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Hackaday Links: July 11, 2021

Well, at least the acronym will stay the same. It looks like black is the new blue for Windows 11, as the BSOD screen gets its first makeover in years. It’s an admittedly minor change, since the on-screen text is virtually identical to the BSOD from recent versions of Windows 10, and the new death-knell even sports the same frowny-face emoji and QR code. Really, the white-on-black color scheme is the only major difference we can see — even the acronym will stay the same. It’s not really that newsworthy, we suppose, although it does make us miss the extremely busy BSODs from back in the Windows NT days.

As the semiconductor shortage continues, manufacturers are getting desperate to procure the parts they need to make their products. And if there’s one thing as certain as death and taxes, it’s that desperation provides opportunity to criminals. A thread over on EEVBlog details an encounter one company had with an alleged scammer, who sent an unsolicited offer to them for a large number of ordinarily hard-to-find microprocessors at a good price. Wisely, the company explored the offer in some depth and found that “Brian” (the representative who contacted them) is actually named Nick Martin and, according to an article on the Electronic Resellers Association International (ERAI) website, is apparently associated with a number of fraudulent operations. Their list of allegedly fraudulent deals made by Mr. Martin stretches back to 2018 and totals over $300,000 of ill-gotten gain.

Last year, friend-of-Hackaday and laser artist Seb Lee-Delisle spent a lot of time and effort getting together an amazing interactive laser light show for the night skies of cities in the UK. Laser Light City, with powerful lasers mounted on the tops of tall buildings, was a smashing success that brought a little cheer into what was an otherwise dreadful time. But we have to admit that the videos and other materials covering Laser Light City left us wanting more — something like that, with a far-flung installation on rooftops and the ability for audience members to control it all from their phone, really needs a deeper “how it works” treatment. Thankfully, Seb has released a video that dives into the nuts and bolts of the show, including a look at ludicrously powerful lasers with beams that can still be seen in broad daylight.

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Get The Party Started With A Mesh WiFi Light Show

Wildly blinking LEDs may not be the ideal lighting for the average office environment, but they’ll surely spice up any party. And since a party without music is just a meeting, having both synced up is a great way to set the mood. Sure, you could simply roll out your standard LED strip instead, but that gets a bit boring, and also a bit tricky if you want to light up several places the same way. [Gerrit] might have built the perfect solution though, with his (mu)sic (R)eactive (Li)ghts, or muRLi, which are a set of individual lights that synchronize a programmable pattern over WiFi.

The system consists of muRLi itself as the base station that defines and sends the light pattern through WebSockets, and several muRLi Nodes that house a set of WS2812B LEDs to receive and display it. Both are built around a Wemos D1 Mini configured to set up a WiFi mesh network, and depending what’s in reach, the nodes connect either to the base station or other nodes, giving the system definitely enough reach for any location size. The music is picked up by a MAX4466-amplified microphone inside the base station — adding some more flexibility to positioning the system — and analyzed for volume and audio spectrum, which is also shown on an OLED.

The best part however is how the light patterns are programmed. Instead of hard-coding it into the firmware, [Gerrit] went for a modular approach with little ROM cartridges to plug into the muRLi base station. The cartridge itself contains just an I2C EEPROM, storing JavaScript code that is interpreted by the firmware using mJS. The scripts have access to the analyzed audio data and amount of LEDs within the network, and can dynamically generate the patterns as needed that way. Everything is neatly housed in 3D-printed enclosures, with all the design and source files available on the project’s GitHub page — but see for yourself in the video after the break.

If you don’t care about the wireless part but enjoy light synced up with music, have a look at a plain MIDI solution for that. As for [Gerrit], we’re definitely looking forward to seeing his next endeavor one day, since we also enjoyed his last one.

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Cheap Party Light Gets Arduino Upgrade

If you’ve got a party coming up and are looking to add a little bit of excitement, you might be interested in this recent project from [Gav Lewis]. The build is based on a commercially available party light, but with some upgraded components the final product is brighter and more dynamic than it was stock.

Realistically, [Gav] has changed out almost every component of this light except for the enclosure and the front lens. The original 5 mm LED array was replaced with a new 8×8 WS2812B panel, and the electronics completely replaced with an Arduino Nano. He’s still using the light’s original power supply, but as it only puts out around 4.2 V, he’s added a boost converter to provide a stable 5 V for the new hardware. He also added a small 12 V cooling fan, which he says is basically silent since it’s only getting half its rated voltage.

[Gav] has developed a number of lighting patterns with FastLED that do a good job of emulating what you might see from a much more expensive laser scanner. In the video after the break, you can see how multiple colored beams of light exit the housing at once, projecting patterns on the opposite wall. He says he’s like to restore the device’s original sound activation mode, but as of yet hasn’t gotten the code sorted out.

This project uses a off-the-shelf 8×8 matrix of WS2812B LEDs, but if you ever find yourself needing to piece together your own array from individual LEDs, we recently covered a great tip for making it a bit easier.

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Laser Light Show Turned Into Graphical Equalizer

The gold standard for laser light shows during rock concerts is Pink Floyd, with shows famous for visual effects as well as excellent music. Not all of us have the funding necessary to produce such epic tapestries of light and sound, but with a little bit of hardware we can get something close. [James]’s latest project is along these lines: he recently built a laser light graphical equalizer that can be used when his band is playing gigs.

To create the laser lines for the equalizer bands, [James] used a series of mirrors mounted on a spinning shaft. When a laser is projected on the spinning mirrors it creates a line. From there, he needed a way to manage the height of each of the seven lines. He used a series of shrouds with servo motors which can shutter the laser lines to their appropriate height.

The final part of the project came in getting the programming done. The brain of this project is an MSGEQ7 which  takes an audio input signal and splits it into seven frequencies for the equalizer. Each one of the seven frequencies is fed to one of the seven servo-controlled shutters which controls the height of each laser line using an Arduino. This is a great project, and [James] is perhaps well on his way to using lasers for other interesting musical purposes.

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The Lichtspiel: Not A Simple Child’s Toy.

For his niece’s second birthday, [Stefan] wondered what a toddler would enjoy the most? As it turns out, a box packed with lights, dials and other gadgets to engage and entertain.

For little Alma’s enjoyment, three potentionmeters control a central LED, a row of buttons toggle a paired row of more lights, a rotary encoder to scroll the light pattern of said row left and right, and some sockets to plug a cable into for further lighting effects. Quite a lot to handle, so [Stefan] whipped up a prototype using an Arduino — although he went with an ATmega 328 for the final project — building each part of the project on separate boards and connected with ribbon cables to make any future modifications easier.

[Stefan] attempted to integrate a battery — keeping the Lichtspiel untethered for ease of use — and including a standby feature to preserve battery life. A power bank seemed like a good option to meet the LED’s needed 5V, but whenever the Lichtspiel switched to standby, the power bank would shut off entirely — necessitating the removal of the front plate to disconnect and reconnect the battery every time. The simpler solution was to scrap the idea entirely and use the charging port as a power port instead — much to the delight of his niece who apparently loves plugging it in.

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Engineer’s Primer On DIY Christmas Light Shows

Each year brings new Christmas light shows, with synchronised music and wild blinking decorations to light your eyeballs ablaze. Now, many of us have dabbled in the dark arts of blinken, tinkering with LEDs or flashing a neon bulb or two. There’s plenty of tutorials on how to control all manner of lights, but they’re often written for novices. Learning the basics of electronics for the nth time when you just need to know the specifics of a protocol or what IC you need can be a total drag. That’s why [Bill Porter] has written the Engineer’s Guide to DIY Computer Controlled Holiday Lights.

[Bill] covers the topic from start to finish – not just the technical side of things, but practical considerations about where to source components, and timescales for keeping your project on track. It’s no coincidence this is coming out in January – if you want to get something big up and running for Christmas, it’s time to start now! The guide gives links to forum communities that put in large group orders for parts early, and ship them slow to save money.

Other areas covered include software for creating advanced sequences for your lighting setup, which allow you to map animations over your entire layout. There’s also tips on which controller hardware to use for incandescent lights and the now-ubiquitous WS2811 strings. Even better, [Bill] shares specific tips on how to avoid common problems like voltage drop over long pixel runs and communication issues.

It’s a testament to [Bill] and his experience – the guide is an excellent way to get right up to speed with the state of the art in DIY Christmas light shows, and will save you from all manner of pitfalls. If you need to build something big this year and don’t want to reinvent the wheel, this is for you.

It’s not the first time we’ve heard from [Bill] either – check out his stunning wedding invitations or his repair of a science museum exhibit.

Halloween Light Show Gets An Upgrade

This is [Dave]’s second year of putting on a Halloween light show (cache), and his latest production has received some upgrades over last year’s Christmas show. He’s switched from Christmas style bulb lights to high brightness LEDs, and upgraded to 48 channels of control.

The controllers are from Light-O-Rama, and each provides 16 output channels. They communicate over RS-485; the same type of network used for controlling professional theater lights with the DMX512 protocol. The whole thing is powered by a 20 A DC supply from some Chinese retailer.

[Dave]’s show features light up pumpkins, tombstones, and faces mounted on his house. The lights are coordinated to a list of songs that he plays over an FM transmitter, allowing for cars to tune into the music that’s synced up with the lights.

If  you happen to be in Estacada, OR, you might want to head over to [Dave]’s and check out the show in person. Otherwise, there’s two videos of the light show after the break.

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