Simple device answers questions just like your boss does


Like many of us, [Bertho] has had plenty if interaction with “Executive” types who seem to make decisions randomly, and most certainly not based upon any sort of reason. As he was picking through parts bins at his local hackerspace, he thought it would be fun to build an “Executive Decision Maker”. The device he had in mind would answer questions at the push of a button, with the kind of randomness that could only be carefully honed through years of barking orders from a corner office.

Constructed from third-rate LEDs and old CMOS chips that were lying around, the operation of the device is quite simple. Much like a Magic 8 Ball, a question is posed, and as [Bertho] states, “The Executive Decision maker automatically tunes into the aether and the subconscious of the user” pressing the “Decide” button. The device then makes a judgement, relaying its answer to the user via an LED display.

We definitely got a good laugh out of this one, so be sure to check out the video after the break to see the Executive Decision Maker in action.

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Workshop lights so bright, they will give you sunburn


There are few things more frustrating than trying to tinker at your workbench with suboptimal lighting. [Jeremy] was toiling away in his workshop one afternoon when he decided that he finally had enough, and set out to overhaul his lighting setup.

His workshop is incredibly bright now, sporting a handful of under the shelf CCFL tubes to complement the mixture of cool and warm LEDs that are mounted on the ceiling. One thing we really liked about his setup is that he added a handful of LEDs to the bottom of his workbench, aimed at the floor – perfect for those times when a tiny screw or SMD component goes missing.

Everything is controlled by an ATMega 328 that he shoved into a project box, allowing him to tweak the lighting to suit his needs using a few simple buttons and a small LCD panel.

[Jeremy] says that the entire thing is “overkill” and that it is decidedly the messiest wiring job he has ever done. For something that was put together hastily in an afternoon, we think it’s just fine. The only thing we’re left wanting is some schematics and source code.

As far as the overkill comment goes, say it with me: There. Can. Never. Be. Too. Many. LEDs!

Stick around to watch [Jeremy] give a demonstration of how the system operates.

[via Adafruit blog]

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Hacking cakes with LEDs, the sequel!

A few weeks back we ran a piece about the convergence of making and baking in an attempt to create a cake festooned with working LEDs. The moral was that not every creative idea ends in victory, but we applauded the spirit it takes to post one’s goofs for the whole internet to see and to learn from.

[Craig]’s LED matrix proved unreliable…and the underlying cake didn’t fare much better, resembling that charred lump in the toaster oven in Time Bandits. The cakes-with-lights meme might have died right there if not for a fluke of association…

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A Bright Idea

[Jeri Ellsworth] had a bright idea – a brain-activated light bulb that floats above your head. While out and about, she saw some guy with a video game icon attached to metal rod sticking out of his backpack. The rod made the icon appear to be floating above his head (think The Sims), which was the inspiration for this LED powered light bulb. The bulb is connected to a metal rod, as well as a metal hoop which is springy enough to keep a pair of electrodes snugly attached to your head.

Those electrodes, along with a third probe used for noise reference, are hooked up to a AD620 instrumentation amplifier. With the help of op amps, it modulates the red or green LEDs that are attached to the back side of the light bulb. The end result is an amusing way to show brain activity while being grilled on a Q/A panel, or while just wandering around taking in all the amazing sights presented at Maker Faire.

Join us after the break for a video demonstration.

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Awesome custom disco basement


[Evan] is one of those neighbors you only wish you had.

His neighbors were renovating their basement for use as home theater, and he stopped by to check out how things were coming along. While there, he suggested they add some LED lighting to their shelving unit to make them pop. His neighbors were game, so he sourced some cheap RGB LEDs online and began working on the circuits and firmware needed to control the lights. His neighbors wrote some custom software that interfaces with iTunes to create a neat visualization in the shelving unit whenever music is played.

Once everything was complete, his neighbors informed him that they wanted an additional 20 overhead can lights and a set of 4 wall sconces wired up as well. Needless to say he was pretty excited, so he got busy wiring up the remainder of the basement.

He pushed the installation’s PIC microcontroller about as far as he possibly could, resulting in the awesome show seen in the video below.

Needless to say, it’s pretty impressive, though we wish we could have a peek at the code used to run everything. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

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Papercraft flowers teach kids about batteries


[Emily Daniels] has been teaching interactive electronics workshops geared towards children for some time now, recently holding a session that demonstrated how batteries work in a pretty novel fashion.

She wanted to keep things safe and simple due to the class size, so she didn’t want to rely on using soldering irons for the demonstration. Instead, she showed the children how batteries function by building simple voltaic cells with paper flowers, salt water, and LEDs. The paper flowers’ absorbency was used to act as a salt bridge between the wire pairs that adorned each petal. After salt water was applied to each of the flower’s petals, the center-mounted LED came to life, much to the amazement of her class.

The concept is quite simple, and the LED flowers are pretty easy to build, as you can see in her Instructables tutorial.

We think it’s a great way to demonstrate these sorts of simple concepts to kids, and hope to see more like it.

[via Adafruit blog]

Cheap open-source pace clock keeps your practice on schedule


Pace clocks are used in a variety of sports, from swimming to track. The systems are typically expensive however, often beyond the reach of smaller organizations and underfunded programs. For their electrical and computer engineering final project, Cornell students [Paul Swirhun and Shao-Yu Liang] set out to build a much cheaper alternative to commercial pace clocks, with a far simpler wireless user interface.

Their clock uses an ATmega32a to handle all of the processing which is paired with a RN-42 Bluetooth module for communicating with Android smartphones. Their seven-segment displays are built using custom PCBs that they designed and fabricated for the project which are controlled by TLC5940NT LED drivers. The Android software allows users to connect to the pace clock remotely, creating any sort of multi-layered swimming or running routines.

When the project was completed, the pair tallied their total hardware cost to be under $250 apiece at low production volumes. Even when taking assembly time into account, their solution is several magnitudes cheaper than similar commercial systems.

Stick around if you are interested in seeing a demo video of their final product in action.

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