Name that Ware September 2019

September 30th, 2019

The Ware for September 2019 is shown below.

Zilog. Now there’s a name that brings back memories!

Thanks to jackw01 for contributing this ware!

Winner, Name that Ware August 2019

September 30th, 2019

The ware for August 2019 is the main logic board from a Brother QL570 label printer. Congrats to Adrian for nailing it! Great sleuthing work, email me for your prize.

Name that Ware, August 2019

August 31st, 2019

The Ware for August 2019 is shown below.

This was a victim of an *ahem* “minor water spill” in my lab (oops) so I tore it apart to check for damage. Fortunately, it was distilled water so it survived without any ill effects.

Winner, Name that Ware July 2019

August 31st, 2019

The ware for July 2019 was an Adtek aISA-P21, 16 input, 16 output isolated parallel I/O board. I really do admire how clean, crisp and orderly the board layout is on this one. It definitely bears several hallmarks of a Japanese design aesthetic, from the style of the SOICs to the font choice to the general organization and tidiness of the board assembly.

Congrats to Adam for nailing it, email me for your prize! I’d love to know more about how you knew what it was — had you encountered the board before? Or just a lot of sleuthing through the Internet. Either way, I didn’t expect anyone to get this one down to the exact make and model.

Obituary: Gavin Zhao

August 10th, 2019

If you look inside “The Essential Guide to Electronics in Shenzhen”, you will find the following inscription:


To Gavin Zhao

For opening my eyes to the real China.
You have been a great teacher and mentor;
I can do now what I once thought was impossible.

I hope you win your battle with cancer,
so that you can continue to mentor and inspire more people like me.

That was written about four years ago. Today, August 9, 2019 at 1:34PM, he lost his battle with cancer. He died while I was on an airplane flying from Singapore to China to see him, perhaps for one last time…seems I was a few hours too late.

As a professional, Gavin interacted primarily with me as a project manager. He was instrumental in helping to build Novena, Chibitronics, Fernvale, and many more projects big and small. What made him special was not that he was a genius in electronics or process engineering. His degree was in Western Philosophy: he understood how people worked, both in terms of their minds and their hearts. He thought deeply on all issues, big and small; formed his own opinions about government and politics, and as such, always had to straddle a fuzzy gray line living in China.

Part engineer, part troublemaker – we got along well.

I often referred to Gavin as my cultural Rosetta Stone. We used to spend long afternoons discussing politics in China, comparing the merits of democracy and communism. There are plusses and minuses to both philosophies. He would archive and share with me stories and posts censored by the Chinese government; I would bring him copies of the New York Times and new books to read. He could explain the deep meaning behind some subtle government actions that would almost seem routine to a Westerner. The problem is, coming from my American background, there are so many mind-blowing things to learn about Chinese politics, we could never have enough time together to discuss. We’d meet for tea at noon and before we knew it, the sun was down. I started the Betrusted project in part because I wanted to be able to spend more time learning from Gavin – unfortunately, it just wasn’t safe for us to correspond via the Internet about some of the ideas and concepts I wanted to learn, so our political discussions were always face to face. Betrusted will come too late for Gavin, but hopefully not too late for others.

Gavin studied many religions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Confucianism. Of all the religions, Gavin felt Confucianism was his favorite. It is a very practical religion, built around the fabric of human society, and not around some abstract ideals. Because human fabric is messy, understanding how to apply Confucianism correctly essentially requires the study of philosophy: one cannot boil Confucianism into a series of “thou shalt/thou shalt not”s. So, as a practitioner of Confucianism, Gavin was always a very practical person, and always had a very positive attitude, even in his darkest times. He once pointed me to this passage: “子曰:「女奚不曰,其為人也,發憤忘食,樂以忘憂,不知老之將至云爾」”. It doesn’t translate well to English, but from his explanations, I felt the passage really reflected his character. Last month, while he was literally doubled over in pain, vomiting from the complications of his cancer treatment, I was holding his hand when suddenly he had a moment of lucidity. He looked up at my face, smiled at me through my tears, and proclaimed, “I am just a common man, why am I chosen to have the strength to be able to endure this pain?” Even in his darkest times, he was able to crack a joke.

Mortality is a subject that has weighed heavily on my mind. One thing I have decided is that it’s better to celebrate the living than to mourn the dead. Thus, while I am sad that Gavin has passed, I prefer to celebrate his life, and to focus my emotional energy on supporting his wife Lisa and daughter Coco who succeed him. There was a precious couple of years while his cancer was in remission, and I’m happy we celebrated the time that he had – during this time, he became an MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow, and we visited Boston together. He touched the lives of many students. I remember he was so excited to visit MIT’s library and explore the section on Kantian philosophy. He helped on NeTV2, and we started on Betrusted together. We went to Tokyo and wandered the grounds of the Imperial Palace, where we found an old, grand tree standing among ruins. He declared that he always admired trees, and he could sit there and watch trees for hours. He wondered – “If we could talk to trees, what stories could they tell us?” So we sat together under a tree for an hour, and watched as its boughs waved in the wind, watched its leaves fall, watched as birds hopped among its branches. It was a true luxury to spend an hour doing nothing but watch a tree together, with a friend who had so little time. At the end, I relayed to him an anecdote I once heard about trees: “don’t feel bad for trees because they can’t walk; feel bad for humans because they have to.” Although Gavin will never walk by my side again, his memory will live on in my soul like that tree – grand, growing, enduring; nourishing in lean times; yet soothing to sit under on difficult, hot days. It will be a landmark that guides me through my remaining life. I celebrate that I had the privilege of being touched by such a good friend and teacher.

Gavin, by carrying your memory in my heart, I celebrate your life as I continue with mine. You may be gone from this world, but you still shape ours in many ways.

Thank you, Gavin. May you rest in peace.


Gavin and I in front of one of his favorite trees at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan