Raspberry Pi Home Automation for the Holidays

When you want to play around with a new technology, do you jump straight to production machinery? Nope. Nothing beats a simplified model as proof of concept. And the only thing better than a good proof of concept is an amusing proof of concept. In that spirit [Eric Tsai], alias [electronichamsters], built the world’s most complicated electronic gingerbread house this Christmas, because a home-automated gingerbread house is still simpler than a home-automated home.

fya59blixaq00y3-largeYeah, there are blinky lights and it’s all controlled by his smartphone. That’s just the basics. The crux of the demo, however, is the Bluetooth-to-MQTT gateway that he built along the way. A Raspberry Pi with a BTLE radio receives local data from BTLE sensors and pushes them off to an MQTT server, where they can in principle be read from anywhere in the world. If you’ve tried to network battery-powered ESP8266 nodes, you know that battery life is the Achilles heel. Swapping over to BTLE for the radio layer makes a lot of sense.

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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.

Laser-Cut Gingerbread Trailer Home

Ah, the holiday gingerbread house. A traditional — if tedious — treat; tasking to create, delicious to dismantle, so why not try applying some maker skills to making the job of building it easier? [William Osman] decided to try two unorthodox approaches to the gingerbread construct; first, he opted to build a gingerbread mobile home. Secondly, he cut the pieces out with a laser cutter.

After the tumultuous task of baking the gingerbread sheets, [Osman] modeled the trailer in SolidWorks and set to work cutting it out on his home-built, 80W laser cutter. Twice. Be sure to double check the home position on any laser cutting you do, lest you ruin your materials. Also — though this might be especially difficult when modelling food in any CAD programs — be sure to account for the thickness of your materials, otherwise you’ll end up with a lot of trimming on your hands. At least gingerbread cuts easily.

Hot glue and royal frosting secured the pieces together — as well as some improvisation of the final details — making for a picture perfect holiday scene — from a certain point of view.

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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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Animated EV Charge Cable Enlightens Us

[ch00f] was searching for an idea to build for his father this Christmas, and cast his gaze across those novelty phone charging cables that have “flowing” LEDs along their length. Not one to stick to the small scale, he set out to create a flowing LED effect for a Tesla EV charger.

ch00f-led-ev-chargerThe basic components behind the build are a current transformer, a NeoPixel LED strip, and an ATtiny44 to run the show. But the quality of the build is where [ch00f]’s project really shines. The writeup is top notch — [ch00f] goes to great lengths showing every detail of the build. The project log covers the challenges of finding appropriate wiring & enclosures for the high power AC build, how to interface the current-sense transformer to the microcontroller, and shares [ch00f]’s techniques for testing the fit of components to ensure the best chance of getting the build right the first time. If you’ve ever gotten a breadboarded prototype humming along sweetly, only to suffer as you try to cram all the pieces into a tiny plastic box, you’ll definitely pick something up here.

Perhaps you’d like to check out this teardown of a Tesla Model S battery. Video after the break.

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Make Mulled Wine With A Processor Heatsink!

Now, over the holiday season there seems to be a predilection towards making merry and bright. As many an engineer and otherwise are sure to note, fine alcohols will facilitate this process. One such warm holiday beverage is mulled wine; there are many traditions on how to make it, but a singular approach to preparing the beverage would be to re-purpose an old PC and a CPU liquid cooling unit into a mulled wine heating station.

Four years ago, [Adam] found himself staring at a pile of mostly obsolete PCs in his IT office and pondering how they could be better used. He selected one that used a power-hungry Pentium 4 — for its high heat output — strapped a liquid cooling block to the CPU and pumped it full of the holiday drink. It takes a few hours to heat three liters of wine up to an ideal 60 Celsius, but that’s just in time for lunch! The Christmastime aroma wafting through the office is nice too.

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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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