5/3/2016 – Kickstarter successful

Just a very quick update.  The Kickstarter was successful, and so most of my time for the next couple of months will be focused on getting those boards out.  I’m not going to be accepting any more “orders” until all the Kickstarter is done, shipped, and those supporters are happy.

The Kickstarter ended up with 23 supporters wanting to get a set of boards, and some have requested extra boards, so the board count is over 600 at this point.  That is far more boards than I ever expected.  Using my back of the napkin calculations, it means that it is approximately 30 pinball machines.

I have been wildly inaccurate in predicting the “normal” mix of boards.  Well, about 50% of the people want the “normal” mix.  Many other supporters want something a little different.  Some have tons of coils, some have tons of switches, some want tons of lights, …  The combinations are mind blowing but luckily spreadsheetable.  (I started with writing stuff in my pinball notebook, and after the first day, switched over to a spreadsheet as a better way to track the info.  Anyway, who wants their pinball “idea” and design notebook filled up with the monotony of orders?

I’ve been working with jab (don’t know if I’m allowed to use his first name, so I’m using his MPF user name) from Mission Pinball Framework.  He has taken the task of moving the platform interface for OPP from MPF 0.21 to 0.30.  His detailed questions about certain aspects of the OPP serial interface insures that others can use the work that the MPF team has already completed, and will not need to talk to the low level interface.  Jab has already pointed out a bug in the version of platform interface that I wrote.  (it did not handle reading the configuration of multiple cards properly.)  We’ve also discussed some enhancements to be added to the firmware so it better supports dual wound coils (flippers)  (They were supported at drive strength of 93.75%, but he would like it to be 100%).  This level of collaboration encourages me because that is the goal of open source projects.  Both collaboration, and enabling others to use your work.

Brian’s interview on Boom Go Podcast is also exceptional.  He explains many aspects of MPF and how they should be used.    There were definitely aspects that I didn’t understand as clearly before versus after hearing the discussion.  One difficulty is there are many different ways that things can be implemented.  Use logic blocks, use shots…they are somewhat interchangeable.  As I get more into MPF, and converting the SS3 code over, I will try to point out what things that I have learned.  The conversion to MPF is on the slow simmer burner as I’m working on the Kickstarter stuff.

4/23/2016 – Received boards

I received the boards on Thursday.  So the boards were ordered on April 8th, and they were received on April 21st, so that is about a 13 calendar day turn if you pay for the more expensive DHL shipping.  That is quite amazing to me.  (The shipping was about $30 as compared to the slower shipping which would be about $20).  I like to give order to receiving times so other people ordering from Iteadstudio can figure out what is the best option for them.

I built up a three of the solenoid boards, tested them, and they worked spectacularly.  Next I built up a couple of the interface boards.  I immediately found out that I messed up the panellization a little bit, and because of the error, I only got 60 good boards instead of the 120 boards I was expecting.  I fixed the issue in the repository, so now the Gerbers for the panellized 1016 board are correct.  Water under the bridge.

I ended up purchasing a stencil for populating the incandescent surface mount board.  I originally was using ohararp.com for my stencils, but they require a you to purchase an 8.5 x 11 inch sheet which is $25 plus shipping.  Since the boards are so small, I started searching around for other options.  I found oshstencils.com which sells stencils on a per square inch basis.  I needed three stencils (top low side switch, top high side switch, and bottom high side switch).  I ended getting all three of these plus a holder for the PCB boards for about $16.  Very good price.  I should be receiving them by the end of this week, and I’ll report on how it works out.

Just added a new benefit to the Kickstarter campaign.  Anybody that pledges at the DIY or Big Spender level will get future orders of boards for 75 cents a board plus $5 shipping.  At that price, the project will still be self sustaining.  I feel that it is the right thing to do reward the original supporters.   I don’t really know how useful that is to people because how many machine is a single person really going to build.  It’s been three years, and I’m still working on the same machine.

I’m building the new boards to replace all the SS3 Gen 1 boards with Gen 2 boards.  I’m not sure if I will have time, but I may take SS3 back to Pintastic this year running on MPF.  It would be a significant amount of work and would involve doing some rewiring, a complete rewriting of the rules, and a lot more testing.  The benefit would be more extensive real world testing, fixing the incandescent bulb interface to not be bit banged on the parallel port, and better testing of the MPF interface.

Did a significant amount of work on the Populating boards document.  It’s getting much closer to being completed, but still needs more info on general wiring playfields.

4/9/2016 – Incandescent Board Testing Complete

Got a little time this week and finished testing the surface mount incandescent board.  I had previously tested the board being populated as a low side switch, but had to go back and test the board as a high side switch.  That involved building another test fixtures, with each of the LED bases tied to ground, and the incandescent board turning on and off the power supply.  It went well and everything worked the first time.

The one nice part of performing this test is that I really needed to think about how the 12V to turn on and off the MOSFET was going to get to each of the cards.  All of the cards have a 12V rail where a wire can be attached to send this voltage to the other wing boards.  That’s nice, but how is the 12V going to get to the first card.  I had an extra pin left over on the ribbon cable between cards, so it makes a lot of sense to use that to carry 12V between all of the different cards.  The only issue left is how does the 12V get attached to the first card.  I added a simple 2 pin 100 mil header so the 12V can be sent to the first card in the chain, then all the other cards get the 12V over the ribbon cable.  Very nice and very clean implementation.

I also found out after hooking multiple cards together that it was difficult to send the data to the first card in the chain.  Three pins of the 4 pin header were used, then the last pin needed to be moved to one of the ribbon cable connections.  Do-able, but very hokey.  I ended up adding a 3 pin header so it is easy to switch between using the 4 pin header, and the ribbon cable connectors.

All the cards needed to be panellized.  I spent a couple of hours over the last few days doing the panellization and running everything through freeDFM which should insure everything will go smoothly when ordering from IteadStudio.  After doing a little math on Friday, I found out that I could actually fit 12 cards in a panel for the interface cards.  Fantastic!   That means that it makes 120 cards per order.  Very efficient.  On Friday night I ordered the three different cards which included solenoid cards, incandescent cards, and interface boards.  I ended up paying for the faster delivery.  (The Kickstarter people deserve it.)

Things are moving quickly.  Gotta finish building the Sultan’s cards, and then it is mostly a waiting game until I get the cards.

4/1/2016, Wasn’t this Kickstarter day?

Yeah, this was the original planned day for the Kickstarter start.  I got sick of holding off on it, so I started it about a week earlier.  The Kickstarter has been funded, so I’m already moving on to updating the solenoid and the interface boards.  I’ve already panellized the new versions of the boards, but I need to test the surface mount incandescent boards before I can send off the order.  I just wanted to take the time on my blog to thank all of the people who have supported the Kickstarter.  When starting the Kickstarter, I wasn’t sure that it was going to get three supporters who wanted cards.  We are past that at this point, which hopefully means that other people find it useful.

My idea behind an open source project was to make sure that others would have access to it and be able to make use of it.  There is no point to an open source project if others don’t use it.  Of course pinball is a niche hobby, and people building their own pinball machines is even a smaller niche of that niche.

There are a bunch of people who read the blog from Australia.  When I picked the shipping countries, the easiest was to pick US, Canada, and the EU.  If the person that reads the blog from Australia/New Zealand, etc,  want cards, send me a note and we’ll figure it out.  (My email address is on the bottom of the About page in this blog).   I’m pretty sure it is about $15 shipping to those places.

Got a chance to play the Hobbit, at Funworld in Nashua, NH on Thursday.  Sorry Joe, I didn’t get a high score, so your initials will not be on the leader board.  (I told you it was unlikely).  The game felt floaty as others have mentioned.  I also got a ball stuck in one of the pop ups.  Evidently the code doesn’t know how to clear that issue, because the glass had to be popped.  It is strange that there are already two Hobbits in southern NH.

I have just updated the firmware for the boards to version 0.1.1.  The biggest fix is it removes debug code that accidentally got left in the build.  It doesn’t affect anyone using MPF and the OPP boards (since they don’t use the non-volatile configuration), but others using the OPP boards in white wood only mode, should update their code.

3/25/2016, Kickstarter is a Go!

That’s about all I have to say.  I’m tired.  I’m going to bed.  Here is my suggestion to anyone wanting to start a Kickstarter campaign with a very low goal…don’t bother.  It is a heck of a lot of work, and is probably easier just to pay for it yourself.

Of course the goal was to see if people are actually interested enough in the project to support it.  If not, I will simply fade away into the ether.

3/15/2016 -One step closer

The package of blank boards got to Mono-drop, and he immediately started building up the cards.  He is the test case to see if others can build OPP boards by themselves.  There was only one problem.  The documentation wasn’t ready.  Turns out that you can mail something from MA to somewhere in the southwest, and it can get there in about 2 days.  I was expecting it to take a little bit longer so I would have time to put the documentation together.  My bad for not having the documentation finished.  Through some email exchanges, he got the wing boards built and attached to the microprocessor card. The great part about this is it forced me to take the pictures necessary to fill out the documentation.  The document is pretty close to finished at this point.  I still need to add information on building the new incandescent boards because depending on if you want high side switches or low side switches depends on how many MOSFETs are populated.

Link to board assembly document:  populateBrd.pdf

So Mono-drop went through the excitement of building up the boards, got them finished, and then immediately asked how to program the boards.  I quickly sent him off a couple instructions on how to get that to work.  He hasn’t gotten back to me yet, but hopefully that went well for him.  Once he finishes those instructions (should take only a minute or two), he should be able to attach the boards to his whitewood and start flipping.  (I hope that happens soon, because it will be great to see another project using the OPP hardware flipping.)

On Saturday (3/12/2016), I received the new version of the incandescent boards.  It took about 4 weeks this time, but I mostly blame that on the Chinese New Year.  (I did get 10% off, which is why the extra week doesn’t bother me).  This was the first time using the panellization from Iteadstudio.  Basically, a v-cut is used to make separating boards easier.  Before I was using a tile saw which worked, but it was very time consuming and not very accurate.  (The wing cards need to sit flush with each other, and there is probably only about 20 mil of tolerance on each card.)  This meant I would tile saw the cards, then use a Dremel tool to shave off more of the card to get closer to the proper size, and finally use sandpaper, to remove the final bit of material.  All said and done, it would take me an hour to cut the cards apart for an order.  With the v-cut, all you need to do is gently flex the board one way, then back the other way a couple of times, and the boards break right apart perfectly.  Very, very nice.  Coming up with a way to separate the boards was the last technical hurdle that needed to be overcome.  Check!

This past weekend, started work on the Kickstarter video.  It is a sad state of affairs when I need to talk in front of a camera.  After spending a couple of hours to get multiple takes on everything that I wanted to say, I’ve currently got about a four and a half minute video.  The goal was a two and a half minute video.  I guess I’m a slow talker.  (I also didn’t take into account the amount of stuttering that occurs).  Showed the raw “can” footage to Joe, and he basically said, well, it needs to be better.  Crap.  Joe says, “I want a comedic intro.”  OK.  He’s going to help me work on that this weekend.  His “Theatre of the Mind” skits are great, so hopefully that will work out.  Note to Joe:  I would have linked to the skits here, but I couldn’t find any location that wasn’t part of a large podcast.

Strangely, he mentioned he never saw a video of SharpeShooter III working.  I went back through my videos, and he is absolutely right, I never took any.  I’m kind of bummed because it was in a good state before Pintastic, and then I tried a bunch of fixes and never put it back together the right way.  I’m planning on replacing all of the incandescent boards in it so I can run them through Mission Pinball Framework.

3/5/2016, Sold Out

Strangely enough, all of my solenoid wing cards are gone at this point.  I never thought that I would see that happen.  When I did my prototype order to make sure that everything looked OK with the cards, I only built about 15 of those cards.  With Joe, MPF, “The Sultan”, the Dolly retheme, and some random guy that I haven’t come up with a name yet (I think that I will call him Mono-Drop…he has a lot of single drop targets in his design).

I had talked to Mono-Drop over a year ago, and it now looks like he is moving forward with his white-wood.  He has parts coming in, so he needs something really simple to drive the solenoids.  He’s getting 3 unpopulated solenoid wing boards so he can drive 12 solenoids.  This is one more test to see if the instructions/pictures for building the boards are accurate enough to have other people populate them.  It will also give one more chance for someone looking at the documentation and seeing if they can make it work.  Mono-Drop is planning to use MPF (mission pinball framework) to drive the machine since he is a mechanical guy, not a programmer.

So where do we go from here.  Nothing is final on this, but I’m planning on doing a small Kickstarter.  The hope is to get enough money to run one more set of boards.  (A full run of interface boards, and solenoid boards).  After all the Kickstarter fees, I need to get pledges for about $60.  You may ask, why even bother with all the hassle of Kickstarter, and just pay the $60 myself.  I look at it as idea validation.  If I can’t get three people to pledge $25 for a set of boards to drive their pinball machine, I should not be wasting all of my time on writing up documentation, blogging, etc.  At that point, I should simply go back to supporting all the people that I’ve met so far.  For $25 (I’m calling the level the “Do it Yourselfer”), the pledger will get up to 20 wing boards which will run most pinball machines.  (I think the Sultan is currently winning for number of boards needed in his machine which ended up being 18, 5 solenoid, 8 incandescent, and 5 interface).  Each “Do It Yourselfer” will get blank boards, and list of parts/part numbers to be purchased from Mouser to build their own boards.  There will be a higher level for around $55, where I will build the cards. (The cost for the parts will have to be paid when number of type of boards is known).  I’m going to limit the number of people that can pledge at that level because I don’t really want to populate cards.  That’s why I designed the cards with all through-hole parts.

My personality is that I would hide the fact that I’m going to do a Kickstarter until the day it starts.  That doesn’t really benefit the campaign because there are probably a good number of people that don’t check in on the blog frequently.  As such, I’ve started reaching out to The Pinball Podcast, and a few others to see if they would mention it sometime next month.  I’ll also do an entry on the Mission Pinball site, but most of those people are mid-development, so they already have their hardware.  The goal is to start the Kickstart on 4/1/2016 and run it for a month.

The last two people (the Sultan, and Mono-Drop) have been willing to build their own cards.  That is a good change.  As of yet, they haven’t built them, but they are basically the test guinea pigs to see if this will work.  I’m sure it will involve a bunch of emails, but if it was anything like Cactus Jack rewiring his playfield, it went rather well.

Now onto the problems I hit this week.  The new high current connectors for the boards use Molex Mini-fit Jr connectors.  They should be cheap because bazillions of them are used for Motherboard connectors.  (It’s those same 20/24 pin connectors that power the motherboard.  I found a good inexpensive version of those connectors and ordered them from Mouser.  Turns out there are two mounting hole patterns for connectors with exactly the same pitch.  The connectors have a 4.2 mm pin pitch.  I’ve been cutting down motherboard connectors, and between the rows, the pin that is soldered to the board is 5.5 mm.  Not really a problem, but 2 pin connectors cost 58 cents instead of 12 cents.  The 6 pin connectors cost 85 cents instead of 16 cents.   Connectors end up being about half the cost of the boards.  Next version of the solenoid board (the one hopefully ordered from the kickstarter campaign) will be changed to use the 4.2mm x 4.2mm parts so it can move to the cheaper connector.