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.

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A Compact Star Tracking Tripod

The next giant leap for mankind is to the stars. While we are mostly earthbound — for now — that shouldn’t stop us from gazing upwards to marvel at the night sky. In saying that, if you’re an amateur astrophotographer looking to take long-exposure photos of the Milky Way and other stellar scenes, [Anthony Urbano] has devised a portable tracking setup to keep your photos on point.

When taking pictures of the night sky, the earth’s rotation will cause light trails during long exposures. Designed for ultra-portability, [Urbano’s] rig uses an Arduino UNO controlled Sanryusha P43G geared stepper motor coupled to a camera mounting plate on a small tripod. The setup isn’t designed for anything larger than a DSLR, but is still capable of taking some stellar pictures.

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Creating art from an old Christmas tree

So you manged to get a great deal on a fake tree during the after Christmas sales, but what should you do with your old one? If it was lighted with fiber optics you can reuse the strands to create your own star map. [Mr Trick] shows how to disassemble one of these trees, grouping the fibers by length. He built a wood frame, then covered it with a layer of cardboard and another of black fabric. From there the painstaking process of routing the fibers in a way to looks convincing starts.[Mr Trick’s] final product uses multiple LED light sources and even includes RF control.

Think this project is large and time-consuming? Check out the same idea built into a bedroom ceiling.