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DIY DSN with Screenly OSE

DIY DSN Screenly OSE

One of the nice things about doing an annual event year after year is that you can come up with ideas and even if you can’t really execute them in time you’ll hopefully have another chance a year later. So it was for my Do It Yourself Distributed Signage Network. (DIY DSN for short.)

Back in 2017 when one of the volunteers was building out the WiFi network for Maker Faire Milwaukee I came up with the idea of using a bunch of Raspberry Pi computers connected to TVs and other screens to provide real-time updatable digital signs around the venue. I’d used Screenly OSE in the past for MMPIS and other things so it seemed like the perfect solution.

If you’ve never used (or heard of) Screenly Open Source Edition before it’s a piece of software that runs on a Raspberry Pi and allows you to use a web browser to upload content to it (images and videos) and also have it load pages from the Internet.

Screenly also allows you to schedule start and stop times for content, so it’s easy to have something display between 9am and 1pm on Saturday, then disappear. For events this means you can have “live” signage for speakers or workshops as they are happening, then disappear and be replaced by a schedule or something else when done.

We managed to scrounge up eight TVs (or computer monitors with HDMI/DVI inputs) of various sizes along with eight Raspberry Pi boards. A few of the Pi boards did not have built-in WiFi so a cheap USB WiFi dongle was used to get them online. Each Pi got added to the WiFi network, got a unique IP address, and then a name so we knew where it was in the venue. Some were in front of stages, or at specific entrances, etc. Then it was a matter of creating targeted content. Most of the content was 1920×1080 graphics. (There’s a whole bunch below!)

Thanking sponsors is a great thing to do… You can schedule slides to show up for X number of seconds as well as during specific days/times or all the time.

You want to show what happens in a specific place on Saturday only on Saturday and not on Sunday? Easy!

You want to show what happens in a specific place on Sunday only on Sunday and not on Saturday? Easy!

If you can design a PowerPoint or Keynote slide, you can probably figured out how to export it to a graphic image file suitable for loading into Screenly.

Yeah, thank those sponsors! You can have a different slide for each sponsorship level, and use logos or text or whatever your sponsorship commitment promises. (Also, let your sponsors know that they’ll also be recognized on digital signage at the event!)

Presenting Sponsor? They can have their own slide! Maybe it’s on the screen for 20 seconds instead of 10 seconds… Easy to do.

We’ve done this twice now, and while it was a bit of a scramble pulling together eight Raspberry Pi boards (and WiFi dongles for some of them), eight screens (TVs 27″ or larger work best), eight TV stands or table or whatever you’ll use to put them in places, eight HDMI cables, eight SD cards, eight power supplies, etc… If it’s for an event you might be able to borrow all the hardware you need, and since the software is open source it’s mainly a matter of learning how to use it and getting familiar with it. I’d recommend getting it up and running before your event starts just so you aren’t jumping in blind trying to figure it out while also running an event. :)

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Dodecahedrons

dodecahedron-connectors

I honestly can’t remember where I got the idea to make a bunch of dodecahedrons for Maker Faire Milwaukee came from, but I do remember looking at Thingiverse for some connectors I could use with 1/4″ dowel rods. I know I tried Trammell Hudson’s design, since I always admire his work, but I was not using pencils, so it didn’t work. I did attempt to alter his file, but ultimately ended up designing my own file, which worked well enough that I wanted to share it. (Check out Dodecahedron Connectors on YouMagine.)

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So I made nine dodecahedrons that could hang from the ceiling in the Dark Room. And since they’d be in the Dark Room I figured I should use fluorescent filament to create the connectors, and fluorescent paint to paint the wooden dowel rods, and with help from Kathy H. at Milwaukee Makerspace, we got everything painted. Sadly, we did not get the blacklights set up in the Dark Room due to budget constraints, and there was too much light where they were placed, and we had to bundle them all together, and… well, anyway, they turned out great, despite a few issues with presentation.

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I’ve also made a smaller (hand-held) model for home. It’s small enough to fit on a 13″ MacBook Pro, though I might hang this one from the ceiling as well. Or maybe make it into a lampshade. I don’t know yet.

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This is the original version, which uses 12″ long, 1/4″ diameter wooden dowel rods. A pack of 100 dowel rods is under $15, and a roll of fluorescent filament is about $22. Since you need 30 dowel rods and 20 connectors per dodecahedron you can easily build three large ones (or a lot of small ones) for under $40 USD as long as you’ve got access to a 3D printer.

Did I mention I really like dodecahedrons?

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AUDIO FACE [APC-320]

audio-face-5404

One of the projects I built for Maker Faire Milwaukee this year was AUDIO FACE [APC-320], which consists of the following things.

  • A cabinet built from scrap wood and plastic found at Milwaukee Makerspace and Brinn Labs
  • An Atari Punk Console that Kathy C. from Milwaukee Makerspace gave me for my birthday (which was already assembled!)
  • A 320 watt car stereo amplifier that someone donated to Milwaukee Makerspace, that I then gave to Jon H. for Disco Dalek, and he then gave back to me a year later
  • A really nice car stereo speaker I got from Andy A. from Milwaukee Makerspace for about $10
  • Some LED lights from Les, a long-time Maker Faire Milwaukee volunteer
  • A hefty 12 volt power supply and a 12v to 9v buck converter, which I purchased from Amazon for about $25
  • Some random arcade button I had lying around, a handful of drywall screws, and probably a few more miscellaneous things I forgot…

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The concept behind this “noisemaker” is a continuation of what Maks, Dustin, and I did back in 2017, which was a series of devices that made sound when action was taken. Typically this was pressing a button, and often with potentiometers of some kind to alter the sound. I ended up building a lot of Arduino-based sound devices. Are these synths? Maybe… Are they noisemakers? I guess so.

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When you press the button you are responsible for the creation of the sound. If creating weird noises embarrasses you, you have to deal with that. If you are getting into it and everyone else hates it, it’s on you. Only momentary switches are used so no one can turn them all on and walk away. If you’re there, you’re the cause of the sound.

Many of the devices from 2017 were somewhat fragile, built from small pieces of scrap material, and they sat on a table. For AUDIO FACE [APC-320] I wanted a large cabinet, which was pretty much a requirement due to the large speaker, amp, and power supply. While all of the 2017 devices were extremely cheap (built from scrap, found and scavenged speakers and components, and $3 Arduino boards or ATtiny chips) AUDIO FACE [APC-320] was a bit more expensive, probably costing close to $40 USD.

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As a sculptural piece, I think AUDIO FACE [APC-320] is interesting because of the contrast. Some of the build material is really nice laminate material or higher quality plywood, but it’s assembled in a slapdash method. There are rough edges that don’t line up, and there’s very roughly drilled holes on each side. While I love precisely designing things, I also love just building with no plans on occasion. Just getting to work and figuring it out as I go. This cabinet is that. At least one person mentioned this at Maker Faire, seeing this as quite a contrast to my other pieces which tend to follow a specific grid or use mathematical concepts. It’s not by accident.

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One other interesting thing about AUDIO FACE [APC-320] is that it’s sort of a bench. I mean, you can sit on it, and if you dial in the right sound and then sit on the button it makes your insides feel funny. I really like this part and may explore this in the future. I also like the fact that it’s sort of a table or a stool. A weird table or stool with controls in the middle of the top surface that makes noise and vibrates, but still… could be a table or a stool.

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Maker Faire “Space Invader” Shirt

mfmke-si-art

While taking a break from reading through all the applications for Maker Faire Milwaukee I had an idea for some art we could use this year. It ended up becoming shirt art after I shared it with the other event producers.

The art consists of an 8×8 grid with 64 items, yes, as always, I try to make these numbers mean something. 8 bit, 64 bit, you get the idea… The color pallet comes from what we used previously for our kaleidoscope design.

The most difficult part was the typeface. I tried many existing fonts but nothing was working. Makey the Robot is (almost) square, so I needed the letters M, K, and E to be square. Stretching existing fonts did not work, so I ended up creating my own type.

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Once I had the M, the E was easy. I just rotated it 90 degrees! The K was a bit more difficult, but the line width matches the parts of the M and E, and I then just aimed for the corners to make them end in 45 degree angles so it would all look even. It’s probably the best “MKE” I’ve ever designed.

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Here’s a terrible photo of the shirt. We still have some left, so if you want one, let me know, and I’ll get you hooked up for a nice price! (The original design was completely square and did not have the long “Maker Faire Milwaukee” logo on the bottom, but Stacie reminded me we should really add that.)

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Designing a Giant LED Cube

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This year my “big” project for Maker Faire Milwaukee was a Giant LED Cube. In this post I’ll talk about designing it, and in a follow up post I’ll talk about building it.

I should mention that the idea for this started maybe three years ago. I think it was during a meeting for Maker Faire at Milwaukee Makerspace and I tossed out the idea of building a giant light sculpture using light bulbs. Lance and Chris talked about it a bit and Tom started looking up parts on Alibaba. Nothing came of it that year, and I sort of forgot about it for a while. In fact, I really didn’t think about it again until after we completed the DecaLight last year. Once the two dimensional relay controlled light bulb thing was done I thought going three dimensional would be a good idea.

I modeled the cube in OpenSCAD, and then animated it just for fun. I figured out how many pieces of each PVC joint I would need, and while I originally thought a 20′ cube would be a good idea, after some initial tests (and the unavailability of 10′ PVC pipe) I ended up going with a 10′ cube so the 5′ PVC pipe I could get would work.

I picked up Jordan Bunker’s book PVC and Pipe Engineer: Put Together Cool, Easy, Maker-Friendly Stuff last year and then ended up learning about FORMUFIT which allows you to build furniture using PVC pipe. I had a plan!

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Here’s the first sketch of the Giant LED Cube. By now I had decided that I would use LED light bulbs and standard household lamp sockets. The nice thing about using such common parts is that they are very cheap. I found these Black Bakelite Fixture Socket with Terminals and ordered some so I could test the fit. It was close enough that it would work, and I just needed to make a small adapter. Well, at least 27 small adapters.

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I designed and 3D printed over 30 of these using clear ABS, which is remarkably close to being white, and since you wouldn’t really see them, I was fine with the close match. I cranked these out so I’d be ready when they were needed. Like many parts of this project, they are just press fit into place. The entire thing was designed to be easily assembled and disassembled for making transport and storage an simple affair.

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I had the basic design of the cube figured out, so I decided to work on the controller. Since we’d have 27 LED light bulbs I decided to use an Arduino Mega, which had plenty of I/O pins, along with two 16 channel relay boards. LED light bulbs are pretty lower power (compared to incandescent bulbs, anyway) so even though they’re 110 volts AC, 27 bulbs all on at the same time probably pulled less than 6 amps.

The image above represents my first attempt at layout out the controller, which I eventually abandoned. The screw terminals ended up not being a good idea. I would be pretty busy running Maker Faire so I assumed that I could find helpers able to strip wire, put them into the screw terminals, and get it all right. After attempting this myself on a small scale I decided that it needed to be even simpler, and clear enough that almost anyone could do the setup. So I scrapped the screw terminals. Around this time I also decided that running all of the power cords inside the PVC was going to be tedious and difficult, so with the decision to just run the cords on the outside (at least for this installation) I decided to just use standard household plugs. This would allow nearly anyone to just match up some numbers and plug things in. Simple wins!

The design process for the Giant LED Cube wasn’t too difficult. Doing this like this (designing, specifying parts, building, etc.) is pretty much my day job. The wiring was definitely tedious, and required at least one unexpected hour-long troubleshooting session due to a bad connection. I had a lot of help with the wiring of the lights from Adrian, and a lot of help with initial assembly from Becky. Without their help things would have taken me a lot longer. (Thank You!)

I think I’ve spewed enough about this project for one post (which I wanted to get out last month!) so I’ll end it here and get working on Part II ASAP.