The Epoch Christmas Tree

It’s that time of the year again, and the halls are being decked with trees, the trees covered in lights, and everyone working in retail is slowly going insane from Christmas songs piped over the PA. [Dan] has a tree and a bunch of programmable LEDs, but merely pumping jollity down that strip of LEDs wouldn’t be enough. The Nerd Quotient must be raised even higher with a tree that displays a Unix timestamp.

This build was inspired by an earlier, non-tree-based build that displays Unix time on a 32 LED array. That build used an ATMega328p for toggling LEDs on and off. This time around, [Dan] is using a dedicated LED controller – the AllPixel – that just wrapped up a very successful Kickstarter campaign. The AllPixel is, in turn, controlled by a Raspberry Pi running the BiblioPixel library,

The tree displays the current time stamp in binary across 32 spaces, with green representing a ‘one’ and a red representing ‘zero’. The top of the tree is the least significant bit, but in case [Dan] gets tired of the bottom of the tree staying completely still for the rest of this holiday season, he can switch the order making the base of the tree the LSB.

Video below.

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Christmas Lights And Ships In A Bottle

Thanksgiving was last week, and Christmas has been invading department stores for two or three months now, and that can only mean one thing: it’s time to kill a tree, set it up in your living room, and put a few hundred watts of lights on it. All those lights, though; it’s as if Christmas lights were specifically invented as fodder for standup comedians for two months out of the year. Why can’t someone invent wireless Christmas lights?

We don’t know if it’s been invented, but here’s a Kickstarter campaign that’s selling that same idea. It’s called Aura, and it’s exactly what it says on the tin: wireless Christmas lights, controllable with a smartphone. If it works, it’s a brilliant idea.

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Deck the Halls with a Raspberry Pi Controlled Christmas Tree

You know the holiday season is getting close when the Christmas light projects start rolling in! [Osprey22] is getting a jump on his holiday decorations with his Christmas Tree light show controlled by a Raspberry Pi. Yes, we know he could have done it with an Arduino, or a 555, but the Raspi makes for a convenient platform. With a WiFi module, code changes can be made remotely. The Raspberry Pi’s built-in audio interface also makes it easy to sync music to flashing lights, though we’d probably drop in a higher quality USB audio interface.

[Osprey22’s] Raspberry Pi is running his own custom python sequencer software. It takes an mp3 file and a sequence file as inputs, then runs the entire show. When the music isn’t playing, the Pi loops through a set of pre-defined scenes, changing once per minute.

The hardware itself is pretty straightforward. The Raspberry Pi controls 8 solid state relays through its GPIO interface. 8 strings of lights are more than enough for the average tree. [Osprey22] topped the tree off with a star made of wood and illuminated by a string of 25 WS2801 RGB LED pixels.

Click past the break to see [Osprey22’s] tree in action!

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Laser Projected Christmas Lights

 

laser-christmas-lights

It’s August, and of course that means that it’s time for retail stores to put up their Christmas decorations! But seriously, if you’re going to do better than the neighbors you need to start now. [Joey] already has his early start on the decorations, with a house-sized light show using LED strips and a laser projector that he built last Christmas.

What started off as a thought that it would be nice to hang a wreath over the garage soon turned into a laser projector that shows holiday-themed animations on the front of the house. The project also includes a few RGB LED strips which can match the colors displayed by the projector. The LEDs are powered from a custom-built supply that is controlled by a laptop, and the program that runs on the computer averages the colors from the video signal going to the projector which lights up the LED strips to match the projected image. This creates an interesting effect similar to some projects that feature home theater ambient lighting.

The only major problem [Joey] came across was having to account for the lasers’ motion in the projected patterns, which was causing the computer to read false values. This and a few other laser-related quirks were taken care of with a bit of programming to make sure the system was functioning properly. After that it was a simple matter of attaching the projector to the roof and zip-tying the LED strips to the eaves of the house.

The projector is weatherproof, has survived one harsh winter already, and can be up and running for any holiday. With Halloween right around the corner, this could be a great way to spice up some trick-or-treating. Check out the video after the break to see this setup in action.

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Companion Cube Christmas Lights Improved With Neopixels

cubes

[Crenn] obtained a string of official companion cube lights from Valve, but being in Australia couldn’t put them to their non-judgemental glory without the use of a step down transformer. They sat on the workbench for a few months until an idea was hatched: replace the bulbs with an Adafruit Neopixel strip, making these wonderful inanimate friends a string of individually addressable RGB LEDs.

The process of converting these cubes required stuffing a very small 9.4mm PCB inside. This PCB was designed in KiCAD thanks to a few classes at the Melbourne hackerspace. The board files were sent off, PCBs received, soldered up, and stuffed into the cubes.

Control is via a Duemilanove with a single IO pin using the Neopixel library. All the code, board files, and schematics are available on the gits. Future improvements might include a 3D printed cable relief and a way to securely mount the PCBs to the inside of the cubes.

Video available below.

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Christmas Tweetball

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The holidays are long over, but we’re still getting a smattering of holiday themed hacks. For this one, the [Han’s] family decided to make a Christmas bauble that relays their tweets to them!

They call it the Tweetbal which is Dutch for — well — Tweetball! Whenever someone tweets with the hashtag #tweetbal it gets displayed on the 20×4 serial LCD display. They’re using an Arduino Uno with an RN-XV WiFly module to receive and send the tweets to the display. A large white plastic ornament ball houses it all secured very firmly with our favorite adhesion method — duct tape. It’s a pretty simple project, but a great holiday hack if we do say so ourselves — plus it could be easily used for non-holiday purposes — like a desktop trinket twitter feed!

Stick around after the break to see its tweeting capabilities in action.

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Controlling Cheap, Awesome Christmas Lights

LEDs

[James] was wandering around Walgreens after Christmas and found something very interesting – RGB LED Christmas lights that were individually addressable. At $6.50 for a strand of 15 lights, he just had to buy a few and figure out the control protocol. After all, who can turn down a big, cheap, controllable RGB LED strip?

The packaging for these lights – apparently manufactured by BriteStar – includes a ‘try me’ button that cycles through different light patterns. This button is what initially tipped [James] off to the fact the lights on this strand could be individually controllable. Opening up one of the lights, he found exactly what he wanted: an epoxy blob, two wires for power, and three wires for the signaling.

After checking out this light with a scope and logic analyzer, [James] realized there was a very, very simple protocol going on. Essentially, the entire string functioned as a gigantic shift register, taking the values for one light and pushing it down the string. In looking at the protocol, [James] also discovered] these lights support 16 levels of brightness. Yep, RGB LED Christmas Lights with PWM for under $7. Can’t beat that.

[James] wrote an Arduino library to control these strings and put it up on Github. While your local Walgreens has probably already hidden these lights away in the back of the store, it might be worth asking around to see if they have any left.