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The Unspoken Rules of Open Source Hardware

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the actions-speak-louder-than-words dept.

Open Source 64

ptorrone writes "MAKE Magazine's article talks about some of the {unspoken} rules most/all the open-source hardware community seems to follow. Why? Because the core group of people who've been doing what is collectively called 'open source hardware' know each other — they're friends, they overlap and compete in some ways, but they all work towards a common goal: sharing their works to make the world a better place and to stand on each others shoulders and not each others toes : ) There will be some folks who agree strongly with what they've outlined as 'unspoken rules,' others, will completely disagree with many points too. That's great, it's time we start this conversation!"

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Christ, do they form a drum circle too? (-1, Flamebait)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#39050333)

Damn I hate hippies.

You just want to build stuff, and along comes some college trust fund douchebag in a hemp shirt to impose some commie bullshit open-source philosophy on you. NOT EVERY INVENTOR IS SOME SOHO ARTIST WHO WANTS TO PARTICIPATE IN YOUR URBAN GARDEN, DICKHEAD!

This is exactly the kind of shit that keeps the Occupy movement on the fringe. Every time Mr. and Mrs. Middle America see a protest, instead of seeing something that SHOULD appeal to them too, all they see is a bunch of stoner hippie pricks holding up ancient pictures of Che Guevara, spouting off dormroom philosophy, and blogging about fighting the giant corporations on their brand new Macbooks.

I'll stop ranting now.

Re:Christ, do they form a drum circle too? (3, Insightful)

lynnae (2439544) | more than 2 years ago | (#39050497)

Rant on. I read that hoping for some interesting discussion of how open source hardware filters down to users. Enabling people to build better, and innovate quicker, and all I got was some weird manifesto about how no one is doing it right except the few people this guy knows.

Re:Christ, do they form a drum circle too? (2)

ptorrone (638660) | more than 2 years ago | (#39050679)

hiya - you can check out the dozens of other articles, talks and overviews for what you're looking for - just google around or you can also email me and i can point you to a few. this article was specifically about the rules we all seem to follow, not "how open source hardware filters down to users". if you're interested in a specific one about that, here's one i wrote about someone who took a design we worked on and funded a kickstarter, by doing open source we enabled people to build better, and innovate quicker:

Open Source Hardware is Kick-Starting Kickstarter!
http://blog.makezine.com/2011/10/20/how-open-source-hardware-is-kick-starting-kickstarter/ [makezine.com]

Re:Christ, do they form a drum circle too? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39056939)

Yeah, go fuck yourself.

Don't like cloning? Don't make it open source.

God, fuck you.

Re:Christ, do they form a drum circle too? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39051407)

"And donate to the OSHW foundation. That I want to run, except Bruce Perens keeps trying to horn in on it. New York is the 3d printing capitol of the world!* Also, even though I say I'm cool with OSHW, please stop making exact copies of our stuff and selling it for half price, cause at least we don't mark up things 6x like Sparkfun does"

*if you ignore all the other 3d printing companies.

Re:Christ, do they form a drum circle too? (1)

ptorrone (638660) | more than 2 years ago | (#39051999)

hi not-really-anonymous :)

*i'm not going to run an oshw foundation, ever. i said that in the article and on the mailing list(s) we're both on. i'm not the best person for that at all.
*bruce perens self-nominated himself for his legal effort thing, i suggested he nominate someone besides himself.
*with makerbot and shapeways i think new york might just be a 3d printing center, we'll see!
*i'm glad you value our prices.
*it's interesting to hear your perception of sparkfun is that they mark up things 6x.

see you around!

Re:Christ, do they form a drum circle too? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39061219)

Oh yah, you don't want to do the paperwork, just write it. Bullshitter-Laureate?

Re:Christ, do they form a drum circle too? (1)

lynnae (2439544) | about 2 years ago | (#39108789)

mate, assuming you think I'm responding to you,oddly enough, I'm not silly enough to quote back on myself and swear at someone while pretending to be anonymous.

/sigh

That sounds almost poetic (5, Interesting)

MindPrison (864299) | more than 2 years ago | (#39050385)

Guess there is some truth to it, it's like us old farts that started messing with our computers back in the ZX80 Commodore vic 20 / 64 days...when we tweaked and tuned and got rid of borders & made the impossible - possible.

I still do that these days, my workshop is a gazillion components (nos from eBay etc...) from factories worldwide gone bust, old electronics...albeit new and unused - finds new life in makers everywhere.

The maker generation - is our new generation, it's like the electronics hobby is rising from the dust again. Love it, embrace it - and above all - have a LOT of fun with it.

Re:That sounds almost poetic (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 2 years ago | (#39058323)

The internet seems to have replaced real life clubs. If you want to do electronics as a hobby and have never studied it you need to learn, and books can only go so far. We used to have lots of clubs for things like photography, model trains and electronics. Lots of magazines with tutorials too. Those seemed to die off, and then the internet came in to replace them.

Rule #1 of Open Source Hardware (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39050389)

Never talk about Open Source Hardware.

Re:Rule #1 of Open Source Hardware (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39050657)

There is no Open Source Hardware.

FTFY

Re:Rule #1 of Open Source Hardware (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39050741)

For all the opposition that "don't ask, don't tell" had in the homosexual military usage, I think it is perfectly valid for most hobbies.
It's usually fine to mention a hobby (fictional example: "I play MMOs in my spare time"), and if that is followed up with specific questions, go at it. However, starting your conversation with "I have a level 90 Ubermancer and everyone on my WoW server begs for my help" and then continuing on with stories about how you acquired each and every piece of gear, not ok at all.

More on topic:
Good: "My friends and I design easy to build low-cost customizable electronics."
Bad: "Arduino is mine MINE! All those others using similar names are rip-offs. I have the original schematics secured in my briefs, stay here a second and I'll show you!" *zip*

grinder (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39050541)

I just read TFA, and that puppy grinder sounds great. Anyone got schematics for it?

Re:grinder (2)

Applekid (993327) | more than 2 years ago | (#39052129)

I just read TFA, and that puppy grinder sounds great. Anyone got schematics for it?

I think Microsoft still has patents on puppy grinding.

That's why its called... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39050597)

coopetition

Re:That's why its called... (0)

CaseCrash (1120869) | more than 2 years ago | (#39050785)

coopetition

Awesome, it's a mix of cooperation and competition. Still not quite sure how that works though.

Re:That's why its called... (1)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 2 years ago | (#39050925)

coopetition

Awesome, it's a mix of cooperation and competition. Still not quite sure how that works though.

That's because you can only make it work with a Co-Grinder (no patents pending due to trade secrets). Please contact a representative to get a nondisclosure agreement processed so we can discuss the solutions to your co-needs.

Legal basis (0)

sakdoctor (1087155) | more than 2 years ago | (#39050715)

The design and the source code have copyleft licences which derive from the underlying copyright.
The hardware itself, if not patented, is simply in the Public Domain.

Sorry but your "unspoken rules" are not worth the paper they're not written on.

Re:Legal basis (3, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39050907)

LOL read the article. Cultural rules vs legal rules. You'll be mightly lonely, and probably poor, if you insist on only following the legal rules.
That applies to other areas of life too. Cultural rule says you live in the USA, you buy your kids gifts for dec 25 and do all that Santa and pine tree and rudolf the reindeer stuff and christmas lights hanging from raingutters. Christians also do extra things like attend church, but whatever that's been marginalized pretty far. Yes, there is no law that says you must display a decorated pine tree in your house in December. Does not mean that a sociological study article explaining the Santa Claus story is irrelevant solely because its not part of the US constitution. Does mean life gets hard if you chose to live life in a way that rubs your neighbors wrong.

Re:Legal basis (4, Funny)

darkgumby (647085) | more than 2 years ago | (#39051199)

Festivus for the rest of us!

Re:Legal basis (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 2 years ago | (#39054149)

Celebrate diversity! Celebrate Christmahanukwanzakah [youtube.com] !

Lacks commerical awareness (1)

sakdoctor (1087155) | more than 2 years ago | (#39052601)

You'll be mightly lonely, and probably poor

Or a wealthy corporation will come along and profit from your legally unprotected design. You can't shame a company into compliance with your kooky culture, so you're boned.

Re:Legal basis (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39053215)

> You'll be mightly lonely, and probably poor, if you insist on only following the legal rules.

Probably a huge majority of insanely rich people beg to differ...

Re:Legal basis (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39050917)

Verbal agreement aren't worth the paper they're not written on. Unspoken rules are worth even less, nobody really knows what they are.

Re:Legal basis (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39052393)

Exactly. The only problems I can see if you violate these rules is that you don't get invited to some douchebag hipster parties and don't get to fuck some ugly girls that fancy themselves intellectuals.

Re:Legal basis (3, Insightful)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 2 years ago | (#39051535)

The hardware itself, if not patented, is simply in the Public Domain.

"The hardware itself" is almost certainly a FPGA. Verilog, VHDL, etc. are copyrightable works just like any other code.

If it's an IC of some flavor then in the USA you can protect the mask for 10 years [wikipedia.org] .

Don't be a jerk (4, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39050805)

ptorrone am I accurately summarizing the article as "Don't be a jerk"?

I would advise that people who don't get it wrt social interaction in open hardware ecosystem are probably going to continue to "not get" that social interaction thing therefore respond unfavorably to having it pointed out to them. Its funny to read for those who already get it, but I donno how to get people who don't get it, to get it.

I've got another good unrelated question, what is the prevailing theory on why the Venn diagram of ham radio experimenters and "makers" is approximately zero people despite having pretty much the same tools, ethic, motivations, attitudes, etc? I've never seen a good explanation of that. Maybe I should write an article for Make magazine about that.

Re:Don't be a jerk (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39050887)

At the hackerspace I hang out at we have a good number of radio hobbyists, might be a local culture problem?

Re:Don't be a jerk (1)

ptorrone (638660) | more than 2 years ago | (#39051035)

vlm - that's a pretty good summary :) my article detailed what most of the oshw makers tend to do. as more folks join in, it will probably change. with physical hardware there is a social element that you get that's different than publishing code and emailing on mailing lists. when you make and share hardware you get a chance to meet the designer and/or the users of your hardware.

re: ham radio article, you're exactly right. you'd think there would be a ton of overlap, but it's very very small. there are lots of reasons for this i think and the communities are starting to interact more, but a lot of people are surprised. if you want to write that article drop me a line.

Re:Don't be a jerk (1)

nxcho (754392) | more than 2 years ago | (#39051849)

I'm no sociologist, but... Social groups with something in common usually has unwritten rules that can be summarized as "Don't be a jerk". As the community grows and more people, and therefore more jerks, join. The social control in the group loosens and a bigger need for a formalized set of rules emerge. I congratulate the OSHW movement for, by this article, taking the first steps towards formalizing their rules, and becoming a more jerk friendly (or unfriendly depending on how you see it) community.

Go back, start over (2)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 2 years ago | (#39050881)

Great, now they'll have to start a new set of unwritten rules.

Rule 1 (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39050893)

Leave arrogance at the door!

This rule is also best applied towards everything in life.

Re:Rule 1 (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39055253)

This is extremely important- even listen to people that may have differing opinions and goals than you. However, if you've ever tried to work with Limor Fried and dared to disagree with her, you'll understand... She's *incredibly* arrogant. She may be held up as a poster child of the open source movement- but the symbol is often much, much greater than the actual person. I think adafruit is cool, but after interacting with Limor, I just feel bad for the company and those that actually have to work with her (rather than just listen to what she tells them to do).

What's the the curly brackets? (4, Funny)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | more than 2 years ago | (#39051021)

What's with the curly brackets around {unspoken}? Is it punctuation free-for-all day" where we can just use any punctuation mark as we see fit] I!m not sure if I like the idea or not( but I could get used to it/

Re:What's the the curly brackets? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39051401)

Damn right" We don=t even need to use actual punctuation$ We can use any sort of symbols we like instead[ and internal consistency be damned®

Re:What's the the curly brackets? (2)

Hillgiant (916436) | more than 2 years ago | (#39052017)

They are going for a steam-punk look.

Re:What's the the curly brackets? (2)

grcumb (781340) | more than 2 years ago | (#39053313)

What's with the curly brackets around {unspoken}?

It's obviously a Perl hash reference. In other words, they're too stoned to talk.

Re:What's the the curly brackets? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39068537)

Your comment makes me want to start a new game of Nethack.

It doesn't seem very open sourcey to me... (2)

cornicefire (610241) | more than 2 years ago | (#39051697)

Paying royalties and not cloning doesn't seem very open source to me. Open source licenses explicitly allow not paying royalties and cloning. If you don't allow that, someone will say it's not open source. So why bother calling it open source if we'll just get in trouble for not paying royalties or creating something that's too much of a clone?

Re:It doesn't seem very open sourcey to me... (2)

ptorrone (638660) | more than 2 years ago | (#39052149)

paying royalties isn't required. what's happen (hence the name, unspoken rules) is that large companies - sparkfun for example will offer a kit designer a royalty if they, sparkfun, are going to manufacture the design. do they need to do this? no, of course not. but that's what's going on. i believe because of this the oshw movement has grown fast, solid and more kit makers are sharing their hardware.

for the hobbyist and maker out there making a clone or something else that doesn't really apply. to be clear, you will not get "in trouble" for anything. hardware isn't generally protectable any way, so we have some social norms that have happened. will it work out? who knows - my article outlined what's happening.

Re:It doesn't seem very open sourcey to me... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39052213)

Open source hardware is the "open source" of the software world (i.e. you can look at it, but it isn't really free). While some may release GPL'd source, large parts of the community remain true to the spirit of closed-source hardware.

Re:It doesn't seem very open sourcey to me... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39052691)

I want a puppy grinder!

Re:It doesn't seem very open sourcey to me... (1)

queazocotal (915608) | more than 2 years ago | (#39052921)

Do puppies even use iphones?

Re:It doesn't seem very open sourcey to me... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39057547)

My thoughts exactly. And then they complain that people confuse things like names when these people seem to have little respect for "open source".

I wish the FSF would kick off FHF.

Tricky bit here is when there's software involved (1)

smoothnorman (1670542) | more than 2 years ago | (#39052471)

These efforts are to a large extent laudable, and ought to be encouraged in any case; ...however, it gets messy when this hardware requires firm/soft -ware which comes only on a proprietary platform, or binary only libraries, or libraries which require binary only libraries. .Net, Eagle, MPLAB... are easy examples, others are more subtle. These guys know about this problem and either are "working" on it (and for that, gawdbless'em), or in some few cases, just don't give a damn; (there is a buck to be made presenting it thus after-all). So, "Open Source Hardware" is often "Open Hardware", sans the source.

"No clones?" (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#39052819)

If "cloning" open-source hardware is considered "bad", what's the point of open-source hardware?

Re:"No clones?" (3, Interesting)

Ghostworks (991012) | more than 2 years ago | (#39053453)

I think what's being proposed is actually a weak form of patent protection.

"So I see you're selling something called 'noTV'. Is that a clone of TV-B-Gone?"
"Yes."
"Did you improve upon it somehow?" (see "Cloning ain't cool")
"Yes."
"Great, then you're doing something useful! How did you improve it?"
"Okay, so that was a lie. It's a direct clone."
"That's not good. You shouldn't do that. At the very least you should pay royalties you work out with the TV-B-Gone team." (see "We pay each other royalties...", "we credit each other, a lot")
"No, thanks."
"Well! Expect a stern look the next time we see you!" (As I said, weak protection.)

If you like the idea of patents, but ultimately want them to be toothless and enforced only by social mechanisms, then these ideas are for you. Which is about the right level of enforcement, given that most of these things can't be protected under patent (not novel) or copyright.

Open source software actually has stronger protection mechanism under copyright (and in some instances such as a Linux kernel, software patents) to make up for the lower barrier of entry for imitators (copiers). At the very least there are licenses that let you stipulate what applications you don't want your software being used for, how you can brand it, whether improvements MUST be fed back into the original project, and what kinds of other software it can interface with, if the author is so inclined to place those restrictions on a work. And ultimately, those agreements have legal teeth.

For hardware of this sort, the barrier to entry is only cost to build and market such hardware, and the protection is very weak. There are some trade secret laws that electronics manufacturers can usually invoke for direct rip-offs before a product hits market, but after it reaches the market tear-downs are legal, and products are easy enough to copy. Most designs boil down to "reading the IC manufacturer's intended application circuit from the datasheet," and that's about it. Very difficult to protect. That's why most cases today (such as Apple vs... well, everyone) involve using software patents to disrupt a competitor.

I expect that the open-source hardware movement will have an increasingly difficult time enforcing these unspoken rules as it gains traction. And none of this touches on problems arising from applying the open source model to hardware, such as whether or not updating an old designs based on EOL'd parts to use newer parts is a new design, a major improvement, or a trivial change.

Re:"No clones?" (2)

ptorrone (638660) | more than 2 years ago | (#39053781)

ghostworks, you're right! open source software actually has stronger protection mechanism under copyright. copyright does not apply to electronic / physical designs.

tv-b-gone (the name) is trademarked. so while someone could make a direct clone, if they were selling it using the name there is some protection against that. that's really all we have in hardware. our trademarks and our copyrights for things like our code, documentation, etc.

all hardware has weak protection, as in pretty much none. maybe a patent in some cases of course. there isn't a license that will protect you if you want to release your hardware as "open source" or keep it closed - so we need to come up with other things if we want to share our hardware.

so far the social norms have worked out, we're not trying to clone each other out of business because we see the value in some of these unspoken rules. maybe it's going to end soon, we'll see - i wanted to write about what's going on now.

Re:"No clones?" (2)

Ghostworks (991012) | more than 2 years ago | (#39056409)

Looking back, I think that my post above would have better served as two separate posts. Had I not been in such a hurry, I probably would have written one post commenting on the similarity between the unwritten rules and basic patent protection, then another later on the difference between software and hardware open source.

Again, my goal is not to belittle the movement or the practices the community is using now. I'm just concerned that the fact that there are fewer protection mechanisms for hardware projects will make licenses more difficult to enforce, and ultimately will make open source hardware projects more difficult to manage and keep in line than their software counterparts.

Fortunately, there are still software protections available for applications requiring controller firmware. That's usually the difficult part of a project to even experienced designers, and the firmware covers a lot of the real knowledge that goes into a working device (proper timing, error checking, signal processing). If an application is trying to avoid costly embedded operating systems, then the tasks become more difficult and there is even more reason to embrace an open source solution rather than try to start from scratch.

If the open source hardware movement wants to become sustainable as more than a hobbyist endeavor -- and bear in mind, that's not strictly necessary, as there are a lot of electronics hobbyist out there -- they should focus on what's useful to developers as much as end users. Open source software is successful mainly because developers leverage the free operating systems, development tools, and packages to minimize R&D time on other products like servers, monitors, and mobile devices. The end user doesn't care about the fact that 90% of their toy is based on FOSS, but the companies that built the toy benefit from it, and so too does the FOSS community.

Coordinate with FOSS developers to get better tools, and for the love of God standardize on and optimize a good suite the way so many standardized on GNU in the early days. (Sadly, most people I know use Eagle, which is a good schematic capture and layout suite, but is only the best free-as-in-beer option. The free-as-in-speech options I've looked at are ages behind.) Embrace and develop a good, stable RTOS that doesn't require a $10,000 per end product fee, and work to ultimately get it certified for safety-critical systems. Grow the tools, the tools will grow business, and businesses will grow the community.

Re:"No clones?" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39053507)

In the article, the author makes it very clear that this a value-less move that takes away recognition from(and if not, imposes support costs upon) the original designer. Starting with someone else's work and improving it is explicitly OK, making an off-brand clone of something and referring your customers to the original designer's wiki for support issues is explicitly not.

Self important drivel from a non-contributer (1)

SandBender (255049) | more than 2 years ago | (#39052885)

The more I read the claptrap coming out of the Brooklyn "Maker" scene the more I realise what the so called maker movement is all about. I think a few other people have pointed out that the hobby engineering community has been around for a long time. We have been hacking , futzing, inventing and maybe even selling since the industrial revolution, hell, long before that even. The "Maker" revolution is really all about exploiting the hobby engineering market. Make magazine only exists to Make money. It has no other useful purpose. We had mailing lists, web sites, forums and catalogues long before Make existed. Torrone and his ilk are salesmen. They make a tidy profit selling other people's work to the masses. There are no "unspoken rules" in open source. The only rules that are worth anything are ones that can be enforced by law. If that were not the case we wouldn't need the open source license in the first place. Phil should stick to riding Limor's coat tails, coming up with new stickers and badges to hock and re-publishing other people's projects.

Re:Self important drivel from a non-contributer (1)

Bassman59 (519820) | more than 2 years ago | (#39067655)

The more I read the claptrap coming out of the Brooklyn "Maker" scene the more I realise what the so called maker movement is all about. I think a few other people have pointed out that the hobby engineering community has been around for a long time. We have been hacking , futzing, inventing and maybe even selling since the industrial revolution, hell, long before that even. The "Maker" revolution is really all about exploiting the hobby engineering market. Make magazine only exists to Make money. It has no other useful purpose. We had mailing lists, web sites, forums and catalogues long before Make existed. Torrone and his ilk are salesmen. They make a tidy profit selling other people's work to the masses. There are no "unspoken rules" in open source. The only rules that are worth anything are ones that can be enforced by law. If that were not the case we wouldn't need the open source license in the first place. Phil should stick to riding Limor's coat tails, coming up with new stickers and badges to hock and re-publishing other people's projects.

Wish I had mod points. +5, "Kick ass."

Hardware is hard. (4, Insightful)

queazocotal (915608) | more than 2 years ago | (#39052891)

To elaborate on why open-source hardware is hard.

Why open-source software works is:
Widely available repository of code.
Many people able to review it, or sections of it, and understand it.
Ease of submitting tested patches.

Hardware has problems that don't really fit well with this.
The open schematic is the trivially easy part, and not really a problem.
(though in practice, you need a schematic with copious links to design documents, which isn't well solved by open tools).

The number of people who can review it is rather smaller - as you can't
open up a c file, and see a clear error or awkwardness in code that can be edited.

For all but the most basic errors, you are going to have to sit down and
read several hundred pages of hardware documentation about how the chips in question work, in addition to having in-depth knowledge about the circuit design, and costings of likely changes.

Now, you've done this, and generated a patch that you think (for example) lowers the supply current by 1%.

Compile - test.
On a PC, this takes a couple of minutes.

For something of a smartphone class, a one-off PCB may cost several hundred dollars. Then the parts will cost another several hundred dollars in small quantities, as well as being difficult to obtain.
Now, you have to solder the parts onto the board, which is a decidedly nontrivial thing - and if you decide you want someone else to do this, it's probably another several hundred dollars.

So, you're at the thick end of a thousand dollars for a 'compile'.

Now, you boot the device, and it exhibits random hangs.

Neglecting the fact that you are going to need several hundred to several thousand dollars of test equipment, you now have to find
the bug.

Is it:
A) The fact that unlabled 0.5*1mm component C38 is in fact 20% over the designed value, as the assembly company put the wrong one in.
B) C38 has a tiny bridge of solder underneath it that is making intermittent contact.
C) The chipmaker for the main chip hasn't noticed that their chip doesn't quite do what they say it will do, and the datasheet is wrong.
D) You missed a tangential reference on page 384 of the datasheet to proper setup of the RAM chip, and it is pure coincidence that all models up till now have booted.
E) Because you're ordering small quantities, you had to resort to getting the chips from a distributor who diddn't watch their supply chain really carefully, and your main chip has in fact been desoldered from a broken cellphone.
F) Though the design of the circuit is correct, and the board you made matches that design, and all the parts are correct and work properly, the inherent undesired elements introduced by real life physics means it doesn't work.
G) A completely random failure of a part that could occur with even the best design, and best manufacture.

G - may mean that it's worthwhile making two or more of each revision - which of course boosts costs.

Hardware is nasty.

This gets a lot less painful of course for lower end hardware. For very limited circuits, which can be done on simple inexpensive PCBs, and be easily soldered at home - costs of a 'compile' can be in the tens of dollars, or even lower.

Re:Hardware is hard. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39057023)

You're absolutely right. It's a good thing that computer programming didn't initially require large, prohibitively expensive machines prone to failures unrelated to the software being run, and to which you had limited access with turnaround times that could easily run into hours or even days. If that were the case there's no way early software development would have been a collaborative endeavour, and the GPL might never have been created in response to proprietary incursions.

It's also too bad it isn't possible to make/buy a cheap computer-controlled milling machines that could create at least single or double-layer circuit boards reasonably quickly and cheaply.

Yes, hardware has some difficulties not present in software, but the reverse is also true, and it's just getting off the ground, have a little faith. Those early guys who had to write software on cases of cardstock using a hole punch had to deal with all sorts of difficulties not faced by their peers who built their own telescopes or cars. Fortunately for them, unlike their peers, the fact was that there was virtually no way to turn software for a room-sized computer into an appealing evening to share with a woman meant they had a lot more time and energy to dedicate to their hobby. I'll admit that advantage is not shared by modern hardware hackers. You're right, the movement is probably doomed.

Re:Hardware is hard. (1)

queazocotal (915608) | more than 2 years ago | (#39057321)

I'm not saying it's doomed.
I'm saying there are extreme challenges.
The above largely does not apply for very simple circuits that can be made on small 2-layer boards.

For devices that can work on 2-layer PCBs, which can be meaningfully debugged - especially if input can be gotten from others to critique the PCB (Here I'll mention ##electronics over on irc.freenode.com ) a new design gotten working for $10-20 isn't impossible.

The closer you approach the cutting edge, the more expensive and hard things get.

Re:Hardware is hard. (2)

unixisc (2429386) | more than 2 years ago | (#39057051)

The reason the number of people who can review it is smaller is that there are far fewer people who can read HDLs as compared to software languages like C, C++, Java, et al. Sure, one can compile and run a simulation to check that the behavioral models work as expected, but even then, unlike in software, where a compiled and run program can be tested for bugs and so on, in the case of HDLs, it cannot really be tested until tape-out and actually being sent to the fabs. Or, if one is talking about higher level testing - like say HDL code that gets fed into FPGAs, one can't verify it until one actually gets to run it on an FPGA, and see whether it works as expected.

The above doesn't even count analog problems, such as things like leakage currents, switching speeds, etc, and once that's in, the sacrifice of 'design portability' has to be factored in, depending on the fabs in which something is being based on. An HDL based design meant for TSMC will rarely work in a fab @ Winbond, or Global Foundries: fab specific parameters need to be tweaked, and once that happens, the purpose behind having such a thing as open sourced is partly lost (this is not even factoring in NDAs that one would want w/ the fabs, where fabs might not want some of their fab parameters so openly publicized, while on the designers' side, particularly if they are a corporation, the issue of how to protect that from being used against them by competitors is far more serious than software.

That, and all the factors from A-G, make hardware a much more difficult proposition for open-source. Maybe it makes more sense if there's just a library of HDL code out there for the basic building blocks needed, w/o addressing any of the process parameters or electrical requirements of any design. Now, that would give most designers something to start w/, so that the bulk of their effort would be things like fab and process tweaking, and other customizations necessary to actually make the thing work.

Re:Hardware is hard. (1)

queazocotal (915608) | more than 2 years ago | (#39057337)

Oh - the above doesn't address making actual silicon!
If you're manufacturing actual silicon, then add several zeros to those costs.
Open-source in an amateur sense has limited application where a 'compile' can take millions of dollars to get the first chip out.

Re:Hardware is hard. (1)

queazocotal (915608) | more than 2 years ago | (#39057387)

Meh - I should read posts fully.

It's not solely 'not many people understand HDL', or 'not many people can read schematics', though I wasn't really attempting to address FPGAs and similar.

Part of what I was trying to address is that even a person skilled in electronics, faced with a circuit diagram of a modern device with complex digital chips in, can only look at 'trivial' issues.

Do all the LEDs have current limiting resistors?
Is there a probably sane level of decoupling?
Do all chips have power connected?

This isn't useless.

But, to do more in-depth debugging, you need a _lot_ of context.

To jump from 'is power connected' to 'is the RAM connected correctly' may jump from a 0-2 minute glance at the circuit and/or datasheet, to a close reading of the RAM chip spec, followed by a close reading of the CPU spec, followed by checking that the power is in fact of the right sort.

The plus is that once you've done this, you can probably answer a lot more questions about the circuit without more reading.

But, Linus's law 'With enough eyes, all bugs are shallow' doesn't apply.
Your average skilled person, looking at a complex schematic, may find the shallow bugs.

But most bugs are _not_ shallow, and require a level of knowledge of the particular unusual components in the design.

Re:Hardware is hard. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39057521)

That's not really how it works.

> For all but the most basic errors, you are going to have to sit down and read several hundred pages of hardware documentation about how the chips in question work, in addition to having in-depth knowledge about the circuit design, and costings of likely changes.

Not really. Most open source hardware stuff is based on a few very common circuits. Most people know how to wire a 555 or an ATmega8.It's not different from knowing a few common libraries like the C standard library or the STL. In fact, it's even comparable in complexity.

> Compile - test. On a PC, this takes a couple of minutes.

Well, that's true. The initial build is a bit more complex. There are prototype boards and techniques like wire wrap that allow you to put simple designs together in a couple of days. But then you can make changes and test them on the fly, no need for recompile ;-)

> For something of a smartphone class, a one-off PCB may cost several hundred dollars.

Well, that's why you won't find many open source hardware smartphones. But there are plenty of other things you can do. Some even create handheld consoles.

> Now, you have to solder the parts onto the board, which is a decidedly nontrivial thing.

Writing code is also a non trivial thing. It takes time and determination to do it properly, and years and good taste to do it very well. Again, it's not different.

> So, you're at the thick end of a thousand dollars for a 'compile'. Now, you boot the device, and it exhibits random hangs.

People don't do PCB batches until all the quirks have been worked out the design. Sometimes manufacturing problems will show up, but you can then compare measurings in the real thing with your working prototype (your have one, haven't you?) and spot any problems. But again, those initial PCBs are usually home made (except for very advanced stuff), at the cost of the PCB, some chemicals and some patience.

> Hardware is nasty.

No more than software (professional developer here). It only requires a bit more patience.It's a bit more expensive, though, but you can do wonders with salvaged parts from electronic "waste" (we are literally drooling in it).

Re:Hardware is hard. (1)

queazocotal (915608) | more than 2 years ago | (#39057941)

I was primarily addressing 'high end' stuff. For the low end, it's a lot easier.
If you can do meaningful debugging with a DMM, or even a LED and a resistor, and your chips have a dozen or so leads and have been around since 1970, things get a lot easier.
I was referring to a hypothetical phone design, when I referred to the cost for a single 'compile', with one device.

Zowie... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39053031)

Wow, sounds like a rehash of all the teapot-tempests that were raging in the Open Source Software world ten years ago. Stop whining and start soldering. And if you want to make money, that's OK too. Just refrain from rent seeking and pissing other (sane) people off. Quite simple.

Open sources (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39058173)

Open sources are easy to use and learn for everyone, Many people able to review it,This gets a lot less painful of course for lower end hardware.

pvc fönster [fonsterfonster.se]

Hidden rule of open source hardware (1)

recharged95 (782975) | more than 2 years ago | (#39061961)

Keep it cheap.

And that's why open source hardware guys have these unspoken rules. They/we don't have access to a $20million dollar custom fab house or a $100million design studio.

If you keep it cheap, you make money (really, it all comes down to this) by volume, and the 1st guy that makes his fortunes is OK, since all the OS hardware guys use the same cheap hardware (it's limited fellas), so everyone can make some cash. And they all work together since any day MS or Apple can get into the game and wipe (or buy) everyone out (e.g. Kinect)

It's not a "dominate" the competition as with MS, Apple, HP, and Google, were desired profit margins are unreasonably high. So, that a win-win in the OSH community. Also, there is no "race to the bottom". I mean name me one open source hardware developer building a improved Arduino for $900 (when we know a iPhone sold for that amount retail, unlocked)?

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