Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Maker Shed, a dishonest store

I'm usually fond of O'Reilly media, however I had a bad run-in with Maker Store that has made me rethink my views of them.

I attended the Maker Faire this year, and liked the fair a lot. In an impulsive and generous fit, Neha bought the Advanced Arduino kit for me, which is a collection of parts being sold by Maker Faire. What a terrible decision.

A kit from hell

For starters, the kit comes with little or no documentation. It comes with a book, written by Tom Igoe, but the projects in the book have nothing to do with the components in the kit. The box claims there is a motor, tri-color LEDs, temperature sensors etc. However, there is little information on which pieces are which.
  1. The temperature sensors were particularly wonderful: they are two pin devices that only had the numbers "503" written on them. Search for that on the Internet!
  2. The motor had connecting wires that were half the length of a paper clip: too short to connect to any real circuits. Stripping the insulation off the wires left almost nothing to connect/solder to.
  3. The tri-color LEDs are puzzling. Ben-Collin Sussman wrote a review on the product page saying that the pinouts for them were different from every other tri-color LED. And lack of documentation means that you spend extra hours figuring the discrepancy.
  4. I did mail their support people (and open a ticket) about this lack of documentation. They wrote back saying that they were "getting the specs from the manufacturers" or some such thing. Do they mean to say they have no idea what they are selling? That was many months ago, and nothing has showed up.
All-in-all the kit seems like it was put together at the last minute, by someone who has never played with an arduino before. As an introductory kit, it is sorely lacking, and it should be avoided. If this were the end of it, I'd still avoid buying anything else from the Maker Shed. However, the story gets worse.

Lack of Quality Control

Recently, I've been working on a toy project. It is somewhat complicated, and it hasn't been working. After spending many hours debugging it, I isolated the fault to a non-functioning wire that came with the kit.

A faulty wire.

I know for sure because the only sheaf of breadboard hookup wire I have came with this kit. I usually avoid these hookup wires: I prefer my own 22awg solid core wires for cleaner breadboards. This wire had somehow remained on the circuit.


So now you're thinking this is pretty bad: well, it gets even worse! I went online to post a juicy review of this "kit", only to be told that I had already posted a review.

Funny, I don't see my name on the list of reviews, and it clearly states that there are exactly five reviews.

So I look into my reviews, and sure enough, I have written only one review: a review of this lousy kit, with a one-star rating.
So Maker Shed does not post my review, since it is negative, and they don't use it to compute the average rating for this kit either.

Not posting negative reviews is just plain dishonest.

After the poorly designed kit, the faulty wire, and the dishonest website, I'll avoid buying anything from their store. There are many better avenues in most cases, so this isn't a big limitation. Sparkfun, Futurlec, Lady Ada's store are all great options.