Overcoming Fatigue

A project log for DrumKid: aleatoric drum machine

A lo-fi digital drum machine which uses randomness to create unpredictable beats. Runs on Arduino, with audio provided by the Mozzi library.

Matt BradshawMatt Bradshaw 06/24/2019 at 10:045 Comments

I've hit a bit of a slump with this project so I'm writing a log to try and clarify my thoughts.

I like to think that I'm not the only maker whose shelves are littered with half-finished projects. Initial ideas are exciting, and that excitement often propels me as far as an initial proof-of-concept build, but then the grind of iterating the design kicks in and that often causes me to give up. "DrumKid" has already surpassed the vast majority of my previous projects, in that I've created several breadboard versions, a stripboard version, and two PCB versions, as well as a 3D-printed case. This is something to be proud of, and yet, paying-the-bills work has pushed DrumKid development off my immediate list of priorities, and the Hackaday Prize deadline is steadily moving closer. What to do?

At the start of this project, I promised myself I would take the simplest route where possible. Getting bogged down with power management, amplification, and case design has taken me away from the super-simple design I was imagining. It's time to be brutal and come up with a simple, bare-bones product. My mentoring session gave me some really good tips about how to simplify the circuit design, and now I think I have a good plan for simplifying the case design - by not building one.

A friend bought me a Pocket Operator drum machine for Christmas. This instrument is made by Teenage Engineering, who seem to specialise in stripped-down design. The Pocket Operator is simply a single PCB, with buttons, knobs, and a display on the front, and batteries on the back. All the other components appear to be hidden under the display.

Pocket Operator drum machine by Teenage Engineering - possible inspiration for my next prototype

If I can design DrumKid in a similar way, I think that would solve a lot of my problems. Since I'm using fairly chunky through-hole components, I might need to use two PCBs (separated by stand-offs), one for the interactive components (buttons, knobs, LEDs) and one for the "other stuff". I might also need some sort of covering to prevent fingers touching sensitive circuitry.

I like the aesthetic of the Pocket Operator, too - it's simple and utilitarian, but playful at the same time. I'm going to do a few sketches and see how practical it is to make a DrumKid prototype in a similar style.


Ken Yap wrote 06/25/2019 at 00:37 point

I think you're beating yourself up too much. Sure it's good to aim high but don't forget to have fun which is more important than winning a prize let alone selling (which comes with its own problems). There's always next year.

My projects are useless to even myself for the most part. I don't have a lot of things I want to make or control. I enjoy the challenge of the design process so I like reading the great ideas here and new (to me) parts that I might just be able to use some day. It's a good day if I have learnt something new or interesting.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Matt Bradshaw wrote 06/25/2019 at 05:55 point

You're quite right, fun is the most important thing! I guess what I was trying to say was that this project was fun at the start, and I'd like to find a way past my current problems so that it can be fun again. Yesterday was a good day because I think I figured out how to do that, even if it did require me writing a whiny blog post to work through my thoughts!

  Are you sure? yes | no

Ken Yap wrote 06/25/2019 at 06:00 point

Just sit it out for a while, maybe do other projects. One day you will have a light bulb turn on above your head and you'll plunge back into it with renewed interest.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Matt Bradshaw wrote 06/25/2019 at 08:44 point

Heading to Glastonbury festival tomorrow, maybe inspiration will strike there ;)

  Are you sure? yes | no

Ken Yap wrote 06/25/2019 at 10:01 point

Have a great time. 🎶 You'll find that the brain is unconsciously working on the problem and an unrelated fact or story may give you the inspiration you need.

  Are you sure? yes | no