Hardware Hacker

The Hardware Hacker
By Huang, Andrew “bunnie”
Book – 2017

Bunnie is a talented computer engineer who studied at MIT. He is is expert at designing hardware and setting up manufacturing processes. And he can write so well!

He talks of the difficulties in getting a product manufactured in China. He was tasked with helping a Chinese company manufacture a product. The people there were so friendly, and so skilled at assembling the components on circuit cards, but the design needs to be completely detailed. If there was a vague detail in the plans, the workers would do their best work but you could end up with 1000 non-functional devices and the cost is on the shoulders of the American client. The solution to this problem was to test the first devices as they came off the production line, and to prepare a test jig so the factory could verify that it was producing working products. With that done, you could expect high quality work at very reasonable prices.

He was in China for weeks on end to set up the testing. This could not possibly be done by email, he had to be in the factory. When there, he got great results.

He talks of how good the Chinese are at working with the CAD plans for devices, possibly adding features, and getting low cost devices into production. The plans get shared in social networks with no consideration for western notions of IP or patents. A factory can be producing a device for a western client during the day, and have a “ghost shift” at night where a very similar product is produced with similar quality levels and possibly a few added features, for sale in Chinese or Indian markets.

Bunnie decided after a few years that he wanted to quit and start his own company. He decided to design a laptop PC with very unique qualities. He describes his designs and the experience of running a crowd-funded business. The company was successful in a quiet way, but he says he much preferred the technical work to managing a company.

Most manufacturing engineers are content to get good at some process or other, but bunnie went a step further. He designed a new manufacturing process, using a flexible substrate for the circuits. He talks of how he came up with the new process, and validated that it was workable. He used this to create microcircuits which hobbyists could work into clothing.

A fascinating read!

Printed Circuits

Printed Circuits Handbook
50th Anniversary Edition
By Coombs, Clyde F., Jr. (EDT)/ Holden, Happy T. (EDT)
Book – 2016

Electronics manufacturing engineers will want to have a copy of this handbook on their shelf. 1600 pages packed with information! Yes, the information is all online, but this book gathers it together in one place. Did you want to know how to solder a BGA (Ball Grid Array) chip onto a circuit board, reliably, despite having most of the contacts hidden under the chip?

Manufacturing in Ottawa? Did it not all move overseas? Yes, mostly, but there are still some low volume, high spec operations here. Not to mention the reverse engineering companies which inspect circuits made elsewhere, mostly to help defend patents. “Inspect” meaning to carefully cut it apart and put it under a high power microscope.

Solar Electricity

Solar Electricity Handbook A Simple Practical Guide to Solar Energy : How to Design and Install Photovoltaic Solar Electric Systems By Boxwell, Michael Book – 2015

If you are planning to put solar panels up, this is the most practical current advice I know of. The book is well written, and seems to tell you soup-to-nuts how to choose and size your components, whether you want to be off the grid, or tied to the grid and selling your (occasional) surplus power. The author is British, but the advice seems to be good for North America and Australia too.

Make Photon Wifi

Make Getting Started With the Photon: Making Things With the Affordable, Compact, Hackable Wifi Module By Monk, Simon/ Supalla, Zach (FRW) Book – 2015

A tiny, wonderful book for a tiny, wonderful module. The Photon is a stamp sized processor board with an ARM processor and WIFI networking. The book is 200 pages packed with information on programming (C language), electronics (breadboard with simple components), and IOT (Internet Of Things) system design. Build 15 simple projects. Control the Photon remotely from a smartphone app or directly from a PC.

Experienced programmers or technologists will be able to skip most of this book. High school students will enjoy the projects, and learn so much.