Glass+Smart Leds+Microcontroller = ?

Yesterday, second Sunday of November is Fathers day in Finland.  I know..most of the world (most but not all the countries) celebrate Fathers day in June.  And of course till I went to US for my Masters, I didn’t even know such a day exists:).  While we were in US, my husband used to get two Father’s days:) . We are not exactly big on celebrations.  Our usual way of celebrating Father’s day (or Mothers day) involves going for a long hike/walk in the woods followed by making something special for dinner at home.

IMG_6322Yesterday we were on our usual long walk (did 15.5kms),  when I noticed Finnish flag happily moving with wind.  I know that in Finland flag is flown on very specific days (which is different from US where it can be flown every day with certain regulations).  And so I checked.  Seems like this year, the Interior Ministry wants the Fathers day to be mandated by law to be a flag flying day.  Before eyebrows go up, Mothers day has been an official flag flying day since 1947!!!!  It’s only fair Fathers day gets the same privilege right.. I hope it goes through the legal requirements and becomes official flag flying day by next year:)

By law, there are only 8 occasions when a flag must be flown from Public buildings and believe it or not, Mother’s day is one of them!  Here are the eight occasions (taken from Wikipedia)

  • 28 February, day of Kalevala; the occasion is also celebrated as the Day of Finnish culture
  • 1 May, Vappu, the Day of Finnish Labour
  • Second Sunday in May, Mother’s Day
  • 4 June, birthday of Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, Marshal of Finland; the occasion is also celebrated as the Flag Day of the Finnish Defence Forces
  • Saturday between 20 June and 26 June, Midsummer Day; the occasion is also celebrated as the Day of the Finnish Flag. The flag is hoisted on Midsummer’s eve at 6 PM and flown through the night until 9 PM the next day.
  • 6 December, Independence Day
  • Days when Finland holds parliamentary, presidential and local elections, elections to the European Parliament, or a referendum
  • The day the President of Finland is inaugurated (1 March in every six years, next time in 2024)

There are a few other days that the flag is flown as an established custom and Father’s day is one of them.

crawler_trimWell, Sunday was Father’s day but Saturday we spent the day in Espoo, (city about 2.5hrs away from us).  We participated in an event called Wärk:fest, closest to a mini-Maker Faire.  It was a small event in Iso Omena library with a few Makers and a couple of companies showing their products.  Our son had a “LEGO” themed table with a LEGO spirograph machine and a remote controlled long Crawler (75cms long with three sets of tires/tracks) of his own design.  It could go only straight and no turns but quite impressive build.  He also built a Harmonic drawing machine using servo motors and Adafruit Crickit  but one of the motors gave too much trouble to run reliably.

This year, my son challenged me to also exhibit at the event so I decided to mix two things I know… Kiln formed glass with tinkering Tech.  I absolutely love Adafruit for its innovative products and simplicity in using them.  I haven’t programmed in ages so using simple micro controllers like their Gemma is stress free.  And of course my husband being a brilliant engineer helps a lot (to step in and help like he did this time).  The flowers are kiln formed in my studio using Bullseye glass (remember my rant about getting a tile saw and appropriate blade for it… finally got them and put them to work).

3glass flowers_withoutlight

For the centerpiece, made 3 glass flowers (one of them didn’t quite work out and looked like a spider so decided to call it an alien spider).  Attached neo-pixel jewels (by Adafruit) to each one of them and connected all 3 to the Gemma.  Neo-pixels are the “smart” leds meaning you can program to do different things.  There are 7 leds in each jewel that can be programmed at an individual level.  All 3 jewels were programmed to do different things/colors and run by one Gemma.  Since this is a Maker event, wanted to show the wires and connections as well.

IMG_6333.jpgThe second piece is an interactive painting.  It is also kiln formed glass art (48cms x 44cms) made from special Bullseye glass.  A dancer (again made with glass) is attached to the painting with a RuuviTag in her hand.  RuuviTag has 3 sensors in it, one of them is humidity (air pressure was too hard to use without actually reprogramming the RuuviTag).  We used that sensor as a trigger. If anyone blows on the dancer’s hand wth RuuviTag, leds blink in waves at the top of the mountains.  I stitched wearable leds to a felt paper and attached it to the backside of the painting with blu-tac (in case I want to change the design).

Actually we didn’t even have a RuuviTag and didn’t think of the idea of using interactive piece till a week earlier.  I didn’t have any boards with sensors that I can use easily and remembered RuuviTag.  I checked their website and they do sell them (Ruuvi is a local Finnish company) but in packs of 3!  From my previous work life, I happened to know about Ruuvi and even met with their CTO and corresponded with their CEO briefly.  So, instead of doing frustrating searches (in Finland finding right electronics can be a bit frustrating especially in Tampere) to find a single RuuviTag, I emailed Lauri, their CEO about my need for only one RuuviTag and how can I obtain just one.  He immediately responded with a person I can contact with in their company and Henri, the person I then contacted immediately shipped me a unit, free of cost!  I was blown away by the generosity and started working on my painting.

dancingwithstarsThe RuuviTag came and we researched how best to use.  I wanted to use the air pressure sensor and control the twinkling lights (which is not an impossible job to do) except realized we don’t have a programming board for it to write and change code.  Didn’t have time to investigate and this is where having a brilliant software engineer as husband comes in handy.  He came up with the idea of using a different micro controller to detect what the RuuviTag is sending and control the leds.  We have a few different ones to play/teach our son and brought them here when we moved. All fine and good except he wanted to use Mynewt, an open source software (he is one of the developers of it).  I used Mynewt briefly while working there last year but didn’t do much in the way of programming and didn’t want to start couple of days before the event.  We used Adafruit Feather board and he did the programming to detect the advertisement RuuviTag is sending and control the leds.  I stitched the feather board along with the leds so it can’t be seen.

The bright neo-pixels on the flowers attracted attention but the blowing air on the Ruuvi Tag got the wows as it’s a surprise!.  I also told everyone about one practical use for RuuviTag that is very relevant in Finland – Using it in Sauna.  With the appropriate cover Ruuvi has for the tag, you can leave it in Sauna and check the app from your phone to see when the sauna is ready (hot enough) to use.. That always got a good response from Finnish folks…..

In this entire project, there was one element that was sooo frustrating… I soldered enough in my life to say I can solder well and did a couple of stained glass projects and they turned out quite good but soldering the wires to neo-pixels was a nightmare… we realized it’s neither us nor the soldering iron but the solder we have to use here.  Leaded solder is illegal in Finland and so we had to get lead-free solder and what a nightmare it is to use that to solder tiny wires on a tiny little jewel.  Felt like it took hours.  I completely understand the worry about lead and making it illegal to sell any products with lead in it but for small personal projects, the exposure is so minimal, I am willing to take the risk.  I guess I should change the soldering iron to be a much hotter one before I teach my son how to solder (he soldered a little with leaded solder but this will take a whole new skill).  What can I say, even with such a great weekend, I still had something to complain:)

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As the title suggests, I am an Indian (born and raised) who lived and worked in California, married a Finnish guy and now living in Finland raising our son. Here's my take on living in Finland.

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