Feb 132021

As if I hadn’t taken this silicone LED thing to absurd enough extents… here’s more.

I came across a product called ‘Encapso K’ that I thought might be fun to test as an alternative to the acetoxy silicone I’d been using. I’ve found the super thick balsa ones never stop curing so they get bubbly and weird after six months or so. Plus I was just getting tired of the extreme goopiness of the caulking process. So I ordered a little kit of this new stuff. It’s two-part platinum cure that solidifies water-clear but is extremely brittle so it’s billed as ‘rubber-glass’ for glass and ice sfx uses. It lives up to the name too. It is clear as glass but cracks and crumbles kind of like a rubery stone. Crazy stuff.

Unfortunately I learned it will not cure inside of the vinyl tubes I use for the tube lights. I’m guessing it’s something about the chlorine in PVC being an asshole but I’m not a chemist. I could try acrylic tubes, but meh. And the liquid is too thin to make the balsa dioramas without precuring some little pieces to hold the planes in place like they use in resin casting and then it’s just resin casting with really brittle, rubbery resin. So I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the stuff for a while. The fact that it wouldn’t cure in the vinyl tubes was kind of a deal breaker for most ideas. And the brittleness wasn’t helpful.

Recently I thought it might be cool to encase the new brittle silicone in the old flexible silicone and then smash it and see what happened. And I did that. And this is what happened.

Pretty predictaby- it looks like fractured brittle silicone encased in a more flexible silicone, kind of like an ice cube.

So yay- I made a kind of an ice cube looking thing out of a couple of different mixtures of silicone. It looks really cool with an LED behind it I think. Maybe I’ll make a light out of it.

I did make a light with the same general idea using crushed glass in an upside down glass a while back. But I wasn’t a big fan of working with crushed glass. I used safety glass so it was little cubey grains but it still wasn’t great. And this way it looks like big chunks of broken glass but without dealing with big chunks of broken glass. So I ended up really thinking outside the box here by using this new silicone stuff to do exactly what it’s sold to do.

But the really surprising part of all this was finding out how fun it is to crack the interior silicone once it’s all cured up. Kind of hard to get the first crack in but once you do it feels like popping creme brulee bubble-wrap. Seriously- if you’re a compulsive folder or squisher or roller of whatever materials are around you- this is cosmic apotheosis. It’s kind of a one-time stress-ball, but it’s one hell of a time. The hardest part is stopping so you end up with a cool looking ice brick thing instead of a glazed snowball. I think I made the video mainly to show the cracking part. I always dig the LED stuff but wow- crushing up these weirdly squishy but crackly silicone bricks… glad I didn’t learn about this in my teens or I’d never have left the house.

Jan 022021

This light exists because a while back I bought some of that silicone-neon style strip diffusion and had to figure out something to do with it. Would have been cool to install the strip above a door or a footlight or something, but I rent so I don’t really do stuff like that.

So this is a pretty simple rig with (65) WS2812 LEDs on a D1 Mini running WLED. The structure is just a PLA printed holder that secures the strips and a small section of PVC housing the electronics. Originally there was a longer section of PVC and an 18650 battery module inside, but I wasn’t satisfied with the runtime with (65) LEDs so I just chopped it and went back to USB power. I popped in a mag-safe knock-off for the power supply. Those are really great.

I really like the diffusion these provide with 60/m LED strips. It’s not as great with 30/m and 144/m is very cool but probably overkill. They make several different profiles and focal patterns, I got this one by accident or mistake. I thought I ordered the circular neon style but this flat square style came so whatever. I’d love to make a larger installation of these on a staircase or something, but unless\until I own something worth a permanent setup I probably won’t be using this stuff very much. But now I have this little display piece to remind me how cool it would be if I ever did.

Jun 132020

Here are more silicone tube lights with increasingly unlikely balsa gliders.

Here’s a video I made of the process of making the lights.

The classic toy ‘jetfire’ style balsa planes are aesthetically perfect to me. Form and function in unity. The little nose weights complete the look in the miniatures and it just looks great suspended in silicone all by itself. Add some swirly powder and LEDs and you got some staring to do.

But of course I can’t look at a balsa plane and not think about planes in general, so I started considering other possibilities. I’m not an aerospace engineer or an artist, so I thought about air frames that were very visually distinct and ones I liked just because. So far I’ve found three variations that worked out pretty well.

CTS (Cellulose Transport System) Orbiter – Psych! It’s the Buran! Sort of, not really, doesn’t matter. It is technically a glider air frame, but I positioned it in an orbital orientation so it’s not even pretending to glide, but whatever. It’s geometrically distinct and close to my heart, so this was inevitable.

P-38 Torchlight – Very distinct geometry. Very little sense as a glider. But it’s undeniably cool and was a very capable airplane so I gave it a shot. Turns out it’s pretty easy to make and much stiffer than a typical balsa plane so it’s easy to reposition in the silicone without fear of twisting the wings.

SR-71 Woodpecker – Negative zero glider sense here. Gigantic inert nacelles are not a thing. But who doesn’t love the borderline sci-fi aesthetic of this historic aircraft? I got the general shape and quit. Didn’t know how to make the inlet cones or afterburners and anyway it’s a balsa wood model of a supersonic jet so seemed good enough.

Not sure what’s next. I tried a biplane but getting silicone between the wings without voids is problematic. Not sure I’m ready to go full sci-fi balsa spaceship but it does seem like that’s on the horizon. I’d love to think I can carve Serenity or the Enterprise but I’m pretty sure I can’t. Maybe an X-Wing though, we’ll see.

Also I am willing to sell these but don’t care that much. Etsy seems like a waste of time and I don’t really want to deal with typical consumer expectations. But- if you want one enough to contact me about it- there’s a good chance you’ll get one. I’m thinking in the $100 range is enough to motivate me to put one in a box for a stranger, but if you’re a cool person and have an interesting reason for wanting one that’ll motivate me even more. They do take for freaking ever to cure though, like months. So if I make one custom don’t expect it for a good while.

Jun 012020

I’ve learned a lot about acetoxy silicone, but most of what I’ve learned is I have no idea what’s going on and I just try to make it do something resembling what I want, but not be too picky. I haven’t found much information online about using silicone this way, so I figured I’d make some notes about it.

Silicone make a uniquely perfect transparent diffusion. It somehow transmits and bounces enough light that a few LEDs can fill up a volume with light, and show a little of the ‘beam’, but the volume remains transparent. I’m not sure what makes it so perfect, but I’ve tried several other clear fluids and this silicone does this kind of diffusion better than anything I’ve tried. And so far this DAP Ultraclear acetoxy cure silicone is the only kind that’s water clear and still workable. I found some loctite adhesive that’s as clear, but it’s a different chemistry and hardens weirdly and just doesn’t work, also it has a slightly yellowish tint. I guess epoxy resin might have a similar effect with light, but it’s expensive and I think UV messes with that over time. For whatever reason clear silicone just makes a beautiful substrate for lighting little miniature scenes.

As I understand it there’s something called ‘cross-linking’ going on where H20 molecules are exchanged from the air with acetic acid in the silicone. That process is what solidifies the silicone. I only have the vaguest idea what that means chemically.

When you lay in the silicone as thick as the balsa tubes, it seems to ‘self-heal’ any interfaces between silicone layers. Very small bubbles in ridges between ‘beads’ tend to go away quickly. Bubbles up to about 3mm in diameter seem to go away within about a week.

I’m not sure these tubes will every fully cure. So far the oldest tube I have is about 4 months, and it’s still a bit malleable in the middle. You can push the whole scene up or down a few mm by pressing the ends. Pretty sure it’s just forming a ‘plug’ of cured silicone that eventually gets large enough to stop any deeper curing. But it does keep going for a while. I’ve found if I seal the ends flush, within about a month I’ll need to ‘top off’ the tube because it’s shrunk about 4-5mm in. I’ve started adding a layer of cling wrap once they’re in the lights but I’m not sure if they’ll just slowly shrink for years and end up looking crazy with big domes pulled in from either end.

Pre-cured silcone slabs with powder and glitter seem to blend into fresh silicone over time. The interface disappears within a day and you can only see the inclusions. I’ve pulled dioramas apart after about a month and it seems like the pre-cured silicone softens considerably. When pulling apart the silicone it has a uniform viscosity in the center, even in places where the pre-cured silicone layers were previously very solid.

I’ve had no big breakthroughs in speeding up the curing process. I haven’t been very scientific with control groups, but I have some observations:

MOVING AIR – I just put a fan on it. Seems like that has to do something. If you leave curing silicone in a closed space it starts to smell strongly of vinegar, so makes sense clearing that out with a fan might move things along.
MOISTURE – I’ve tried submersion, vapor, and mist. Submersion does nothing, almost seems like it prevents curing somewhat. Vapor and mist seem to help harden up the outer layers, but I don’t know if that’s actually bad for curing deeper within the silicone. I do notice that if you put an older tube in a closed space with a mister, it starts to smell more strongly of vinegar than in a dry space. So maybe it’s doing something and I’m just too impatient.
HEAT – I left them in my car on a hot day, submerged in nearly boiling water, and used a USB heater to keep them about 60C for a day. I destroyed about 3 tubes in the process. The PLA gets soft about 80C and things get weird. I might try to keep it closer to 40C for a day or two, but so far seems like heat causes more problems than it’s worth.
UVC – I got a 8W UVC tube light. Made a little black out box and stuck it in with a tube. It does something because you smell burnt rubber as soon as you turn it on, but after a couple of days it didn’t seem to cure any faster and the PLA was starting to fade. I’m guessing the UVC only penetrates a little bit and just cooks the silicone on the top and does nothing deeper in. Anyway I knew it was probably a bad idea, but I had the light and couldn’t not try it.
PRESSURE – I have a USB food vaccum pump that I was hoping would help get some bubbles out, but it doesn’t. I would like to see if possibly raising the ambient pressure a bit could help speed the curing process. Ideally a small chamber capable of 2-3atm with humidity and heat control, but I live in an apartment and my kitchen is insane enough as it is so that’ll have to wait.

The ‘nose weight’ on the balsa planes seems to create a yellowish cloud over time. It takes months and isn’t very noticable, but it’s very consistent. It expands out perfectly radially around the nose weight. Something is leeching out into the silicone, possibly tin or the rosin. You can only really tell with the LEDs off and held up to a light, so it’s not a big deal, but I may try to find a different material for the nose weights.

Keeping your fingers wet allows you to handle fresh silicone to some degree. It’s useful for smoothing and patting layers into each other. But it does seem to introduce a cloudyness in thick silicone. You can only really use water on the outer layers.

I figured I could move things around in the silicone with a kind of centerfuge so I made a kind of sling. As a test I used a 6″ section of 1″OD tube filled with fresh silicone. I put a couple of bismuth beads at the top. I figured if anything would move in the dense silicone it would have to be pretty dense. Very rough calculations of the radius and rpm spinning it by hand I got about 9G’s and kept that up for about 20m. I manager to move the beads all the way through, but they jammed up against the tube wall as they went down. I figured there’s no way to use that so that’s about as far as that whole thing went. I’m sure a more precise and powerful centerfuge could do better, but not sure if there’s a point.

Counterintuitively, cling wrap is the best material I’ve found for kind of ‘molding’ silicone. I tried aluminum foil and wax paper. Foil tears when you try to get it off, and wap paper leaves a residue even if it doesn’t tear. I also tried thicker sheets of plastic and the silicone tears when pulling it up. Cling wrap is flexible and strechable enough to remove from silicone if you let it shrink onto it. It doesn’t work as well if you ‘pre-strech’ the cling wrap like a canvas. It also works okay on fresh silicone if you peel it back very quickly. It will stick, but it leaves a fairly smooth interface.

I need to do some more testing with this as a release agent and such. I also wonder if a a ‘vape’ device generating glycerine vapor could help speed up the curing process, but haven’t figured out how to test that without things getting very messy.

I ordered some of those molds they use for epoxy resin, but they never came in. Still not sure if these would even work or if the silicone would bond too well. They do make some cool shapes though so I may still give these a shot.

I think I’ve tried injecting pretty much every household chemical I have to see what everything does and looks like when injected in clear silicone. Most stuff just looks like what you’d expect. vegetable oil, bleach, various glues, other silicones, detergent, goo-gone, acetone, and my favorite experiment- alka-seltzer. Nothing really did anything that interesting, execpt alka-seltzer- I ground up a couple of tabs and cured it in a tube for a few weeks, then injected water into it. It did about what you’d expect- just slowly pooed out the silicone. It was unimpressive, but worth mentioning I guess.

May 112020

No wise man ever said “You can’t start trying to make warp coil lights and get caught up in a whole other thing with the stuff you started making the warp coil lights with and then not eventually get back to warp coil lights.”

And you know what? They’re right- because nobody should ever say that, and that’s exactly what I did.

THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!!! on the right, and three on the left.

This is another warp coil light, this time with WLED but I haven’t added the warp effect loop yet, this is just WLED onboard effects. If I haven’t mentioned it enough- WLED rocks the\my casbah and\or world. The video shows the original warp coil light on the left and the new warp coil light on the right.

I wanted to take a video with the new warp light running the ‘warp’ loop, but somehow it became a familiy reunion of all the 3/8″ tube lights. The shotlight build hasn’t gotten much love lately, not sure if I’m going to get back to it, bit of a lark, but it does look cool next to it’s cousins. #TUBELIFE

Interestingly, the old tubes seems to do a better job of transmitting the light around the curve and I’m not sure why. The old light and the silicone is only a few months older than the new one, but the actual vinyl tubes I used for that light were ones I’ve had for years. I think that roll of tubing had been sitting in my parts bin for a decade. I do notice the older vinyl has a slightly yellowish tint. I’m not sure if that’s from the factory or from sitting and accumulating layers of tobacco smoke. Whatever it is, I wish I could duplicate it. You can almost tell in the video that the middle of the new light doesn’t get quite as much light, but the old one is pretty even throughout.

Anyway- the new one has four coils instead of three because THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!!!

Apr 292020

Today we pay tribute to a project that I never posted when it worked, but should have, because now it’s too late.

I downloaded the STLs for this mini (MAC) moving head light about 4 years ago and printed them immediately.

Then for the next 4 years I made several half-hearted attempts to assemble the thing and get it running with an arduino sketch. At some point I had it together with 9g hobby servos, then I decided I wanted metal gear servos so I swapped them out. Getting the tilt servo and LED wired in through the head is a pain, and I think the design puts a lot of stress on the tilt servo that even a MG servo can’t handle indefinitely.

I used a Lolin32 to drive the servos and LEDs, and at one point I got a YAML config that let me drive the servos and LED via Home Assistant. But I never really used it for anything, every time I got it working with something I’d pack it back up after a couple of days because it wasn’t very fun to control.

But then I finally got Art-Net working on other ESPs and QLC+ provided the kind of control I wanted. So I got a pretty crappy sketch going that was able to execute Art-Net commands for the LEDs and servos. I watched it draw a figure 8 pattern on my ceiling for about a half hour.

So yay! I finally found a place for my little MAC light! I’ll just let it sit in the corner and set up some little light show functions for alerts and that will be cool.

Hey- what’s that’s smell? Did something short out? idk… oh well, I’ll find it when it catches fire or something doesn’t work any more.

Hey… the little MAC light is at a weird angle, thought I had it default to centered…

Oh, the tilt commands aren’t doing anything, not even a sound from the motor. I wonder if the servo connector came loose- nope it’s on there. I guess I have to pull it apart.

Hmmm… servo’s a little warm, that’s not great. Do you remember how the servo horn is secured in there? Did I glue it? I don’t think so… it’s just stuck in there probably, I just need to pry it up a litt… SNAP… oh it was screwed in- and the infill density on that part was super low so… yeah, that’s totally broken now… and oh, the tilt motor is utterly frozen, can’t even turn it with pliers.

So that’s how it happened. I could reprint the part but I won’t, I like pan\tilt lights but this particular design maximizes the MAC light look but probably isn’t the best design for functionality.

But I spent a lot of time messing with this thing and looks like I’ll never get to post it in action so here’s a rememberance.

Apr 282020

My recent experience with WLED has made me think all these years coding out FX loops were a monumental waste of time. I should have just waited for WLED to exist. Not really, I learned a lot, but WLED is seriously the benevolent overlord of LED control code, and of course it includes the godfather of LED code- FastLED. I know I can gush over awesome open source projects, but WLED is a transcendental gift to reality. I have been looking for and vaguely pretending to plan to code something like this since I started playing with LEDs, but this is far beyond my abilities as a coder, or a human being. Anyway- WLED is the alpha and the omega for LED projects. So I’ve been smartening up a couple of dumb lights with it and smiling and clapping at some for the first time in a long while.

Here’s a video of a few lights running WLED, but it doesn’t demonstrate a fraction of the control options or effects.

Trusty Old 8×8 Matrix, ‘hextube’ (SEVEN), and a balsa tube

I’m still really digging the hextube configuration. I don’t really plan on making more of them because it’s kind of quirky and I don’t think many people would be into it, but I really dig it but I haven’t been able to figure out a good FX loop for it, so I gave it an ESP8266 brain and took it to WLED university. Now I can control it with QLC+ via E1.31, but the onboard WLED FX are pretty wicked too. WLED lets me define different sections of the strip to do different FX, so I defined ‘segments’ for the outer tube LEDs, the area LEDs, and the inner tube LEDs and set them all to slightly different loops and pallettes. The video shows ‘wipe’ running on the outer and area LEDs but with different timing and opposite directions, and ‘plasma’ running on the inner tube LEDs. I think it looks pretty cool. I don’t even want to start parsing out how I would recreate this loop in an Arduino function, and now I don’t have to- and I might never again.

The video also shows an 8×8 LED matrix I built a while back using WS2812B strips, the bluetooth breakout board, and about 20 lbs of acrylic. I have no idea why I thought 3 sheets of 1/2″ acrylic were appropriate for this, but the thing is solid. It’s been running the fire effect 24/7 for at least the past 5 years. It was pretty trivial to swap out the Nano board for an ESP01. I also added a capacitor across the +/- just because I’ve learned you should do that for larger displays. The display is just running ‘plasma’ on very low brightness to let the hextube shine.

And there’s an obligatory balsa tube because it’s running WLED too and balsa tubes are just my jam now. I modified the WLED source to add the little crossfade effect loop for the balsa tubes so it starts up running that and it’s selectable and dimmable in the webUI. I’m having a little trouble figuring out how to handle the WS2811 PCB LEDs with WLED. I want them to stay off for regular onboard FX and only use them in the custom FX, but if I put them in a different segment they don’t work in the custom FX either. It’s not a huge deal but I’d like to get it straight.

I would like to take this opportunity to give the hextube a more fitting moniker since I’ve called several tests and builds ‘hextube’. It’s become a bit of a ‘my grandfathers axe’ situation with the parts but I think it’s going to stay what it is now. So I’m going to start calling this particular build SEVEN.

Apr 252020

Information page for the lights available in the funkboxing Etsy shop.

BLOOM – Looks kind of like a weird underwater flower with fluorescent stems.
FLAME – A bubbly flame sort of thing, usually orange-reddish.
CLOUD – Like if you could drill a core sample from a cloud or something, but more colorful.
GUMBO – Whatever looks cool in a tube but isn’t one of the other styles.
SPACE – Scenes of whatever looks cool in a larger tube made from a fresnel lens sheet.

MicroUSB ATTINY85 Board, WS2812B LEDs (RGB and UV), WS2811 PCB with Discrete LEDS, Vinyl tubing, Silicone, Fluorescent\Glow-in-the-dark pigments.

~There’s a 10 second delay after you plug them in before the lights turn on. This is due to to the controller board being programmable and just is what it is because I want people to be able to reprogram them if they want. See ‘Hackability’ if you’re interested.
~These lights are not perfectly manufactured. They’re built entirely by one guy with a poorly calibrated 3d printer in the kitchen of a one bedroom apartment, but they should do what they’re made to do, which is light up and look kind of pretty.
~Don’t handle them too aggressively. They’re sturdy enough to survive light knocks, but they’re just display lights. The tubes are not completely rigid so you can squish them hard enough to destroy the scene if you try, but don’t try you should be fine. For best results just plug and stare.
~I guess they could catch fire, but most things could. These run at 5V and pull less than 50ma but they are made of electricity and rubber and that combination has some flammable potential so I feel I should mention it.
~Don’t consume them or let children or pets consume them. They’re probably toxic at some level and it just can’t be good for you. They look way better than they taste. Also these have zero considerations for children or pets so just keep them away entirely.
~I’ve hidden a false but very convincing secret of the universe in every 42nd light. The message is encoded in the LED’s PWM so it’ll become embedded in your subconscious the instant you turn on the light. Try not to fall for my cosmic lies.

At some point I’ll put more effort into documenting the process of working with silicone because it is pretty interesting and I haven’t found references to anyone else doing this kind of thing with it. I got some inspiration from people who work with clear resins, but silicone has a lot of different properties. My initial choice of silicone was by circumstance, it’s just cheap and available, but by now I appreciate some properties that make it a very unique substrate. I also found some information from people who had experimented with silicone to create homemade casting molds that turned out to be pretty useful.

This all started with the desire to make a kind of ‘warp coil‘ light. I found clear silicone worked well as a tube filler to make little ‘wave guide diffusers‘. Then at some point I had the notion to inject highlighter fluid into it for the fluorescent effect. A few dozen bizarre notions and experiments later I’d figured out several materials and techniques that looked cool enough to put in little lights.

The electronics were pretty simple since I’ve been working with Arduinos and LEDs for about a decade, though I did have to do some thinking and tinkering. I’ve been going back to the Arduino Nano for years. It’s my default for any non-wifi project, but I wanted USBMicro and the Nano is actually way overpowered just to drive 2-10 LEDs. I found the old digispark ATTINY85 board I got from their kickstarter (the USB-A version) and got it to run the FX loop after shaving off some superfluous code to get to 6000 bytes or whatver. So I ordered a bunch of the USBMicro version and those seem to work pretty well. Full disclosure I’m using the chinese knockoffs because they’re ridiculously cheap.

The BLOOM and SPACE lights have RGB LEDs at the top and UV at the bottom. The top of BLOOM is a 2×2 RGB matrix and SPACE is an 8 RGB ring. The bottom of BLOOM has a UV WS2812B pixel, and SPACE has a WS2811 PCB with 3 discrete UV LEDs arranged in a triangle for a kind of spotlight effect.

Designing the base\stand was painfully iterative. I’m a very lazy and imprecise 3d designer and really bad at maintaining\calibrating my 3d printer. But eventually I landed on a pretty simple but functional and aesthetically inoffensive design and that’s what I’ve been sticking with. I plan to adjust the base to make room for ESP based microcontrollers to implement WiFi, but overall I like the footprint and size of these so I’m going to try to keep this general look for a while.

These shouldn’t require any maintenance, they just sit there and make light. Maybe dust it off every now and again. The tubes and stand are vinyl or plastic so avoid solvents or anything sharp or abrasive. As far as I know if left alone these tubes should outlast me, but I can’t test that assumption. If anything happens with the electronics but you want to keep the tube I can fix it, but any damage to the tube is irreparable. I’ll offer electronics repair for undamaged lights for one year after purchase for no charge except international shipping, and we can work something out after that or if they’ve been damaged.

These are made with common, inexpensive parts and open-source code so if you’re handy you can modify them to do whatever you want. New FX can be uploaded via USB without any modification, though getting the micronucleous programmer USB drivers set up on your PC can be a hassle especially on Ubuntu. I may post some links to tutorials at some point but this is hackablity for already hacky people, it’s not an educational device. The data pin will probably be 2, but you’ll want to open the case and double check. The LEDs are just WS2812B so you can swap out the board for something with WiFi or BT if you want. I’m all about hackery so if you intend to or end up doing something with these that they weren’t designed for please share, or if you need some help I’ll see what I can do. At some point I plan to make a 4×4 matrix of the FLAMES that can be controlled via WiFi so if that kind of thing is your bag let’s jam.

The FX loops use the FastLED library. There are no user adjustable settings via buttons or serial interface at this time, you just plug them in and they do what they do. The FLAME\CLOUD\GUMBO effects cycle through the color wheel. The bottom LED cycles +\-50 hue offset. Each LED has an independent brightness that cycles randomly from about 40-100%. Both LEDs cycle saturation between 50-100%. The top LEDs of BLOOM and SPACE crossfade between adjacent LEDs to give a bit of a motion effect to the scene. The bottom UV LEDs of BLOOM and SPACE crossfade between adjacent UV LEDs and randomly cycle the maximum brightness. These loops should create continuous but fairly random look that is interesting enough to stare at but doesn’t become distracting if you’re not looking at it.

Apr 232020

In the past I’ve worked with bluetooth and serial remote control of LEDs and I cobbled together a system to control LEDs with UDP packets at some point, but I never landed on anything I really liked or found useful for more than just a rough test. I’ve known of DMX\Artnet for some time but never understood it or cared enough to implement it. Well I finally dug deep enough to get an ESP8266 controlled by QLC+ and it’s pretty sweet. I’m not a huge fan of DMX512 from an structure standpoint- 512 bytes per universe and channel\address offsets and all this are just archaic nonsense, but it is pretty simple and ubiquitous so it probably makes more sense than the wacky bespoke UDP nonsense I was cooking up. I also looked at MQTT and it’s probably superior, but it doesn’t seem as universal for lights as DMX\Art-Net.

First test, manual control and a test sequence.

I had to edit a bit to handle channel\address offsets I can send commands in the same DMX ‘universe’. I’m not sure if it’s best practice to make each light its own universe, but I thought using one made more sense for my needs. I’m still a little rough on how the Art-Net nets, subnets, universe, kilouniverses or whatever are supposed to be structured, but I’m thinking that only matters when you’re controlling a lot more lights than I ever intend to.

This next video is 3 lights, each with an WS2812B 8LED ring on top and some kind of LED on the bottom, left to right they have a 3-UVLED WS2811 PCB, a 3-WhiteLED WS2811 PCB, and a WS2812B UV LED.

Longer sequence with three separate lights.

And for some reason here’s a picture of one of the tubes right after putting the silicone in. Silicone this thick is relatively forgiving with small bubbles, as you can see from this image the initial ‘pour’ left some ugly voids but after about a week of curing they disappeared completely.

“Silicone is optically compassionate but tactilely sociopathic.” -Banksy’s neighbor’s friend from the hardware store.

I’m using this Arduino library – https://github.com/rstephan/ArtnetWifi. At some point I’ll write a DMX client sketch that includes codes for running onboard FX modes, but for now I’m just using individual RGB channels.

Part of the problem I ran into controlling LEDs with WiFi was lack of a suitably convenient board. Most of the cheap ESP8266 boards run at 3.3V and I’m too lazy to add a level shifter to every build. Some board\LED combos will still work at 3.3V but it was too inconsistent. I found some 5V ESP32 boards that worked but they were less cheap and I didn’t like how hot they seemed to get just driving a strip of LEDs. Also had trouble with some of my goto libraries working on ESP32.

I did find these ESP-01s RGB modules and they work pretty well, but they only break out one pin so I can’t drive APA102 or add a button or anything.

Bottom left is ESP-01s RGB with a 12LED ring. Bottom right is the ESP-01 TX\RX adapter. Above that is a MicroUSB power PCB. Top right to left are ESP8266 and programmer with boot switch.

I’ve also been sitting on a half-dozen of these ESP-01 TX\RX adapter modules that I originally got to add WiFi capability to a Nano. But I never got the AT mode to communicate with the Nano, and it’s kind of dumb anyway since the ESP is a perfectly capable microcontroller, the Nano just adds 5V and more IO pins, but I was only using 1 or 2 pins, and I could get 5V IO a dozen other ways.

Basic setup using the TX\RX module. TX(PIN1)>WS2812B CAPTOUCH>RX(PIN3)

Not sure why it took me literally years to realize this, but those modules also make the ESP8266 into a perfect WiFI LED driver board. It takes 5V and gives the ESP 3.3V, and the the TX\RX lines are already level shifted to 5V. You just have to add a line in the setup() function to define the TX\RX lines as GPIO:

pinMode(1, FUNCTION_3); //GPIO 1 (TX) swap the pin to a GPIO.
pinMode(3, FUNCTION_3); //GPIO 3 (RX) swap the pin to a GPIO.

Add a little MicroUSB connector and you’ve got a cheap ESP8266 LED controller with 2 IO pins. It’s a little annoying to code because you can’t just leave it plugged in to the USB and keep uploading new sketches like you can with a Nano or something. But I just have 2 ESPs and work with the protoboard plugged into a USB battery and the USB-ESP programmer to the PC and just keep swapping the ESPs back and forth. Alternatively for some things you can write code on another board like a NodeMCU or Lolin32 and just upload it to the ESP8266 when it’s good to go. I have a lazily iterative process so it’s easier for me if I can just change, upload, change, upload, etc, with as little delay as possible. It’d probably be better if I just thought things through more, but if I did that I probably wouldn’t be doing any of this in the first place.

So anyway with that rig, the ArtnetWiFi library, and a tutorial on QLC+ I quickly achieved my dream of finally becoming a a lighting designer for a portable micro airshow. Now I am content… but only just now… yeah it’s over, I’m not content anymore so I guess I’ll get back to tooling around and messing with stuff.

Apr 222020

The balsa glider is a wily and shy creature in the wild. Few corporeal entities have seen the delicate beauty of a freshly unwrapped gliderling catching its first updrafts among the Cherenkov tulips in their quasi-quantum development stage.

I’ve been fascinated by this elusive species for some time and have spent some time developing a system to track, capture, and preserve balsa gliders in a state visually identical to their natural environment.

The gliders are treated very humanely and respectfully throughout the taxidermy process. Though it does end with their dead little balsa frames suspended in a matrix of acetoxy silicone, balsa are intensely vain beings so they don’t actually mind being murdered as long as they know they’ll leave a beautiful corpse.

I have documented a few steps in the process. This image shows the my team of trained domestic gliders immobilizing a wild juvenile glider by laboriously explaining the concept of token currency.

This is a side-by-side of a real Cherenkov tulip and a decoy made to capture wild gliders, and subsequently used in the final glider display.

Here is the glider and tulip in the freshly poured astral preservative compound, which suspends physics indefinitely when properly cured inside a corectilinear third-order hypercylinder.

Here is an unnecessarily long video of the final taxidermied balsa plane with scene accents and lighting.

It’s actually one of the SPACE tubes at the end of the last post video, but I put it in a more permanent fixture and it’s got the tiniest balsa plane I’ve made yet and I thought it deserved more attention.