Weekly Update – August 19, 2017

And we’re back!

This week was great. Absolutely fantastic. Let’s get started.

First up, on Tuesday I received the prototype PCBs of the DigiBadge Mini. I wasted no time and assembled everything and got to testing it.

Everything worked. The first* time (*Except for me forgetting to change sketch defaults to correct pins). SD card works. Buttons work. Screen works. Flash memory works. Obviously, the ATMega works. Hell, even the card detector works, and that’s a particularly fiddly piece to solder by hand. I haven’t really begun doing much coding for it due to my day job’s work schedule this week, but I should be able to do some things with it next week. I plan on making some of the things that are common between the Mini and the Standard (Such as the Pride Flags and Badges) more compatible by removing hard coded things and having them compute sizes based off of screen size. That’ll likely take a while, though.

Throughout the week, I was communicating with my contact at the PCB manufacturer. I’ll share two bits of information that I think are exceptionally cool: First, there’s hope for a new screen for the DigiBadge Standard. It’s a little larger, at 2.4 inches, but it also may have a touch screen. And its driver chip is compatible with the ESP8266. I have been told that the screen can be acquired, but minimum quantities are still unclear. It may not work out, but it’s something.

Second, the price for purchasing and assembling the Minis is less than I expected it to be. Granted, they haven’t found a supplier for the 1.8″ screens, and I may need to put those on myself, but it’s still a better price than I was calculating. This means that I should be able to purchase more for Nightmare Nights in October.

That’s it for this week. I’ll be back with more next week – Early next week I plan on making a post detailing the costs of getting to and selling at Nightmare Nights, and what sort of things I plan on doing to raise that money. And then, of course, at the end of the week I’ll update you on the other things that happened.

Until then, you can find me on DiscordTwitter, or Facebook.

BronyCon 2017 Marketplace (And other updates!)

With only a week and a half until BronyCon, things are going quickly here.

First up, BronyCon posted their Marketplace map and listings. You can find that information here. I will be at Artist’s Alley Booth #33, with the occasional appearance by Alabaster. He’s also on staff for the convention, so he’ll be wearing multiple hats.

I also have the artwork that will be going on to the Art Cards for BronyCon:

Three of those are by Sophie Scruggs (Facebook, Twitter, Website) and the other three are by LeekFish (Facebook, Twitter, Website). Sophie’s badges are adapted from larger-scale prints that she’ll have available at Booth #407. LeekFish’s art was custom-made for these badges, but you can still head over and compliment her work at Booth #224, where she’ll be with the My Dreamy Star crew.

I also received word that the DigiBadges have been shipped from the assembly facility, and should be arriving here tomorrow. Now, there WAS a slight issue with them, but that’s a bit of my fault. Somehow, the Micro USB connector never made it on to the Bill of Materials. What does this mean? Well, the facility never bought the parts, and never put them on the boards. At this point, the time that it would take to have them do it would make the boards arrive AFTER BronyCon – A bad thing, obviously. So I’m going to have to purchase and solder on the Micro USB connectors by hand. Not the hardest thing to do, but still time consuming. It’s something that’s easily rectified for future orders.

That’s all for now. I’m going to put the “Weekly Updates” on hold until after BronyCon, and will just update as things happen. As always, you can catch me on Discord, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

Weekly Updates – July 15 & 29, 2017

So, apparently, I forgot to write an update last week. Oops.

The past two weeks, not a ton has happened. Mostly, it’s been answering e-mails from the PCB manufacturer about the boards, but I’ve also grabbed a few addressable LEDs from Amazon and have been fiddling with them on an ATTiny84. Between those and some photoresistors, I’m starting to come up with an idea for re-imagining the LED Pendant concept from ages ago.

Instead of using the three-color RGB system for the LEDs, I’ve been using the HSV color system. This is a much nicer system for LEDs, as it allows for super easy tweaking of the brightness of the LED without changing the color. Additionally, as the hue is determined by a single number, it’s very simple to have the color selected by a single variable. Such as, say, a potentiometer or a photoresistor. The addressable LEDs also have a large advantage in that they only need a single pin to control a large number.

My current thought for the LED Pendant is six LEDs, each paired with a photoresistor. The light input on these photoresistors will determine the color of the paired LED. However, I’m not 100% set on this method, and there’s a number of other things I want to try before making a commitment to one design.

There’s not much else for the past two weeks. As said, mostly it’s just waiting. The V3 boards are in the process of being manufactured and it seems that they’re “Close” to being finished, but I’m not 100% sure on when they’ll be done and shipped.

As always, you can catch me on Discord, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

Weekly Update – July 8, 2017

I had half of a thing typed out, but that was last night before I got the latest PCBs to test. And then, today, I had a friend’s wedding to go to, so I forgot to write anything in the morning.

However, there is good news! After a bit of bungling and several strokes of luck in a row, I managed to independently test every component of the PCBs. Good news is they work. Bad news is, I would like to fiddle some more, but I don’t have time. Total lead time from order is about four weeks, which means I have to order on Monday. No exceptions. It’s a little bit frightening. As each individual piece works, I’m not worried about the device not working. There are a few quirks that I’d rather not have, but they’re largely unavoidable.

First up is the boost regulator. These things have been the bane of my existence for an age. They’re small, symetrical, and hard to tell which pin is pin 1. So, unsurprisingly, many of them that I soldered on, were backwards. I ended up with two left, and with some spare PCBs I decided I’d put one on one way, and one the other. In the end, I managed to solder them both on the same way. Backwards. I was in the process of starting to attempt to remove one when I saw, lying on my work table, a little six-pin IC. I picked it up, looked at it, and while it could have been one or two other devices I’d used in the past with a similar pin configuration and size, I HAD managed to lose one of the regulators earlier. So, I shrugged, mostly guessed as to which pin was pin one, and soldered it on.

Turns out, it was the regulator, and it was in the correct orientation. Super lucky! The regulator works, but has one significant flaw – When disabled, it allows the battery voltage through. This is annoying because raw battery voltage IS enough to power the ESP module, but I can program the ESP to go into a deep sleep until the ATTiny tells it that it’s supposed to be awake.

I also had issues with the soldering SD slot on one device (Something went wrong with the other and I haven’t been able to get anything to upload to it). As with the boost regulator, I had used up all of my existing components. So, I improvised.

On the left: The designed SD card slot.
On the right: Don’t judge me, it works.

The one on the left has some issues with assembly that I couldn’t figure out, making it so that I was unable to upload code. The one on the right functions except for a missing boost regulator. The SD slot is an extra from the V2s, but it couldn’t lie flat due to the SD card’s decoupling capacitor. Somehow, the pins line up and it works. This will let me build the code for the final version while I wait for them to arrive.

There are a number of minor and insignificant tweaks to the PCB that I need to make, but those are primarily things on the silkscreen. Aside from putting in a trace to tie one of the ATTiny’s GPIOs to the board reset, there are no design changes.

Now, for other news!

I mentioned previously that Matchfire will be undergoing a name change. I’ve finally decided what that name will be. It’s going to take some time to implement – I’m not certain when it’ll go into effect and there’s a bunch of paperwork to do. In all likelihood, it’ll happen after BronyCon but before Nightmare Nights. I also currently don’t have a replacement logo, but I have commissioned one. You’ll see it pretty much as soon as it is done.

Oh, right. You probably want to know the name. Well, here you go!

Phoenixborn Technologies

Why Phoenixborn Technologies? Well, one, I like phoenixes. It also loosely ties into matches and fire, so there’s some connection. I also chose to swap out “Electronics” for “Technologies” both due to shortening (IE, Phoenixborn Tech) and the fact that not everything I deal with will be electronics. I will still primarily deal with electronics (It IS what I do best), but there’s space for plenty of other things under a “Technologies” umbrella.

I look forward to working as Phoenixborn Technologies. There will be warning as to when things change over to the new name – I need to take care of legal paperwork and other information before then. The Discord channel will stay the same, and if you follow the Facebook page or the Twitter feed you won’t have to worry about the name changes. However, for the latter two, the link to them will change.

Until next week!

 

Weekly Update: June 17&24, 2017

Two weeks in one? What gives, Andon?

Well, last week I was waiting for circuit boards to arrive, and didn’t touch any coding. So there’s that update.

This week’s a little late (Note that I’m writing this on Sunday the 25th…), in part because I was doing a bunch of things early in the week and also in part because I didn’t get the circuit boards until about mid week.

It turns out, the ESP8266 is significantly more sensitive to things like trace interference and signal disruption than ATMega328s. I know, what a surprise. The ESP8266 is running at 160MHz, and the ATMega328s on the V2 run at 8MHz. A 20x increase in run speed affects a lot, and the boards had a few design things that, well, shouldn’t be done.

Between yesterday and today, I managed to, hopefully, isolate the problem, with GREAT thanks to MintShard on Discord. Mint ran me through several tests and questions, and I was able to figure out how to get the board to start reliably.

Prototype 4 has quite a few changes from Prototype 3. Primarily, the trace width has been increased from a hair above 0.2mm to 0.254mm, and spacing between traces has been increased from 0.1mm to 0.15mm. Wider traces mean clearer signals, and more spacing means that there’s less around the traces to cause noise on the lines. Additionally, several traces – Primarily, the backlight traces, the culprit for the issues I was having – have been re-routed and their components moved to avoid anything running parallel on both the top and bottom side of the boards. The Backlight traces were running parallel to the traces for SPI MOSI, MISO, and CLK along with GPIO0, and from what Mint and I could figure out, this was preventing the ESP module from reading its own flash reliably and thus, it wouldn’t boot up. The final change to P4 over P3 is that the single GPIO header has been split to two separate headers. This allows for fewer traces to make cross-board marathons, as the ESP pins are close to the ESP, and the ATTiny pins are close to the ATTiny. Two other changes were also made to the GPIO headers. First, as they are broken out in the ATTiny’s ICSP header, the I2C lines and ATTiny’s GPIO3 have been omitted from the other headers. If you want to use them, you’ll need to use the ICSP header for it, so plan accordingly. Additionally, the ESP8266’s TX and RX lines, along with the DTR and RTS pins for the CP2102, have been broken out. This is primarily for my own benefit, as my reflow oven (Or perhaps my solder paste) doesn’t like to reflow properly, making it next to impossible to solder the CP2102 onto the board. Instead, I’ve been using an external CP2102 board, but that requires a few things being hacked on in places that aren’t really a good idea. I’ve already pulled a pad off, but luckily it was still attached to the trace and soldering a new resistor on is holding it in place. For now.

In Non-DigiBadge related news, I’ve embarked on a bit of a personal project. It’s ended up being far more complicated than it really needs to be, but oh well, it’s been fun. I’ve purchased an RC tank off of Amazon, and am now completely gutting the thing and replacing everything. The original design had a super-weak airsoft “cannon” that wouldn’t be able to fire through wet toilet paper, so I pulled that out. I intend on replacing it with a laser of some kind – Maybe just a standard diode, but the potential for a higher powered, longer-range, and potentially baloon-popping/paper burning laser is there. I’m also working on making the turret rotate via a stepper motor, and I’m replacing the motors that drive the treads with motors that’ll allow me to put encoders on them. This will let me have better control of speed and steering.

Other modifications will include a longer-range transmitter/receiver, which can theoretically go up to 1-1.5 miles (In a straight line, nothing blocking, etc. You know how it works), along with a camera transmitter setup so I can see what the thing is doing a mile and a half away. I don’t actually expect to go that far, as there’s no sidewalks or other safely traversable things nearby and despite it being shaped like a tank, it’s tiny. It can’t go overland. Maybe in some recently mowed grassy areas, but it is most definitely an indoor toy.

Anyway, that’s all for these two weeks. I should be getting the updated PCBs later this week. We’ll see how terrible of a job I did on them as well. As always, you can catch me over on Discord, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

V2 Case Complete, and other updates

Greetings, everyone!

At long last, I can finally say that the V2 case has been sent to VooDoo for manufacturing, and it’ll be somewhere between two and three weeks before I receive the full run. I apologize for all of the delays up to this point, and while some of them were unavoidable I know that people have been waiting since July for these. The case itself will be $10, and will be available on our web store as soon as we get them in. Our initial production run is in Black and Blue, and we’ll be adding other colors when we order more. If you want a different color and have a 3D printer, we’ll be offering the STL files for sale as well. Price is yet to be finalized on those so I won’t give you a price just for it to change.

As for other updates, we’re changing the way we’re approaching conventions.

We went to BronyCon and had a blast. Despite some technical issues with a significant amount of the V2s, it was a place we could easily make back the money spent at, especially because it’s my local convention. Going to Nightmare Nights was great fun, but in the end we didn’t make money, for a number of reasons. And regardless of the fun, if you’re losing money you have to figure out why and change it. We figured out we could, theoretically, make a profit from conventions, IF we had a significantly larger variety of things to sell, along with a few other IFs and guesses. But even then, the profit margin would be very low.

Unfortunately, electronics are expensive to produce and transport, and then there’s the significant costs of getting to, staying at, and returning from a convention. Plus the hassle of all of the paperwork for selling in various states. What we’re going to do going forward is look into finding interested parties to resell DigiBadges and cases at conventions they’re going to. We’re still looking into who to work with for this, so I can’t state anything for certain.

We do intend on going back to BronyCon, and perhaps a few other conventions within easy travel distance, but hopefully with a partnership or two we’ll be able to vastly increase our availability while not spending all of our money getting there.

And for our final update, the V3 is being re-designed.

Again. Yes. I’ve read, re-read, looked at others’ interpretations, and made my own judgements on the FCC regulations regarding wireless communication devices. I feel comfortable in using a pre-designed device, in specific the ESP-12E, to drive the V3 and future DigiBadges. This ESP8266 module is available for a little less than the ATMega328 that I’m currently using, and it also allows for wifi usage and has a built-in flash memory chip – A very similar one to the ones I was planning on using. Additionally, the ESP8266 is more powerful than the ATMega328, and I’ve seen it displaying animated images and images in formats other than 24-bit BMP images. In all, it’ll simplify the design while also adding more capabilities. While the wifi will be disabled by default to save power, it will be there for others to use, along with the IO pins. While the IO pins on the ESP8266 are fewer than what is available on the ATMega328, it’s still more than the zero available on the V2.

And that’s all for today, folks. Sorry about the silence, but holiday times are busy times at my main job this time of year and I’ve also been busy with a few other things. I’ll post more updates when I get them!

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