The Fabric of Illness

I don’t mean for this to be an advertisement. But the things is, I have been finding ways to decorate my little animated and autonomous beasts to give them some class and verse. I mean, a device which can tell the difference between a dog and cat and then follow the one I targeted is pretty cool I think. But it reaches a whole new dimension of perplexed questioning when people ask me ‘what did you make THAT for?

Why, there are lots of reasons. I like to keep the old brain challenged and combating age deterioration. If often forget the names of well known celebrities, like whats-his-name on the show that… , you know, about the guy. Anyway, I discovered that lighting can add some serious drama and depth to qhat could easily have been a time consuming and frustrating waste of time and a few bucks. They still waste time and money, but they do it looking good.

They have this stuff called EL-wire. It glows like a neon tube, accept they’re the thickness of kite twine and come in various lengths for pretty cheap. Less than $15 will buy you a six foot colored length is your choice of eight colors. They come with tiny battery packs attached that take a couple of AA batteries to power the thing brightly for six or seven hours. Obviously, rechargeable batteries is a wise investment if you’re going to use them a lot. Putting my sewing machine in a wide zig zag makes attaching them to clothing or fabric a breeze, and its fast. The battery pack and controller allow them to be in in low and high intensity, or even to blink on a .7 second interval. It made up a couple of hoodies and black jeans to look like Tron attire and they work famously. The only drawback is that the little battery inverters do put out a high pitched whine that some find irksome. But wrapping the inverters in a foam pad does a lot to sound[roof them.

I also have fabric based electronics. The thread used to sew the components in place is conductive, so as you stitch on the various colored LEDs or sensors, you’re providing them a circuit wire to connect the individual parts. To control it all I use a LilyPad, which is a fabric based microcontroller you can program light sequences with, ir interconnect the sensors. You can get distance, accelerometer, lighting level, temperature and humidity sensors to trigger the LilyPad Arduino to illuminate a patters.

A simpler form of electric decoration is LED strips. These are high intensity strips with an LED about every few inches. They can work like Cyclon eyes or the sweeping LED display of Kitt, the NightRider car –among other things. The usefulness of this stuff is staggering. The clothing based components and materials are machine washable, Everything I’ve made so far got dumped in the wash with everything else. Of the whites that is. So far, none of them have even winked (ha ha) at the process of cleansing. Of course, I un-jack the controller/battery compartment prior to committing my wares to washer and dryer cycles.

The cool part is that you don’t have to be an electronics genius to use this stuff. The LilyPad works on a sewable dual AA battery pack, also removable for the cleaning process. I eset up a jacket for my wife that senses the direction she leans and engages a ‘turn signal’ warning to show that she is leaning for a turn. Also, a sudden drop in forward speed will trigger a stop light ‘bar; on her back, warning motorists behind her. The denim jacket as $10but Goodwill and the electronics set me back $40. I figure a $50 safety jacket is a worthwhile expense.  I could esily to lots with her helmet, but she doesn’t want wires running down her nexk to the battery supply, Can’t say I blame her.

Actual strips of LEds on an adhesive backing is pretty cool stuff to make accent or even reading lights customized to the task. You can cut the strips with a scissor to reduce length, and wire a few in series to make it longer. I also bought an 8 am dimmer to control the intensity of the “soft white” light strips. It brightens up my room considerably for reading and working on projects, but dims way down to become a nightlight. The LEDs all come, even in strips, of either a single color, or as RGB color changing LEDs to give you a few million color and intensity combination. The soft white ones make light that looks a mellowing incandescent –unike th harsh blue shifted output of plain white ones. These are also very flexible and can be attached to clothing to make some crazy stuff. Obvious peddling down the street or wowing the guests at parties. I have an older lightweight mobility scooter than flashes between red and blue, making it look police vehicle like. It goes well with my officially jacketed service gerbil.

But the srips also work great on cars, putting illumination in trucks, glove boxes and and any other where that might look good with accent lighting. The LED systems are all 12 volt, and don’t require any knowledge of electronics to work. Just connect the trunk ones, for instance, to the trunks light switch and you’re off to the running.

For me it beats scrapbooking or making family foto albums as occasional gifts. Whatever you make will come out pretty professional looking and be well inside a rational budget.  It beats TV and makes a for very personalized items. These projects are a perfect compliment to the pastimes we fritter with in odd moments, and indeed, helps build brain power.

By the way. This date only comes every 4 years.