• Weeks 161-162

    4 January 2016

    Last weeknotes for 2015!

    The end of the year isn’t always quiet for me: I’m often pounding on until the end; may as well make use of all that time. And in some ways, this year was no different. There was various client work to wrap up, and remaining time to get Twinklr underway.

    I added one new feature to Selworthy, altering the domain model to make it easier for the standalone version to handle multiple clients with different needs. Didn’t take long, but will definitely make it more useful even for internal usage. The tool is beginning to see internal usage in anger, which is great: the client are finding important issues much faster as a result, but are also seeing marked productivity gains that we hoped it’d lead to. As a developer, that’s exciting and rewarding.

    I went over to Brixton to install Roshill for Oubliette: getting the electronics from the workbench into the room and the final enclosures. Mike and Dave gave me a good hand with this and, after some hairy installation moments, we ended up with a working puzzle. A quick board of pull-down resistors I’d built up beforehand made all the difference.

    New PCBs for Walton arrived. I’d hoped these would fix the bug and in one sense, they did – but another bug still remained. I’ve now sussed what it is, though, and the only way around it is Ordering The Right Part. So I’ve got some 3PDT switches coming from Germany – along with some more equipment for the workbench – and we should have a final revision in early January.

    I got inducted on the laser cutter at Makerversity, and put it to use. First, I built a test front panel for Walton; the good news is my new workflow for doing so works, and everything fitted. The engraving still needs some work, but I think it’s definitely going to be a goer for prototypes.

    I also spent some time beginning to try fabricating some useful odds and sods for Twinklr. At the end of the year, I designed a test jig in Fusion 360 – in 3D – and then worked out how to bring it down to cuttable flat pieces, which I then produced. A big leap for me: CAD is not my natural environment, but now I can see how that workflow might work, and I know that one more thing in the project will be doable.

    I rewrote the Twinklr software. Already? Well, it turned out that the Raspberry Pi wasn’t hugely happy with endless 800*480 Canvas rendering, so I rebuilt the code to render in SVG. This had lots of neat side effects: it makes a few new feature we’re interested in much easier, and it begins the ‘tidying’ of the code to make it easier to work on. It also makes a few other things easier – in particular, animation – which is always good.

    On a less successful note, I spent a long while wrestling with Raspbian Jessie and USB audio, and am coming to the conclusion that before I spend any longer on it, I’m going to start again on Wheezy. The Pi is a frustratingly… idiosyncratic beast. I’m considering other options for Twinklr – not very seriously, given how suitable the Pi+Touchscreen combo is – but a day of messing around with Linux audio config really did make “not very” become a bit more seriously.

    As ever, more Twinklr notes – and scrapbooking – are on the Twinklr Notebook.

    And that was 2015. Yearnotes to come likely, but in the meantime: happy new year.

  • Weeks 159-160

    16 December 2015

    The penultimate weeknotes of the year – and late they are, owing to end-of-year busyness. But nontheless, what happened?

    Selworthy continued with its lick of polish: I started tidying up some UI interactions, and tidying some features. I also got slightly sidetracked with an issue with Redis on one of our staging boxes, which ate some time, but was swiftly resolved thanks to the investment I’d put into Ansible earlier in the year. So that was a relief.

    Roshill, the puzzle I’m building for Oubliette, moved forward quite a lot: we integrated the mechanical components (primarily stepper motors) and I debugged most of the electronic issues – much of which came down to needing some pull-downs, and ensuring the security of various connections. It’s nearly completed, and in the final weeks of the year we’ll install it in the space.

    I spent a couple of days working on exploring some data and sketching in code with George over at Good, Form and Spectacle. An interesting few days; some careful exploration of a relatively small dataset led to insight from even the smallest of our interventions, and it was great to work with George again.

    MV Works kicked off with the chance to meet the rest of the cohort and get a feel for the space and the project. Fun to meet so many people properly, and various plans have already started forming. I ordered some initial components to test my new hardware plans with, and also began planning an overhaul of the code. Oh, and I kicked off a Tumblr notebook for the project, to act as both a scrapbook of things we’re interested in and a place to store work in progress. I’ll no doubt continue to write weeknotes around it, but it’s also nice to just have a rolling scrapbook to post to.

    Tangentially, I had an interesting Skype conversation with Dean Taylor. Dean wanted to sound out ideas around interaction design and sound production, and we ended up having a really interesting chat about all manner of things – but in particular, what I’ve taken to calling instrumentness; it was really handy as a way of framing my thoughts for Twinklr a little.

    And finally: a studio move to fit around all that. I’m no longer in East London, but based out of Makerversity in Somerset House, just off the Strand. (I’m still with studiomates PAN, though). It’s a great space, and has wonderful facilities and people; looking forward to spending time there.

  • Weeks 157-158

    24 November 2015

    Two more weeks have pasted, which means two more weeks of contiguous weeknotes to write up.

    I finished my first pass at Roshill – a puzzle I’m building for Oubliette Escape Rooms. Dave provided a second frontpanel for it, after the first had a few holes cut too small, and this one was much better. My new approach to wiring paid off, and by the end of Week 157 I’d wired the puzzle together and written most of the microcontoller code. I also met the mechanical engineer working on another critical part of the prop, and we worked out how we could piece our work together. There’s a second pass of work to come, but everything’s in a really good state, and it’s nicely maintainable – very easy to swap out individual components if they fail, thanks to an awful lot of spade connectors I crimped on.

    My PCBs I ordered for Walton arrived, so I set about assembling one. The good news is that the PCB broadly functions correctly: I’d read the datasheets correctly, and the custom parts I’d had to make from scratch in EAGLE were all entirely correct. However, there was a significant flaw in the circuit (mainly to do with how negative voltage behaves) and so I’m going to need to take a second pass; I made my learning smile and moved on. Fortunately, some debugging (ably assisted with insight from James) solved the main issue.

    I also took the opportunity to lasercut another frontpanel for that project. This too had some issues, largely down to my design process. I’ve resolved those by finding a workflow to get from EAGLE to SVG – namely, using the handy gerber2svg, which does exactly what you might think, and has the added bonus of being a command-lne tool. That’s all helped me have 100% confidence in the frontpanels from here on out. By the end of week 158, I had a second design of the PCB with the error corrected that was just about ready to send off for manufacture – although I have a sneaky feeling some last-minute tweaks (or even functionality) might be added before then.

    Selworthy is gearing up to be handed over to new developers and deployed; I’ve been reviewing how some of its dependencies are packaged, and building out a secondary command-line tool to support it.

    Richard playing

    Most excitingly, I went up to Richard’s studio in Belper for a day of playing with Twinklr, filming and photographing it to document the end of the first phase of the project. It was by all measures a success; we got done what needed doing, but, more importantly, we lost ourselves in it. It was a joy to watch Richard just playing this instrument we’d built. After we had fixed a few minor issues and demonstrated basic functionality, we then plugged Twinklr into an analogue synthesizer I’d taken up, and thence into a long effects chain. And then I just watched as Richard explored and composed, writing patterns and melodies on Twinklr that played out on the synth, and the time just passed. A really good couple of days; I’m looking forward to sharing this project more properly with you in the immediate future.

  • Weeks 155-156

    9 November 2015

    Again, a quick flurry of notes to explain what’s going on:

    • Selworthy has been called in to land, so we’re working through plans for that – how best to approach, what needs tidying up, and what the next steps are.
    • Roshill is an electronic puzzle I’m building for Oubliette Escape Rooms and Adventure Society – their kickstarter has now been announced! I spent the two weeks sourcing parts, testing wiring and Arduino code, and after a fairly poor initial wiring layout, I’ve settled on something much more solid. We’ve also done a first prototype of the enclosure for it.
    • I sent PCBs for Walton off to OSHPark for fabrication, after finally settling on routing – many thanks to James for input. I also took delivery of the first prototype frontpanel for it, which has already been made obsolete, but that also gave me some useful feedback on the Inkscape diagram I’d been using; really handy having Makers’ Café right down the road!
    • I spent some time tinkering with ONN Studio, to help them explore some work.
    • I popped along briefly to Hardware Coffee Morning; always interesting to see where other peoples’ heads are.
    • And I spent a morning helping Good Form & Spectacle migrate some infrastructure to a more robust platform.

    Lots of electronics at the moment, along with setting up future work and tinkering. Once the final burst of Selworthy kicks off, I’ll be knee-deep in software again, so in the meantime, good to have a concentrated period of time to wrap up these hardware projects. Onwards!

  • Weeks 154-155

    26 October 2015

    A fragmented fortnight, but lots of things moving in a variety of directions:

    • Selworthy is in a holding pattern whilst we wait for a few pieces beyond my control to fall into place.
    • Twinklr is pretty much at the end of its initial phase – some painting, staining, and filming to do – but there’s a possible future for it that I’ve been doing some work applying for.
    • Roshill and Walton have had me staring into the maw of electronic component retailers: how many thousands of flick-switches are available? Now, it turns out, I know. I’ve been testing a variety of switches for Roshill, and Walton’s seen me staring at EAGLE, moving many things around a PCB as I test a variety of ideas.
    • Lots of meetings – potential future work, catching up with peers; all very positive, and lots of things to chew over.
    • And, to cap it all, I spent a pile of week 155 just being ill at home; much-needed bed rest made me functional again pretty fast, and saved the studio my sniffling.

    Walton and Roshill will perhaps become more evident over time, but for now, they’re going to keep me ticking over. So whilst it was an interesting fortnight for me, there’s not a vast amount to report publicly. Hopefully that’ll change soon!