Gye Greene's Thoughts

Gye Greene's Thoughts (w/ apologies to The Smithereens and their similarly-titled album!)

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

DIY video lighting from LED Christmas lights

This is a vague sort of instructional blog entry on making some DIY video lighting out of end-of-season discounted LED Christmas lights:  it's a proof of concept that turned out reasonably well.

I made three attempts:

-One with a single strand of blue lights

-One with two strands of "icicle" lights

-One with three strands of four-color "icicle" lights.

The "traditional" strand of lights was the easiest to work with:  however, I was stuck with whatever failed to sell during the Christmas season, and was therefore available on the clearance rack.

Here's the basic approach:

1) Get a sheet of plywood that corresponds in some way to the length and format of the Christmas lights:  for example, if the lights are in "icicle" layout, then the height of the plywood has to be enough to accommodate the "dangle" of the icicles (e.g. the white lights, photo to the left).  Note also that the size of the light source makes it "hard" or "soft":  a small light source gives crisp shadows, while a large light source makes it more diffuse (and softer shadows).

2) Get some sort of wood and make a simple frame on the back.  Nail and/or glue it to the plywood.  Note that whereever you plan to install a nail, you'll need to back it with the wood.  Note that I used really thin plywood (about the thickness of a clipboard -- but, free!), so I had to use "proper" wood as a frame.

3) Drill some holes for hanging the completed project.  I suggest having two loops of cord at the top, and two loops of cord at the bottom:  two at the top helps to distribute the weight (when hanging), and helps to control the direction; two at the bottom lets you angle the board, if desired.

4) Paint the front of the board silver or white, to help to capitalize on the "wasted" light that shines backwards towards the plywood.

5) Install nails wherever you want to wrap the Christmas lights -- being sure to put large washers under the heads, so that the lights don't fall off the end of the nails.  I also suggest using a block of wood (or a thick book; or whatever) as a "spacer" to measure the approximate depth of the nails, thus keeping them uniform.

6) Wind the lights in a way that makes sense:  to the left is the blue lights, where the plywood is small and thus only needed a few nails for stringing the lights.  A consideration for the four-colored lights (see below) was that I tried to space the nails such that the layers of colors aligned (e.g. red on top of red) -- which somewhat worked.  I then bundled them intro groups, per color, using gaffer's tape (like duct tape, but with less sticky residue).

Here's the green, and the blue, lights from the four-colored light set, with the red and the yellow lights hidden:

And, with them turned on (note the towel dampening the yellow and the red lights -- although you can still see them shining off the back; would need to have the towel hang all the way down):

If you use multiple strings of lights, you can vary the intensity of the unit by how many of the strings you plug in.

What I found is that the single strand of blue lights seems as bright as the two sets of white lights.

The multi-colored lights are "okay":  I grouped the colors, so that I could "dial in" different colors (e.g. red + yellow), by draping the "unwanted" colors and covering the top edge with a heavy towel.  But because there's four colors per strand, even with three strings of light, a single color is only 3/4 the intensity of the single blue-only light (1/4 of a strand per color, times three strands).

Finally, here's a shot of the green strands, and the two strands of white lights.

I think the white lights were the most successful in terms of trying to emulate "standard" video lighting:  it ended up being reasonably powerful, and (because of the surface area), reasonably "soft".

The blue lights were second-best:  due to the small board, they're concentrated -- but they're reasonably powerful, and (as per the examples below) could be a useful "effect" light.

The multi-colored lights could be usable -- but the light intensity is fairly mild, and thus are more of a subtle accent.  In order to be bright enough to be noticeable, you'd have to use them fairly close -- but keep them out of the frame.

Lighting examples: 
Blue light on one side; white light on the other:

Room light (i.e. ceiling light fixture), plus (I think) blue lights on one side (from below), and green lights on the other side:  

Blue lights on one side; I think red and yellow (from the four-color lights) on the other (dangit!  should've taken notes), and (I think!) a bounce light from the ceiling (a LED "shop light"):

White on one side, green on the other:

I've also included a YouTube video I posted, showing the end results.  The video quality isn't the greatest (esp. the first clip; ironically, I should've used some lighting).  But I prioritized "getting it done, and posted" rather than delaying to re-shoot -- and then never finishing.

Shot with my seven year old, $50 Android phone.  ;)



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Sunday, January 12, 2020

Chair from a branch

There's a book out there by J. Alexander called Make a Chair from a Tree -- and I guess that's what I'm doing (incrementally) -- although I'm making it from a fallen branch, and the chair will look different from what they show in the book (and in fact, I'm taking a different approach from my understanding of what they teach in the book).

In mid-December a branch blew down in a storm.  It fell onto another tree:  luckily, there was no major damage to the other tree:  it only lost a small-ish branch.

The tree that lost a branch was a "volunteer":  we didn't plant it -- it grew by itself -- which is why it's so close to the "intentional" tree.

It's hard to tell the scale of the tree branch, but the base of the branch is -- well, a little smaller than my thigh.  That doesn't help you a whole lot -- but it gives you an approximate sense of scale (e.g. smaller than my torso; larger than my calf).

I salvaged most of the section that I outlined in red, and cut it into lengths that were as long as I could make them and still have that section of wood be reasonably straight.

I ended up with this (by the time I thought to take the picture, there are additional pieces that I've already rough-processed). 

The wood with the rough bark is wattle:  it's not a "lumber" tree because it doesn't grow big enough -- but it has a nice color (pink, which dries to brown, for the heartwood; a creamy yellow for the sapwood).  The longer, narrower pieces to the lower left are lagerstromia, which is the other tree that the large branch fell on.

My aim is to make a rustic-looking stick chair, using only the wood I've salvaged from these two fallen branches. I'm thinking something along the lines of this:

I've been working on this project most weekends since I salvaged the tree branches on the 22nd of December.  But because I don't want the branches to dry out before I've split them (thus "freeing" the core, so that when they dry, and thus shrink, they're less likely to split and crack -- because the wood has "somewhere to go" rather than having tension encircling the core).  I've kept the wood that I haven't yet processed in a garbage can of water:  this keeps them wet until I have a chance to get to them.

My basic approach is to vaguely shape them with my hewing hatchet (check out all the chips of wood on the ground!!!, so that the billets (pieces of wood) are a little less asymmetrical when I put them on the lathe... 

...and then I turn them on my lathe... 

Until they look like this: 

The photo shows three of the pieces that will eventually become chair legs. As mentioned above, at the moment I'm just rough-turning them:  then I'll let they dry for a year or two, and then finish turning them.  The narrower pieces of wood, including the lagerstromia pieces, will be the spindles.  And I'll split the larger-diameter -- but shorter -- pieces into slabs, which will become the armrests and the seat.

I'm planning to make all the legs, and spindles, intentionally different:  it's more interesting that way.  Once I have all the pieces in their final shape (in about two years; see below), I'll lay them out and decide which ones would look best in which location -- e.g. the front legs should probably be thicker than the back legs.

The chair back will be made out of a branch that looked like this...

 ...and then I chopped the stub off, so that a curved section remained.

Then I used my hewing hatchet to rough-shape the rest of it, into an approximate seat-back shape:

And then:
 (The red flower pots are just there to hold it up, for the photo.)

In another few weekends, I'll have the parts collected. Then, as mentioned, I'll set them aside for a year or two, until the excess moisture content is gone -- and then come back to it.


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Friday, January 10, 2020

Three fake beers

I keep a small stash of food in my desk drawer at work.

Near the end of the work-day (it's Friday!!!), I thought I'd have a fake beer.

Dug through my drawer:  turns out I have three different non-alcoholic beers.

This is actually the cross-section of them:  I actually had six in total (from memory (from left to right in the photo), 3, 1, 2).


I chose one, poured it (room temperature) into a glass, and threw in a few ice cubes.

Enough to make a beer-lover cringe at a variety of levels.


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