For all their supposed benefits, homeowner’s associations (HOAs) have a reputation of quickly turning otherwise quaint neighborhoods into a sort of Stanford prison experiment, as those who get even the slightest amount of power often abuse it. Arbitrary rules and enforcement abound about house color, landscaping, parking, and if you’ve ever operated a radio, antennas. While the FCC (at least as far as the US is concerned) does say that HOAs aren’t permitted to restrict the use of antennas, if you don’t want to get on anyone’s bad side you’ll want to put up an antenna like this one which is disguised as a set of HOA-friendly holiday lights.
For this build, a long wire is hidden along with a strand of otherwise plain-looking lights. While this might seem straightforward at first, there are a few things that need to be changed on the lighting string in order to make both the antenna and the disguise work. First, the leads on each bulb were removed to to prevent any coupling from the antenna into the lighting string. Clipping the leads turns what is essentially a long wire that might resonate with the antenna’s frequency into many short sections of wire which won’t have this problem. This also solves the problem of accidentally illuminating any bulbs when transmitting, as the RF energy from the antenna could otherwise transfer into the lighting string and draw attention from the aforementioned HOA.
Tests of this antenna seemed to show surprising promise while it was on the ground, but when the string and antenna was attached to the roof fascia the performance dropped slightly, presumably because of either the metal drip edge or the gutters. Still, the antenna’s creator [Bob] aka [HOA Ham] had excellent success with this, making clear contacts with other ham radio operators hundreds of miles away. We’ve shared another of [Bob]’s HOA-friendly builds below as well which hides the HF antenna in the roof’s ridge vent, and if you’re looking for other interesting antenna builds take a look at this one which uses a unique transformer to get wide-band performance out of an otherwise short HF antenna.
If a hacker guardian angel exists, then we’re sure he or she was definitely AWOL for six long years from [Aaron Eiche]’s life as he worked on perfecting and making his Christmas Countdown clock. [Aaron] started this binary clock project in 2016, and only managed to make it work as expected in 2022 after a string of failures.
In case you’d like to check out his completed project first, then cut the chase and head over to his Github repository for his final, working version. The hardware is pretty straightforward, and not different from many similar projects that we’ve seen before. A microcontroller drives a set of LED’s to show the time remaining until Christmas Day in binary format. The LEDs show the number of days, hours, minutes and seconds until Christmas and it uses two buttons for adjustments and modes. An RTC section wasn’t included in the first version, but it appeared and disappeared along the six year journey, before finding a spot in the final version.
The value of this project doesn’t lie in the final version, but rather in the lessons other hackers, specially those still in the shallow end of the pool, can learn from [Aaron]’s mistakes. Thankfully, the clock ornament is not very expensive to build, so [Aaron] could persevere in improving it despite his annual facepalm moments.
Twas the night before Christmas, and because I decided to make everyone’s presents myself this year, I’m still working like mad to get everything done before the big deadline. Why do I do this to myself? Well, partly because I enjoy the process.
My wife had this idea that we can make the older folks some fun decorative blinky things, and picked some motives. My son then drew them out on paper, and I scanned those drawings in and traced them over in CAD. We then cut the shapes out of wood on the CNC router, which turned out to be incredibly successful. (Now that I’ve done it, I wouldn’t be surprised if all of those “quirky” decorative objects that the Swedish flat-packers sell aren’t initially sketched out by third graders.)
Then my son painted them, and it’s my job to insert the twinkling. I bought some of those three-wire “fairy lights” for the purpose, and they’re really fun to hack on. They’re like WS2812s, only instead of using four pins and shifting the data downstream, they’re on a bus, each with a hard-coded address – they know where they are in the string and each LED only listens for the Nth set of 24 bits. This means sending 200 color codes just to light up the 4 LEDs in Aunt Micki’s decorative tree, but so be it.
Last stop, and still to do as of the 23rd, route out some kind of wooden battery case, wedge in the LiPo and the charging circuits, and solder on an on/off switch. It’s down to the last minute, but isn’t that always the way?
Definitely would have been easier just to order something online. But is that the spirit of giving? No! The DIY way brings the family together, gets me some quality time with the CNC machine, and tones up my FreeCAD skills. My son even looked over my shoulder as we were coding some of the LED animations. And nothing says Christmas like hand-coded blinkies.
Happy Holidays, y’all!
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Getting up on a ladder to hang Christmas lights is a great way to hurt yourself if you’re not careful, and winter conditions only add to the peril. One enterprising hacker has whipped up a neat way to avoid ladders entirely, by hanging their lights while planted safely on the ground.
The build uses hefty magnets and triangle eye bolts, attached at regular intervals to the string of Christmas lights. The magnets are used to hold the lights to metal roof siding, while the hooks allow the lights to be lifted into place using a hook on a large extendable pole. Washers, spacers, and screws are used to attach the magnets and hooks to the lights.
For a layout that follows the lines of a simple peaked roof, this hack works great. For more complicated installations, you might still have to climb up a ladder. We’ve featured great primers on getting started with advanced Christmas light displays before, if you’re looking to up your game.
Meanwhile, no matter how much you enjoy seasonal decoration brinkmanship, don’t even think about watching Deck the Halls (2006). Danny Devito has saved a lot of films, but he couldn’t save this. Happy holidays!
Working all year long, herding elves and fabricating toys for all the good boys and girls; it takes dedication. It’s only natural that one could fall behind in beard care, right? This year, [Norbert Zare] saves Christmas with his beard-combing robot.
OK, this is much more of a shitty robot in the [Simone Giertz] school of wicked funny machines than it is a serious robotics project. But props to [Norbert] for completeness — the code that wiggles the two servos that get the job (almost) done is even posted up on GitHub.
We doubt that few of us ever thought that snow globes contain real snow, but now that we’ve seen a snow globe that makes its own snow, we have to admit the water-filled holiday decorating mainstay looks a little disappointing.
Like a lot of the Christmas decorations [Sean Hodgins] has come up with over the years, this self-frosting snowman is both clever in design and cute in execution. The working end is a piece of aluminum turned down into the classic snowman configuration; the lathe-less could probably do the same thing by sticking some ball bearings together with CA glue. Adorned with 3D-printed accessories, the sculpture sits on a pedestal of Peltier coolers, stacked on top of a big CPU cooler. Flanking the as-yet underdressed snowman is a pair of big power resistors, which serve as heating elements to fill the globe with vapor. [Sean]’s liquid of choice is isopropyl alcohol, and it seems to work very well as the figurine is quickly enrobed with frost.
The surprise in this age of ubiquitous microcontrollers is that this is not a smart device; instead it’s a single-purpose logic chip whose purpose is to step through a small ROM containing note values and durations, driving a frequency generator to produce the notes themselves. The frequency generator isn’t the divider chain from the RC oscillator that we might expect, instead it’s a shift register arrangement which saves on the transistor count.
Although the UM66 is a three-pin device, there are a few other pins on the die. These are likely to be for testing. As a 30+ year old product its design may be outdated in 2021, but it’s one of those chips that has survived without being superseded because it does its task without the need for improvement. So when you open a card and hear the tinny tones of a piezo speaker this holiday season, spare a thought for the ingenuity of the design behind the chip that makes it all possible.