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Farai Reads… The Hardware Hacker by Andrew “bunnie” Huang


(Updated: )

Note: This blog was migrated from a previous blog.

While browsing Twitter, I watched a Chinese maker Naomi Wu argue with westerners about manufacturing in China. While arguing, Wu suggested that the westerners read The Hardware Hacker by Andrew “bunnie” Huang to get a better understanding of how manufacturing works in China. I decided to read the book and I must say, it was an exciting read. In addition to exploring how manufacturing in China works, The Hardware Hacker explores how hackers (not the Mr. Robot type) work.

At just under 400 pages, The Hardware Hacker is a collection of blog posts and interviews where he shares his wisdom from years of hacking and running startups. The book is split into four parts:

  1. Adventures in Manufacturing where bunnie explores how factories are run from the processes to the people behind them as well as the Shenzhen electronics market,
  2. Thinking Differently: Intellectual Property In China in which he explains gonkai (公开) that drives the Chinese manufacturing ecosystem as well as the problems that it brings up,
  3. What Open Hardware Means To Me walks readers through three of his hardware startups, the lessons learned from them as well as the legal, logistical and technical challenges he faced, and
  4. A Hackers Perspective where bunnie just explains how he hacks everything, including human genomes. He also posts some of the interviews he’s had which cover everything from the business side of his projects to his open hardware philosophy.

To be honest, reading this book made me so excited that I couldn’t actually structure a proper review. Because of that, I’m just gonna post the thoughts I had while reading this book.

  • “Wow, SD cards have micro-controllers and they’re hackable? Also, they’re more powerful than an Arduino?”
  • “Error Checking is Kinda magic.”
  • “All of this stuff seems like magic.”
  • “Damn, this guy thought about everything, including the legal issues like the DMCA.”
  • “Wow, all this hardware stuff is really hard to understand and yet I love the writing.”
  • “All this hacking makes me think of this video I watched by laptop repair man Louis Rossmann about how “secrets don’t beep”. Basically, as much as you try to make things hard to repair, people can still figure out how stuff works using a multi-meter and even a microscope.”
  • “It’s interesting to see how Apple came from being so open in the days of the Apple ][ and Woz days and now it’s just a stingy almost-trillionaire.”
  • “Wait, he could hack stuff at the atomic level? Damn.”
  • “So these manufacturing processes are horrendously optimized to the point that you don’t actually need people until some douche pursues form over function, making everyone life more difficult? Damn”
  • “Shenzen is so cool! I so wanna go there!”
  • “Despite making all these products, you don’t actually get to use them for yourself? That’s sad.”
  • “Oh, so there are more reasons as to why Chinese products are shoddy and “fake” besides the Chinese being bad at manufacturing?”
  • “Making a hardware startup is a lot of work. One doesn’t just dump your schematics in China and hope for the best. Rather it requires a large amount of involvement at every step to ensure that you get what you want and you actually make money?”
  • “perlfriend(s/girl/perl)? That’s kinda cringing.”
  • “Bio-hacking looks really cool. Also, how did I get what was going on?”
  • “Hey, he made his own phone. How neat is that?”
  • “I’m really having a hard time figuring out how I’ll write about this book.”
  • “These Chinese factory workers are really skilled. I really wish they were paid better :(.”
  • “The US Military is sure making life hard for itself.”
  • “Why didn’t I buy this book in the four hours it cost $4?”
  • “I never knew that there are different levels of fake products.”
  • “Manufacturing in China basically stops in February.”
  • “The thought of making electronics the way you want is dope! It reminds me of this guy who added a headphone jack to the iPhone 7[VIDEO].”
  • “I really wished I took notes while reading this book.”

I probably made other observations, but this is what caught my attention as I read the book. As I said, I found it so exciting that I really couldn’t wait to coordinate my thoughts into a nice book review.

Having shared my thoughts, I guess I should explain who would get this book. That includes

  • Anyone planning on creating a hardware startup that plans on outsourcing manufacturing to China.
  • Anyone who is interested in the hacker (not the Mr. Robot kind)/maker movement.
  • Anyone who wants to see how to solve hardware problems or understand how to reverse engineer stuff.
  • Anyone who wants to learn about how Chinese manufacturing works beyond cheap ripoffs and,
  • Anyone really. After all, bunnie is a great storyteller and while some of the terminologies can be confusing for those unfamiliar with hardware, you’ll be drawn in by bunnie’s stories.

You can find this book anywhere books are sold, like Amazon. You can also find it at a library which is what I did. However you get it, you won’t regret reading it.