• Weeks 236-239

    24 July 2017

    Travel and holidays mean weeknotes were pushed to the wayside. So let’s get back on top:

    My focus on Selworthy shifted to beginning to prototype the major back-end change I’d been planning for a while. So far, a quick spike reveals it’s a definite improvement, but there are lots of curious issues that are challenging to debug because of all the places issues could lie – many of which are effectively sealed boxes. Lots of arithmetic, programming, and staring at video specs going on over here.

    I kicked off some work for Good Night Lamp addressing some feedback on the tooling I’d worked on for them, now that it was in the wild and they’d had some experience with it. A few new features, a few refactorings, and lots of polish and quality-of-life improvements for the team that use the tooling. That’ll probably wrap up in week 240.

    I wrapped up the last patch of work on Gisborough by bringing it all up-to-date with the new Doteveryone branding.

    In week 239, I finalised some details around a month-long course I’m planning to run in October – more on that shortly, I hope.

    And the launch of Foxfield Instruments went well, largely. One teething snag: I’d shipped an incorrect component in one of the kits. I fixed this by sending replacements down to Thonk, and then getting in touch with the keen customers who’d already bought the affected kits. That’s helped me discover the spread of them – even though I was fixing a problem, exciting to learn that Foxfield kits are in the US, Russia, Switzerland, and beyond.

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    I spent a lot of week 236 putting together a lot of prototypes of potential new Foxfield modules to take to Brighton Modular – they arrived whilst I was away in week 235. You can see many of them in the central row of the case above. The exciting news is that all of them worked, and several of them turn out to be Rather Good Ideas. So hopefully we can bring more of those to life in due course.

    And finally: Week 238 was another week off – one that, unlike week 235, had been planned in a while.

    Back to our regular schedule for a bit, now.

  • Weeks 229-232

    5 June 2017

    Gosh. Fell off the weeknotes wagon again, eh?

    It’s been a very busy month, and yet most of its focus has been fairly linear: pushing forward on a variety of projects.

    Selworthy is in a moderate motoring phase. We’ve got a new tech lead that I’m slowly handing over to, and he’s taking on a lot of the day-to-day responsibliities. I’m focusing a bit on some R&D and that means I’m up to my neck in browser and encoders and the horrors of discovering what turn out to be bugs in infrastructure.

    Gisborough wrapped up in week 232: we had a final few weeks of writing, rewriting, and rewriting some more – and then fettling all our content architecture before deciding to add more writing in the final week. But we shipped on time, and it was a great team – and hopefully I’ll be able to link to more about it in due course.

    Longcrag has taken longer than planned, owing to the fullness of my calendar. Lots of sticking tiny components in bags, repeatedly; writing and rewriting copy; slowly getting on top of build documents; making films and editing said films whilst video software crashes all around you; the final 10% taking way too longer. Nearly there: nearly there with product in the world. Terrifying/exciting all at once.

    Along the way, I’ve done some minor Wapley fettling with Richard, getting it into a testable state and battling the limitations of mobile browsers.

    And I’ve done a bit more invention on the next phase of Longcrag – breadboarding up one new product and sketching up another, and leaving them to percolate whilst I work out if they’re any good or not.

    When I’m deep in client work, weeknotes can be a bit fractal: a month can look the same as a week, from far enough away. In some ways, that’s a good sign – it means the work has scaled a bit – but it also means that some of the blow-by-blow is more challenging to write about. It also often means that I tend to leave admin to the weekends, and that means it tends to get forgotten. I think I should be aiming to do the admin, but make it simpler. Perhaps, for this shape of work, weeknotes aren’t super effective. I think we’ll try to stick with them for a bit.

    And hopefully I’m about to hit cruise control for a little: some projects are winding up and I’m going to leave a bit of slack in the schedule for serendipity, prototyping, and so forth. (I’m also in New York for a week from the 19th – get in touch if you’d like to sya hello). But for now: a couple more weeks of getting Longcrag out and wrapping up Wapley.

  • Week 228

    8 May 2017

    Quick notes, but notes nontheless:

    • On Selworthy, I wrapped up work on our latest export format and got that deployed to production. I also did battle with handling video with non-square pixels correctly. That was an adventure – and a pile of learning to do – but we got somewhere good in the end.
    • On Gisborough, we committed our final content changes before a second round of testing. I also spent some time porting the application from “a directory full of PHP files” to a self-hosting Sinatra application, mainly to make it easier to host on PAASes like Heroku. This didn’t take very long, but gosh, Apache and mod_php is a pretty handy prototyping environment and some days I miss its easy availability.
    • On Longcrag, my correct set of front panels arrived from Eurocircuits, and I built up the remaining test boards. So far, so good: I identified two mistakes on the boards (simple component values) that can be solved through corrections in the build document. I ordered the replacement parts, and next week, kitting up begins in earnest.
  • Week 227

    3 May 2017

    The notes continue to be brief in proportion to the busyness of the week!

    • I spent most of my time on Selworthy writing export tools for another broadcast subtitle format; challenging, but making lots of headway and understanding the format better the longer I spend with it.

    • On Gisborough, we wrapped up a second pass of the content, started to brief an animator, and planned the final push on the project.

    • Longcrag is paused whilst I wait for the replacement panels to arrive from Eurocircuits. However, two prototypes for future Longcrag projects arrived, so I built them up. One was an entirely new board – albeit based on two other existing products – and it worked first time, and also confirmed that the idea for the product was a good one. So that’s something that might move up the production schedule depending on how the first batch of products go.

      The other was a second iteration of something I’d made earlier – now ported entirely to surface-mount technology, and fixing a bug in the layout that meant the output voltages weren’t high enough. It works entirely correctly, and is quite exciting – unlike the other Longcrag products, which are my own take on existing ideas or concepts, this one is an invention, and it seems to work well. I built up two of them, and have sent one to a pianist for beta-testing, and to see how another musician responds to it.

    Fair motoring, and rolling reasonable well through all the inevitable context-switching.

  • Week 226

    25 April 2017

    Once again, in haste:

    • Over on Selworthy my colleague and I licked lots of small tickets into shape, ready for a new deployment shortly. I also broke ground on another challenging binary export format, which is going to be my focus for the next few weeks.

    • I took the Twine protoype we’d made on Gisborough and unrolled it into a stack of HTML pages – easier to make accessible, and customise. Twine had still been useful in prodding the interactivity and seeing how to chunk up the writing, though. We’re gearing up for a second round of testing soon on this.

    • I spent some time on the Empathy Deck, fine-tuning some of the algorithms and prepping a bunch of new content for a spring clean. That should go live shortly.

    • And finally, I had a very busy day on Longcrag. I knocked a bit more of the website into shape, for starters. Then, I spent some time practicing kitting up one of the products: working out how to label the interior bags, how many bags it would need, what should go in each bag to not be confusing, and confirming the documentation was correct for this. I made a set of packing documents for each kit, which would make it much easier to make up these bags. I also bought a set of paper espresso cups to put each bag’s contents into. Lay out 25, fill ‘em up all up, tip them all into matching bags, do the next set. Excitingly, the big order from EuroCircuits arrived: all the PCBs and front panels. The front panels were great quality, but two whole sets of them had a serious defect. I mentioned this to the company, and got on with test builds of two of the kits – both of which were very successful.

      EuroCircuits called me the next day, and we talked over the issue. In the end, it looks like it’s an issue their end, and they’re going to re-make the boards; a huge relief, but also made me feel happier about my decision to go with them. They’re pricier than the Chinese alternative, but the quality of product was great, the turnaround time fast – about 8 days from order to 400 boards (50 each of 8 designs) arriving; the software tools they supply are very reassuring, and the customer service was great. This means that next week I can kit up the two complete kits, and prep for the other two to arrive. Nearly there.

    And that’s a wrap. Next week: continuing with binary formats, hopefully wrapping up a second pass at some Gisborough content, and continuing to get Longcrag closer to being out the door.

  • gisborough holmfell longcrag weeknotes
  • Week 224

    9 April 2017

    A few breakthroughs on a few projects today.

    Over on Selworthy, I wrapped up our support for exporting to SCC – a closed captioning format that’s particular common in broadcast and DVD environments. It’s been a challenging project: the specification is hard to obtain and decipher; when you’ve done that, the format is obtuse and not designed to be human readable, meaning it can’t be eyeball tested; various implementations to use as references we’ve found vary wildly in terms of quality; and, because it is designed around broadcast devices, a caption takes a varying amount of time to ‘buffer’ dependent on its length. This documentation has been my yardstick, if you’d like some glimpse into my brain for the past few weeks.

    Anyhow: we’ve got an end-to-end solution, and I’m pleased with that. Gnarly, character-based programming.

    I also spent some time fettling some customer issues, and the dev team spent a little while setting ourselves up with a Continuous Integration server. To wrap up the week, I diagnosed the source of most of our issues with IE11 support – though it’s going to be a little while before that will be entirely resolved.

    On Gisborough, I spent some time pulling together some illustration and motion graphics. It’s not my strong point, but at the very least we have something testable, and something that could act as an animatic for an animator to work from. We also finished up a first pass at the third of the three documents we’re creating. This one turned out to be somewhat necessarily long, and also a little tangly – so I prototyped a quick pass of it in Twine, breaking it down into its fundamentals and making the links within it more obvious. This was a hit with our writer, who tidied it up in its interactive form, and we’ve got that to show the team as an alternative next week.

    And finally: I wrapped up all the ordering on Longcrag with a slightly large order from Eurocircuits. Large because, though we’re ordering a decent number of boards, it’s actually a small number each of eight different items. Still, that’s in place, and should be here in a week or so. Then all that remains is making up the kits… and then triple-checking the documentation, finishing up the website, taking press shots, etcetera. Busy busy. But exciting! To cap it all, some rather nice marketing collateral arrived, and I did a quick quality-control run on all the knobs to check they had their set-screws.

    And that, I think, was enough for Week 224.

  • Week 223

    4 April 2017

    In haste:

    • Gisborough marched on: we finished up a set of revisions to the previous week’s work, and started thinking about how best to illustrate it all.
    • I spent some time on Selworthy cranking on a finishing up a particularly challenging file exporter. Despite an initial working prototype, I spent some time tidying up the code and making it much more compartmentalised: easier to test, and also easier to extend in future. I also spent some time trying to fix some strange import errors from other tools, when we tried to load these files into them. I compared ‘golden’ output from another tool with our own, and comparing notes as to what might lead to the issues we’re seeing. By the end of the week, I’d tidied up a lot of my own output and had improved our export files no end – but the inexplicable import errors were still to be dealt with
    • With all the components for the first of the Longcrag products here, I fixed them up in their production packaging. The good news is the packaging works well and looks good. With the first 20 products packaged, I spent some time starting work on building a website about the products, and ordering various pieces of merchandise and collateral. The final few components arrived from various distributors, so once the final PCBs arrive, we’re into packaging up some kits – the products are self-assembly – and making sure our documentation is good to go. Exciting, and a little nerve-wracking, to see it all coming to life!
  • Week 222

    29 March 2017

    Another busy week, so time for more codename confetti:

    • Over on Gisborough I cranked out some HTML prototypes ready to be tested, as well as taking a quick second check at the language in the second prototype. Later in the week, I went over those tests with the team and we began to plan what would be coming next and taking stock a bit.
    • On Selworthy, I spent some time remembering how useful integration tests are for testing complex workflow; Capybara really does make life a lot easier. This helped test some of the new code I’d been writing around sending alerts to our Slack channel when specific criteria are met. I also spent some time working with our new tech lead who’ll be taking over from me in due course.
    • Components started arriving for Longcrag, some with attendant customs bills – I’ve learned a few lessons about shipping companies this week. I laser-cut some panels for a new prototype, and ordered the first production PCBs for one of the products.
    • Finally, I tightened a few screws on Walbury all ready for a second round of tests.

    And we’re out!

  • Week 221

    20 March 2017

    Lots going on, so more bullet-point weeknotes:

    • Gisborough begins to take shape. Alex, our content designer, has been working with me on picking some topics and then asking me questions to find both the stories we want to tell, and the way we want to tell them. That’s been challenging in all the best ways, and by the end of the week, she’d found an angle and an arc, and we were shaping up for our first prototype and test.
    • Over on Selworthy, I finished up rebuilding our developer tools. I also spent some time working on our internal administration tools: adding some more detailed metrics and notifications for administrative users, and starting to touch on the beginnings of some Slack integration.
    • The first of two deliveries from China for Longcrag arrived – 200 cables with a male end and a female end – and I cut them all in half. The packaging also arrived, and a quick packaging test felt and looked good. Onwards.
    • I spent an afternoon with Erica fettling the Empathy Deck – aka Holmfell – and discussing some new features I’d add in due course.
    • And finally, Wapley had its first test in the wild. It sounded from Richard like it went well; as a result of that, I wrote some quick additions to improve the user experience and make debugging it in the field easier.
  • Week 220

    12 March 2017

    A short week, after returning from a short vacation, but lots of progress in a few areas.

    • Some work on developer provisioning on Selworthy – wrapped up the work of using our existing Ansible scripts, with minor modifications, to provision a development environment inside Vagrant. Should make it much easier for new developers to come on board. Oh, and we shipped a small, useful addition to the internal metrics tools.
    • Started working with our content designer on Gisborough; this ended up with me trying to narrate the journey through the OSI Stack when you POST a form, to work out how to explain this more plainly. That was a deep dive of “remembering all the stuff that’s really going on”!
    • Longcrag started its journey into reality, with ordering packaging and also some key parts from overseas; I also spent some time filling out forms and paying customs invoices, wearing a learning smile throughout.
    • Finally, I broke ground proper on Wapley, a new tiny project with Richard that takes some of the work we explored in Rubato and pivots it into an interesting direction. After some simple prototypes in earlier weeks, a few hours of staring down some node code got us an exciting alpha.

    No wonder I feel a little like I have whiplash. Aaaand breath out.