Framing It: 01.21.2020

Brian Benchoff
Jan 21 · 3 min read

Everything you wanted to know about bolts. Terrible code produces a popular product. Which China is doing what now? The Echo Dot is remarkably engineered.

A Teardown of The Echo Dot

The Amazon Echo Dot disassembled. Image credit: John Teel

The best way to understand manufacturing is by tearing things apart. John Teel of Predictable Designs did just that with a device that cost Amazon millions of dollars in engineering time.

  • Most of the engineering is mechanical. There’s a lot of plastic parts that go into an Echo Dot, and a die-cast aluminum shroud that adds weight.
  • The electronics are contained on just two boards, one for the microphone, and another for the SoC, radios, and all the connections to the outside world. Could this have been done in a single board? Yes, but it would be harder.
  • It uses an off-the-shelf power adapter! Amazon saved ten grand on that decision alone.

Homegrown, American Chips

The US Defense Department wants chips made in the United States. This is according to a report by Nikkei’s Asian Review, looking into the relationship between Washington and TSMC.

  • TSMC is about 50% of the world’s chip foundry business, and sells to everyone from AMD to Huawei, Google, and even Intel. TSMC is officially a Taiwanese company, but US government officials are concerned about the influence Beijing has over the chip fab.
  • It should go without saying there’s a few issues involved in Beijing's influence over a company based in Taipei. Just a few.
  • US officials have talked to TSMC ‘several times’ about bringing production to US shores. Already TSMC has a subsidiary, WaferTech, based in the US but this is only for mature technologies and not the high-tech FPGAs the US military is looking for.
  • In short, domestic production of advanced silicon devices is now a defense priority for the United States.

Everything You Wanted to Know About Bolts

What do you know about bolts? Yes, mechanical design is a thing, and there’s a surprising amount you don’t know about bolts.

  • Plain washers are unnecessary. The purpose of a washer is to distribute load under the bolt head, which is now mostly done with flanged fasteners. Oh, and don’t use plain washers with ‘lock’ washers. In fact, many ‘lock’ washers are ineffective in resisting loosening.
  • Use every thread on a bolt. The first few threads on a nut may be loose because of chamfering. This can be problematic if your bolt is too short.

Terrible Code Produces Popular Product

VVVVVV (also known as the ‘Six Letter V Game’) is a video game created by Terry Cavanagh during the heyday of indie video games. VVVVVV is critically acclaimed, and has been ported to everything from the PlayStation 4 to the Commodore 64.

This game is a success by any definition. For the 10-year anniversary, Cavanagh has released the full source code for the game, and oh boy is there a lot to learn here.

  • The video game press has already written about the release of VVVVVV’s code, with the observation that many games are held together with duct tape.
  • This ‘duct tape code’ is best exemplified by a several-hundred-case switch statement that includes nested switch statements. No sane developer would ever do this. This is objectively bad code, and evidence Cavanagh didn’t know what he was doing.
  • However, this game shipped and probably made a million dollars. The most beautiful code ever created is hidden away on a floppy disk somewhere, forgotten to time because the programmer spent all their time writing the code and not shipping a product. A lesson for us all.


Discussing the business of hardware and hardware manufacturing.

Brian Benchoff

Written by


Discussing the business of hardware and hardware manufacturing.

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