A Futuristic Plant To Inspire Bright Ideas

A good video game prop can really spruce up the decor — doubly so if it’s a glowing, futuristic potted plant transplanted(sorry!) straight from Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

Since it’s a bit difficult to grow neon light vines, this project is more lamp than plant. The maker with the green thumb is [Phil], from [JumperOneTV], and he is using five meters of warm white strip LEDs cut to varying vine lengths. He’s also procured a store-bought flower pot that conveniently mirrors the in-game model. The vines are made of 16mm polyethylene tubing which he’s shaped using a heat gun — setting their shape by pumping water through it — and secured in the pot with insulation foam. Feeding the LED strips through and wiring them in parallel was simple compared to his next conundrum: supplying the power.

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Finally, A Fidget Spinner We Can Love

We’ve been frankly mystified at the popularity of fidget spinners. After all, we can flip an ink pen around just fine. However, [MakersBox] just sold us on what he calls the geek spinner. The fact that the spinner is actually a PCB and has parts on it, would probably have been cool enough. However, the spinner also has a persistence of vision LED set up and can display 12 characters of text as it spins. Because the board is simple and uses through hole components, it would be a great project for a budding young hacker. You can see a video below.

The instructions are geared towards someone attempting their first project, too. If you know how to solder and insert a DIP IC, you might find you’ll skim them, but it is pretty straightforward. The 8 LEDs on one side operate from an ATTiny CPU, which you can program with an Arduino. The spinner has a hall effect sensor and a magnet to figure out the index position of the spin — crucial for displaying text.

Although the board attempts to balance the components, the battery side is apparently a little heavy. The suggestion is to add some weight using some hardware or solder to that side. Speaking of solder, the bearing in the center solders to the PCB. That’s going to take a lot of heat, so maybe you can finally use Dad’s soldering gun that has been gathering dust under your bench.

We liked the polar graph provided to help you set up the code for your own messages. The text implies there is a picture of one of these graphs filled out, but we think he forgot to include that picture. However, it is clear enough how to use it, and it would make it very easy to make your own text or any design that the spinner could produce.

This isn’t the first POV spinner, by the way. [MakersBox] has a nice set of acknowledgments for projects he’s seen or borrowed from, but the other one he mentions uses surface mount. Granted, surface mount isn’t a problem for most people these days, but starting out, it might be nice to stick with a through-hole design. If you want a more useful spinner, you can always make some music.

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Building a Skyrim Quest Marker

I’m working on a Skyrim quest marker. You probably know what this is even if you never have played the game. When a character or location in the game relates to a quest, an arrow floats over it so you don’t miss it. If it’s a book, the book has the arrow floating over it. If it’s a person, it floats over that character’s head. It is that quest marker I aim to re-create.

I sat down in front of my sketchbook and drew the basic parameters. I wanted it to be approximately to scale to the human/elf/orc heads it usually floats above. I ended up going with around 9 inches from top to bottom. In terms of thickness, any amount of blatant dimensionality is bad, as the game element exists in only 2 dimensions. That said, I will be re-creating this thing in the real world, and LEDs and acrylic and plywood and other things need to go inside.

I decided to make it around 1.25 inches thick, which would include enough space for a 9V battery if I so chose, plus a proto board and microcontroller.

Designing the Electronics

Before I finalized the dimensions I had to design the circuit. Originally I looked at Adafruit’s backlight LED panels, but I felt it would be too hard to fit into the pointy parts of the enclosure, both physically and in terms of light distribution. Instead I went with a strand of cold white LEDs, not individually addressable but only require power and GND to light up. However, the strand is WAY too bright straight from the battery. Fortunately, the strand is PWMable so I am using an Adafruit Trinket ATtiny85 breakout to dim it down somewhat.

I chose a TIP-120 for the switching, a part highly recommended by our own [Adam Fabio]. Power supply will be my wall wart; if I were to take it out into the wild, I could put a 9V battery inside the enclosure — there’s room — but I think I’ll just have it at home this time around.

Designing the Enclosure

I decided to be flexible with my design. I was going use the laser cutter to cut each layer of the marker out of eighth-inch material. The front will have a bezel holding the acrylic in place, while the back is just a blank piece of plywood. The interior layers, of unknown quantity (as I designed it) would determine the overall thickness of the marker.

I opened up Inkscape and went to work designing the layers. I did everything in a single Inkscape file with each layer corresponding with a similar layer on the design.

Closer to lasering, when I have a good sense of the projects’s final parameters, I’ll distribute the layers on a series of 12”x12” Inkscape canvases, and I’ll print directly from these. This will allow me to cut some filler projects in the unused portion of the boards, because I’m cheap like that.

The topmost bezel was easy — it’s supposed to look a specific way. I dropped a GIF from the ‘nets into Inkscape and traced it. I duplicated that layer and made the bottom plate, which is basically just a filled-in version of the bezel. There needed to be the vinyl for the light-emitting part, with some sort of bezel keeping it in place. There also needed to be a board for the LEDs, and beneath the LED board there needed to be room for a small circuit board.

I ended up making the whole thing 10 layers thick: Beginning from the top: the outer bezel; then the acrylic and its carrier, which nestle together — I didn’t want any light escaping from the sides. The third layer is an “under bezel” which lifts the acrylic up 1/8” because the LED strips are covered in a little “hill” of plastic. Fourth, the LED plate, painted white with lengths of LED strip attached to it.

I consider those four layers to be the top of the project. The next six are the bottom, consisting of five identical layers making up the electronics compartment, with the back plate, which also has a hole for the power supply and also mounts the protoboard. Each layer is 1/8″ thick, for an overall thickness of 1.25″ — not too bad. It’s somewhat on the heavy side. (By the way, you can find the Inkscape file in the project page.)


The first fifteen minutes of lasering was hell, as I got all the settings figured out. But once I got everything dialed in, it was a breeze.

The layers were split onto 12″x12″ sheets, with two layers per. So I imported 1″x2″ rectangles with horse shapes on them, and you can see them on the right. We use these in my gaming group for horses, with a figure sitting on top of it to show he or she is mounted.

Once I got dialed into my favorite settings, the lasering went quite well. The wood was about one notch lower in terms of quality than what I’m used to, and I felt like the glue was just a little more refractory or whatever. Still, most of the parts came out perfectly.

I was mostly worried about the acrylic. I took a chance with some translucent white acrylic I found on Amazon. Having never used it before, or had a clear understanding (sorry) of how translucent it was, I bought it sight unseen. Furthermore, I had enough real estate on my 12″x12″ sheet for maybe 3 cuts, so I wanted to get the right settings ASAP.

It worked better than I could have hoped. Someone at the hackerspace had written the best ratio of speed and power on the laser cutter room’s whiteboard walls — 15 speed, 8 power. I ran it through twice to be sure, but it came out perfect, and slid into place like a charm.

The Build

I glued the bottom six layers right there in the hackerspace, as well as the two-layer carrier for the acrylic. All I needed to do was paint the thing, add the electronics, and bolt it together.

Originally I’d envisioned a battery pack inside a harness of some sort, with a black-painted PVC pipe hoisting the marker overhead. That seems like a lot to tackle between now during my first run at the project, so I converted the idea to a tabletop version that uses a wall wart.

When I was prototyping the electronics it had occurred to me that I might be a little ridiculous about the Trinket — what if it didn’t need to be PWMed down? Oh, but it does. LED strips run at full brightness are awfully bright, and that cold white that has all the subtlety of a klieg light. They definitely need to be PWMed down.

The strip comes with a 3M adhesive backing, which was great, However, the solder pads that were most accessible were on the underside, as the top is covered in a plastic bubble that is hard to cut away, even with a sharp knife.

For  the future development, I plan to swap in an ESP and use it as a Twitter alert. In addition, the enclosure was hastily designed and lacked a certain polish. For instance, I would like to use trapped nuts on the top three layers to secure the front bezel from behind, so it doesn’t have those intrusive socket heads showing — or at least inset them somehow.

But all in all I’m happy to have the enclosure work out so well the first try. After countless lasered projects with every grade of success from “abject debacle” on up, maybe I’m starting to get a hang of it! Check out the project page on Hackaday.io.

LEDs Give HP 3457A DDM’s LCD Display the Boot

Have you ever been so frustrated with a digital display that you wanted to rip the whole thing out and create a better one? That is exactly what [xi] did. Replacing their constantly used HP 3457A multimeter’s LCD display with a brighter LED one was a necessary project — and a stress reducing one at that.

While this digital multimeter is well-known for its reliability, its standard display is rather lacking. In fact, there are several mods already out there that simply add a backlight. However, as [xi] notes, LCD screens always have a certain angle where they still don’t quite show properly. So this hack reverses the LCD’s protocol and details the process of creating new LED display.

The issue of dim displays that comes with traditional digital multimeters is not a new one. One solution to this that we have seen before is a hack where someone decided to add a backlight onto their cheap multimeter. [Ken Kaarvik] got around the dimness altogether by giving his multimeter a wireless remote display of his choosing. It is interesting to see the different solutions that are made to the same nuisance. The first item on the agenda of [xi]’s hack was to successfully analyze the HP LCD protocol. With the aid of an ATmega32, the digits were decoded throughout the transmission frames.

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Stop Motion with the Time Glove

What do you get when you put an ultra-bright LED in the palm of a glove, and strobe it controlled by an accelerometer? A Time Control Glove! In creator [MadGyver]’s own words, it’s “just a stroboscope with frequency adjustment” but the effect is where all the fun is.

The Time Control Glove uses the stroboscopic effect, which many of us have seen used in timeless water drop fountains where the strobe rate makes drops appear to change speed, freeze in place, and even change direction. [MadGyver] made the entire assembly portable by putting it into a glove. An on-board accelerometer toggles the strobe in response to a shake, and the frequency is changed by twisting the glove left or right. The immediate visual feedback to the physical motions is great. The whole effect is really striking on the video, which is embedded below.

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Look Out DotStar, Here Comes Lumenati

Adafruit has long been the undisputed ruler of the smart LED product, with their WS2812B (NeoPixel) and APA102C (DotStar) product lines dominating due to the robust assortment of sizes and form factors, as well as their ease of use. SparkFun Electronics recently announced Lumenati, their new line of APA102C breakouts that feature some intriguing features which do a good job of distinguishing the two lines.

First, the screen-printing on the boards include pixel numbers. We were working on NeoPixel assemblies the other day and keeping track of pixels was a nightmare. In addition, the Lumenati boards are meant to combine into larger creations, allowing you to make complicated shapes. SparkFun supports this by giving the boards castellated headers — far better than the solder pads! If you are running into logic conflicts with the boards you can solder in jumpers to bypass the data connections and control individual boards separately. On the down side, SparkFun’s intitial offerings — 6 products — still can’t compete with Adafruit’s, like their 255-LED disk, shields, strips, matrices, and flexible PCBs.

We’ve published a few DotStar builds over the years, like this violin bow lightsaber and the Magicshifter POV stick. Maybe we’ll start seeing some Lumenati builds? Continue reading “Look Out DotStar, Here Comes Lumenati”

Building a Monster Floodlight out of Scrap

When the apocalypse comes, we want [Justin] on our team! He made a hefty 400 W work light out of four 100 W LEDs mounted to a giant, aluminum slab-like heat sink he had lying around. He manufactured a diffuser for the LEDs by cutting down what appeared to be a old broken fluorescent light fixture’s cover, with side plates bolted into place for good measure. [Justin] does a lot of metalwork in his projects, and you can see it the precision with which he bolts the various parts together into a rather slick assembly.

The LEDs run off 110 V, and [Justin] soldered one of those white iPhone USB chargers in to power four small fans that are mounted on the heat sink fins backing up the LEDs. Then he mounted a ball joint onto the underside so the thing could be pointed wherever, with the other end of the joint attached to what might be the tripod from a standing work light.

Now all he needs is a control system, like this arcade button workshop light or this fully controllable workshop lighting rig.

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