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Planet sparkfun

  • Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - 17:17
    SparkFun Live: Temperature-sensing Lunchbox

    Greetings humans. It’s time once again for everyone’s favorite live community project build extravaganza fest, where ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. For this edition of SparkFun Live, which will take place on Tuesday, April 8 at 3:00 MT, Evan in Tech Support will show us how to build a temperature-sensing lunchbox, so you can keep an eye on the decomposition rate of your snack pack in the hot summer months.

    If you’d like to join us, and we do hope you will (what if something catches on fire or Evan makes a hilarious joke?), you can find the wishlist of parts here, and the GitHub code here. See you in a couple weeks!

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  • Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 17:06
    McGuckin and SparkFun Workshop This Weekend!

    This coming Saturday, SparkFun and local business McGuckin Hardware are teaming up to offer Boulder-area residents a crash-course in beginner soldering.

    alt text

    Join us on Saturday, March 29th from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. at McGuckin Hardware at 2525 Arapahoe Ave. in sunny Boulder, Colorado. We’ll be working on our SparkFun Weevil Eye Kit to teach you the in’s-and-out’s of through-hole soldering.

    All are welcome and the event is free! We hope to see you there!

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  • Saturday, March 22, 2014 - 15:32
    SparkFun April Fool's Prank Contest

    We love a good prank. The build up, the suspense - the final moments…it’s just so much fun. Today we want to invite you to participate in the SparkFun April Fool’s Prank Contest. Watch the video for more details:

    Did you watch? No? Ok, well here are the rules or those who prefer the written word:

    • Send us a video of your best prank! The prank must use electronics (though not necessarily from SparkFun). Send an email with a YouTube or Vimeo link of your prank to AprilFools@sparkfun.com
    • We will accept entries until 11:59 p.m. MT on March 31st, 2014.
    • The next day (April Fool’s Day) we will post the top three pranks on our website - the winners will get $300 in SparkFun credit for first place, $200 in SparkFun credit for second place and $100 in SparkFun credit for third.
    • You can submit an old prank project if you want, but keep in mind points will be awarded for creativity, prank effectiveness (did you get ‘em good?!) and your use of electronics.

    But wait - there’s more!

    Don’t have time to build a prank in the next week? No problem! Submit your idea for a great electronics based prank in the comments below. We’ll choose one winner, and after April Fool’s day passes, we’ll build your prank idea and then film it in action at SparkFun HQ. We’ll also send you a $50 SparkFun credit! We’ll accept entries for this part of the contest until 11:59 p.m. MT on March 31st, 2014 as well.

    Good luck - we can’t wait to see your pranks!

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  • Friday, March 21, 2014 - 16:58
    New Product Friday: Sick, Yo!

    Friday is all about new products here at SparkFun. This week is no exception. We have a pretty wide selection this week as well as another Robotics 101 video. First, here are the products.

    Can anyone guess the song that was playing on the Gram Piano? It really brings back some old memories.

    We only have one more Robotics 101 video. The last one will be part 2 of the tool video. We realized we glossed over the tools a bit and we’re adding an additional video for what was missed. Check back for the last video!

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    The SparkFun Inventors Kit for Arduino has been a popular product here. It’s a great way to learn Arduino, but what about other platforms? This week, we announce the SIKIO, the SparkFun Inventors Kit for IOIO. This kit is similar to the traditional SIK, but uses the IOIO-OTG instead of the Arduino platform. This kit will teach you how to integrate hardware with your Android device with 8 simple circuits. All the hardware, software, and instructions are included to guide you along your journey.

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    The Gram Piano is a through-hole soldering kit that transforms from a pile of hardware into a tiny piano. It uses a pre-programmed ATmega328 and 13 capacitive touch pads. There’s even a potentiometer for octave control. The kit is great for teaching introduction to soldering, code, and capacitive touch.

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    The Teensy Audio Board attaches to the Teensy 3.1 and gives it the ability to play and manipulate WAV files as well as raw audio. It has a headphone output, line in, line out, and a microSD card. You can even do real-time spectrum analysis!

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    Speaking of electronics and audio, we have a new book that incorporates both. Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking provides a long-needed, practical, and engaging introduction to the craft of making - as well as creatively cannibalizing - electronic circuits for artistic purposes.

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    A few weeks ago we released the BC127 boards, both the breakout and the Purpletooth Jamboree but we didn’t have the bare module for sale. For the adventurous, we now have the bare module for you to play with. It’s in our Eagle library, and of course you can check out the design files for either of our boards to give you a head start.

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    I’m still surprised when someone suggest we carry something that is so obvious, I’m amazed we don’t already carry it. These 2x3 male headers are as the ISP header on several boards. Since our RedBoard doesn’t come with them populated, we should be selling them separately. Before today, we didn’t. Silly us. Now we have them so you can use shields that rely on that header on our RedBoard.

    Well, that’s all I have for this week. Of course we’ll be back again next week for you to get your fix on new products. See you then!

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  • Friday, March 21, 2014 - 01:31
    Fluke Responds to Trademark Problems

    Yesterday, we wrote a fairly-lengthy post about an ongoing customs issue we were dealing with. Essentially, our $15 multimeter, which we source as a quality entry-level meter for DIY enthusiasts is in violation of a trademark held by Fluke Corporation.

    SparkFun Digital Multimeter

    The culprit.

    The problem boils down to the fact that our $15 multimeter is yellow with a dark gray face, and Fluke’s trademark speaks to that effect. We’re still pretty upset that such a broad trademark can be enforced with little recourse for a company of SparkFun’s size.

    But things are changing quickly. We are working with a law firm specializing in customs law to try to split up the shipment and redirect the multimeters to various groups that are friendly to SparkFun but in countries where we don’t violate Fluke’s marks.

    Additionally, Wes Pringle, President of Fluke, graciously reached out to me and explained they would be posting a response on their Facebook page. While we still have issues with the way United States' IP laws are designed and enforced, but Fluke’s response was gracious. Here is what they had to say:


    Over the last 24 hours, we’ve been watching the conversation around SparkFun. We’ve wanted to join the conversation sooner, but needed to make sure we had all the information in front of us so we could help find the best solution. Thank you for your patience.

    Like any organization that designs and manufactures electronics, we actively work to stop lookalike products from making it to the marketplace. We do this to protect our company and the jobs of our employees. We also do so because it is a matter of safety for our customers. Our tools are used in high-energy industrial environments, where precision and safety is an absolute necessity.

    I mention this because we firmly believe that we must be – and will continue to be – vigilant in protecting Fluke and our customers. One step in doing that was registering a trademark protecting the look and feel of our devices so our customers know that if it looks like a Fluke it’s a Fluke.

    It’s important to know that once we’ve filed for and received trademark protection, US Customs has the responsibility to determine what to stop at the border, or what to seize. In this case, we first learned of this issue from SparkFun’s blog.

    We understand how troubling this is for a small company serving the needs of DIY-ers and hobbyists. Here is what we are going to do.

    Earlier today we contacted SparkFun and offered to provide a shipment of genuine Fluke equipment, free of charge for them to sell on their site or donate. The value of the equipment exceeds the value of the Customs-held shipment. SparkFun can resell the Fluke gear, recouping the cost of their impounded shipment, or donate it into the Maker community.

    While we will continue to enforce our trademark, we are taking this one-time action because we believe in the work of SparkFun supporting the Maker and education communities. This is important to us. We have been supporters of the Maker community for years through the donation of over half a million dollars worth of tools and employee time to organizations like First Robotics.

    We look forward to continuing our support of the community, of our customers, and of all the innovators out there.

    Sincerely,
    Wes Pringle
    President, Fluke Corporation


    Thank you Fluke! We would like to take you up on this offer. SparkFun is committed to education and will donate your meters through our outreach events at various school districts and educational conferences. We will be sure your meters make it into the hands of good people.

    While our discontent with the current environment of IP law remains, we are encouraged by Fluke’s handling of the situation and will continue to try to guide trademark law in a more business friendly way.

    It’s amazing what the power of good customers can do. Thank you SparkFun fans for getting change to happen faster and with fewer court fees. We’ll keep sharing the lessons we learn. Get ready for a trademark free crowd-designed multimeter….

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  • Thursday, March 20, 2014 - 17:01
    SXSW Create 2014

    Two weeks ago we were just 19 people with a dream: a dream to put a sharp needle and a fistful of electronics in the hands of every man, woman and child at South By Southwest, and teach them how to sew up a circuit (also a dream to put a breakfast taco in the hands and mouths of 19 SparkFun employees). I’m here today to tell you that dreams come true, and from March 7-9, not only did we get to help around 1200 enthusiastic SXSW Create attendees make their own wearable, light-up badge, we also consumed a borderline-obscene quantity of breakfast tacos*. Videographer and newly-converted Lone Star enthusiast Gregg has assembled a great recap of our time at SXSW and some of the exciting things we saw. Check it out!

    As you can see, we were very busy and had a great time. We also have a slew of photos we took at the booth and around Austin on our Flickr page, so have a gander. This was our second year hosting a workshop at the SXSW Create tent, and it’s a great fit for SparkFun. We loved seeing what all the like-minded makers and doers are up to, and meeting all of the people who came by! Thanks to everyone who stopped in and made our weekend great - either by assembling a kit or just chatting with us about what you’re into - and we’ll see you in Austin next year!

    *footage not found

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  • Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - 07:00
    Fluke, we love you but you're killing us.

    Today (March 20, 2014), Fluke reached out to us. Here is what they had to say. SparkFun has officially accepted their offer and will be donating the Fluke multimeters to several educational institutions and schools.


    Part of SparkFun’s business model is to find really cool items that every hacker and DIY electronics person needs. A digital multimeter is one of those “must-haves.” We started sourcing a really great high-quality $15 multimeter back in 2008. This price-point enables countless beginners to get their feet wet in electronics.

    Fast forward six years and many thousands of multimeters sold. On March 7th, we were notified by the Department of Homeland Security/US Customs and Border Protection that our latest shipment of 2,000 multimeters was being inspected:

    Fluke SparkFun Homeland Security Letter

    This is to advise you that the following articles have been excluded from entry into the United States pursuant to US International Trade Commission Exclusion Order 337-TA-588.

    Uh-oh. Ok. 337-TA-588 is formally titled: “Certain Digital Multimeters, and Products with Multimeter Functionality.” You can grab the large 20.7MB PDF here. This is 162 pages of companies (Velleman, Harbor Freight, Elenco, Electronic Express, and Jameco to name a few) that have been brought under scrutiny by the US International Trade Commission because these companies were selling:

    digital multimeters and products with multimeter functionality that have a contrasting color combination of a dark-colored body or face and a contrasting yellow border, frame, molding, overlay, holster or perimeter.

    What do our multimeters have to do with this? Turns out Fluke filed for a trademark in 2000 and received it in late 2003. Fluke’s trademark number is 2796480 (thanks larrys on ycombinator). The USPTO website doesn’t like hard links so here’s another site that has their trademark info. The multimeters we sell have a yellow-ish border (it’s more like macaroni and cheese really) so we may be violating Fluke’s trademark. From Fluke’s Trademark filing:

    Rough sketch of Fluke DMM

    Fluke Coporation’s rough sketch of a digital multimeter

    Indication of Colors claimed: Color is not claimed as a feature of the mark.

    Description of Mark: The mark consists of the colors dark gray and yellow as applied to the goods. The dotted outline of the goods is intended to show the position of the mark and is not a part of the mark.

    Wow. I feel for the US Customs and Border Protection agents who have to interpret this. I don’t fully understand it but it sounds like any measurement device with a yellow border is now under the domain of Fluke’s branding.

    SparkFun Digital Multimeter

    According to Pete: “They’re destroying the meters because they’re yellow? That’s silly.”

    Yellow is awfully broad: In my mind, multimeters have always been yellow. I’ve never had the opportunity to own a Fluke-branded DMM so I’m not sure where my brain picked up this association. I can respect trademarks and company branding and I respect Fluke’s reputation for high-quality multimeters. If Fluke wants to own a color I would expect the USPTO to require them to assign an exact color just like Tiffany’s did with Tiffany Blue. But allowing a company to trademark ‘yellow’ seems broad.

    Wicked burden on small business: Trademark law is heavily skewed towards large business. Small business does not have the resources to stay abreast of all trademarks for all the products they don’t carry. If you’re going to put the onus on the little guy to avoid infringing IP then you shouldn’t need an army of consultants or attorneys to find this information. We will lose $30,000 on this shipment. But the cost of the legal legwork and manpower to make sure we don’t violate a future color seems unreasonable and simply not feasible.

    No recourse: Our multimeters are actually kind of orange, not Fluke yellow. The document from the Department of Homeland Security is matter of fact. Where is the opportunity for recourse? What is the appeals process? Because of a $150 per day warehousing fee we are forced to decide quickly with limited legal guidance and mounting penalty costs.

    Decide between bad and worse: So we really only have two options, ship them back or have them destroyed. Having them destroyed costs $150 per hour with no indication of how much time it will take to destroy 2,000 units. Returning them has been ruled out by the manufacturer in China because the import taxes in China are so steep (yay free trade) that bringing them back into the country to have them modified would be more expensive than paying for the return shipping and taxes. Between bad and worse, we have to have them destroyed. Sorry Earth.

    A message to Fluke: You’re cool! We like Fluke. We didn’t know about your trademark on yellow framed multimeters and we agree to change our colors. Perhaps we can be granted a 60-day license? There’s probably not enough time (the DMMs will be destroyed in a few days) but perhaps there’s a chance. We’d be happy to donate them to the cause of your choice.

    Things you don't know you don't know

    Image credit: jangosteve.com

    So where does this leave us? The stuff you don’t know you don’t know hurts the most. We were out of stock before this seizure happened so, sorry folks, we’ll be out of stock for a bit longer. We’ll change the DMMs from yellow to red. We’ll eat the $30,000 financial loss and 2,000 multimeters will be destroyed somewhere in Los Angeles. We learned a little more about trademarks. If you’re a business, watch out for yellow multimeters. If you’re a user, enjoy the glory of the Fluke yellow.

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