Sunday, April 16, 2017

Book review podcast: The Hardware Hacker by Andrew "bunnie" Huang

For my second maker-oriented book, I read The Hardware Hacker by Andrew "bunnie" Huang, published by No Starch Press. You can find the podcast here (as a .wav file).

I give this book a solid 5/5 stars, two thumbs up, or whatever positive rating you'd like. I've been a bunnie fan since Hacking the Xbox (also from No Starch Press, and released for free in 2013 in honor of Aaron Swartz), and this was an exciting chance to hear about bunnie's adventures in his own words.

Below I've included the notes I made before recording the podcast, and if you find them helpful they are available for browsing (in Markdown formatting).

# Podcast notes
## Who is bunnie?
- bunnie is a hardware hacker (see book title) and academic
- bunnie has a lot of experience with projects inside and outside academia
-- he's kind of like Henry Jenkins that way
-- major projects include chumby, Novena, and Chibitronics
-- studied at the MIT Media Lab, has taught there too
- runs a "name that 'ware" monthly project on his blog
- a giant nerd (see nerd references throughout)

## What is The Hardware Hacker about?
- bunnie's journey through manufacturing in Shenzhen
- bunnie's thoughts on free culture and the shanzhai/gongkai
- bunnie's thoughts on how to start manufacturing
- ends with his forays into bio sciences and applications of CS tools/principles

### A few notes on the book as an artifact
- published by No Starch Press, known for publishing stuff by hackers
- I'm a little disappointed that Chibitronics didn't make it an electronic cover
-- that gets explained implicitly later in the book. it turns out that's really hard!
- includes an EFF membership ad in the back

## What is the book's purpose?
1. to share bunnie's experiences
2. to demystify Shenzhen and its people
3. to provide practical guidance to people on a similar path

## What's cool about the book?
- moves through four parts:
-- general manufacturing in China (and anywhere)
-- IP in China (authenticity)
-- open hardware through three projects
-- hacker's perspective on bio sciences
- bunnie's sense of wonder and excitement are real and palpable
-- it's inspiring! I ordered a replacement Kindle screen while reading the book because I was so inspired to fix things.
- at this point, he's been doing a decade of manufacturing in Shenzhen. that's a lot of experience!
- the factory workers are really people to bunnie, and he goes out of his way to humanize them
- bunnie has a unique perspective on life. he's really living his principles, and it shows.
- all of his writing surfaces the behind-the-scenes work he and the other people involved in manufacturing put into a product
-- he puts his money where his mouth is by consistently releasing open hardware even when it gets ripped off

## The Hardware Hacker has a global scale
- capitalism, ewaste, and IP have global consequences
- bunnie envisions a better world for all of us

## What is authenticity?
- the somewhat nebulous idea of authenticity plays a major role in the book
- as a producer, bunnie has to be wary of low-quality or substituted parts
- but what is authentic really? many "fakes" were produced on the same equipment by the same people
- regulation of ewaste would help, since it is a major source of low-quality parts
- he induces a certain amount of paranoia because a lot of fakes are only detectable if you have serious experience

## What are the shanzhai and what is gongkai?
- the shanzhai are a tight-knit community looked down on by some
-- if you betray the shanzhai, you aren't welcomed back
- gongkai is actually integrated with manufacturing, since sharing designs is a way to promote your factory
- gongkai is not the same as open source in the US
-- gongkai uses community standards in place of lawyers
-- support (in the sense of a help line) is minimal, but then same for FLOSS
- US/western open source relies on licensing terms
-- incompatible with gongkai in some ways since licensing has strict requirements and legal recourse

## Takeaway

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