Dancing Christmas Lights Arduino Plug and Play Box

This video was shot in my backyard after my son and I constructed revision 2 of out music and light synchronization controller.

We will be publishing an eBook or Instructable in the near future with step-by-step instructions and materials list for DIYers to build their own plug and play lights to music synchronizing box.

For the technically curious, this setup used the following components:

1 Arduino R3 mocro-controller < $20.00 1 SainSmart 8 channel solid state relay board <$25.00 1 spectrum analyzer shield from SparkFun <$30.00 4 standard 120 v electrical outlets <$10.00 8 50' outdoor 14 gauge extension cords <$150.00 Tons of LED light strings <$600.00 1 old Android smart phone (wifi only) for a music player 1 old re purposed stereo receiver

Robin’s Christmas Tree 2013


I’m banned from riding motorcycles for eight months after my spinal lumbar fusion surgery. Robin has the same operation affecting twice as many vertebrae and less than four weeks later she’s climbing a ladder to decorate her 2013 Christmas tree while no one else is home with her.

I suppose the Christmas tree is considered a worthy risk.

It is a gorgeous tree. It looks like one you would find in the front window at the original Macy’s or Tiffany’s. And she pulls it off year after year with a totally different color scheme. This year I was expecting so much less after we had a fire in the shop where the decorations and ornaments were stored on top of her having four vertebrae fused in mid November.

I think the woman should start a seasonal consulting business doing trees in businesses and homes. $500.00 labor not including ornament and tree costs would be a great deal to get a tree to look this spectacular.

Want to see it?

I’ll post a pic as soon as we reach five comments on this article. AND HERE IT IS:

Robin's 2013 Frazier Family Christmas Tree
Robin’s 2013 Frazier Family Christmas Tree

P.S. – While you’re waiting for me to post this year’s tree, here is our tree that Robin did in 2010:

Robin's Frazier Family Christmas Tree 2010
Robin’s Frazier Family Christmas Tree 2010

The Raypak Pool Heater Adventure

Have you heard the stories about my adventures with electricity? Here’s yet another:

A few months ago Robin and I decided it sure would be nice to have the spa running to relax in during the cold winter evenings. The buried 250 gallon propane tank in the back yard had been close to empty for a couple of years, so I ordered up a 700 dollar refill.

The fellow who came to certify and fill the tank also checked the regulator on the spa heater for me and found that the thirty year old item was defunct. I had him change it out for an additional 75 bucks. Then we fired up the pool pump, flipped the switch on the heater, and watched it light up.

All was well for about five minutes, then water came rushing out of the bottom of the heater, extinguishing the burner and effectively shutting down the whole operation. Inspection revealed that the heat exchanging manifold was corroded away and leaking like a sieve.

Cha-ching! I went on a search for a replacement pool/spa heater, and after discovering I could save 40% on a RayPak 266,000 btu unit via the internet (model PR266AEPX) with free shipping vs any of the DFW area pool supply companies, I decided to install myself.

Two weeks later the unit was dropped at my curb, and I installed and wired it in that weekend.

Here’s where it gets tricky.

Attached to the wiring harness was a big red tag with wiring instructions. On one side was a diagram for wiring the thing with 240 volts. The opposite side was a diagram showing how to wire it for 120.

I was wiring into a 240 feed. While laying the harness and tools out, the red wiring diagram tag blew off the top of the heater and went sailing across the yard. Robin (who was standing by with 911 on speed dial as she always does when I’m pretending to know what I’m doing with electricity) chased it down and returned it to me. I slapped it down on the top of the heater again and used a wrench as a paper-weight to ensure it stayed there this time. What I didn’t notice was I had placed it 120 volt side up this time.

I proceeded to go through the happy and simple motions of wiring the thing in with wire nuts and electrical tape. When I was all done I had Robin flip the breaker on.

I cranked up the pump and flipped the power switch on the RayPak to the on position.

The digital display lit up with what appeared to be Martian hieroglyphs for a moment, then there was a nice crakling sound and a curl of smoke drifted out of the housing in the general area of the transformer.

Upon opening the cover I saw the transformer had blown and then realized what had happenned as I referred back to the diagram and saw that the 120 volt side was facing up.

I ordered a new transformer for 80 bucks and sat around for another week until it arrived.

That evening I replaced it, being careful to wire for 240 volts this time.

When it came time to power the RayPak on the thing fizzled again, only this time the smoke came from the controller board.

Surmising that the previous incident had likely blow something in the circuits, I ordered a new controller board for around 300 dollars and waited a week for it to arrive.

It sat on the shelf for another month while I served my first four weeks at my new job. I was too consumed with drinking from the fire hose as I figured out new systems and processes to bother with any household projects.

Finally today I managed to install the circuit board without incident. The spa is currently heating up to a relaxing 103 degrees and this evening Robin and I intend to cook ourselves in it like a pair of happy lobsters.

Close inspection of the old circuit board showed that the enemy once again was a fried component. It’s not a capacitor this time, but rather appears to be a resistor that failed to resist the strange load that was sent to it as the original transformer fried to a crisp.

For those who think the lesson learned from this is to have professionals perform these jobs, I must remind you that even with the additional expense of 500 bucks or so in replacement parts, I still came out over 500 dollars cheaper than if I’d bought this same RayPak heater from a pool supply here, and that doesn’t even include the savings on labor, either.

Kitchen Remodel Fin

A word of advice:

If you’re going to go without your kitchen for a month and a half while a crew of contractors does a major remodel to it that includes knocking out walls and building a total new infrastructure, be sure and budget some funds for marriage counciling.

We made it through with our relationship intact, but there were times I’m pretty sure Robin could have smothered me in my sleep.

We never cared much for having a wet bar in the house, but we sure were thankful we had it to convert to a tiny kitchenette during the last six weeks.

It’s all done now and I must admit Robin did a stellar job designing and directing. The layout and finish materials were all 100% designed by her, all the way down to picking out the raw granite slab that the counter tops and window sills were cut from.