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Siemens acquires Supplyframe, owners of Hackaday and Tindie (adafruit.com)
272 points by kevinbowman 3 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 169 comments

This is great news for Supplyframe.

But there is a darker undercurrent here that really needs some introspection. The "makers market" of today doesn't work.

Let's compare the market between say 1975 and 1985 with the market between 2010 and 2020. Money spent on the early market supported no less than 6 monthly printed magazines, several chains of electronics component stores (Radio Shack/Tandy/Dick Smiths/Marples(sp?)), a host of retail outlets, and several equipment manufacturers selling into the market.

In the "modern" era, there are no profitable magazines or web sites or blogs or ANYTHING with respect to this hobby, there are NO brick and mortar retail components stores, and no equipment maker sells into this market.

So why is this? I suspect that a large chunk of that is money. In particular, the "cost" of things has gone so far down that the money selling those things is a mere pittance of what it was before. But salaries of people to run these businesses, offices, etc hasn't changed. Nor has postage or warehouse space etc. But the interesting follow on effect is that it makes no sense to pay $8000 for an advertisement (the full page price of an ad in Modern Electronics in 1980) when you might generate an additional $4K in revenue. Similarly for blogs or podcasts where 70 to 90% of the ad revenue goes to the ad network (Google, Bing, Etc.)

Open source is great, but without money people have to work other jobs and so their ability to contribute quality time to their hobbies, much less full time to them, is that much harder to do.

I used to write free lance articles for Byte, Dr. Dobbs, and others and they would pay me $600 - $800 per article. A recent article suggests that the editors for Hackaday get paid but the places they link? They just get "exposure." (cue the Oatmeal comic on spending "exposure").

There are some standouts, like Adafruit, but even there the margins are tight and the operations are small. They are certainly not a "Radio Shack" level of enterprise.

I don't know what the "fix" is, but there is some re-imagining, re-inventing that needs to go on here to pay these people who put in their time to make the "maker movement" work. Or it will continue to struggle.

I disagree with your take on the "makers" market. The maker world is far more interesting today than in 1985.

Yes, there are no "brick and mortar" stores because in 1985, brick and mortar was the only type of store that existed. Nowadays, Internet shopping is so developed that Adafruit, Sparkfun, Digi-Key, etc. don't need brick and mortar stores. The experience of shopping for parts online is much better than at a Radioshack -- it's not like you need to physically inspect a 555 timer to gain any information about it before you buy it, like you would with a winter jacket. The only thing lost is the ability to get a part today which sometimes sucks but that's life. We don't need 6 magazines anymore because people put their code on Github and their projects on YouTube, and for free. Profits in the industry are probably lower but that's because there's more competition from other vendors and from people just sharing this stuff with no profit motive, which maybe sucks for the industry but is fantastic for the hobbyists of limited means.

Today, hobbyist makers are building stuff that actually does something useful, that has no commercial substitute. With Github, YouTube, forums, people are inspiring each other to make more interesting things than in 1985. Back in 1985 people were usually building stuff that could be bought. Today people are building stuff that can't be bought, and if there's enough of a market for it they productize it with Kickstarter or Tindie. People are sharing code and board designs and projects, and whether at the high end like Mark Rober or the low end like some guy's homebrewing controller the maker world is really bursting with success.

I think you have a valid point but did you experience the "friction free" experience of walking into an electronics store idly and then walking out with all of the parts to build a project that afternoon? Most mixed HW/SW hackers accumulate a "stash" of components, and from that stash one can sometimes build new projects, but for me, there is a huge impediment when I have 90% of the parts and then have to wait for the last part for a week (well I can get it in a couple of days if I pay $30 in shipping).

And the difference, for me, between user hosted content (Github and Youtube), and a magazine is that the magazine also has an editor who both made sure the article was clear and for the better magazines perhaps built the project themselves to see how it worked. There is a ton of content from people who don't know what they are doing which obscures the content from people who do. It can be frustrating for people starting because there are so many variables. Did I build it wrong? Did they describe it correctly? Did I miss a step that was obvious to the writer but not me? You get a few projects that fail and you get disillusioned.

A good example of this is a high school kid I helped who was convinced they sucked at soldering because it never worked for them like it did on youtube. Except they were using silver solder "because that is what the hardware store had." Hmmm? Obvious to someone who was taught soldering by someone who knew how to solder, but not obvious when the content creator assumes everyone knows how to solder and what solders are used, so leaves that out of their presentations.

Don't get me started on Kickstarter :-) It has put more people into bankruptcy than MLM in my opinion. When you don't know what you don't know, how can you possibly predict how much money you need to deliver a random number of units of your idea?

Solid, curated, material for new people and advanced people. The stuff magazines used to provide, has made things more difficult rather than less difficult. And it is my opinion that this is at least part of the problem with declining STEM capabilities of students these days.

> Kickstarter [...] has put more people into bankruptcy than MLM in my opinion.

I don’t understand what this means. The creators of kickstart projects overcommit and then bankrupt themselves trying to fulfill orders? Backers of kickstart projects bankrupt themselves supporting more projects than their financial resources allow?

The Open Locksport kickstarter is one notable disaster: https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2012/10/schuyler-towne-a... Back in the day there were an endless series of "$100 3d printers". Etc etc.

Adding the required 50% margin to the BOM of a consumer product is painful and unintuitive. Most kickstarters are done by regular people, and as a normal consumer it can be hard to be appropriately pessimistic when pricing a product you have to manufacture and sell. It's endlessly temping to lower the price.

Yes, they price their product without understanding what it costs to manufacture something and then find themselves shipping units at a net loss, or not shipping at all and carrying around a burden of guilt. At least four 3D printer kickstarters failed in this way and three or four drone kickstarters that I watched but didn't participate in also failed in this way.

Exactly this. Plus there are lots of other hidden costs (FCC certification, UL testing, etc that inexperienced people aren't aware of to bake onto the cost.

I've heard that Kickstarter, etc. Are best used as marketing platforms. I.e. only put a product on there once you've made it to the point where you are ready for mass production, have the suppliers waiting, and even products in hand. It's doesn't work to "launch" products from the concept of prototype stage to market.

My magazine is not going to disappear like so much content has. Even when microchip bought atmel there are still google links to atmel stuff that is no longer there... or is there but at a different address.

It sounds like you're saying that new hackers don't have a good place to go for reliable information, and in the 01980s they did, because magazines and books were reliable, and now they're gone? And that it's harder to get electronic parts now than it was in the 01980s?

I think I disagree with both of these. But I'll only tackle the first one.

With respect to reliability of information, I agree there's an enormous amount of misinformation out there now, especially in places like YouChube. But ⓐ there's also excellent reliable information out there on Wikipedia and Stack Exchange, for which there was no equivalent in the 01980s, and ⓑ even YouChube isn't that bad.

Let's take a look at the particular example you picked, misinformation or lack of information about solder types. My top ten hits for [how to solder] are https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqV2xU1fee8 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zu3TYBs65FM https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6rmErwU5E-k https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fp37DPZVdRI https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EW9Y8rDm4kE https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qps9woUGkvI https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxMV6wGS3NY https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpkkfK937mU https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxqZJH3SfN4 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwU9SqO0udU, which mysteriously all ten are about soldering electronics and none about plumbing. Of these #1, #3, and #5 talk about lead-free solder vs. leaded electronics solder, and #2 does that and also specifically warns you away from silver solder and acid flux. Only #4 (which is of very poor quality), #6, and #7 omit information on the question of different solder types. (#6 does mention "rosin-core solder" but doesn't explain that there are other kinds.)

Item #8 is a special case: it talks a lot about flux, shows rosin-core solder highly magnified, talks about solder composition... but it incorrectly claims the rosin is "a weak acid" and doesn't really mention the existence of other types of solder until a passing mention of lead-free solder near the end.

(I, uh, ran into my writing deadline before checking items #9 and #10. Comments welcome.)

So, even though YouChube is much less reliable than Wikipedia or Stack Exchange, I think that if you were to spend fifteen minutes watching randomly chosen videos that YouChube serves you up when you google [how to solder], you would find out that you need special electronics solder, and most of the other information you got would be correct. And you would have spent fifteen minutes watching experienced technicians explain and demonstrate proper and improper soldering technique under high magnification.

Of course, this is still vastly inferior to being taught soldering by someone who knows how to solder! But we weren't comparing YouChube to apprenticeships, were we? We were comparing YouChube to reading Popular Electronics and, I don't know, the worthless pap that passed for "educational TV" in the 01980s. PBS or something. Most PBS shows were the TV equivalent of WIRED Magazine: just enough information to give you the illusion of understanding, but not enough to actually learn anything.

As for the reliability of magazines and books, I recall my Encyclopedia of Science and Invention in the late 01980s solemnly informed me that computer RAM consisted of magnetic cores and that fluidic integrated circuits were commonplace in missile guidance systems. OMNI Magazine was full of UFO speculation. The how-to booklet that came with my Radio Shack 200-in-1 electronics kit gave me wiring diagrams for how to wire up a Hartley oscillator, but no equations and not even the name "Hartley oscillator", so I really had no hope of ever understanding how the damn thing worked. In high school in 01992 I took a "pre-engineering electronics" class, whose textbook explained to us that TTL logic had propagation delays around 5 ns, while CMOS logic was more like 20 ns — true in 01972, but that was the year the school was buying a 200MHz DEC Alpha αxp server, which I naturally deduced must consist entirely of ECL.† And I recall getting very excited when I started reading books in the school library about the Bermuda Triangle, and then there were the Hare Krishna books explaining how worms bite babies in the womb and how Krsna Consciousness would liberate you from the cycle of rebirth, and the books explaining how to develop your psychic powers...

So I think YouChube and BitTorrent and the like have vastly improved the access-to-information situation, even in the specific example you chose, and moreover there are vastly better information sources around. I already mentioned Wikipedia and Stack Exchange, but there are also reputable open-source projects like QUCS and yosys, there's ##electronics on libera.chat, there's Hackaday, there's still Don Lancaster, there's Kuphaldt's excellent open-content textbook at http://www.ibiblio.org/kuphaldt/electricCircuits/, and there's the Internet Archive; and, for those living in places where they're legal, Library Genesis and sci-hub provide instant access to a depth of knowledge on nearly any topic that vastly exceeds what even any university library had in the 01980s.

There is vastly more misinformation available. But there was always plenty of misinformation. There's also vastly more of precisely the solid, curated material for new people and advanced people that you're looking for, and it's immensely more accessible!


† The Alpha was of course a CMOS microprocessor, like every microprocessor I've ever seen or heard of. CMOS propagation delays were down below a nanosecond in 01992, but our textbook was outdated by over an order of magnitude.

I respect your idea of trying to make dates valid for 10x the duration of 4 digit dates; however prefix with a leading zero also often implies octal parsing. Current date formats ignore that for fields of fixed with, and make various assumptions in cases of dynamic width.

There doesn't appear to be a notation similar to the C style prefixes 0x and 0 (hex and octal), nor like the mentioned assembly language post-fixes.

It would greatly aid clarity if there were a clear way of denoting these were dates. Visually, my language parsing center is optimized to assume years are 4 or 2 digits in length. Five is confusing.


Plus, it is only short term thinking, to not write it as 000001987, for example.

And what sort of long term thinking, wants all that extra electricity used to denote pre-zeros endlessly, thus increasing data transmission, disk space usage, and even calories to type it. I bet current excess power usage, is equal to at least a bucket full of coal yearly, and that adds up when thinking over 10k years or more.

Five digit years is a Long Now foundation thing. Saying "it looks like octal" is new to me though.

I've never heard the foundation until now. I'm on octal side since here's HN.

Hey, you're one of today's lucky ten thousand. You're in for a real treat if you like hacking — there may have lived hackers greater than Danny Hillis, but probably no more than a few dozen, perhaps none alive today. And almost none of those had access to the means to realize their potential.

The story begins:

"There is a Clock ringing deep inside a mountain. It is a huge Clock, hundreds of feet tall, designed to tick for 10,000 years. Every once in a while the bells of this buried Clock play a melody. Each time the chimes ring, it’s a melody the Clock has never played before. The Clock’s chimes have been programmed to not repeat themselves for 10,000 years. Most times the Clock rings when a visitor has wound it, but the Clock hoards energy from a different source and occasionally it will ring itself when no one is around to hear it. It’s anyone’s guess how many beautiful songs will never be heard over the Clock’s 10 millennial lifespan.

"The Clock is real. It is now being built inside a mountain in western Texas. ..."



8 and 9 aren't valid octal digits since C89 :)

This hits the nail on the head.

I've been an active community member for over ten years (from age 12, I'm 24 now) and the truth is that with the availability of parts — combined with all the benefits of traditional open source — the hardware/"maker" scene has absolutely been flourishing for the past few years.

With rapid prototyping becoming more commonplace it's completely reasonable for your run-of-the-mill maker to own a 3D printer or be able to turn around a custom PCB within a week, tools that massively accelerate the development phases of early ideas or business ventures. We'll definitely start seeing more companies taking advantage of the community spoils as technology continues to advance at a faster and faster rate over the coming years, especially when those same tools are just as easily employed by your competitors.

(Hardware based startups are in a unique position as the tools to compete with larger companies or scale product are more readily available than ever before. At this moment for a few hundred dollars it's completely possible to produce thousands of PCBs through online overseas services, ready to ship to customers.)

Aside — it's also a community that is heavily invested in the history of computing/technology and how we got here - in a way it's comforting to be able to replicate a circuit from three decades ago, circuits that used to cost thousands, and experience first hand computing history for pennies on the dollar.

I think this is right. In 01980 you needed a lot of people working on a magazine and buying ads in it to get Don Lancaster's columns out to the teeming unwashed masses. Now Don just posts them on https://www.tinaja.com/whtnu21.shtml#05.23.21 and he can publish lots more than he ever could back in the newsprint days. (The only loss is that he could use a proofreader.)

I don't know how much Don spends on hosting† to make everything he's ever written instantly available to every hacker in the whole world but I'm guessing it's about US$100 a month. Inflation-adjusted, that's probably less than Popular Electronics Magazine spent running the office coffeepot. Not counting the price of the coffee.

He's written about the days Chuck is—wrongly, I think—eulogizing in https://www.tinaja.com/glib/waywere.pdf.

The objective we should measure ourselves against is not the headcount in retail sales (though Amazon seems to have a workforce of substantial size) or the number of inkstains on people's hands; it's access to knowledge and tools, and the power to create that access unlocks. It's people dreaming of wonderful things that never were, and making them real. It's human flourishing.

So, how are we doing on that?


† Unlike people who just host on GitHub, who depend on Microsoft's continued goodwill to foot their publishing bill, Don hosts his own pages.

> The maker world is far more interesting today than in 1985.

I think you missed the meaning of the word "market". The parent was commenting on the economics of the maker's market and you were talking simply about the proliferation and innovation of today vs history.

> which maybe sucks for the industry but is fantastic for the hobbyists of limited means.

Agreed. Which is what makes you both probably right.

Agree. This is a golden age for makers — at least electronics, software makers — perhaps others.

Professional looking PCB's, inexpensive components direct from China ... all within the hobbyists reach.

I suspect hobby electronics has faced stiff competition from hobby computing, among people inclined towards tinkering.

The people who, in the 1980s might have been using a 555 timer to blink an LED? These days they've got a computer, and they're making a web page or writing 'hello world' in javascript.

Oh sure, a few of them might get an Arduino and blink an LED from time to time - but nowhere near enough to support high street component stores.

Of course, from a certain perspective hobby electronics has never been better. Component stockists with huge ranges and fast, cheap shipping? Professionally produced PCBs for $5 including shipping? Microcontrollers with built-in wifi for $1? And the compilers and dev tools are all free? Some of these things have never been better :)

I haven't tried making a PCB for over a decade.

$5 PCBs sound great, but what might appeal to me even more is an associated robotic CNC and surface mount service to install all the fiddly stuff and source the 10-50 whatevers of each thing I need from an assembly house's yearly consumption of 5 million Xs.

Are there any services like that? Where small runs are possible without the massive cost effect if picking parts that are already in flow?

> Are there any services like that?

Yes, lots of them. JLPCB even has a promo right now where they do SMT assembly for free.


The PCB thing is huge.

Back in the 90s I was carefully tracing out circuits with a resist pen, etching them with a ferric chloride bath and hand-drilling the component holes. Not only was this extremely finicky and time-consuming, it was expensive! I only ever made a handful of boards of my own design.

> they're making a web page or writing 'hello world' in javascript.

Would rather have more hardware people than software but sadly not the case. Hardware is...well...hard. Automating deployments? eh not so much.

This seems to be a general trend where the smart people are gravitating towards "not hard" fields like data science, software and finance. So our houses look like they're straight out of the future retro 60s except for our flat LCD smart TVs and and Alexa pods.

I miss going to my local Radio Shack and getting components. When they went under I could really only get components online. Sure, there is a commercial supplier near me but they are only open 9-5ish M-F and don't have a website. It would be great if they were able to digitize their inventory and ship orders. I wonder why some commercial focused companies make it so hard for non-commercial customers to access their business (I'm including companies that have websites but make it clear they only sell to contractors)?

> I wonder why some commercial focused companies make it so hard for non-commercial customers to access their business (I'm including companies that have websites but make it clear they only sell to contractors)?

Too much effort for too little revenue. The probability of a customer spending only $50, but also needing 2 hours of customer service might be too high. Once you engage in a transaction with someone, there’s a lot of possible future liability that comes with it.

Entry level consumers tend to be complicated. People order the wrong part and want a return, or drop an order after they're provided an invoice. It's just easier if you're a very small shop to cater towards the straightforward customers

I had this very same issue yesterday. I needed one particular component now, not “x days from now, Online.” I knew it was something that radio shack would have had, but I had to drive an hour and a half to the closest microcenter.

A foodpanda-like service for instant shopping at nearby stores online would be cool.

"There are NO brick and mortar retail components stores" - unless you live in Shenzhen (Huaqiangbei), Tokyo (Akihabara), Taipei (Guanghua), or Kaohsiung (Changmingjie).

Electronics is one of the things I miss most about living there. The air pollution was terrible though. New Zealand has great air, a good second-hand market (2014 Retina MacBook Pro for 300 USD), but 1-2 months shipping does slow down my hobby electronics. Jaycar, PBTech, JB HiFi have a few common items, but nothing like I could get in China, Japan, or Taiwan. It makes me think twice before buying gadgets though, which might be a good thing!

There used to be a great Electronics Open Air Marked in Poland. Over 100 tents and permanent shops open every weekend.


Nowadays there are probably 20 electronics shops remaining, the rest is occupied by grocery/meat/fresh produce suppliers.

You can see how it evolved in Street View switching camera between 2009-2017 footage.


It’s a different world of smartphones and apps.

Not to say that your lamentation for what’s lost is invalid, but you’ll find some incredible people on those new platforms. Check out Jeremy Fielding, Machine Thinking, AvE, and many others on YouTube.

We have lost, and we have gained.

Two more top-notch youtubers:

Leo's Bag of Tricks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vq968AFgPhg

Tech Ingredients: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVSHXNNBitaPd5lYz48--yg

i will be interviewing them, so if there are any questions you want me to ask, feel free to post them here.

(i work at adafruit, founded hackaday)

Are they going to support their maker/hacker ecosystem with versions of their EDA tools? To support things like Efabless [1] and the Skywater PDK with commercial grade tooling would be awesome.

What is their long term vision for how this acquisition fits into the rest of their electronics and engineering portfolio?


Thanks for starting hackaday, Phil. Has made for great reading for me for many years, from a no-nothing kid in the aughts to a professional EE now.

Hey Phil!

I'd be interested to know if Hackaday has any plans for branded events when deemed safe? With Hackaday.io it also seems like the potential is there to help organize community events or maker-faires on a larger scale as we reenter a post-pandemic world — a gap not really filled since the fall of Make.

(A "Hackaweek" hackercamp sounds like it would be a blast)

I'm actually more interested in how you started hackaday and the story behind it. Early years up to now. Cheers!

I don’t think this is universally right about brick and mortar. I don’t remember MicroCenter having a RadioShack-like section before but it is there now with a bunch of Adafruit, Raspberry, Pimori, BBC Microbit, etc. In a large metro like Houston, there are also local stores like EPO and regional chains like Altex. I can see how smaller metro areas can’t support the same actual stores as before, but online serves the long tails of specialized demand and supply better anyway.



Nobody subscribes to magazines today. The entire consumer electronics market today can barely support one and a half brick and mortar chains (Best Buy and Micro Center). Yet I can get commercially produced PCBs of my own design for less than the cost of the box it will go in. Information is more accessible than ever. Anyone can set up a web store and sell their creations. Markets are different than they were in the '80s.

The "makers market" works just fine if you're selling Arduinos from China. The rest, all of it, adafruit, sparkfun, hackaday, supplyframe, tindie, all seem to have been acquired based on user count. I don't think Supplyframe or Siemens has any idea how to monetize them, but maybe there are juicy sales leads to discover in the userbase. Probably not, but you never know.

adafruit was not sold to siemens

> like Adafruit, but even there the margins are tight and the operations are small

I'm surprised, Adafruit has a 50-100% markup on most items compared to Aliexpress/other Chinese electronics.

Honestly with the prices on Ali or even eBay-direct-from-China-shipping it seems rather glaringly obvious that there are huge externalities attached to all of this.

Personally, I was never hugely into the connecting devboards together style of work (which is of course the fastest/best way to get results), which is pretty much only possible with "1 $ style" devboards, because eval boards have never been single-dollar items. I usually handwire everything or roll my own PCBs. I try to be conscious with component selection, if I can get components made in first-world countries I will pay the usually higher (1.5-3x) price tag for that. This is however somewhat difficult, because the country of origin is often hard to find out for components (and weirdly enough, many manufacturers are pretty quiet about it, even when it's made in the EU, Germany, UK, ...). It's a hobby, I don't really need to count pennies.

Is that good or bad? Do you want the likes of adafruit / sparkfun and similar to exist or do you just want to buy everything direct from the parts suppliers at the source? Neither answer is perfect.

If you choose direct from the supplier then don't expect the same level of support as adafruit since you've voted away with your purchasing power any sufficient margin to support it.

Most of the benefits the locals provide are tutorials, support and shorter delivery from local inventory.

The race to wafer-thin margins has consequences.

Yes, but you get it fast, with service and no random customs problems. Sometimes for things that don't scale ($20 vs $10 one time) it may not matter much for some.

I assume Adafruit is fast for people on the east coast or if you pay a lot for shipping. I looked into Adafruit's west coast distributors but they only have a few of their products. (Jameco carries some Adafruit stuff but typically not what I'm looking for.)

Digikey also carries a decent selection of Sparkfun and Adafruit parts. Shockingly, it’s generally free overnight shipping cross-border to Canada. Ordering stuff from Aliexpress is cool, but having it on your doorstep in less than 24 hours is incredible.

Yeah, that's nice. Digikey is in Minnesota so I assume that helps for some parts of Canada. It looks like it's only free for orders above $100?

Amazon is worth a look too, particularly for Prime users.

Yeah, one of the options they have is "Incoterms DDP" (delivered duty paid). From what I can tell, they'll sometimes stick the packages in a truck and ship them out from Winnipeg instead of shipping directly from their facility in Thief River Falls. Saves all of the painful customs things that FedEx and UPS seem to screw up on a regular basis.

Edit: also, I generally have a hard time keeping my order under $100, so I guess I've never actually seen what the shipping fee would be :D

100% markup is keystone for retailers; anything less than that is tight margins.

I guess that's the point being made by ancestor comments: When prices are that low, it's hard to make enough to support a large operation for (relatively) low volume, even if individual margins are high.

Plus, until recently, you could order things from aliexpress or banggood etc. at low Chinese prices and not even pay shipping (that was essentially free).

I really miss Byte [0]. It covered a wide range of computing, from Steve Ciarcia's Circuit Cellar [1], to my introduction to hypertext. It was great to read the in-depth reviews of both products [2] and technologies, and get an understanding of what was going on in the tech world.

[0] - https://archive.org/details/byte-magazine?tab=collection

[1] - https://circuitcellar.com/

[2] - https://hardcoresoftware.learningbyshipping.com/p/013-end-of...

I am actually not sure I 100% agree with that take on it.

I would argue that much of the sales of 1975-1985 places like Radio Shack/Tandy/etc. were around early adopters of home computing. And I would also assume that the vast majority of the sales/items they had were finished projects, not "maker market" type of stuff. Many of the magazines of that era are "how to build $x for your home" or "program $y".

I would say that what we are seeing is the market getting much more mature and specialized rather than the makers market going away. I don't think it was ever big enough to be sustainable to begin with, it just so happened that products required bits here and there that those companies had any volume from the general public on maker type of stuff.

Back in the day (i.e., the period you're talking about!) Radio Shack -- back when their name was two words, rather than "RadioShack" -- sold bare components, breadboards, and IIRC even blank circuit boards, as well as all sorts of textbooks about electronics and various projects. They certainly weren't focused on the "makers' market" but they very explicitly catered to it.

And, really, I don't know if there's anything like that today. I'm not sure that a store like the original Radio Shack could exist anymore; I mean, RadioShack may have given up on the space for a reason, indeed the reason that you cite (it wasn't big enough to be sustainable). But that doesn't mean that its departure isn't a genuine void, however small.

For a lucky few, there are a some Micro Center brick & mortar stores around that have a surprisingly up-to-date and diverse selection of electronic components and tools stocked. They are doing what Frys should have done when the market shifted.

There are loads of YouTube channels dedicated to 3D printing alone. These are full time jobs for a number of people, and I bet there are more of them than there were employees at the six magazines. There may not be a Radio Shack that sells you gear but there certainly factories and online stores dedicated to maker spaces. Triangle Labs, Big Tree Tech, Prusa, Monoprice, JLCPCB, just to name a small handful of the ones I’ve interacted with recently. And the amount of stuff you can do today is staggering vs even a few years ago.

You might be seeing the situation through nostalgia goggles.

Purely anecdotally it looks to me that a lot of it moved to (pretty profitable) youtube channels, all the way from Mark Roper, to Applied Science, Simone Giertz, Michael Reeves, etc.

Ben Krasnow and Simone Giertz are pretty great, but they're hackers: the kind of people who used to shop at Radio Shack and read Modern Electronics. There's a world of difference between watching Simone Giertz build hilarious contraptions and building those contraptions yourself.

Chuck is saying that 40 years ago there were so many hackers doing these things that there was a whole workforce—partly, but not entirely, a hacker workforce—selling them what they needed for their arcane hobbies. And that, today, there isn't.

You seem to suggest that average teenage wankers watching Simone Giertz's escapades is roughly equivalent to 01980s hackers buying transistors at Radio Shack to build a walkie-talkie out of. They aren't. Watching a video of someone doing something is completely different from doing it yourself.

Whole workforce supplying hackers is still here and thriving, its just based in Shenzhen.

Shenzhen (and Taipei, Wuxi, etc.) supplies the electronics for the entire world economy, which it turns out is mostly boring incompetent greyface stuff like General Motors and Cemex. They supply hackers too, but hackers are a minority of their customer base. Shenzhen's customer base isn't comparable to that of Radio Shack or Byte.

I dont understand your argument. People named Ralph are the minority of Walmart customers, therefore .. ??

The difference between eighties and now is in the eighties corporations wouldnt even talk to you, so you had to go to RadioShacks, hamventions, or live near Akihabara Electric Town. Nowadays random hacker has access to whole planets supply chain with overnight shipping and websites taking orders 24/7.

> People named Ralph are the minority of Walmart customers, therefore .. ??

Therefore Walmart doesn't have a whole workforce supplying people named Ralph.

> Nowadays random hacker has access to whole planet's supply chain with overnight shipping and websites taking orders 24/7.


> I suspect that a large chunk of that is money. In particular, the "cost" of things has gone so far down that the money selling those things is a mere pittance of what it was before. But salaries of people to run these businesses, offices, etc hasn't changed.

I believe this is a case of "cost disease", when the labor in one sector continues to get more expensive without matching productivity gains.

meanwhile I just bought a handful of 600mhz Teensy 4.1s a little while back for ~$25 USD that I never saw an ad for. I have a drawer full of raspberry pis and arduinos. I can program them on my normal computer with very little risk. There are lots of parts available from adafruit/digikey/newark/etc etc. It already comes with a lot of libraries etc done and there are many more on github.

So I guess it depends on the tradeoff.

Magazines and magazine ads didn't survive the internet intact anywhere in any industry. They're all dying. That isn't special for electronics - its because its easier and cheaper on the internet, and more people will see it.

And they don't need to be a radio shack enterprise, because they aren't doing what radio shack did. Radio shack went out of business.

Do you think some sort of automated storefronts could replace the old hardware stores like RadioShack? I would love to have a place I could drive to and pick up some components that I need TODAY, and I always thought a giant vending machine might be good for that!

There isn't a single electronics store in the SF Bay Area where you can drive up, walk down a row of capacitors, and find one that isn't (1) holdover stock from the 1980s or (2) a no-name capacitor brand that will fail to deliver on it's specifications.

And even the stores with 1980s holdover stock or bottom-barrel crapware are going away. People would rather just wait 2-4 days for Amazon or even wait 10 days for Mouser/DK. It's that bad.

I think there's a sweet spot where a brick and mortar store can sell components. In fact I think the potential there is huge. It'll have to do a lot of things exactly right:

1) Knowledgeable, non-snooty staff who can answer a question quickly and effectively. "My daughter is making an LED circuit" "Okay, LED kit is here, buy some roughly 330 ohm resistors here, these LEDs can't handle 3v directly so they need something to take up the overage, thank you, next customer"

2) Sell parts people want. If your warehouse is full of parts made in 1982 that should fill you with existential dread. Scour Amazon and ebay for electronics parts to determine what is popular. Follow maker sites to determine what parts people are using in hobby projects.

3) Resist the urge to sell high-margin items like phones, Remote-control cars, casio keyboards, or to start your own line of personal computers. That's what did Radio Shack in. You can get such things cheaper online, and no one needs a casio keyboard TODAY the way they need a handfull of 470mocrofarad capacitors TODAY.

What about Jameco?

Just to shout out that Raspberry Pi Press produce some excellent print magazines, albeit very beginner-focused.

Whether they'd be a profitable standalone business I don't know, but as a whole the Raspberry Pi operation seems to be very successful.

Also: what's Circuit Cellar, chopped liver?

Circuit Cellar is an excellent print magazine, easily on par with the best of those available in the 1980s and earlier.

Hobbyist money is still flowing, but most of it goes directly to China.

Is 33 million dollars of revenue per year considered small?

A single fast food place might have several million dollars of revenue.

I hope hackaday manages to stay around. They're the only blog I know which has maintained a high quality though all of these years and through many different owners.

I hope so too! I've been a (semi-) regular reader for just over a decade now, and they are a wealth of information and inspiration.

The only thing I might change would be the lack of edit/delete in the comments section (every time I read comments on there somebody seems to be asking mods to delete a duplicate comment, etc). I can't really complain, at least they didn't use some heavy, potentially data-sucking third party comment platform like FB or Disqus. I assume it's some kind of WordPress plugin, but I haven't looked into it.

Their podcast is quite good as well. Check it out if you haven't.

Yeah, it's a truly useful resource. They showcase so many cool projects it inspired me to get into hardware hacking.

Hackaday definitely earned its spot on my daily reader list. It's especially good lately since they seem to have stopped running clickbait and "trendy" articles. The word "technoshamanism" still makes me gag.

Which can be claimed for their content but not for their UI

What's wrong with their UI? Using https://hackaday.com/2021/05/22/irc-will-never-die/ as an example

Seems the contrast is excellent and no obvious disturbing layout choices. Fairly traditional layout although I'm not a fan of the white on black as I sit in the sun a lot, but generally it seems quite good if you compare it with most random blogs out there.

There's a reason why nothing, but nothing, of any importance or popularity uses white text on a black background.

On an iPhone 11 there is about 1cm of vertical space for the content a recurrent reader wants to see: The latest article. Used to be better a couple years ago. Also “From the blog” is not emphasizing that these are actually the most recent articles from the blog and not some random selection

Ok, I'll bite. What's that reason? Because as long as the contrast is there, there is no obvious reason why using that color scheme would lead to less importance or popularity.

Because objective studies have repeatedly shown it's harder to read white text on a black screen, compared to the dark-on-light text that 99.9% of everything else on the planet uses.

It's a way of sending the message, "It's my site, not yours. I don't care if you don't find it legible. Everybody else is wrong, and I'm right."

What do you mean? The UI is fine. The better part of it happens to be the fact that they haven't messed with it.

Maybe parent is still salty about the UI change... several years ago.

I remember not being happy but that's no longer the case for me... but I also don't read it regularly.

What I'd miss most is if the hackaday.io project site were to go away. Makes documenting my projects very easy.

I just use their RSS feed, but the UI looks fine to me.

Don't mess with the UI please. It's simple like it should be.

Wow. This is so doomed to fail. German bigcorp with a faked startup culture unit ingesting Hackaday/Tindie.

Congrats to the sellers.

Yeah. I worked for a tech company that was acquired by Siemens. It didn't go well.

I worked for another company acquired by Siemens and it went quite well. Profitable, full of world class people, chill atmosphere, and you get to work on some pretty amazing challenges.

It was a bureaucratic beast, for sure, but definitely the best place I've ever worked. That being said, this was a business unit that was very complimentary to a lot of their other BUs. So the acquisition was for growth, not to destroy competition.

Can I ask why? Or what company?

In 1993 Siemens acquired ELWRO, Polish computer manufacturer (RIAD - IBM 360/370 mainframe clones for Russian/Indian market) and ZWUT, Polish telecommunication equipment manufacturer. They paid $38mln. First thing they did was to fire everyone from ELWRO. They also send manufacturing lines and unused parts stock back to Germany, and on top of it demolished manufacturing plants and sold off bare land. Good old German efficiency, scorched earth policy. 7 years later Siemens finished this "investment" by selling remaining telecomm part of the company to US investor Telect who planned to manufacture fiberoptic switches in Poland. Rumor has it Telect came to some sort of a deal with Nortel and closed manufacturing in Eastern Europe as a result.

And that was that, from Mainframe manufacturer to nothing in 7 years from Siemens acquisition.

Siemens buying a USSR-era IBM mainframe hardware clone manufacturing company ~28 years ago for a relatively small amount of money and then failing to do something useful with it seems very different from this story.

Great investment.

a bit historical story:

In 1993 Siemens bought Polish early computer manufacturer: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elwro

it seems just to close it down

See ROLM(1) as a prime example.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ROLM

Huge fan of Hackaday so I'm really not with this acquisition but if you offer me 700,000,000 for my blog I'd sell it too. I wish them the best of luck.

Not just the blog but Tindie as well all under the umbrella(Supplyframe) they brought for $0.7m. "The expected revenue of Supplyframe for the fiscal year 2021 is around $70 million with profit margins typical for the software business." sure does make for a different perspective upon the offer and on the basis of that, along with the growth in that area of hobby electronics. I figure for the buyer, it's a bargain and on the face of it, could of sold for more.

[EDIT ADD} OK been pointed out I slipped few points on that value and it's $700m which with that turnover makes way more sense. But epic Doh moment and hands up on that laugh.


Thank you - added an edit in time, epic brain fart upon my part that and certainly makes the price with the turnover balance out more as a much fairer deal.

Good you were able to get the edit in before the 2hr window closed! For what it's worth, I appreciate when people are transparent about edits. However if you're just correcting a minor typo or fixing some grammar in a way that doesn't alter the original point I think you can safely just go ahead and edit in-place with maybe a "Edit: Oops, changing $foo to $bar. Well spotted, $user!" if you want to be super open about it.

My comments often go through multiple revisions like this in the first ~5 minutes or so. If dang has any ability to see or query these edits I wouldn't be surprised if they discovered my "edits per word" is among the highest in HN :D

Findchips advertising and the SaaS tools for sourcing/lifcycle/data aggregation of components is their moneymaker. Hackaday is basically subsidized through The rest of Supply Frame, along with offering marketing partnerships and other tangential marketing type services. There's a lot of things Supply Frame does and Hackaday/Tindy are not major targets of this acquisition.

The biggest play here is competition to Altium's Octopart purchase, especially with all of today's electronic component supply chain woes. The Siemens (Mentor Graphics/PADS/Expedition) + Findchips/SupplyFX data is likely one of the end goals where the value will be derived.

i will be interviewing the team at siemens and maybe some of the folks at supplyframe / hackaday / tindie -- post up any questions you want me to ask (disclosure: i started hackaday 16 years ago or so, have nothing to do with this now).

You and Limor, love you both!

Am I the only one being surprised that what I perceived where the last bastions of pop DIY culture were in fact just farming for corporate acquisition?

This is a bummer, time to forego http and switch to nicer realms.

> This will help customers to reduce costs, increase agility and make highly informed decisions.

Thanks for informing me about how to make decisions and somehow "increase agility" whatever the f that is supposed to mean. Piggusting corpowhorespeak.

I think shopping for an acquisition for many businesses, especially in tech, is to be expected. It's hard for owners to say no to the sort of money being thrown around not only for themselves, but for any employees with equity.

If there's a platform created by someone who's already struck it rich once and truly doing it out of love, then maybe you've found a super rare unicorn.

Of course, and it's well within their rights to look for sponsors and acquisitions. It's also very naive of me to think people would "keep it real", as if that ever brought anything of value.

It's just surprising, somehow I thought those sites were grassroot, made for passionate amateurs by passionate amateurs.

If you want to see the platforms you talk about I suggest taking a look at tilde servers, lots of passion and proper punk attitude

That's all very unfortunate. Having worked with German behemoth companies before I can't think of any positive outcomes.

Eh, no need to be that narrow: What fraction of all acquisitions end well for the acquired company? I'm sure it must happen, but (at the risk of availability bias) I can't actually think of any.

Depends on what you mean by "well for the acquired company". But if you just mean where the product (or possibly even the brand) went on to be successful, a bunch jump to mind: Pixar, Marvel, Google Maps, Ring, Zappos, Android, Woot!, Gatorade.

I'm impressed by this comment, and curious about what background allowed you to whip up that list.

Apple buying NeXT worked out pretty well for NeXT. Youtube also seems to be doing well under Google.

Siemens doesnt even know hackaday exists. Supplyframe will probably be fine, but RIP hackaday.

GP said "What fraction of all acquisitions end well for the acquired company?"

"for USD 0.7 billion. The transaction unlocks significant value for customers of Supplyframe and Siemens, providing seamless and quick access to both Siemens’ offerings and Supplyframe’s marketplace intelligence. [...]The acquisition also strengthens the Siemens portfolio through Software as a Service (SaaS) "

Software as Service appears to be the ultimate goal.

It is not not uncommon for enterprise focused and traditionally hardware-strong businesses to try to pivot into SaaS as a way to bolster their revenue.

It's always interesting to me what kind of stuff Siemens gets into these days. My grandpa was a Siemens lifer building power plants and actually lived in Siemensstadt before and during WWII.

Hard to imagine what the connection to hobby electronics is.

Siemens makes an enormous range of electrical and electronic products. One of my favorite YouChube channels, Homo Faciens, used to have a lot of really great stuff about improvising electromechanical systems out of junk, but more recently it's been shilling Siemens products that replace the junk he used to use. So apparently if you're into that kind of thing, Siemens has a lot of products to sell you.

It's a shame SupplyFrame wasn't profitable enough to remain independent, but as acquirers go, Siemens seems pretty reasonable.

It's odd that my side project is now being sold by Siemens. What will happen if I start selling motion controllers (or other things that compete with Siemens) on there?

On the plus side, maybe they can expand the payment options beyond Paypal.

There is a lot of FUD and speculation here.

Hackaday isn't going anywhere.

Ask me how I know: https://hackaday.io/hexagon5un

Hoping for the best. Preparing for the usual: https://vooza.com/videos/the-truth-about-acquisitions/

Is that why hackaday havent bothered posting "great news"? And comments about it get deleted? :) Doesnt exactly inspire confidence.

I wounder why? $0.7B for a blog, and a wordpress shop?

Cheap money make "miracles" these days.

https://supplyframe.com/why-supplyframe/ 70+ websites and a SaaS supply chain management intelligence software (Design-to-Source Intelligence as they call it) that nets $70M revenue annually...

$700M for $70M? I'd say it's still a very jaw dropping deal

10x sales isn't crazy for a growing, high margin recurring revenue SaaS business in today's environment.

That's actually about dead on. 10x run rate is the business school valuation.

I think they are buying because of the audience.

Siemens could expand HaD to be like Github for makers.

Maybe even compete with Autodesk by making it easy to use their PCB and CAD software on the platform.

And, compete with AWS IoT and other cloud services by offering Siemens' own, compatibile with Adafruit modules.

There’s an idea I can get behind: a competitor to Autodesk.

Extremely disappointing. Siemens has no business owning or purchasing these sites. Shame on Supplyframe.

If you offered me 10x sales and $0.7B for a company I owned or managed, I'd absolutely take it and I don't blame Supplyframe in the least for selling.

How Siemens plans to get that value out is utterly beyond me, so I'd have some questions on the buyer side, but the seller side makes 100% sense to me.

I'm not sure they feel ashamed or should; USD 0.7 billion solves a lot of problems for the owners/employees.

What was your offer?

You've conflated might with right, I think. It's pretty clear the comment you're replying to was not judging this on financial terms.

I doubt it solves a lot of problems for the employees

> I'm not sure they feel ashamed or should; USD 0.7 billion solves a lot of problems for the owners/employees.

Selling a company ALMOST NEVER benefits the employees.

It ALMOST ALWAYS benefits the owners who sell.

And giving the snarky AF comment of "What was your offer?" is asinine and you should be ashamed of even going there.

Most high-tech startups have a significant percentage of their stock held by their employees, though I don't know if that was the case here; Torrone's note about hackaday's history suggests otherwise.

What are your reasons to assume that Siemens would mismanage these sites?

It's one of these typical German conglomerates that absolutely doesn't understand consumer and consumer products. I don't know if it will mismanage Hackaday. They literally only have to keep it as is. But if they don't(mismanage) I'll be positively surprised.

Their twitter messages quoted in the Adafruit blog imply that they don't know what they bought :-)

"Thank you for reaching out @adafruit. @Hackaday und @Tindie are websites of @Supplyframe, and thus also part of the acquisition. Hackaday in particular is a community exchange website for engineers and developers. "

(no need to explain what Hackaday is to Adafruit.. probably they don't know who Adafruit is either.)

Seems more like an innocent mix-up by the social media PR person, who likely isn't familiar enough with the properties to notice the mixup between Hackaday and Tindie at the end there.

Or they could have been referring to Hackaday.io rather than hackaday.com.

That's exactly the problem. The Siemens Press Office employee doesn't have the domain knowledge of what Adafruit and Hackaday are that would be common knowledge to end users of their products, or would be if they, like their users would, bothered to do a cursory search before replying.

These German megacorps put so much procedure and so many layers between the people who build stuff and the people who use it that it's impenetrable. You can get a Siemens sales guy in the office by just mentioning you might buy something, but when he gets there he can only parrot the information off the glossy brochures. You have to go through him to talk to the applications engineer. The apps engineer has a cursory knowledge of typical uses of the product, but when you actually need some details, they have to call their technicians in the lab. That tech can try it but can't offer any guarantees it will continue to work, they'll have their manager contact a manager of the domestic Siemens engineering office, at which point you finally get to the guy who worked on that product. But it turns out he only translated the English version of the manual, there's no way to reach the guy who wrote the original in German.

The inevitable result of all that communication friction just to answer a basic question is that the company representatives can't tell a good idea from BS. You need that to keep scams off of Tindie, submarine marketing and pseudoscience off of Hackaday, and in general build stuff better than the discrete companies that the megacorp slowly amalgamated.

i'll be interviewing them, so please let me know if there are any specific questions you want asked.

I’d be curious to know what Siemens’ plans are for HaD, if they’re looking to monetize it or just keep it as is. Basically I want to know how long it’ll be before HaD is ruined. I still hope it won’t be because I love HaD but it really doesn’t look good. When has such a corporate takeover ever gone well for the product?

This seems like a good place to ask: who's interested in building a competitor?

Not a direct competitor but https://kitspace.org is our take on electronics project sharing. Feel free to get in touch if you are interested in taking part.

Ask Hackaday staff/management if they installed FAX machine yet, and typewriters. Half not joking.

As a former corporate Siemens drone, can confirm. This is so accurate it's scary.

"typical German conglomerates"? Funny expression. You mean, like the three or four there are in total? Why does it matter that it's german? And how does this differ from a typical "us conglomerate", or "chinese conglomerate" or "tajikistani conglomerate"? I am smelling some resentments and stereotypes right over there ...

It actually makes alot of sense, Siemens and supplyframe will tremendously benefit from this!

Care to detail why and how? Genuinly interested.

Siemens gets to cater to makers and homebrew electronics diyers. Supplyframe gets all the talent, tech, capital and parts Siemens has!

Didn't realize Hackaday and Tindie were making $70m in revenue. Siemens seems to have good track record in other acquisitions in EE space. I guess they're trying to go up against Arrow, Avnet, etc

They're not. SupplyFrame has traditionally been a software vendor for companies in the electronics manufacturing space. The blogs and Tindie are a very, very small part of their portfolio.

For example, there's QuoteFX, DirectSource, DesignSense, FindChips, and a host of other solutions they sell.

Funny things about Arrow and Avnet- they both started as hobbyist stores in Manhattan's "Radio Row" back when radio was the hot new technology:



Siemens likely doesn't care at all about and may not even be aware of Hackaday. Wouldn't it be fairly easy to restart Hackaday elsewhere if Siemens chooses to defund it?

So what the heck does Supplyframe even do? Went to the website and can see all the glossy feel good front end bs but can't really see what they actually provide.

Supply management and sourcing (middleman). findchips.com. Their competition is octopart.com and tens of Chinese part aggregators, websites you stumble upon when searching for datasheets and instead landing on a site listing vendors with "enter email for a quote" links.

I imagine they had great quarter or two during recent chip shortage, everyone is scrambling for inventory.

I don't really understand what Siemens wants with SaaS or indie hardware creation et cetera. I know they do both heavy industry and some consumer electronics. I don't really see the synergy here. Maybe they are just looking for ideas? But I'm sure Siemens could read these websites without an expensive acquisition. Anyone understand it a little better?

As a Tindie seller, I have hopes that this injection of cash will address several outstanding issues with the platform.

I sell a DIY touchscreen home automation controller that I build by hand in my basement[1]. My product is targeted at DIY types interested in owning their own home automation environment. The project utilizes a 3D printed enclosure, a custom PCB, an ESP8266, Nextion LCD, and a few supporting components, fasteners, etc. All firmware, gerbers, STLs, etc are open source and available on GitHub[2].

I didn't really intend to sell these things, but several interested users who didn't have access to the required tools or skills talked me into listing on Tindie. It is a great platform for my use case - basically zero friction to get a simple store stood up and to start collecting orders. There is nearly no customization possible, you simply upload some markdown, setup your products, then add your PayPal info to collect payments.

Over the years, users have been requesting (seemingly simple) features to be added to the platform. For example, the Tindi API is a read-only affair. You can collect your orders via the API, but once you've shipped them, you cannot use the API to mark the order shipped (or provide tracking info, etc). User requests for this functionality have been made going back to 2015, and nearly immediately, statements were made that an "API v2" was coming "soon". You can request beta API access, but in my case that request went unanswered and no others have suggested that their access was granted either. 6 years later, there is still no way to mark an order shipped without clicking around in the web UI.

More concerning has been the lack of any ability to deal with taxes. US law now requires that I collect and pay state sales tax, but Tindie can't handle it and shows no sign of ever adding that feature. The list goes on, no way to handle UK VAT post-brexit, no ability to utilize payment providers besides PayPal, etc etc. Each request is met with "we're working on it", but in the 3 years that I've been selling on Tindie, I've never once noticed any new features added to the platform and no community announcements to that effect have ever been made.

There is allegedly a development team behind this, but there is zero outward indication of any product development happening at all.

Hopefully a cash injection might get Tindie up to modern standards for a web store. I love the ethos behind the product, but the product itself is severely lacking.

Hopefully, $700M will help move this platform forward.

[1] https://www.tindie.com/products/luma/ha-switchplate-hasp-sin... [2] https://github.com/HASwitchPlate/HASPone

> I sell a DIY touchscreen home automation controller that I build by hand in my basement[1].

This sounds like a disruptive competitor to existing Siemens product lines (50% of the functionality for 5% of the price). Maybe your best hope is that Siemens management doesn't notice that Tindie is a sales channel for things like this.

Siemens is a bank with an affiliated electrical department. Expect the usual banker bs.

Move seems to be part of that steam for (home/industrial)-automation plan?

Probably doomed. German industry culture is toxic to software. Product perfectionism prevents shipping early and often, often doesen't ship at all, cause hype dies before product is done.

The Siemens that has attracted attention in recent years mainly because of job cuts and bribe payments? Good night Hackaday.

Oh no

I have two questions which aren't answered in the article and seem like they should be,

* What's Hackaday?

* What's Tindie?

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