Among other things, I wanted to see if I could make an electronic light feel more human friendly than most, and found rotary controllers are a good way of doing this.
PPE milk bottles make for a cheap yet aesthetically pleasing way to diffuse LED lighting. Especially if you can find nice round ones :)
Modding an object with LED lighting is not only environmentally friendly, but also much more straightforward than building a housing from scratch. Because LEDs are tiny, you can put them almost anywhere, and they don't produce much heat as long as they're spread out and running at the correct voltage.
This instructable will deal mainly with physical design and production, and I'm going to assume you have a basic knowledge of creating electronic circuits and LED lighting. Since the exact LEDs and power supply you use will probably vary, I'll only go into the basics of my circuit in terms of specs. I'll also try to point you to useful resources, and explain more about the Arduino microcontroller and code that tells them to work in sequence.
The electronics of basic LED lighting are really simple, similar to elementary school electronics, so probably won't take long for you to pick up at all.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
PPE milk bottles
Sheet of 3mm clear acrylic
2 core electrical cable (or speaker wire will do - it can be fairly light duty since it will only take about 12v and very little current, depending on how you design your circuit).
Heat shrink tubing
An old transformer (wall wart to Americans), plus socket+plug to go with it.
Braided copper wire
Solid core bell wire
Tools you will need:
Hole cutter (matched to the width of your milk bottle caps - see step 2)
Assorted tiny drill bits
Junior hacksaw (depending on what you use as a housing)
Side cutters/Wire clippers
Third hand (vital for soldering components together)
Desoldering wick (if you salvage any components from other devices)
Crocodile clip leads (for testing/prototyping).
You also might want to make some kind of housing for them. I've tried various ways of hanging them, and settled on a bent section of PVC pipe, hung from the ceiling with holes drilled for the cables. I also tried stapling them to the ceiling. You could also hang them through a piece of board mounted on the ceiling, from conduit, or even make holes in your ceiling itself to accommodate the wires and power them from a loft. Step 5 shows and talks about a few of these options.
The above is all you'll need to make some lights that work with a basic on/off switch. To give them more advanced functions such as fading or sequencing, you'll also need a load of components such as transitors and a microcontroller:
Mini USB adapter for above, or FTDL USB to header lead.
Pin header sockets
LM317T voltage regulator
BC337 NPN transistors
All shown below but more about them and how they work together in step 6.
There's also an enclosure for switch box, which could be anything you like. I saw a lovely round sacrament box in the Japan room at the British Museum, but they wouldn't let me have it. In the end I used a white plastic moo card box because it fits so well with the theme :)
With such a circuit in place, there are all kinds of things you can program an arduino to do with it. I like kinetic lighting, but I find flashing christmas lights, etc., gaudy and mechanical. Their regularity and consistency is cold and unwelcoming (it must take work to create the naturalistic twinkle of good christmas lights).
I don't want anything flashy (literally). I want a single, analogue control for the lights that feels very human-operated, that simply sequences the way they turn on and off. Code for that, coupled with a nice feeling dial and an aesthetically pleasing aluminium knob makes this into a pleasing toy.