Raspberry Pi

“Pi”, not “pie.”  Actually, while the Raspberry Pi is interesting, what I really want to talk about today is the WS2812B standard for programmable RBG LED arrays.

For the record I’ve rejected the WS2811 standard and am not sure about the WS2813 standard – although I have to admit the LED bypass property is really a cool idea.

Okay, okay, I’ll back up, I get it, some of you are still trying to figure out if I’m talking about cooking or some strange alien technology.  To clarify – the Raspberry Pi is a computer.  A small, but yet powerful computer running a LINUX variant know as “Raspberry Pi OS” which is really a Debain variant customized for the Raspberry Pi.

But none of that really matters to this conversation – I just wanted to sound smarter than I am.

Back to the Pi.  It’s small about 2×4 inches and it looks like this (image stolen from Amazon):

It’s a small computer that hobbyist, students and even pros use to create interesting computer controlled projects, like security cameras, temperature controllers, brains for robots, and – my favorite here: Controlling Christmas lights. 

Not your standard bought at the big box store lights but special ones that look something like this (another, I stole from Amazon picture):

The cool thing about these lights is that you can use a computer to turn each light on individually and as a bonus change the color of the single light to anything from white, to red, to blue, to green or anything in between.  This gives you a way to program a string of lights to change color in sequence or animation.  For example you could put these lights around a wheel and have the lights turn off and on in sequence to make it look like the wheel is turning.  Great for Santa’s Christmas train.

An extreme example of this is shown in this YouTube video:

Yes, these folks went way over the top, but the process is simple, yet rich in detail.  The basic steps are:

  1. Setup a control system
  2. String a bunch of WS2812 lights
  3. Program
  4. Run the program
  5. Amaze your friends and family

Long time readers can see where I’m going here – yup another hobby I’m thinking of doing. Like I don’t have enough to do. Who thought you could be so busy in retirement.

Here’s the thing.  I live in an area that has this annual “Parade of Lights” at Christmas and the best display wins an award.  I think top prize is a sign in your yard that says, “Parade of Lights Winner.”  Just once in my life I’d to have that sign in my yard and given that I have too much to do, why not?

I don’t want this to sound egotistical, but I look at some of the displays in my area and think, “I could do better than that.”  Believe me, I can do better than dancing gingerbread men or Whoville painted on plywood.

Now this year, I have gone to what is likely the biggest yard decorating effort I’ve ever done – a display in the courtyard around our new stagecoach, some stuff on the lawn and about 400 feet of lights along the roof line and in various trees.  It looks nice, took me awhile and I had help from my son-in-law and grandson.  BUT, it’s static, boring and just an exercise in stringing lots of extension cords.  It’s not an award winning display.

As I did a little googling to figure out how all the amazing displays I see in the neighborhood are done, I realize that my whole career in electronics and computers was about enabling me to create amazing light displays.

I’ve mentioned this a few times on the blog, but I started out at 19 as an electronic technician building stuff just like this. Did it for 15 years before moving over to software and programming things just like this.  Okay those things look more like telephones, TVs, websites and streaming video, but the basic principles are the same. Computer, controls something.  Simple, yet complex.

A long time ago I did have an electronics shop in my home and did more than a few home brew builds of computers and things.  Over the years I let that hobby go as I spent so many hours a day doing that work for a living.  Now the only electronics gear I have left are a few hand tools, a digital volt meter and a not so good soldiering iron.  I do a little bit of electrical work around the house, but hardcore electronics builds like the prototype computers, I just gave up on.

It’s strange how things work, but in the year and half since I’ve retired, I find that I miss plugging things together and getting new electronics working.  Just last week while I was cutting out the bird ornaments on my scroll saw I started looking around the shed and thought – “I could build a small electronic bench right there for the Christmas lights project.”

Dangerous thoughts for a retired guy …

About Andrew Reynolds

Born in California Did the school thing studying electronics, computers, release engineering and literary criticism. I worked in the high tech world doing software release engineering and am now retired. Then I got prostate cancer. Now I am a blogger and work in my wood shop doing scroll saw work and marquetry.
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26 Responses to Raspberry Pi

  1. Uh-oh. You’re doomed… but in a good way. Just to feed your burgeoning addiction, I should mention that Hubby’s working on a Raspberry Pi project right now. They’re so inexpensive, it’s hard to justify NOT trying it. (Of course, ‘inexpensive’ doesn’t take into account all the tools you’ll have to re-buy; so there’s that…) 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, the basic stuff isn’t that bad, but I had a lot of test gear back in the day. The question is how much do I really need and hopefully some of it is cheaper these days.


      • Hubby got a very reasonably priced oscilloscope from Banggood.com. I can’t recommend the site because I don’t know if they’re really reputable, but the oscilloscope was delivered on time and works fine. Maybe they have other inexpensive electronics tools as well, if you want to take the chance.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I checked out some of the prices, and yes, inexpensive is right. Much less than I paid back in the 80s. I have completely decided what gear I need, most likely just a oscilloscope and a good lab power supply. The DMV I have is good enough, but I might need to replace some of my hand tools and get a decent soldering iron. But first I’m trying to figure out what I need to order for the Raspberry Pi.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds like a bright idea to me.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Dave says:

    Looking forward to next year’s display already! Does Raspberry Pi play a role in synchronized music as well?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, it can. There is software out there for the Pi that lets you design a synchronized music light show. Not sure I’m going to do that, I’m more interested in just a light show.


  4. Dee says:

    The raspberry pie board can also be a controller mechanism for the running of computer guided quilting, you would just have to know how to write code. And if you knew your way around those two things, you can have a nice computer guided quilting machine up and running for a fraction of what the retailers sell it for. If I decide to take a coding class, it will be strictly to figure out that part of the raspberry pie!

    Liked by 2 people

    • It could be the basis of a CNC controller for just that. Likely, you could adapt FOSS or some other CNC tools to make it happen. Yes, I was looking at the cost of a good long arm quilting system and wow! I don’t think I’m doing that anytime soon.


  5. Debra says:

    You are never bored, Andrew. You’re always creating. Every few years we re-watch Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase and I think perhaps before you plan your Christmas outdoor design, you might want a refresher course! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Baydreamer says:

    You lost me at WS2812B! But pie sounds good! 🙂 I’m sure with your experience and knowledge, your display will be extraordinary!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Raspberry Pi used to be beloved in computer labs, and then it moved out. What a great tool. Enjoyed your post.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Hi, Andrew. I couldn’t find where to ‘like’ this post. But I do a lot. The fact that you are wanting to go back and do some electronic things made me smile. To me, it means that you had chosen a field to work in that you truly enjoyed. I am happy to hear that. I often think that my own ‘retirement’ would be not too far from what I do for my living now. Probably it will look a lot like the month-long sabbatical that I am experiencing now. That also is a good thing.

    I say – go for it! I am sure I am not alone in thinking the anticipation of seeing you make this reality will be delightful for us all. Win or not – you will certainly enjoy the journey. I hope you decide to try. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • The like button is there, but I’ve noticed that lately WordPress has been having trouble getting it displayed regularly. I’ll complain to them again.

      For me retirement is just stopping working for money by doing what others want me to do. I still do work, but in my time for my reasons. Bottom line for me has always been the question, “Do I enjoy the work?”

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh, Andrew, your post made me laugh. Our careers to set us up for useful stuff in the future. My experience as a chartered accountant enables me to plan my books and create character spreadsheets. I am sure you will have a marvelous display.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Pied Type says:

    I’ve no doubt you can do this!

    Liked by 2 people

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