Post-BronyCon Update

Greetings, everyone!

BronyCon 2017 is over. It was great to see so many of you there, and while I wasn’t able to sell any V3s, I was able to sell the hell out of the Arduineigh boards that MintShard came up with. I was also able to give out quite a number of business cards, so hopefully that will translate into some interest.

So, what’s next?

First and foremost, the name change. And domain change. And a bunch of other changes. The new website isn’t ready to go yet, but over the next few days I’ll be setting everything up over there. As part of that, there’s a number of backend changes that’ll go on as things get accomplished. Both the Facebook page and the Twitter page have changed their @ usernames to @PhoenixbornTech, although their display names are still Matchfire Electronics. The names will change later, once the official paperwork has been filed and we have a new logo. Additionally, e-mails have started to be migrated. The old Matchfire e-mails will redirect to the appropriate Phoenixborn e-mails, but you may start receiving e-mails from the new domain.

Importantly, the Shop is being completely re-built. The new one will launch in a few days, and will completely replace the old one. I’m re-vamping a few things, and getting rid of some of the old products that don’t need to exist any more. Of note, the V2 will not be available on the new site, so if you want one now is the time to get one.

What will be available on the re-vamped store? At present, the lineup consists of these items: The V2/Mini case and Pre-Orders for the following items: DigiBadge Mini, DigiBadge Standard, Photoreactive Pendant, and the Arduineigh.

Many people asked about the Arduineigh at BronyCon, especially after I sold out of them. I can happily say that MintShard and I are working on bringing them to the web store as well.

As for Weekly Updates: Those will begin again this week. I have a prototype board for the Mini coming tomorrow, and I have all of the components to assemble it right away. I’ll let you know how that goes.

As always, you can catch us on Discord, Twitter, or Facebook. And, even though I’m going to have to re-work it in a few days for the new website, I now have WordPress posting to those three channels automatically, too!

Look! Over there! A pile of bad news!

I’ll get straight to the point here: There’s no silver lining to this post. There’s a lot of bad, and a lot of scrambling to make the best of a very bad situation.

To start it all off: The screens on the V3 badges did not work. More accurately, they do work but they have a different driver chip in them. It is a problem that is fixable via code, but I am not a programmer in anything more than the most basic things. I can take existing libraries and combine them, but interfacing with hardware on the level of a display chip is well beyond me. For completeness’ sake, the driver is an HX8347D – In SPI mode/pinout. I have had a hard time finding any libraries for the HX8347D in such a configuration, and then there’s another hurdle – None of the libraries I’ve found work on the ESP8266. Fixing this issue in, at this point, less than three days is just not going to happen.

In addition to that, the V3s have a handful of other problems. There’s something screwy between the ATTiny and the ESP8266, which is causing the ESP8266 to not boot properly. This IS a code issue, as putting the ATTiny into a bare code state with only specific pins set does allow the ESP to boot up. The CP2102 also doesn’t connect to the ESP module – I’m not sure what the issue is as I haven’t poked into it at all, but the module connects to USB, but it doesn’t connect to the ESP. And the final issue is that the adhesive used for the battery packs is just not good enough. The pressure from the wires is enough to eventually separate the battery pack from the board.

On the plus side: The voltage regulators work – Both of them. I had also included a method for bypassing the CP2102 when prototyping, so that works to upload code. It’s annoying because an external adapter is needed, but it works. The ATTiny also works largely as intended from what I can tell (Although I haven’t tested it much).

So where do I go from here, with a pile of largely unusable DigiBadges?

I’ll likely simply do nothing with the pile. Replacing the screens is costly and time-consuming, resources better spent making sure this issue is resolved for future versions. I may put them up on the shop with a notification about the issues. Doing this will take some time, however, so I’ll need something in the meantime.

That something is going to be a modified V2 badge. It won’t decode JPEGs, but it’s a known device. It works. I’ll have to do some modifications for components that the PCB house can source and place, but that should be fairly simple. It should also be a bit cheaper than the V3 design, since it has much fewer components. Depending on cost, I may keep it around as a “Light” version of the badge.

Additionally, because of the no-longer-linear progression of badges, I’m not going to call them the V2+, V3 New, or whatever. I’m not entirely sure what I WILL call them at this point, but trying to keep generation numbers would just become a headache.

As far as BronyCon goes, I’ll still be there, at booth #33 in the Artist’s Alley. I’ll be showing off the V3 badge I’ve made work by swapping the screen on, and will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

As always, feedback, input, suggestions and the like can be voiced on Discord, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

Weekly Update – July 15, 2017

In this update, I’ll be covering two primary things: Convention Appearances and Future Devices. At the moment, I’m simply waiting on updates for the V3 orders, so there’s not much to go on with that.

Convention Appearances

There are three scheduled and confirmed conventions that we’ll be appearing at:

  • BronyCon, on August 11-13, in Baltimore Maryland. This will be the final appearance of Matchfire Electronics. Future appearances will be as Phoenixborn Technologies.
  • Nightmare Nights, on October 27-29, in Dallas Texas.
  • Retro Game Con, on November 18-19, in Syracuse NY.

At BronyCon, we will only have the DigiBadges. There just isn’t enough time or money to get anything else done. I’m hoping that we can get a case design by Nightmare Nights, but that’s going to be a lot of pressure on Alabaster, so I guarantee nothing. Hopefully we’ll have them ready by Retro Game Con, but again, no guarantees. It’s not that long after NMN. Beyond cases goes into the next category:

Future Devices

There are currently two devices slated for certain investigation, and a handful of others that are categorized under “Hopeful Thinking.”

For the first two, I have Product One and Product Two.

Product One is a “DigiBadge Light” – Those of you that were around for the Kickstarter for the V1 should remember this. The difference in the V1 Light and V1 Hacker, or V1 Standard, was primarily that the Light used the ATMega168 instead of the 328. Additionally, the 328 on the Hacker was socketed rather than soldered directly to the board, and the screen was similarly detachable.

For the new DigiBadge Light, there’s a slightly different goal in mind. The V3 DigiBadge is significantly more expensive than the V2, with a final price of $50 vs the V2’s $15. This is due to a number of things, but primarily it is due to components. I personally assembled the V2s, which meant that I saved money in two ways. First, I could use components from non-standard sources, without datasheets and sent to me in ziploc baggies. Second, I didn’t have to pay an assembly cost.

However, there was a significant issue: Of the 150 boards and components that I assembled, only 85 were in functioning order at BronyCon. This was a significant problem. I managed to fix a decent number after the convention, which I then sold at Nightmare Nights, but that should never have happened in the first place. The root of the issue is split between time and equipment. As it stands, time would have been extremely tight again, and getting the proper equipment is incredibly expensive and also takes up space I don’t really have.

Assembly costs are completely necessary and will end up saving me a ton of time and a decent amount of money, too. Fewer bad units means more potential sales. However, assembly requires a different set of components. While I could potentially use the dirt cheap components like I used for the V2, I would have to purchase them myself, wait for them to arrive to me, and then send them off to the assembly warehouse. That would waste a lot of time and the money spent shipping them would probably make it not worth doing. For components on the V3, I had the assembly warehouse source them. This meant some things which cost $0.10 each on the V2 cost almost $1.00 each on the V3. And there are significantly more components on the V3.

The Light version will be trimming down things on the V3 to make a more affordable version. My current plans have the Light having the same ESP-12 module as the V3, but some other features will be removed. There will be no on-board USB support, and I’m considering making the V2 run off of 3 AAAs and then through a LDO regulator to a lower 2.7v. The Light also won’t have the ATTiny power controller, instead using its on-board ADC to monitor power. Because the ESP8266 has built-in Flash memory, I am also considering removing the SD card slot. There are a lot of things to take into consideration, but hopefully I can get the device to a cost that’s a little bit lower.

Product Two is a direct result of the Light. Without the CP2102, there will need to be a way to program the Light. For that, I intend on making a CP2102 breakout board. Why, when there are so many readily available on places like Amazon?

For one, almost all of them do not break out the RTS pin, which makes programming the ESP8266 a bit more difficult than it needs to be. And those that do often have them in an awkward location. A CP2102 board designed with breaking out the RTS pin in mind would be a lot easier to use, and could be consistently available for purchase with the DigiBadge Light.

Another thing is that none of the CP2102 breakout boards I have seen have a voltage regulator. The CP2102 does have a built-in 3.3v regulator, but it is very small and can’t power much of anything. Putting a LDO on the board should be fairly cheap and easy to do, and gives a significant boost to available power.

The final reason is simple logistics. I want to be able to sell the means to program the DigiBadge Light right alongside the badge itself. Yes, I could purchase and re-sell the programmers, but I would have to mark up such devices in order to make it worth it. At that point, people could get it from where I got it, for cheaper. I don’t like to rip off my customers. Then there’s also the matter of supply. I would have to hope that the supplier decides to keep them in stock, and in decent quantities. Otherwise, I’d be in an interesting situation if they decide to discontinue it.

Creating my own CP2102 breakout allows me to have the features I want on it and also to ensure they are available.

What about “Hopeful Thinking?”

Well, there’s a handful of devices I would like to visit or re-visit. The LED Matrix pendant, for one, would be a great thing to re-try my hand at. I have most of the supplies to build them, but at this point in time I know I could design a better version. I would love to investigate a different battery and make the PCB only slightly larger than the LED Matrix.

I also want to visit further on the idea of a magnetic field viewer. It would function along the same principle as the Elektrosluch, except instead of directing two inputs into an audio output, it would direct an array into a visual output. It would require a lot of fiddling on my part, but it’s theoretically possible.

Another thing I want to work on is a remote control vehicle core. Due to the cost of getting anything with custom wireless certified, I would build it around something that’s already certified, and it might not be practical, but it’s something I want to look into at the very least.

That’s all for now. As always, you can catch me on Discord, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

Post-Con Breakdown

Greetings, everyone!

So, after spending the weekend at BronyCon and having a blast and running out of things to sell, I’ve had the chance to run the numbers. Lots and lots of numbers. I have some good news, better news, and plenty of thoughts along the way.

The most common question I received from other vendors and even a few people was “Did you break even?” – A question whose answer is not as easy as I would like. The short answer is “No.” But that’s with some of the most basic math. I’m not going to go into specifics, but that’s counting the costs for the Pendants, which weren’t available for sale at BronyCon. It’s not exactly fair to count something you didn’t sell, but it’s also not particularly easy to split out the costs. A lot of the components for the V2 were shared by the Pendant, and splitting the price isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do. Still, the best quick math that I’ve done says we just about broke even when you don’t take into account the Pendants. But you know what? I’m not too concerned with breaking even. I honestly didn’t expect to break even, as the production for the weekend was ambitious.

That said, it really helped a lot. As I mentioned above, I ran out of things to sell. That doesn’t mean I sold everything I brought. A number of the Version 2 badges suffered from something I missed – I expected the battery packs to be a bit tighter to the board than they were. This led to quite a few breaking a solder joint, which made them unstable as moving the battery pack would and did cause the power to cut, turning the device off. This is a simple fix, as it just involves re-soldering the pins and securing the loose end of the battery pack with hot glue or similar. I have a whole bag of V2s that broke in this manner that I need to repair, but thankfully I made quite a large amount and was able to sell somewhere around 80 of the badges. I haven’t gone through and done a full inventory of what I have left, so exact numbers will have to wait.

There were a few super-minor issues with the programming that will be addressed, and I’ll go through those here. First, when an SD card is inserted, but the card load fails, the badge will continually attempt to reload the SD card. This only came up with some V2 badges that had issuess accessing the SD card slot, but it would also crop up if a bad SD card was inserted into the device. The second “issue” is that, even with an SD Card loaded, the V2 will restart into badge mode. This will be changed into slideshow mode.

As far as money is concerned, it was essentially a wash. As far as everything else goes? Well, the response I received from people was fantastic. People loved the idea, and I ran out of sellable items. Going by sales numbers, if I hadn’t run into the issues I had, it’s entirely possible we’d have broke even, even after adding the additional cost of the pendant – Products that weren’t even available to sell.

And, for a final bit of good news, Matchfire has been accepted to vend at Nightmare Nights Dallas! I’ll have V2 digibadges there, I’ll have Pendants there, and maybe a new design or two. As I have the core products that I need (V2s and Pendants), I’ll be able to fund some experiments into a V2 “Super” – A larger DigiBadge that has more capabilities. I’m looking into various options for these badges, but at the moment I have my eye on a screen that’s both larger and a touchscreen.

That’s it for now! It was absolutely wonderful to be able to meet with everyone and the response I received was absolutely fantastic. Thank you all for a wonderful weekend, and I’ll keep you posted on updates and information about future products and appearances.

Mid-BronyCon quick update

Hey everyone!

I’m not going to go over much, but BronyCon has beem fantastic! I’m running short on sellable product and fully expect to run out tomorrow. A good problem to have!

In bad news, the battery packs are not as secure as I first thought they would be, leading to broken solder joins. While most, if not all of these can be fixed, I don’t have the tools with me to do so. Additionally, I’ll have to find a good permanent solution – Hot glue, maybe. Perhaps some double-sided tape. Something to keep the battery pack still.

There’s been a significant amount of discussions with people and ideas on what can be improved. I’ll go over that when I’m back at my computer.

Until then, have a great weekend! My thursday sucked, but the weekend has been great for me, and I hope it is for you too!

-Andon