May 3, 2017 AUTHOR: Donald Bell CATEGORIES: News Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Heartbeat Lights [Maker Update #32]

This week on Maker Update, lights that synchronize with your heartbeat, a $30 synthesizer kit, cardboard pinball, modified NERF guns, heat shrink, Pi shims, and a good, fast wood finish.

Support this show and our sponsor, Cool Tools, when you buy the heat shrink kit featured in this show using this link: 

Show Notes

Support my Indiegogo Fundraiser

Advanced Project

Collin’s Lab: Pulse Room
Add heartbeat-sensitive LED lights to any room.

Collin Cunningham Pulse Room
Image courtesy of Adafruit.

Pulse Sensor

Arduino Pulse Sensor
Pulse Sensor by World Famous Electronics llc


ArduTouch is an all-in-one Arduino synthesizer learning kit for $30

ArduTouch Synthesizer
Mitch Altman’s ArduTouch kit.


Ultim8x8 LED Matrix
The Ultim8x8 modular LED matrix.

New Pinbox 3000
My Original Pinbox 3000 Review
Recent PinBox hacks

Pinbox 3000 Glorkian Warrior Design

More Projects

Nerf Gun LED Light Mods by Scott McCulley

Nerf Gun Hack
Photo and project by by Scott McCulley.

Pokemon Planter by Flowalistik

3D Printed Pokemon Planter
Photo and project by Flowalistik.

Heat-Shrink Raspberry Pi Zero W by leefiles

Cool Tools Minute

Deluxe 200-piece Color Coded Heat Shrink Tubing

Thank you for using this link to support this show and the Cool Tools blog and podcast.

Heat Shrink tubing.
Photo by Donald Bell.


PiMoroni On/Off Shim

On Off Shim by Pimoroni
Photo by Pimoroni.

Easy Wood Finish by Make Something

Maker Faires

Stark Mini Maker Faire Canton, Ohio
Greater Newark Mini Maker Faire Newark, New Jersey
Chicago Northside Mini Maker Faire Chicago, Illinois
Athens Mini Maker Faire Athens
Hampton Roads Mini Maker Faire Hampton, Virginia



This week on Maker Update, lights that synchronize with your heartbeat, a $30 synthesizer kit, cardboard pinball, modified NERF guns, heat shrink, Pi shims, and a good, fast wood finish.

It’s Wednesday, May 3rd, I’m Donald Bell, and welcome to another Maker Update. I hope you’re all doing well. I’m starting to freak out a little with Maker Faire Bay Area just 3 week away, but the kitty car is coming along nicely and I appreciate all the new supporters who’ve chipped in. I’ve also bought a proper helmet now, so my whole family thanks you for helping me to afford that.

This is a really full show this week, so let’s jump in, starting with what I’m now going to call the “Advanced Project of the Week”, which as subscriber Angry Monster pointed out, will help me not have to justify highlighting complicated projects.

So, this week, I saw Collin Cunningham’s video for his Pulse Room project. He basically made it so that the lights in his living room pulse in sync with his own heartbeat. It’s a neat idea, though he admits it’s a little eerie. But I think you could pitch it as a biofeedback meditation tool, but it’s definitely not something you show off on the first date.

To pull this off Collin uses an Adafruit Feather board and a Music Maker Featherwing that slots in for synchronized playback of a heartbeat audio sample. The Feather takes its pulse signal from a $25 Arduino-compatible sensor from World Famous Electronics. And I’m not endorsing it, but for what it’s worth, eBay sells what are probably unauthorized knockoffs of this for $3 shipped.

The Feather converts the sensor data into a pulsewidth modulation signal that the LED strips can read — but because there are so many LEDs to drive, Colin makes up a couple driver boards that use a MOSFET transistor that takes the 3.3 volts from the Feather output and uses it to control the 12v power needed by the LED strip.

It’s a crazy project, I know, but don’t you also want to experience what it’s like? And how else are you going to do that other than making your own. It’s also a nice introduction to using pulse sensors, and using MOSFETs for large runs of LEDS.

And now for news! From the Create Digital Music blog I learned about Maker extraordinaire Mitch Altman’s update to his open source open hardware Arduino synthesizer kit. The ArduTouch is a $30 kit that results in a small, playable 1-octave synthesizer with a built in speaker and headphone output.
Mitch has been offering the kit at his workshops for years now, but the recent update brings a new code library and tutorials. There’s no “buy” link, but you can get them in-person from Mitch or source your own using the material list and PCB files on GitHub.

I also got an email last week from Anool Mahidharia, who’s working with a team on creating modular, no-solder 8×8 RGB panels called ULTIM8x8. The LED boards just bolt down to a smart little backing board that routes data and power and can just be extended on to create panels as big as you need. It looks like neat system. It works with Arduino and Feather and Raspberry Pi. $100 gets you a 3-panel kit. If you’re interested, I have a link to their Crowdsupply page in the show notes.

I also got a nice surprise from the Cardboard Teck Instantute. They make a cardboard pinball machine kit that I love called the Pinbox 3000. I reviewed it a year ago for Make, which was a blast. They shipped me their new and improved version here. It sells for $50, comes with two interchangeable playfields, and assembles in about an hour. They also sent me a link to a video they made highlighting some cool hacks and experiments with 3D printed obstacles and magnetic switches. I love pinball, so I can’t help plugging this this thing. You can check them out at

Alright, now for a few other projects to highlight from this past week. Over on Adafruit I caught this new guide for adding LED effects to NERF Guns, using a $7 Trinket board and Neopixels. The guide is full of outstanding photos and the included code is commented well. If you’re looking for a summer project that will hook your kid, this looks perfect.

I also found this cool, 3D printed Pokemon planter by Agustin Flowalistik. Beyond just looking cool, the video tutorial on this does a fantastic job introducing you to fundamental concepts of modeling 3D designs in Fusion 360. Even if you don’t have a 3D printer, I recommend this video as just a great 7-minute window into 3D modeling.

And through the Adafruit blog I found this handy tip from YouTuber Lee Files on creating the cheapest, thinnest case imaginable for the Raspberry Pi Zero. The secret is a section of 1.5 inch heat shrink tubing. He shrinks it on, then cuts away whatever openings he needs. It’s brilliant, and leads me to my weekly tool review…

Heat Shrink! This week, for my one-minute tool review brought to you by the Cools Tools blog at, I’m going to show off this $6 assortment of color coded heat shrink tubing I found on Amazon.

Of all the things I have in my electronics toolbox, nothing gets my kid more excited than seeing me use heatshrink. The stuff is honestly magic, plus there’s usually fire involved – so bonus.

If you’re unfamiliar, these are plastic tubes you slip over connections that shrink tight when heat is applied. It’s a pro way to keep wires and components from shorting into each other. It’s a real life saver when you’re splicing two wires together and you want that splice to be sealed up like the rest of the wire. You just cut the length you need, slip it on before you solder, and then heat it in place when you’re done, either with a heat gun, a mini butane torch, or even a lighter or soldering iron if you’re in a pinch.

Heat shrink is one of those tools that I totally take for granted until I show it to someone who’s never seen it before and it blows their mind. This 200-piece multipack is a great introduction, through it doesn’t include the really fat 1.5” tubes needed for that Pi enclosure. It works on an Adafruit Trinket though, and for basic wiring you can’t beat the price. I’d pay that much just for the case it comes in.

By using the Amazon link in the show notes you help to support this show and the Cool Tools blog and the Cool Tools podcast. You can find them at

Time now for a few extra tips and tools I found this week. The first is this Raspberry Pi On/Off shim from Pimoroni. This tiny $8 board slips onto any Pi board, you install a little script that recognizes the button, and you have an easy way to safely boot and shutdown your Pi.

I also enjoyed this video from David Picciutto from Make Something showing off his new favorite wood finish. It’s a method of applying basic Shellac, but thinning it along the way with successive coats. David knows his stuff. I used his previous favorite finish on my dining room table, which was a combo of wipe-on polyurethane and boiled linseed oil. That finish took a couple days of work, but the new finish can be perfected in hours.

Maker Faires! A bunch more Maker Faires this weekend. We’ve got Canton OH, Newark NJ, Chicago Northside, Athens Greece, and Hampton VA. Go find some fellow makers, and get inspired.

Before I wrap up this week’s show, I wanted to give a direct thanks to everyone who’s publicly contributed to my Power Wheels racer for Maker Faire. These awesome people include:
Mari DeGrazia
John Eich
Clay Cooper
Theron Trowbridge
Scott Kelsey
Gregory Buchholz
Curtis Bullock
Scott Kelsey
Matt Humphrey
Grant Johnston
Elena Hernandez
Stephen Hawthorne
Grant Shellen

Thanks you! And if you want a shout out on next week’s show, there’s one week left on my Indiegogo campaign. A public donation of any amount gets your name on next week’s show. Easy-peasy.

At $25, though, you’ll get stickers. These just came in today and I can’t wait to plaster these on everything I own. A donation link is in the show notes and at the end of this video.

Alright, and that’s it for this week’s Maker Update. I hope you have a great week. Be sure to subscribe if you haven’t already. Let me know what you think of this week’s show. Also, if you have a cool tool you’d like to recommend for a future episode, let me know. Either in the comments or email me at Alright? Thanks for watching, and I’ll see you next week.

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