‘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.

Building My Own Board Game Table

Thou shalt not covet. When it comes to board game tables, I am almost willing to break a commandment. Very fancy board game tables have popped up at conventions, Kickstarter, and Etsy. I want it.

Board Game Table on Etsy

In most cases, a game table is just a dedicated surface for playing all manor of tabletop games. They usually include a spongy surface for being able to pick up cards and tokens easily, a wide frame to place your cards or area to write, and cup holders.

I decided to make my own gaming table.

The decision to make my own versus buying was helped by the fact that I had an attic filled with two-by-four pieces of wood and a giant 6’x3′ sheet of sub flooring. The previous home owner was in the middle of some unfinished woodworking projects. Since the sub flooring sheet was 6’x3′, I made that my dimensions for the table. This also means that many gaming mats will fit perfectly. Gaming mats are like giant mouse pads with a print and made of a spongy backing.

Design

My design was simple. Build a 6’x’3 frame out of the two-by-fours. Add table legs. Put 6’x3′ sub flooring panel on top. And, finally frame the whole thing to give the table a small ledge. I used 6″ oak panels from Lowes to build the ledge. The ledge is a seperate piece so I can swap out the gaming mat if needed or clean up spills without ruining the whole thing.

Tools and Things

I didn’t have any woodworking tools. So, I assembled a short list of tools and things needed to build this table…

  1. Snacks
  2. Beverages
  3. Friend with tools
    1. Miter saw
    2. Power drill and screwdriver
    3. Power sander
  4. Screws
  5. Corner brackets
  6. Sandpaper
  7. Pre-stain
  8. Stain
  9. Polycrylic sealer

To keep the costs down, I bribed a friend to help me. They get a lifetime pass for gaming action on a cool DIY game table… and, snacks and beverages. The main tool needed was a miter saw. This was used to make nice straight cuts. Other tools needed: power drill to drill holes for screws and a screwdriver to screw the screws into the holes.

Table Frame

I was only trying to make sure that the outside dimensions were 6’x3′. I made up the configuration on the spot.

Table Ledge

The ledge acts like a frame around the sub flooring panel. This gives you a nice place to hold cards or write notes. I used corner brackets to square up the ledge and used the sub flooring panel as my guide.

Table Assembly

The table is three separate parts: frame, sub flooring surface, and ledge. Obligatory selfie. First Game = Arkham Horror: The Card Game.

Finishing

For awhile, I tried to talk myself out of sanding and staining the wood. The wood had sharp edges and rough spots. It took some convincing, but I decided to finish this off and it made a huge difference. The finishing process took way longer than the assembly.

My Process

  • Sanding – so much sanding – this creates a lot of dust – wear a mask – be prepared to clean up dust for months – use 80 grit first, 120 second, and 220 third – be patient
  • Pre-staining – apply pre-stain to the wood and let dry – this really helps with staining or so YouTube says
  • Staining – apply stain within 2 hours of the pre-stain and repeat
  • Sealing – use a water-based polycrylic sealer to seal the ledge – this will help with spills and cup rings and protect the wood or so YouTube says – let dry for 30 minutes – lightly sand with 220 grit and repeat two more times – it’s worth doing this as many times as you can fit into a weekend

Going Next Level

Deep-Cut Studio creates custom gaming mats for any size surface. I uploaded a custom piece of art to enhance my Arkham Horror: The Card Game campaign. Deep-Cut is based in England and it took less than two weeks to get my custom gaming mat. More on that on a later date.

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.

Your Physical Interface with Uber!

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Want to see/hear how far the closest Uber is from you? All you have to do is press a button on an AWS IoT connected device. I created this project to allow anyone to have access to Uber even without a smartphone and for those with different capabilities.

I used the Arduino Yun and the Grove Starter Kit for Arduino to build a physical interface with Uber services. The full project details are available on Hackster.io and GitHub.

The Fiverr Project Jingle

Here’s an update to The Fiverr Project. We now have a jingle produced by Soulriter. In this Fiverr Gig, I consulted with Soulriter to record a jingle for The Fiverr Project. I will be using Fiverr to produce a short film. This project will take awhile to create, but it will be fun. I will share the results along the way.

Here are the lyrics to the jingle:

I wrote this jingle for The Fiverr Project
5 bucks gets gets you a song from a guy like me
Happy to be on The Fiverr Project
20 seconds is all your gonna get you see

Experimenting with Fiverr: The Fiverr Project

My new experiment is with a website called Fiverr. I call it, “The Fiverr Project”.

Fiverr is a service that links users to producers. Many producers will do anything for a minimum of $5. Sometimes they will hold a sign for you, write a blog post, or draw a cartoon. It is interesting on what people will do for $5 and what people are requesting. A lot of producers will offer add-ons that speed up the order or add enhancements that are not included in the base price of $5.

The Fiverr Project will try out Fiverr and I will only choose the minimum of $5 per thing I get produced. Then, I will share the results.

My dream has always been to see myself as a Simpsons cartoon. When I first started to browse Fiverr, I noticed a producer named Aldodel that offers such a service. He was advertising, “I will draw your full body as a tv cartoon for $5”. I took him up on the offer and for $5 and a photo, he produced me as a cartoon.

The Fiverr Project

 

Pour-over Coffee Making with Hario

My family, my fiancée, and her family went together this past Christmas and got me coffee related gifts. Everything from fresh, small-batch coffee from Pour Richard’s Coffee Co. in Devon, PA to a pour-over coffee maker by Hario.

I watched a number of videos on how to make coffee using a pour-over coffee maker. It seems rather simple. But, I the devil is in the details along with a much better cup of coffee. I recommend watching a view videos and then trying it out.

Here are some notes that might help you get to a better cup of coffee quicker:

  • Choose a ceramic pour-over coffee brewer
  • Use a burr coffee grinder
  • Use fresh roasted coffee if you can
  • Use a gooseneck water pot to control the water pouring over the coffee grounds
  • Use a little water to heat up the brewer and cup before starting the brewing – this helps keep the coffee hot throughout the process
  • When you start the pour-over brewing process, pour water over and allow the coffee to bloom – you will see a “foam” of bubbling up from the grounds – stop pouring water and let it foam up a bit – the fresher the coffee the more bloom you will see
  • Have fun trying things out

I am still learning and want to keep taking this further. The one thing I keep seeing people doing is weighing everything out on a scale – including the water. As I experiment more, I might have to try that so I can control the quality, but in general I have been making some very good, full-flavor cups of coffee without precise measurement.

EL Pumpkin is Spanish for Electroluminescent Pumpkin

EL Wire is a flexible wire that glows when you apply electricity to it. I am seeing more and more things trimmed with EL Wire and it makes for interesting effect. If you watched America’s Got Talent you might have seen a finalist called Team iLuminate. The iLuminate team used EL Wire to create animations and lighting effects on top of group dancing.

My nephews and niece were in town for Halloween and I was struck with the idea of adding a little animation to our Halloween Pumpkin. I wanted to make a pumpkin that changed expression. We made a basic smiley face and angry face by carving grooves into the face of the pumpkin. Then, we laced the EL Wire in and out of the grooves. We used red for the mad expression and blue and green for the smile expression. It was pretty easy to do and I had fun sharing my bits knowledge with the kids. It was rewarding to hear them come up with their own ideas – “We could hook an MP3 player up to this and scare people” or, “What if we added motion detection?”. It was also fun to hear my 5-year-old niece Zoey say, “Electroluminescent”.

Parts:

Notes:

I think the Blue EL Wire worked the best and looked the best. The red looks a little orange. The Green EL Wire sometimes didn’t illuminate. You can only illuminate 2 strands of EL Wire at a time with the stuff I had from SparkFun. I need to experiment more with EL Wire and get an EL Wire controller to do some more intricate animations. I will post future projects if I come up with anything interesting.

Always start with sketches when you start your project. It’s important to have a plan to allow yourself to stray knowingly.

EL Pumpkin Sketches
EL Pumpkin Sketches

EL Wire is LED of the future if you ask me…

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.