01 April 2019
At the beginning of the week, I made headway at Highrigg with a code integration. I don’t normally go in for code generation, but for a quiuck prototype, feeding someone else’s Swagger-based api into
swagger-codegenfeels like exactly the right thing to do (and, of course, just what Swagger is designed for. And: it largely worked! By which I mean, we had a command-line Typescript demo in around an hour. That means I can take a stab at prototyping something else in due course, and perhaps move to something more bespoke in time. But it’s a starting point, and nice to see all the moving pieces working.
I also continued to work on wrapping up the workshop from the week before with some review work, as well as pushing a web project a little further forward.
Thursday was first non-client day in the studio in around a month. I put together some new boards of an internal electronics project that’s been going on for ever. for the first time, I managed to solder QFP packages without a hitch (mainly thanks to a good magnifier and a lake of flux).
The QFP package in question is a SAMD21. I’m making a board that has a microcontroller on it, but also a USB port. Thanks to Microsoft’s UF2 bootloader (which is a brilliant bit of engineering), it should then be possible – once i’ve correctly flahsed the bootloader to the chip – to either program the board from inside the Arduino IDE… or to just drag a .uf2 file over to it and let it flash itself automatically. The idea is that hobbyists can hack on the object, but people uninterested in code can patch firmware with a usb cable and drag/drop – a nice way of doing post-launch patching.
After a few hours of soldering in the morning, I then spent an afternoon working on trying to get UF2 bootloader onto the board. SAMD21 For Dummies has been a useful port of call but it was Tod Kurt’s notes that got me over the hump (along with remembering a key detail from an earlier error message). I spent ages with no avail trying to flash it with an STLink debugger; a Segger JLink proved to be just the ticket. And then, having flashed it with the debugger… it appeared on my desktop and behaved over USB.
A good victory to end the week on.
Week 326 is a vacation. I’m actually writing this from a sofa in the Lake District, where I can say I did a first: I climbed the hill an active project is named for! Yesterday, I took myself to the top of High Rigg. I wonder if that coincidence will ever a happen again.
18 March 2019
As expected, the past couple of weeks have been really intense: Monday and Tuesday up in Manchester, teaching the Digital Technologies module up at Hyper Island, before three days at Bulb back in London.
Teaching has gone well. Lots of content delivery up-front in the first week – skewed that way perhaps more so than was ideal, owing to time. As well as my usual lectures on Innovation & Trends (picking apart how technological trends are perceived and the major ones that have really underpinned the past decade) and AI (“How Computers (Don’t) Think”, a favourite of mine) I ran an afternoon workshop on programming.
I’m always wary of teaching programming and coding – especially in short periods of time. It can be really unsatisfying to deal with syntax errors or tooling issues early on when you have a very limited window; I’d rather spend that time usefully learning something. So what I did was focus on the feel and practice of programming. We used Google’s Blockly visual language, and, having learned a little about it, focused on its visual interpretation of Logo.
It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Seymour Papert and his team’s work on Logo. It’s such a smartly designed domain-specific tool – but it also manages to take us on some useful journeys. By using it with the visual Blockly language in a browser, we avoid needing development environments or having ugly syntax errors. My idea then was to anchor what was happening in the Logo world back to programming practice. To that end: we learn about algorithms, and iteration, and variables and function (nouns and verbs) – before going into problems that require more conceptual modelling. Logo even gets you to debugging and ultimately refactoring quite nicely – going from describing individual turtle movements into abstracting them into verbs like
HOUSE, and then improving those to take sizing as a variable. You go on a useful journey without having to do too much tooling.
As a first run of a new workshop, it was alright – it’s a little longer than I realised, and it’s appropriate to spend a good while on the first few training runs to get everyone up to the same level. But hopefully some insight emerged, and it’s certainly something I’d like to revisit.
We also got a brief from our client in the first week, and much of my time in the second week was spent coaching the teams on their responses, helping them focus their discovery and ideation phases. In week 325 I’ll be doing some more coaching and then visiting their client to watch their final pitches.
Back in London, Highrigg entailed a moderate amount of coding and refactoring, a decent number of (useful and/or interesting) meetings, prepping a short talk for an offsite workshop, an excellent day workshopping with a good number of colleagues, and beginning to write that workshop up. Hopefully I’ll finish that delivery in week 325.
And that was it. A circuit board arrived for build-up, but I’m not going to have space to do that til at least week 326. In the meantime, it can sit on my desk, tantalizing me.
10 February 2019
A lot of Week 318 spent writing on Highrigg. For a lot of my work, writing is a solitary activity. I’m writing for myself, or I’m writing to deliver to someone else. Here, it’s more important that it’s a team sport: something that origins within our team, but passes a series of eyes to fettle, fact-check, and generally improve it. I’m learning to navigate this process, but also working out how best to embrace it and write for a team. By the end of the week, the piece was looking up and had been through some good drafts.
The team’s also been deploying code, which is exciting. Pull requests are getting approved, other colleagues are commenting on them, and by Thursday of week 318 I had a whole back-end tool going through the wash (that is, continuous integration), getting deployed, and working correctly. Small steps, but I’m always a big fan of getting to end-to-end fast, and this is a big chunk of this.
Back at the studio, I started putting together a new Foxfield order from Thonk. Stock levels meant it just required some new parts from Europe – which is good, because Chinese New Year means that anything coming from there would take a while. Those parts should be arriving towards the end of week 319, and then there’s a morning of kitting to be done.
I also returned to the project with the EFM32… and set about replacing the EFM32. Yes, this is yakshaving, but there’s a plan behind it. My plan is to make the final product easier to hack or update. To that extent: something you can hack in the Arduino IDE is an order of magnitude easier than getting going in Simplicity Studio. And: something that you can upgrade firmware on just by dragging it over a USB connection, rather than having to use the Arduino IDE. To do that, I’m moving to SAMD21 and UF2. The SAMD21 is what’s in a lot of the new Adafruit boards (and the Arduino Zero), and UF2 is a magic bootloader that handles all manner of IDEs and platform and seems to Just Work. An afternoon in EAGLE had a new layout routed; another morning had the firmware ported back to Arduino. So that’s something to get fabbed up soon.
Over at my personal site, I wrote up an e-ink display I made for my living room, a continuation of years of interest in e-ink displays, and something to keep tinkering with.
I spent a lot of Week 319 being ill – the dangers of working in a large office, I fear, as there’s definitely something going around. A couple of days on Highrigg made some good progress with pairing on code, and continuing some comms work.
27 January 2019
Finally, a week with the regular number of days in that began on a Monday! (From my perspective).
Over at Bulb Labs, there was a good groove of thinking, writing, and talking. Sounds so vague, doesn’t it? I worked on a pile of research and writing, where synthesis – writing – was as key as the research itself, so that felt good. I’m looking forward to seeing how that went down next week. I also spent some time just talking to colleagues on Slack as a way of building work-relationships; there were some fire-emojis by the end of the week, so perhaps I was doing something right.
Thursday, I went back to Captionhub – Selworthy – for a day I owed them prior to Christmas, that illness got in the way of. Nice to see the gang again – I managed to wrap the feature I was working on end-to-end, leaving it in a good place to get to deployment. I also helped debug a slightly strange feature in code relating to a file format I’m reasonably expert in now – turned out the bug was just some naive code I’d written a long while ago, and the fix wasn’t too hard to roll out. Exciting to see lots of other developments there, too – so nice to drop by.
I paid my taxes. Boring, slightly stressful, but out of the way. And now there’s some time in the coming week to sort out some accountancy. Admin has been a bit of an overhead recently: there’s not been too much, but finding space in the week to do it has been more challenging than normal. Hoping to get back on top of that fast enough.
16n got featured on Hackaday, which was pretty nice!
And finally, at the end of the week, I went along to Parallel Worlds at the V&A. I had a great day out, and it did what I hope conferences will do: blow some cobwebs out of my brain and open up some new ideas. My notes are reminders of small projects to pick up and continue with, alongside things I learned from the sessions. It was also great to catch up with friends across the London games scene, and hear what they’re up to. A good end to a good week.
20 January 2019
Let’s do this again.
…were Christmas. No news, as a result.
… and we’re back in the saddle.
First up: prepping and delivering a second weekend of teaching on Hyper Island MA. I like the second weekend; the students are deep into the brief, we can deliver some more challenging (and unusual) talks and content, and push them a little more in general. Again, loads of great questions and discussions; some great guests, with a workshop from Ultra IOT and a talk from Wesley; and then, at the end, some excellent presentations. So pleased to see how they’d all developed. Every project had at least one straight up “quiet-round-of-applause” from me: some new insight, or technique for presenting material I’d not seen, or an idea for interaction. It was highly satisfying, and I was wiped out by the end of the three intensive days (after a full week of client work).
Somewhere in week 314, before I went back into work proper, I wrapped up the work necessary to launch 16n – an abstract music controller. It’s sixteen faders, that output information in a variety of ways, and it’s up to musicians as to how to integrate it into their setups. Here, have a picture:
Rather than shipping this as a product, I’ve instead made the entire thing open source. The electronics schematics and board designs are CC-BY-SA, as are the panel designs; the firmware is MIT licensed. It means I can still bring them to market in a way, if I’d like, in due course – but for now, the community that’s eager to have them (because this has been in progress for a long while) can get on with making their own. Or, indeed, making them for each other; it’s very much fanufacture made flesh. There’s certainly been a nicely positive response so far – and we made Mouser sell out of the faders, for the time being…
Around that, I’ve been settling into the gig at Bulb Labs: making contacts, meeting people, and thinking by writing and listening. The team is coming together, as are the inklings of the first few projects there. It’s going to be a difficult gig to write about even in my slightly obtuse manner, but perhaps there’ll be a way into it in due course. We’ll make the path by writing, so to speak.
Hello, 2019. Let’s get on with this.