Arcade Cabinet Upgrade: Custom Acrylic Sign with RGB Backlight

As someone said, “always leave things better than you found them… especially people.” I have co-opted this motto in my life. I try to help others and upgrade things that I love on a daily basis. I can’t get a lot done each day, but I can do something. Every. Day. Over time, the changes really add up!

I recently was looking around my game room for some inspiration for a quick project. I have a custom arcade cabinet based on RetroPie running on a Raspberry Pi attached to a smart TV. It has been a lot of fun playing my video games from 30+ years ago. My project this time was to add a custom acrylic sign with an RGB backlight. I wanted the cabinet to look more like an actual arcade cabinet.

My go-to site for graphic printing is Signs.com. I have used it many times for upgrading Arkham Horror: The Card Game and for other projects around the house. I designed a sign using Adobe Illustrator and got it made out of acrylic. I cobbled together vector logos of many of my favorite systems plus the RetroPie logo and named the arcade cabinet, “The Scharcade”. See what I did there? Do you see it?

I used an RGB Led Strip with IR Remote Control as a backlight for the sign and to edge light the TV screen. The IR remote is handy to change the color of the lights. Just make sure that you expose the IR receiver on the power supply so you can change the color from the front of the cabinet.

My upgrade to the upgrade was to frost the arcade cabinet sign to make it look better. The original sign was completely transparent and you could see the lights shining through from each one of the LEDs. LEDs love diffusers. To fix this issue, I used Rust-Oleum Frosted Glass Spray Paint on the backside of the sign. I tested out the spray paint on a scrap piece of acrylic. I was really worried about ruining the custom sign. Once I was confident with the results, I went ahead and sprayed one even coat of the paint on the backside of the sign. It takes about 20-30 minutes in order for the paint to activate. I wanted in anticipation for 20 minutes and I gradually saw the clear acrylic turn frosted. I was really happy with the results. The 20 minutes felt light an eternity.

‘On Air’ Light for Microsoft Teams and Zoom Meetings

Back in the 90’s, the 1990’s, I used to be a late-night radio show host on Froggy. I was known as Jeremiah Bullfrog. When I left the radio business to start my own software company, Troy, the head engineer, gave me a parting gift – an ‘On Air’ light. Our company had remodeled and consolidated studios and lots of surplus gear had accumulated. I had the On Air light on my office shelf for over 20 years. With the recent events, I came up with a project to put the On Air light to use.

On Air Light

Along with the rest of the world, I have been working at home for the past couple of weeks. All of my meetings are now online/virtual ones and we use Microsoft Teams and Zoom. We also use video to better facilitate a connection and help us focus on the meeting. The camera that I have doesn’t have a light indicator showing whether it is in use. So, I put two and two together and come up with a remote controllable ‘On Air’ light for online meetings. It was the perfect project to entertain my three-year-old for a few hours. He was delighted every time the light turned on.

George helping me hack the ‘On Air’ light in my shop

George and I ripped apart a Sunbeam Touch Light that I got for $1 in a surplus sale. This light had a strip of LEDs, a controller, and a power supply. I just added an ESP8266 module and connected it to ThingSpeak using my tutorial that I published a few years ago. I wrote a little Visual Basic.NET script based on a project that I found on CodeGuru to detect whether or not the webcam was in use or not. If it’s in use, the script sends a signal to ThingSpeak to turn on the light.

Real-time Colors on CheerLights

CheerLights now supports the MQTT protocol. This means that devices and apps can receive real-time updates to changes in the CheerLights color without polling for the latest color.

How to use MQTT

Connect your device to mqtt.cheerlights.com:1883 and subscribe to the “cheerlights” topic. When the CheerLights color changes, the color name will be streamed to your device. You no longer have to poll for the latest CheerLights color on the ThingSpeak API.

Here are the valid color names:

  • red (#FF0000)
  • green (#008000)
  • blue (#0000FF)
  • cyan (#00FFFF)
  • white (#FFFFFF)
  • oldlace / warmwhite (#FDF5E6)
  • purple (#800080)
  • magenta (#FF00FF)
  • yellow (#FFFF00)
  • orange (#FFA500)
  • pink (#FFC0CB)

Check out the CheerLights API documentation for more detail.

Star Wars R2D2 Lamp on Twitch

This news is just in time for an R2D2 Lamp live streaming on Twitch.

Adding Images to EAGLE PCB Layouts

Over at Instructables, I created a tutorial on how to add custom graphics to EAGLE PCB layouts. EAGLE is a very popular layout tool for electronic circuit boards known as PCBs. The tool is powerful but some things are not obvious. We were working on a PCB layout and wanted to add our logo to the design. After spending the afternoon searching around, I finally decided to brute-force the process. I figured it out and now I can replicate the process of adding images to EAGLE. I thought that  I would share what I’ve learned so it will be easier for you.

For this Instructable, you will need an installed copy of EAGLE and a PCB Layout that you want to add some graphics to. I am using SparkFun’s FT232RL USB-to-Serial Breakout PCB (EAGLE Files) for example purposes.