How The Gates (Almost) Stole Christmas

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
Blue screens were everywhere; no response from the mouse
Windows, it seems, had decided to die
Because it had updated; we didn’t know why
But Santa had a plan while we were all in bed
He reformatted our server and installed Linux instead
In the morning we rushed in and what did we see?
Programs were running, and most of them free!
There was Chrome and Open Office and emacs for me
Not a penny was going to Mr. Gates’ fee
Now we have no more blue screens, ever, of course
Because Santa turned us on to that sweet open source

Computer Vision Maps Christmas Lights

There’s a small but dedicated group of folks out there who spend all year planning their Christmas decorations. These aren’t simple lawn ornaments or displays, either, but have evolved into complex lightning performances that require quite a bit of computer control. For some things, hooking up a relay to a microcontroller can get the job done, but [Andy] has turned to computer vision to solve some of the more time-consuming aspects of these displays.

Specifically, [Andy] has a long string of programmable RGB LED lights to wrap around a Christmas tree, but didn’t want to spend time manually mapping out each light’s location. So he used OpenCV to register the locations of the LEDs from three different camera angles, and then used a Python script to calculate their position in the 3D space. This means that he will easily be able to take the LEDs down at the end of the holidays and string them back up next year without having to do the tedious manual mapping ever again.

While [Andy] notes that he may have spent more time writing the software to map out the LEDs than manually doing it himself, but year-after-year it may save him a lot of time and effort, not to mention the benefits of a challenge like writing this software in the first place. If you want to get started on your own display this year, all you really need is some lights and a MIDI controller.

This Ugly Christmas Sweater Can Set You On Fire

While Christmas may have just passed, there’s just enough time left in winter to justify wearing your ugly Christmas sweaters for a few more days. If you’re not one of the lucky ones with an old sweater from Grandma, you can still turn your least favorite sweater into the most epic flame-throwing Christmas sweater there ever was.

[JAIRUS OF ALL], maker of explosive and other dangerous ideas, came up with a DIY ugly Christmas sweater that shoots flames on command. In order to produce the flame-throwing effect, he uses piping from a fish tank airline hose with a T connector attached to one end and epoxied to the middle of the sweater. The piping runs down the sweater to a can of butane fuel that he can control from the nozzle. Once the fuel is being released, he uses a lighter to initiate the flames from the sweater.

The flames are quite impressive, so definitely use caution if you intend to replicate this build in any way. It would be helpful to have a friend with a CO2 fire extinguisher nearby as well.

For a less life-threatening build, fellow builder [Price] created a Christmas tree-themed sweater lined with LEDs and USB-powered figurines, connected to a power supply in his pocket.

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The Fun Is On The Christmas Tree With This Playable Duck Hunt Decoration

‘Tis the season for leftovers, be they food, regifted presents, or the decorations left behind in the wake of the festivities. Not to mention the late tips we get for holiday-themed builds, like this Duck Hunt ornament that’s completely playable.

Details are sparse in [wermy]’s video below, but there’s enough there to get the gist. The game is based on the Nintendo classic, where animated ducks fly across the screen and act as targets for a light pistol. Translating that to something suitable for decorating a Christmas tree meant adding an Arduino and an IR LED to the original NES light pistol, and building a base station with a Feather and a small LCD screen into a case that looks like [The Simpsons] TV. An LED on each 3d-printed duck target lights in turn, prompting you to blast it with the gun. An IR sensor on each duck registers hits, while the familiar sound effects are generated by the base, which also displays the score. Given a background of festive blinkenlights, it’s harder than it sounds – see it in action briefly below.

[wermy] has done some interesting builds before, like a RetroPie in an Altoids tin and a spooky string of eyes for Halloween. We hope he’ll come through with a more detailed build video for this project at some point – we’re particularly interested in those beautiful multi-color 3D-prints.

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Have Yourself A Recursive Little Christmas: Ornament That Prints Ornaments

Sure there are the occasional functional Christmas tree ornaments; we had one that plugged into the lights and was supposed to sound like a bird gently trilling its song, but was in fact so eardrum-piercing that we were forbidden from using it. But in general, ornaments are just supposed to be for looks, right? Not so fast — this 3D-printed ornament has a 3D-printer inside that prints other ornaments. One day it might just be the must-have in functional Christmas decor.

Given that [Sean Hodgins] had only a few days to work on this tree-dwelling 3D-printer, the questionable print quality and tiny print volume can be overlooked. But the fact that he got this working at all is quite a feat. We were initially surprised that he chose to build a stereolithography (SLA) printer rather than the more common fused deposition modeling (FDM) printer, but it makes sense. SLA only requires movement in the Z-axis, provided in this case by the guts of an old DVD drive. The build platform moves in and out of a tiny resin tank, the base of which has a small LCD screen whose backlight has been replaced by a bunch of UV LEDs. A Feather M0 controls the build stage height and displays pre-sliced bitmaps on the LCD, curing the resin in the tank a slice at a time.

Results were mixed, with the tiny snowflake being the best of the bunch. For a rush job, though, and one that competed with collaborating on a package-theft deterring glitter-bomb, it’s pretty impressive. Here’s hoping that this turns into a full-sized SLA build like [Sean] promises.

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LEDs And Pi Let You Virtually Decorate This Online Christmas Tree

Anyone who has decorated a Christmas tree knows that the lights are what really make the look. But no matter how many strings you wrap around it, there never seems to be enough. Plus the standard sets either sit there and do nothing, or just blink on and off at regular intervals. Yawn.

But hackers aim higher, and [leo.currie]’s interactive “paintable” Christmas tree takes the lighting game a step beyond. The standard light strings are replaced with strings of WS2811 RGB LEDs which are wired to an ESP8266. A camera connected to a Raspberry Pi is setup up to stream images of the tree to all and sundry on the Interwebz, but with a special twist: it also creates a map of every light on the tree. That allows the lights to be controlled individually in response to user inputs on a web page hosted on the Pi. The upshot is that you can paint the tree with any color you like in real time, or upload various animated GIFs to display on the tree. You can play with the tree directly, or watch a replay on the video below when that Pi inevitably gets hugged to death.

Imagine the possibilities with this. Why not hang a lot of LED strings vertically from the eaves of your house and make a huge, low-resolution display? We’ve featured plenty of large, interactive LED Christmas displays before, and we’d love to see what you come up with.

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Incredibly Heavy Ornament Likely Inappropriate To Hang On Tree

It’s that time of year again, and the Christmas hacks are flooding in thick and fast. To get into the Christmas spirit,  the FoxGuard team wanted a custom ornament to hang from the tree. They may have gotten more than they bargained for.

It’s a simple build that demonstrates the basic techniques of working with DACs and scopes in a charming holiday fashion. A Tektronix T932A analog oscilloscope is pressed into service as a display, by operating in XY mode. A Teensy 3.5 was then chosen for its onboard digital to analog converters, and used to output signals to draw a Christmas tree and star on the screen.

Old-school coders will appreciate the effort taken to plot the graphics out on graph paper. While the hack doesn’t do anything cutting edge or wild, it’s impressive how quick and easy this is thanks to modern development methods. While the technology to do this has existed for decades, a hacker in 1998 would have spent hours breadboarding a PIC microcontroller with DACs, let alone the coding required. We’ve come a long way.

It’s a bit of fun, but we highly recommend you don’t try and hang an analog scope off your tree at home. These WiFi-controlled ornaments are perhaps more suitable. Video after the break. Continue reading “Incredibly Heavy Ornament Likely Inappropriate To Hang On Tree”