Fiber optic starry sky nursery

Getting a house ready for a new baby is no small task, there’s really no end to what one may consider essential, such as a fiber optic star-filled ceiling for the nursery. There’s nothing more comforting to an infant than the feeling that they’ve been left in the woods under a wondrous, awe inspiring, night sky — no?

Thankfully there are some great products available to convey just that feeling with the use of fiber optic cabling. Wiedamark offers a number of kits as well as the separate components, which are basically bunches of fiber optic cabling and a light source or illuminator. I opted for their 288 3 Star LED Fiber Optic Star Ceiling Kit With New Dimming Feature, it comes with everything you need for a drywall install (aside from tools) and includes 3 different diameters of fiber optic cables which translate to different sized stars or planets.

While waiting for the kit to arrive my wife and I decided on a night sky to represent. Our first child is due in December so we chose the night of the Winter Solstice this year, December 21st, 2014, or at least what the night sky should look like barring some unforeseen astronomical event. There’s some handy sites online you can use to generate a star map on which you can base the ceiling. We used Your Sky which generates images based on date, location and a number of useful options. The easiest way to get your latitude and longitude if you don’t already have it is to find your home on Google Maps and grab your lat/long from the address bar, it will look something like this 43.650033,-79.391594. Positive latitudes, the first number are North and negative are South. Positive longitudes, the second number, are East and negative are West. So when using the above coordinates in the Your Sky interface it would be 43.650033 North by 79.391594 West. You can also turn on and off constellation names and such as well as select what magnitude of objects to display. For printing purposes it’s useful to change the output to Black on white background, if you’re printing in colour this may not be the case. It’s also useful to increase the image size, something around 2400 x 2400 should do.

Once you have a sky that you’re happy with you can right click on the resulting image and select save image in your browser, you’ll end up with an image aptly entitled Yoursky.gif. I decided to divide the image into a grid in order to make it easier to transfer the star positions to the ceiling. This step is completely optional as you can just wing it if you like, create your own constellations and such, though you run the risk of creating an awkward cluster of stars that you’ll end up focused on for years to come.

I won’t go too far in-depth with the install instructions as I’ve recently found another fellow has here, in addition, Wiedamark has a variety of instructions available here. I will, however, outline some of the differences in my approach. You should note I placed the light in my attic, this requires an electrical outlet in the attic, you can also place the light source in a closet or the corner of a room. I also placed the light source in a large plastic storage bin with holes for the power and fiber optic cables to isolate it from the blown insulation in my attic. The light source does need ventilation so ensure any container is large enough for ample airflow and is not sealed.

Two things made my install quite a bit more difficult than a typical install, the first is that the target ceiling, and most of our house, is plaster lath and the second is that our attic has about 3 feet of blown insulation piled on top the 2nd floor ceilings. Step one should have been to clear away the insulation from the ceiling, I was impatient and only did this after I drilled many of the holes and promptly regretted it. Clear the insulation first, everything will go much faster. If you don’t have much space in your attic some good knee pads will go a long way to avoiding aches and pains, you’ll be up there for a while.

The typical method of install for these star fields is to drill through drywall from above and feed the fiber optics down through the drilled hole. Those of you familiar with plaster lath may see a problem with this method — plaster lath enjoys cracking off in large chunks, especially if you’re drilling through from the unfinished side. Because of this I decided to drill up through the ceiling, which reduces the plaster cracking, and insert a placeholder wire into each hole which I could then locate from the attic in order to replace with a fiber optic cable. For the kit I selected I needed three different colours of wire, one for each size of cable/star. I chopped this wire into lengths of 4 or 5 inches, one length of wire for each star. When transferring the star map to the ceiling be mindful of your cardinal directions and take some time to ensure that you’re orienting the map correctly, or not, it doesn’t matter all that much in the grand scheme of things — then again, maybe it is the grand scheme of things!

If you’re dealing with drywall you can skip this entire step, if you’re taking my approach you’ll end up with something like this after drilling and inserting placeholders.

Try to match both the drill bit size and the wire to the fiber optic cable diameter as closely as possible, this will contribute to a clean finished install. I found it difficult to find drill bits small enough, but they are out there.

The next step is to head up to the attic and feed fiber optic cable down through each hole, drilling down if you have drywall and replacing the placeholders if you have plaster lath and have already drilled from below. An LED headlamp helps quite a bit if you don’t have lighting in your attic. The hardest part (aside from back aches and sore knees) is keeping the fiber optic bundles organized, fiber optic cable will craze or crack if bent and that will impede or interrupt the light flow through that cable, so be gentle. It seems easy to pull cables off at first, but eventually everything will be a tangled mess if you don’t take your time to stay organized from the beginning. It helps to first separate the different sized cables into their own bundles. Be sure to push each cable at least a couple inches further than you need through the holes, you’ll clip them flush only after you’ve patched and painted any ceiling defects resulting from the install. Once you’ve placed a star and are sure it’s extended down through the ceiling by a couple of inches then put a dab of glue where it enters the ceiling from above to keep it in place. Use a glue thick enough so that it doesn’t drip through any extra space or along the cable.

This is the most time consuming, frustrating and potentially painful part of the process and is best done in stages. On the upside I bet you never thought you’d find yourself grappling for hours on end with a nightmarish deep sea monster.

Once you’re done running the fiber optic cabling you’ll end up with some trippy, glowing, alien grass growing out of your ceiling, don’t trim it just yet.

Now it’s time to patch and paint over any holes you didn’t use and any other ceiling damage that occurred during the install. It’s important to do this before you trim the cables so that you don’t paint or patch over any illuminated ends. Once you’re done patching and painting you can use flush cut pliers, or even nail clippers, to trim the fiber optic cable flush with the ceiling. After a couple of days and you’re confident there’s nothing left to do in the attic as far as corrections or the like, you can replace any insulation and pat yourself on the back.

 

Installing a modern railing on a closed box staircase

modern railing on closed box stairs

A year or two ago, suffering from terrible decor overload, I tore out the gaudy beige and gold twisted, scrolling picket staircase railing which adorned our main stairway. Since then I searched and searched for a modern replacement to take some focus away from some other design remnants left over from the previous owners (ehm, terrible tiles). The problem ended up being that there aren’t many railing options for closed box staircases, and fewer DIY modern indoor railing product. Like many industries the railing/stair manufactures don’t cater to the public, products are intended for contractors. With my wife newly pregnant it was time to kick this railing project into overdrive and get it done, after much searching and planning I found and installed a solution that worked out great.

For those of you wondering a box, or closed box, staircase is a staircase where the stringers (the support boards on either side of the stairway) enclose the stairs. In some cases stairways enclosed by walls are referred to by the same name, this is not the case here. If the one or both of the stringers do not enclose the stairs, but leave them open to extend past the stringer, the stairway is known as open, or partially open at least.

Railings on closed box staircases are, in most cases, mounted to the angled top edge of one or both stringers or affixed to the outside of the stringer. In the case of mounting the posts on the stringer the base of the pickets, or posts, can only be as wide as the width of the stringer, which can be quite restrictive.

In our case the stringer was under 2″ wide, not wide enough for most posts, and because of the 2nd floor landing spacing there was no room to affix posts to the outside of stringer. These issues left us very few options, even fewer modern design options. A modern-style steel railing needs something in the neighbourhood of a 3″ square base for each post, many require a flat surface as well, our stringer has neither. Mounting the posts on the stair tread, on the inside the stringer would result in a very awkward looking staircase and eliminate 3″ of stair width — so no help there.

The solution I came up with was to cut hardwood blocks to bolt to the inside of the stringer to add additional width to the stringer where support the posts was needed. It worked like a charm, painting the risers white along with the wood blocks gave the staircase a farm house look.

The railing hardware is from Inline Design, who offer some fantastic designs and will customize hardware to suit your needs at no extra cost — which you will need if any posts are mounted on either landing as well as the stringer since they will need to be difference heights to maintain the proper handrail (and potentially cable) angle. Thankfully, Inline Design has very reasonable shipping rates to Canada and the U.S., though some custom charges do apply. The hallelujah component from Inline Design is a pivoting base for their posts, this allows mounting the post to a stringer, or any angled surface as long as it has at least 3″ square available. All in all this project came in at about half the cost of having a contractor do it — and I’m not sure any local companies would have offered the blocking solution I ended up with. I’m almost certain I would’ve been told the entire staircase would have to be redone in order to install this type of railing.

The above step-by-step gallery should give a pretty clear picture as to how this all worked, feel free to ask questions in the comments.

New band lineup baby announcement

My wife Ester and I are expecting and since we’re both musicians we grabbed our guitars and did a fun photoshoot to announce our good news. Inspired by this creative announcement we came across.

Maker Wedding: Animated HTML / jQuery wedding site


One of the projects I took on for our wedding was our official wedding website, I registered two domains, esterandphil.com as well as philandester.com thus avoiding any confusion. Both site pointed to the same page, for the general public a simple splash with a dynamic forest animation accomplished with the help of jQuery.

We wanted to create a page that connected with our venue which was in a barn on a conservation area. I’ve always enjoyed sine path algorithms so I created a scene where silhouetted trees scroll slowly by in a parallax-esc fashion and fuzzy Will-o’-the-wisp dots float lazily upward on sine waves. Randomly the wisps will be replaced with rain and visiting the site during the day versus during the night will result in different colours and songs.

The trees are selected randomly from one of six or seven images which then have a random amount of transparency and speed applied so that some seem further in the distance. Once they disappear off of one side they are recycled, animating in from the starting side again. Similarly the wisps have random factors applied to their size, speed, sine curve and alpha. The wisps are also interspersed on the z-axis to move in front of some trees while behind others adding to the illusion of depth. The wisps are also recycled once they’ve floated out of view.

On the live site I adjust the parameters for some popular clients, such as iOS for which I disabled animation and reduced the number of trees and wisps.

Inaccessible to the public is a guest site which used the splash page concept as a background with only the a couple of wisps animating with static trees (still randomly generated).

While this exact example is probably not portable verbatim you may find the method libraries I used as well as the technique useful. I have outlined some of the initializer functions below and linked to the libraries, some of which I have modified. The final library, animate.js, is almost completely custom code for this site and thus would have to be altered to suit your needs.

Will-o’-the-wisp Initialize

window.numberOfDots = 50;

for(i=0;i<window.numberOfDots;i++)
  window.dots.push(new dot(i));

Forest Initialize

window.numberOfTrees = 15;

for(i=0;i<window.numberOfTrees;i++)
  window.trees.push(new tree(i,'http://philandester.com/'));

Rain Initialize

var raincolor = '#fff';

new Rain('canvas', {
    speed: 500,
    angle: 20,
    intensity: 5,
    size: 10,
    color: raincolor
  });

Main Loop Start

setInterval(function(){sine()}, 25);

Raphael 1.5.2 – JavaScript Vector Library, MIT License (http://raphaeljs.com/)
http://philandester.com/rain.js

Andrew J. Peterson, NDP Software, MIT License (http://blog.ndpsoftware.com/)
http://philandester.com/colorfactory.js

Custom JavaScript Animation Library
http://philandester.com/animate.js

Maker Wedding: Thank you Edison-style light fixtures

Close to one year after our wedding, my wife Ester and I are, at long-last, sending out thank you packages. Having handcrafted the rustic Edison-style light fixtures for our wedding reception (with some much appreciated assembly line help from my Dad) we had hoped that we would be able to send those same lights to family and friends who not only shared with us and supported us on our wedding day, but support our family on a daily basis. In this way a light which helped to brighten our wedding festivities may continue to brighten, in some small way, the lives of our family and friends.

 
If you were part of our wedding, or lent your support, a package should be making its way to you. Postage services being what they are, if you have yet to receive a package by August, 2014, please let us know by sending an email to esterandphil [at] esterandphil [dot see oh ehm]. Those of you in Italy and in Australia will receive bulbs appropriately rated for 220-240 volts, while these weren’t in use at our wedding, rest assured that we’ll infuse them with loving and thankful vibes before sending them on their way.

These simple light fixtures were designed, selected from reclaimed barn wood (the Barn Board Store), cut, drilled, sanded and stained by Ester and I with our family and friends in mind — each one unique in character. The modest design allows for a number of use scenarios, it can be placed on a table or desk in virtually any orientation, the socket completing an a-frame support, or it can be wall mounted with the use of a corner bracket or two (not included) so that the light may hang through the hole in the fixture. Some uses require the plug to be threaded through the hole in the fixture, other uses require that the socket be connected to the light bulb through the hole in the fixture.

Lights delivered within North American will be 120 volts (Italy and Australia will be 220 volts). The switch is a 3-way, it will take two clicks to turn on the included bulb, however, should you replace the bulb with a 2-stage bulb (dim, bright) these clicks will toggle the brightness.

Thank you for all of your support, we hope you enjoy this small token of our appreciation. If you would like to share a photo of your light fixture once it’s settled in, we’d be delighted to see it! You can use the upload form below, or send it to esterandphil [at] esterandphil [dot see oh ehm].


 




 

Animated Arduino LED matrix lounge table top

Vinyl “flexi” record wedding invitations

XBee remote relay as photobooth RF camera trigger

Bachelor party wireless Arduino accelerometer Stab-O-Meter


JQuery Animated Wedding Website