• Week 218-219

    6 March 2017

    Week 218

    Week 218 began with a Chinese PCB manufacturer sending me a picture of boards about to be DHLed to London. I was testing out overseas manufacture for Longcrag, and seeing what the process would be like.

    They arrived later in the week. I’ll be honest and admit I was disappointed, but my disappointment was behind a learning smile: the manufacturer had made everything to the tolerances they specified. What I hadn’t twigged is that they were much lower than the tolerances of my US prototype manufacturer. It turns out that OSHpark boards are ridiculously high-quality, in terms of the precision of the silkscreen. Given these boards are for DIY assembly, and the silkscreen needs to be clear, they weren’t going to be good enough.

    So that led to two conclusions: firstly, spending a bit more on the boards, and manufacturing them in Europe, at a supplier friends have had good experiences with; and secondly, reading each manufacturers’ tolerances better. I redesigned the silkscreen on all the Longcrag products to be much more legible, and within tolerance. Fingers crossed!

    Over on Selworthy, I continued wrestling the SCC format to the ground; it’s a difficult challenge compounded by the challenge of testing it. At some point, I should possibly write this up, or extract it to a library. But for now, just getting the output files right is the correct challenge.

    And Gisborough metamorphosed into a slightly different project, that should begin in earnest in week 219.

    Week 219

    A short week this week.

    Selworthy saw me spending the afternoon with a new colleague to start the process of handing the project over to a new lead. That’s right: after nearly two years, of the little-five-week-project-that-could, I’m planning to move on.

    I really should write the whole thing up.

    Anyhow, we spent the afternoon trying to build up a development environment, and this time around, decided to make use of all our Ansible collateral, rather than building a complex environment by hand. This was perhaps not the pace that was expected, but I’m sticking to my guns that it’ll be good in the long run. Sometimes, communicating the dreariest kind of technical debt – things that are only going to be debt if we have to do them again. When that’s unlikely, but not impossible, it doesn’t always feel like the most obvious investment, so you have to hold fast to the knowledge that all it takes is one unknown in the future to change your perspective. I’m hopefully going to wrap up this process in Week 220 and then we can get back to the land of features and fixes.

    Gisborough mk2 kicked off, with some thinking and writing and talking and it feels like it’s moved to a reasonably natural place; next week, I start talking to a content designer about heavily involving them in the concept and giving them what they need to start thinking through it.

    And Longcrag saw some big developments. Firstly, I spent some timing costing up production runs over on Eurocircuits. Eurocircuits are good value, though more expensive than the Chinese manufacturers I looked at; they primarily manufacture in Hungary and Germany. However, their tooling for uploading, configuring, and pricing boards is excellent, and hugely confidence-inspiring; it’ll make it easier to order repeats in the future. So I’m thinking of going with them, if only for the quality and speed of service; it’ll impact my costs a little, but better than the risk of longer turnarounds and more unknowns in the process.

    A new prototype under the Longcrag umbreall arrived this week, and I quickly built it up – to be pleasantly surprised that it all worked as expected first time. Which felt like a big deal: a custom PCB containing a microcontroller chip alongside other circuitry, and an in-system programming header, flashed with my own code, and all behaving itself. And more importantly – it wasn’t just working, it was exciting – the possibilities for it as an instrument revealed themselves quite quickly. I’m going to try to get a couple of prototypes to other musicians soon, to see how they feel about it, but this one feels good.

    And finally: I received an order for some Longcrag kits. A small order to begin with, but it’s going to entail kits for 5 different products going on sale from a retailer, and means I’m putting this stuff into the world. Shipping (unassembled) hardware! Blimey. Long list of things to do around all the other projects. It’s going to be a busy few weeks.

    But for now: week 219 ended early, and I headed out for a long weekend; a small break to top up the energy reserves, before heading into a crunchy month or two. It’s going to be exciting.