Kick off the Christmas decorating with a review of 3 types of LED strings

[Todd Harrison] has been on a quest to replace his incandescent Christmas lights with less power hungry LED lights. There are plenty of options out there, but so far he hasn’t found any have the appearance he’s looking for. Since last year he bought three different kinds to try out and has posted a review of each.

Check out the strand of Brite Star Symphony Lights he’s showing off above. There is a white ‘Try Me’ button that lights up the string while still in the package! This offers fifteen bulbs each twelve inches apart. The strand draws 8.4 Watts when in use, you can connect up to 30 strands in series, and they are RGB lights with several different blinking patterns. He spends nearly an hour on this strand in his video review.

Next on his list is a set of Brite Star Classic Style C7 lights. They are single color and are meant to look like traditional large-bulb incandescent strands. At 2.4 Watts per strand you can string together 87 sets of them. This video is much more concise at around twenty-five minutes.

Finally he looks at the Brite Star 50 Mini LED strings. These are the traditional white Christmas tree lights, except in LED. One bulb every four inches on the string adds up to a 2.4 Watt power draw. You can string 58 sets together for a 1000 foot long string. [Todd] spends less than eight minutes reviewing this set.

You can see an intro video after the break but the full reviews are linked in his article. He really liked the Symphony Lights but the other strands have some issues. He discusses what he sees as design flaws in those strands and has decided they’re not really usable because of flickering.

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Parts: ChronoDot RTC Module (DS3231)

ChronoDot

Macetech’s ChronoDot is a Real Time Clock module for projects requiring highly accurate time keeping and measurement. The ChronoDot uses the DS3231 chip, which features a TCXO to compensate for variations in temperature which affect normal oscillators, like the ones in most microcontrollers. The DS3231 uses simple I2C commands and registers for storing and retrieving time, but also features a variable output that goes all the way down to 1.000 hz for low power, interrupt style timekeeping applications. With the provided watch battery, the ChronoDot can keep time in idle mode for up to 8 years.

Normally the ChronoDot comes mostly assembled, requiring you to only solder on the watch battery. However, due to a manufacturing mistake, Macetech is selling a version with the header pins on the wrong side they call the ChronoDoh. This module is currently nearly half off the regular price of $14.99, which makes it a great low cost addition to a project. Macetech has sent us a couple of these modules to demonstrate how functional they still are.

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DSO nano oscilloscope reviewed

dsonano

We’ve been eyeing Seeed Studio’s DSO nano digital storage oscilloscope with a mix of intrigue and skepticism. A pocket-sized $89 storage ’scope? This is a joke, right? Hack a Day reader [Blair Thomson] has written a thorough review based on his experience with one of the beta test units, and it might be a winner after all.

[Blair] feels the unit compares favorably to buying a similarly-priced secondhand analog oscilloscope. The DSO nano wins major points for ease of use, a good range of functionality, and of course the whole portability thing (the enclosure is a repurposed portable media player). Can’t say we’re entirely convinced though. As a single-trace ’scope with 1 MHz bandwidth, the DSO nano may be extremely limiting for anything but basic hobbyist use…which, to be fair, is exactly how they’re marketing it. We can see a place for this the same way there’s a place for $10 multimeters — an inexpensive, toss-in-the-toolbag second ’scope to quickly test for vital signs, something that might complement but not replace a good bench unit.

Pocket multimeter review

three_pocket_multimeters

Reader [Mikey Sklar] told us about a review he wrote covering 3 different models of pocket multimeters. We’re sure that you’ve had the same experiences we have being the go-to-guy or got-to-gal  for all things electrical. For our sort, having a multimeter on hand at all times has become an expectation.

[Mikey] looks at a model from ebay, Harbor Freight, and Radio Shack. Not surprisingly, the ebay offering doesn’t rate too well but does get the job done. We were surprised to read that he picked up the Cen-Tech model for about $10 at Harbor Freight. Although it may no longer be sold there (we haven’t checked) [Mikey] seems pretty happy with it so we’ll be on the lookout during our next tool-buying trip. We’re unfamiliar with the tiny Radio Shack 22-820 but we’ve always been happy with our larger 22-811. The 22-820 allows the probes to be folded up inside of the case cover for a truly pocketable package.

You can never have too many meters at your disposal and we’ll have to keep this article in mind the next time we’re shopping for another. Never used a multimeter before? Take a look at the tutorial [Mikey] linked to over at ladyada.

Tools: Proxxon drill press TBM115/TBM220

tbm220ii

A decent drill press is a crucial tool for an electronics lab. We use our drill press to make holes in our own circuit boards, and tap or break traces on existing circuit boards. We’ve used a lot of tools to drill circuit boards — power drills, power drills in “drill press stands”, and high-speed rotary tools — but when we started doing projects on a schedule, it was time for something more reliable.

We first spotted the Proxxon TBM115/TBM220 drill press in the window of a local shop.  Its tiny size and adjustable speed seemed ideal for drilling circuit boards. At $200, this is one of the pricier tools in our lab, but quality bearings and smooth drilling action aren’t cheap.  Read about our experience with this tool below the break.

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How-To: Hack a ThingamaKIT

The ThingamaKIT is an anthropomorphic analog synthesizer kit from Bleep Labs. Using “LEDacles”, photoresistors, knobs, and switches, it generates interesting high pitched vocalizations. Bleep Labs sent us a review unit and this article shares our experiences building and using the kit. We’ve also included a tutorial on making some hacks, modifications, and circuit bends to it. Skip to the end to see a video of our hacked kit in action.

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Eye-Fi Explore review

The WiFi uploading Eye-Fi SD card made a big splash when it was first introduced, but now Eye-Fi has a whole line of different products. The top of the line is the Eye-Fi Explore, which supports geotagging without using a GPS. Instead of GPS hardware, it uses the Skyhook Wireless Wi-Fi Postitioning System, which correlates the position of the Eye-Fi’s access point to GPS locations, creating virtual GPS functionality. This allows photos taken with the Eye-Fi to be be geotagged. Of course, the accuracy of the system is noticeably lower than true GPS and seems to be affected by a number of external factors, but it is still accurate enough to tag the photo within the immediate vicinity of where it was taken.

WiFi positioning is great feature, but certainly not limited to photography. Since the Eye-Fi is at its core SD storage media, you could probably have it geotag data saved to the card, even if it wasn’t created by a digital camera..

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