All posts by Priscilla Haring

My First Build: the Microgameboy

Let’s start with that I’ve never – ever – soldered anything before. Although we define this pcb-build as beyond Arduino, I felt hopeful I could pull this off because of the excellent equipment in the lab and the guidance of @Blok2009. In the end it took me about 2,5 hours to put together one Microgameboy v5– in comparison, it takes @Blok2009 about 10 minutes to achieve the same.

Starting with the mcu was a big hit for me – there is something special about holding computing power in your tweezers and melting it down into liquid metal. Being able to work under a microscope also was a huge benefit – although shifting field of vision from microscopic to normal every few seconds was a new experience for me. Blinking required.

I took a little break in the process as it was rapidly going from enjoyment to annoyance and I didn’t want to break my joy in creating this.

I had a bit of a scare once everything was melted on – the power source was connected and nothing happened…

What did I do wrong? Together with @Blok2009 we took of the battery clip again and looked at all my solder smearing . I noticed that there was one capacitor that I had actually only connected on one side, another capacitor’s head or ass was stuck in a bubble of solder – probably not connecting to the plate on the pcb (the surface tension of the orb holding the solder of the plate) other places had more solder on them than might be good for them. I corrected all these things and we added some kapton tape under the battery clip as it might be touching things it shouldn’t be touching. Now, I am not sure which one of these things actually mattered but – praise be onto Nuggan – now there were leds* blinking and the Microgameboy was ready to receive its game: BITMAN.

Adding some colour buttons and a fish (because fish) and my Microgameboy is ready to incite and amuse. I am so proud.

* – the three LEDs on the board are the only things I did not solder on myself.

Food #3 Lunch around Huaqianbei

All that running around looking for components can make a person really hungry. Luckily, on the corners and the backstreet of the market little stalls are selling many types of steamed or boiled goodies for us to try.

For round one of the lunch we started with sausage type things on a stick. By the time I remembered to get my camera, there was only one bite left. Some smaller steamed dumplings with indeterminable things in them, a larger steamed bun with something resembling sweet potato, and sticks with large fluffy fried tofu(??) that leaks broth when you eat it.

I liked the sausage and bigger steamed bun best of this bunch. The fluffy tofu wasn’t a bit hit. Not very tasty at all and squirting broth all over the place. Tried and deleted.

For the second round, we got some other steamed buns, dumplings and what turned out to be pancake/fish balls. The flakes of dried fish that are sprinkled on top of the balls move in the heat – giving the whole thing a more liveley experience.

I was the only one eating the fish balls and thought they were very good; crunchy pastry on the outside with a very soft texture in the middle. The flavour is mild and the sauce and fish flakes really complement it. Inspiration to make some spring onion & cod poffertjes when we get back home. The steamed bun was filled with something even better than the buns before and the other dumplings (which had meat, I think) were yummy too! They indeed deserve their own little container.

An excellent lunch!

!E Embedded Expo aka mcu! mcu!

Another day, another tech-tradeshow. This one is about anything containing a micro controller unit; The Embedded Expo. No way to register on-line beforehand so we just rocked up to the Convention & Exhibition Centre. There was a waiting line that definitely had our name on it. International visitors -check, VIP – but of course and Group too. Swapping business cards for badges, we are good to go.

There was much to see and question, every booth had someone who spoke English. Manufacturers of the worlds’ tiniest LED, china – the cup kind – with an interactive touch display, smart home set-ups and the like. We also took home a very interesting Journal of Electronics of which we can only read the titles, some of the references and the scematics. The Shenzhen DIY community, hackerspaces and makerplaces were also present.

Here we see a set-up for RENESAS new hardware accelerated operating system on the mcu. Both rows of tubes are keeping the orange balls in the middle by controlling airflow. When we up the measurement frequency the mcu without the new fancy system can no longer maintain control.

We also showed a few people the microgameboy, to kind of explain what TINRS does. They all seemed impressed, although some thought it was a bit too small. Explaining the idea of just making something because you can or building a prototype that you do not necessarily intend the mass produce is still tricky.


Huanqiangbei Shopping – day 2

Another day at the market looking for parts. Happy hunting with a long list of things to get. The ground floor of one of the buildings used to be a beautiful mosaic, but it got smashed and broken by the amount of commerce taking place on top of it.

Negotiating for some 7805 power regulators. We are not negotiating over prices – these already are REALLY low, as are the amounts we want. With a few exceptions we only spend a few euros at any one stall. Meanwhile, the sellers have to deal with our lack of Chinese and whip out parts from their massively stacked 2-square-meters or make them appear from the magical ‘somewhere else’. No need to haggle over a 10% discount. Each item was minutely checked before being handed over. Deal made!

Up and coming (we are seeing them more than last year) are all the Arduino and their lookalikes, RasperryPi’s and Banananaboards as well as the sensor- and building-kits that go with them. Up and down we go; the list isn’t finished yet.

After two days of Huanqiangbei, we have a lot of stuff:

Food #2 Vegetable for students

DSC05714Could it be high on certain acids? Could it be because students do not have the time to pickle their own vegetables? Either way – this packaging targeting those who seek knowledge was intriguing.

The taste was a little disappointing, slightly pickled tiny mushrooms.

A bit bland really.

Huaqiangbei Shopping – day 1

Huaqiangbei – to some of our group it already feels like smelling something from your childhood, to others it is a new shock to the circuit.

After much browsing in the overload of little stalls with parts, knick-knacks and anything that can possibly be connected, the first actual purchase was a bag of LEDs. The quantity we desired and the quantity in a standard bag did not match but luckily our pretty assistant for this transaction was willing to rip open the package and divide by weighing. Seemed weird to us at first but it makes perfect sense. Who is going to count out 500 LEDs? Besides, what’s one LED more or less between friends.

Here we have the tools we need to negotiate a bunch of CMOS logic gates – we still speak only three words of Chinese but thankfully numbers and serial lettering are the same. Pointing, sketching and the trusty calculator still gets us through. There was some waiting for components that magically appear from somewhere, meanwhile tea was served from a very small clay pot.

Around a corner somewhere we found walls of clamps, cutters, tweezers, holders and solders. The shiniest and sturdiest all seem to be Made in Japan – Asia rules. Happy browsing all round.

Yes, Stijn is talking into a microphone. After the initial overload some of the guys thought it would be a good idea to be able to reach each other. We don’t have Chinese SIMs so they bought a set of walkie-talkies. Huanqiangbei is a lot to get around. We will be back!

Food #1 Sunday lunch in a shopping mall

Besides the amazing availability of electronics, another drive for coming to China is the food. It is Yum-Yam good. We do not speak or read any Chinese and often we do not know what we are getting. This leads to many nice surprises and a few disgusting disappointments. I will happily take the ultraspicy and the occasional fermented flaky snail in stride with the rest of my Tasting of China.

As was my motto on Couchsurfing : To see interesting cultures, and eat them.

After locating the Civic centre we had to fuel up before actually doing the museum. Along the sides of a nearby square, inside a shopping mall there was line of people waiting to get into this beautiful Chinese version of fast food. Upon entering you get a sort of menu-grid piece of paper. With this you stand in the buffet line. There is an ‘open kitchen’ stashing whatever they are cooking behind a windowed buffet and you point at things (if you speak Chinese you probably just ask for them) get your grid stamped and receive the food you selected. You do this until you have tried everything you want and pay whatever you were stamped on your way out.

Sunday lunch

We loaded the table twice – but I was so busy eating that I only took one picture.

What you see here is a tofu/ mushroom/ celery toss, cooked lotus root slices dumpling and lotus/ rice cakes with sesame (I think) with some sort of refried-dumpling-spring roll.

Tea on the side, always tea on the side.

I would heartily recommend eating here to anyone, if only I knew what the place was called.

Shenzhen museum – On a Sunday afternoon

Getting in some culture today! We set out to walk to the big-wavy-building, otherwise known as Shenzens’ Civic Centre which among many other things houses the Shenzhen Museum. We sauntered in between many very tall buildings and when we lost our bearings, we headed for the ‘gap in the skyline’ as the Civic Centre is a huge but lower structure. Worked like a charm.















We also discovered the Shenzhen Industrial Museum which was unfortunately closed today – if we have some time left later we do want to go back and visit this 7 floor exhibition.

CITE China Information Technology Exhibition

DSC05577DSC05585 We were excited to see CITE and had ourselves an early start. We had some wonderful Chinese bread for breakfast – with the undetermined pork or fish sugary floss – and set out in the foggy morning. The big trade-show hall is within walking distance of our temporary home. When the Chinese build an Exhibition centre, they mean it and make the ones in our own country look puny.  There was so much to see!  A few of the highlights:

DSC05572 DSC05574Neuron; A full-body motion capture suit; a collection of sensors that you can easily strap on and lets you freely move around. There was a guy doing live demonstrations in front of a big screen, he seemed kind of uninspired so I did a little dance with him – to relieve boredom and to see if the sensors would also follow some more rigorous movement. I made him follow me and together we boogied down to the ground and twirled like ballet dancers. On screen all the moves (including his stumbling and hesitance) were really well followed.

DSC05590Pick and placers in all shapes and sizes, a CNC on magnetic rails, robotic paste dispensers and 2-component gluing robots which were unexpectedly cheap. Electric factory worker drills and screwdrivers – stopping on counterforce and hanging down from heaven (or the ceiling).

DSC05593 Thin film speakers and conductive textile printing – actually stretchy and no more of the crackling problems it had in the past. This seems like an interesting technique to build some creative and wearable applications. Make stuff work AND look good!

DSC05565 DSC05566

pcDuino: Lego-like blocks that you can program as components onto your pcb and build things on with Lego. Like many things nowadays it works with Scratch. Very nice educational tool, allows for mucking around. Disassemble and reassemble.


We walked in to the “e-health” hall, which mostly consisted of e-cigarettes and their many, many liquids. The air was sweet and fragrant and scantily clad ladies were walking about with promotion materials. One of them handed us a throwaway e-ciggarette which supposedly equals one packet of cigarettes.

DSC05571There were multiple versions of a step on electric transport device – sort of a Segway without the middle stick which most of us tried out for a couple of meters. You control it by moving your feet very slightly. Roman has the distance record between us and had the basic manoeuvring down in less than two minutes.

A rolling drone that can also bounce and flip. 3D printers with a delta-bot, SLS stratasys printers, room-sized 3D printers and liquid printers. OLEDs in panels of 10 by 5 cm and 8K screens by BOE. Many more things to gawk at and definitely to much to list here. Makeblock was also there, showing of their new stuff – more on that when we visit the studio.


To China, with love

The trouble with China is largely that is far, far away and getting there takes a while.

Rocket_LaunchOn the one hand I am a big fan of air travel – it gets you very far, very fast. On the other hand I hate air travel – you pay to get yourself locked up in an aluminium cylinder for hours on end with no escape and no sleep. The food I had eaten on planes thus far was not so bad but this trip it was horrible (yes Aeroflot , I am talking about you) and I was glad I brought some snacks with me. Our total airtime was just under twelve hours, with a waiting time of 2 hours at Moscow airport – which is basically a shopping mall with gates.

DSC05618Finally arriving at Hong Kong airport, the magic started. “Can you smell that? Chinese air!” Getting stickered into a sky limo, crossing the border and an extremely overpriced illegal taxi got us from Hong Kong airport to our Shenzhen apartment in another 3 hours. None of us really slept on the plane and we were so jetlagged that the floor was wobbly. When we set out to explore our neighbourhood and look for some food, we walked the wrong way (and back) four times.

Early night all round – it’s great to be back.

We will be here for almost two weeks – so if you  have any specific Shenzhen / Made In China questions, let us know and we can find out!

STM32F030F4P6 “AVR programmer” board

by Krzysztof Foltman

After the initial success with LPC810, I was ready to work on something with more memory and more I/O. Searching the Farnell catalogue for simple, low-cost and hobbyist-friendly MCUs, I found the tiny STM32F030F4P6 microcontroller made by ST Microelectronics.

The microcontroller

The chip is based on an ARM Cortex M0 core, has a 48 MHz clock, 16 KB ROM and 4 KB RAM and is available in a 20-pin 0.65mm TSSOP package.
Unlike the LPC chip, it provides plenty of I/O pins and a wider selection of peripherals, including SPI and timers. It is still an entry level chip. It has none of the advanced interfaces like USB or I2S present in its larger counterparts, but that gets reflected in price – it costs about 1.50 euro in single units.
The low price is particularly important for people without experience with soldering of relatively fine-pitch SMD packages – with some basic magnification they are not prohibitively difficult to solder, but getting a number of spares makes the whole learning process less stressful.

Several options are available to make sure that I would be able to use the new microcontroller. One of them involves using an SMD breakout board and a breadboard. However, I was skeptical of the ability to get the Serial Wire Debug programmer/debugger working with the breadboard – it usually requires fairly short wires and it is sensitive to signal quality issues. There is also the “dead bug” approach of gluing the IC upside down and soldering wires to it. This I rejected because of the soldering skills required. My easiest option involved using the first version of a 10x10cm matrix protoboard that arrived from China some time earlier.

Getting it working

After soldering the chip to the PCB, I needed a way to verify that it was working. The easiest way to achieve this was adding a decoupling capacitor and the SWD port, and using an STLink v2 programmer I got from Stijn to communicate with the chip. These programmers are easily available from eBay or Aliexpress, and work fine most of the time – the issues are usually resolved by holding the chip in reset manually. The example eBay link to get one of those programmers is Here

It took some trial-and-error to get adequate signal quality: long cables or having signal wires too close makes the communication unreliable at speeds that STLink is using. I found the correct configuration file to use with OpenOCD (32f0308discovery.cfg – it is included with OpenOCD).

Some time later, I had a working SWD set-up. On my system, and OpenOCD installed in /usr/local/, the example command to erase the flash and program an .elf file is:

sudo openocd -f /usr/local/share/openocd/scripts/board/32f0308discovery.cfg -c 'init' -c "program file.elf verify reset"

The next step involved writing a small program that blinks a LED, in order to make sure that the basics work. For this, I decided to use the code and the linker script for the LPC as a starting point. The memory addresses and the entire initialization code had to be changed to reflect the differences between platforms. And no more I2C or port expanders – this chip had enough I/O to do something that I could use in practice.

The project

At the time, I was trying to make a camera rail controller for a friend. It was meant to be a simple radio-operated stepper motor controller. That in itself could be a good opportunity to try a new microcontroller, if it wasn’t for the size constraints on the device. The 10x10cm prototyping board was too large to fit in the carriage of the device, and the smaller prototyping board was through-hole only. Also, the project didn’t really require a lot of processing power, an ATmega chip would work equally well.

A project based on ATmega is probably easiest to prototype using Arduino environment. But it’s not like it’s easy to buy an ATmega with bootloader burned in, at least in Ireland – it might involve a few days of waiting or paying a good chunk of money for an original Arduino from Maplin just to source the chip. So, what if I built a device to do exactly that – to take a blank ATmega and burn the Arduino bootloader into it. Sounds like a nice learning project to use the STM32 for!

The STM32 definitely had enough I/O pins and memory, and an SPI peripheral that could be used for communicating with the AVR In-Circuit Serial Programming port. The board had enough space to host a 28-pin ZIF socket, so I added that and some user interface elements – two LEDs (green and red) with suitable resistors and a reset button. The SPI-based ICSP code was easy enough to write based on Atmel’s documentation: IMG_20140911_224839 (1)the datasheet and the AVR910 application note about using the programming interfaces. Finding the correct version of the Arduino bootloader was slightly harder than I expected, but I had it all working after a single afternoon of coding. The slightly cleaned up version of the code and very rough documentation is available here

The remaining parts are:

  • the clock crystal and the load capacitors for the ATmega – but not for the STM32 as it runs off its own internal RC clock
  • the beeper – not strictly required but a nice addition. I didn’t dare to power the beeper directly from the microcontroller, so I used an 2N3904 transistor in common emitter mode as a switch.

The programmer code checks the device ID and uploads the bootloader, sets the correct fuses and then uploads a blinky example.

Now, any time I want to make a simple device based on an ATmega microcontrolller, I don’t need to buy a pre-programmed chip – I can get a blank one and pre-program it by simply inserting the chip into the board’s ZIF socket and press a button. After a while, I get a long “beep” and a green light, announcing the fact that the chip is functional and ready to use. Even better, this board provides a simple way to check an Atmega chip that I suspect to be damaged during one of my failed experiments: a series of beeps and a red light will remove any doubt.


This Is Not Rocket Science at all.

The tricky parts is soldering and SWD signal quality, and the initialization and the linker script. One needs to remember to enable all the clocks during start-up and to take care of the interrupts. Otherwise, there may be unexpected crashes when SysTick gets triggered and there is no ISR to call. Overall, this chip is easy to obtain (Farnell), inexpensive, relatively easy to use and less limited than the 8-pin LPC chip.

There are some comparable options from other manufacturers in the same market segment: LPC811 and LPC812 from NXP (the latter is also available in a 20-pin SOIC package with 1.27mm pin pitch, making it easier to solder). My preferred option was an STMicro part because of my prior experience with their Discovery boards and the fact that most of skills learned when working with a specific microcontroller are usable across their entire chip lines. Most of the time they use the same peripheral, so parts of the code can often be ported -with minimal changes- to their 180 MHz parts. NXP parts have several other advantages, the most important being the clear documentation they provide and their very flexible pin assignment matrix.

LPC810 board

by Krzysztof Foltman

This is my first successful attempt to do something with a 32-bit microprocessor in a circuit of my own making, instead of relying on commercially-available development boards. After some prior unsuccessful tries using STM32F051 and TQFP64 to DIP breakout boards, I decided to start over with something easier. Something that would not require SMD soldering skills, a custom board or any special tools. With all those requirements, I picked the only 32-bit microprocessor that is easily available in a hobbyist-friendly package: the NXP LPC810.

The microcontroller

This chip is an ARM Cortex M0+ core. The basic specs are rather modest:

  • up to 30 MHz clock (built in, no crystal or external oscillator required)
  • only 4KB of flash,
  • 1 KB of SRAM,
  • 6 pins of I/O.

It’s available in an 8-pin DIP package, which every electronics hobbyist should be familiar with – the same package is shared by many popular chips, operational amplifiers, headphone amplifiers, switching-mode power supply controllers and many others. It can even be used with a breadboard. Can’t get any easier!

The datasheet and the user manual, as well as some application notes and errata sheets are available at: See here

Programming the chip

For programming I used a simple USB-to-TTL-serial dongle – no special hardware is required to flash the device. Well… not all that special. The programming mode is activated by holding the PIO0_1 pin down during reset. In order to keep the ability to use that pin for other purposes during normal operation, I used a 2N3904 transistor to pull it down on the RTS signal from the serial dongle. So, depending on the state of the RTS line, pulsing DTR low would either run my program or enable program upload mode. The RTS and DTR can be controlled from the PC in software, so all the required modes – normal operation, normal reset and reset to programming mode – can be triggered. As an alternative, LPC810 also supports the Serial Wire Debug mode, which I haven’t tried yet with this particular chip.

The programming protocol is well documented and there is an existing example of using LPC810 with open tools, including a short programmer program and the linker script: See here

I/O expansion

The limited amount of I/O may be insufficient for any complex designs. Out of 8 pins, two pins are used for power, and three more have to be sacrificed for programming interface and the reset. So, in the end, only 3 GPIO pins are left. Even with the unusual ability to freely reassign some functions to any of the pins, there’s not much that can be done using so few pins.

One of the solutions involves adding a port expander, which I did. I decided to use Microchip’s MCP32008, an 8-bit expander using an I2C bus. This way, 2 data pins are used to provide up to 8 pins of general-purpose I/O, and the direction can be set for individual pins. If that’s not sufficient, more expanders can share the same bus. It is also possible to use MCP32016 – a 16-bit expander – for even more I/O on a single bus address. There are few more alternatives from other manufacturers, too: NXP’s PCF8574 is another popular choice.

In order to build the test device, I used one of the 5x5cm This Is Not Rocket Science matrix protoboards, which provide just enough space to fit the LPC810 and the MCP32008. It requires a bit of careful planning to fit all the components, but no special skills are required.

The hardest part of adding an I2C port expander was the electrical interface: open drain outputs with appropriate pull-ups for the bus. For clock it is possible to use the built in pull-up, but for data I had to add an external resistor. The software – both initialization part and the actual I2C transactions – is not particularly complicated. The documentation contains very detailed, step-by-step instructions to get each peripheral working, and related registers are often cross-references in the right places. This is very different from my experiences with STM32 series chips, where critical information is scattered between the reference manual, data sheet and possibly application notes and other documents. In STM32’s defense, those chips are also much more complex and powerful than LPC810, so a comparable level of detail would make the reference manual run into many more thousands of pages.


Overall, using both the LPC810 and the port expander is Not Rocket Science at all. Soldering is easy because of the DIP package, and it’s possible to use a socket to further reduce any thermal risks. The programming interface is a simple serial port + 2 control pins. Both chips are easy to get and inexpensive and documentation (link above) is clear, detailed and helpful.

This is as stress-free as it gets for building the first circuit based on an ARM Cortex M chip.

However, due to small memory, lack of DMA or analog inputs and very little I/O, the chip is of limited use.  It would probably do decent enough job for things like controlling relays or a character LCD from USB, at least when combined with a USB-to-serial dongle – but if I only needed that, in most cases a better choice would be an 8-bit AVR chip in an 8-pin package, like ATtiny85.
However, if I had to use a 32-bit microcontroller for such a task, I would probably pick this one.

China the Difficult #3 Bazaar communication

China is usually perceived as difficult by Europeans: communication is impossible, constant daily hassle, unyielding culture and far too many people. We are here to experience the truth of it. If there is any prejudice in particular you would like us to check out – let us know.

 Communication on the Huaqiangbei Bazaar has not been too bad! There was one interaction where we were trying to purchase some buttons where all communication broke down (see the picture of our attempt to explain the concept of prototyping) but for the most part we have been doing fine.

Most of the people we meet speak some electronics related English, few of them speak enough English to have a small conversation while At a desk Connectoran equally small amount speak no English at all and simply ignore you. We have met no fluent English speakers on the Bazaar. However, on the Bazaar the language barrier is hardly a problem as the interaction you have is structured  – thank heavens – with numbers we can all understand. It’s basically a conversation via calculator. What you want is simple and expected. Point at a thing and then indicate how many of that you (might) want with pen/paper, a mobile device or on the calculator that everybody has behind their counter.

One such exchange with a very helpful Chinese woman who spoke no English at all, ended in a pack of jelly beans (FETs, power regulators, opamps, logic ICs etc > about 12 different kinds, 25-50 pieces of each) and the spontaneous exchanging of gifts. I got her pocket magnifier with LED and gave her a small Delfts blue kissing statue.

The communication in numbers mostly refers to one of two things: quantity or price. You can haggle over the price if you want but the margin for haggling is not of Arabian width and everything is really cheap already. We tried to get a lower price a few times just to test the concept – just typing in another number as a counter offer works fine. The biggest problem we had was that sometimes the quantities we asked for were too low – 50 pcs instead of 5000 pcs – and people simply would not sell to us. No worries, thank them and move on. There are many stalls that carry the same things and another one might have a small amount available. To us this was another reason not to haggle as selling smaller amounts seemed to be more of a hassle.

China the difficult #2 Transport: subway

China is usually perceived as difficult by Europeans: communication is impossible, constant daily hassle, unyielding culture and far too many people. We are here to experience the truth of it. If there is any prejudice in particular you would like us to check out – let us know.

1511736_10152299218080600_344335097892555352_oThe metro or subway in Shenzhen is awesome! We love it, we need  it, we use it a lot. If you ever find yourself travelling around Shenzhen for more than two days,  buy a “Shen Zhen Tong” card. The Tong is a top-op card that works like the Oyster in London or the Octopus in Hong Kong. You buy it for ¥70 with ¥50 already on it and you can beep your merry way through the gates. On the back of the card is a map of the entire subway network – in Chinese, but colour coded for your convenience.

During rush hour the speeding indoor spacecraft is packed like a sardine tin. At other times the subway is hardly empty but usually you can find a seat if you dont enter the carriage near the main escalator.  While you are comfortably being whizzed around the city you can do some unashamed people watching. Rest assured that you will be watched too but not uncomfortably so. Also, 6 out of 10* people are looking at their cell phones or tablets and could be sitting next to the Zohlitar the demon Queen of the 8th dimension without noticing much.

Should the people be of disappointing interest, there is an entertainment system on board. It is meant as an advertising platform and to a foreigner Chinese advertisements are intriguing. The visual style is very different for the Western one and the emotional expressions are framed and overdone. Most advertisements feel like high quality TellSell snippets. Sometimes the feed has audio for the entire subway to enjoy.

One of the most appreciated features is a LED-board indicating all the stops on route – where we’ve been (red lights) and were we are still going (green lights). The road between two stops flows from red to green dots like a progress bar.  When you are about to arrive at a stop, the corresponding LED starts blinking orange and the audio message starts. The audio starts with fast and high-pitched Mandarin and Cantonese (we think) and ends in slow American English – even pronouncing the place names in their American English interpretation.

Please mind your head as the handholds dangling in the middle of the carriage are at head height for us (average 1.78m). Definitely mind the basic life advice that scrolls by every so often on the LED ticker “Please take good care of children!”.

*This number is the average of 12 counts I did based on proximity groupings of 10, on three different lines at three different times of the day.

China the Difficult #1 Toilets

China is usually perceived as difficult by Europeans: communication is impossible, constant daily hassles, unyielding culture and far too many people. We are here to experience the truth of it. If there is any prejudice in particular you would like us to check out – let us know.

Squat toilets – not just in China – are often disturbing to LaoWai. However, next time you want to scream ‘backward idiots’ and ‘underdeveloped’ at the smell of a public Chinese toilet consider the other perspective. On a squat toilet your ass hangs out in the air while you do your business – on a Western toilet your bare butt is comfortably seated where everybody else’s bare butt has sat down as well. Now how disgusting must that seem to a Chinese person?


From the smell and the maintenance of the average toilet it seems that in China the toilet is a dirty place and this is not a problem. You remain clean – the place is dirty – no problems. Meaning the toilet is a place where you do your thing and get out as fast as you can (maintaining cleanliness). LaoWais have made our toilets into little ‘quiet places’ that are usually heavily decorated – we spend some quality time with our excrements. Weird, huh?

Old Chinese wisdom and research agree that squatting is preferred over sitting as a pooping posture. The smelly hole in the ground is actually better for the health of your bowels.

Now the only question I have left is Paper or Water? The drainage system is not made for large wads of paper. Every stall – if you are lucky enough to have a stall around you – has a waste basket for your dirty toilet paper. Which might be one of the main causes for the horrible smell. In other countries where they have squat toilets everywhere they usually don’t have toilet paper but cleanse themselves with water. Is the paper usage some sort of halfway station? Are the Chinese secretly cleaning themselves with water? The research continues…

MakeBlock visit

It was a wonderful morning as we were excited to go and see the home of Makeblock – see Alice again and meet the founder: Jasen Wang.

There was an indoor market on the ground floor of the building that houses Makeblock (we heard a large number of chickens) and the rest of the floors seemed to be filled with offices built out of glass panelling on top of marble floors.
Makeblock has grown over the past year and now has three of such glass holdings: one for the designers and the engineers, one for the sales and marketing team and one for storage and packaging.

Shenzhen 2 129  Shenzhen 2 130  Shenzhen 2 136

We were charmed by the constructed designs packed in one of the offices and had sneak-peeks at some of the kits that are being developed and some of the parts for which they are still optimizing the production process. They are organizing monthly construction contests – and have developed a full educational kit (contact them if you are in education).

Shenzhen 2 135  Shenzhen 2 152

We discussed some gear-designs and were impressed by their production standards and their dedication to finding a manufacturer that can produce exactly according to the specifications.  We think this collection of youngsters is unproving the idea that only cheap crap is made in China – they remind us more of our friendly German designers and its culture of Deutsche Grundlichkeit The product is made Design First, it is thoroughly tested and standards are not lowered to cut on costs. Over the past year their products have become better and more polished.

In the storage and packing part we met the father-of-the-founder who was packing DC-motors in individual wrappers. Our very own father-of-the-founder sat down at the table with him to help. The storage consists of a few racks with plastic blue boxed containing lots of goodies. We bought a stack of the new aluminium beams and have instantly made plans for a pick-and-place machine.

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Meeting the team and seeing them at work has made us even bigger fans of Makeblock – “Enthusiastic young people with lots of attention to detail” – we hope that this company continues to thrive and will continue our support.

Much extrusion, such precision, very stepper; wow!

Roman visiting SepiCN and MakeBlock

blog written by Roman Buehler

Yesterday I temporarily separated from my beloved TINRS-friends and went to Zhuhai, where I met my other lovely friend John Wang. I and my brother met him for the first time in our China Trip 2011, when we crisscrossed China on a different kind of business adventure trip in only 12 days. Which was very stupid. And very stressful. And totally overkill. And the best holiday I have ever had. Except that now this China trip may even surpass my last one.
John drove me through a wonderful landscape of Chinese hills and seascapes as we went to see his new LED factory, SepiCN. He has some new products, one of them seems to be based on an idea that we discussed three years ago: a single 50x50cm, 40watts LED material, that illuminates not from a single point, but a wide area; it is not rim mounted LED’s which reflect upon a refractive glass, but the actual material illuminates, creating a diffuse light. AWESOMENESS!
We went on to discuss a few possibilities of what could be done with such lighting, and we’ll see what happens in the next few years.

Shenzhen 2 121Today TINRS had an appointment with the awesome people of Makeblock – WOOOHOOO! We visited their office and warehouse, where they showed us around and revealed the new parts they have in development. Shenzhen 2 142We even got to give them some input on a few specific things, some new parts that we thought could be very interesting to have.

Things that hopefully benefit Makeblock and everyone else that builds things with their products! We spent almost the entire morning there and did a small on-site shopping tour, where Stijn and Krzysztof selected quite a few parts that they were kind of missing in their arsenal of Makeblock materials.

After giving some gifts from the Netherlands and Switzerland, we went on to do the first fitting at our tailor Jeri C in Luohu Shopping Mall. The suits fit perfectly and are very comfortable.

We’ll have another busy day tomorrow, and we are going to visit the Seeed Studio people to see their awesome stuff live and in Technicolor!

Reel building

MF reel building


The Maker Faire was surrounded by buildings of all shapes, heigths and sizes. We like this one especially because it looks like the towers have a reel of components running down their sides – on all sides. Such a fitting decorum for a Maker get-together.

Maker Faire Shenzhen – MakeBlock

The colourful logo made us feel right at home as the lab is full of MakeBlock parts.
In the past we’ve built a PCB CNC-mill, a drawing robot, a SMT reel holder, a knife guide for cutting PCB and a small SCARA robot. Many more things will be built with it in the future.

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We met Alice from MakeBlock on the Faire with whom we had e-mailed before, it was really nice to put a face to the connection. She invited us over to come see the company on Thursday – so more on MakeBlock to come!

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Maker Faire Shenzhen – Palette

One of the things we saw on the Faire was Palette – a system of connectable blocks. Each block contains an interaction element – a knob, a slider, a button, a LED or a tiny screen. You can connect the blocks together using side connectors to build a customized control surface for your favourite software. They were showing if off Traktor, so we guess they are aiming at DJs). The software behind the blocks is aware of the layout you build with it. The Palette will show you this layout on screen so you can assign functions to all the blocks you have attached.

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In the Novena

At the Shenzhen Maker Faire  we spotted Bunnie and had ourselves a little chat. We explained the concept behind TINRS and he fully agreed with showing the world that stuff can be done. When he asked if we had a sticker we offered a choice selection of our cut outs and – to our surprise – he pulled out a new Novena and stuck us inside.

IMG_20140406_135555 IMG_20140406_135554

Check out the Novena laptop on Crowdsupply. All the design files for the Novena laptop are freely available (hardware and firmware!). This, combined with the fact that it features a powerful built-in FPGA chip for advanced interfacing makes it poised to be the new ultimate hacker/maker laptop. We can’t wait for this project get in to the hands of the hackercommunity to see what amazing reverse engineering tools they come up with. Read Bunnies blog here about the idea behind the laptop, the design decisions and its proces.

Cheers Bunnie for leading the way (and sticking us inside) – enjoy the stroopwafels.

Rocket Award to Israel

Space-IL-21Today at the Shenzhen Maker Faire we saw a few things that WERE rocket science – so we give them little rockets (laser cut outs) as our Rocket Award.

The Award of The Day definitely goes (went) to SpaceIL – the private Israelian space program. Not so much because they are going to the moon, but the way they are doing it. They started the program to inspire everyone to ‘reach for the moon’ and to enhance a sense of awe in engineering. They are sharing their development, they are inviting both interested volunteers and the highest experts, they are perceiving a space program as an educational project. Communicating that this IS rocket science and you can be a rocket scientist too – and not as some sort of diluted talent show but by doing the damn research.

Mind the Durian

There is one thing in Hong Kong that has completely divided the group – the Durian. Some of us (the ones that have a sense of smell) think it is a foul smelling horrible fruit that should not be consumed by humans or in the vicinity of humans. Others think it is a bite of the tropics and goes very nicely wrapped up in a thin pancake together with some custard, thank you very much.  To keep on the safe side I will only share some of the other fruits we sampled in HK:

Citrus-starfruit, some rose apples and unknown peachlikables with mini banana for scale.
Citrus-starfruit, some rose apples and unknown peachlikables with mini banana for scale.

Of course, there is the ever popular sign spotting. What hilarious or beautiful public announcements are spread for our enjoyment and can we spread them any further? To start with:

Beware of Step

Today we crossed the great divide between HK and maninland China. A true crossing: there was some concrete, a river, a bridge and a sign stating that U-turns were not allowed. We were enthusiastically received by our host here, we have had amazing Chinese noodles for lunch and felt out kitsched by the Window of the World – which outdoes the Vegas Strip LED for LED.

We were disappointed in our ability to hook up a VPN, still trying but for now our internet is slow and limited…

Tomorrow – finally – the technical bit of the journey starts at the Shenzhen Maker Faire

Maker Faire Shenzhen bot banner


On a plane to China

The group for our first mission pooled together in Amsterdam.

At the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport we fell into a tech trap of alluring looking tables with protruding sockets which turned out to have no power
– We hope that Schiphol is busy with an upgrade.

The power may not have been connected but we already connected with a very interesting person doing very interested things before boarding (he fell into the same tech trap). Mr De Kai is a machine learning expert and musician, living in Hong Kong but giving talks all over the planet. We hope to see him perform on all levels in the future.

For now we are grounding ourselves in Hong Kong and catching up on some sleep. Our apartment is perfect – it is tiny and has all the things it promised and its clean. We will have one touristy day tomorrow, before we dive into Shenzhen.

HongKong pic
Daytime in HongKong – the splurging of neon and LED lighting alongside all the old/new mix feels very cyberpunk
HK group dinner
Chinese food in general is very, very tasty – perhaps this was not Chinese food

Check us out on Google+

written by Roman Buehler

This Is Not Rocket Science on Google+ managed by Roman Buehler

Brilliant minds come together to play with their combined knowledge.
Stijn Kuipers, Priscilla Haring, Kzrysztof Foltman, Niko Kuipers, Roman Buehler, Lauri Koponen and Roy Bekhuis go on a business adventure trip, experimenting, researching, having fun and gifting all our experiences made and data collected in the process to the world.

There is a post-industrial revolution going on right now in development and manufacturing and we intend to add to it.
We are bold. We are passionate. We are pionneers.


First iteration of the project: 100 hours in Shenzhen – 14 days of tech glory and friendship making, Manufacturing facility tours, chips and LED shopping, mainboard prototyping and lots and lots more!

The extreme timeframe we originally set for this project made it difficult to convince sponsors to support us, so in the end sponsoring is left out for this first iteration of the project. This means, we will be conducting this adventure out of our own pockets.

non-profit, educational option, open source hard/software, fairtrade and responsible manufacturing.

But, This Is Not Rocket Science!
Files and data will be published and shared. Education is the main priority for iteration 1 of the project.

brilliant mind’s interdisciplinary collaboration technology development art design and music project
(a bunch of geeks going wild on a shenzhen shopping trip)