Here at Hackaday we’re no strangers to the colorful glow of LEDs. But what if there was more to appreciate beneath the surface? Back in 2011 [Windell] over at Evil Mad Scientist dug into a certain variety of LED and discovered they had a song to sing.
Over the last couple decades, you’ve likely encountered the flickering “candle flame” variety of LED. Often found embedded in small plastic candle simulacra they are shaped like typical through hole “gumdrop” style LEDs, but pack some extra magic which causes them to flicker erratically. Coupled with a warm white color temperature the effect isn’t entirely dissimilar to the flickering of a candle flame.
To the Hackaday reader (and [Windell]) the cause of the flickering may be fairly clear, there is an IC embedded in the lens of the LED. See photo at top for an example of how this might look, helpfully magnified by the lens of the LED itself. Looking through the lens the captive die is visible, as well as the bond wires connecting it to the legs and light emitting diode itself. [Windell]’s observation is that together this assembly makes for a somewhat strange electrical component; from the perspective of the circuit it appears to randomly vary the current flowing through the LED.
He includes two interesting demos. One is that by attaching the flickering LED to a BJT he can turn it into a current amplifier and successfully drive a much more powerful 1W LED with the same effect. The other is that with the power of the amplifier the same flickering LED can drive a buzzer as well. The effect is surprisingly pleasant, though we’d hesitate to call it musical.
For a more recent example of a similar phenomenon with a very different sound, check out out [Emily Velasco]’s playback of a similarly constructed RGB color changing LED, embedded below. We’ve seen optical tools used to decode LED flickers into data streams, but not for audio playback! We have also covered some LED flicker reverse engineering that spills more of the mystery sealed up in these specialized diodes.
Hackers and makers can sometimes feel like they’re getting the short end of the stick when it comes to gift giving. You’re out there making thoughtful, intricate circuit sculptures, helpful software, or face masks for people, and what do you get in return? Okay, yes, usually gift cards or tools or other things that feed your creativity in the first place. But darn it, it would be nice to receive a handmade gift once in a while, right?
So here’s what you do: make friends with enough other makers that you find your birthday twin, or close enough that you both feel the warmth of the personal holiday you share. Then you get them to agree to trade handmade birthday presents with you. That’s more or less what happened between [Becky Stern] and [Estefannie], who seem to have found each other through the magic of sharing projects on YouTube.
[Becky]’s gift to [Estefannie] is a busy intersection of maker elements including graphic design, embroidery, electronics, and 3D printing. [Becky] started with the embroidery, which was made possible thanks to a new open-source library for Processing called PEmbroider. Once that was done, she 3D printed the frame and added the electronics — candle flicker LEDs for the birthday cake, and a handful of songs that are accessible via touch contacts screwed into the side of the frame. [Becky] added a real-time clock module so it plays a few extra songs on [Estefannie]’s actual birthday.
The most thoughtful element here is personalization, and it’s amazing what can happen when you put 100% of yourself into something that is 100% about someone else. Every bit of the art is personal to [Estefannie], and every atom of the build is pure [Becky]. Check out the demo and build video and see what [Estefannie] made for [Becky] after the break.
[ROBAGON] makes miniature, 3D-printable gaming terrain and features like these stone pillars with flickering torch. His model isn’t free to download (though it’s under $2 at the time of writing), but the part that impressed us was his clever way of using electric tea lights to create a flickering torch effect without needing any soldering or wiring whatsoever.
His solution was to make the base of the pillar large enough to fit an electric tea light, which uses a flickering LED to simulate a candle flame. The molded plastic “flame” is removed from the tea light and placed in the torch sconce, while the tea light itself goes into the base. A short segment of clear acrylic rod is used as a light pipe, running from the tea light’s LED to the base of the torch.
It’s a simple, effective, and economical solution that doesn’t require running or soldering a single wire and you can see it work in the brief video embedded below. Now all that’s missing for those Dungeons & Dragons sessions is this custom calculator.
[Kevin Darrah] recently went out to dinner at a restaurant that was using some cheap LED candles (yuck) instead of the real thing. And in the true spirit of a hacker, he started to notice the patterns programmed into the fake flame repeat over and over again. And like any hacker might, his mind started to devise a better way.
Now’s the time where some of us lazy hackers might grab a microcontroller, and copy and paste in some pseudo-random number generating code you found on the Internet, but not [Kevin]. The basics of his hack uses two shift registers tied together that are fed a single clock signal, and also a latch signal that is slightly delayed version of the same signal made by a RC-time circuit.
The randomness of the output is created is by feeding back the outputs of the shift registers to an XOR gate. If you want to learn more about this, the technique it’s called a “linear feedback shift register“. It’s commonly used as a poor-man’s random number generator, although it’s not technically truly random, statistically it does a very good job. You can see the results in the video after the break where [Kevin] describes the circuit. He wraps up the hack with a battery and solar charging circuit as well to make a completed project.