Archive for the ‘Ren24’ Category

All that’s left is paint!

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

I went out to my Dad’s tonight and he helped me attached wheels and a handle to the enclosure for my portable sub-panel. I took the panel with me and fit it in the enclosure. It fits well, and looks pretty good too. I left it with him in the back of his truck to bring to me in the morning (don’t think the whole shebang would fit in my car), but we had quite a bit of rain tonight, so that should test the water tightness of it. The elbow coming out the protect the wire opening hasn’t been cemented in, but it fits tight enough that it should have kept the water out tonight. It’ll be a good test I suppose. Next I need to clean it up a bit and paint it. I’ll get some pics up as soon as I get it back in my hands.

I got pixel #6 working tonight. A set of the green LEDs wasn’t coming on, turns out it works a lot better if you actually solder the joint as opposed to just letting the lead poke through the hole. Oh well, I like easy fixes. I’ve got another set of LEDs in testing, but I doubt I’ll get to soldering up another until after the weekend.

I also took some time to install one of the Ren2DMX boards in one of the controller enclosures. Turned out pretty good except I drilled too close to one of the standoffs so that made everything a bit more challenging. I also think I drilled with one size too big of a drill bit (seem to be missing one), but I just filled in the hole with hot glue like on the previous holes. The controller works great with the adapter board. Good job Frank! I wired it up with the new Sewell Cat5 cable I got off, that stuff is nice cable, especially for being solid rather than stranded. It’s perfect for the kind of stuff I need it for.

I also got a nice surprise in the mail today. I was talking to RPM about his DMX dongle, and mentioned that I had intentions of getting one of his designs just to play with, but didn’t think I should be spending the money this year as things are starting to get tight, putting most of my Christmas Light project spending on hold. Anyhow he sent me the board and most of the parts for free. He even included one of his new Grinch DMX converter boards. Talk about the spirit of Christmas in June! I just want to thank Robert, he is what the DIY community is all about. Once I get a few more things sold on eBay I’ll put in a small Mouser order to finish populating the board and give it a try.

I put my PSP and Firefly Mini remote on eBay tonight, and the PSP already sold Buy It Now, which is awesome. Now I only need to sell about $130 worth of stuff to pay for my commitments over at DLA for the wireless DMX stuff, and any extra I can use to populate Robert’s DMX dongle and save the rest for an FM transmitter. Once I get the transmitter I should be able to put on a pretty decent show with the equipment I have and not have to put any more money into it.
Ren2DMX board Installed


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!

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.

Labels Have Arrived

Friday, May 1st, 2009

The Avery Permanent Labels that I ordered off eBay came yesterday. I would have posted about them yesterday, but someone forgot to renew the domain (see previous post). I ran them through our Brother color laser printer at work, and they turned out pretty good. The colors appear bright and the labels have a plasticy feel. The adhesive appears to be stronger too. I took one of the labels and put it on a spare case that I had and then poured water on it. The printing didn’t run, fade, or do anything, and the label remained stuck to the case. I made channel markers that are supposed to hang off the wires like little flags. I found it is pretty hard to get the two ends matched up perfectly, so I might try to find another way to label the cords in the future. I put a label on the inside of the case because when I work on them, I like to take the door off, and then I don’t know which controller I have.

A Different Concept

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

I got the last Ren24 PCB mounted in its enclosure tonight, now all that’s left is the wiring. I’m still waiting on those weather proof labels, so I haven’t done any channel labeling yet.

I spent some time last night playing with the Link Directory plugin for WordPress because I’m toying with the idea of creating my own Christmas Lights Link Directory. The one I have been using at Mississippi Christmas has been helpful, but there are a lot of broken links and there is no apparent means for someone to submit their own site. The Link Directory plugin allows for self submission (with moderation) and it facilitates allowing the users to mark broken links for later review by the administrator (me). I just think it would be nice to have all of the Christmas Light relates site links in one place where people can submit new links and what not. I like the plugin, but I need to decide if I want to move forward with the project.

Now to the purpose of this post. In looking at other sites I came across The guy on this site created his own dimmer system that is controlled by a light sensing resistor that attaches to his monitor. The blinking of the pixels on the screen is what controls the lights. I though this was a really neat idea and one of the better original ideas I’ve seen in the last few months. Would I trade my Ren24s for this concept… No, but I do like the creativity and originality that went into this control system.

Haven’t done much lately :(

Monday, April 27th, 2009

The last few nights haven’t been very productive. Between lack of sleep, work, and other things I haven’t felt much like finishing the last Ren24. Last night I probably could have worked on it, but I got my shipment of Ren24LV PCBs yesterday (Well Saturday, but I didn’t go into work Saturday) and I had ordered 6 Renard To DMX Cabling boards. These weren’t in my order. I still haven’t heard anything from Frank about whether I’m going to actually get them or not, but I’m starting to doubt that I will, mainly because his site now says he doesn’t have any. I don’t really fault Frank, because he has apparently had a lot going on family wise, but I was kind of counting on those boards so I could finish off the DMX testing on the boards.

Anyhow, since I am doubting I will get them I started looking into making my own. I played with Eagle most of the night last night and got a schematic drawn up and a board laid out. I didn’t think it came out too bad for my first time. I then went to BatchPCB which is run by the same guys that run SparkFun to get prices on making up some boards. BatchPCB basically lets you submit small, one-of, PCBs that are then batched with other people’s PCBs to make one large run. Makes it much more cost effective for small runs and prototyping. Anyhow, my boards in their current state would cost around $8 each plus shipping and setup fees so I’d have about $60 in 6 cabling boards.

I decided I could probably put $60 to better use elsewhere so I think I’m going to try and just come up with something using keystone jacks and some wire. I need to come up with something thin and rigid to mount the jacks to, but other than that it should work. Won’t be the prettiest, but should work. I’m still holding out hope that Frank will get me those boards, but if he doesn’t have them he doesn’t have them, nothing I can do about it.

Here’s some pics of my first Eagle designed PCB.


Saturday, April 25th, 2009

While watching the video that I posted last night (well this morning) I thought I saw a glitch or two and I started to get worried about the validity of running the DMX firmware on the Renards. This was further reinforced this afternoon while I was playing with the leaping arch sequencing again. It started getting really glitchy, so much so that I wouldn’t be comfortable putting on a show with it, and remember this is just in my basement with 50′ of cat5, not outside with 150′. I didn’t figure it was the DMX dongle, because from what I have read and seen with my own two eyes, RJ’s dongle is rock solid. That left the cabling and the computer. I made up a quick terminating resistor with a 120R resistor and a cat5 plug. The resistor goes between pins 4 and 5.

Note: these are the pins used by the Renard for communication not the pins used by the dongle for communication.

You might remember that I had to make up an adapter to make the pin out from the DMX dongle match the pin out on the Renards. That’s why the terminating resistor is on pins 4 & 5, not 1 & 2. I crimped the resistor into the plug and put a dab of hot glue in there to keep it from shorting itself out. I thought maybe the un-terminated line was causing the problems, so I gave it a go and it didn’t help any. I decided to finish getting the show computer updated and get .Net installed so I could run Vixen off there. I had been doing all my testing on my Laptop, but my laptop is also running all kinds of other goodies so I thought maybe it was all just slowing down vixen. Once I got Vixen running on the show computer, the glitches seemed to go away. I’ve tried several times this evening, and it all seems good, so hopefully that problem is behind me!

3 Down

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

I finished wiring controller #4 tonight leaving only controller #3 to wire yet. I went ahead and tested controllers 2 and 4 and every channel lit up a string of lights, so that’s a step in the right direction. I still need to label each of the channels, but I’m holding off on the weather proof labels to arrive to see if they are more feasible than my “packing tape over regular labels” labels.

I started trying to get an idea on the layout for my temporary sub-panel, and can’t quite figure out how I want to do the wiring. I did some research on the number of conductors allowed in a conduit and it kind of threw a monkey wrench in things (when I have time I need to research that saying, I’m not quite sure I get it). The main problem I’m having is that the outlet boxes I was going to use only have a 1/2″ hole for conduit, so that means I can only get enough wires in to run two circuits, which means I need three conduits coming off the breaker panel. I think I’m going to have a 1″ come off the side and into the SSR panel. The 1″ will carry the hots from the breaker panel to the SSR panel and back to the breaker panel where they will go into the appropriate conduit for the outlets. The main issue with having three conduits is I can’t lay them out how I want and it seems that the whole thing will be larger than the 2×2 that I wanted it to be. It’s probably going to be more like 2×3 by the time I am done. I was hoping to have it be as unwieldy as possible so it can be stored easily. That’s all for now I guess. Hopefully I do something a bit more exciting so I can have more pics to share, but this is all you get for now.

Moving Along

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Today on Planet Christmas someone posted that Menards had 15A GFCI outlets for $4. I had wanted to go out anyhow, so I took my lunch and headed there and Office Max. I was wanting to go to Office Max to look for Avery Weather Proof labels. I read that is what RJ uses over at DLA for his case labels and it seemed like it would be much easier that my “packing tape over normal labels” method, so I thought I would pick some up and try them out. I wanted the smaller ones, and naturally my Office Max doesn’t carry them. So off to Menards where I found that our local Menards did indeed have $4 GFCI’s, so I picked up 6 white ones (probably should have gotten more, but gotta save money). While I was there I looked at prices for an enclosure to mount my 15A SSRs in.

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this yet or not, but this is the plan for distributing power to the display. The local hardware was able to find me a 50A 240V RV outlet (basically a 50A stove outlet in an outdoor enclosure that allows the plug to be plugged in and still be weather proof). So that will be permanently be mounted to the house and tied to a 50A 240V breaker in the breaker panel that is meant for the stove, but is unused because we have a gas stove. Come setup time, I will have a portable distribution panel that will have a 100A main lug outdoor breaker panel on it. This will plug into the 50A 240V outlet and provide up to 100 amps of 120V power (50A on each of the 240 legs). The panel will be populated with 6 15A breakers for each of the 6 circuits that will be used to power the display. From the main breaker panel, the breakers will go into one of six Crydom CY3455 15A SSRs (Solid State Relays) that will be used to kill power to the display during the day. The 6 SSRs will be wired into 6 separate GFCI outlets that will then distribute the power to the controllers, that will distribute it to the lights. Hopefully I can find some good (free) diagramming software and draw up a diagram. Not only will killing the power during the day save a little bit of energy, but will make everything safer as there won’t be any power running around when it isn’t needed. The SSRs will be triggered by a small “wall-wart” type power supply that will be plugged into a regular old electronic lamp timer. The timer will be set to come on a bit before show time and will turn off some time after, thus enabling and disabling power to the entire display at the appropriate times. Anyhow, I needed a place to put the 15A SSRs. I had found an 8x8x4 NEMA3R enclosure on eBay for pretty reasonable, but wanted to check prices at Menards before buying it. I found a 6x6x4 enclosure that seems like it will work just fine that was cheaper (no shipping) and looks prettier too! It will be a little tight, but I’m fairly certain I can make it work.

I received the 15A SSRs a few weeks ago, but they have just sat at work since then. Tonight I finally decided to bring them home and try them out to make sure they work. I hooked them up to a string of lights and powered them with a 12V supply and they all worked like a charm. I then tried powering a controller with one to make sure that the controller pulled enough amperage to get the gate on the SSR to close and it seems like that works fine as well.

After testing the SSRs, I set to work getting enclosure #4’s grounds trimmed, tinned, and connected. Some of you may notice that I skipped enclosure #3, and that wasn’t intentional, it’s just that I picked up #4 first. It is definitely easier (and neater) doing the ground wires before the PCB/heat sink is in place. I am still getting asked about it, so I’ll remind everyone — The grounds are not necessary whatsoever. I’m using them because they are there and because I have the room for the grounding bar, and because I’m anal like that and like to see stuff grounded. Might come back to bite me in the end because I hear having a ground may cause GFCIs to trip easier, but we’ll see. Anyhow got all the grounds on that enclosure done and the PCB/heat sink mounted, and it’s ready for final wiring tomorrow night.

Before calling it a night to write this (now rather long) blog post I searched for the smaller Avery weatherproof labels, and found someone on eBay selling them for a reasonable price, so I’m going to order some tomorrow and hope that they work out. Sure will save some time on the labeling if they do.

Tonight’s pics also include some pics of the beginning stages of my arch creation from the other night.

1 More Month???

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Mouser just emailed me about 30 minutes ago and said the manufacturer (Microchip) has changed the ship date on my PIC16F688’s. Apparently they won’t ship now until the end of May. I’m wondering if it has something to do with the SS group buy that is going on, however that buy was submitted soon after my order was done, so I would think I would have gotten notification before this. Good thing I have one extra PIC laying around, just in case I end up getting replacement Pixel boards before I get the PICs. At least I can play with one of them.

In other news, I got the second Ren24 completely wired up, haven’t tested it yet, but other than testing and putting the stickers on, it should be good to go. Looks like two days for the wiring, so four more days for the rest of the enclosures and then I can move on to something else.