First Year Setup

Feeling a little bit overwhelmed right now because of how much work there is to do. This weekend we started setup.

What we accomplished this weekend:
* Lights in the tree
* GECE lights on the roof
* Built Renard SS8 built for the tree (extension cords)
* Lights in the bushes
* Mini trees built/painted/covered
* SSRNeons built for mini trees, bushes, tune-to sign
* Renard SS24 mounted for bushes/reindeer
* Renard 64XC mounted to controller for the SSRNeons
* Brown color painted on the reindeer
* Data/SSR cables run throughout the yard and roofline

What we have left to do:
* Finish the reindeer (finishing colors, stands, etc.)
* Fix bug in Renard-to-GECE controller I designed for the roof lights
* Terminate cables
* Test each controller/SSR
* Fix any bad strings of lights
* Figure out channel counts (bypass unused Renard 64 channels)
* Set up FM02

Soldering Frenzy!

I found some time to solder some more of the group buy purchases which came in a couple months ago.  So far I soldered one Renard64XC and 8 SSRNeons.  They are similar to the SSRez, but with two neon lamps so you are made aware when 120VAC is present.

Picture of the first completed Renard64XC5 First Completed SSRNeon Completed SSRNeon

I was able to complete the Renard64XC in one evening in a couple of hours. Two nights later I was able to complete 8 of the SSRNeons in a few hours. I was able to test them briefly by using the Simple Renard Tester 8 channels at a time. I moved one SSR through each group as I tested dimming across all channels. There appear to be no problems with the Renard64XC, although I have yet to try a full sequence that will stress the current drawn and could find issues.

BahChumbug

One of the things I’ve been least impressed with for the DIYC community is the “playback” mechanism of sequenced data. The existing software for sequencing and playback of sequenced data is all Windows software. As you may or may not know, I stay as far from Windows as possible. Even if it weren’t solely my Windows hatred, the fact that I need a standard computer, laptop or desktop capable of running Windows (and more?), dedicated to playing back my “show” for Christmas was a huge turn off for me.

There seems to be something called a Helix controller which can drive a show as a stand-alone, networkable device, but it seems very purpose-driven and expensive. I have a few Chumbies (I’m a hoarder, and I love the hardware) and when I first delved into the world of sequenced lights, I knew I wanted the Chumby to drive my show.

I paid $79.99 for a “Chumby One” from Costco.com. I have a couple Chumbies I acquired for less, but that was an easy to get deal as an example cost. The “Chumby One” has a 454MHz arm processor, built in wifi, 64Mb ram, a 2Gb root filesystem which I can easily modify, and a touch screen! It runs a standard linux kernel and root filesystem from Chumby. They have a great support forum and publish a complete toolchain for hackers such as myself.

The project is only in it’s infancy, but what I’ve done so far (in a nutshell) is parse the vixen sequence file format, send it out a serial port in the Renard protocol. Strange thing about that is that the hardest part was finding a library that had an easy-to-use base 64 decode I could use without having to implement it myself.

The code still needs MANY improvements (including, but not limited to):
* Support for more than 8 channels (I currently only send 8-byte packets to address 0x80) (see Renard protocol for more information)
* MP3 Playback of music (alsa?, but will that be available cross-platform?)
* Option parsing for things like filenames, serial ports, baud rate, etc.
* Support for Vixen profiles
* Implement timing based on the sequence file (I’m running a test sequence that has 50ms updates and at my 8-byte packet writes, I sleep for 50ms)
* Lots of general code cleanup
* Build system to support cross compilation on Linux/Mac/Other(beagle board?/c1/cc/c8)
* Add 100-byte pad bytes to output (per Renard vixen plugin)
* Support for more outputs besides Renard (DMX? olsen? grinch?)

Thanks to the DoItYourselfChristmas.com community for the tips, information, etc. Once I complete some of the things in the list above, I will publish my code will be on github and release it with the GPLv2 license.

For your viewing pleasure:

Group Buys are in!

Over at DIYC, there are a handful of people who run these buys. I call them gluttons. The pricing on components for the hardware drop dramatically with volume, so people volunteer their time to coordinate purchases for many members. They collect money, negotiate prices with vendors, sort, and ship the parts out.

Here is a table of this year’s purchases laid out to ensure all parts are received and begin assembly shortly.

image

This is enough controller for 176 channels. Two Renard 64XCs (and accompanying SSRezs) as well as 6 Renard SS8s.

The only thing left hardware-wise to purchase this year is a pile of extension cords, lamp cord, vampire plugs, enclosures, etc. No more room for electronics left in this year’s budget.

It Shouldn’t Be This Easy

I ordered 4 Mighty Mini’s from the recent group buy which came early, and went fast. The first time I participated in a group buy was definitely a positive one. I can say Seth Dunn “dunnsr” on DoItYourselfChristmas.com is quick! This buy recently closed and I already have my stuff! I am pleased with the turn-around time on this one. Good thing, because I feel like I’m behind with hardware, and it’s only March.

For those of you that don’t know what “Mighty Minis” are, they are RGB+W (Red/Green/Blue plus White) flood lights using 8mm LEDs. They are controllable on a per color basis and are driven by 24V DC at around 200ma per channel (color) when using 1/2 watt LEDs and 600ma per channel when using 1 watt LEDs. They create neat effects when shone upon a house, or tree in sequence with the rest of the show. Here’s a quick demo video that the creator uploaded a couple years ago:

The PCB was designed to go in a certain “Cooper” brand floodlight that can be had for about $15 at Lowe’s, but I couldn’t pass up a deal somebody mentioned about a month ago on DIYC. Home Depot had cheap “Workforce” 500 watt flood lights for five dollars and change on clearance. Tiffany went to our local Home Depot, which didn’t have any, but had somebody call a few. Just a few miles a way in Escondido, we were able to snag some.

I started disassembly of the flood last night and did some fitting today for a “holder”. Now, the part that shouldn’t be this easy: I wanted to use things I had in the garage already to make a holder/stand-off for the PCB. I hit the parts bin and found that with 2 small angle-brackets, 2 15/64 extruded plastic plugs, and 4 #6-1/2″ sheet metal screws I was able to get something working. I used the lamp holder bracket that came in the flood, and the parts I mentioned which will suspend the PCB inside the enclosure perfectly. It’s almost as if everything were designed for the pieces I have.

My only concern with the holder is the extruded plastic plugs. I have read that the “Mighty Mini” produces quite a bit of heat, so I will do some testing to make sure the extruded plastic plugs can deal with the heat. If need be, I will spend a little more time/money making something better that can withstand more heat.

Since pictures are worth a thousand words, here’s a few pictures I took in the garage of the floods, bracket/stand-off design, and Bare PCB.

Flood Light