Saturday, December 13, 2008

How to Make USB Christmas Lights

Day 39

I spent all day pulling the decorations out of the basement and making the house look festive. We had no ornament casualties this year, but we did have two sets of lights that were only half working.

A few hours after I threw them out, I got an idea. I dug a set out of the trash and plugged it in. After spotting a section that was still working, I unplugged and cut the section off the rest of the string. My goal - to make Christmas lights for my Eee PC.

Step 1 - Cut the lights
The lights actually had three wires. one was connected to each bulb on the string, and I needed one of the others to complete the circuit. The third must have been a ground or something, so I simply removed it. I spliced both ends of the wires and twisted the two on one end together so all I would need to do is connect a power source to the other end.

Step 2 - Test the circuit
I had 8 lights in my string. I know that a USB port only sends out 5 volts of power, so before trying it on my laptop, I pressed the two wires against the terminals on a 9 volt battery. They lit up, but it was quite dim, so I knew I needed to shorten my string if it were to light up on the Eee. I cut it in half.

Step 3 - Connecting the USB.
I dug up a USB cord for an old printer that is no longer functioning and cut it about 8 inches from the connector. There were fours wires inside - red, black, green, blue. The green and blue are for data transfer, so they were useless. I stripped the red and black and connected them to the ends of my lights. Just to be safe, I wound some electrical tape around all the exposed wires before connecting them to the Eee.

They aren't the brightest, but I now have some yule-tide bling for my laptop. I was thinking about picking up a toggle switch so I could turn them on and off, but I'd love it even more if I could find the console command to stop power to the USB port. I Googled it, but didn't have much luck. Either way, USB lights are a quick and easy project for nerds caught up in the holiday spirit.

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