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Element 14 Holding Orders Based On US Government Watch List (eevblog.com)
149 points by suraj 976 days ago | hide | past | web | 76 comments | favorite

Of course they do, it's yet another chance to punish their customers.

I ordered from Newark/Element14 once, doing battle with and finally prevailing over their extremely clunky online system. It took several days for my $100 order to even ship, and it eventually showed up in two gigantic boxes (a few 4ft pieces of heat shrink tubing had obviously required their own 4ft long box). The packing materials and shipping must have totaled at least $100, to say nothing of the obviously manual labor.

I've no idea how they stay in business.

Totally agree. Their packing process appears to be designed for $10k orders, so when the optimism fails, the box leaves nearly empty. Perhaps they're trying to send a subtle message: 'don't waste this box, buy more stuff.'

One time I ordered from them some XAM3359ZCZs (a Texas Instruments ARM CPU which is about half a cell phone or double an Rπ) -- out of stock in US, but available from UK. I was in a hurry, so I spring for the extra shipping. Weeks later, no parts and no word. Called, them and 'oops' it is stuck in UK and I need to make a customs declaration to re-import to the US this US part from the UK. Very annoying on several levels.

I ordered from them exactly once, and it took so long that I eventually got in touch to see what was going on: they had forgotten about my order. Soon after, I received 4 rush packages from them (all from the same address), with only a couple of components in each. All told I received about half my order - I just gave up on them.

In the UK Farnell/Element14 are the best choice for components. My items always arrive next-day when ordered before 5pm and delivery is free (you have to spend at least £20 to pay by card).

The site is a lot more usable than RS-Online so I will often order from them though I have an RS trade-counter nearby. Mouser's and Digikey's sites are just as good (this is from a user perspective, from a designer's perspective they are pretty awful) but orders will ship from the US and take longer.

I guess that at least helps me understand why RPi went with them as a distributor, even though their business seems archaic on this side of the Atlantic.

I don't know what you mean by Digikey being awful from a designer's perspective - I've long considered their parametric search a bona fide design tool. So much so that I actively avoid designing in parts that Digikey doesn't stock.

Digikey's and Farnell's parametric search are the best from a user's perspective. All the sites are pretty terrible from a designer's perspective. I concluded this from working out how to generate HTTP requests for them for my pet project: https://github.com/kasbah/1clickBOM

I find Mouser and Digikey's sites fairly unusable, myself... I search for stuff on Element14 because I find their filtering so much easier, and once I've found an appropriate part I search the part number on Digikey and buy it there if I don't need it in the next few days...

The search is the main thing that struck me as clunky - many important parameters were downright missing, making it so I had to manually click through a bunch of results' datasheets. IIRC, electrolytic caps were missing ESR (seems to be no longer the case, although still no ripple current). The values of an individual category don't "cover" all current results, making it impossible to eliminate values. Plus that horrible needle-in-a-haystack interspersing of greyed out unavailable parameters with the still-active ones. All around it felt like it was only meant to locate something I already have specified, rather than guide as to what is available.

>>> (International customers have to fill out silly forms with US distributors and manufacturers saying we won’t use the parts in nuclear weapons – seriously)

True. One of my first jobs was at a US electronics manufacturer / parts distributor. I remember we had to fill out paperwork for every export and all of our products (mainly smoke detectors) had to be classified as something to the effect of "parts that could be used to build a nuclear weapon". Ridiculous.

A lot of smoke detectors use the radioactive isotope americium-241 in an ionization process to detect smoke. Get enough smoke detectors, and you can have a good amount of radioactive material.

Read up on David Hahn, who hit the news in '94 for trying to build a breeder reactor in his back yard using sources scavenged from among other things, smoke detectors.

A smoke detector contains about 0.25 μg of americium [0], which is painted on the inside of a chamber. In small quantities, it seems americium dioxide can only be dangerous if inhaled [0].

According to David Hahn's Wikipedia page[1], his reactor used thorium, purified from thorium ash used in lantern mantles, and not americium.

What's more, smoke detectors go straight to landfills in many places. I think it's unresonable to consider them a realistic threat.

[0] http://media.cns-snc.ca/pdf_doc/ecc/smoke_am241.pdf

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hahn#Creation_of_the_reac...

He was arrested again in 2007 for collecting smoke detectors to collect americium.

Sounds unlikely, as he seems intelligent enough to know he'd need (at least) millions of smoke detectors.

Thank you. It's depressing how quick people can be to dismiss something as stupid without considering how those rules came about in the first place.

And so what? some guy stabs someone with a screwdriver and the US regulate the export of them between Commonwealth countries, still without regulating the AK-47 in its own country? There is more regulation on CNC machining center than on firearms. It's stupid. The US doesn't refrain from sending hellfires missiles on weddings, which kills more surely than the once in a lifetime freak who assemble some mildly radioactive stuff in his backyard. If it's for the radiations, I see people playing with X-ray on youtube everywhere, there is 0% chance of chain reaction, nobody cares about chemical contamination in the US, so I don't know why they would freak about a mildly radioactive contamination in a foreign country either.

What I begin to see, is an entire world under occupation.

Incidentally, automatic rifles such as AK-47s are heavily regulated in the US. It's possible to get them, but it requires a lot of paperwork, they're all at least 25 years old, and more cannot be imported.

The More You Know.

they make some in maker fairs in garages in California.

That's because an AK-47 is an AK-47: it's not a game-changer. But a CNC machining system that lets you build silent ship propellers can dramatically change the threats the world faces.

Building a CNC machine with a regular lathe and mill may not be hobbyist level easy, but it's certainly doable by someone as rich in machining tradition as Russia.

Amusingly, the incident would also dispell the (western) myth that it takes very advanced machining technology to build a nuclear bomb. You can't have it both ways.

I suspect the real incident was the software to mill those propellers, but that wasn't on the list of illegal goods. It's one thing to have a fancy but dumb CNC machine, another to come up with a silent prop design.

All the advances in CNC machining systems are published on the internet. And there is some degree of self replicating capability in them (basically you can machine the parts yourself, and fine-tune the design by hand to get a machine of better capability than the previous one).

> But a CNC machining system that lets you build silent ship propellers can dramatically change the threats the world faces.

Bullshit. (and yes I know about the Toshiba incident)

I didn't know about it, so I had to look it up


Thank you for elevating our level of discourse a bit :-)

one guy, one time, managed to get his hands on enough smoke detectors to make himself glow in the dark.. yes, seems perfectly reasonable to freak out about.

I do not know what you are referencing, but in general radiation doesn't make you glow.

He's talking about the radioactive boy scout.

Also he was talking in hyperbole.

Whoa - I actually had no idea. I always assumed it was general electronics because I was instructed to do that for every transaction - even when I was just reselling a bunch of resistors.

Apparently the risk is that someone would use it to create a dirty bomb. It's not dangerous unless ingested or inhaled, and it's not apparently easy to use as any kind of nuclear fuel. I guess this is kinda reasonable.

Radioactive smoke detectors mandatory in houses. Hmm, what's wrong with this picture?

It's a pretty small amount of radioactive material, about 1 μCi (roughly equal to 2000 bananas). And in normal usage, you probably shouldn't be removing the insides of the smoke detector and eating it or anything, unlike the tasty bananas.

Nonetheless, they're being phased out in a lot of places, mostly due to disposal worries. While one smoke detector is fairly harmless, tens of thousands being dumped in landfills is more of a concern, and properly recycling them is expensive. Optical smoke detectors based on LEDs are now fairly affordable, don't have the disposal issues, and may also perform better.

And the alpha radiation emitted is barely able to penetrate a sheet of paper, let alone the detector housing and ten feet of air to your body.

But then it gets into the water supply and is bombaring your cells from nanometers away . . .

Except that americium dioxide is insoluble[0], so it wouldn't dissolve in the water supply. Even if consumed, it would pass straight through your digestive system and wouldn't accumulate in the body.

[0] http://media.cns-snc.ca/pdf_doc/ecc/smoke_am241.pdf

The irrational fear that's thrown around whenever the word 'radiation' is used?

So much this. It's as bad as when someone is trying to demonize some chemical in food, and lists all the other things it's used in, as if that has any relevance to it's safety...

are you talking about the classification of smoke detectors as weapon material?

Nothing, because the smoke detector uses an alpha emitter, and alpha radiation is blocked by practically everything, including a sheet of paper, or roughly 4 cm or air.

Not really that ridiculous some guy in the us actually tried doing it in his garage and got the entire house and area around it declared a radiation hazard.

He apparently died later of radiation poisoning later on because he didn't use any protective gear.

Americans tend to ban/regulate everything that ever gets misused. Soon enough they will be regulating pens since someone stabbed another person with a pen. Just like in the prisons only with slightly more liberties for now.

Dell once made me promise this before it would sell me a laptop bag.

The most impressive thing about this is that someone managed to successfully complete an order at Element14, where registration before ordering is compulsory (and can take up to a dozen attempts because the site throws random 500 errors almost everywhere), and where Visa cards are required to have start dates even though most of them don't, and where they don't answer your email telling them about the errors.

> registration before ordering is compulsory

It's mostly a B2B company, I think it's natural their website won't be optimised for other types of users. You can still add items to the basket and see total charges without being logged in.

> where Visa cards are required to have start dates even though most of them don't

Are you sure? I guess it could be different on your local version of the website, but it's not the case on the UK one: http://i.imgur.com/fcPF3Qv.png

Very sure, since I had to report this on Thursday last. Was just about to lob in a Raspberry Pi and show you, but the World's Lousiest Ecommerce Site bounced me out completely, sent me to cpcireland.farnell.com, logged me out and now wants me to reregister there solely to show you a GIF. Sorry, but not worth it. You're just going to have to believe me.

I can confirm that Element 14 in the UK sucks.

I somehow managed to order a RPi from them a year ago without trouble but after taking more then 2 and a half weeks to even bother to ship it i just cancelled the damn thing and bought it off Amazon.

Luckily now i know of a lot more small and helpful websites that would ship stuff in a decent time frame.

Can't avoid using them for more specialized part unfortunately. Don't expect much from them though.

That's strange - their shipping is incredible in Australia - you order something before 6pm and it shows up by courier the next day if it's in stock (the website tells you how much of each part they have in each warehouse, and how long it would take to ship). That used to be for any price - but now you have to pay postage for orders under $50.

Before that, I once bought $15 of parts including a $6 micro controller, which was in stock in the US. I got everything else courier end the next day, and then the micro controller three days later.

You do pay for it though - you can get things half the price other places, but it's awesome for quick prototyping.

This is actually great news. It has been impossible to find out whether you are on the US watch list. Now you have to do is get an Australian with your name to order something from Element 14 and now you know.

Also available on 20 other easily parsable formats here: http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/SDN-List/P...

You can even register for email updates.

The whole list is freely available right here http://www.treasury.gov/ofac/downloads/sdnlist.txt

There is no "JONES" on that list.

this is like release checklists made by people with OCD. 200x ridiculous, frivolous steps. After some time, you ignore even the important ones and shit happen.

This is the same. A system so bad that triggers so many false positives, that when John Terrorist orders 2Lb of uranium from them, the sales guy will be so used to just move the name on the order form that it will not even register in his mind.

This only proves it has nothing to do with preventing crime, but just proving internationally that you have bullying powers. That, or incompetence is off the charts.

Next Airbnb right there.

I never would have imagined that an Australian ordering from a UK company would have to feel my pain, but welcome to the club.

My father has the exact same name as the blogger, which also makes up 2/3 of my own name. We've had similar orders from out of the country held up for weeks, been extremely slowed when trying to fly. It's not a very fun game.

Damn, I'll have to eat my words...

In an earlier hn post, I actually suggested that if you use a name that's common enough, like David Fricken Jones, the US would never have the guts to flag it.


But here we are. David Jones... Not a lot of people affected by that, huh.

Between all the squabbling in this thread, your post shines through like a ray of sunlight. You don't see this type of thing often on the internet without it being faked. Life is good sometimes.

Although one wonders how intelligent the name comparison "algorithm" (ha) is. I bet if you DID type in "David Fricken Jones" (sic) you'd be fine.

Glad to see the EEVBlog here.. I have been learning a LOT from his videos. If you are at all interested in electronics I would highly recommend checking it out.

Export restrictions have been in place for a very long time.

Another relatively well-known distributor that got bitten is McMaster-Carr, a mechanical parts supplier (with a very nice web design - http://mcmaster.com/).

After shipping something to a location they shouldn't have, they were penalized in 2003 and they no longer ship outside the US. Which is a damn shame, because they have a great catalogue of stuff that's very easy to navigate.

OP is an Australian national buying parts locally in Sydney, Australia and getting a watch list flag purportedly from the US.

Seems to me the chicken has already flown the coop, and this sort of thing is purely belligerent and abusive behavior on the part of the US government (their specialty, e.g. FATCA).

They aren't exporting anything to this guy. He's an Australian picking up his order in person in Australia. US laws don't apply.

Except for the fact that our illustrious government here in Australia seems intent on becoming Little America. I'd assume that's why this dumb law is applied.

Wow, you weren't kidding about the web design, even though it's extremely utilitarian, it's very fast and usability is great.

Speed is a product feature. I wish more people realized that.

The interesting thing about McMaster's design is that they haven't changed much in the past decade that I've been buying from them. It's always looked like that!

I'm also impressed by the efficiency of their UI. Most parts suppliers should take a lesson from them.

Maybe their policies have changed since 2003, because do they claim to ship outside the US.

it breaks ctrl + click :(

Yeah, I avoided buying anything from them for the last 7 years because their site was so Javascript heavy.

I laughed at this:

The “fix” is to move your name to the 2nd line so it doesn’t get flagged

I hate to say it, but from an engineering/UX perspective, a secure and reliable federal identity API would make a lot of sense.

As long as they're going to have a blacklist like this, they may as well do it correctly. Names do not individually identify people and it's ridiculous that security-sensitive processes still use names as primary identifiers in this era.

You're also not actually losing any anonymity - an online order is already linked to a physical address and a credit card (which is in turn linked to a real identity). A central ID API only gets Big Brother-ish if its use is mandated for previously pseudonymous interactions (say, HN or Reddit comments).

an obvious hacker question

What happens when you change your name to a dead terrorists name?

Is there no in government somewhat curious about all the holes in their watch list implementation..

Obvious USG answer: The same thing as happens if you have a living terrorist's name. The no-fly list includes dead terrorists in case terrorist identity thieves impersonate them; the Treasury OFAC SDN list (more relevant here, though I do not see David Jones on it) includes dead people because their money does not automatically disappear from their bank accounts and their Amazon Free Super Saver Shipping packages do not immediately disappear from the shipping company's horse-drawn wagons.

Read up on Security Theater to find answer to question.

What happens if some one has name like John Doe ? This is the stupiest implementation of system ever. It needs an award. Seriously, very funny article.

I had no idea grep was so effective in fighting terror.

You have that backwards, it instills terror, how many engineers are out there saying "Oh crap, my name just won the latest watchlist round of regex golf!"

I find it quite humorous that the governments that actually signed these deals are given a free pass, brilliant.

The U.S. waving around the biggest stick in human history has nothing at all to do with that, I'm sure.

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