What a journey it's been. Back in September/October, it was all just a joke. And now it's a real thing. A heavy, buzzing, whirring, rock-solid Thing.
Yosvape is done. The world's first Internet-enabled, microprocessor-controlled, IRC-connected vaporizer has been built. It is fullly functional, electrically safe, and I am proud of the design, construction methods, and attention to detail. Some holes are crooked, some edges jagged, but I know each and every one. I know this device inside and out. The 31 hertz rattle of the heater as it warms up, the slight dip in PSU fan speed as preheat kicks in...it's all unique. There is no other device on Earth exactly like this one.
So, what did I learn?
Project management. In a big way. Allocating time. Setting milestones. Figuring out subdivision of labor. Dependency charts!
Budgeting. Donation soliciting. Parts sourcing from China and the US. Negotiating with vendors.
Electronically, I learned a lot. Why MOSFETS are > BJT's for power switching. What's gate capacitance? What is SPI? How does a thermocouple work?
Electromechanical and fab stuff. How do you size a heater for a given airflow and output temp? How do you drill a hole in a borosilicate glass tube? What's the best way to secure that glass tube to a metal plate while providing shock and thermal isolation? Let's find out the exact shear strength of JB Weld on a license plate. Hey, we just found out the melt temp of Lexan! Crack a window, will ya?
Math and coding stuff. PID algorithms. C. Lots of C. I learned pointers. I learned arrays. Enums, structs. I learned about bitwise ops, and registers. Timed interrupts. Event dispatchers.
Perl stuff! How to build scripts that don't just parse, they poll. How to read and write serial without dropping bytes. Logging! Creating RAMdisk file systems to minimize SD writes. the until(`script.sh`) do sleep 1 done bash trick.
Myself. What my bottlenecks are. How to overcome my self-doubt. How to keep focus. How to deliver status updates, progress reports, how to brag about my progress and confess about my setbacks. HOW TO SHIP. I literally feel better about myself and am more confident in my abilities now, electronic or non.
Maker culture is okay. I consider it a net positive. However, I still bemoan the lack of interest in lower-level operations. Yosvape has approximately 100 times the processing power needed to carry out its functions, and really was conceived as a satire of "Need to blink an LED? Use an Arduino" projects. The funny thing is - it ended up very complex - but none of the complexity was solved by the hardware itself - only the application of it. Throwing clock cycles or overkill solutions is lazy and inefficient, yet seems to be popular. Knowing where to put those clock cycles is the important part. Too many people just put in a faster chip and say 'good enough'.
I think people are forgetting how to pathfind in the tech world. We're relying on the black boxes. Relying on our supply chains and vertical integration and market saturation to supply us with a replacement black box when our old one goes bad. And we've grown to trust that supply chain so much that we actually expect the new one to be faster, better, thinner, lighter. Is that newer, lighter black box going to enrich your life more than the old one, had it not broken? I suspect in most cases, the answer is "no". It feels like only now, after five years of crippling depression, are Westerners returning to look into shoe repair and home gardening and DIY soap. That's years too late. Few people still appreciate quality and attention to detail and precision.
But most importantly, it taught me that technology can still be hilarious, it can still be fun and it can still be 'magic'. The whole POINT of the exercise was to introduce people to the limitless possibilities of Physical Computing. I'm capitalizing that because I think it really is that important for the fifty years ahead of us. It's not about us making a gimmick bong out of a bunch of old junk box parts. I wanted to demonstrate that everything is connected. You can make this work with that. You can use this to do that. You *can* get there from here, but you will have to find the path. The first one of these paths is always the hardest to walk.
But once you walk that first overgrown, winding, neglected path, you will laugh at yourself a little thinking it would be hard, but you will also remember that it actually wasn't too easy. The next time you are sitting there on the hilltop of "this stuff i got right here", wishing that you could get through that impenetrable forest to the haze-covered mountain in the distance of "that stuff I want to do over there", you'll be the one who stands up and says "I think i got an angle on this." Because you don't need to know where the path is anymore. You know how to blaze trails. And as you stand up from tightening your laces and checking your pack, ready to blast through this and come out the other side running, you'll realize that your feet never feel as good as when they're moving.
Now, go forth and build stuff.