackerfarm. Can’t wait to talk more on it 🙂

Hackerfarm Autumn Corn Harvest

2017-10-05 Harvesting Corn DSC01788

Autumn has come and the corn we planted earlier in August is finally ready to be picked. This is actually a special breed of corn, a traditional Mexican variety, and is non-sweet. The standard corn we find in Japan and also in the US is sweet corn which can be cooked and eaten (yum!). This variety is meant to be ground into corn flour which we’ll later be able to make tortillas out of. We also used this corn in our tamales which we made for our harvest party.

 

The story behind this harvest is actually quite interesting. Adrian actually had to go to a place in Narita, near the airport in Tokyo, where a seed specialist stockpiled a lot of different types of seeds. He had some traditional Mexican seeds for corn but wasn’t sure about giving them to us. Adrian would help out at his farm and kind of hint that he needed the seeds for the planting, but the message never got through. Finally, he asked directly if he could have the Mexican corn seeds. The guy smiled and handed him one cob of dried corn from that plant. From that cob, we were able to cultivate around 100 plants. The best corn cobs will be saved, dried, and kept for seeds for the next harvest.

The method of planting is also extremely interesting. We planted these using a milpa technique so we could grow the crops completely organically. The method of growing is called “three sisters” which is a companion planting of corn, beans, and squash. The beans and squash are planted at the base of the corn and wrap around the corn stalks as the corn grows. This strengthens the corn stalks and prevents them from falling in the event of strong winds or typhoons. The beans are also nitrogen fixers and provides much needed nitrogen to the corn so it can grow well. The squash has broad leaves that provides ground cover and prevents weeds from growing.

(via Organica, La Milpa del Bueno Comer)

Growing these three together provides a balanced diet, keeps the soil fertile, and provides excellent harvests. This method of planting has been used throughout the Americas by the indigenous tribes and was the method of planting taught to the pilgrims from the Mayflower when they first landed on the continent. The bountiful harvest from this method of planting led to the first Thanksgiving which is the approximate time when you harvest these crops in North America. So for our harvest party, I called it our “little Thanksgiving” 🙂