It's all about the blinking...
See a comparison of the hardware used to run the displays between 2007 and 2019.
I wrote down a wish list for what I want for 2008 based on what I considered my show was lacking.
Well it's only January and the 2008 display is already underway. I have purchased 10,000 lights, looked at ordering 100 meters of rope light, and already built 128 channels of Grinch and 2 Ledtriks boards. Pity I dont have the chips to make them run yet - argh.
Thanks to the Ren-C board, it appears as though I might not have to make the jump to the renard just yet, as the Ren-C will allow me to dim my existing 595 controller, so I ordered 4 boards from John, as well as 32 SSR boards ready for the next lot of lights. The first Mouser order has already been used to build the Grinch & Ledtriks, and the next one is on its way with parts for the Ren-C's plus some SSR's. Just dont tell my wife Sue it cost close to $400 so far, with another order of about $200 needed to complete the SSR's. I think I'll wait until Feb to order them as I'd like to get more rope light first.
Went up to see if I could get any cheap lights as someone said the hardware had a few left. Alas they were all 36V AC, and I am trying to retire anything that is not 24v or 240v. As we drove past our local light shop we thought we should have a look. Bought a trumpet playing angel made of ropelight and 2 moving deers made of ropelight. A nice way to spend $250, but at least Sue knew all about it lol. Purchased a 12V CT transformer and some RCA plugs for the LED strobes from the local electronics store.
My poor old 23 year old soldering iron finally decided to die, so I bought a shiny new temp controlled soldering iron. I dont think it is as good as the old one, but at least it gets warm. I also saw a cheap CRO for $99, so I got that too - handy to see what things are doing on the boards now I am going to dimming controls.
After 2 days of trying to get my REN-C boards to work I found the faults. Baud Rate, plugin and finally my old SSR's dont like dimming at all - ARGH! The gear is built to dim, but I think the problem is I used a 330ohm resistor on the triac - very borderline on a 24V supply, where it should be more like 33 ohm. This may explain a few side issues that I experienced this year - more than expected numbers of globes blew, but that could be explained by the fact that EVERY time they were switched on they were in fact being turned on at close to the peak voltage in the cycle. Turning on a warm bulb like this is OK, but a cold one gets a little more stressed, and is a little more likely to blow. I'm going to strip down one SSR and change the resistors on a few outputs to see if it works. If it does then I'll continue with the upgrade. If not, I'll see if I can strip the SSR's down to parts and use them on the SSROZ boards.
The change to 33 ohm resistors did not work, but swapping the bits from the old Stripboard SSR's to the SSROZ boards ended up giving me a working SSROZ board, but strangely the same parts wont work as a dimming controller on the stripboard. It appears as tho I might need to closely study the 2 designs to see what the problem or differences are. Except the fact that the Stripboard SSR's use a 560ohm resistor on the Opto input and the SSROZ uses 750ohm (It was all I had), I cant see much difference at all.
Currently debating stripping all the parts from the SSR's and starting to place them on the SSROZ boards so they will work. Updating the SSR's will make things neater, but will also cause a lot of work in updating the gear. Currently the idea is to convert 1 64 channel board to internal SSR's, and the other 64 channels will become external (in powerboards for items like ropelights etc). I will probably use 6 way boards to reduce the number of cables and boards needed for the future ropelight upgrade etc, but this limits the upgrade future for these boards, so I will go back and look at what cables are being used in the SSROZ and my own boards, so that if I plug a grinch in to a 4 or 6 way powerboard, at least 4 of the 6 SSR's will work.
Apparently the Allegro's and MBI's are both on the way. My next 64 SSR's worth of Electronics are on their way from Futurlec, and I also purchased a 6 port Serial card as the PC I will be using this year only has 1 serial port in it. My 3 PIC's arrived from John and tested OK, so sometime next week I will have 4 working REN-C's and the start of the strobes set up for use in the yard.
I have decided that the strip-down of the 595 board will happen soon, but I will be doing something a little different to what I planned. One 595 board will be matched with a REN-C and used to control 64 channels of SSR's inside a PC case similar to what I had before. The second 595 will be connected to external power-board mounted SSR's via CAT5, and will also be dimmable via a second REN-C.
Found the issue with the SSR boards - the +5vAfter taking a long look at the work that was needed to updatre the 595 controller, I have decided on a few updates. All the SSR's are being removed from the box, having the 330 Ohm resistor replaced with the correct rated 33 ohm one, a small heatsink is to be added to the Triacs, and the input cabling upgraded from Ribbon cable to cat 5, with a seperate +5V supply to the board - one board has been completed, and 1 more partly completed, and 4 more left to do. All the LED's for the 128 channels have been scrapped, reducing the load on the 5V power supply quite substantially.
I spent an hour looking for the 4th REN-C board today, but cant find it at all. I have 3 built & tested, but can not find the 4th at all. It will turn up, and considering I only need 3, there is no real problem, just that I wanted to get the build over & done with so I can concentrate on other things.
5 SSR boards are completed, with another 12 having the LED's, LED resistor, 33 ohm Triac resistor and input plug installed already, and waiting for the Opto's, resistors and Triacs from the next Futurlec order. The on-board LED is supplied via a 750 ohm resistor to reduce current a little more to avoid over-stressing the 5V rail on the power supply too much.
This month as a whole was spent sorting, cataloging, current testing and packing the old and new lights. A new spreadsheet was created for 2008's lights and contains the following data (only a few sets used as an example).
|Set Name||Type||Globe Volt||Globe Watt||Globe Count||Volts||Total Current (A)||Description/Location|
|24C46-1||Animated star Chan 1 - Green||1.5||0.08||10||24||0.06|
|24C46-2||Animated star Chan 2 - Orange||1.5||0.08||20||24||0.11|
|24C46-3||Animated star Chan 3 - Blue||1.5||0.08||30||24||0.16|
|24C46-4||Animated star Chan 4 - Red||1.5||0.08||40||24||0.21|
|24L1||LED candy canes & reindeer||N/A||N/A||272||24||0.20||In garden bed|
|24R1||Painted Red Icicle||1.5||0.08||210||24||0.80||paint red and put under blue icicles|
|24R2||Painted Red Icicle||1.6||0.08||210||24||0.79||paint red and put under blue icicles|
|24R3||Painted Red Icicle||1.5||0.08||210||24||0.79||paint red and put under blue icicles|
This month was also the PC upgrade month. A dual core will be used for the ledtriks display PC, and an Athlon 2800 as the main display PC. If I decide to drop the ledtriks, I'll use the dual core for the main display PC.
All the gear, except a few SSR's and the Ren64, are in the process of being built and tested.
Selected the songs for the display, and bid on a heap of things on ebay including a shell for a jet-ski!!! The lights, except the old rope lights and last years red and blue icicles, have been completed. I still have about 15 sets of new lights that need to be catalogued and have plugs set up on them.
I have also been busy building a heater into the shed - 150 bricks have been built into a nice setup for the shed, and the heater will be installed in the next few weeks ready for winter :) See the shed page for more information.
Heater is installed, Jet Ski has arrived (Well I drove 250km each way to pick it up), and I bought a new Mig Welder which will be required to help build the mini trees, mega tree, and stands for the Jet Ski as well as the surfboard.
I'm off to Bathurst in about 10 days to get the steel needed for the stands and trees.
Yesterday I went to Bathurst and bought a new cut-off saw, a few welding bits & pieces, plus $150 in steel for the minitrees as well as the main megatree. Always fun putting a 4 meter length of steel on a 6 foot trailor and driving 60km back home in the snow!.
Well I started on the minitrees today and I am really happy with how they have gone so far, and with a bit of paint they should last for ages. Minitree build information can be found here.
Earlier this month I started Lining the shed with Gyprock and insulation behind it. It makes a massive difference in temperature.
The ones on the left are Phil's and the ones on the right are mine. Thats up against a 6 foot colorbond fence, so the trees are nice and tall, allowing them to be driven reasonably deep into the ground for stability.
I created a seperate page for the building of the 6 way powerboard SSR's, with loads of new pictures and descriptions. You can find the information here.
Because I want to add floodlighting to the house so I can "paint" the house red, green, blue or white, I started making a 4 globe, 240V floodlight setup. Initially I used a 120W white, and 80W R, G & B, but I struck a problem with the color Blue, as it appears much duller than the others. I will have to eithor source a higher wattage blue globe, or connect 2 blue floodlights to the one output to get similar lighting levels. I have started buying floodlight bases each week so I end up with the required 26 or so by the end of the year (Darn this gets expensive!). I'll post some images once I get the colors sorted out.
In the last couple of weeks I have updated my 4 and 6 way powerboard setups to a common design for each of them. Each of them has been check to ensure they each behave properly, as well as being load testsed to 1A to ensure they work properly once again. 2 new 6 way boards have been built. Thats six 6 way boards completed, two 4 way boards, plus four 4 way setups for the floodlights, totalling 60 240V SSR's built and tested, and about 30 left to build - argh.
Well I finally finished the LED display section for the megatree. I started out with 150 10mm 120,000 mcd LED's and ground the top off each of them, After grinding the top, I roughed up the sides and then added flats along the edges to give a rough diamond shape for each of them. This gives not a point of light but a nice white dot.
A standard grinder was used to modify the LED's. A vacuum was used to remove the majority of the dust as it was created, but I used a dust mask to minimise inhallation of any dust.
The Top LED is the standard 10mm LED. The middle one is with the top ground off, and the lower one is with the sides roughed up and flats ground at angles on the top.
The picture above shows the grinch in a modified form. Because the standard Grinch can provide 90mA per channel, I wanted to reduce this a bit. Each of the LED's is rated at 20mA, and because I have 2 in parallel, 40 to 50mA per output would be ideal. A 470 Ohm resistor ended up giving a nice 39mA per output. The resistors were added to the bottom of the grinch board so that they will limit the current and negate the chance of any LED's being burnt out by overcurrent.
Here are the LED's running on a loop. They cycle between 40 and 100% brightness when driven by a REN-C using PWM firmware. I ran this test for a few hours to ensure the LED's would be fine and I did find a few issues that were soon fixed.
This is a closeup of a couple of the LED's in action. As you can see they are a reasonably even light source rather than a point like a normal LED.
I have started building the Ledtriks boards - YAY!. Rather than wait for a pre-made PCB to hold the LED's, I decided on using a pre-drilled peg board and modifying it to my needs. Each of the holes for the LED's was too small, so each of the 768 holes on the 2 boards had to be drilled out slightly, but it did make for a tight fit for the LED's, and thus they wont be falling out quickly. After spraying the board black, the LED's were inserted and wired up. Over 85 meters of copper wire had to be soldered to the 1538 LED's, and the process took a few days to do. After the initial testing, not a single LED failed - good quality control!
This is the beginning of the Ledtriks build. Each LED was hot glued into place so that it did not move and give a different light spread at a later stage. The back of the pegboard was also painted so that it would not swell if it does get wet (Which should not happen!)
The Ledtriks was completed and tested OK. 2 boards, 768 LED's in each, and it's reliable, and copped a few days of 24/7 testing with no issues at all. I did note that the Ledtriks is rather voltage sensitive, and anything over 5.0V is not good for it at all. An IN4001 diode was used to ensure the voltage remained at a nice 4.5V. At that voltage, the current was roughly 500 to 800mA, far lower than I had expected.
Completed a small power supply upgrade - An old PC power supply was stripped and terminals placed on the side to allow easy connection to the external controllers and SSR's. I will add a dummy load and better casing when I get a chance, plus the fan in the supply is noisy and needs replacing, so I may almost be better off replacing it with a new supply.
I also removed the 36V transformer from last years case and replaced it with a 24V one. That gives 96 channels of 24V load from the old case. A change to the cable setup this year has allowed me to push the transformers a lot harder - usually 12.5 to 13A on the secondaries, which is fractionally over their rated capacity. Because not all lights will be on at once, this is acceptable, and still within safety margins should they all come on for some unknown reason.
Started the second case for transformers (4 new 24V ones). This will have to wait for the rest of the electronics before I mount the SSR's and complete them. I started the final mounting for the Ledtriks, so here are a few images from the tests and mounting.
This is the initial testing of the Ledtriks with a frosted front cover. Because the LED's have a limited 20 degree viewing angle, I discovered (quite by accident) that a frosted plastic cover gave a much wider range of lighting, as you are actually looking at the red dot on the cover rather than the actual LED. It does make the LED's slightly less bright, but the wider viewing angle far makes up for the issue.
The completed ledtriks, above, is stored by bolting it to the ceiling of my shed on chains. It also allows access to the back of the Panel. There is yet to be a back put on it - I'll wait until the Triks-C's are running and installed before I close up the back and weatherproof the unit.
My Triks-C has been completed at tested. This simple little board, shown above, allows the 1 PC to run a ledtriks AND main display with room to spare. TimW's design costs all of about $15 per board and instead of the Ledtriks being a massive CPU Hog, a 128 channel setup and 1 Panel Ledtriks uses 2 to 5% of my Q6600's processor speed, so this year will see the Ledtriks become an integral part of my display. I was lucky enough to get access to the Beta boards, and they have far surpassed my expectation. I'm just waiting to get 1 more board so I can fully test my 2 Panel Ledtriks board.
The Grinch and LED's were given a seriously big test. Running for over 4 days, they had no failures, but I did find one intermittent short in a cable, which was fixed quickly. This is an image of the 128 LED's running a sequence.
This is the Current-Limited Grinch and Ren-C in a case. It will be mounted on the Megatree and wrapped in plastic - basically the only electronics outside the house with the exception of the Floodlights in the front yard. Drawing roughly 2 Amps at 5V, a small power cable and lan cable are all that will be needed for this part of the display.
My raised Minitrees will be 2 color this year. I wanted Green and White, but was unable to get decent Green paint, so I chose Purple. This picture, taken while I was waiting for the second group to dry, shows the light holders made from thin MDF and drilled so the lights are a firm fit in the holes, holds the lights nice and tight for spraying.
After waiting overnight for the lights to dry, I spent most of today putting 1250 purple and 1250 lights on the 10 minitrees. It's amazing just how many cable ties one person can use on a simple job like this!
The new Purple/White Minitrees have been completed. They have 125 Purple and 125 white lights on each of the 10 Minitrees. This is a Minitree before the lights were evened out, but you get an idea of what it looks like.
I finally finished the Renard 64 today, and it works fine. External ZC and 5V supply plus a serial signal and the whole system works better than I expected. I'll definately go Ren 16 or 64 for future controllers. I am currently running a mix of standard and PWM code on the chips as a test. The Standard code does not use the LED's properly, but the PWM code allows viewing of the individual outputs on the LED's. I only installed 1 LED per pic as I just wanted to see the unit worked fine - I'm over seeing the lights flash on the boards, honest (Grin).
Above shows the Renard 64. Chanel 8 LED is installed on each chip as it requires a resistor rather than a resistor pack used by 1-7. The pink chips are the PWM code, but in order to reduce load I might replace them with normal Renard code.
Because I tend to order more parts than I need, it's suprising how quickly you build up a stock of spare parts.
Finished the majority of the SSR's today, as well as started making brackets to hold the rope light on the house. 35 made and probably another 20 or 30 are needed. they were cut, ground, drilled and then galvanised before being given one coat of green paint the same as the house so they will blend in. I will get some green screws this week and install the items.
I am between 2 night shifts today so I did very little. Because I have had a few small issues with my modified PC power supply, I decided to modify a new one. Only 1 5V, 12V and earth pin was put out on an external box from the supply, as well as a switch to allow me to turn the supply on & off and also an indicator LED. Because of the problem of regulation on a low-loaded power supply, I included a 5W 10 ohm resistor across the 5V supply.
This new power supply seems a lot more stable than the old one, and was donated by Fluidtek about 6 months ago (during one of my occasional spending sprees there). The case was damaged, but the 500W supply works perfectly and was ideal to modify for this sort of job. I'll paint it up this week and post pictures of it as soon as I can. I will keep a second supply for testing in the shed, as well as a backup, but this one will be the main power supply for the control system for the lights this year.
Started spraypainting the blue lights on the blue icicles. I started by removing all of the 1260 blue globes placing them in a rack ready to spray them blue.
This is one group of 630 globes after being sprayed with Metalcast paint. This paint is touch dry in less than 20 minutes, and is fully dry and extremely hard in 7 days. The coverage is pretty good, and I learnt heaps from doing the purple lights from the Minitrees.
A few hours of painting the globes, the blue globes seem to go on for ever and ever and ever and....
The blue globes were done so I added the 3 chanel white chasers to the 2 bundles of icicles. A rope was added to give extra support to the light cables and cable ties were added every 30cm or so. This gives Red, Blue and White icicles on the house, and the bundle is rather thick now, owing the fact that there is about 16 thin cables in any one section of the icicles, plus some larger 1 sq mm cables as return earths to allow decent brightness when all globes are illuminated.
Yesterday I started working on the 20 individual Candy Canes. These will be spaced every 1m around the path on the North and West of the house, and each of the 20 needs to be individually wired back to the SSR's.
So far only 10 of the 20 Candy Canes have been, and here are some ready to go. Each is installed in a specific place to minimise excess cableing.
The lights are starting to go up! 2 sets of 30m long rope lights were installed today to outline the house, and so far they look pretty good. Thats 2, 178 lights up, and some 35,000 or more left to go - argh!
After a week away with my kids in Port Macquarie, it's back to the grind. Rope light is all up on the house, icicles are installed on the house, but then I decided to power up all the gear for a final test and struck a problem - It did not work properly.
Rebuilt the ZC setup overnight into a much more robust and reliable unit and it tests great. I am only using this for ZC, so the 1 300mA transformer supplies 4 ren C's and one ren 64XB plus a few LED's on the case and draws all of 25mA, well under its rating lol.
Then I tried again and still found issues - the first 2 serial ports worked fine, but the 3rd was giving framing errors, which indicates bad data. After 2hrs of swapping cables, ports and more, I was no closer to finding out why as all settings were correct and work, except that there was "jerking" of the output - it was far from nice and even and smooth. I swapped over to the "Backup PC", my Vista laptop and it worked perfectly, so it looks like the serial card in the display PC is faulty. What should have been a quick fix ended up taking all day - argh!
Stupid me fell over the dog while installing lights and hurt my wrist. I was going to see how it went for a few days before seeing the Doctor, but I could not sleep at all last night so I went to see the doctor today...
It's broken and in a cast - argh. Seriously slowing up the light install too, but I'll get there.
33, 126 Lights up, and we are running from 8pm to 11:30pm every night. Radio's to be tuned to 105.9FM to hear the music. More information can be found on the 2008 Display page.
I would like to thank everyone involved in the build, those that offered help putting lights up, and those that will be helping collect donations throughout the coming month. While I may have built the gear and put the lights up, it could not have been done without the support of many others out there.