Building the RaspberryPi Christmas Light Box

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Let’s Cover Some Background Here

I have always enjoyed Christmas lights. For quite some time, I was very intrigued at the notion of putting the lights to music or at least making them dance in motion. About 3 years ago, my wife and I bought a string of lights that had a mind of their own. It was neat to watch it random go through the different patterns of blinking, dancing, and chasing. Last year was the year that we got the really neat ones. They were icicles that changed colors AND danced and chased and more.

All of this was great but I wanted more this year. I wanted to be able to set the lights to music just like the fancy light shows you go to see. I figured the easiest way to do this was to just simply buy something at the store, right? So that’s what we did. We ended up buying an Orchestra of Lights (sure a plug for them yaay). The concept is really cool. We bought the speak box that comes with 6 outlets that are all controlled by the wifi hub. We’ll just say that if you’d like to buy one of these, ask me about purchasing a barely used one for a deep discount.

As part of a little additional background, I’ve always wanted to get my hands on a Pi or Arduino but I could never justify buying one. I could never figure out what legitimate project to apply such an amazing device. Enter the friend….

The Friend Made Me Do It

This is what friends are for right? As we were stringing up all of the lights outside, a friend of ours stopped by who is also a geek. I explained what we were doing and he very promptly asked if I was using a Raspberry Pi to do all of it. As the gears began to turn in my head, I know my face gave it all away. We weren’t doing it at the time, but we would be in just about a week!

The Planning Phase

I’m an over planning and over thinker so I was looking everywhere for what I needed how I needed to do it and what I should do next. My end goal was to be able build a device I could put outside that would play music and control the lights automatically to whatever little tune was playing at the time. This turned out to be a little more difficult than I bargained for but not a big deal. I looked at a bunch of sites and decided that I should probably break this project down into parts.

  1. Build out the hardware
  2. Make it do “something”
  3. Look at how I could possibly get the music to control the action

During this planning phase, I happened upon a really great article that gave amazing details on hooking up the hardware (https://system76.com/weekend-project/holiday-light-show). I mostly ignored everything but the pretty pictures. This site along with a bunch of other sites helped me put together my shopping list.

The Shopping List

Now remember that I said I had already ordered the Pi but let’s still list it here so that you know what I had coming:

This would be the very the basic shopping list. I also bought some little connectors and such so that I could conduit all of the metal pieces together. I also bought some tiny screws and bushings so that I could install the Pi and relay into the breaker box.

Putting it all Together

I lined up the Pi and Relay and marked my holes. I drilled them out. I added my bushings. I mounted everything and was quite proud of it all. Next steps were to wire everything up. Ok why reinvent the wheel here. As I noted before, I basically did exactly what was done in Steps C – K in here. This was a really great write up on how to wire everything.

After everything was done I had me a nice little system. This would be a GREAT spot to add a picture but I already have it hooked up on the porch, plugged in, and nicely hidden away so the neighbors can’t see it. I’ll remember to take some pictures next time.

Next, I’ll go through the code that I put together to get the thing clicking like crazy!