Old Thermometer Gets New Eyes

As much as we’d like to have the right tools for the right job all of the time, sometimes our parts drawers have other things in mind. After all, what’s better than buying a new tool than building one yourself from things you had lying around? That’s at least what [Saulius] must have been thinking when he needed a thermometer with a digital output, but only had a dumb, but feature-rich, thermometer on hand.

Luckily, [Saulius] had a webcam lying around as well as an old thermometer, and since the thermometer had a LCD display it was relatively straightforward to get the camera to recognize the digits in the thermometer’s display. This isn’t any old thermometer, either. It’s a four-channel thermometer with good resolution and a number of other useful features (with an obvious lack of communications abilities), so it’s not something that he could just overlook.

Once the camera was mounted to an arm and pointed at the thermometer’s screen, an algorithm running on a computer detects polygons and reports its information into a CSV file. This process is made simpler by the fact that LCD screens like this are very predictable. From there, the data is imported into LibreOffice and various charts and graphs can be made.

Although perhaps not the most elegant of hacks, sometimes you have to work with the supplies that are on hand at the time. Sometimes the tools you need are too expensive, politically dangerous, or too impractical to obtain. To that end [Saulius]’s hack is a great example of what hacks are possible with the right mindset.

Smoothly Modernized Nixie Display

The renaissance of Nixie tube popularity amid the nostalgia surrounding older tech has made them almost prohibitively expensive for individual projects. Seeing an opportunity to modernize the beloved devices, [Connor Nishijima] has unleashed this new, LED edge-lit display that he has dubbed Lixie.

We featured his prototype a few years ago. That design used dots to make up each character but this upgrade smooths that out with sleek lines and a look one would almost expect from a professional device — or at the very least something you’d see in a cyberpunk near-future. The color-changing Neopixel LEDs — moderated by a cleverly designed filter — allow for customization to your heart’s content, and the laser-cut acrylic panes allow for larger displays to be produced with relative ease.

The image above (and the video below) show two revisions of the most recent Lixie prototypes. There is a huge improvement on the right, as the digits are now outlines instead of single strokes and engraved instead of cut completely through the acrylic. The difference if phenomenal, and in our opinion move the “back to the drawing board” effect to “ready for primetime”. [Connor] and his team are working on just that, with a Tindie preorder in place for the first production-ready digits to roll off their line.

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Massive Pixel Display Holiday Decoration

Decorating for the holidays is serious business! Finding themselves surrounded by neighbours who go big, redditor [wolfdoom] decided that this was the year to make a strong showing, and decided to build an oversized pixel LED display.

LED Pixel Holiday DisplayDemonstrating resourcefulness in their craft, [wolfdoom] found an old fluorescent light grid pattern to prevent bleed from one pixel to the next. Reusing this grid saves many hours of precision-cutting MDF — to be substituted with many hours of cutting the plastic with decidedly more room for error. Attaching the resulting grid to a sheet of plywood, and 576(!) drilled holes later, the LEDs were installed and laboriously wired together.

A Plastic light diffusing sheet to sell the pizel effect and a little help from their local maker space with the power circuit was enough to keep this project scrolling to completion — after the requisite period of basement-dwelling fabrication.


Despite some minor demotion attributed to a clumsy daughter, the massive 4×4 display remained a suitably festive decoration. For now the control system remains in [wolfdoom]’s basement, but with plans to incorporate it into the display’s frame down the road.

One of the more interesting LED matrix builds we saw this year is the one that uses 1575 beer bottles. For a more interactive holiday decorations, Halloween usually takes the cake — like this animated door knocker.

[via /r/DIY]

Arduino Lighting Controller With Remote Twist

The time for putting up festive lights all around your house is nigh, and this is a very popular time for those of us who use the holiday season as an excuse to buy a few WiFi chips and Arduinos to automate all of our decorations. The latest in this great tradition is [Real Time Logic]’s cloud-based Christmas light setup.

In order to give public access to the Christmas light setup, a ESP8266 WiFi Four Relay board was configured with NodeMCU. This allows for four channels for lights, which are controlled through the Light Controller Server software. Once this is setup through a domain, all anyone has to do to change the lighting display is open up a web browser and head to the website. The creators had homeowners, restaurants, and church displays in mind, but it’s not too big of a leap to see how this could get some non-holiday use as well.

The holidays are a great time to get into the hacking spirit. From laser-projected lighting displays to drunk, animatronic Santas, there’s almost no end to the holiday fun, and you’ve still got a week! (Or 53!)

The 3D-Printed Mutoscope You’ve Always Wanted

[John] got his hands on a 3D printer, and did what any hacker with a new toy would, printed himself a Mutoscope. (A what?) A Mutoscope is an early flip-book based motion picture machine, and in this case it displays 24 frames from “A Clockwork Orange”. [John]’s 3D-printed machine is, not coincidentally we assume, printed in orange plastic.

The model for the frame is up on Thingiverse, but there’s not all that much to it, honestly. It’s a frame and a few wheels that hold some skewers in place. The rest of the work is making the flaps.

But getting to the end product wasn’t a straight walk. [John] describes all of the starts and stops in his blog, aptly named “Fail Try Again”. We like seeing the whole process rather than just the final, seventh, iteration of the device.

Where to take this project next? We want to see a design with a mounting bracket for a cheap stepper motor built in. We’ve always wanted our own custom signage, and there’s nothing cooler than the flap-flap-flap noise that flip book pages make when being switched. We must not be alone in thinking so, because we’ve seen two beautiful DIY builds in the last two years: this one done in multiples for advertising purposes and this one done just for the lulz. [John]’s project is a lot simpler, and thus a lot more accessible. We hope it inspires a few of you to make your own.

Slow 3.5″ Raspberry Pi LCD Hacked to 40 MHz with ESP8266

As microcontrollers become more and more common, we see more ways to get a lot of performance out of one chip. A great example of this was the ESP8266 which was originally seen as a cheap WiFi card but has since blossomed into its own dev platform thanks to the horsepower hidden within. To that end, [Martin] is trying to push the now-ubiquitous WiFi chip even further by rolling out his own LCD driver for it from scratch.

The display of choice is the KeDei LCD 3.5″ module which was originally intended for use with a Raspberry Pi. [Martin] points out that this display isn’t optimized for speed, but after everything is said and done he has its clock line running at 40 MHz. To get this kind of speeds from the LCD, he depopulates the first shift register and adds his own fast-propagation circuit to establish a more-traditional serial addressing mode. With use of a WLCD driver that [Martin] also wrote, it is now relatively easy to draw on the screen very quickly with an ESP module. Check it out in the video below.

If you’re looking for your own tiny, cheap, fast display, this is one cool way to do it but we would suggest spinning a carrier board for both the ESP and the added circuitry. We’re looking forward to future projects which puts devices like these inside of really tiny magic mirrors, or uses them in other places where a small graphical display would be handy.

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Sunrise Alarm Clock with Organic Twist

Most hardware hackers have a clock project or two under their belt. A pretty common modification to a generic clock is to add lights to it, and if the clock has an alarm feature, it’s not too big of a stretch to try to get those lights to simulate a sunrise for a natural, peaceful morning alarm. The problem that a lot of us run across, though, is wiring up enough LEDs with enough diffusion to make the effect work properly and actually get us out of bed without an annoying buzzer.

Luckily for all of us, [jarek319] came up with an elegant and simple solution that should revolutionize all future sunrise alarm clock builds. He found a cheap OLED display and drove it with an LM317 voltage regulator. By driving the ADJ pin on the regulator, he was able to effectively drive the OLED with a makeshift PWM signal. This allows the OLED’s brightness to be controlled. [jarek319] threw some NTP code up on an ESP12E and did a little bit of programming for the alarm, and the problem is solved.

While an OLED is pretty much the perfect solution for a sunrise alarm clock, if you have a problem sourcing one or are just looking for an excuse to use up a strip of addressable LEDs, you can build a sunrise alarm clock out of almost any other light source.