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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
For the fourth year in a row, Hackerfarm has participated in the rice growing program in our neighboring village, Kamanuma. It’s called the Owners Program and is designed to teach people how to grow rice in the traditional Japanese way. Everything is done by hand from the rice planting to the rice harvesting and participants get to learn the techniques needed to grow, maintain, and harvest a rice paddy. The final part of the process is processing the rice into what you see at stores and that’s done locally as well.
We’ll be doing a wireless workshop to teach others about the basics of wireless communications. The main purpose will be so that we’ll be knowledgeable about setting up the wireless sensor networks at FarmLab. It will consist of about 1 hour of theory and also hands on programming of the wireless boards to send data. Afterwards, we’ll go to FarmLab and do range testing to see how far we can communicate with the boards we have.
For more info on the event, check out the event page here.
One of the things we’ve been wanting to do for a long time is set up a podcast for hackerfarm to keep people updated on what’s going on out here as well as discuss topics related to agriculture, technology, and the millions of other things we seem to be interested in. Jacinta is also working on her publishing company, Zoot Publishing, and previously, she was interviewing people for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. So finally, we put together a USB audio interface, two microphones, and a plan and started preparing the content schedule for the Zoot Publishing and Hackerfarm podcasts. Incidentally, they’ll be separate podcasts. It should be a fun project and something we can get a bunch of people involved in. A follow on project is to set up a soundproof studio at SDF cafe, but that’s still kind of on the drawing board.