Holiday Hacking

Posted February 9, 2006 at 7:16 pm 1 Comment
Circuit Debugging Every winter, the CS department has a contest in which each floor the Gates building competes to produce the most festive holiday decorations. This typically involves some form of yuletide geekery, such as Christmas-themed video games, robots in Santa hats, or pine trees decorated as Turing machines.
This year, inspired by that mad genius in Ohio, I built a computer-controlled light display that could be synchronized to music. A PC running Winamp drove 10 relays, each of which was connected to a string of Christmas lights. The circuit was fairly simple; a microcontroller accepted serial commands from the PC and switched a series of FETs, which in turn switched 120V reed relays. It’s probably inadvisable to run 120V AC through a breadboard, but I covered it with a cardboard box so that I could assure everyone that it was perfectly safe. Circuit SketchLight Control Circuit

Lights Display

To set the light show to music, I wrote a Winamp plug-in that allowed you to record a sequence of light transitions by pressing keys on the keyboard as the music was playing. While listening to a song, I would “play” the computer keyboard to produce a corresponding light pattern, and the performance was recorded and automatically played back the next time the same song was loaded.

Check out the video of the construction process and the final results.

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  1. I’ve also found that a cardboard box is the ultimate in protection from electricity. Well except for a plastic box, but who can afford those?

    Comment by Brad — April 16, 2006 #

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