Happy Holidays! (Arduino Christmas Light Show 2016 Debut!)

Enjoy the Show!

Build Notes

A Rough Sleigh Ride

It’s been a strange ride these past few weeks developing the show. It’s gone from this elaborate idea of servos, LEDs, fountains, and more Christmas-themed props to a very simple stage. With that, there’s a feeling of the show being unsatisfactory… but I’m still satisfied anyway.

From the original four pan and tilt contraptions I had built, it dwindled down to using just two… and then a big fat zero. The two constraints were the small stage size which was too small to fit four, and the FastLED library didn’t seem to play nicely with the Servo library. I didn’t do much testing to determine whether it was this or too much current draw for both at the same time, but each library behaved properly when the other was removed.

Again with the small stage thing, there wasn’t much space to fit in the fountains or any props. (The big workbench is out of service, for reasons.) There was also the mess I made with some experiments that didn’t get my hopes up very much. It would have been nice to continue on with fountains for Christmas again… there’s always next year.

Despite all of the compromises and cuts, I can’t honestly say that this wasn’t a good project though. I’ve learned and will move on to something bigger and better.

Press Play on the Holidays

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One of the highlights of this project for me was creating a Visual Basic program to control the show. I used to manually sync the music while I was programming the show by basically giving my best guess as to when to hit play. With the VB program, starting the show with synced up music was as simple as hitting play.

There were a few problems I encountered. One was that I didn’t know how to stop the show mid-way if I needed to. I thought about interrupts and all that but I felt like time wasn’t on my side to figure that out. With my current setup, I could only stop the show from playing anything else after the sequence was done.

Another problem, although not one cause by the VB program, was that the sketch size became to big for all of the shows to be in one single sketch. I think it may have to do with the size of the FastLED library but I’m not certain. Since I couldn’t have all of the shows on one sketch, I couldn’t play them back to back through the VB program. I’d like to experiment with programming the show in the Visual Basic program itself so that the lengthy show code is saved on my computer as opposed to the Arduino.

Want the code?

Check out my GitHub for both the Arduino sketches and Visual Basic files!

Thanks for Visiting!

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and best wishes for the new year!

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A Dry Christmas (Light Show 8 Update)

In the first update for my next Arduino Light Show, I went through some of my experiments with my fountains. After some thought, I had planned on scaling it back but, in the end, I decided to scrap the fountains all together from the next light show. Despite the loss of the fountains, there are still new things to see!

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OK, so this is not really new. I made this weird Christmas tree last year. It was rather last minute so I didn’t do much with it. The plan now is to incorporate it into a new Light Show. Actually, it’s going to be the main feature.

I did a little bit of cleaning up. I cut the base into a circle and painted it black, trying hard to avoid painting over the LEDs.

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Here’s something new… well, again, sort of. I’ve done LED “spotlights” before by strapping 5mm LEDs to a servo motor. What’s new this time is that I’m using two servo motors per spotlight to make it pan and tilt. I’m also using WS2812B LED modules like on the tree. More movement and color should make the spotlights more interesting than before.

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After testing out the concept, I made an army of four.

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Some LED tests.

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I painted the spotlights all black as much as I could so that they’ll blend into the darkness.

So that’s the current state of the next Arduino Light Show. I had some other ideas in mind but I wanted to leave lots of time to get what I have here ready and programmed. We’ll see how the next little while goes. Thanks for reading!

The BIG opening update for the next Fountain Show

If everything works out in the very end, this will be one of my best projects to date. And really, with everything that has happened so far, it has been one of my best projects to date even if nothing actually works yet. I’ve experimented and learned a lot and, even with the bouts of wanting to quit, I really want this project to work because, again, it will be my best.

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I made a pool for the fountains out of scrap polypropylene sheets I got from work. I painted it all black because I thought it would benefit the lighting effects, as well as hide any imperfections better.

The white support beam running through the pool is where I would mount the fountain nozzles and LEDs.

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I’m trying my best to keep things organized and clean. I drilled holes for the pump wiring so that there wouldn’t be any excess wiring sitting in the water. I also used a silver marker to label them.

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Things started coming together as I had imagined. I used transparent tubing from the pumps to nozzles mounted on the support beam. The nozzles were made out of tubing that’s slightly more rigid. There’s also a smaller diameter tubing that I hot glued to the end to reduce the opening.

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Looks good so far…

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Heat shrink and electrical tape was good enough insulation with all of the water splashing every where. I decided to try another method of waterproofing certain connections which was to use short pieces of tubing and flooding it with hot glue on both ends. The connection in the picture is the splicing of the fountain wires to my own solid-core wire which is a likely point for failure.

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Once I was satisfied with the tubing, I threw on some more black paint.

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Next were the LEDs. They’re WS2812B modules (the little circle PCBs you find on eBay). I put them in little plastic cups to protect them from getting wet. They’re open on the bottomside but the LEDs are held inside of the cup with lots of hot glue anyway. I didn’t have any issues while testing them with water.

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And here’s where things started falling apart…

I barely ever used paint until recently, so I learned the hard way that it’s not very water proof, at least when applied on smooth plastic surfaces. As soon as the water started flying, the paint started peeling.

The other concern I saw was the aim of the fountains. The nozzles are round and are attached to a round support beam, so, while it looks good by eye, it didn’t turn out very straight. The pumps struggle if the fountain streams are exactly vertical so I tend to shoot them slightly backward so they sort of look vertical when viewing the fountains from the front. Anyways, I have some ideas on how to fix this which you’ll see in a future post.

The pump on the far left didn’t seem to respond so it either got through my quick dry tests before building or I fried it while setting up.

Also, no idea where the foam and bubbles are coming from…

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So clearly I’ve still got a lot of work ahead of me. Main things on the task list:

  • Scrape off all of the black paint on the inside of the pool. The outside black paint is fine.
  • Double check all of the pumps.
  • Replace support beam and nozzles.
  • Add a drain to the pool somehow.

Thanks for reading!