I’m starting to dust off some seasonal projects and realized I hadn’t made this simple tool public which others may find handy. With projects like the NeoPixel Tree it can be much quicker to code visual sequences locally instead of waiting for new firmware to upload to the MCU every time you want to tweak something.
I first want to acknowledge that I did the thing that I try to never do: I showed off a snazzy project, left some hints here and there of how it worked, said I would follow up with full details… and never did. That’s lame.
I’ve had multiple people reach out for more info and I’m glad they did, since that’s pushed me to finally get some repos public and this belated follow-up written. Apologies!
To jump straight to it, I’ve published these two repos:
Let’s first go over the hardware involved. The most important piece, of course, is the Alfa-Zeta XY5.
In my case, the 14×28 board was made up of two 7×28 panels connected together via RJ-11.
The panels are pricey, but they can be thought of as “hardware easy-mode”. Alfa-Zeta has done the hard job building the controller that drives the hardware and all we have to do is supply power and an RS-485 signal that abides by their protocol.
If you purchase a panel from them there are two important documents to request:
The main manual that describes the specs, features, and things like the DIP switch settings.
The protocol for sending commands to the controllers (which is really simple).
These can easily found by searching around, but if you own a panel the company should supply them. Most of the protocol can be deduced by looking at open source code.
The standard way to accomplish this is to install PlatformIO in VSCode for Windows and you’re done. However, I’m a bit of long time *nix user and really like my PlatformIO + Git workflow in that environment.
WSL sounds like a great option for this case, but unfortunately from what I’ve read, serial communication doesn’t play too nicely without a bunch of hoops to jump through.
To keep things (somewhat) simple I installed a Linux VM through VirtualBox and added a USB Device Filter for the attached Arduino Leonardo so it would be forwarded and accessible by PlatformIO. Using VSCode as my editor would still be possible thanks to its awesome remote features.
At work we’re primarily using Zoom for meetings while we’re in remote mode. Due to the recent problems found in their desktop software, I run it only on my iPad to provide a little more security (thanks to iPadOS’ sandboxed environment), plus the front facing camera on my iPad Pro is superior to my iMac and MacBook Pro’s.
The first issue I found with this setup was that I wanted to get the iPad into a position more perpendicular like a web cam, rather than the angled up shot below my face. I don’t think anyone wants to look up my nose unless I’m on a telehealth call, so I ordered this flexible stand for about $25 from Amazon and got it mounted:
So far so good, until my first meeting. I wanted to follow conference call etiquette by muting myself when I wasn’t speaking, but it was a pain to reach and manually tap the mute button every time. Plus, although the flexible arm is super strong, it’s still going to wobble wildly if you touch the iPad and your video is going to show that.
Was there a way I could toggle muting myself without touching the iPad? After a quick Google search, the answer was YES!
The attached keyboard (Smart Keyboard Folio, Magic Keyboard) didn’t make any sense in this case, but a Bluetooth keyboard would be perfect!
The logical answer is to connect up a Bluetooth keyboard and hit Command + Shift + A when you want to toggle muting your mic, and you’re done. That’s it.
I’m not totally logical
Of course, the route I chose was different. I have enough keyboards on my desk, I really just want one button to do one thing.