Friday, July 22, 2011

Lebanese electronics shops: the TSOP experience.

As everybody working with electronics in Beirut would agree. We don't have a great accessibility for components and IC's. If I am dealing with non common components, I don't even bother looking around in the local electronics hardware shops that we have (Katranji, Incotel, Boujikian, Narinco, etc.) I wait till I gather a big list and I order my components from abroad (that is an extra 50-100$ added to the bill).

I will not talk about shipping in this post, however I will be talking about the wonderful experience one has to deal with in our lovely local electronics shops.

Starting with Boujikian, all I can provide you is a simple advice: if you have an Armenian friend, tag him along with you.

Now I would like to share a nice story. A few weeks ago I was building an IR remote control emitter/receiver circuit (I will provide info for the circuit in another post). So I needed to buy an IR receiver chip TSOP1738 that only works with carrier frequency of 38KHz. Perfect.

First thing: Check Katranji's website if they have the component. (+3points to katranji for having a website) However the website search engine sucks, so you have to look manually for the part (-1pt). After not finding the part on their website. You would grab your component name/number and head to Jneh in the middle of the traffic jam and heat. Once you get there, don't expect to be treated well. Sometimes don't expect to be treated at all. (-1pt). I was lucky enough to find a decent help, lets call him Nabil (hypothetical name for a hypothetical person)
-Bassam: Can I have the following component please.
Nabil stares at his monitor for 5 minutes only to tell me that they don't have it.
-Bassam: Do you have anything equivalent. TSOP18...21.. wlek 28... anything at all...
Nabil stares at his monitor again 5 minutes only to tell me that they don't have.
-Bassam: But sometimes my friends come to get some phototransistors, and you either end up giving them photodiodes or TSOP chips (true story), so I am sure you have something equivalent.
Nabil goes backstage for 5 min and comes back with a TSOP looking chip (not TSOP thou).
-Bassam: Ok great so what is the name/number of this chip? 
Nabil stares at his monitor for 5 minutes only to tell me that they don't know.
-Bassam: Tayeb, what is the carrier frequency for this chip.. anything.. just give me any info.
Needless to say, Nabil didn't know.

I ended up going back to my workshop and spending 2 hrs trying to figure out pointlessly how to make the chip work. So this leaves Katranji with 1 point in my improvised grading scheme.
Don't get me wrong, i have a complicated love/hate relationship with Katranji & Nabil that only the people knowledgeable in electronics in Lebanon would understand, but you have to admit Katranji does have a wide and good range of components available. And most of the time, if you were instructive and knew what you want, you will end up finding at Katranji's.

Getting frustrated. I called Incotel. The guy was really friendly. and as soon as I told him  I need a TSOP1738, he told me that they don't have it but they have something equivalent. I couldn't believe it. His voice was like a divine melody in my ear. I went to Incotel, got the needed chip. The guy even suggested a IR led that works on the same wavelength as my chip. Perfect +10pts for Incotel for their great customer support. 

So I bought 4 TSOPs and 4 LEDs and was about to leave when I asked for the bill. Ok. -8pts for Incotel. I won't tell you the price so that you won't get depressed. But I can say that it was the expected price x4!!
This leaves Incotel with 2pts on my improvised grading scheme.
Incotel 2pts vs.  Katranji 1pt
Well if you don't care about price. Go to Incotel... but honestly you'd be better off gathering a big component list and ordering from abroad. 

N.B. I will be criticizing other electronics shops as I write in my blog. And I will be elaborating more on my love/hate relationship with Katranji and Nabil.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mr. Warhol here is my chance...15 minutes of fame can also be life changing.

Back in 2008, I attended a presentation about a freshly starting pan arab competition: Stars of Science. It immediately got my attention. The concept of the competition is simple. You have an idea for a product or an innovation of some sort, you present it, if it gets accepted you go to Qatar and develop it with the help of experts. 

It all sounds perfect and nice.. oh wait... there is something missing... it is a reality TV show!! You actually have to work all day, all week, for months in a workshop full of cameras, microphones, and its going to be broadcasted all over the Arab world. Everybody will be observing every step you take, every mistake you make. Euh.. scary? but this must be something new in my life. Once in a lifetime opportunity to try something new. why not? let's apply.

Mr. Warhol here is my chance.

So what about Stars of Science? a brief description:
Stars of Science, initiated by Qatar Foundation in 2009, is the first Pan-Arab reality-TV program dedicated to innovation, aiming to shine a spotlight on the next generation of young Arab innovators. Following an international recruitment campaign among more than 5000 people, 16 young women and men of Arab origin, from different academic and professional backgrounds, are selected by a Pan Arab jury and given the chance to develop their own innovation project. The selected candidates are invited to enter a specially-designed workshop, located in Doha, where they have access to an array of state-of-the art resources as well as the support of top professionals. The 16 take part of a competition in successive rounds, each of them corresponding to a key stage of the innovation process (proof-of-concept, engineering, design, business and marketing). 
In 2009, I applied and I was selected for my product- an automated tuner device for all string instruments that I called Dozan (stay tuned as later I will have a post dedicated for Dozan from early stage till now). After successfully passing all the stages I won the 1st prize in the competition.
Mr. Warhol, here comes the 15 minutes.
The media buzz was intense here are a few articles: dailystar, maktoob, (if you google you will find plenty of international magazines and blogs also). I was even announced one of the 30-under-30 of the Arab world’s best and brightest entrepreneurs by

Wow, ok, great. now what? Honestly, a part of me enjoyed the 15 minutes but a bigger part wanted them to be over because i knew that this is when the real work starts. Reality hits. WORK work WORK! I want to finish my masters, my research and I want to develop Dozan and make it a success story and share my experience with fellow local entrepreneurs and innovators going on the same path. Oh and I would like to have a hand in changing the arab world from a consumer to a producer of technology. too much to ask for? step by step.

Mr. Warhol, I had my chance and I would like to tell you that even though the 15 minutes can be over, but they can also be life changing.

p.s. to all the young innovators in the arab world reading this, go to Stars of Science and apply for the coming seasons!