The 15×6 LED Matrix

Last wasn’t a very good year for projects (and this year honestly doesn’t look much different¬†ūüėź). Over the course of the year, I was trying to work up to a grand Christmas fountain show with an LED matrix backdrop. I got the backdrop worked out but nothing else… and even with the matrix actually working, I had no motivation to do anything with it.

It’s just been sitting around, collecting dust, and being a massive waste of space so, before I start pulling it apart, I figured I’d make a quick post to show it off.

For the power supply, I used one of those power supply boxes from China where you feed it 120v ac and it spits out 5v. I wanted the project to have its own voltmeter display (inspired by something I saw at Toronto’s Maker Festival last year) so I got that in place. I also wanted a large e-stop button but, in the end, I ended up with a simple switch.

Here is the completed 5v power supply. This one is rated at 2A but you can get ones that can put out many more times that current. These short terminal blocks make it easy to connect and disconnect things.

The matrix is setup on some foam core. One of the three panels was already a year old and was used in my 2016 Christmas light show. I made two identical ones and wired them together. The support pieces are made of scrap PVC pipe I managed to get. Everything else is tape and hot glue.

Here it is from the back, powered up. The glow from the front is also nice, but I realize if I were to do something like this again, I’d want a material that’s a little more transparent to get more light in front.

With the effort put into it, I’m actually quite proud of how it turned out. I just don’t like the amount of space it’s currently taking up while not having any motivation to anything with it so I’ll be pulling it apart. I’ll keep the panels seperated, and maybe use my sketchy 5v power supply in another project.


TTC Light Map Build!

On December 17, 2017, the Toronto Transit Commission opened its new subway extension. With free rides on opening day, I had no excuse not to go check it out!

Along the way, they were handing out little goodies. One of the hot items many people were grabbing up were opening day subway map posters. For the longest time, I wanted to buy one of the subway maps they sell and fit it with LEDs but I never got around to it. Since a map was literally put into my hands, the motivation instantly came to get this project done.


1 x Subway map

2 x Sheets of black foam core board

75 x WS2812b LEDs

1 x Atmega328p Breakout Board (An old custom PCB of mine!)

1 x USBTinyISP MicroUSB module

1 x Toggle switch

1 x 5v 2A Power Supply Adapter

The Build

The process was straight-forward: Cut out the station holes, hot glue all of the WS2812B modules down, and then solder them all together. I did find that the module ends up getting hot enough to remelt the hot glue while soldering but it was still manageable even with small gooey messes along the way.

I initially put down Line 1, just to see how it would look before I did the rest of the system:

Despite the really unclean holes, it looked good enough to continue.

Lots of soldering and hot glue was involved…

I did run into issues on the first power on after soldering all of the LEDs. Reflowing some of the joints and replacing some of the wire fixed it.

The system uses an Atmega328p with a USBTinyISP microUSB module I picked up on eBay some time ago. It’s my first project using one of these. I’m definitely getting back on eBay to order more because they’re a dream to work with and it combines with my Atmega PCB perfectly.

I’m very happy with the way this project turned out. It feels great to kick off the new year this way!


I tweeted a video of it in action.¬†It’s also up on YouTube.

I’m planning on getting some hooks to hang it on my wall. I’m not sure what it will display once it’s up but for now it’s just playing the Demo Reel example sketch from the FastLED library.

MWH Projects LED Foam Core Sign!

Happy New Year: Clean up time!


I spent the last weeks of 2016 and the first weeks of 2017 cleaning up my electronics and projects storage areas. I’m happy with how most of my areas are now, especially my soldering work station pictured above. I moved the power supply from the main work table to the shelf above so now I have lots more room to work on. Of course, it would be nice to have more but it is what it is.

First project of 2017: MWH Projects Sign!


I came up with this rather quick project for my first project for 2017. It would be a basic sign for my MWH Projects “brand” or whatever you may call it. The idea was to have nice clean lettering on a base with some LEDs. To make the letters, I printed out an outline of the MWH Projects text in Photoshop, taped it on some foam core, and carefully cut away at it.

The “MWH” was very easy since it’s all straight lines and large letters. The smaller “Projects” text was a little more difficult. I didn’t like the jagged rough edges so I soaked them in white paint. It gave the letters a rough texture but cleaner corners and curves.


The base was a simple box made out of black foam core board. I hot glued on the “projects” text before working on the LED circuit.

There are three WS2812B LEDs in this project¬†which are controlled by my Attiny85 breakout board. For power, I’m using 3-AA batteries and a step-up¬†converter to get it up to 5V.¬†I’m not sure if the step-up was necessary but, at the time, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be using 2 or 3 AA batteries.


All of the parts fit nicely inside of the box, except for the battery holder which is stuck onto the back of it.


And that’s it! I think it looks pretty nice, although the holes for the LEDs could be a bit cleaner.


Speaking of the holes for the LEDs, I actually used a drill bit the size of the WS2812B round PCB modules. Leaving it like that, it wasn’t putting enough light on the letters so I cut a little more around them. I wasn’t sure I liked how the lights were showing on the letters but, after a while, I got used to it.


I’ve been finding myself stuck on project ideas so I’m super glad this project worked out well.

Thanks for reading!

Revisited: Desk Lighting Project (v3)

For the past couple of years, I’ve been experimenting with adding LED lights to my desk. The first time, I basically scattered 5mm LEDs all over my desk. The second time, I used a decorative LED string of lights. Now, I’m onto 12v LED strips! For this revisit, my workstation next to my computer¬†desk will also get some lighting too.

IMG_20160810_191527I took the switch enclosure and enlarged the hole to fit two new switches. I used hot glue to fill any gaps and black paint to make it blend with the color of the enclosure. There’s something about this process that’s just so satisfying!

IMG_20160811_154919The switches basically open and close the positive connections of the two LED strip segments. All of the grounds are connected together. It’s a very simple circuit that did not take very long to put together.

20160811_163944The longest part was organizing the cables and strips. The switch panel is in a lower position so it doesn’t exactly blend in quite as well as it did before. The reason that it’s so low is that the cord for the power supply is much shorter so it wouldn’t comfortably reach the power strip outlet.

20160811_163928 The LED strip is much brighter than any of my previous attempts at adding lights to this desk.

20160811_163936This is my workstation with the LED lighting. This has actually had the LED strip installed for a while now but I was using the lab power supply to power it, which was noisy. It had a hand in motivating me to get this project done.

20160811_172920My battlestation’s getting better.

Thanks for reading!

Here they are…

IMG_0001smAfter my little update post yesterday, the WS2812B LEDs decided to show up today. Despite taking longer than other packages from China usually do, I will say it was packaged well. It came in a properly-sized envelope and the LEDs themselves were in an antistatic bag (the first I’ve seen from any Chinese eBay seller) wrapped with bubble wrap. I’m impressed because I usually see things come from China in the smallest possible envelopes with things wrapped in plastic wrap. Anyways, let’s take a look at the LEDs themselves.IMG_0002smThese modules are a lot smaller than I was expecting (I’ve never used WS2812B LEDs before). I found them kind of tricky to solder cleanly.

Yesterday after I made that post, I started designing a single LED module similar to these but they have through hole pads to make the wire connections or add headers. After struggling to make solder¬†connections¬†on these¬†look good, I’m still inclined on doing my own WS2812B boards to make it more convenient to solder a chain of them together.

To be fair, though, a smaller gauge wire may have helped here.

IMG_0003smI was up and running minutes after soldering them together, thanks to Adafruit’s NeoPixel library and the newest Arduino IDE that makes it so easy to install through the library manager. These LEDs are¬†very bright and they produce colors that look better than the “dumb” RGB LEDs I’ve been using so far with the Light Show and other projects.¬†I’m sold on going forward with these LEDs in my projects, even with the higher cost. I’ll need to familiarize myself with the library more before I can actually start adding¬†them¬†into projects.

Where are my LEDs?

I haven’t done any work on the old Light Show for a while because I’ve been waiting for some WS2812B LED modules from an eBay seller in China. It’s been so long that¬†I’m thinking of just making¬†my own WS2812B modules. I was hesitant about doing that¬†in the first place since I’ve never used these LEDs¬†before, but, besides the cost, there’s not many reasons why I shouldn’t try. I can get the WS2812B LEDs and capacitors from a local (well, within the province) supplier and the PCBs take about two weeks to manufacture and get here if I pay for fast shipping…

Thanks to the popularity of these LEDs, it’s not hard to find the¬†resources I need. I’d like to try other PCB layouts in addition to the simple single LED board. I think this could turn out to be a really fun project! I will¬†have more to share on this when I get a little more of it completed.

While we’re still on the topic of the Light Show, a few other parts came in for some upgrades. I purchased 5 more pumps which look better than the original pumps. My intention was to have them as spares to replace any of the pumps that don’t perform well, but now I’m considering expanding the number of fountains. The main challenge with that is finding or building a larger pool since the current container is too small for that. I also got some new mosfets in so I can redo the circuit for the pumps. I’ll have to decide how many pumps I’m going to be working with before I get to that…

As a side note, a new PCB design of mine should be here by the end of the week so stay tuned for that as well!

Let’s talk effects

The Light Show Project is an ongoing experiment. We’ve seen it built up to include elements like RGB LEDs (from the first shows with single colored LEDs), servo motors, and water pumps/fountains. I like to try adding something new with every show so that’s something fresh to play around with to make each show a little more unique to each other.


In the next show, I’d like try incorporating a continuous servo motor somewhere. One of my ideas was to try and create an effect like scrolling stars¬†or¬†dots that would shine on the backdrop towers of the light show. The experiment with a rolled piece of cardboard with holes punched in it didn’t work very well. I was hoping the light from the LED would be brighter since I was using a resistor that would get the rated 20mA through the LED. I also think that the scale is too small to be able to produce any decent effect on the full width of the backdrop. If anything, I wouldn’t use the motor for this and just have a line of cardboard with poked holes and several white LEDs behind it.


Then I started¬†experimenting with this foil tape that’s used to seal air ducts. I covered the same rolled piece of cardboard. It created a sort of water reflection on surfaces but it’s very subtle. I think the foil tape can be used in other applications, like covers over some of the LEDs to make a more focused beam of light. The foil is conductive so it will need some insulation of the LED leads are inside of that. That’s for another experiment.

I want the starlight effect because I’d like to go back to mixing several songs within one show so we can have an array of song genres in one video, from fun pop party song to a gentle slow song, which is where the stars effect would come in. I’m still thinking of how to go about it. Stay tuned!