Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Update to Early March Post

On March 2nd, I posted about having issues with the tech magazines I rely on for interesting tidbits to share.  All of these links returned blank pages.
  • Microwaves and RF Magazine - http://www.mwrf.com/ 
  • Electronic Design - http://www.electronicdesign.com/
  • Machine Design - http://www.machinedesign.com/ 
  • EETimes - https://www.eetimes.com/
  • Design News - https://www.designnews.com/
Something unusual has been going on since then: they've gradually been coming back and I've done nothing to my system.  At first, they just started giving a "reader view" and I could see those.  Then the sites themselves started loading properly again.  Whatever they were doing appears to have been reversed, and I can visit all of them again.

So given a choice of news on all those websites, I could talk about something kind of neat or something in the just plain fun category.  I'll go with the just plain fun.

The article is an Electronics Design interview with Limor Fried, better known as Ladyada in the maker community; founder and CEO of Adafruit Industries.
Limor, also known as Ladyada, is an MIT graduate, engineer, hacker, and maker. Her Adafruit is a leading supplier of electronics kits, projects, components, software, and tools for beginning and experienced electronic experimenters, hobbyists, and makers.  Limor’s front-line experience makes her well-qualified to comment on the state of the maker space.

Give us a little background on the company and your impetus for starting it.

Back when I was still in school, around 2005, I was having a lot of fun building electronics. I had just been learning as part of my undergraduate internship about microcontrollers and it was tons of fun! Once I built some projects, I would publish them on my website. People loved the projects like my mint-tin MP3 player and emailed asking if I would sell them a kit of parts. Eventually I got so annoyed by all these emails, I started kitting up some simpler projects for sale and they were so popular, it became my life!
Sounds like a classic entrepreneur story: she discovered a need and started a business to fill that need.  The company has grown to $45M in sales last year, and seems to me to be positioned to keep growing.  The interview talks at length about her views of the Maker movement, and market.  
Is the maker movement growing, shrinking, or staying about the same these days?

It’s definitely growing, and spreading out to a wider audience. There are hundreds of maker spaces around the globe; each one is part of its own community that may hold workshop classes, run mini-maker-faires, or large-scale group projects. We, as humans, have always been makers; now we just have a word for it!

Describe the typical maker, if that’s possible. Any examples would be good.

The typical maker is a person who likes to make things with their hands, and uses technology to empower their creations. Maybe it’s 3D modeling on a computer, and then printing it out with a 3D printer, or making animations. They could be an artist who likes to screen-print fabric, or a knitter who uses the internet to share patterns. They could be a person who makes assistive technologies for friend or someone who welds ginormous sculptures.
(Limor Fried in front of a soldering machine - in the back left of the photo are parts placement machines - photo from the article)

Let me grab two more questions from the interview because they cover some things I'm interested in:
What are some of your most successful products? Do you have any new products you want to mention?

Our newest products tend to be our most popular. We like to revise and update our best sellers so they’re always fresh and up-to-date. Right now our most popular products are our CircuitPython board. These are microcontroller boards with a processor that runs a Python 3 runtime interpreter right on the chip, which is pretty amazing! No compiler or toolchain is required, you can just edit a python script on the microcontroller and it runs it. We think it’s very “disruptive” for how traditional engineers view programming. The “code, compile, link, program, run” turns it into “code, run”!

Do you have any products that serve the amateur radio market or those interested in wireless? Hams are makers, big time.

Yes! We have lots of kits for hams, from software-defined radios, to programming oscillators, to DMR, to LoRa and FSK modules that are easy to program. There’s never been a more fun time to do radio experimentations, with digital radio and the “no-code” license available. [Note: Edited from original to add links - SiG]  [Note^2: Both Limor Fried and interviewer Lou Frenzel also have ham licenses - SiG]
I bought my RTL-SDR from Adafruit, and most of what they sell is cheap and fun projects like that, and various Raspberry Pi or Arduino Single Board Computers (SBCs).  If you want a better SDR, there are many options: this is nearly a four year old article and it has a comparison of over 50 Software Defined Radios at a wide range of price and performance points.  If you want a better single board computer, there are more options for those, too, but the point is that Adafruit has the parts to get a hobbyist started and find out if they're interested enough in an area to go to a more specialized store.

I've written about the "Maker Movement" several times.  Despite my engineering career, I consider myself a maker: in the last few months I've worked on changes to a big software package I first started writing back in 1985, done our TV cable cutting, built the PVC-framed receive-only antenna, been troubleshooting electronics and working on some engines in the machine shop.  So the ideas behind the Maker Movement are appealing, and I'd like to see it keep moving and growing. 


  1. "...runs a Python 3 runtime interpreter right on the chip, which is pretty amazing!"

    Ah. So this generation has finally rediscovered the usefulness of the original BASIC interpreters, such as on the Commodore PET? Took them long enough, only 41 years.

    1. LOL ... "You just power it up and you can write programs"

      I'll grant that Python may well be a more capable language than Commodore BASIC, but that's a great point about her perspective.

    2. Hey, languages have gotten better over time (says one who fought with the horribly slow evolution of FORTRAN), but the concept of flipping a switch and having it do its thing immediately is pretty old and shouldn't have to be rediscovered ;-)

      Running complex commands with a carriage return (ooh, there's another anachronism) is very useful indeed. I like the ability to issue g-code from a dialog box in LinuxCNC, for instance.

      How is it that the simple things keep getting lost from one generation to the next?

  2. "
    How is it that the simple things keep getting lost from one generation to the next?"

    because the people who build things LIKE complexity?
    because it's easier to add complexity (features)than simplify?
    because it's a special form of disorder and the universe tends toward increased disorder?

    It happens in every field, except possibly mass produced products that are mostly a natural resource. But even something as simple as a nail has gotten pretty complex lately, as a visit to home depot will confirm.

    bought from adafruit WAY back in the day, before they bought their first pick and place machine. Good folks, good products, and now available at MicroCenter (and formerly at Radio Shack.) Fry's carried them locally too.