Everything Pt. 3

A project log for Christmas Snowflake Sculpture

WS8212 LED strips embedded in an interactive Christmas Display

nicholas-stedmanNicholas Stedman 11/27/2014 at 00:000 Comments

With the strips built, and the software more or less worked out, it was time to install my stuff in the sculpture. I travelled to FluxWorx in Ottawa and met the intrepid crew building the 20 foot structure out of aluminum and glass. I had hoped to install everything at this stage, but schedules don't always match up. Flux were finishing off one half, while the other was still being welded. Before we could add the strips we had to install the Sensacells.

It took about a day before I could put the strips in and fire them up. But we were all relieved that with all the lighting integrated into at least one section of the body, that the project was starting to come together.

Yet this all was happening just a week before the final install, and so everyone was both excited and concerned as so many details still had to be attended to, such as affixing the LED strips, and mounting the power supplies...let alone finish the fabrication.

In my remaining day and a half at the shop I focused on understanding the addressing of the Sensacells so I could make a big lookup table that associates the NeoPixels to the neighbouring tile.

I also logged any remaining problems, so I could fix them back in Toronto, as there wasn't enough time to do so in Ottawa.

Lastly, I focused on material things, that needed to be done to make it easier for Flux to install my stuff after I left. This included labelling all the LED strips and getting the project boxes together for the controller circuit, and potentiometers.

Oh wait, and we had that meeting with the ESA inspector! How could I forget. This guy had the ability to nix just about anything he wanted on the project with a week remaining! We were all nervous, and for my part I was concerned about those non-certified RIGrunners. Steve, a very serious man, came in and looked it over. He picked up parts and took apart one of the RIGrunners. Then he simply said that he could sticker/approve it as signage if we made a few quick fixes. He's the one who required a proper enclosure for the circuits, and a cover for the AC terminals of Power Supply, but that was it for my end. In fact, he was quite interested in the RIGrunners as a solution. I think they could do good business with commercial installations of LED strips if they did get certified (I know it's damned expensive though).

And off I went back to Toronto. The next three days were a flurry of finishing off last minute details such as providing maps for Flux to install my stuff, and attending to bugs in the code. I was pretty much set to go by Saturday morning the day of the install. At 6AM I got a text that the install would be delayed by a few hours because prep work was still being finished, and then again a few hours later, then it was postponed until Sunday morning, and then Sunday at noon. This meant that a two day install (which was short in the first place) was being compressed into less than one day.

I went to the site for noon, and immediately got to work. Much of my gear hadn't been installed. I expected that this might happen, as "filler" LEDs weren't exactly the fabricators priority...and I don't mean that sarcastically. I'd do the same in their circumstance. So I started hooking up my controller to the individual LED strips, and attaching their power connectors.

One of the things that came to my attention just days before was that the two halves of the sculpture would be separated each year. There was no way anyone was going to attach 20 odd connectors across the joint each year, without damaging something, so I used some 15 pin D-Sub connectors to port through all the connections.

This was all a mad rush, as there was a large crew waiting for these jobs (both mine and others) to be finished so they could assemble the thing. At some points we had to just step aside so they could do their job.

With the sculpture together, we started powering up the sculpture to see what worked and what failed. At first there were flickers and sputters, but with time each problem was sorted out, until we had half of it illuminated.

In the rush to assemble, so many connectors were overlooked, and only discovered when it was all together. A lot of climbing was required to attach those spots. By 11 PM we had made so much progress, and the end was in site, but the glass still needed to be installed and electrical issues were still being sorted out. The building was getting panicked because they needed the worksite to be cleared by 6am...several times they threatened to pull the plug on the install, but the architects abated them, and bought us just enough time to finish our work. We cleared each limb one at a time making room for the glass installers to get to work on a new area.

This also meant I was wrapping up with most of my material work. I polished off a few remaining issues, such as installing some large power connectors to the power supplies, and also making sure the ethernet cabling between Sensacell panels was correct. Then I took a few moments to just check out our work, and document.

There was palpable excitement, as the glass went up, and a lot of energy as we could see the thing coming together, and felt satisfied. The folks at Flux hadn't had a good nights rest in days, yet they were feeling pretty good at this point too.

Rob and I who were additionally responsible for coding chatted with the Architects who decided that instead of working out the interaction of our respective parts that night, we'd do so another time. Yeah, after 14 hours of high-adrenaline installing I had no brain left for it anyways. Truth be told, you can't really tell that my strips don't respond to touch interaction. They just stay a solid blue. Can you believe that after hundreds of hours of work, the effect was shrugged off because the existing behaviour was good enough.

With the end approaching people started cleaning up the job site, having a slice of pizza and clearing out one by one. I took this last video at the site, and then got out of there myself around 4am.

I've had my first couple of days without having to work on this project in two months. I am feeling deeply relaxed.