Monday, June 20, 2011


Several weeks ago I found myself once again frustrated by how time consuming the fiddly bits of a hacking project can be.  Things like getting all the parts together for a project, and how to effectively share open designs with others.  And then I thought that if I was feeling this frustration, it's likely others are facing it too.  And it hit me in a flash that with my Chinese skills and my love of hacking, I could set up a business in Shenzhen run by hackers, for hackers.

I want to make it so that hackers can spend more time hacking, and less time running around chasing after parts.

There is so much cool stuff in Shenzhen that I'm sure hackers would love to get their hands on.  If you haven't seen what the markets are like, here's a look:

It is just totally insane. It's every hacker's dream, a bazaar of every conceivable electronic thing, and a lot that's inconcievable.

How lucky am I to be alive at this moment, when the hackerspace movement is taking off. Five years ago our "electronics" shops had ditched their components, and the world looked set to be slave to the consumerist mindset: We buy it, it fails, we throw it away, we buy it again. But a funny thing has happened in the past three years: The advent of inexpensive microprocessors, of open source hardware and software (I'm thinking in particular of the Arduino, that incredible gateway enabler) and the manufacturing power of China means that now anyone can get into electronics. And come to think of it, electronics isn't even the main point - it's just the vehicle. The main point is that we don't have to consume, we can realise how satisfying it is to create, to repurpose, to collaborate and share.

The hackerspace movement is amazing. Folks at my local hackerspace in Melbourne are doing some cool things, just like people all over the world.  I want to see what contribution I can make.

I am giving myself three months to go to Shenzhen and see what I can make of it.  Three months should give me the time to do the research, and do some test runs, to know whether it's worth making a longer term commitment.  If it doesn't work out, I will have lost three months of my time, three months of income, and a modest amount of my own investment money.  But if it does work out, then I feel this is a way I can really make a difference.

It's June 20, and the clock is ticking.  It's just 9½ days until I hop on a plane bound for Singapore, then Shenzhen.  Tomorrow is my last day at work.  Feels very strange to ditch a perfectly good job.  Kind of like parachutists, who jump out of perfectly good aeroplanes.

I have my flights booked, and someone with whom I can share the challenge in Shenzhen.  I have my accomodation sorted for the three months, and a bunch of good contacts I've made over the past month.  I don't yet have a definite idea of how this business can work, but I have many dozens of pages of ideas.  In the near future I will sit down and work out a business plan, especially a concrete list of what I want to achieve in this three months.

One thing I don't have yet is a visa for China.  I'm taking a bit of a risk here, because there's every chance my visa application will be rejected.  There's an event next month in Shenzhen which a lot of foreigners will go to, and foreigners of course being inherently suspicious, one wouldn't be seen to be doing one's visa-approving job properly unless one met the arbitrary rejection quota eh?

Anyway, I now have the visa paperwork in order, ready to submit tomorrow morning.  Worst case, I'll find out about the rejection next Monday, and I'll pay the rush job fee to get it on Wednesday.  Fingers crossed though.

Something else that might be an issue: Chile's Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano.  The ash from the initial eruption is about to pass by and over Australia on its second loop of the planet.  I'm hoping that it's not a problem on the 30th, but who knows?

Anyway, I am indeed living in interesting times.

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