Fun with WS2812 LED Sticks

Back when I used to build museum exhibits we put WS2812 LEDs (also known as “NeoPixels”) into things. Lots of things. Sometimes inside cabinet walls or tubes or pipes for glow effects, and sometimes as feedback devices for interactivity. I’ve also built a few signs before, so I’m not new to NeoPixels/WS2812 LEDs…

But I never seem to have any laying around wired up to just mess around with. So I fixed that. I mean, I’ve got tons of strips lying around in a box in my office, but I wanted something smaller and easier to deal with. I found these poorly named Comidox 5PCS WS2812 5050 RGB 8 LEDs Light Strip Driver Board 8 Channel Built-in Full Color-Driven Development Board Black for Arduino which is 5 sticks with each having 8 LEDs, for a total of 40 NeoPixels. (And yeah, it was less than $8 for 5 sticks! That’s 20 cents per NeoPixel.)

What I didn’t know when ordering is that they came all together as one that you are meant to snap apart. Why bother!?! I just soldered them up to make an LED matrix! (Terrible soldering, but it does work.)

Now I feel like I have something handy, on my desk, that I can easily use to prototype NeoPixel development. I started out with the Adafruit_NeoPixel which I’ve used in the past, but now I’m using the FastLED library, which so far seems pretty awesome. There are also some matrix libraries I’ll need to investigate. I’m running these from an Arduino Pro Micro with the Leonardo firmware on it, which seems totally up to the task.

By the way… I recently realized it’s been over 10 years of “screwing around” with Arduino boards, and in that time I’ve been a Technical Editor for two Arduino books, taught Physical Computing (“Arduino for Artists”) in a university, taught classes at a makerspace and a museum, and written plenty of guides about Arduino projects. It’s been an interesting ride!


Pandemic Sleep

It’s been nearly 10 years since I started using a CPAP machine. It has helped me sleep, possibly kept me alive, and sometimes made my life a living hell. But hey, check out this clip of me snoring from 2006. Things have improved!

I think I’ve had insomnia all of my adult life. And I’ve suffered from insomnia many of those years. When I was younger I though “Ah! Insomnia? Awesome! I can get more done if I don’t sleep!” I even knew a guy who named his company “Insomnia Development” in reference to staying up late, working on software projects rather than sleeping. Yeah, it’s just unhealthy.

2020 was… rough. Not just because of the pandemic, though that didn’t help. It was the most stressful year for me in so many ways. I started to suffer from anxiety and depression in 2019 and it rolled into 2020 full steam ahead. Things have improved since then, but for the past few months my sleep has not been great. (I mean, it’s never been great.)

I pulled the data from my CPAP to take a look at the last year (as in, 365 days, give or take a few.) I tend to say “I only get about 4 hours of sleep” and I wanted to check on that. I was a bit off, but it’s good to remember that the number on the CPAP shows usage time, not sleep time. So if I lie away from 5:30am to 6:30am before turning off the machine, that hour still counts. Anyway, here are the numbers:

I slept for 8 hours just 4 nights. (Well, it’s actually 3, but one was 7 hours and 59 minutes, so I’m going to count it.)

Between 7 and 8 hours? 78 nights.

Between 6 and 7 hours? 131 nights.

Between 5 and 6 hours? 92 nights.

Between 4 and 5 hours? 32 nights.

Less than 4 hours? 23 nights.

And, supposedly… one night I slept 9 hours and 13 minutes. I don’t know how this is possible. (Wait, the night before I only slept 1 hour and 16 minutes!)

Looking at the numbers, I tend to get more than 5 hours most nights, and sometimes over 7 hours. Maybe it just feels like only four hours. (Again, some of these times may be slower due to being awake with the machine on.)

I do tend to fall asleep very quickly. But I often awake at 4am or 5am. I can’t really explore biphasic sleep because I have a job and a spouse who is a very light sleeper. I once used the toaster oven at 5am and she asked me about it at 8am. I basically just leave the bed and go to another bed and rest for a few hours in the morning if I wake up before 7am.

The thing about insomnia, for me anyway, is that you’re just exhausted. Tired, worn out, run down. Low energy. And it sucks, and it’s hard. On the days I can get 7 hours, it’s pretty good! I can’t imagine what it’s like to regularly get at least 8 hours of good sleep every night.

Oh, I used OSCAR to get the CPAP data from an SD card. A friend of mine has a WiFi enabled CPAP that sends data to the cloud and his doctor. I do not have that.


3D Printed Print Baren

In the world of printmaking (of which I am far from an expert) there are many ways to print, including a printing press. I no longer have easy access to a press, so I’ve been using alternate methods of getting ink on paper. One method is to use a baren. The baren is a thing you hold in your hand to rub the paper against the printing plate, thus causing the ink to be transferred.

I bought a cheap Speedball baren years ago, and I never liked it, so I started looking at other barens. Now, printmakers tend to appreciate fine things and aesthetics, and there are a lot of different barens out there. Some are made of glass, some are bamboo, some have rope or ball bearings or pads, etc. So I finally asked the wisest of printmakers I know, and Jessica told me she just uses a wooden spoon.

Well, I decided to just make my own baren. So I quickly modeled something really ugly, and I 3D printed it. After I printed it I thought of a better way to model it, and I still haven’t made a new one. This one works, so I’ll just keep using it for now. It’s functional. It’s good enough.

I did sand the bottom of it… quite a bit! Working my way up to high grit sandpaper until the bottom was smooth. Really smooth. It’s smooth. Yeah. Smooooooth. I also sprayed it with Liquid Wrench and rubbed that in real good. It glides across the paper really nice. I’ve done a few prints with it and I’m pretty happy. 3D Printing. It’s handy!


Reaction Game with micro:bit

I built a simple game for Brown Dog Gadgets which will test your reaction time. The basic concept is this: A series of LEDs will light up in sequence, and when the fourth LED is lit you need to press the button. If you time it right you’ll get a point! When you get 25 points you’ll win the game! But wait! Each time you press the button successfully the game will speed up… and if you press the button at the wrong time you’re score will go down.

It’s a fun and easy build for the classroom or at home, and once again we’ve got a micro:bit controlling things. (Though it would be very easy to port this to an Arduino or another microcontroller.) We’re building on LEGO because that’s how the Crazy Circuits system works. We sometimes joke that these are PCBs or “Plastic Circuit Boards”.

After creating the Reaction Game (7 Segment Version) we came up with two variations, one that uses the build-in LED matrix on the micro:bit instead of our 7 Segment Display (the Reaction Game (LED Version)) and then we got even more minimal and built a paper circuit version with even less parts, the Reaction Game (Paper Version).

As always, we’re publishing these resources for those who purchase our kits, and also for everyone else. You are free to take the ideas and run with them, make your own thing, and while credit is always nice, supporting Brown Dog Gadgets by purchasing things helps us to continue offering these resources. I mean, in the last year I’ve published over 100 guides and templates for freeeeeee….. We appreciate your support!


100 Guides for Brown Dog Gadgets

Back in March 2020 things were… weird, right? But that’s when I started writing guides for Brown Dog Gadgets. The guides and resources are free for anyone to use, and we hope that people like the guides, find them useful, and support us by purchasing from the BDG shop.

One year of projects! While you should definitely check out the whole Project Database, if you want to see all of my projects they’re listed on my profile page.

I added screen shots below showing them all. Oh, there’s a few I didn’t write, and just updated it, but there are a few new ones not listed here, so it’s still over 100. :)

The projects range from paper circuits, switches, greeting cards, no-sew wearables circuits, Arduino projects, and lots of micro:bit projects. I’ve learned a lot of new things along the way, and I think I’ve become pretty good at writing guides! For each guide I usually do the writing (copy and code), illustrations, photography, and video. It’s a great mix that covers many of my skills, and I like doing it.

And while I’m not great at math, 100 guides in about a year is an average of two guides per week. Not bad! Here’s to the next year of guides.