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Book Review: Building Open Source Hardware

The last piece of hardware I worked on was Hashlet for Springboard, based on an existing design by Josh Datko at Cryptotronix. In the blogpost where Josh reviewed that little board, he also mentioned the book Building Open Source Hardware. It was around Christmas time, so I just surprised myself with the book, and when it arrived, I’ve read through it with a lot of gusto…

Building Open Source Hardware
Building Open Source Hardware

It’s very interesting to read a technical book in a field that I actually have some experience built up. (“Some”, though definitely not “a lot” just yet.) Because of that most of the chapters read very quickly, since I was familiar with the concepts, the ideas, the issues, and many of the outlook. It still read very well, and I can see that it should help a lot of people get started, and shortcut a lot of thinking time (boy, how much time I have spent trying to figure out a suitable licensing for hardware designs!)

There were three kinds of content in the book that were especially interesting for me:

The history of open source hardware is a good read – though maybe because I’m not above reading about gossip. :) One can totally do OSHW without knowing how the the current groups came about around it, but the stories make a lot of things clearer, and make me relate to the community much more.

Anecdotes on how teams solved their problems are always very instructive, no matter whether it directly applies to the problems I experience. Sparkfun’s story about how did they have to step up to manage MaKey MaKey reads almost like a thriller. All the problems that arose and how did they solve them. It’s good to stop after their description of each problem along the way, try to answer what would I have done in their case, then read what actually happened. Learn from other people’s mistakes – and successes too.

Finally, the last chapter, Building Open Source Hardware in Academia speaks directly to me. It’s also very well written. Even this book is an anthology with chapters having all different authors, this chapter stands out in style, clarity, and quality of explanations. The experience of author, Joshua M. Pearce as a successful professor makes a lot of difference for sure! The effect of that chapter was very mixed on me: part a rallying cry, part a feeling that I’m already too late to the game in some sense. Either way, it made me think very much about my vision (perfect start for this year’s plan) and now I have a couple of concrete ideas to try, and a clearer language to use to explain things to my academic colleagues (and targets).

By the way, Josh also has an Appendix in the book about Open Source Hardware Security Do’s and Don’ts, I think a lot of people could use such advice – especially if they don’t know that they need it yet.

Now I’ll put this book to the Taipei Hackerspace, and see who else will it help! Maybe even put together a workshop or learning group, and speed up the people who are already making things (there are quite a few, fortunately!)