2008

2008 was a learning year to say the least. Without any real research and very little time I decided in late october / early november that I wanted to do an animated light show. I had seen these on youtube and always thought it was the coolest thing. We had just moved into the house in August and I was determined to get something working. Electronics had always been my worst engineering discipline. So I figured this would be a great learning opportunity. So i just started building. Ordered 2 dozen mechanical relays from ebay (Horrible Idea!) grabbed my Basic Stamp 2 board and went to work. Quickly built up a basic circuit, made a rats nest of wires and tried programming.

 Around this point I started learning just how ridiculous the actual sequencing of the song is. At first i tried just doing it all in the Basic Stamp. Didn’t take long to realize that would never ever work. At this point I had come across Light O Rama. At the time I was trying to keep everything on the mega cheap level, so buying LOR stuff was out of the question. Soon i realized that LOR Version 2 files were xml. Thus i could easily parse them.

Now that I made it this far I decided to send the BS2 a serial stream from the laptop. Devised a simple 3 byte protocol to drive 16 channels on/off. (Dimming hadn’t even entered my head yet.) To keep things fun at this point I decided to write a little GUI program to parse the xml, drive the lights and play the music. To keep learning I decided to try and write this in Visual Studio C++. I had used Visual Studio C# a fair amount at work, but wanted to expand my horizons. Took a few to many hours, but the end GUI worked out ok for my purposes.

In the end, I did accomplish my goal. I attained blinky flashy!!! Unfortunatly I bought the FM transmitter as cheap as I could from Ebay. Which meant it was shipped slower than snails from Hong Kong.  Transmitter didn’t get here till January 1st. Couple days later the mechanical relays began failing quickly because i was blinking the lights at a ridiculous rate. Oops. In the end I got some decent youtube video and got onto www.hackaday.com. That was really cool and they single handedly got my Wizards and Winter video up to 15,000 hits, then it got blocked due to copyright, lame. This project also got Parallax Project of the Week. No idea why, it was a complete mess and in my opinion not worthy, but very nice of them. If your interested here is the forum thread. http://forums.parallax.com/forums/default.aspx?f=21&m=314308&g=314691#m314691

I highly encourage others to take up this hobby to learn some electronics. While I would never suggest anyone copy what I did this year (because it was a total mess), it was a great learning process. Education is always good, and if you can teach a kid its even better. Always be careful when working with high voltage. This hobby is definitly one of the most rewording ways to learn some basic electronics.