Wednesday, May 17, 2017

How I Spent $250 to Dim a Lightbulb

Maybe that's a slight exaggeration - I could do it for pennies, or free using salvaged parts. But I really have spent hundreds of dollars over the last few years learning how. Along the way I also learned how to make the hardware and write software to control them with sensors, timers and all types of remote controls. By now I can recreate most Dollar Store electronic gadgets for less than $100 each.

Go ahead and laugh... you're supposed to, it's kind of silly. Most hobbies are.

12v incandescent light bulb powered by Arduino Uno and Adafruit motor driver
This is a 12v incandescent light bulb powered with an Arduino Uno and an Adafruit Motor Shield over the microcontroller's I2C bus. I have run massive motors and steppers off this same board, so I knew the shield's TB6612 H-bridges could easily handle the voltage. A quick guestimate said I would be nowhere near the 3 amp max for the board. There are three more 12v channels left to power a cold cathode tube, an old fluorescent and LEDs. And there are tons of other inputs and outputs that I can hook up to sensors and displays.

Like most hobbies there is an initial cost to buy the basic equipment and a huge investment in time. Eventually you get to a point where it becomes cheaper and the process becomes really fun and mostly pain free.

Per hour of fun, this electronics hobby has turned out to be one of the cheapest and most rewarding hobbies I've ever tried - and probably not for the reasons that you think.

All this tinkering and making and studying electronics - it's really just a way to gain access to other creative people. All these projects are eventually supposed to be put into other projects. That makes a great excuse to meet new people and get them to share their creativity.

Jewelry, clothing, furniture, cars, sculpture... doesn't matter to me. Can I help another creative bring their projects to life? Being able to add movement and lights and sounds to other people's projects is a great way to connect with other hobbyists.

So far, this simple hobby has allowed me to meet and befriend quilters and welders, fashion designers, models and photographers, jewelry makers, graphic designers and gear heads and... well, you get the picture.

I've helped a few of them with their projects, and they have all taught me something about their chosen medium. We can share our successes and our failures, our passion and pain. We don't use the same materials, but we all understand the creative drive. Every creator needs friends who not only tolerate your $250 lightbulb dimmer, but help you along the way.

This particular lightbulb dimming is part of an attempt to create a Steampunk style lamp with multiple light sources. I wanted that old time glow that only incandescent and fluorescents can provide.

I know I will need help from other makers to get this working. And it will probably turn out much better and more attractive thanks to their help.

All in all, I think this newest hobby has been a total bargain and a complete blessing.

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