In an excellent article on the Makezine, Ben Einstein says:
Make one prototype a week. People forget to build stuff. They get caught up in the idea of perfection; they want something to be perfect, moldable, beautiful, before anyone uses it. But you don’t need to build a fully functional product before you can start getting feedback.
Ben Einstein Funds Hardware Startups — Here’s His Advice for You
Recently I observed that the process of arriving at a conclusion is far more important than the conclusion itself. A conclusion, when doled out, is a recommendation, a best practice and a lesson learned, perhaps after many trials. It hides, in its finality, all the errors, failures and trials experienced in the process of arriving at it. And unless someone can really look behind the conclusion and appreciate the effort involved or the problem that the conclusion offers a solution for, they might actually not appreciate the solution as well.
For quite some time now, I have become obsessed with using and building hardware that is hackable. A part of this is my paranoia about using a system that is a black box (sometimes literally) and another part is about using a system that I can’t open up or fix or study or extend. It’s no fun using a system just as a normal user – without being able to look inside it and learn from it and basically being a superuser in it.
However, if you go by this logic that any hardware you own should be hackable, then you’re going to end up limiting your choices. Not all hardware is hackable. Very few hardware designers / manufacturers have any incentive or motivation to develop open hardware. A lot of hardware suffers from being badly locked down and impossible to hack. Often the methods employed to deploy alternative operating systems and firmware are themselves extremely smart hacks – sometimes the vulnerabilities of a system are exploited to replace it with something open, flexible and usable.
So hardware choices have to be made wisely. It all depends on how strongly you care about this hacker and DIY ethic. This means choosing your laptop, mobile phone, server, tablet, wireless router, single board computer, keyboard, digital picture frame, set top box, television and more by using a lot more decision making than just what is the best possible system that can be purchased at a given price.
Not just that, there might be compromises to make – sometimes you might end up buying a costlier product than what you wanted to just make sure that it does not compromise on your freedom.
You might wonder what is there to gain practically out such hackable hardware. Well — apart from a certain pride and peace of mind, there is also a lot of functionality that you can gain. And in subsequent posts, I will talk about each hackable / open source hardware that I have built, what it took to build it and what was to be gained from the whole process.