Christmas Lights Done the Hard Way

It’s that time of the year again when you gotta start worrying if you’ve been naughty enough to not receive any gifts. Hopefully, Blinky Lights will appease St. Nick. Grab a strip of RGB LEDs, hook them up to an Arduino and a Power supply, slap on some code, and Bob’s your Uncle. But if you want to retain your hacker cred, you best do it the hard way. Which is what [roddersblog] did while building his Christmas Starburst LED Stars this year — and bonus points for being early to the party.

christmas-lights-the-hard-wayFor starters, he got panels (as in PCB panels) of WS2812 boards from eBay. The advantage is it lets you choose your own pitch and strand length. The flip side is, you need to de-panel each board, mount it in a jig, and then solder three lengths of hook up wire to each LED. He planned for an eight sided star with ten LED’s each. And he built three of them. So the wiring was, substantial, to say the least. And he had to deal with silicone sealant that refused to cure and harden. But nothing that some grit and determination couldn’t fix.

For control, he choose the PIC16F1509 microcontroller. This family has a feature that PIC calls the “Configurable Logic Cell” and this Application Note describes how to use CLC to interface the PIC to a WS2811. He noticed processing delays due to C code overheads that caused him some grief. After some experimentation, he re-wrote the entire program in assembly which produced satisfactory results. You can check out his code on the GitHub repository.

Also well worth a look, he’s got a few tricks up his sleeve to improve the quality of his home-brew PCB’s. He’s built his own UV exposure unit with timer, which is an interesting project in itself. The layout is designed in Eagle, with a flood fill to minimize the amount of copper required to be etched away. He takes a laser print of the layout, applies vegetable oil to the paper to make it more translucent to UV, and doubles up the prints to get a nice contrast.

Once the sensitized board has been exposed in the UV unit, he uses a weak but fresh and warm solution of Sodium Hydroxide as a developer to remove the unexposed UV photo-resist. To etch the board, he uses standard Feric Chloride solution, which is kept warm using an aquarium heater, while an aquarium air-pump is used to agitate the solution. He also describes how he fabricates double sided boards using the same technique. The end result is quite satisfying – check out the video after the break.

Continue reading “Christmas Lights Done the Hard Way”

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!

Christmas Bauble is neither spherical nor runs Arduino

[Jordan Wills] was tasked by his company, Silicon Labs, to build some Christmas Baubles to give away to co-workers. While the commissioned units were designed to be simple battery and LED affairs, he decided to make one of his own with bells and whistles. His Mario themed Christmas Ornament uses a Silicon Labs FM972 micro controller, capacitive sensing, PWM controlled 8 bit audio, and blinky lights.

The interesting part is some of the construction techniques that he used. The finger-joint style cube is built from circuit boards. Electrical connections between panels were routed using solder wicking copper braid. That’s a interesting trick which we’ll keep in mind along with some of our favorite creative structural uses of PCB.

The top of the cube has four LED’s which light up the Mario “Question Mark” symbols on the four sides of the cube while the base contains all of the electronics. The outside of the base piece was a large copper plane to act as the capacitive sensing element. This meant all electronics needed to be surface mounted with tracks laid out on one side – which posed some layout challenges. Adding the Capacitive sense function was a cinch thanks to support from the in-house design team. PWM output from the micro controller takes care of audio, and the output is routed through a buffer to boost the signal. A bandpass filter then cleans up the PWM output before feeding it to the speaker.

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Display Your City’s Emotional State with Illuminated Snow

[Hunter] wanted to do something a bit more interesting for his holiday lights display last year. Rather than just animated lights, he wanted something that was driven by data. In this case, his display was based on the mood of people in his city. We’ve seen a very similar project in the past, but this one has a few notable differences.

The display runs off of an Arduino. [Hunter] is using an Ethernet shield to connect the Arduino to the Internet. It then monitors all of the latest tweets from users within a 15 mile radius of his area. The tweets are then forwarded to the Alchemy Sentiment API for analysis. The API uses various algorithms and detection methods to identify the overall sentiment within a body of text. [Hunter] is using it to determine the general mood indicated by the text of a given tweet.

Next [Hunter] needed a way to somehow display this information. He opted to use an LED strip. Since the range of sentiments is rather small, [Hunter] didn’t want to display the overall average sentiment. This value doesn’t change much over short periods of time, so it’s not very interesting to see. Instead, he plots the change made since the last sample. This results in a more obvious change to the LED display.

Another interesting thing to note about this project is that [Hunter] is using the snow in his yard to diffuse the light from the LEDs. He’s actually buried the strip under a layer of snow. This has the result of hiding the electronics, but blurring the light enough so you can’t see the individual LEDs. The effect is rather nice, and it’s something different to add to your holiday lights display. Be sure to check out the video below for a demonstration. Continue reading “Display Your City’s Emotional State with Illuminated Snow”

Repairing and Reviewing a 1976 PONG Clone

Hackaday alum [Todd] has been searching for an old PONG clone for the last two years. This variant is called, “The Name of the Game”. [Todd] has fond memories of playing this game with his sister when they were young. Unfortunately, being the hacker that he is, [Todd] tore the game apart when he was just 14 to build his own Commodore 64 peripherals. He’s been wanting to make it up to his sister ever since, and he finally found a copy of this game to give to his sister last Christmas.

After opening up the box, [Todd] quickly noticed something strange with the power connector. It looked a bit charred and was wiggling inside of the enclosure. This is indicative of a bad solder joint. [Todd] decided he’d better open it up and have a look before applying power to the device.

It was a good thing he did, because the power connector was barely connected at all. A simple soldering job fixed the problem. While the case was still opened, [Todd] did some sleuthing and noticed that someone else had likely made repairs to several other solder joints. He also looked for any possible short circuits, but everything else looked fine. The system ended up working perfectly the first time it was started.

The end of the video shows that even after all this time, simple games like this can still capture our attention and be fun to play for hours at a time. [Todd] is working on part 2 of this series, where he’ll do a much more in-depth review of the system. You can watch part 1 below. Continue reading “Repairing and Reviewing a 1976 PONG Clone”

Capacitive Christmas Organ with Living Lenses of Slappable Light

We’ve seen capacitive touch organs manifest in pumpkin form. Though they are a neat idea, there’s something about groping a bunch of gourds that stirs a feeling of mild discomfort every time I play one. [mcreed] probably felt the same way and thus created this light-up Jello organ, so he can jiggle-slap Christmas carols, removing any sense of doubt that touching food to play music is weird…

This take on the capacitive tone producing instrument makes clever use of the transparent properties of Jello as well as its trademark wiggling. [mcreed] fills several small mold forms with festively colored strawberry and lime mix. One end of a wire connection is submerged in the liquid of each cup before it has a chance to solidify along with a bright LED. Once chilled and hardened, the gelatinous mass acts as a giant light emitting contact pad. An Arduino is the micro-controller used for the brain, assigning each Jello shape with a corresponding note. By holding onto a grounding wire and completing the acting circuit, one can play songs on the Jello by poking, spanking, or grazing the mounds.

Though I’m not entirely sure if the video is Jello propaganda or not, the idea is applaudable. I prompt anyone to come up with a more absurd item to use for a capacitive organ (zucchinis have already been done).

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Hacklet 27 – Holiday Hacks

It’s beginning to look a lot like the holidays around here. That means it’s time for holiday hacks here on The Hacklet! This week we’re looking at the coolest festive hacks created by YOU on Hackaday.io!

xmashdrWe start with [charliex] and Cypress PSOC 4 + ESP8266 WS2812 RGB XMAS Lights. The name might be a mouthful, but the goal of the project is a simple one: Awesome Christmas lights! [Charliex] has created WiFi controllable Christmas lights. To do this, he’s utilized ARM core based PSOC4 chips from Cypress. WiFi duty is handled by the popular ESP8266 module, and the lights themselves are WS2812 addressable strips.

[charliex] really outdid himself this time, creating a complete solution from the ground up. He started with a Cypress dev board, but quickly moved to a board of his own design. The PCBs  first were milled at home, then sent out for manufacturing.
Control of the strip is via UDP through a WiFi network. [Charliex] found the strips have plenty of WiFi range to place outside his home.  The last part of the puzzle was control – which [charliex] handled in style by creating his own GUI to handle synchronizing several strips to music played on a central computer.

snowflakeNext up is [nsted] with another LED hack, Glowing Xmas Snowflake Sculpture. [Nsted] was contracted to add some extra LED bling to a sculpture. The problem was that these LEDs would be filling in gaps left in the primary interactive lighting system which ran the entire sculpture. Any time you have to meld two systems, things can get crazy. [Nsted] found this out as he added WS2812B Adafruit NeoPixel strips to the Sensacell modules already designed into the sculpture. Communications happen via RS485, with Arduino Due and Megas handling the processing. Power was a concern with this sculpture, as it was pulling over 100 amps at low voltage. Like many art installations, this was a “work down to the wire” event. Everything came together at the last-minute though, and the project was a success!

musicNext up is [Jeremy Weatherford] with Christmas Orchestra.  [Jeremy] has taken on the task of making the most epic retro electronics orchestra ever created. He’s playing Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Wizards in Winter on four floppies, three scanners, and an ancient inkjet printer. LED strips on the moving elements add lights to the sound. An Arduino Mega with a RAMPS board controls the show. [Jeremy] had his orchestra professionally recorded both on audio and in video. We’re anxiously awaiting the final video upload so we can rock out to some old hardware!

xmaslightsFinally, we’ve got [crenn6977] with his Solar powered Christmas Light Controller. This was [crenn6977’s] entry in the The Hackaday Prize. While it didn’t take him to space, we’re sure it will bring Santa to his door. Rather than run lots of tiny solar cells for his Sun powered Christmas lights, [crenn6977] is going for a single large panel and wireless control. The nRF24L01+ is handling the wireless connectivity, while a STM32F042 ARM cortex M0 processor is the brains of the operation. Solar power demands efficient design, so [crenn6977] is digging deep into op-amp circuits to keep those LEDs running through the night, and the batteries charging through the day.

It’s just about time for us to settle our brains for a long winter’s nap, so we’ll close this edition of The Hacklet here.  As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!