29 October 2018
Lots of time without weeknotes. Oops. But: lots has been going on.
Notably, Lambrigg wrapped up. The final weeks weren’t too crunchy, thankfully: just somesome busy, intense days to get to the finish line. In the final week we designed and wrote a new demo, re-coded both demos so that they could be more easily shared with colleagues, finalised two hardware prototypes, wrote our report and presentation deck, and got the whole thing into a shippable state. Phew.
It’s been a really nice shape of project. A research and development piece beginning – about three months ago – with background research, interviews, design reporting, a bit of strategy, and helping colleagues in the management team develop strategy further. Then, we moved into prototyping some preferred approaches in a manner that could be taken further if needed.
Across the project, I’ve conducted research interviews, done desk research into design and technology, explored possible technical approaches, designed some game prototypes, built software and firmware in Python, Ruby, Java/Processing, and C++. I’ve designed, fabricated and built up two different custom circuit boards that interface with one another, and built end-to-end prototypes that interface with a computer. I’ve produced CAD models for those boards for Tim to design around. By the end, we had turned all that into coherent physical prototypes with working demos.
That feels like a lot. Meaty work.
And then, I promptly got ill with endoftermitis: the come-down after pushing perhaps a wee bit hard. So I was off for a bit, and I think that threw my weeknotes muscle.
Since then, I’ve been working on a few things.
Firstly, decommissioning Holmfell – Erica Scourti’s _Empathy Deck_ – now that the Twitter API no longer supports, well, doing anything fun. We’ve said goodbye, and now we’re working out how best to properly archive a web project. That’s entailed not just taking dumps, but writing documentation for future users on what they are and how to interact with them. For instance, I’ve been turning some of the most significant Postgres tables into CSV – after all, as I say a lot, Excel is the prototyping tool everybody has on their desk, so it’s good to leave things in a state that doesn’t require me.
It also turns out the project generated around 17gb of images in its lifespan, so I’ve been trying to archive that in the most space- and time-efficient way possible. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that a little rsync goes a long way.
Over on Selworthy, we’ve been thinking a bit about infrastructure and operations, and choosing our next focus for incremental, ongoing improvement. I’ve also been prototyping some new interactions, which are going to be much easier to integrate with the existing front-end after the overhaul the team made to our front-end stack more recently.
I’ve started the work around preparing for this year’s Hyper Island Digital Technologies module. This year, it’s more of an incremental overhaul on last year, but it’s been good to start thinking about the structure and narrative of the module up-front. There’ll be more work on that in the weeks to come!
I’ve started conversations about a small R&D project called Sharphaw, which ties together some of my experience and expertise to help a company explore taking the objects they make and connecting them to internet services – a bit of IOT prototyping, a bit of thinking about service design, and fabricating a few things.
And, over on the music technology side: a small production run of kits for Thonk, and wrapping up an open-source community project I’ve been working on for a good while. I’m hoping to release that in week 306!
Phew. That’s a lot. Let’s try to do this more often.
03 September 2018
Fortnightnotes, owing to a long weekend away over the bank holiday.
At the end of week 296, Lambrigg had its own internal demo; Tim and I were cranking fairly hard to get that done – three days of code, audio recording, hasty art direction and game design.
The demo went very well: really well received, clearly understood, and loads of good questions (which is always a good sign). Initially I was relieved – everything worked, we met our goals – but I also left the demo highly satisifed with the positive response and enthusiastic feedback: I thought we’d done a fair pile of work to get it to where it was, and the team communicated that they could see that. So that’s great. Tim and I regrouped at the beginning of week 297 to set direction for the final phase of the project, and that’s now underway.
The bank holiday weekend extended a few days either side for family obligations, and then, just as I got back to work in week 297, I had a day sick at home with a brief headcold. Annoying! I recovered over the weekend, so week 298 begins on Monday (with these notes).
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!