Meet David. He's awesome.

As a project grows from concept to serious endeavor, you realize it's impossible to do everything on your own (like electrical engineering). So now we have David.

I met David after presenting Banana Phone at the Hackaday Unconference. He graciously took a look at my current hardware prototype, offered some suggestions, and we hit it off.

 With David's electrical engineering efforts, we've been developing a new hardware prototype that we can sell in a few months. This first wave of collaboration involved some testing on the newly released Raspberry Pi Zero W.

Our state-of-the-art testing facility.

Our state-of-the-art testing facility.

Having David on board means we can now design and test a product in a few months. We had our second meetup last Wednesday and got a lot of testing done.

Part of that was determining the best hardware to design on, based off of cost and speed of engineering time. We're still deciding on whether to use the RPi0W or go with a simpler board layout.

With David on the project, we're able to do more, produce faster and ultimately deliver a better product. I'm very fortunate to have him.

As for next steps, we're considering entering the project into Hackaday Prize 2017 contest. David says we have a decent shot at the win, and I'm inclined to believe him because he's a really smart dude. 

I must now sleep in preparation for my DMV visit tomorrow. Those can be draining.

Presenting at Hackaday Unconference 2017

Why don’t all phones work like this?
— Cool guy with question at the end

Having ideas is hard. Having good ideas is harder. But the hardest by far is telling others about them.

Given the time and energy I've put into developing Banana Phone, I've had to explain it a few times, and I'm always tuning my presentation to the following points:

  1. Do they know how bad the robocall problem is?
  2. Do they care how my device/apps stop them?
  3. Would they actually buy the product?

The first one is pretty straight forward. People are well aware of the annoying calls they get offering free vacations or fake IRS agents from India asking for Amazon gift card as payment for late taxes.

The second is a little more tricky. The occasional robocall to a person's phone would seem almost negligible to the average consumer. They just ignore it or don't answer.

Like trying to sell a PlayStation to an Amish teenager, they simply aren't in my market demographic. On the other hand, to the consumer who's phone is bombed like 10+ times a day, my idea sounds like a godsend.

After explaining my device a few times, I learned that my concept either hits with the listener, or it falls on deaf ears. No middle ground; either they really like it or they don't care. And this is okay, most of time. If everybody was down to entertain every product idea they ever heard, marketers would be out of the job and every item sold ever would be a best seller.

This was the exact thing I was worried about when presenting at the Hackaday Unconference last Saturday: that my idea would be glossed over as not important or some kind of derivative work (fancy word for copy). And I'd be presenting amongst a group of peers with in-depth tech skills similar to mine, so if I was doing something stupid, they'd definitely say so.

I'm happy to say that after I presented my concepts, my idea was well received. The audience was greatly supportive, and a few people even asked when it would be on sale. Nice day, all around.

I had my cousin record my talk, and you can watch it here. The questions at the end were awesome. I got to practice my pitch, and even got some new answers to some usability questions that in the past had stumped me. The moral of the story: eventually you have to nut up and talk about your ideas; otherwise no one hears them at all. It's also nice if they like what you're actually talking about.

A break. Kind of.

So I'm in the process of making Banana Phone smart. Like, way smart.

Here's what going on:

  •  The app shares white lists between the mobile phone and the land line device.
  • I'm adding a feature to the app that auto-whitelists dialed numbers, because ppl usually don't call robocall numbers (?)
  • In order to pull off the above features, I'm also putting up a server backend, so that involves writing a database, and a REST API

But even in this wave of progress, I need a break sometimes.

So my buddy Ray asked me to build him a computer. I hadn't built a rig in a few years, so I kindly obliged. He had a pretty decent hardware budget ($800) and told me to go nuts. So I did.

I also decided to take some photos of the build, because, well, I needed some blog content. So here you go.

 

Let's prep the motherboard.

Seat in the memory (16 GBs) and prime the CPU for drop-in.

We're going with a stock fan. because they work just fine and I've never been a fan of outrageous fans anyway. The cash is better spent on RAM or and SSD or, literally, anything else.

But, when using the stock fan, ALWAYS scrap off that shitty factory-shipped thermal paste it comes with.

Instead, use Arctic Silver. It's awesome and cheap and Fry's has it (this is not a paid plug, btw. I just rep the AS because it's a great product.)

Better.

Now hit it with some rubbing alcohol to give a nice clean surface and we're ready to drop in our CPU.

** SHAMELESS BRAND PLUG **

** SHAMELESS BRAND PLUG **

Cool. Now we have our important pieces mounted. We'll do everything else when it's resting in the case.

Now for the power supply.

 

 

Now finesse the motherboard into the case, and we're golden. And plug fans.

Cozy.

Cozy.

So after running the power cables, installing the hard drive (1 TB), and powering it on, we have a BIOS screen.

First time's the charm.

Ray was quite happy with his build. He got a copy of Windows 10 (a legit copy) and is now happily doing w/e the hell he wants, because this rig can do that.

Okay, back to my database code. Hooray.

Robocalls: still here, but not for long.

 I'll be honest: I thought the jig was up.

After the end of the FTC's 2013 Robocall challenge, I figured the market would be flooded with devices and apps that would stop robocalls.

The solution seemed obvious. Buy magic box. Magic box checks that an actual person is calling. Maybe some reporting on call stats for analytics later. Nothing crazy. 

None of that happened. I mean to say, not in the fashion one might expect.

There are a handful of services; some mobile apps, some VoIP-only solutions, but no one thing that stops them on all calling devices. The market demands a solution that works on every phone, mobile or landline.

So since it doesn't exist, I finally built it.

With some help from the talented engineers at EICSS, I now have a hardware prototype that blocks ALL robocalls on ALL landlines.  That's the nice thing about having a hardware-based solution ;)

 

Here's what I'm doing:

  • Consolidating the design onto a single board for production
  • Fleshing out back-end database code for analytics on blocked calls.
  • Polishing up the Android app prototype - to work by itself or in conjunction with the landline device for complete robocall blocking on all phones.

In the coming weeks, I'll be running my final software tests on the prototype board and getting the production costs laid out for bringing this device to market. And this dev blog will be documenting it the whole time. 

In addition to this, I have released a complete tutorial with source code on how to build the original Banana Phone, so anyone can build one if they so desire (it's actually pretty fun).

It's gonna be an interesting month.

More soon. I gotta sleep.