Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Switch Science and Furikomi

When the Japanino kit first came out from Gakken last Spring, I noticed the ad for Switch Science, and several of the shields featured in the mook as side projects also came from the same company. And, with the Akari (#29) kit, the new mook also has a big ad on the back cover for Switch Science again. I've been looking for bare proto boards for the Japanino, and I don't like the fact that Spark Fun won't sell the Proto Shield boards by themselves (I wrote to them about it, and they just told me to buy the proto shield at $16 a pop. I don't think so). I could just get the through headers from Spark Fun and pick up some plain perf boards from Akihabara for $2 each, but I don't want to pay for the shipping costs to Japan for header pins that are only $2.25 for the set (50 cents each for 3 headers, and then $1.25 or so for the angled header). I also wanted to get the parts quickly if possible, so rather than trying to buy from SS online, I checked whether they had an address for a physical location on their website.

Turns out that they do, and that it's in Akihabara, about 10 minutes from the main JR station. A couple blocks west of Chuu-ou Douri, heading towards Ueno. Interestingly, it's in the 3331 Arts Chiyoda building, which has been mentioned in the Japanese news several times recently. 3331 used to be a Junior high school that had been abandoned a few years ago. Rather than let the place be demolished, some activists got together and turned it into an arts center. There are a couple coffee shops, some galleries, some work spaces, and a main gift shop. It was the site of a 30-year retrospective of Pac-Man, and the most recent exhibit is "Why do people draw pictures?"

Switch Science is on the third floor, in a space shared with Handazuke Cafe. One wall is lined with shelves of parts and shields for the Arduino. The rest of the floor is part of a rental tool space. If you don't have room in your cramped Tokyo apartment for a drill press and workbench, you can come here to the cafe and rent a soldering iron or other tools (you have to bring your own solder). There were 4 people working on different projects when I arrived. None of them could speak English, so it's better if you understand some Japanese. Unfortunately, SS is set up to be strictly an online shop, meaning they don't have a way to handle sales and cash transactions on-site. So, after talking to the owner for a while, I went back home and placed my order online.

Switch Science carries most of the Spark Fun shields for the Arduino, plus the Lilypad and other related electronics. They do have some of their own original kits. Fortunately, they also have the through headers that Spark Fun does at just slightly higher cost. Plus, they have bare proto board shields for 600 yen ($7). Further, they support credit card purchases (Japanese cards), and "furikomi".

The idea behind furikomi (bank transfers) is that you buy something online and select "furikomi" as a payment method. You get a confirmation email within a couple of hours, and the parts are sent to you the next business day. After you get the parts, you have up to 7 days to go to a bank, and use the ATM to identify the company you want to pay, and enter your information from the confirmation email. Put your cash in the ATM, and you're done. The ATM even gives you change. My Switch Science order came to 2350 yen, and the furikomi transaction cost me an additional 450 yen charge.

The order arrived quickly, and had everything I'd asked for. For 2 bare boards, 3 angled-pin headers, and 3 sets of through pin headers for the Arduino, 2800 yen was a bit expensive, but that included shipping, tax, and the cash transfer. It probably would have worked out the same to get the parts from Spark Fun, assuming that they'd sell the bare boards.

One thing about the Japanino. It has 4 extra pins, compared to the Arduino. The right hand set just adds a 5V pin and an NC, so it's no big deal if you can't get to them through the Arduino proto boards. But, the left hand set gives you an additional 2 analog pins (A7 and A8), and if you're doing something that uses a lot of sensors, not being able to get to them is a major pain. That's why I got the full 4-piece through header sets, plus the angled 8-pin header. This way I can use a plain vanilla perf board, and I get the extra 8-pin regular header to use for the left hand power pin block plus A7 and A8 (normally this is a 6-pin connector). Since I'm working on something that uses lots of variable resistors, I need the access to A7 and A8.

1 comment:

Bunny said...

have you tried marutsu? They have 2 shops in akiba and the online store rocks. (I bought 200 capacitors, sorry CONDENSERS, online at 5pm one day and they arrived at noon the following!) They have some board stuff.
(http://www.marutsu.co.jp/ )

Drop me a line if you need directions ^^;

Then there is akizuki denshi.

If I knew what header things you were talking about, I could dig up prices.