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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Wow, apparently I've been all over the board with this project, so let me consolidate this into a single thread and update it from here.
Old threads:
The Lights and Sounds of Christmas,
Hacking Light-O-Rama,
Got my LSoC Hack working!

Here is the back story, a few years back, in an after-Christmas sale, I stumbled across a box entitled "Mr. Christmas - Lights and Sounds of Christmas", (hereafter LSC)
retailing something like $70, I got it for $20. It's a basic package of pre-programmed Christas music and 6 outlets. You plug in various lights and it will turn the lights
off and on with the music, ie a very, very simple version of Light-O-Rama. My thought, I believe, was that I could change it for Halloween. Being January, I packed
it away in my basement and forgot about it.

This spring, whilst cleaning, I rediscovered it, hooked up some lights and tested it. Sure enough, worked just fine, if you like elevator Christmas music. I searched
in vain, for some sort of input plug so I could send my own music to it, with no luck. However, I did find instructions on the web about hacking it.


Guts of the LSC, exposed to the world

Looking at the picture above, you unplug the rainbow colored ribbon from the control board on the left, then remove that board altogether. Don't cut the thick wires,
those are the A/C ones, you need those. Now, if you can send input voltage into each of the wires, you can tell the triacs (solid state relays, or SSR) to allow current
to flow or not. The black wire, I believe is the Ground (GND) wire, the rest are data wires, 1 per channel.

Next, you will need a way of sending data to those wires. A quick and dirty way of doing it is via the parallel port of your computer, if you have one. Most, if not all,
of the newer computers don't have one, I had to hunt down one at work they were going to toss out. Initially, I could only find a standard printer cable to fit that
port, the one with the weird rounded trapezoid connector at one end. That weird end is a Centronix port, and it has 36 pins. The parallel port has 25 pins, so there is
a lot of duplication within the wires. I cut off the Centronix end and started using my continuity tester to find out which of these little thin wires matched up with
the pins at the end of the parallel port connector. Two days later, I was able to connect those wires into the rainbow ribbon in the LSC and start sending signals
from the PC to switch on and off the lights.

To do this, I discovered the website Do It Yourself Christmas. These people are the geniuses that do the Christmas light displays
with hand-build control boards and the like. They patted me on the head, being the Halloween freak that I am, and helped where they could. The program of choice over there
is Vixen. With this program, you select your music, assign your channels, input your "sequence", and run your show. It has a number of
choices for outputs, including the one we need: Basic Parallel.

Once that was setup, I did my first test:

Not an impressive display to be sure, but it let me know I was on the right track. The people over at DIYC warned me, however, that the LSC was a "gateway drug". Once you
get the taste for channels, you will not be satisfied with 6.


And they were right. I immediately thought about how I could get more channels. The parallel port is an 8-bit device, meaning that technically I could have 2 more channels if
I rigged up a couple more SSRs. Time is running out, and the money is tight. I discovered, that you could extend the parallel port to output 12 channels (4 control bits that can be flipped)
and I was off sequencing my songs for 12 channels while I tried to figure out how to add them...

I had gotten an Arduino Uno this spring, and found threads talking about using it to control lights. There are 14 output pins on the board, and goneferal had a thread discussing
controlling LED strings with her unit, so I knew it could be done. I found a link to a place in Hong Kong that sold 8-channel relay boards fairly cheaply (shipping is the
catch, of course), so I ordered one. Also I found a 4-channel relay board on eBay for $0.90 (plus $10 for shipping) also from Hong Kong. Both are made by the same manufacturer.
In total, I will now have 18 channels.


8-channel relay board
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Both boards are here now, but now I realize the flaw in these boards is that the relays are mechanical, not solid state. Really shouldn't be an issue, except that there
is, I guess, a slight sound to them working (clicking) and I'm not quite sure of their response time. Also, they both need to be powered by +5V from the Arduino, so I can't
use them with the parallel port. Last night, I did a test, using the sketch goneferal wrote, to make sure the Arduino could control 12 channels. I wired up my breadboard with
12 LEDs and the Arduino, and sent a sequence to it. Couldn't find a video camera, so I took a couple of stills.


Running Vixen with the Arduino


Close up of the Arduino and the breadboard

Earlier I thought I needed a serial port to USB cable to do this, so I shelled out my meager cash for it. Turns out, it runs just find with the USB cable plugged into the computer. Doh!
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
A major part of my shows is my singing Halloween Face. This consists of a frame with mini-incandescent lights (twinkle or Christmas lights, if you will), that forms eyes and
a mouth in various positions. I've gotten the frame built and painted. Here is a little animated GIF of the frame outlining the 7 channels it will take to run this.

 

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Hmmm. You could use EL wire as well for this!
 

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Using LEDs you could maybe get more "channels" out of your channels... LOL.


Charlieplexing lets you get more channels out of a given set of outputs.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Using LEDs you could maybe get more "channels" out of your channels... LOL.

Charlieplexing lets you get more channels out of a given set of outputs.
Possibly, but I want to run just A/C lights atm. This is about the best rig I can cobble together with what's left of my budget. By this time next year, I want to have a better system using some of the boards they put together at doityourselfchristmas.com. I found out, recently, that one of the other members over there lives in the next town and I'm going to see if I can go out and checkout his hardware after Halloween is done.

As far as EL wire goes, I've heard of it and have started to investigate it, but it looks like it might be out of reach for this year. Maybe 2012 will bring about more funds...
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Found an old tackle box looking thing at Good Will to house the outlets for the light show. I will be placing both the 4-channel and 8- channel relay boards in here. It's plastic so won't conduct electricity from the bottom of the boards, but I am adding a rubber mat anyhow, for cushion, if nothing else.

Around the circumference, I drilled out the holes for 6 outlet pairs, removed the connectors that made both outlets feed off the same source and installed them. After I had hot-glued the edges of the outlets (for water-proofing) I realized that the wire (12 gauge) I was trying to use was too big to fit the little insertion hole in the back and I would have to use the screw hookups. Like I said, after I had hot glued them in...

Much swearing gnashing of teeth later, I had the outlets removed. Then I found the 14 gauge wire. Of course. I reinstalled the outlets (no glue this time) and began the tedious task of running the wires from the outlets to where they will go into the relay board. I have another set of 12 wires that go into the relay boards from the main plug, as well as 12 sets of neutral wires. The grounding wire I just jumped from one outlet to the next to its plug wire.

After all that, I brough out the relay boards, plugged in the A/C wires and screwed them down to the floor of the box. I gave it a test plug in, just to make sure nothing popped. Sure enough, nothing popped, and that's a good thing.

Next up will be bringing it inside and plugging the Arduino to the input pegs and seeing if it works. If so, I will wire the boards up to network cable so that I can connect the box to the Arduino with Cat 5 cord.


The insides of my 12-channel outlet box for the light show, before the relays and wiring have been added.


What the finished box will look like.
 

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That's part of the beauty of something like this... you can add anything you want, any way you want at any time... then go back and re-vamp later when/if the budget allows.

Hehe...a couple years from now you will be be complaining about blowing transformers and how come the local electrical grid is so weak anyway?

I love the box, it looks like a nice clean way to do it. The whole project is just the kind of hackery I love best!
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Got just about all the wires stuffed into it. Good thing I got a big box, it's getting tight as it is. I tested the relay boards, both work, but they are mechanical relays, so ever time a light goes off and on, there is a definite click. With the box closed up and hidden behind the bushes, it shouldn't be too distracting for the show.
 

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Hmm, think maybe bubble wrap or foam would kill the sound a little without overheating things?
 

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Been working a bit of overtime Rob? That looks great! Nice show and tell, too! Thanks.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
WAY too many big projects this year. Taking a day off of work tomorrow to finish the light show. My last big project. My daughters ("he's not my") boyfriend is coming over Thursday and I will put him to work hauling the rest of the stuff up from the basement.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Running into some weird problems with my Arduino flipping the lights on and off for the wrong channels. Not sure at this point, if this is going to happen now.
 

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Rob, I am doing something similar using the EFX-TEK FC-4 controlled by a Prop-1, and ran into a similar problem a few nights ago (wrong lights triggering). I'm not familiar with programming Arduinos, but did find that if I didn't put my Prop-1 and FC-4 through a reset loop each time that I received inconsistent results. I'm not sure how you might do that with your setup, but that might solve it. I hope this works out for you!

Liam
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Figured it out. The profile was corrupted, but also, the Generic Serial output was sending the Arduino the info for all the channels, not just the ones it was told it owns. I changed my sketch, expanding my array to handle all the channels, and told the Arduino to ignore channels above 12. Works great now.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Here are the various components that went into the Light Show this year. Lots of boxes of parts, wired together precariously, and through bushes that did not want to cooperate all that much.


The light show setup, starring Moe, Larry, Curly, Bert, Ernie, and now Jack.


Basic yard setup on the north side


The relay box controlled by the Arduino


A peek at the guts of the relay box


The project box housing the Arduino
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·

A peek inside the Arduino project box


My hacked Mr Christmas box


The parallel to RJ-45 project box, goes from the computer's parallel cable to the Mr. Christmas
 
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