04 April 2017
- 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!
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!
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.
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
POSTa 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.
06 March 2017
Week 218 began with a Chinese PCB manufacturer sending me a picture of boards about to be DHLed to London. I was testing out overseas manufacture for Longcrag, and seeing what the process would be like.
They arrived later in the week. I’ll be honest and admit I was disappointed, but my disappointment was behind a learning smile: the manufacturer had made everything to the tolerances they specified. What I hadn’t twigged is that they were much lower than the tolerances of my US prototype manufacturer. It turns out that OSHpark boards are ridiculously high-quality, in terms of the precision of the silkscreen. Given these boards are for DIY assembly, and the silkscreen needs to be clear, they weren’t going to be good enough.
So that led to two conclusions: firstly, spending a bit more on the boards, and manufacturing them in Europe, at a supplier friends have had good experiences with; and secondly, reading each manufacturers’ tolerances better. I redesigned the silkscreen on all the Longcrag products to be much more legible, and within tolerance. Fingers crossed!
Over on Selworthy, I continued wrestling the SCC format to the ground; it’s a difficult challenge compounded by the challenge of testing it. At some point, I should possibly write this up, or extract it to a library. But for now, just getting the output files right is the correct challenge.
And Gisborough metamorphosed into a slightly different project, that should begin in earnest in week 219.
A short week this week.
Selworthy saw me spending the afternoon with a new colleague to start the process of handing the project over to a new lead. That’s right: after nearly two years, of the little-five-week-project-that-could, I’m planning to move on.
I really should write the whole thing up.
Anyhow, we spent the afternoon trying to build up a development environment, and this time around, decided to make use of all our Ansible collateral, rather than building a complex environment by hand. This was perhaps not the pace that was expected, but I’m sticking to my guns that it’ll be good in the long run. Sometimes, communicating the dreariest kind of technical debt – things that are only going to be debt if we have to do them again. When that’s unlikely, but not impossible, it doesn’t always feel like the most obvious investment, so you have to hold fast to the knowledge that all it takes is one unknown in the future to change your perspective. I’m hopefully going to wrap up this process in Week 220 and then we can get back to the land of features and fixes.
Gisborough mk2 kicked off, with some thinking and writing and talking and it feels like it’s moved to a reasonably natural place; next week, I start talking to a content designer about heavily involving them in the concept and giving them what they need to start thinking through it.
And Longcrag saw some big developments. Firstly, I spent some timing costing up production runs over on Eurocircuits. Eurocircuits are good value, though more expensive than the Chinese manufacturers I looked at; they primarily manufacture in Hungary and Germany. However, their tooling for uploading, configuring, and pricing boards is excellent, and hugely confidence-inspiring; it’ll make it easier to order repeats in the future. So I’m thinking of going with them, if only for the quality and speed of service; it’ll impact my costs a little, but better than the risk of longer turnarounds and more unknowns in the process.
A new prototype under the Longcrag umbreall arrived this week, and I quickly built it up – to be pleasantly surprised that it all worked as expected first time. Which felt like a big deal: a custom PCB containing a microcontroller chip alongside other circuitry, and an in-system programming header, flashed with my own code, and all behaving itself. And more importantly – it wasn’t just working, it was exciting – the possibilities for it as an instrument revealed themselves quite quickly. I’m going to try to get a couple of prototypes to other musicians soon, to see how they feel about it, but this one feels good.
And finally: I received an order for some Longcrag kits. A small order to begin with, but it’s going to entail kits for 5 different products going on sale from a retailer, and means I’m putting this stuff into the world. Shipping (unassembled) hardware! Blimey. Long list of things to do around all the other projects. It’s going to be a busy few weeks.
But for now: week 219 ended early, and I headed out for a long weekend; a small break to top up the energy reserves, before heading into a crunchy month or two. It’s going to be exciting.