Wednesday, October 26, 2016

We Have Liftoff

A dozen confirmed orders for Holocrons now. I'm now a full employee at the job I've been at for over a year, health bennies, company iPhone and all. And I've been playing Kerbal Space Program, which went on Steam sale the same day the 1.2 update was released.

On the latter, I've managed Kerbin orbit (using fairly minimal tech...mostly early solid-fuel boosters). And returned, which was trickier; I'd burned all my fuel reaching orbit but fortunately apokerb brushed the very fringes of atmosphere. After a few orbits my velocity had decayed enough for me to re-enter.

I think I've solved the majority of the mechanical problems in the Holocron. I do need to hop to it on a couple of software tweaks before I ship, however.

Oh, yeah. And work just sped up a little. We've got a couple of big orders and the parts for them just arrived today. As I'm fighting with a cold and sleeping 10 hours a night...but otherwise feel great, better than in months. Years even. I may have to park the car again and go back to walking to work...

Monday, October 24, 2016

Do I hafta draw youse a diagram?

Making a sketch really helps. If you can draw well enough (I can't) you can use it to communicate with a client or a co-worker.

When you are using it to figure out something, though, all it needs to be is clear enough so you can read it yourself.

I made a few dozen sketches of Holocron ideas before I finally found the idea I was able to take through Inkscape, laser, and assembly of a prototype:

I made hundreds of sketches, mostly by hand but to-scale with the aid of graph paper, on how the thing assembled. But technical work is not the only place where a sketch is nice to clarify your thoughts:

The above is actually the only plan I had to organize the big fight in the Abbington Estate a chapter or two back in my current fanfic. I can pretty much puzzle out what I meant now...I think the lower left is Zip up in Lara's room searching for her guns, center right is Teal'c hiding Alister and the injured Winston behind the Tiger painting in the Blake Room, with the Hall of Armor on the right fork of the passage, and of course at center is the Great Hall which serves as hub for every game that lets you explore the mansion, and the more spectacular moments of the fight in the (first) Tomb Raider movie.

And then there's this:

This is me trying to make any sort of sense of the Deep Time of the setting. The vertical axis more-or-less corresponds to time (logarithmically) and depth in the Earth (for some parts of the diagram). Essentially, the first Ancient culture was on Earth in the 2-200 MYA range, and among their other activities built Core Taps (essentially using a volcanic vent as a power source) -- many along the Ring of Fire.

Following the Wraith War (not to be confused with the Unknown Entity summoned up by Amanda's "Wraith Stone") a small number of Ancient survivors, now called Lanteans, come back to Earth. This is canonically at 10 KYA, which is problematic as the first Goa'uld (who later calls himself the Sun God, Ra) also canonically arrives on Earth about that time. One of them tinkers up the Asterion at Thera, built on top of the Core Tap there. If you look closely you might be able to make out a bull's head and a "clue" of thread in my scratchy diagram.

If I had the space, the diagram might have indicated things like the Elder Dryas, the first human migrations into the Americas, the Toba eruption, etc. There are a lot of odd things going on around that period! Canonically (according to the games this time), the surviving Lantean "triumvirate" on Earth breaks up, with Natla imprisoned in a stasis tube and Qualopec and Tihocan going off on solo careers as, eventually, mad old gods to early Central Americans and some sort of (possibly Mycenean) proto-greco-romans.

Roll forward to 3,000 BCE; Ra is overthrown, and the first historical Egyptian dynasties start up (no word on what the Assyrians or Sumerians thought about all this). Horus remains and is still wandering the Earth up through the Bronze Age collapse (witnessing the Thera eruption close-hand), at last getting stuck in a canopic jar sometime around the Amarna period of the Egyptian New Dynasty.

Some Lanteans may still be hanging around, whispering into Plato's ear (or perhaps Solon's). And to Iron Age "Celts," as well, giving rise to some of the Arthurian legend as well. Plus donating Excalibur, and continuing to use the Ring Transporter-like Travel Dias system established in various remote corners of the world (and possibly on others as well...wherever it is that some of the events of Tomb Raider: Underworld actually take place!) Others are off Earth, eventually either dying off or Ascending, but before that join for a time in a great league with the Asgard, the Nox, and the Furlings. The last have never been heard of since.

In 1945 the Trinity test frees Natla, who in due time seeks out and is successful in finding the three parts of the Atlantean Scion. Which is lost when another of the Ancient core taps blows up as did Thera, taking out Lost Island (which the games do not give a clear location for -- and as it is clearly either analog to or part of lost Atlantis, can be defensibly placed anywhere that amusingly mobile island-slash-continent has been placed by writers since Plato).

About this time the Stargate is being moved from Giza (having been uncovered in 1938), and Ernest Littlefield uses it in the post-war years. It is seen in a Federal storage facility outside of Washington in 1968, and finally fetches up at Cheyenne Mountain when Ernest's fiancé gets the program restarted. Of course we know what happens then!

And, no; not all of that is in the diagram. Mostly I have Lara, who has joined with unknown reason with psuedo-archaeologist Commander Newberry in his Landmaster-like "Ark III," (the diagram wrongly shows it with the funky tri-wheel arrangement) who may be stumbling on something Amanda left for them to find that may have something to do with the Ancient core taps that either Horus or Natla or the Asgard were investigating...

I think I've worked out my current plotting woes to the point where Amanda wrote a "Hello, Sweetie" message in some extremely obscure ancient tongue (possibly late-period Lantean) on the back of an artifact with equally obscure markings, which Newberry found and which attracted Lara to his dig in New Mexico. Amanda's message points towards Mount Shasta but also leads Lara into focus range of the Green Sun concentrator solar power plant -- which Natla Industries built, on properly previously leased by a wildcat drilling operation she blatantly named "Qualopec Oil Prospectors."

I did make one big mistake choosing Roswell as my starting point for the "Lara in the Midwest" chapters, though. White Sands, and most specifically the Trinity site, are a little too far away to properly explain whatever it was that Natla has been digging for in the Roswell area.

Saturday, October 22, 2016


I finished the Stolen B prototype today and opened up the thread at the RPF to start taking orders.

(Top image is the completed "Stolen B," including a prototype assembly of the final lighting diffusor, support structure, and circuit with USB jack. Bottom image is a mock-up using borrowed "Temple" shell and the lighting module from the "Stolen B" to show off the combination of "Guardian" diffusion and "Gallifrey" circuit layers.)

The above is also why I spent a few minutes today developing a BOM with parts numbers just so I could keep track of all the pieces properly. Here's the BOM for the design I've been showing off in earlier posts:

20.1 “Stolen A," assembled
0.1.31 “Stolen” shell set Top Side (3 pieces) USB Side Bottom
0.1.41 “Counselor” diffusion set Diffuse top Diffuse side (3 pieces) Diffuse side USB Diffuse bottom
0.1.51 “Circuit 2” set (6 pieces)
0.1.61 “Standard” diffusion cube set diffusion cube top diffusion cube side (4 pieces)
0.1.62 Support set support top support side (4 pieces)
0.1.71 “Revision 3” electronics package “Revision 2” neopixel board USB jack Standard LiPo Capsense wire Magnet (4 pieces)

Tomorrow I'll probably solder up another couple boards, and scrounge and adapt from my discards pile to complete the "Temple," "Stolen A," and "Imperial Archives" prototypes. I need two Holocron gifts so at least two of those are going away (I can't see those particular ones, as they don't quite meet my standards for shippable product.)

Yes...working at a company that makes precision audio equipment has tainted me. I think in terms of QA and Reliability Testing and BOMs and MAI's now. But I need to; despite my original intention of making the cheapest possible kit that was also as smooth and simple to assemble as I could make it, the realities of the core design elements of the "Stolen" fork has produced a design that has a lot of individual parts and requires a fair amount of finicky work to assemble.

Now all I need is to add a proper tracking system for revisions...

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Out with the old, on with the new...


Yesterday was productive. Checks have arrived, bounced back from sick (after getting even sicker, that is), I finally did the "Gallifrey" circuit design for the Holocron and drew up my big attempt at the "Guardian" diffusion layer. Old-school; worked with ink (and lots of opaque white) on a drafting board because working through a graphics program was constraining my choices in the wrong ways.

While I was shopping for a new technical pen to complete the above I got an idea how to make the Wraith Stone work.

I've been pondering for months various schemes of multiple castings or fills to get the green inclusions. Well, after seeing some "ebony" Rub n' buff at the art store, I finally made the paradigm shift to accept casting the whole thing in translucent green, painting out the rest of the model, and dealing with the less-than-perfect way paint will interact with the internal lighting.

And actually, if I go clear instead of translucent color (using the LEDs to provide the color) I may be able to omit a casting stage and use the printed model straight.

So, yeah, I'm all inspired on this one now. I also came around on the qualities of the raised edge; a hand-worked look and resulting variation of thickness is fine. So cut the basic form from MDF then build up the details in Apoxie Sculpt. It's going to be built at about 3-up, scanned, and then printed to the actual smaller scale so not that painful to get the details clean enough.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Bass Canards

Passed the worst of it. Money came into my Paypal. Then my late paycheck arrived. I put in a full day at work. And I mailed off the latest set of M40 grenades. I even got a little fiddle practice in.

One of the reasons I've been behind on the fiddle practice is I've been using my breaks to tinker with an acoustic experiment. I bet I could get it declared a "20 percenter." Considering we do, well, acoustic design at work. Or rather, the company does. I reload coffee machines.

So what I built was an experimental Cajon. These are drums made in the form of (and historically, from) wooden boxes. Because of the nature of the sounding surface (or tapa), there are a variety of different sounds that one can get from one, including a reasonable approximation of the basic kick-tom-snare setup.

I was cutting from scrap wood, so I used slightly smaller and non-standard dimensions. But what I really wanted to explore was the idea of porting.

See, the box itself functions as a Helmholz Resonator. Not the perfect spherical one, however. Like a guitar body, the acoustics are a complex blend of the air mass inside the volume of the cavity communicating with the outside through the tone hole and modified by the flexible materials making up the body itself. This is even more complex in a cajon as one side of the box is the drum head itself -- which has specific resonance modes itself (multiple modes, in fact, with different combinations of strength of the various nodes excited depending on where the surface is struck).

According to a university acoustics lab experiment I read, even though the 0,0 node of the tapa is around 110 Hz, there exists a second peak of acoustic energy of the cavity. They were studying how this is modified by changing the diameter of the tone hole.

Well, I thought I'd see if I could emphasize low frequencies by using a cabinet design trick; by porting the hole. Adding a tube extension essentially lowers the emphasized frequency. This, at least, can be readily calculated. I didn't bother, as I was making this from available scrap. Instead I simply experimented.

Adding the port instantly cut much of the supporting resonance in the 200-400 hz range. Which is where the strongest most characteristic strike tone had been. It brought in a new peak of strongly boosted frequencies centered at about 50 Hz for the tube length shown above. The wadding (which I added to before closing the box) was designed and effectively did muffle most of the original "box" tone, leaving almost nothing but the "slap" of hand on wood and a deep powerful thump much like that you'd get from a good kick drum.

Unfortunately another part of the experiment was not as successful. It did not seem possible to selectively reduce the damping (and the effect of the porting) to allow richer, more tom-like tones in other strike zones. Nor was I entirely happy with the "slap" of the loose edge I designed for a snare-like effect (too woody, although it did have a good slap. I can put more sizzle in by adding guitar string under it, but I'm afraid this might be audible in the "kick" as well).

If and when I get back to this (I saved a few other pieces of scrap wood) the next experiment is going to be making a bongo-cajon but using partial baffles instead of airtight partitioning. I'll see how the two air volumes communicate and interact.

A little more on-line research and I found some good technical discussion at a Cajon builder's forum. And, yes, the porting trick is well known -- there's a pair intersection between Cajon builders and speaker builders. There's also a style of Cajon playing (and building) that aims for a close approximation of kick-and-snare (and, somehow, hat). 

But I find I side with the larger community in that I miss the "wooden" tone of the classical Cajon. That is, the 200-400 Hz range which my ported and damped experiment specifically reduced. However, based on a slightly better understanding of the underlying math (one day I'll get around to reading the rest of that book I have on musical acoustics) I've decided to pre-calculate the dimensions (particularly the critical sound hole dimension) of the planned Bongo Cajon.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


Come out into the sunlight; it's just beyond the rain
come walk with me in daylight, and leave behind the pain
in the darkest of the night, there is still a light, it's coming with the day --
so leave behind your midnight; today's a brand-new day

A while ago I was working on a mock-up soundtrack to an imaginary B-movie. Above is meant as the English translation of the Cantonese lyrics of the obligatory up-beat canto-pop end titles track.

I've been pushing for a while to get the Holocrons ready to sell. One of the side effects was putting in shorter hours at work -- whilst simultaneously spending money on materials and other related Holocron costs. This caught up bad this week, leaving me too short to even get groceries.

I just caught a nasty bug (feels like one of those nasty three-day flu's that put you flat on your back for two of those days). Got bad enough I had to go home early today and may need to take tomorrow off as well. Which is really awful timing as we've got a couple big orders coming in at work and this is only my second week as full employee. Looks bad, is what I'm saying.

My paycheck didn't show up today, either. Only thing that did show up was a notice from my landlord that he's going to pop a surprise inspection on everyone tomorrow. Yeah, tomorrow -- with the place littered from trying to complete those dratted holocrons while starting a full-time job with a new level of responsibility and being too broke to afford even paper towels and when I'm so sick I can barely stand up (fat chance of doing some whirlwind cleaning tonight!)

So, yeah, this is a low. Even more irritating in that my newer and bigger paychecks start arriving on Friday, I'll be able to afford the car repairs by the weekend, I just rented out some audio gear for the equivalent of two weeks at my old pay rate, and I have over a dozen people posting the "Take my money, dammit" gif for completed holocrons (and doesn't hurt at all that I have already purchased the material for a half-dozen of them).

So I just need to get through a few more days...

Friday, October 7, 2016

I saw a pocket watch

That pretty much sums up the current direction of Fusion360.

Fusion is a great ap, and the new pricing schedule is actually affordable. But it does have it's peccadilloes. Chief among them being that it is being revised and revamped so frequently there are no current manuals or online help sources or other instructions that actually apply to the real program (they all reference buttons, functions, or entire modes of employ that got taken out several program versions ago).

This updating is, also, forced. On at least three occasions I've had a deadline -- I had to finish a model and I only had a few hours to do so -- but Fusion360 (unlike every other, intelligent, application) makes updates mandatory. Stop work and wait for their extremely slow server (two hours wait to download the latest update, not infrequently). No, you can't work in the background. No, you can't put it off. No, you can't even "fool" it by turning off wifi -- because Fusion360 is so damned cloud-minded all of your data files become inaccessible when you go offline. No matter where you try to force their storage.

So the latest update pushed through (along with the ominous warning that the next update will require an OS update, forcing me to use an OS with known and serious flaws), and it took even longer to start working. The side panel where all of my files are accessed stayed blank for a frighteningly long time, and when I hovered the mouse over it.......

....I got a watch face.

Anyone who knows anything about the Mac OS flees in terror at this point. You should NEVER be that deep into legacy cruft where you see the watch face. It basically means some programmer screwed up bad.