• Week 234-235

    23 June 2017

    Some small news, and then the big news.

    Over on Selworthy, I continued to work on wrangling ffmpeg and some arithmetic that's going to to be part of a bit of an overhaul. Looking back on commits, progress feels slower than earlier. That's because I'm doing a lot of measuring-twice before the cutting-once of a fairly sizeable change to some of the key underlying assumptions of the product. At the end of that work, very little will have changed on the surface – but the little that has will be a key improvement. It goes beyond what I'd call a refactoring given its scope and scale. But that's my main focus there.

    On Wapley, I spent a little time with Richard running simultaneous demos on a variety of devices whilst on a Skype chat to confirm and debug some issues. We managed to break the back of a few things that were causing issues and I think that work is all good to go.

    Empathy Deck got a quick refresh with some new content and graphics work from Erica, and was redeployed into the world.

    And Longcrag launched.

    Family photo

    Longcrag has been the codename for Foxfield Instruments, a small imprint I've set up to sell electronic musical instruments and kits.

    Our first four products are a set of “1U tile” utilities for the Eurorack modular synthesizer format, and they're available to buy right now as DIY kits from Thonk.

    Even though they're kits – PCB, panel, components and instructions – there's been a lot of learning in bringing these into the world: scaling up PCB manufacture; considering packaging and documentation; streamlining the production/kitting process; handling mistakes when they come up. They've also been through a number of redesigns as they go from “works for me” to “buildable by anyone".

    The first products have, in my head, been finished since January, but there's been several iterations since to nail the buildability, the panel design, and find an appropriate manufacturer for the PCBs and panels. Now they're in the world, I think future products will be a bit faster – I have about seven prototypes arriving and hope to show off a few at Brighton Modular – depending on which ones function and which are Any Good At All™.

    Why imprint? Well: it's very much a side-project. A project, yes, and a conflux of things I care about – music, tool-making, interaction – but it runs alongisde my client work and projects, and perhaps at a different pace to a company. For now, more like a record label than an electronics startup.

    I want to give a little back to the synth DIY community I've learned so much from, and I want to continue to explore instrumentiness and interaction under this label. At the same time; I'd also like to find things other people enjoy using. I got some feedback from a musician on a new prototype recently, and hearing another player come to their own uses and ideas for what to do with a thing – validating my belief that people might find it useful – was hugely rewarding.

    Things to make music with is a space I previously explored in Twinklr, and it's a space I'm going to continue exploring, be it through Foxfield or otherwise.

    Product in the world, shipping. Onwards. (Well, onwards to week 235, which was a week off).

  • Weeks 229-232

    5 June 2017

    Gosh. Fell off the weeknotes wagon again, eh?

    It's been a very busy month, and yet most of its focus has been fairly linear: pushing forward on a variety of projects.

    Selworthy is in a moderate motoring phase. We've got a new tech lead that I'm slowly handing over to, and he's taking on a lot of the day-to-day responsibliities. I'm focusing a bit on some R&D and that means I'm up to my neck in browser and encoders and the horrors of discovering what turn out to be bugs in infrastructure.

    Gisborough wrapped up in week 232: we had a final few weeks of writing, rewriting, and rewriting some more – and then fettling all our content architecture before deciding to add more writing in the final week. But we shipped on time, and it was a great team – and hopefully I'll be able to link to more about it in due course.

    Longcrag has taken longer than planned, owing to the fullness of my calendar. Lots of sticking tiny components in bags, repeatedly; writing and rewriting copy; slowly getting on top of build documents; making films and editing said films whilst video software crashes all around you; the final 10% taking way too longer. Nearly there: nearly there with product in the world. Terrifying/exciting all at once.

    Along the way, I've done some minor Wapley fettling with Richard, getting it into a testable state and battling the limitations of mobile browsers.

    And I've done a bit more invention on the next phase of Longcrag – breadboarding up one new product and sketching up another, and leaving them to percolate whilst I work out if they're any good or not.

    When I'm deep in client work, weeknotes can be a bit fractal: a month can look the same as a week, from far enough away. In some ways, that's a good sign – it means the work has scaled a bit – but it also means that some of the blow-by-blow is more challenging to write about. It also often means that I tend to leave admin to the weekends, and that means it tends to get forgotten. I think I should be aiming to do the admin, but make it simpler. Perhaps, for this shape of work, weeknotes aren't super effective. I think we'll try to stick with them for a bit.

    And hopefully I'm about to hit cruise control for a little: some projects are winding up and I'm going to leave a bit of slack in the schedule for serendipity, prototyping, and so forth. (I'm also in New York for a week from the 19th – get in touch if you'd like to sya hello). But for now: a couple more weeks of getting Longcrag out and wrapping up Wapley.

  • Week 221

    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.
  • Week 220

    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 POST a 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.