Contribute To Open Source On #OpenCyberMonday

Today is Cyber Monday, the day when everyone in the US goes back to work after Thanksgiving. Cyber Monday is a celebration of consumerism, and the largest online shopping day of the year. Right now, hundreds of thousands of office workers are browsing Amazon for Christmas presents, while the black sheep of the office are on LiveLeak checking out this year’s Black Friday compartment syndrome compilations.

This is the season of consumption, but there’s still time to give back. We would suggest #OpenCyberMonday, an effort to donate to your favorite Open Source foundations and projects.

It’s not necessary to explain how much we all rely on Open Source software, but it goes even further than the software powering the entire Internet. Hackaday is built on WordPress, and the WordPress Foundation is responsible for very important, very widely used Open Source software. The Wikimedia Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to the compilation of all knowledge. The Internet Archive is a temporal panopticon, preserving our digital heritage for future generations. The Open Source Hardware Association is doing their best to drag physical objects into the realm of Open Source – a much more difficult task than simply having the idea of Copyleft.

While everyone else is busy buying Internet-connected toasters and wearable electronics, take a few minutes and give a gift everyone can enjoy. Make a donation to the Open Source initiative of your choice A list of these foundations can be found on opensource.org. This isn’t a comprehensive list of worthy Open Source initiatives, so if you have any other suggestions, put it out on the Twitters.

Just In Time For Christmas! A DIY Desktop LED Tree

Okay, we haven’t even hit Halloween yet, but if you’re planning some kind of holiday project, now’s a good time to start ordering your parts, especially if you’re designing your own PCB. While there’s no PCB involved, [designer2k2] built a desktop “hollow” Christmas tree using some WS2812 RGB LEDs controlled by a microcontroller and powered by USB.

The board running [designer2k2]’s project is a Digispark, a USB powered board by Digistump which contains an ATtiny85. The LEDs, four different sized NeoPixel rings, plus a single pixel for the top, are connected together using some solid wire which makes for a very cool look. The code that runs on the ATtiny is the part that really makes this tree. The code cycles through colors and some light chaser effects, as well as a mode that shows a green tree with some white lights. The whole project is topped off by a routine that spells “XMAS” as you look at the tree from the top down.

We’ve seen some other Christmas tree hacks over the years controlled by various things, but this one is a fairly simple, cool design. [Designer2k2] also released the code for the tree and I’m sure a lot of us could come up with some more light designs.

Check out the video after the break:

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Shocking Halloween Decoration

Sure, you could animate some Halloween lights using a microcontroller, some random number generation and some LEDs, and if the decorations are powered by AC, you could use some relays with your microcontroller. What if you don’t have that kind of time? [Gadget Addict] had some AC powered decorations that he’d previously animated with an Arduino and some relays, but this year wanted to do something quicker and simpler.

In another video, he goes over the wiring of a fluorescent starter to create a flickering effect with an incandescent light bulb. A fluorescent starter works because the current heats up a gas discharge tube which causes a bit of metal to bend and touch another, closing the circuit. A fluorescent bulb is a big enough load that the flowing current keeps the starter hot and, therefore, the circuit closed. If you wire the starter in series with a regular incandescent bulb, the starter heats up but the load isn’t big enough to keep the starter hot enough, so it cools down and the circuit breaks, which causes the starter to heat up again. This causes the bulb to flicker on and off. [Gadget Addict] uses two circuits with a fluorescent starter each wired to alternate bulbs in the decoration in order to get the effect to look a bit more random.

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Retrofitting a Vintage Intercom to Run Amazon Alexa

The Amazon Echo is a pretty cool piece of tech: it lets you ask questions, queue up music, find out the weather, and more, without having to do anything but talk. But, the device itself is a bit pricey, and looks a little boring. What if you could have all the features of the Echo, but in a cool retro case and at a cheaper price?

Well, you can, and that’s exactly what [nick.r.brewer] did, using a ’50s intercom and a Raspberry Pi. He picked the vintage intercom up at an antique store for $20, and the Raspberry Pi Zero is less than $10. So, for about $30 (and some parts most of us have lying around) he was able to build a cool looking device with all of the capabilities of the Amazon Echo.

The hardware portion of the build was pretty straightforward, with the Raspberry Pi, a sound card, WiFi dongle, USB hub, and microphone all fitting nicely inside the case of the intercom. The software side of things is a little more tricky, but with a device like this it runs well with Amazon’s Alexa SDK. Of course, if you want to add more hardware features, that’s possible too.

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Magic 8 of Hearts Plies Your True Love with Cheesy Sayings

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, here’s a project out of the LVL1 hackerspace in Louisville that should warm the heart of that special someone in your life. Behold the Magic 8 of Hearts.

The metaphors are somewhat mixed here, what with the heart-shaped box, the mysterious black window of a Magic 8-ball, and the cheesy once-a-year sayings like those printed on Sweethearts candies. [JAC_101] began surgery by punching a hole in the plastic heart for an OLED display. The white on black display evokes the Magic 8-Ball look, although adding a blue filter would have nailed it. A 3-axis accelerometer detects shaking motion and an Arduino Nano selects a message to display. Some white LEDs light up the enclosure and add a little pizzazz. As a bonus, the whole thing is inductively charged – no extra holes needed in this heart.

If your true love would appreciate something a little flashier, try this animated LED Valentine heart. And if you’re successful in your romantic endeavors, you might just find yourself building these ultra-geeky wedding invitations.

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Simple Solar Mason-Jar Lights

[Michael Mogenson] built Firefly Jar – a simple circuit to light up firefly_jar_01flickering LEDs inside a standard Mason Jar, to give away to friends and family for the holidays. Given it’s simplicity and through-hole design, it’s an ideal project for a “learn to solder” class or for those wanting to get started with building some really simple electronics. There’s just a handful of parts and putting it together shouldn’t take long. Given that he’s made available all of the source design files, it should be easy for others to spin off the project.

A 55mm solar cell fits on top of the 63.5mm diameter PCB, which in turn fits perfectly in a standard Mason Jar with a collar lid. When in the light, the solar cell charges two 1.2V NiMH batteries. This also switches off the P-channel MOSFET, turning the LED’s off. The LED’s are turned on only when the solar cell voltage is low and the Ni-Mh batteries are charged. A 2.1V LDO directly drives the two LEDs with built-in flickering circuits, eliminating the need for any further parts. Check out the video of the Firefly Jar below.

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Break Your Wrist? Twitter-Enable That Plaster Cast

Plaster casts are blank canvases for friends and family to post their get well messages. But if it’s holiday season, adding blinky LED lights to them is called for. When [Dr Lucy Rogers] hurt her hand, she put a twitter enabled LED Christmas tree on her cast.

The hardware is plain simple – some RGB LEDs, an Arduino, a blue tooth module and a battery. The LEDs and wires formed the tree, and all the parts were attached to the plaster cast using Velcro. This allowed the electronics to be removed during future X-ray scans. The fun part was in connecting the LEDs to the #CheerLights project. CheerLights is an “Internet of Things” project that allows people’s lights all across the world to synchronize to one color set by a Tweet. To program the Arduino, she used code written by [James Macfarlane] which allowed the LED color to be set to any Cheerlights color seen in blue tooth UART data.

Connectivity is coordinated using MQTT — lightweight standard popular with connected devices. By connecting the MQTT feed to the cheerlights topic from [Andy Stanford-Clark’s] MQTT feed (mqtt://iot.eclipse.org with the topic cheerlights) the lights respond to tweets (Tweet #cheerlights and a color). The LED colors can also be selected via the phone from the color picker tool in the controller, or directly via the UART. If the Bluetooth connection is lost, the LEDs change colors randomly. Obviously, delegates had great fun when she brought her Twitter enabled LED blinky lights plaster cast arm to a conference. It’s not as fun unless you share your accomplishments with others!