01/30/2020 at 20:45 •
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.
12/30/2019 at 18:38 •
Some quick notes on The Open Book at end of year. First: after a lot of people asked about donations, I made a Patreon page where folks can support the work. But whatever, on to the work itself: rev 4 was a success! The new features (mic shutdown, VBUS monitor, battery full LED) work as expected, and I've updated the Arduino core and the Open Book library with support for the new pinout. I also designed a basic 3D printed enclosure and another in laser-cut wood. Both are compatible with both the Open Book board and the eBook Wing (by rotating the back piece 180 degrees).
I've expanded the custom e-ink driver I've been writing with waveforms for quick refresh, grayscale mode and partial refresh. Improving partial refresh is a TODO item; my current waveform causes temporary ghosting after a while, and I worry it may have negative long-term effects. But I sense that if I add an invert phase to BB and WW it will improve things (at the cost of a little bit of flickering).
Oh! I also trained a TensorFlow Lite model to recognize voice commands on the inline mic, to show my current thinking for future accessibility work. Gives good demo, even if it has trouble with the word "left".
That's accomplishments. Now, a couple of challenges:
- I have noticed a little bit of noise on the mic input when plugged in to USB power, and I think it has to do with the way I'm connecting the USB shield to the ground plane. When I do a revision for manufacturing, I will want to add an RC filter between the USB shield and the ground plane.
- The right-angle buttons for previous and next page feel superfluous, and they're hard to press when the board is in a case. May omit them in the future, since they're relatively pricey.
- On a couple of boards, the Lock button fell off after a while, which tells me there's a mechanical issue there. For now I'm just applying a bunch more solder to keep the right-angle buttons secure, but I need to find some buttons with pegs to alleviate the stress of repeated pressing, or devise some other method for supporting them.
- I'm evaluating some very tiny white right-angle LED's in the hopes of perhaps implementing a front light, though there are some challenges there.
Thanks, everyone, for your kind words and support, and happy new year! See you in the new decade.