Archive for the ‘Pixels’ Category

My First [fully working] Vixen AddIn

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

The last few nights I’ve spent working on my first Vixen AddIn. I wanted a way to individually set the levels of separate channels so that I could play with different color mixes on my Pixels. The built in Channel test feature only lets you set the intensity of all selected channels at once, not individually. I started looking at other software that might do what I wanted, especially since the Lynx dongle was based on the Enttec Pro, I thought I could find some free DMX console software that would do what I wanted. I couldn’t make anything work, so I went back to Vixen, since I knew it could talk to the dongle.

I started poking around with the previously mentioned Red Gate’s .Net Reflector, and found how the built in channel test feature worked and figured out how the addins worked. The tough part was determining how to access the IExecution object, when none was passed to the addin. I found some code that I still don’t completely understand, but seems to return an instance of whatever interface you are looking for, so in this case I told it I wanted an IExecution object, and it went looking for one and if it found one, gave it back to me. Once I had this object it was fairly trivial to send channel values to it to then be output to the dongle. The nice thing about doing it this way is it will work with whatever output plugin(s) you are using, whether it be DMX, Renard, or whatever.

I have only tested this with Vixen, and only on my development system. While the AddIn shouldn’t do anything harmful to your vixen sequences or your system, I make no guarantees of that as this is alpha software. Please take the appropriate precautions of backing up your Vixen install and your sequences before trying this AddIn.

AddIn DLL (

You should just be able to unzip the DLL into your “AddIns” directory within your Vixen install. Once this file is in your AddIns directory, Starting Vixen should yield a “Multi Channel Test” entry in your Add-ins menu. The AddIn will not work if a sequence is not loaded, and it will politely tell you so. Once a sequence is loaded, choose the Multi Channel Test entry from the Add-Ins menu to start.

Along the top are the boxes for the channels, these are the channels that the sliders will control. If you want them to all be sequential, set the first channel to the desired start channel and then click the “Auto Number” button.

The bottom boxes will show the current intensity for the given slider. This may or may not be the actual intensity of the channel depending on the setting of the master slider. The master slider overrides any values set in the individual sliders.

As I said, this is a rough alpha version as a proof of concept. It does what I intended it to do so I’m not quite sure what if any improvements I will make, here is the [download id=”1″], so you can tear it up to your heart’s desire.

In testing the AddIn I found that the first pixel I built already had a Green LED go bad. It was keeping all three in the section from lighting. At first I wasn’t quite sure how to figure out which of the three was causing the problem. I put the volt meter on each of the three and found that two were reading 2.2V and one was reading 6.2V (they should all read about 3.2V). I was figuring it was the 6.2V that was the bad one, but just to be sure I put a known good one across the bad one’s legs, and the known good one along with the other two lit right up so this further reinforced my guess. I de-soldered it and popped the new one in and it worked like a charm. Hopefully I don’t have to go through that too many more times.
Multi Channel Test Window


Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

I finally got my camera back last week and was looking through the pictures still on the memory card and came across some that I took when I had to take apart one of the GFCI outlets on my temporary power panel. You are probably asking why one would want to do that, well let me tell you a story…

I was originally going to use ring terminals on all of the wires connecting to the GFCI outlets. Reason being I used stranded wire and stranded wire doesn’t play well with the screw terminals on outlets, so I was going to remove the screw, and screw it back in with the ring terminal attached. Well, apparently if you remove the screw from the GFCI outlets I bought, you can’t get it back in. I tried everything, I just couldn’t get the little nut part to stay in place long enough to tighten the screw. The only way I found to fix it was to take apart the outlet. So I proceeded to remove the “Do Not Open This Outlet” sticker, and I opened it. I got it fixed (whether or not it works, is still up in the air). I ended up shoving the wires through the holes in the back of the outlets and tightening them with the provided screws. Anyhow, I thought I would shoot some pics of a GFCI while it was open in case anyone cared.

Last night I put together the 4 Ren2DMX boards that I need to convert my Renard cabling to DMX. I think I know how I’m going to mount them in the enclosures, but I keep forgetting to stop at the hardware and pick up some screws for them.

Tonight I finished my 4th pixel. I think they’re starting to look pretty darn good and by my 30th, I should be a pro!


Monday, June 15th, 2009

I’m still hoping to get a plugin written to control my BetaBrite sign from within vixen. I’m still not convinced I’ll have time to do it, but one can always hope. As a backup plan, I found a command line program from Industrologic, Inc., betacom.exe, that will send commands to the sign from the command line. I figure wost case, I can use Vixen’s launcher plugin and control the sign that way. Anyhow, I took a break from pixel building tonight and was poking some more into the internals of Vixen. A tool that someone recommended to me over at DIYC is .NET Reflector from Red Gate Software. It basically decompiles the program and lets me see all of the hooks and internal structures. This software will be quite invaluable to me should I find the time to work on my plugin.

I’ve currently got 3 out of 30 pixels built. I’ve got a set of LEDs in the breadboard testing tonight, so I should be ready to do for a 4th tomorrow. I’ve been running the LEDs for at least a few hours before installing them with the hope being that I’ll find a bad one before I solder it in and have to get it back out. I’m sure if I pushed I could get 2 built in a night, but usually once I get one done, I want to put it in the string and see it light up with the others.

I think I’ve almost got my layout finalized for this year. Still have to decide how the icicle lights will be split up and the exact location of the pixels, but then I should be ready to start sequencing. Somehow, I’m not really looking forward to that.

Pixels… Finally

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

The replacement pixel boards arrived Thursday. JEC even had them made with a fancy white solder mask in the hopes it would reflect better than the standard green solder mask. I rushed to assemble one Thursday night. I got it assembled but was up until 1:00AM playing with it. At first I tried the code in the DIYC file library that allows for addressing without re-flashing the PIC, but didn’t have any luck. It seemed like the firmware was working, but wouldn’t respond to any vixen commands, so my best guess is that I wasn’t programming the channel correctly. I quickly gave up and put JEC’s standard firmware on for testing purposes. It fired right up and worked as expected. The only hiccup was that I put an amber LED where a red one was supposed to go, so I spent a few minutes desoldering that and replacing it.

I got a few of JEC’s power injector boards and they made life a lot simpler for getting power to the pixel. I wired the injector to a molex connector from an old CPU fan and plugged it into an old power supply to get my 12V. Friday night I put the pixel on my multimeter to see what the LEDs I chose draw at full power. It was a little under .5A, so in theory this power supply should be able to power 50 of them, or in my case, my whole string of 30. JEC recommends anything above 20 be powered separately because the CAT5 cable can’t handle that kind of load.

I wanted to see the pixel do a rainbow of colors, and didn’t want to hand encode all the values in vixen. I’ve been working on a PHP script that will let me modify vixen sequences, so I used it to do it. I found that rather than using RGB, HSV allows you to quickly do a rainbow by holding S and V constant at 1 and varying H from 0 to 1. I also found a bit of PHP code that would let me convert HSV to RGB. Once I had the RGB values I wrote them to the vixen sequence channel data. I still need to figure out how, from an RGB value, to determine the yellow and white components of that value, so that I can introduce the yellow and white channels appropriately. I also tested out my vixen script that generates a flicker effect on given channels with the amber LEDs on the pixel. The effect was actually quite convincing and still has room for some tweaking.

Pending water tightness tests, I’m planning on using 5LB white containers that deli salads come it. I have easy access to them and they’re free so I like that aspect of them. You’ll see in the video below, that the white plastic diffuses the LEDs quite effectively and still allows enough light out to keep it bright.

Yesterday was my daughter’s birthday party, so I didn’t have time to play, but today I took some time while the other daughter was napping to shoot a quick video of the pixel in action. I was rather disappointed because there is some very noticeable flicker in the video that isn’t apparent to the naked eye. I’ll have to see if there are any other settings on the camera that will help that in the future.

Saturday I finally received the DMX2Renard converter boards from Frank. He only had 5 so sent me one he had already populated. It was kind of neat because the one he populated, he put a RJ45 plug right on the back rather than the specified jack and needing a small patch cord. I think I’m going to try that trick on the other ones I assemble. It makes for a neat little add-on module. I think that pretty much catches up on all the news. We’ve decided to go on vacation this year, so pretty much any further blinky spending will be put to a stop, but honestly I think I have enough to keep me busy and still put on a great show for 2009. I’ve still got to pay for the stuff I’ve committed to over at DLA for the wireless DMX stuff. I went back and forth whether to drop out of the coops, but in the end, to run the Pixels I’d need a DMX splitter, so I might as well keep with the wireless and then effectively have a splitter.

More Electrical Panel Work

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

The last few nights I’ve been doing more work on my temporary electrical panel. I should probably come up with a name for it, like Panel of Power, only better. I’ll work on that. As of tonight I’ve gotten all of the main outlets wired and the breakers in place. The last outlet, the one that will run the timer that will control the SSRs, isn’t in because I thought I had an extra GFCI here, but turns out that the one I have is ivory, and we can’t have an ivory outlet in a panel full of white ones. I’m going to see if the hardware will trade me a white one for the ivory one tomorrow.

I have some more pictures to post from the last few nights, however they are on my other camera card. That camera decided to die on me Monday night and the warranty is up on it in a week, so I was pretty quick to send it in for factory service. Anyhow, that camera card is on my desk at work because I keep forgetting to bring it home. Tonight’s pictures came courtesy of the camera my wife uses most of the time.

Back to the electrical panel. I had everything wired up and pretty like, and was all excited about it because it looked pretty darn good. I figured I had better do some testing on it to make sure there weren’t any shorts before I powered it up. Much to my dismay, the ground and the neutral were shorted together somewhere. I started using my CSI skills and found that the culprit was the cable clamps on the breaker box. They had some how found their way through enough of the insulation on 2 neutral wires to tie them to ground. Upon examining the wires, all I could find was some marks where the clamps were, but no exposed copper. It must have been something as small as a pin pricking the insulation because once I loosened the clamps and moved the wires the short went away. I was initially going to just wrap them in electrical tape and re-clamp them, but then I decided that since they were all wire tied pretty well, that I would just leave the clamping part off.

It would seem that these weren’t the right kind of clamps to use, but I didn’t see anything else at the hardware that would work. Maybe the key is just surrounding the wires with something, like electrical tape. After more testing I determined that the clamps on the receptacle boxes weren’t doing the same thing, but it still worries me a bit how easily a short was created. After removing the clamps and re-securing the wires, I thoroughly tested the whole thing for shorts and couldn’t find any, so that’s a good sign.

All that’s left is to put the last receptacle in and run the control wires for the SSRs. Then I should be ready to test. Since I don’t have my 50A 240V outlet installed outside yet, I will probably just plug it into the unused stove outlet (the one whose circuit I’m stealing for the outside outlet) to see if it works.

Also, in Pixel news, I received a tracking number from JEC for the replacement boards, so that means they are finally on their way. I’m hoping they will arrive Fri. or Sat., but I proabably won’t have time to assemble one until Sun. at the Earliest. Still no sign of the Ren2DMX boards, but I’m still holding out hope.

Goings On

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

As much as this blog would indicated due to the lack of posts lately, I actually haven’t been slacking (too much) in the blinky flashy world. I’m still waiting on the Ren2DMX boards and the pixel boards, so that will be some stuff to assemble once it arrives. In the mean time, I did some more tests on the LEDs that I will be using in the pixels. I tried using 6 of each color this time to give a better representation of what they would look like in the pixels. So far they seem like they will be bright enough so I’ll keep my fingers crossed. I ran the LEDs for several hours because In talking with Tim Y. at LUO, some have the potential to work at first and then fail. Not looking forward to debugging and desoldering LEDs, I wanted to get some run time on them first. I tried the LEDs in the containers I’m hoping to use for the show, they look OK, but the arrangement of the LEDs on the breadboard isn’t the same as the pixel, so there were hot spots of the different colors. I’ll wait until I get a pixel assembled before posting pics.

The 300′ of 12/3 Cable I ordered off eBay came this week. It arrived in great shape, but to be certain that I got 300′ I ran it across the warehouse floor to measure it. This caused it to get all dirty, oh well. It’ll get clean again once it’s outside in the rain. Seems like good cable. I’m slightly worried that it isn’t SO, but rather, general purpose, but I knew that when I bought it, and it is only going to be outside for 2 months, so hopefully it’ll be ok. I was able to fit all 300′ on an old hose reel which will be nice for storing the cords once I make them.

I also started work on my temporary sub-panel. I’ve got the breaker panel and all of the receptacle boxes mounted. I want to get the SSRs mounted before I begin wiring, but I can’t really do that while my daughter is sleeping so it severely limits my opportunities for mounting them. I also got the input cord attached and ready to go. The 6/4 SOOW cable is NICE cable, but it should be at $3 a foot. Good thing I didn’t need 300′ of that!

Pixel News

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

Heard back from JEC tonight, he’s expecting the boards this coming week, so hopefully they will be in my hands by next week. I’ll try not to get too excited until they are here, but it’s kinda hard… Time to dust of the soldering iron!

PICs are here… Waiting for boards!

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

The PICs that were on backorder from Mouser for the Pixels arrived today. Now I have everything I need to make me some Pixels… everything except the PCBs! Think I might email JEC tonight to see if he has an updated ETA.

Light Up Ohio 2009

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

I failed to mention that we worked out the details of me going to Light Up Ohio 2009 in Columbus, so I registered last week. I am going to drive down to Columbus the morning of May 16th and drive back after the mini is over. There are several talks I can’t wait to hear about including etching your own PCBs, FM transmitters (wvengineer will be there, it will be neat to meet him because he seems very knowledgeable about transmitters), and information on the portable hole will be provided. In addition BBQ will be served for lunch AND we get a t-shirt, not bad for $20 and the cost of gas to Columbus.

See for more info.

Wires, Enclosures, and LEDs… Oh My!

Friday, April 17th, 2009

Well, I’ve actually gotten quite a but accomplished the last two nights. Last night I got the remaining cords set in their enclosures. I also got the first of the PVC pipes that will be used to hang the enclosure outside attached. The plan is to drive 1/2″ rebar in the ground and slide the 3/4″ PVC that is attached to the enclosure over the rebar in order to keep the enclosure off the ground. The PVC has a cap glued on top to keep it sitting on top of the rebar, but I was worried that over the years, resting it on top of the rebar would start to wear on the cap, so before capping off the PVC, I took a cork from a wine bottle, and cut it in half. I put half the cork in the PVC and capped it off. The cork fit in rather tight, so it will lend some support itself and hopefully will help protect the cap.

I attached the PVC to the enclosures using the conduit mounts provided. After knocking out the… well… knockouts, I shoved a hose clamp in and tightened it down on the PVC. A small warning however, if you decide to go this route, be sure to not tighten it too much. On my test install of the PVC a few days ago, I tightened it too much and you can see where it started pulling the mount away. I think it will be fine, but if I had gone any further, i might be looking for some epoxy to make some repairs. Once attached, I filled in the holes where the hose clamps run through the inside the enclosure with hot glue. Someone on DIYC mentioned that he seals his enclosures with hot glue rather than sillicone because the silicone is corrosive to the electronics (I was going to use silicone). I don’t know if there is any truth to that, but I liked the idea of the hot glue because it would flow into crevices better, and would harden a lot faster. I wish I had used the hot glue rather than Goop on the screws, both for those reasons, and because once the Goop hardened, it seemed to shrink up a bit and I wasn’t too convinced of the seal it left on the screws that come through the enclosure. Just to be sure, I covered all the screw heads with a glob of hot glue. I also put hot glue on the outside where the hose clamp goes into the enclosure… say it with me… just to be safe.

I’ve got two more enclosures to get the PVC mounted to and the hot glue in and then it’s time to start wiring. After I got enclosure #1’s PVC installed and the hot glue on, I went ahead and put the PCB/Heat Sink in and re-wired it since all of the wires in that enclosure were already cut and tinned from the last time, so I once again have 1 complete working Ren24.

I probably could have kept going, but I was too excited about my other toys. The 1000 LEDs that I ordered from eBay arrived today from Hong Kong. These are the LEDs that will be going in the pixels. I wired up three of each color to see if they were going to work out and it appears that indeed they will. The plan is to put each pixel in a 5LB white food container, so I wanted to see how the LEDs diffused with white plastic. The closest I could find was a white plastic cup from Howards Pub, Ocracoke Island, NC. On a side note, if you ever get to Cape Hatteras, NC, make the ferry trip to Ocracoke Island. Eating at Howards is way worth it! Anyhow as you can see from the pics, the LEDs diffused nicely with the cup. They are actually brighter than I expected and that is only with three LEDs of each color. Each pixel will actually have 6 of each color, so I think the 5LB containers should work perfectly. I have pretty good faith that JEC will come through with new Pixel boards, but I’ve decided that if for some reason that falls through (which if it did, I don’t think would be any of his doing), that I want these things so bad, that I’ll lay out my own board (I think I’m capable), and get them printed up myself. I think he’ll come through though!

The last pictures of the set are of the LEDs – straight on. I found some information at Evil Mad Scientist about photographing LEDs, so I wanted to give it a try on the LEDs for the Pixels. They didn’t turn out too bad!