Conspiracies and Capers – One page rules for RPG intrigues

You can find my entry for this years One Page Dungeon contest here. It’s a rules neutral system for running conspiracies that the PCs can investigate and (attempt to) thwart.

I’ve been reading Roger Giner-Sorolla’s Roles, Rules & Roles ( for a while now. I’ve finnaly caught up to current. One of the things Roger has really nailed is the ability to convey a lot of useful information on one page. He has entries in the One Page Dungeon Contest ( and some good articles on some of his favorite entries.

I’ve been thinking about creating a game or a framework for player based investigations. I was originally thinking it might be something like a ten page rule set or even a stand alone card game. After reading selections from Roger’s 52 page RPG and seeing some of the one page dungeon entries I had a small epiphany. It would be better to boil the concept down to one page and make it compatible with any RPG.

I’ve managed to do just that. I’m happy with the content I managed to cram onto the page. I think I have pared the concept down to it’s essence without losing too much clarity. What I don’t have is Roger’s gift for iconography. Text is my medium and I present a wall of 11 point Times New Roman with a middle gutter co-opted for a generic flow chart. So I hope you like text.

The idea has yet to be play tested and the values may need to be tweaked to ensure a steady flow of information and progress while maintaining challenge. As it stand the majority of the tension in the system comes from the a looming but unknown deadline before something bad happens and the occasional combat scenes when the PCs attempt a forceful break-in of an antagonist’s safe-house.

The basic premise of the game is based on my all time favorite procedural investigation game, Sid Meyer’s Covert Action. In that game you play an inexplicably lone spy who has to investigate clues and locations in order to foil capers and capture master minds. The general idea of having a crime that proceeds on a timeline and the player being able to interfere with the crime in progress is preserved. I ditched a lot of the detailed criminal roles. Aside from the ring-leader it’s assumed the gang is a bunch of mooks who can be replaced at a moments notice.

I preserved the Master Mind concept. Some highly connected individual with big plans and the motivation to do what it takes to see his or her vision through to completion.

I think the concept can work equally well as the focus of an RPG where the PC’s are actively seeking to thwart the mastermind and as a system to add some depth and flavor to an existing world. The system could also be used in a megadungeon setting where the denizens are already at an uneasy truce or even in open conflict.

Posted in RPG, Uncategorized

Walter wakes up from a dream

Walter awoke from the dream. For a few minutes he wasn’t able to sort out reality from the dream. In one he was an ordinary man. In the other he had once killed a woman years ago and buried the body. He wondered how he could have forgotten such a terrible thing. He mentally catalogued his history. From an ordinary childhood, schooling, degree, job, marriage, to divorce a few years ago.

Everything was in order. No memory of who the woman was or what would have drove him to kill her. By ten O’clock he had forgotten the whole thing. The dream memories evaporated and he got on with his life.

Only the memories didn’t completely vanish. The vague sense that something was wrong gnawed at him for week. He began to double check his work more diligently. Every squeak or smell his car made worried him. He checked the tire pressure and fluid levels. Something he had never really thought to do before. He went in for regular oil changes and just let the people handle it. Now he was obsessively checking everything before each trip.

Over the course of a month his paranoia lessened and he was back to his ordinary, comfortable routine. He forgot about his bad premonitions.

Until sometime later he dreamed about how he met the girl. He worked downtown in a big city. His commute had him passing areas where homeless people congregated. At certain lights they would take turns panhandling with cardboard signs. Walter never gave any of them money. It wasn’t that he didn’t feel for them. He just didn’t want money to go to waste. He gave a prescribed amount at work during the yearly charity drive and tried to leave it at that.

The girl was different. There she was with her sign “Abused Hungry Runaway. Anything Helps!” and her sad face. All of sixteen years old, if that. He rolled down the window when she approached. “What’s your name,” Walter asked. “Emily,” she responded as she reached across through the passenger window to accept a $20 bill.

In truth Walter had never seen a homeless girl even remotely like Emily. She was just a dream. But the dream intruded on his real memories, snuggled up beside them and made a home there. He began to idly wonder what happened to the runaway with the $20 bill.

Slowly and insidiously the memories of Emily began to build. When his wife had left him he was lonely. Seeing Emily had made him think that she could have been his own daughter if his wife hadn’t kept putting off having children, until finally she moved to Florida with her boss from work. The divorce had caught him by surprise in its suddenness. Though he wasn’t as shocked as he thought he would be that she had been having an affair.

“Listen,” she had come out and told him one Tuesday night after dinner, “I’ve been sleeping with my boss for a year and I’m pregnant. I know for sure it’s his. I’m sorry, but I love him and we are moving away. I want a divorce. I won’t ask for anything so please don’t make trouble for me. I’ve had my lawyer draw up the papers.” She slid a manila envelope stuffed with paper across the table to him, got up and walked out the front door. He never saw her again.

That was five years ago. He had spent a year on autopilot mourning his marriage. The fog had lifted since then but he had just stuck to his routine. He had a decent stable job that paid ok. He liked his co-workers well enough but rarely hung out with them. He was content to go home and read books and use the internet when he wasn’t working.

After that first year when the fog had lifted is when he thought he met Emily. After the first $20 he hadn’t seen her again for a couple of weeks. When she showed up on the corner again with her sign she looked worse for the wear. Visibly thinner and with a black eye. She came up to the car and he rolled down the window.

“Walter, right?” she asked and he nodded, “thanks for the twenty bucks last time. You don’t know how much money that is when you are broke. I hate to ask you for more,” she hesitated.

Walter produced three twenty dollar bills and gave them to her.

“I can do twenty a week,” he told her, “I’ve been saving these in case I saw you.”

“Thanks Walter,” she said, “You’re a life saver!”

His awkward response, whatever it might have been was cut off by the light changing. He smiled and waved as he drove off.

Every day after that he would look for her at the light. He was distracted at his job thinking about if she was ok, if she was warm enough and getting enough to eat. In reality he had been a solid, if unflashy, performer at work. Steadily working through the mountains of tasks assigned to him, he enjoyed having a list and checking off his small victories as he went. But he stopped remembering it that way.

The week after giving her sixty dollars he saw her at the window again. He pulled out his $20 bill ready for her. She shambled over to the car. At first she just looked at him with a glazed look in her eyes. The twenty he proffered brought her to her senses.

She looked even worse than just a week ago. She was heading towards emaciation and the bruise from the week before had turned yellow. It was improving but it somehow looked worse to him that way.

“Oh thank God, It’s you Walter. I’m so cold and so hungry. Can I please just get in your car to warm up?”

He unlocked the door and she got in and slumped in the seat. She smelled strongly of unwashed clothes and body odor and he could see the tears welling up in her eyes.

As soon as the light turned he made a right turn and headed to a Starbucks nearby. He picked one he didn’t normally go to. The employees at his favorite would know him and he didn’t want to be recognized with this smelly homeless girl in tow.

“Let’s get some coffee and a snack,” he told her. She just nodded and followed him in.

He bought her a mocha and a snack tray with fruit and cheese. He got himself a latte and they sat down in the back near the restroom. She disappeared into the ladies and was gone a good fifteen minutes. While she was in there Walter sent an email on his phone to work informing them he was “sick – maybe in tomorrow or the next day.”

He fidgeted nervously while she was in the bathroom. He hoped she was OK. Every once in a while he would hear a noise or the water running.

When she came out she looked at least somewhat better. She had clearly cleaned up as best she could. Her clothes were still terribly dirty and smelly but her face was clean and her short hair was wet from a wash in the sink.

“Thanks so much. I never like to clean up in a place like this. I feel so unwelcome. I’m less afraid with you here,” she told him.

She drank her coffee and devoured her food in silence. Walter watched her and tried not to stare. When she finished she sat back in the chair and heaved a big sigh.

“Oh,” she said, “I’m sorry. Do you have to be someplace? Work maybe?”

“Called in sick,” he mumbled, “I can stay here with you for a while of you want.”

“That would be nice,” she said.

She thanked him again and chatted amiably about how tough it was sleeping on the streets. She told him about the muggers and scuzzballs she was always worried about. Where she liked to sleep at night and other details. Her mundane sounding description of her situation completely horrified Walter.

“Listen,” he finally said, “you don’t owe me anything and I’m not trying anything funny, but if you wanted I could take you to my place and we could wash your clothes. I’ve got some food and we could have a proper lunch,” he offered meekly.

“A week ago I would have said no. Now I am so tired, hungry and strung out from heroine I don’t even care if you rape and murder me,” she said.

Noticing the horrified look on his face she followed up with, “Oh, I know you won’t. I know you just want to help.”

They drove back to his house in silence. His house was a two bedroom one bathroom in a pretty neighborhood of the city. Not yet touched by urban blight but not gentrifying at the terrifying rate of some of the neighborhoods in the city.

He sent her into the bathroom with some of his clothes and a bathrobe. She tossed her dirty clothes out a crack in the door. As he bent to pick them up he heard the toilet flush and the shower come on.

We went through her pockets to make sure he didn’t wash anything important. He felt self-conscious about going through her meager belonging and he also felt silly for that. Surely she wouldn’t want him to wash something by accident and she would have kept anything of real value in the bathroom with her.

It turned out she didn’t have anything of consequence in her pockets. Just some napkins from the Starbucks and gum wrappers rolled up in little balls.

He distracted himself on his laptop on the small kitchen table while she showered. She came out in his robe rubbing a towel on her head and smiling.

“I feel human again,” she said.

It wasn’t quite lunch time, but Walter didn’t know what else to do but start cooking. He didn’t normally eat extravagantly. He liked to cook but it wasn’t much fun cooking for himself. He managed to scrape up a passable meal from his dry and canned goods. While he cooked Emily told him about her home. A drunken abusive step dad. How she feared for her life and ran away. At first it had been better than being home. But then it got cold and she fell in with a bad crowd. A boy she knew had got her hooked on heroin and had been trying to get her to turn tricks for drugs.

“I’m doing ok right now,” she told him, “but I know when the craving sets in I’ll do anything for more. Your money helped me out last time. I’m not asking for more. I just don’t know what to do.”

Somehow they hatched a plot to lock her in the guest room while she went through withdrawal. Walter left her at the house and went to Home Depot for screws and latches. They made the windows fast and installed a bar over the bedroom door. They played out different escape and feeding scenarios until they were satisfied it would work.

And that’s how she died. Walter had just locked her in the room and forgot about her for some time. Like the goldfish he had as a kid and forgot to take care of. He remembered waking up one Saturday morning and having a panicked realization that he had forgotten all about the girl in the guest room. He had found her dead. Mournfully he had dug a deep grave in the weed infested garden. He wrapped her wasted form in the bed sheets and carried her out once it got dark and filled in the hole with her body in it.

Once these memories surfaced, Walter didn’t question them. They were riddled with holes and contradictions, but all memories are if you think about them very hard. He was sure he had killed this poor girl. In a panic he went to the guest bedroom and looked for signs of the prison he had constructed. There was no sign of it. No sign of any of Emily’s things anyplace in the house. He did find what he thought was a rolled up gum wrapper in the laundry room. He took it to work and threw it away in the big trash can in the kitchen.

Of course Emily had never existed. She was just a figment out of a dream that had somehow grown to fill and empty space in Walter’s memories. Still, He became obsessed with finding out about her. He combed the missing persons records looking for her. He tried desperately to remember when he had brought her home. He knew it was winter and at least a year after the divorce.

He went so far as to comb through the personnel records at work and note down every single sick day he had taken. Nothing lined up in a satisfying way. Yet he just knew there was a dead girl in his garden and it was his fault.

He started breaking into a cold sweat at the site of a police car. His driving habits were impeccable, but if a cop was behind him he was sure he would be pulled over and probably arrested. For a while he was able to lose himself in the routine of his work. But whenever he had a moment between tasks the horror of what he had done would take hold of his mind.

Then one Saturday he found her. Her name wasn’t Emily. She didn’t have short dark hair. She wasn’t sixteen. It was eighteen year old Jordan with long blond hair. Last seen four years ago. Walter didn’t even notice his memories had re-arranged themselves to match the description of a girl who’s grainy photo could have been anyone.

Once Walter was convinced he had found her he took action. He spent a week writing a detailed confession in longhand in a notebook from the drug store. He went slowly and wrote neatly. Making sure all the details were spelled out as plainly as possible. He made notes of all the clues he had found and pasted newspaper clippings, photographs and timecard sick reports to the pages.

He unlocked the front door and sent an email to the police with a tip about a murder. He placed the notebook on the coffee table and hung himself from an eye hook and rope he bought at the Home Depot where he remembered buying his prison supplies.

By the time the police entered the house he had been dead for hours. The real Jordan had gotten off the streets and gotten a G.E.D. She was living as best she could as a single mom. She had never once been within 300 miles of Walter’s house. Emily, of course, never existed in the first place.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged as:

Getting an electronics project from your head into the hands of customers.

It’s been a while since I update the blog. Life happens in strange ways sometimes. I was contracting as a software tester to raise capital for my next electronics project. One thing led to another and I found a fantastic job I love even more than being a Mad Scientist in the spare bedroom. In the meantime someone asked me some questions about doing Kickstarters like the ExtraCore. Here is the blueprint I wrote for them. It’s a first draft. No doubt riddled with spelling and grammar errors. Deal with it.
Getting an electronics project from your head into the hands of customers.

So you have an idea for some do-dad or gizmo you think some people are going to want. You also have a drive to make this thing into a reality and get it into peoples hands. This drive is the most important thing. If you have the drive you can make the rest of the stuff happen one way or the other.

Now you are wondering how to get from the idea stage to the customers. Here is an overview of the process I used twice to make this happen. My successes were modest. This isn’t a get rich blueprint. I think there is a lot of luck and marketing involved in making a big hit. I just know how to get a small scale project running without going broke.

You are going to need some very particular technical skills or the ability to learn them on the fly. Don’t assume you can hire this core skill set out. Everyone who is good at it charges more than you can afford most likely. If you aren’t an “electrical engineer” already don’t panic. If you have some breaboards already working chances are you can pick up what you need.

Skill 1 – Prototyping:
If you want to create electronics you must be able to create a fully working prototype. Don’t fall into the trap of having gotten all the parts working and then assume you can just stitch them together. You need the entire thing working on your bench before you can go one. For example, batteries are harder than you might think. If your device must run on battery power, then your prototype must as well.

Skill 2 – PCB design:
Electronics boil down to Printed Circuit Boards. Having a prototype and even a perfect diagram in Fritzing is a long way from being able to create a circuit board. I recommend Eagle PCB. The learning curve is steep, but the program does everything you will need. There are other suites out there with strengths and weaknesses. But for the money you just can’t beat Eagle. If you are already proficient with another suite, then by all means stick with it. If you are new to the process and need to learn a tool, make it Eagle.

Eagle’s autorouter isn’t very good. While you are learning doing the routes by hand is a great way to get to understand stuff. It’s very time consuming though. I like to use freerouting with eagle. It’s a tiny hassle to export and import the files, but the autorouter works quite nicely.

Skill 3 – PCB Manufacture:
You will also need a way to fabricate boards. With a few supplies and a little bit practice and time you can make really nice boards yourself. The fabrication is time consuming in person hours, but you can iterate designs quite quickly. Here is my process on Instructables:

At some point you are going to need professionally done boards. I like . I’ve tried batchpcb and others but for my needs Sunstone has the best balance of cost versus turn-around time.

Skill 4 – Soldering
You will have to solder your prototypes together. When you design your boards you will control how hard this is going to be. I personally really like surface mount designs but you need specialized techniques and tools. You end up with smaller boards overall and the size of your board will be a major driver of cost in the end game.

Here is how you can use a $15 griddle to do reflow soldering:×1-22-IO-pin-Ardunio-Compatible/

I have since upgraded to a hot air station and I highly recomend it!

Skill 5 – Parts sourcing and inventory management
If you thought learning Eagle was tricky getting halfway decent at and is also interesting. Learn to read datasheets. Double check parts before you order them! I once ordered some transistors and I tansposed on digit in the part number. I got NPN instead of PNP and was mighty confused!

Once your parts come in, keep them organized and keep the datasheets or a way to access them with the parts. Consider keeping a spreadsheet with your inventory. I organize parts by project in large ziplock bags. It’s not super efficient but I can find what I need.

Now that you have all the skills you need, here are the rough steps to getting your product to market, assuming you are using something like Kickstarter.

Step 1: Working prototype
Make sure you have a fully working prototype. I’ve seen project fail because some details were left for later. Your prototype can be a horrible bread board on the bench that stops working if you sneeze. Just ensure it’s got all the stuff your customers are going to need. Batteries and Radios are harder than they seem for example. Everything requires power so ensure you know how your customers will power their device and you test that system out.

Step 2: Design a PCB
From your prototype make notes, take photos and measurements with your meter. Ensure you understand everything that is going on with your board. Create a first pass design and make the board. If your design is complex, seperate the board into components and test each one seperately. For example when I did the Robotic Minion the power system started as a one-off prototype, then a PCB which I tested and tweaked and finally got working how I wanted. I did the same with the USB to Serial functions. Once you have the sub-systems working together on a breadboard you can combine the whole thing into one board. When I did this for the minion it didn’t work the first time. Since I knew the sub-systems worked troublshooting was easier. (It was a bad ground. I cut the bad line with a razor and soldered a jumper to the correct place and it worked.)

The good news with PCBs is they are easy to scale up into production. Once you have the first one, you can reliably make as many as you need. Even better, you get an economy of scale quickly. 1,000 units is about where you will see the biggest price breaks.

Step 3: Design your enclosure.
Depending on your device this process could be very difficult. The hardest part is figuring out how to scale it up. I found it was actually more cost effective to buy a 40 watt laser and cut all my own enclosures than to farm that work out. If you live near a Tech Shop you can get time on a injection molder which may be a viable plan.

Step 4: Plan for all your likely scales.
You need to have a solid plan for all these levels. Make the phone calls. Get the quotes. Do the math on how many hours you will have to spend. Failing to plan well here will doom you. This is the place where a lot of Kickstarters fail.

How can I make 100, 1000, 10000, and 100000

Crowd-sourced projects have a level called “The Valley of Despair” where you sold enough units that you can’t feasibly do them all yourself, but you also can afford to quit your day job and handle getting them all made. Determine your “Valley” and try to have a solid plan for how to bridge that gap.

Also plan your shipping. International orders are nice, but they are a giant hassle and cost a lot more than domestic.

Step 5: Cost break down
Make a spreadsheet and get the cost for EVERYTHING nailed down for every unit. Don’t estimate. Don’t guess. Do the research. You have to know how much to charge. A mistake here could easily send you into bankruptcy. For these types of projects you can accurately know most of your costs. I did have a few surprises (Digikey ran out of a component I was counting on and I had to switch to a costlier one.) But having a solid analysis and some reasonable buffer made it so I was able to complete the project.

Step 6: Marketing
This includes running the Kickstarter, but that’s a very short part of the project. Timing you kickstarter is very important. Try to get a hold of data about when projects like yours do well. Running your kickstarter with American Thanksgiving in the middle is an excellent plan. January is a terrible time to run projects.

Kickstarter won’t be enough. You will need to market in other ways. I had good luck with Facebook for my first project, but Facebook has changed how they work. What I did there for free would now cost you thousands. A solid following on twitter is a good idea.

Frankly, this was my weakest area. I managed to pull out successful projects with some fairly weak marketing. You can do better.

Step 7: Transitioning to post Kickstarter
Once agian a weak area for me. My honest plan was to run the Kickstarter and be done with with project. I did make extra units and sell them on but I never got the scale of Kickstarter again.

Posted in Uncategorized

Extracore one of Make Magazines top 10 microproccessors to watch

I’m honored to have made the list! Sadly, with the original batch sold out and changes to Kickstarters rules about hardware projects (no “multi-pack” rewards) it doesn’t seem like there will be any more boards soon. Modern Device may have a few left.

I’ve taken on extra work to raise money to do a run of the V2 boards. Since I need to raise about $10,000 it’s going to take a while.

Posted in Arduino, Kickstarter, tindie

Some New Heroes

While I am back working I haven’t been doing any electronics projects. I have been working on a dungeon delving CRPG for Windows Phone in C#. I have some placeholder art but I recently decided to get started on replacing it. I wanted something I liked better and that was unambiguously OK to use. to the rescue. I found a great artist there. I was thinking of a more icon like style. But these heroes were are adorable and look really good on the phone.


I’m also going to need to create creatures, spells and other stuff. I have a few made already but I want about 80 creatures and 50 or more spells. The internet to the rescue again with the public domain tabletop game Dark Dungeons.

I’m considering hosting a wiki for Dark Dungeons. I’ll need to write a program to chop up the PDF into sections and then upload them as pages. I know how to read out the text already the rest is just a matter of fiddling around with it.

Posted in C#, RPG | Tagged as: , ,

Pawbital – Orbital style glasses for cats

I friend of mine wanted to dress up her cats for Halloween. She asked me to make some glasses with lights in them like on the Orbital 20 album cover.


I started by making a design for the actual glasses. They are made from 1/4″ MDF and cut with a laser cutter. We had to do some test fittings with a cat. She tolerated it pretty well. Her unhappy look is due to the camera flash.

Cat Glasses Layout


Once we got the glasses to fit reasonable well, I went back to the pattern and cut some holes for the electronics. One little watch battery goes in each side and the LED’s are 3mm white through hole. I just super glued the lights on. The batteries and switch were held in place with some black heat shrink tubing.  I soldered wires directly to the batteries. This is tricky as I overheated one and it had a containment failure.



PawbitalThe wiring diagram is pretty simple. The LED’s I chose were 3.3v forward current. The internal resistance of the watch batteries is enough for this application and no other resistors are needed. I hand soldered the wires and glued them out of site along the frames.

Pawbital Fruit

The cat’s didn’t want to hold very still for the photos, so here are their stunt doubles showing off the lights.


Posted in Laser

ExtraCore V2 final production design checked in

The files eagle files with Gerbers are checked into GitHub here. The github version is 1.5 but the “marketing” name is V2. I know it’s confusing, but if you are the sort of person to download your own eagle files/gerbers I think you can deal with it.

There are some minor changes to the the top silkscreen since I took these photos but the physical design is final. I upgraded the GND/VCC traces to be able to handle the full 1amp of the power converter. As always with Arduino don’t source or sync more than 400ma via the chip. But if you need a bit more power you can tap it off the VCC pin now.

I got two boards from Sunstone today. Here is how the front and back looks. I added a ground plane. Partly because with the on board regulator I am worried about heat and the ground plane should help to dissipate it.

Front and Back

I fixed the major silk problems from release candidate zero. But I let a couple of minor problems slip by.


Silk Errors

Once I examine the boards and made sure they came out all right it was time to add solder paste. Rather than use a solder mask for a relatively small number of pads I used a zipper bag with a hole in the corner to pipe the paste on like decorating a cake. Sorta. The solder paste isn’t very sticky so I also used a sewing needle to push it down where I wanted it. Having a microscope is pretty helpful. I have made do in the past with a magnifying glass and a loupe.

Solder Paste

Next I just used some tweezers to lay down the components.

Components PlacedFinally I used my new hot air rework station to heat up the solder till it melted. Easy. You can also do this step on a hot plate. I find boards with a ground plane are a bit harder to manage on the hot plate.

After that I flipped it over and did the power regulator. The hotair rework station makes doing a back side easy. If you are using a hot plate you would have to do the back by hand. There are 8 solder junctions so it wouldn’t be a problem and I have done similar stuff by hand before with little trouble.

The hot air station really saved the day when I realized I was out of 1K 0805 resistors. I was easily able to salvage one from a prototype board from another project. I have removed resistors with a soldering iron by hand before and it takes 10 times longer.

The next step is to do a little math and get a fundraiser going on

Posted in Uncategorized

Lots of new dog themed items added to the Etsy store

My sister shows her Belgian Tervuren “Mighty Supernova of Earlymoon” (AKA Nova). She has been asking for some dog stuff and I have delivered it to my Etsy store.

I can now do keyrings, coasters and treat bags with any breed of dog. I only have artwork on hand for two breeds right now, but I can add a new profiles on demand within a day.

Leather is a fairly new medium for me, and I am starting to really enjoy working with it. Being able to laser cut the patterns and stitching holes makes it easier to work with than traditional tools for me. The hand stitching adds a personal artisan touch that I also like. I haven’t quite got the hang of using leather dye yet, but my current products don’t really on it.


Posted in Etsy, Laser

ExtraCore V2

The last of the V1 ExtraCores have sold out. About 600 of them sold in one year. The majority were sold on the Kickstarter. I’ve been working on a V2 design, but it’s been on the back burner. There are a lot of factors involved in that. Read to the end of the post if you are interested in my ramblings on that subject.


Meet ExtraCore v2


What is ExtraCore?

ExtraCore is a postage stamp sized Arduino Uno compatible board. V1 came with an external power regulator cost $10.50.

What’s the same?

Well, practically everything. Same layout, same components, same size, same Atmega328 pins exposed. This is the working prototype of V2. Other than some problems in the silk screen it’s 100% ready for production.

What’s new?

Raw Power pin

One of the ground pins has now been replaced with a RAW power input pin. This means you can power the board without the need of an external power regulator. Moreover, you can tap into clean 5v from the VCC pin if needed. In other words, you can connect a 9v battery right to the RAW pin.



I’ve added an AP1117E50G-13 power regulator to the back of the board. The regulator can take up to 18v, but the board may not be able to sink that much heat. The regulator can also supply up to one amp of power. That’s more than the Atmega (and possibly the power traces) can use.

When can I get one?

The design isn’t quite final. The prototype is working, but I want to beef up the power traces and test the power regulator some more. There is also still the matter of finding a manufacturer and a way to take pre-orders. In order to make the board cost effect, at least 1,000 will need to be made. now does fundraisers so that’s the most likely platform for taking pre-orders.

V2 back story or why it’s not ready for ordering yet

For one the Robotic Minion Starter kit took up a lot of time. I got a laser cutter in order to make enclosures for that product. It turned out to be a versatile tool with a lot of possibilities. Getting new laser cut designs out and for sale is much faster than the cycle for electronics. As I try to build up a sustainable business I have focused on getting more products in the market. That means the laser cut projects are getting priority.

Another thing that happened was a change in the rules for Kickstarter projects. Specifically you can only offer one reward per customer. So no more 5 and 10 packs. For the ExtraCore that really doesn’t make sense. Kickstarter built the best pre-order marketplace in the world and decided it wasn’t what they wanted.

The last thing that happened was the manufacturer I used for ExtraCore V1 has politely declined to do V2. That leaves me looking for another place to have them made. Since I quit my job and I am living on savings, I can’t afford a project that is going to break even or possibly lose money. On the other hand I am passionate about keeping the price point of the ExtraCore as low as possible. If you want a tiny Arduino clone and are willing to pay $25, the Femtoduino is a superb package. I don’t see any value on trying to compete head to head with such a great product. Instead I want to offer a real choice to Arduino users.

Posted in Arduino, Open Source Hardware, PCB

3 more leather flasks

I made 3 more flasks. The leather, once cured in beeswax, is quite hard. Like a hard, slightly flexible plastic. If you rap a knuckle on them it makes a very solid thock. Between laser time, materials and labor I would have to sell these for at least $60 to justify making them. I will probably add these to Etsy for a bit less since they didn’t come out how I wanted.

Flasks 552

The next photo is out of the other half of the failed map from before. This one has “Mordor” if you look closely. I made the sewing holes a 1.5mm on this one and used black thread and a saddle stitch as opposed to the lockstitch I used before. I’m not at all sure the stitch style matters but the smaller holes worked well.

LOTR 556

The next flask was with a new map. I used an 1848 map of the “Oregon Country” from the public domain. I made the opening for the cork slightly narrower. When the cork is dry, it fits a little more snugly now. Sadly I didn’t get the map lined up with the pattern as well as I wanted and it’s off center and doesn’t cover the back all the way. I’m not sure it’s a bad look, but it’s not what I planned. I did etch the map more deeply and the details are a lot more visible. I also dipped them in slightly cooler wax which seems to have not darkened the leather quite as much. The map details really came out. The more subtle look of the first two flasks is nice too. I am not sure what a prefer.


Oregon 557Oregon 558







The final one, pictured below, came out how I wanted it.

Oregon 560 Oregon 559

Finally I created a cork retainer for the first flask. It worked out OK, but I have some ideas for improvement. I am considering drilling a hole through the corks to pass a leather cord. If only I could find my bag of leather laces I know I have around somewhere.

LOTR 554

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