Christmas light controller is its own percussion section

clicking-christmas-tree-controller

[Jason] and his father took advantage of a week off of work over Thanksgiving to design and build a Christmas light decoration that can flash fancy patterns. He calls it the Uno Christmas Tree. It’s sixteen strands of lights draped between a pole and the ground to form the shape of a tree. The main controller is an Arduino UNO, but what really makes this work is a mechanical relay board with sixteen channels.

Using trigonometry they figured out that the decoration would be fifteen feet tall and have a five-foot radius at the base. A pipe was installed to act as the trunk, with an old toilet flange at the top and stakes at the bottom to anchor the lights. They all make their connections at the controller box using extension cords that were labelled with channel numbers. You can see the final product in the video after the break. But you’ll also want to watch the clip on [Jason’s] blog which shares the sonic symphony created when the mechanical relays really start working.

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Electronic ornament will definitely put [Dave] on Santa’s “naughty” list

mischievous-xmas-ornament

[Dave Vandenbout] says that his sister has gotten big on Christmas traditions, and decided that the whole family should start making ornaments for the tree each year. Not one to let a chance to tinker with electronics pass him by, [Dave] started brainstorming the perfect electronic ornament for their tree.

He settled on the Christmas tree design you see above, which will eventually hold 15 RGB LEDs. On the back of the board, he is planning on mounting a PIC 18F27J53 microcontroller, which will take care of the LED display along with his other more mischievous components.

You see, undeterred by his sister’s holiday spirit, [Dave] wants to arm the ornament with a foul mouth, and have it attempt to shake other ornaments off the tree. To do this, he’s installing a vibrating motor on the back of the PCB, along with a speaker and MicroSD card to provide the ornament’s sound bites.

To be honest, we think his idea is pretty entertaining, we can only imagine the look grandma will give when the cute, light up Christmas tree ornament blurts out, “Eat me Santa!”

We just hope he sends some video our way once he wraps up the project.

GE Color Effects hacking for the nautically inclined

ge-color-effects-controller

[Jim] wrote in to share some work he did with GE Color Effects LED lights in an effort to create a light display for his boat. He saw our coverage of the Color Effects G-35 hacking efforts by DeepDarc last year, and knew that they would be prefect for the boat. He did some careful scouring of eBay to score 8 strings of lights at bargain basement pricing, then he got down to the business of hacking them.

He originally built a control circuit using a single PIC18F, but just before he started to put everything together, he realized that wiring everything up would be a huge undertaking. Going back to the drawing board, he decided it would be best to replace the lights’ stock board with one of his own. Now, he uses a single master controller board to send messages to his slave “pods”, significantly cutting down the amount of wiring required for the project.

The display looks great as you can see in the video below, though as many do, [Jim] has plenty of improvements in mind for the future.

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Looking toward Christmas decor by learning about DMX

So Halloween finally arrived, we hope you had enough time to pull off your frightening feats in the way you had originally envisioned. Now it’s time again to look to the future and start planning this year’s Christmas decorations. Lights are always a popular theme, and this year you might want to look into DMX lighting controls and decide if that’s a route you want to take. [Akiba] has your back, he just put together a set of videos explaining the DMX lighting protocol and how to use it with an Arduino.

The thought here is that the Arduino can be used as a sort of DMX hub that is connected directly to a computer running open source controller hardware. It can send commands which the Arduino decodes, deciding whether to just pass them on to DMX compatible devices, or to do what it does best and control other hardware that is not normally accessible through the lighting command protocol. To the control program your four-dollar strand of LED lights looks no different from a thousand dollar stage light, making it cheap and easy to build your own entertaining holiday show right in your front yard. See the second video in this series after the break where [Akibo] details the hardware setup for his system. The other parts are available at the link above.

Be careful, this can be a consuming endeavor. Don’t believe us? Just look around and you’ll find no shortage of large DMX builds just for Christmas lights.

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Animated X-mas sign

Sure, it may be two and a half months until Christmas. That doesn’t mean we can’t start building a few Christmas decorations. Last year, [RB] over at Embedded Lab made an animated Christmas sign using a simple microcontroller setup. This year, [RB] is adding a blinking LED border and doing the entire project with 74xx ICs.

The letters for this year’s sign were recycled from last years’. This time, however, two strings of 12 LEDs are used for the blinking border. The blinking circuitry uses a 74hc14 Schmitt trigger to provide the clock. A pair of 74hc595 shift registers turn each letter on one at a time. The speed is controlled with a small trim pot.

Using ICs to drive a series of lights in a pattern isn’t a new thing – you’d be hard pressed to not find a similar setup in the blinking panels of sci-fi shows of the 60s and 70s. Of course this sign doesn’t compare with what can be done with a microprocessor a lot of patience, it’s still a very nice build. Check out the video after the break to see the X-mas sign in action.

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Bare-bones electronic advent calendar

It’s officially September now (in some parts of the world), and that means we’ve been watching the Christmas decorations go up on the floor of Costco, Walmart and Target for the last few weeks. As a small test of reality, [Eric] decided to build an electronic advent calendar that counts down the days until Christmas. As a simple build using parts lying around on the bench, [Eric] did a pretty good job at deferring his kid’s questions of, “How long until Christmas?” to a machine.

The build is fairly bare-bones, using only an Arduino Pro Mini, RTC and LCD display. For the real-time clock, [Eric] used the ever popular DS3231 RTC. The software reads the time from the clock and calculates the number of seconds between the present time and the hard-coded target date.

Everything is powered by a 9 Volt battery that wouldn’t last the remaining 115 days until Christmas. There is a power switch and the RTC has a battery backup, so the build will probably suffice for all but the most fanatical child.

360 degree photography uses very easy post-processing

[Pixel_Outlaw] has been working on a method to capture 360 images with his camera. He’s using a shiny Christmas ball ornament to reflect the entire room into the lens of the camera. In the unwrapped image you can make out the three legs of his tripod. In that snapshot he laid the ornament on the floor and pointed the camera straight down from above.

What catches our attention is the post processing he used to unwrap the image. He loaded up The Gimp, an open source image manipulation program, and used just three steps to unwrap the image. First he cropped the picture so that it was square and the spherical ornament was perfectly centered. Then he ran the polar coordinates filter. Finally he scaled the image, setting the width to be Pi times the height. Works pretty darned well for something that doesn’t take much fiddling.

The ornament wasn’t perfectly smooth (or maybe it was a bit dirty) but you can get a much better starting image if you use a bulb with a silver reflector like we saw in this older hack.