20 August 2018
Weeknotes are quiet at the moment, mainly because I’m fairly head-down and there’s just not a lot to see or show.
Over on Selworthy, I’ve been fettling some issues that involve interfacing remotely with other people’s tools and workflows. That makes the feedback loop a little slow, but we’re getting there, and I’m pleased with the route we’ve taken. More excitingly, we’re working at overhauling some front-end code I wrote a long while ago and bringing it in line with our more modern tooling – notably, better data-binding and more efficient DOM interactions. It’s the last really large piece of legacy code: a significant chunk of the app we’ve just left alone for a while, and now’s a good opportunity to rework it – not just for rewritings’ sake, but also for performance optimisations, and importantly – from my perspective – passing on this large chunk of knowledge to the team. Like much genuine technical debt, it’s been worth holding onto for a while, and now it’s the right time to pay it off.
Lambrigg marches on to an interim deadline towards the end of the month. There’s been lots of fabrication and prototyping – this week, I’ve been wrangling Python, C++, and the finer details of I2C busses to bring things closer to life. I made a decent breakthrough at the end of week 294 that turned week 295 into a week of good pace and functionality development. I even finally taught myself to write C++ classes, which, it turn out, I should have done long ago: they work exactly like classes do in my head, and they’re making things a lot tidier. Hopefully my embedded code in future will become tidier!
And finally, in the minutes between things, I wrapped up a few prototype components for Musuem in a Box; I’m hoping to deliver those for week 296. Some time evaluating specific ICs was well spent, and I think they’ve come together well.
05 August 2018
What the stacks I’m working across currently contain:
- Ruby, Rails
- the depths of AWS infrastructure(s)
- C++ / Openframeworks
- Java / Processing
- Embedded C
- PCB EDA and manufacture
and, of course, they all join together: breadboards turn into schematics and circuitboards, which get exported to CAD tools for colleagues to design around; firmware for those boards gets written and ends up talking to Processing demo harnesses on my desktop. Software written on the laptop turns into code hosted on more complex, automated AWS infrastructures.
Some days, it feels like a lot to wrap my head around. When I write it out, I’m reminded that it is.
The week’s work took in some dives into performance work on Selworthy, going over some quite old code of mine and working out how to either improve it or mothball it – and if so, how to do so most efficiently.
Over on Lambrigg, I spent some time working up microcontroller code and hardware prototypes, exploring a new-to-me technology that we hoped would prove fruitful. So far, things are going well: a quick mechanical prototype and code demo works how I hoped, the simple circuit boards I ordered up for it have all gone together smoothly, and I’m hoping to carry on that work next week.
I also spent a lot of time just thinking on Lambrigg: moving jigsaw pieces around in my head. Frustrating, in that there wasn’t a lot to show for it, but I’m slowly understanding how pieces might fit together in future.
In other words: a busy week that’s quiet from the outside and fairly complex from the inside – not helped by the heat, which is making the act of thought truly challenging at times.
29 July 2018
I took week 290 off from Lambrigg whilst the team regrouped, based on our presentation at the end of Week 289. But come 291, I was back into it, and we were really diving into a period of thinking-through-making: ideating again, but this time with our hands, rather than via deskthinking.
And as a result, just right now, I’m a bit in the weeds. Which is to say: in this period of thinking-through-making, the thinking and the making are both proving equally hard.
The hot weather hasn’t helped with the former – I just haven’t had enough brain on tap some days. But the latter has become very fine-grained: I’m exploring techniques and materials by working with them, and it turns out that they are difficult materials to work with. So the progress is slow, as I try to bring my knowledge – no, my understanding – of what’s going on up to speed. Trying to get good enough at something for my sense of smell to kick in. I’d hoped that’d have happened by now, but it hasn’t quite. But I got some good steers from Tim at the end of week 292, so have a few things to try in 293.
Still, a busy few weeks, jumping around a big stack: writing some OpenFrameworks, waiting for said C++ to compile, spending some time collaborating on CAD via Fusion 360, designing prototype circuit boards (and CAD models of them), and getting those fabbed up. But the hard stuff is the programming – right now, anyway.
Selworthy marches on – a successful end to an initial R&D spike there (namely: we want to take it forward, and continue our QA tests on it) – and then back into some file format hexadecimal fun.
I’ve spent some time catching up with colleagues and peers in the past few weeks, and that’s been really useful. A long lunch with Nick from Playdeo; some good chats with Jim; and a long-overdue catchup with Mike. Lots of different perspectives to apply to the world and chat about – technologies and teams; narrative and design; objects and design processes. Really good for the brain, and lovely folks one and all.
I also spent some time meeting some Interim CTOs and talking about that particular role. I’m thinking a little about what broader shapes of work might look like in the future, and testing my appetites. This certainly helped put some of my own other work in perspective – understanding what I’ve grown at and where I’m going to have to get over some of my own tendencies or preferences if I want to move into a particular direction.
And all this after Matt W wrote a prehistory of weeknotes over on the Job Garden medium. I would apologise for the whiplash perspective shifts in my notes – from nice high-level progress down to a surprising amount of detail about chips or code or whatever – but I’ll be honest and say it’s semi-deliberate: a whole bunch of my work is about thought and abstraction and applying a long history of knowledge… but there’s also a lot that’s still about thinking with my hands, about developing skills and understanding through doing, and some weeks, I’m just stuck in the doing, so that’s what you’re getting in my notes. If you get whiplash… well, so do I, some days! But it’s some of the fun of the work, too.
Let’s get back on the wagon, though, because weeknotes become less useful at a distance: monthnotes have such a different feel. The point of this isn’t just sharing progress; it’s also for me, and being able to keep a closer eye on the shape of my weeks. If that means making the time to do them faster… that might be the way they get done for now.
Anyhow. That’s enough to catch up on these three weeks. Good progress all around, but it’s all making my head feel very full right now. Onwards!
08 July 2018
It’s been a while without notes. That’s mainly because I have a lot on: Lambrigg has been fair motoring, and multiple clients filling an entire working week means notes and admin get pushed to the weekends, and some days, that means weeknotes just don’t happen. My bad.
Fortunately, things are in a loosely steady state:
- Lots of work on Lambrigg over at Sensible Object to get through the first main phase of the project. That’s mainly mean I’ve been in a research mode – lots of searching, reading, thinking, writing, and also conducting a lot of interviews in person and on the phone. We got to a good place at the end of Week 289 to present our research to the team, and I’m very pleased with how that turned out. We’re regrouping, and then working out what comes next.
- Selworthy is moving apace: the team made some chunky infrastructure changes that all went very smoothly, and I continued some spelunking on more experimental work. The tech team is really solid – and growing – and my very limited time there is now down to advisory work or ‘special projects’. Which, at the moment, are proving to be challenging (the good kind) and challenging (the bad kind) in equal measure.
- I made a small but useful MIDI controller for Richard, which was a nice way to use some CAD work to push out a simple tool for a friend to control virtual instruments with.
- The other musical tool I’m working on, 16n, has moved forward a little, and in week 290 I should be building up the latest prototypes. More to report before the month is out, I hope!
- And finally, in other Sensible Object news, the team there launched When in Rome, their travel trivia boardgame for Amazon Alexa. I had a very small part to play in this – Selside was a piece of back-end tooling around content management and production for this game. It’s exciting to see it in the world and in the hands of strangers – who seem to be enjoying it. Congratulations to the whole team; it was a hectic final month and they pulled off something good.
And that’s everything. Let’s see if I can’t get these notes into something more regular for next week.
10 June 2018
Four weeks to write about.
Since returning from holiday, existing projects have motored forward, and a notable large one has emerged to take me through to the autumn.
First, my own work – Longcrag prototypes arrived, and I assembled them and flashed them. Excitingly, they worked entirely first time. So that’s really positive: no bugs on the software, no bugs on the hardware. The only question now is to refine the BOM, address any oversights in the hardware, and prototype a front panel. Then I have to consider if I want to manufacture the object.
I spoke to Emma about decomissioning our art project – we came up with a process we’re happy with.
I fettled some issues that emerged on Selside, dealing with feedback, and looking into moving it into production infrastructure. It appears to have continued to be a useful tool, so I’m pleased with that.
Selworthy motors as ever. I wrapped work on a feature that’s had me deep in Hex Fiend and building an internal library, which ended up using Braid to manage the dependency, and that turned out to be a tool I’ll use again in future.
Finally, a new project emerges: it’s called Lambrigg, and it’s a longer project with Sensible Object. It’s going to be several months of R&D in a space that combines lots of my interests and expertise – games, toys, interaction design, connected objects, embedded hardware. As an R&D project, I’m going to have to be fairly obtuse about it here, but it’s going to be a good few months of work, hopefully going from exploration through to prototyping. I’m excited.
And that means I’m pretty busy for the next few months, in lots of nice spaces: a little web and software work on Selworthy, my own music/electronics projects, and my main focus on Lambrigg for a few months. Good stuff.