posts tagged with the keyword ‘light’


A New Light

I recently acquired this lighted sign that was made by Buchler Instruments. (It’s probably 30 years old since Labconco acquired Buchler Instruments in 1989.) I decided to tear it apart and replace the non-functional insides with an LED strip. I’ll also be adding some vinyl to the front plate, but I’ll save that for Part II of this project.

Here’s some of the tear-down process, in photos.

A New Light

The front plate sort of press-fits into place. It seems like it should slide in from the side, but it wouldn’t budge, so I was able to pull & pry it out the front.

A New Light

After the bulbs were removed, the back reflector came out. I mean, it came out with a lot of pulling and a bit of bending. You can see that this thing is a bit worn and dirty. Looks like it may have gotten wet or had some chemicals seep into it (or out of it.)

A New Light

Plenty of rust, dirt, and corrosion. This is a not a transformer I’d trust to use in the future. Luckily I’ll just need a 5 volt power supply.

A New Light

More nasty stuff. The contacts for the bulbs didn’t look bad, but there was enough crud elsewhere.

A New Light

Everything out! The wires were brittle, and falling apart. The hardware was rusted, and overall just a mess. Still, it was nice to see the construction of this thing, and admire some parts of it.

If I don’t use the existing reflector plate I’ll just make a new one. I could probably make one using foamcore since heat won’t really be an issue with the LEDs.

A New Light

That crackle finish is beautiful. Luckily the outside is in much better shape than the inside. Just a little bit of rust on the back, but nothing that will be noticeable.



If you’ve not read the posts Star-Blinken, Star-Blinken LED Testing, and Star-Blinken Stand, they provide some good background on this project.


The inspiration came from something Kathy and I saw at Maker Faire Detroit. After seeing the “M” at the Henry Ford I remembered I had left over batteries, LEDs, and binder clips from the Learn to Solder kits I made for the Zoom Symposium at UWM.

I thought that since I had the leftover parts because of a UWM connection, I should find a way to get UWM involved again, so I persuaded my Physical Computing class to help. (And by “persuaded”, I mean I bribed my students into helping me with assembly of the piece.)


I didn’t have a piece of posterboard large enough to make the star I wanted, so I make five segments that could be assembled into a star.


Since I don’t have a printer capable of tabloid printing, I split the pieces into halves and printed on letter paper. Some assembly was required.


I cut the pieces and taped them together, and then had the “star legs” I needed. I then used it to cut the black posterboard using an X-ACTO knife and cork-backed steel edge ruler on a cutting mat. (Sorry, no laser!)


And yes… things didn’t fit right. Again, no laser. I trimmed edges a bit until things fit together right and it was deemed “good enough”.


I took the star pieces to Kenilworth and attached them to the piece of sheet metal with some magnets. At this point, I had to wait until the Thursday night right before Maker Faire, which luckily enough, is when I have class! I brought in some bags of candy, and while I taught students in groups of two or three how to solder, the rest of them assembled everything…


200+ pieces of black construction paper were cut for insulation, 200+ batteries were opened and had 200+ LEDs stuck onto them, 200+ binder clips had the clippy parts removed, and 200+ magnets were attached and then placed on the sheet metal. Things go fast with so many people helping!

Here’s the first test with the lights out, which we did during the DECODE meeting. It was impressive!

I then had to get Star-Blinken from the fifth floor of Kenilworth to my car, which was fun, because the Milwaukee Film event was setting up and Kenilworth was a bit crowded. The stand is heavy to prevent tipping, so I needed a cart. Also, since there’s no on/off switch, it blinks all the time. No control!



I loaded Star-Blinken into my car and yeah, it just kept on blinking! It was a fun ride home. It kept blinking strong all night long in the garage and then I unloaded it the next morning at Maker Faire. I ended up placing in at the entrance of the Dark Room, mainly because there weren’t other things there, but I think being in a darker area may have been even better. (I was a bit busy producing the event to worry about a better placement.)

Dana helped disassemble Star-Blinken at the Expo Center, and I asked her to just drop all the pieces into a box. After I loaded everything out and took it home, I forgot which box it was in and opening the box gave me a pleasant surprise. I then spent over an hour putting all the binder clips back together, and taking apart all the pieces.

The cost of this piece was approximately $100, and about $36 of that was for the batteries, which are the only parts that cannot be reused. (Well, actually, some of them have life left in them! Some did die though. None are at full power anymore.)

So I can reuse all the parts, except for the batteries, either in a similar piece in the future, or in the Learn to Solder kit. I may return the sheet metal to Tom from Milwaukee Makerspace, and the wood was disposed of. (The wood cost $0.00 as it was all scrap, and I reclaimed all the screws.)

This is just one post in a series, check out the other posts as well:


LED Testing

I’ve been testing some flashing red LEDs with CR2032 batteries to see how long they’ll last. My first test confirmed that they’ll definitely go 48 hours, which is good, because they’ll have to last the duration of Maker Faire.

Here are my completely unscientific notes taken this week after starting a new test on Monday night.

Day/Time Status
Monday 11pm Extremely Bright
Tuesday 11pm Extremely Bright
Wednesday 10pm Very Bright
Thursday 11pm Somewhat Bright
Friday 6pm Not Quite Bright
Saturday 6pm Dim
Sunday 6pm Very Dim

I think we can expect three solid days of bright LEDs, and maybe another day or two of acceptably bright LEDs. Working backwards, this means that if we want the LEDs still going strong by 6pm on Sunday, we need to start getting them in place by Thursday night.

Hmmm, Thursday night is when I teach class. Perhaps I can just make this into a group project for my class, or maybe DECODE can lend a hand…


This is just one post in a series, check out the other posts as well:



I’m still gathering material, but this is a project I’ve got planned for the Dark Room at Maker Faire Milwaukee that is titled “Star-Blinken”. (Enjoy the conceptual rendering above.)

I still need to construct the frame (probably from scrap wood at Milwaukee Makerspace) but there is a sheet of steel about 36″ x 29″ that will be covered in flashing LEDs each powered by its own battery and attached with a binder clip and a magnet.

I’ve seen a single LED blink, and even a few blink at once, but this will consist of over 200 LEDs all blinking at once, and at different rates… Star-Blinken!

This is just one post in a series, check out the other posts as well:


Traffic Lights

I recently repaired the traffic and walk signals at BBCM. The system had been running on a PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) which failed, and rather than find the proprietary programming cable and find and install the PLC Windows software, I decided to just put an Arduino and relay control board in place.

Arduino and Relay Board

I had a Teensy++ 2.0 I had pulled from another exhibit during an upgrade, and an 8 channel relay board on hand. These relay boards come in different configurations from 1, 2, 4, 8, and even 16 relays. Since I really only needed 5 relays (and 5 pins) I could have used an ATtiny85, but I had the Teensy++ 2.0 readily available. The wiring is all done using female to female jumper wires.

Traffic Controller

I mounted everything to a piece of scrap MDF and added mounting holes to that, with the idea that we’d screw the whole thing directly into the wall. The relay board has mounting holes, but the Teensy does not. That’s probably my one complaint about the Teensy boards, is that mounting them isn’t always easy. My Teensy BOB has mounting holes, but for mounting this Teensy++ 2.0 I just used some 3M™ VHB™ tape. (The “VHB” stands for “Very High Bond”). And yes, there are a few 3D printed parts on there. At some point I should make a 3D printed holder/mount for a Teensy++ 2.0


I try to label things clearly. If I look at this thing in 6 months, or 2 years, or someone else has to look at it, I want it to be somewhat apparent what is what, so there’s not a lot of guesswork as to what is going on. I included a label with the name of the Arduino sketch, and I always like to label power supplies. Sometimes we use 5 volts, and sometimes 12 volts, and they typically have tiny hard to read type printed on the side of the power supply that you can’t see when it’s plugged in.

The one thing I should start to add to the labels is the URL of the wiki page where the thing is documented. (Next time I’ll do this.)

Controller Mounted

Here’s the controller mounted. It’s not pretty. We ended up re-using the mount that the PLC was in, rather than screwing it right into the wall. In my defense, we did this repair on the floor during open hours, and it’s mounted high on a wall behind a TV. Does it work? Yes… Is it awesome, no… but again, it totally works.

The wiring for the lights was all 12 VDC, not 110 VAC, so those thin gauge wires are fine. Also, they were labeled, which was handy. (Thanks previous person who worked on this and labeled things!)

Wiring Diagram

I try to create wiring diagrams for everything. I use Fritzing because it’s simple and awesome and open and free. I often don’t find the components I need, but you can always just use a note and some text.

Here’s the script/sequence for the lights:

  1. Green Light is ON
  2. Walk Light is ON
  3. Waiting 4 seconds…
  4. Walk Light is OFF
  5. Don’t Walk Light is BLINKING (for 5 seconds)
  6. Green Light is OFF
  7. Don’t Walk Light is ON
  8. Yellow Light is ON
  9. Waiting 4 seconds…
  10. Yellow Light is OFF
  11. Red Light is ON
  12. Waiting 6 seconds…
  13. Red Light is OFF
  14. Don’t Walk Light is OFF
  15. (Repeat sequence)

I wrote this up to figure out how to program things. I find it helpful to plan things out before I start writing the code.

At first I just talked through the light sequence with someone and we made some assumptions about how it worked. We were slightly wrong, which I discovered when I dug a bit deeper into traffic lights and walk signals. I read at least some of the (very long) Wikipedia page on Traffic Lights. I also hunted for other info, and found some on the Signals FAQ page on the Minnesota Department of Transportation web site. (As I mentioned with the 911 Phone I really do aim for an accurate and realistic experience with these things.)

It’s been a few weeks and the lights have been working fine. Hopefully that will continue to be the case. If something does stop working we’ll open a ticket for it so we have a record. And yes, we do use an issue tracker for our museum exhibits… doesn’t everyone?

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