Nightmare Nights and The Future

Good morning, everyone!

I’m back from Nightmare Nights, and boy was it a great time. Met up with friends, talked nerdy with a ton of people, and of course: Sold DigiBadges.

I won’t pull any punches. This is a business and it was a business venture. The primary goal was to see if a “small” convention – That is, smaller than BronyCon – would be worth it. The unfortunate part of what we do is that electronics are expensive. Prints can make a lot more profit than an electronic device. I had no doubts in my mind that going to Nightmare Nights, I was losing money. What I was aiming to discover was how much interest there was in not just the DigiBadge, but the Art Cards, cases, and other products.

Running the rough numbers after the convention was a really great look at things. A decent number of people asked about the cases, and I’m sure even more would have purchased them if they were available. There were some people who didn’t purchase because cases were not available. Simply having cases available would increase sales. There were also a smaller number that asked about the pendant and may have bought them had they been available. A few said they’d wait for the Version 3.

In a small handful of weeks and months, we’ll have all of those items available. While I don’t expect our next convention to rake in money for us, we’re definitely planning on a next convention. We’re going to be sending in the vendor application for PonyCon in the next few days, once we get the store updated with the new things. After that, we’ll have to look and see how expensive it is to get to a convention. Something like BabsCon or Everfree, being on the West Coast, are a lot more expensive for us to get to. Plane tickets aren’t cheap, and neither is shipping!

So, in short, Nightmare Nights may not have been a financial success, but it showed us that it’s worth pursuing the convention route further. It’s not the easiest thing to do, but boy is it fun!

I’ll be posting some more updates in the next few days. We’re close to finishing a case for the V2, and the V3 won’t be too long behind it. While the V3 will require a slightly different case than the V2, the changes are fairly minor so they won’t take nearly as long as designing a case from scratch. The Pendants only need some minor PCB changes – there was a sneaky switch of two pins that I didn’t notice – but then that’ll be done too.

If you have any questions or comments, we can be found on Twitter at @MatchfireTech, on Facebook at MatchfireTech, or through e-mail at contact@matchfire.net

Success! 18-File limit will be removed for V3 coding

Good evening, everyone!

I’ve been plunking away at figuring out a way to fix the 18-image limit that the V2 coding has. And I finally did it. This will be by default on the V3s, and will be available in a future update for the V2 code. It won’t be on the V2s for Nightmare Nights, as there’s still a lot of other code to write – For the V3, I’m essentially re-writing the code from scratch, and while it’ll be adapted to the V2, I have to finish the V3 code first. Which will take a lot of time.

To explain how I fixed it, I have to explain how it’s done now. Currently, the code creates an array of character arrays. Each of these character arrays is a filename for an image. They’re 14-character long arrays, so they take up a decent amount of space, space also used by other parts of the program. I thought of ways to expand the space – Loading names from a text file on the SD card, trimming down to the 9 characters needed for a filename without the extension, storing them in the Flash memory of the V3, but none of them actually solved the problem, just made it less of an issue, or moved it elsewhere. Trimming filenames down only netted a small number of additional files, text files would have to be perfectly formatted and would be unforgiving if someone made a mistake, and while moving the filenames to the Flash memory would allow for a massive amount of names to be stored, it would take a significant amount of time to do so.

The solution is is simple. Files are loaded in a specific order, so it’s only a matter of numbers. The function goes through, counts the files it sees, and when it sees, say, file number 3, it passes the actual name of that file to the BMP loader, which displays the image. This means a maximum of 32,767 images can be loaded. Why that number? Well, that’s the highest that an Arduino integer can go. That ends up being about 1.87 GiB of 60-kb files, which would take a significant amount of time to go through.

It makes changing images a lot easier, too. Change the number, pass it to the function. A bonus is that it also makes storing which image was previously loaded into Flash memory a lot easier, too. Just store the number.

I don’t expect to be fully done until a while after Nightmare Nights. I’ve got preparations to do tomorrow, and then Thursday I head out. I expect no progress while at the convention, of course, and then I’ll have a bunch to do after returning home.

Expect to hear more as I work on the V3 code. I’ll keep you posted!

Nightmare Nights stock update

Greetings, everyone.

I bear some bad news. The LED Pendants that I previously said would be available at Nightmare Nights, will NOT be available. Let me explain why.

I source a lot of my parts through various Chinese wholesalers. The sites I pull them from are not designed around selling electronic components. They’re more along the lines of Amazon, but even Amazon has better searches than most of them. I can usually find exactly what I’m looking for, but it takes some effort.

The part that I had designed around was the 1088BS 8×8 LED Matrix.

The parts that I have are 1088AS 8×8 LED Matrixes. Same physical size, completely different pinout. Being one letter off of the same item code, I can’t be sure if it was my fault, for purchasing the wrong item, or if I thought I was purchasing the BS version, or if the seller thought they shipped the BS version, or a number of other possibilities. The end result is the same.

The biggest issue is that, while I could pay for rush shipping, that takes anywhere from 5-8 business days. IF it took 5 days, it could get to me at NMN… but I’d not have either the time nor the tools to properly assemble them. I will have my portable soldering iron, but that’s not designed for putting together 100-ish components in a row. And that would require the shipper to get it out the door practically immediately. If it took a little longer, then it would get to the hotel long after I was gone – Not a good position to be in. I’ve already ordered the replacement parts, but as said, they’ll take a while to get to me.

I sincerely apologize to anyone who was looking forward to getting one of these at the convention.

-Andon

Nightmare Nights (And other updates!)

Greetings everyone!

Sorry for the long delay in updates. I’ve been working a lot, fiddling with things a lot, and also prepping for Nightmare Nights.

I’m really excited to be there. It’s my first time venturing out for a convention, as luckily for me BronyCon is within easy distance. I’m not sure if I’ll regularly appear at distant conventions as travel prices aren’t cheap, and electronics have a pretty high overhead compared to more traditional sellers. That said, I do have some neat news!

First up: I’ve received a prototype V2/V3 case from Alabaster. He put up some pictures in his last post, but when I got it I grabbed an old V1 and its case to compare it to and took some pictures:

And then I thought the new one looked pretty small compared to the old one. And it is. To demonstrate:

Yep. That’s the V2 in the V2 case, fitting snugly inside the V1’s case. And that’s not even a hacker case!

Unfortunately, the V2 case isn’t finished yet, so while I’ll have that prototype with me at Nightmare Nights, I won’t have any available to sell. There’s still a few things that need to be fixed before production can begin, but we’re really close.

On the other hand, I WILL have the Pendants with me! These are  a lot more versatile than the DigiBadges, although they don’t have quite the same screen. They have an I2C powered 8×8 LED Matrix – Which, being I2C, allows every pin on the 328 to be broken out. The driver for the LED matrix also requires 5V, so the pendant, unlike the V2, has a boost voltage regulator. This does mean it eats a lot more power, but it’ll still last a significant amount of time. Basic calculations put it at something like 15-16 hours or so. The Pendants will be available for $10.

I took two demonstration videos of what the Pendant can do:

In addition to the pendant, there will also be the V2 DigiBadge available. There will also be an Art Card with art by Leekfish available for purchase as well. In addition to the standard compliment of V2s, there are also a few ‘Damaged’ DigiBadges that will be available. All of these suffered some sort of issue with the SD card reader, so while you can’t use an Art Card with them, the basic badge functions work just fine. The DigiBadge V2 will be $15, while the ‘Damaged’ ones will be $10. This will be the last remaining stock of the V2 badges – But don’t worry! This just means the V3 is on its way.

“Wait, V3 you said?”

Why, yes! A V3! After hearing some feedback about the V2 and looking into things, I poked around at a few things I could do with it. I was also not satisfied with the way the V2 worked with batteries. While it could function off of a pair of AAAs for a very long time, the screen became unusable far sooner than everything else stopped functioning. So I took a look at the Pendant and V1’s boost regulators, and decided to put a 3.3v regulator on the V3. This means that it only needs one AAA battery, reducing the weight and allowing for more components on the back of the board.

What other components am I putting on there? Well, aside from the voltage regulator, I’m trimming down the navigation switch’s interface to use a single analog input instead of five different inputs. Additionally, there’ll be an ISCP header included, and – This is my favorite bit – A 1M SPI Flash chip. This will be able to store filenames for numerous art card images, and it will also allow for persistence of settings. Turning the V2 off and back on means you have to fiddle with it to get it back to the badge you want, or the image you want. With the V3, it’ll turn on to whatever it was set on last (Unless the image can’t be found, of course).

And, good fans, that’s not all! While it won’t affect you at all, I’m happy to say that I’ve found a place to have the boards manufactured. I first came into contact with them during BronyCon – I remember replying to their e-mails on the light rail on the way to the convention – and I’ve been discussing possibilities and costs for board manufacturing. Their prices are great, and I’ll be using them for manufacturing the V3s and other future boards. While there are a small number of parts that they aren’t able to source and I’ll have to send them, for the most part I’ll just send them an order, and they’ll print the boards, do the assembly, and send them out to me. I’ll have a few steps to take care of – Mostly, making sure they’re programmed and double-checking that they work – but it’ll take quite a lot of the load off of me. While it does cost me a bit more to have them made, I had given myself a bit of extra room to work with in the price of the V2 badge. I had planned ahead for eventually doing something like this, so the price you pay won’t be changed.

I currently have no estimate for when the V3 will be available. Right now, I’m focused on Nightmare Nights. After NMN is over, I’ll be sifting through all the data and seeing what happens next.

And if you are going to Nightmare Nights, the Vendor Hall Map has been posted! I’ll be on the left-hand side against the wall. For a quick recap on prices:

  • V2 DigiBadge: $15
  • V2 “Damaged” DigiBadge (Nonfunctional SD card): $10
  • LED Pendant: $10
  • Art Card: $10

Prices do not include tax, of course.

See you at Nightmare Nights!

-Andon