A Very MIDI Christmas Lightshow

Christmas light displays winking and flashing in sync to music are a surefire way to rack up views on YouTube and annoy your neighbours. Inspired by one such video, [Akshay James] set up his own display and catalogued the process in this handy tutorial to get you started on your own for the next holiday season.

[James], using the digital audio workstation Studio One, took the MIDI data for the song ‘Carol of the Bells’ and used that as the light controller data for the project’s Arduino brain. Studio One sends out the song’s MIDI data, handled via the Hairless MIDI to serial bridge, to the Arduino which in turn sets the corresponding bit to on or off. That gets passed along to three 74HC595 shift registers — and their three respective relay boards — which finally trigger the relay for the string of lights.

From there, it’s a matter of wiring up the Arduino shift register boards, relays, and connecting the lights. Oh, and be sure to mount a speaker outdoors so passers-by can enjoy the music:

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Engineer’s Primer on DIY Christmas Light Shows

Each year brings new Christmas light shows, with synchronised music and wild blinking decorations to light your eyeballs ablaze. Now, many of us have dabbled in the dark arts of blinken, tinkering with LEDs or flashing a neon bulb or two. There’s plenty of tutorials on how to control all manner of lights, but they’re often written for novices. Learning the basics of electronics for the nth time when you just need to know the specifics of a protocol or what IC you need can be a total drag. That’s why [Bill Porter] has written the Engineer’s Guide to DIY Computer Controlled Holiday Lights.

[Bill] covers the topic from start to finish – not just the technical side of things, but practical considerations about where to source components, and timescales for keeping your project on track. It’s no coincidence this is coming out in January – if you want to get something big up and running for Christmas, it’s time to start now! The guide gives links to forum communities that put in large group orders for parts early, and ship them slow to save money.

Other areas covered include software for creating advanced sequences for your lighting setup, which allow you to map animations over your entire layout. There’s also tips on which controller hardware to use for incandescent lights and the now-ubiquitous WS2811 strings. Even better, [Bill] shares specific tips on how to avoid common problems like voltage drop over long pixel runs and communication issues.

It’s a testament to [Bill] and his experience – the guide is an excellent way to get right up to speed with the state of the art in DIY Christmas light shows, and will save you from all manner of pitfalls. If you need to build something big this year and don’t want to reinvent the wheel, this is for you.

It’s not the first time we’ve heard from [Bill] either – check out his stunning wedding invitations or his repair of a science museum exhibit.

Wifi-Controlled Christmas Ornaments!

Trimming one’s Christmas tree can be an enjoyable tradition year after year, but every once in a while some variation on  the established order can be just as fun. Seeking some new ornaments to and desiring to flex his skills, Instrucables user [Gosse Adema] created a LED-illuminated, phone-controlled, deltrahedron Christmas tree ornaments.

Wemos DI Mini Pros are the brains of these little guys, WS2182b RGB LED strips — being the superb go-to’s that they are — light the ornament, and a 5 V power supply keep them lit. [Adema] used the Wemos specifically to create a web server unique to each ornament, and goes into incredible detail on how to program each one — now there’s an arrangement of words you wouldn’t expect to see — providing all the code he used, as well as the models to 3D print the deltahedron.

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Jenkins Lights the Christmas Tree

Jenkins is open-source automation software that tries to automate parts of the software development process. When you submit code, for example, Jenkins will grab it, build the project with it and run any tests on it. If you have a large number of people submitting new code or data, Jenkins will wait and grab a bunch of the submissions to build. Depending on the size of the project, this can take a while, and if there’s a problem, you need to know quickly so that people aren’t waiting on a broken build. Email’s fine for this, but [dkt01] saw one of the desktop LED Christmas tree projects on Hackaday, and integrated it into his Jenkins system.

Like the other projects, WS2812b LED rings are used as the tree, and an Arduino Pro Mini runs the show, with an Ethernet LAN Module to communicate with the Python script that monitors the Jenkins build job. The Python script sends commands to the Arduino, which in turn lights up the LEDs. They light up green on a successful build and red if something fails, but during the build process, the LEDs show the current state of the build, tracking Jenkins’ progress as it builds.

Our previous Jenkins post used a big, red LED light that would light up if the build failed. [dkt01]’s build lets you know if the build is successful or has failed, but the build progress is a great addition.

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Ceiling Tiles Give it Up for Christmas LED Ornaments

The great thing about holidays is that they always seem to require some shiny things. The modern version of shiny things seems to be LEDs and advances in technology being what they are, we now have amazing programmable LEDs. And programmable LEDs mean animated shiny things! Years ago, [wpqrek] made an LED ornament using discrete components. This year he revisited his ornament and decided to make a new, animated, RGB ornament.

[Wpqrek]’s build is based around five WS2812b strips connected to an Arduino Pro Mini. The ornament itself is a thick styrofoam ceiling tile cut into a star shape with a red-painted wooden frame. Decorated with baubles and stars, the LED strips start in the center and end up at each point in the star. With each strip connected in parallel to the Pro Mini, [wpqrek] used the Arduino Light Animation library to handle the animations.

[Wpqrek] says the result is too big for his tree, so he uses it as a stand-alone ornament. Perhaps using lighter materials would help — or getting a bigger tree! Check out the Arduino lighting controller or the Trompe-l’oeil Menorah for more holiday hacks.

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These Ornaments Measure Christmas Cheer

The ornament projects we post around here tend to be simple, stand-alone projects. We are, however, well into the era of the Internet of Things (like it or not) and holiday ornaments need not be single, unconnected blinking objects. For Christmas this year, [Sean Hodgins]  came up with some connected DIY ornaments that respond to Christmas cheer.

[Sean Hodgins] had some beautiful PCBs done up in festive shapes and he hand-pastes and oven-solders the SMD components on both sides. Each one is battery powered and controlled by an ESP8266. LEDs and a button on the front of each ornament comprise the user interface. When the button is pressed, data is sent to a Phant server and a “Christmas Cheer” counter is incremented. Other ornaments, so long as they can connect to the Phant server, will periodically check the counter. If the Christmas Cheer has increased, the ornaments will play a tune and flash some lights.

The ornaments are open-source — [Sean Hodgins] posted the code and PCB designs on GitHub. They look great, and would be a good way to let people know you’re thinking of them over the holidays. Check out this light-up menorah or these lighted acrylic ornaments for more holiday fun!

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All I Want for Christmas is a 4-Factor Biometric Lock Box

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, we’re not talking about the holiday season, although that certainly has its merits. What we mean is that it’s time for the final projects from [Bruce Land]’s ECE4760 class. With the giving spirit and their mothers in mind, [Adarsh], [Timon], and [Cameron] made a programmable lock box with four-factor authentication. That’s three factors more secure than your average Las Vegas hotel room safe, and with a display to boot.

Getting into this box starts with a four-digit code on a number pad. If it’s incorrect, the display will say so. Put in the right code and the system will wait four seconds for the next step, which involves three potentiometers. These are tuned to the correct value with a leeway of +/- 30. After another four-second wait, it’s on to the piezo-based knock detector, which listens for the right pattern. Finally, a fingerprint scanner makes sure that anyone who wants into this box had better plan ahead.

This project is based on Microchip’s PIC32-based Microstick II, which [Professor Land] starting teaching in 2015. It also uses an Arduino Uno to handle the fingerprint scanner. The team has marketability in mind for this project, and in the video after the break, they walk through the factory settings and user customization.

We have seen many ways to secure a lock box. How about a laser-cut combination safe or a box with a matching NFC ring?

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