Category Archives: Shenzhen 2014

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.

Back home!

10259873_10151917466246572_7627578894474393408_n After an exhilarating and exhausting time in China – we’ve made it back home. Now all that is left to do is to go through all the pictures, recordings, sketches, business cards and memories and share our adventure!

And the parts… and the tools… and the suits from the tailor… Our suitcases were nearly bursting!

On a different note: the site-design has been recovered (and backed up).

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.

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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).

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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.

Shenzhen 062 mill-big

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.

Maker Faire Shenzhen – first impressions

We were already spotted on the platform of the metrostation “Are you coming for Maker Faire?” – “yes” – “Follow me, I show you”. It must be our geek-sjiek attitude..

Just out of the station there were many of the Maker-red-robots, drones in the air and a rather large Bumblebee (Transformers – yellow one). People were waiting for us with maps and kindness – everything has been really well marked and easy to find.

 MF Krzysztof grinning map MF guiding floor stickers

The Faire itself is bigger than we expected and outside (huh?). We were impressed by the guys from 3rd Ear, a threedimensional music experience. Also, a guy from Music Thing Modular – who builds modular synthesizer eurorack modules- gave us the PCBs for two of their modules: a spring reverb and a random sequencer. With a bit of luck we can find all the components we need for these on the markets later this week.

Other interesting things:
– Quitbit
– Bicycle lighting/tracking by Helios
– A bendable sailboat for cleaning the ocean
– Modular controller blocks

Will upload photo’s / video’s and more details later


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

Hello World!

Rocket_LaunchTonight we will start Twittering like crazy to get the engines going.  The stars are out over Amsterdam, spring is in the air and it is a good day for a launch!

On This Is Not Rocket Science you can already find descriptions of several projects we have already started; the Goldfish synthesizer, a design for a prototyping board, how to make a PCB CNC mill with Makeblock and our first crack at an FPGA board.  We will be adding more as time goes by and we and The Lab progress. If you have any hints or questions, please sing to us on Twitter @rocket_not .

Our first mission will be a trip to Shenzhen, China – where all things are made.  Our bags are packed to fly out in two days. We are curious to see how hard or easy it is to go from inspiration to reality in this environment. We are planning to go to the Shenzhen Maker Faire, meet the guys from the Dangerous Prototypes Hackercamp, visit MakeBlock and talk to Seeed Studio among many other things.

We are undertaking this trip without the burden of funding and will be updating you often and at impromptu times.

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)