On How To Get There From Here

A project log for The Open Book Feather

An open hardware reading device rooted in Adafruit's Feather ecosystem

joey-castillojoey castillo 01/30/2020 at 20:450 Comments

This last week has been crazy. Overwhelming, even. The Open Book was named the winner of the Take Flight with Feather contest, and I had an opportunity to demonstrate some of its functionality on the Adafruit Show and Tell. There seems to be a lot of excitement about the project! Yet I feel that something is getting lost in the conversation — and to be perfectly honest, maybe that’s on me. I’ve always envisioned this as a DIY project, an ebook you build yourself, like a Jedi building their first Lightsaber. Ever since the contest, people keep asking “when is the book coming” and there’s a part of me that feels like hey, it’s here, if you want it!

At the same time, if I take a step back, I have to admit that actually building the book involves some knowledge and skills that may be unfamiliar or even scary to folks. I know this because a year ago, I didn’t have many of these skills. As of last May, the book looked like this: 

The only part I soldered myself was the board atop the board on the left; it’s a few buttons and some wires. Eventually, I decided I had to design a circuit board (more learning), and eventually ended up with the E-book Wing in July:

There’s a clear jump here. That first prototype was just through-hole buttons and wires. The wing involves a lot of surface mount stuff. And the Open Book board is an even bigger build, with more surface mount and fine-pitched parts.

Anyway, the point is, something happened in between: I did some other, smaller projects, to gain experience with these techniques. Not going to list them all, but one milestone was the Hiking Log FeatherWing, which was a few surface mount parts: 

Another was the Simple Feather, which was a lot of surface mount parts: 

With each project, I was able to try these techniques on a small board that didn’t cost as much, and gain confidence and experience. Which is all by way of saying, if I’m being honest with myself, there was a time when I could not have built the Open Book, and if I’m going to say “You can build it,” maybe I need to take you along on the journey.

So here’s the thought process: in the coming weeks, I want to document all the little projects that I’ve done over this past year. Make them into little single-serving guides, things you can build and find useful (a computerized bike light, or a GPS data logger for camping). The goal is for each one to teach some aspect of the skills needed to build the Open Book at the other end.

We’re going to get this first run of 100 made, and I’m hopeful that there’ll be more after that, but in the end the point of this wasn’t to make a thing that you can buy, it was to make a thing that you can make. Even if you don’t think you can make it today.