Blog - Quidzel

Dead Batteries :(

With the recent cold weather, I recently noticed that my car’s battery was dying after sitting a few days, and a couple customers mentioned the same. It turns out that aux input kits purchased between September and December have a firmware bug that can keep the car from going to sleep properly. Drop us a line letting us know, and we will exchange your module with a replacement that should take care of the issue.

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Nothing slows down the projects we have going around here like newborn twins. My wife and I were blessed to welcome our twin boys last month, and since then, we’ve been on about a 3 hour eat-change-sleep rotation. Trying to get productive work done has been certainly difficult, but we are getting going again on a project I’ve been really excited about with Bluetooth integration. I’ve been driving around doing pandora streaming while leaving my phone in my pocket. The nice thing about Pandora or another service like that is that I can break out of my typical music rut, and hear how the stereo and the bluetooth streaming handles different types of music. Lately I’ve been playing some more bass heavy electronic music, and I’m actually surprised and impressed how the 15 year old stock speakers and stereo handle it. It’s no glorious stereo, but all of a sudden, with a great audio source, it acquits itself.
Our next step is to finish some of the basic integration features like the microphone, SIRI, and then get some cables manufactured. We have the basic module done, but the cables will connect to the car’s existing wiring for easy integration. We aim to be a simple, effective solution to bluetooth audio. This is a basic requirement for a modern car, and I’v been amazed how many ads for economy cars highlight their bluetooth capabilities. By adding Quidzel’s bluetooth integration to your e46, you’ll be rocking these modern, necessary features, and can hold onto your car a little bit longer.

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More autocrossing

After doing BMW’s Ultimate Driving Experience about a month ago, I have done two autocross sessions with my 323i. The Windy City chapter of the BMWCCA puts on a well organized auto-x season in the Chicagoland area. This has proven to be quite the addictive fun, with decently low costs. I love the opportunity to explore the limits of my admittedly slow car in a safe manner, and I’m already looking forward to what sort of cheap mods I can do to both the driver and car to improve performance. I have to say all season tires aren’t the best, and I found myself sliding around a lot. Perhaps next year, I can get some decent summer tires. My front struts are due for a replacement after 290K miles 🙂 so when I replace them, I’ll remove the locating stud in the strut mount and add a bit more negative camber.

I also found a great app called TrackAddict that does video and some telemetry. It’s impressive, and I think I’ll pony up for the paid version soon. Here’s a quick sample video.

On the audio front, we are polishing up a bluetooth adapter which will plug into the CD changer connections for tightly integrated bluetooth audio and handsfree functions. Keep your eyes open for the release soon – we will be selling it for $200. If you’re interested, use the contact form below to send us your email, and we will keep you informed about the release of our bluetooth adapter. To get the ball rolling, we will be giving away one of these great new adapters to one of you who respond on the contact form. Thanks for your support!

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BMW Ultimate Drive Experience

BMW has some pretty nifty programs as part of their marketing effort, including giving away track experiences. Today I went to the Chicago area event, and got to drive an i3 (actually this is really quick off the line), a 650i convertible(gorgeous), and wring out a 228i M sport on a short autocross track. I’ve never had any sort of driving experiences other than on a go cart track, but I was able to rip off the best times in our group. After this experience, I may have to do some auto-x events in my car. It was a whole lot of fun to drive a car all out legally, with little risk of getting hurt, hurting others, or damaging the car. (Although I imagine that tires and brakes get eaten faster).

To top that off, they are giving a $1000 rebate on a new car for doing this free event. In addition to this awesome customer experience, they have a free teen driving school, a car control clinic, and a more elaborate day long experience with the new M3 and M235i. We watch the M3 running the course, and it makes some really sweet exhaust noises. I’m still convinced that the Yas Marina Blue is a powder blue after finally getting to see it in the daylight. I can’t bring myself to like it. The color that stood out to me the most of the Midnight Blue metallic on the 228i.

Most of the people there were definitely brand evangelists, arriving in BMWs themselves. In our group, I think only one person didn’t own a BMW. However, after this fun experience, we all got back into our cars, including several e46s, and left. Even though I do look forward to getting a new car at some point, I really enjoyed driving my 288K mile 323i out of there. Even against these awesome brand new machines, my car still had that BMW feel. I really could drive this car another 12K miles, and cross that 300K mile mark that not many cars will ever reach.

Posted in Cars

Production Schedules

During the startup phase, we tend to do our business production schedules serially. A lot of our activities can take a whole day, so we try to estimate when certain parts are running low, and then schedule a day to do a whole bunch of production. Some days, we focus on cable production. Yesterday, we assembled a bunch of boards, and today is the day we program our boards, which is fun as each of 75 aux input modules per panel comes to life for the first time. We do a burn in test to try to minimize any failures, calibrate the frequencies of each individual module to ensure reliable communication, and then encapsulate the modules. I think one of my favorite parts of my job is to manufacture our modules with quality that will make a big difference for each person buying our aux input, and building systems and improvements that make it more reliable/higher quality and easier to make.
I hope you are having as much fun doing your job today as I am doing mine!

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All feedback is good feedback

We received a lot of great feedback from our first few customers when we first launched the aux input. Our customers were amazing, sharing their experiences with others, and we received a lot of thanks and positive feedback. The positive feedback is great – it tells us that we are doing something right, and boosts both our confidence as well as potential customers that we can deliver a good value.

However, not all feedback is positive, and we’ve had problems as well. In the beginning, the modules were sent out with errors in the programming that would cause intermittent failures, and we would hear from our customers about issues. We would scratch our heads to resolve these issues, and we had to send out replacement modules. This was embarrassing, but it drove us to refine our code, and discover the issue that was holding us back. Our customers in general have been patient with us when issues arose, and were gracious and even thankful when we were able to solve our own problems. Part of that is owning the problem. If there’s a problem, we own it. We fix it. We have confidence both in our product and in our customer service’s ability to make it right for our customers and deliver the value we promise.

Everything we send out is tested, but sometimes, I’ll get an email saying it isn’t working, and this keeps me up at night. The best customer service is for the customer to not need the customer service, even though we pride ourselves in great support. Sometimes, we’ve sent out a module that failed, or a faulty cable. Sometimes, we haven’t given our customers the information they need to install our products, and we get modules plugged in backwards, at the wrong connector (which usually fries them), or our customers cannot figure out how to install the aux cable. In any case, we take it on ourselves to own the issue, and try to resolve it, even when we cannot see what our customer sees.

The most recent issue, which is relevant to our current customers, is that the connector that goes to the back of the stereo is fragile. If it is pulled from the wire rather than the heat shrink strain relief, the pins can pull out. Generally speaking, if the connector is installed and you’re not experiencing issues, you’re fine. We had a customer ask for his money back because the pins had pulled out, and the best thing we can do after giving him his money back is to redesign our cables to prevent the pins from getting pulled out. We will be switching to dupont-style pins on this connector, as they crimp on, and snap/lock into the connector, giving us a more durable connector on this side. With this change, we will end up using a smaller connector, and the heat shrink that we use will be sized more appropriately to the cable. All in all, this is a great change that is exciting for us in that it makes it easier to build our cables, and we end up with a better performing cable for our customer.

This seemingly negative experience for both us and our customers that have experienced this issue is causing us to make a better product, and for that, I’m grateful. Truly it’s the negative feedback that spurs change for the better. I love hearing how we’ve done a good job, but I know it’s the times when we fail that will really cause us to grow. My message is to embrace the negative feedback. Let it sink in, and then let it motivate you. Own up to your failures, and become a better person/organization.

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Marketing 101

Over the last three months or so, it has been an exciting time as we’ve been shipping aux inputs and getting your comments and feedback. Starting from zero sales in March, we’ve grown through organic referrals from satisfied customers, and very limited marketing. Over the last two weeks, we’ve put our nose to the grindstone to figure out how to share what we make with others. Now we are on Facebook, Google AdWords, and now Bimmerfest, a premier community for the older generation BMW owners. From your feedback, we know that there are many out there that are looking for an aux input, and we want to be found by them.

As an engineer for a large company, I didn’t give much more than a passing glance to marketing. I worked on the technical aspects of the solution, and assumed that good solutions would sell themselves. It took me jumping into this entrepreneurial venture to realize that good solutions DO NOT sell themselves. If no one knows about a great solution, it’s never going to go anywhere. We’ve done our best to get our name and products in front of people, and in the first couple weeks, I have to say Facebook Ads have been just killing it. I was able to target my demographics and instantly get tons of impressions and clicks. While we are excited to sell our aux inputs, our goal is brand awareness, as we plan to do even better things in the near future to serve the BMW community.

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Audio Ground Loop Noise

A common hassle for mobile audio is induced noise. When audio grounds and power grounds are combined, there is a potential for noise to be injected into the signal. Several customers have noticed a noise issue, especially while their audio source is charging. Let’s say we are using an iPhone for our audio input, and we have the headphone jack connected to the aux input, the iPhone ground is considered to be floating, and we have minimal noise. This is because the iPhone ground is connected to the stereo’s audio ground.

However, our iPhone battery is running low, so we stick our inexpensive USB car charger on the phone, and suddenly we are treated to unwanted noise. To explain this, let’s look at the car charger first. It is likely using a switched voltage regulator to step down the 12 volts from your car to the 5 volts for the USB charger. A typical switching voltage regulator such as the MC34063 is inexpensive, but because of the low switching frequency requires the use of relatively expensive capacitors and inductors. Since the designer of the car charger didn’t know the exact amount of power that your iPhone might take from the charger, they made calculated tradeoffs with the values of components used. And since this charger only costs $1 at Target or Walmart, only the cheapest suitable components are used. The end result is that most USB car chargers are noisy devices, both in the electrical signal as well as unwanted RF interference.

To top that off, there is some level of resistance in the car charger wiring, and current is flowing through this wiring to your phone. This resistance means that the ground potential on your charger is not exactly the same as the audio ground potential, which means that current will flow through your audio ground, causing this noise issue you hate.

The solution to this problem is an audio filter, which uses transformers to pass only the differential audio signal to your stereo, rather than trying to maintain a common ground. Consider as well running power/USB cables away from your audio lines. I also ensure that my source volume is high without causing signal distortion, as the signal to noise ratio is higher, requiring less amplification. This will reduce the amount of noise amplified through your stereo.

Posted in Audio

Panelizing PCB Stencils

Last year I learned how to build PCBs, and I sweated when I first released my first board (a prototype bluetooth adapter) to production. After spending quite a few sleepless nights inspecting every signal and the routing, I finally had to call it good enough, and send it out to the board house. For the first PCB design, it was individually cut as it was a prototype. When I got the board back, I quickly noticed that I had reversed a couple pins, and it was easily solved with a jumper wire. It goes to show that there’s always going to be some mistakes that slip through, but experience helped me get better. I recently released the Aux Input for production, and it is for sale right now. With this production based board, I knew I wanted to panelize the board, as this would be an efficient way to build the boards. I didn’t know how, so I sent the Gerber files for the individual board to, and they did a great job panelizing everything, even scoring the boards so they could be easily separated after production. Up to this point, I have been assembling one board at a time, as I didn’t have a solder stencil. I made an individual one with some plastic and an X-acto knife, but this was rather time consuming. After spending a day producing the boards one at at time, I finally had it. I was going to get a stencil which would allow me to do the whole panel at once. However, I only had the CAD files for the individual board, and the stencil manufacturer needed the panelized CAD file. There are several complex tools available that could convert the individual board to a panelized version, but I couldn’t find a single script that could take the simple data from the Gerber file and panelize it. So I made my own simple Python script, and offer it to you if you need something like this. I haven’t tested it on anything more than the solder stencil, so edit away.

#!/usr/bin/env python

# Sam Marmon – Quidzel 2014
# Use/modify freely

# Open the individual board, replace board.gtp with filename of your board
file = open(“board.gtp”, “r”)

# Open the panelized board
file2 = open(“panelized.gtp”, “w”)

# Input the pitch of each board
# for example, my board is 1.2″ x .42″
hspace = 120000
vspace = 42000

# Enter the # rows and columns of the
# panelized copies
rows = 2
columns = 2

# Scroll through the Gerber CAD file
for line in file:

# Pad locations seem to start with ‘X’
if line.startswith(‘X’):

# copy the line, and replace the letters with spaces
line2 = line.replace(“Y”, ” “)
line2 = line2.replace(“X”, “”)
line2 = line2.replace(“D”, ” “)

# Split the lines
line3 = line2.split()

# Convert the data points to integers
X = int(line3[0])
Y = int(line3[1])

# Now make copies of the data points
for xnum in range(0,columns):
for ynum in range(0,rows):

# Write out the correct format


# Just write the existing data from the original file

# Close the files

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Product Development

Over the last couple years, I’ve been working in my garage putting together gadgets that would play with my car. About a year ago, I had kind of an ‘aha’ moment, when an interface I had designed in hardware and software started working with my car. I looked at it and realized there were others that could use something like this, and over the last year, I’ve been putting together a business around bringing some new options of getting stuff to connect to our cars. As an engineer, I can program and design hardware, but what I’ve really had to learn is the business side of it. We launched about 3 weeks ago, and I posted on one of the forums about my product. I got quite a bit of good feedback and response, and made my first few sales.
Then I had to figure out payment and shipping, and today, I’m learning about retail packaging design. My apologies to my first customers that don’t have the cool packaging, and very basic cables and wiring. While I know the substance of the Aux Input is there and won’t change, my marketing is going to improve. I’m going to figure out Ad Words, SEO, and present a cleaner website to my customers. And I know I’ll need to get help, as I’m not an expert in all these areas. Right now, I’m trying to do everything and I think it is a good idea to know something about all aspects of this business, but I’m looking forward to getting the Aux Input ‘done’ from a production flow system standpoint, hand it off to people who know how to do this better than I can, and move on to other related product ideas that deserve my time and attention.

retail box

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