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Add USB LED Notifications To Your PC With Just a Bit of Soldering (Video)

timothy posted about 5 months ago | from the blue-flashing-means-a-sale dept.

Hardware Hacking 129

Arvydas Juskevicius (say that five times fast) is an independent software developer and hardware hacker based in London (which is where I got a chance to talk with him) who's decided to bring the useful LED signalling capabilities of many modern smartphones into the world of desktop or laptop computers. With his £10 BlinkStick kit (£15 pre-assembled), you get a programmable multi-color LED that's about the size of a flash memory key. Deceptively simple -- it's essentially one giant pixel, after all, which might not sound exciting when you have millions of them on a dense display surface. But that LED light is something you can use as a signal for alarms, or to tell you that you have a message from one app while another is at full-screen, or practically anything else that you can devise software to notice and react to. I get the sense that Juskevicius would prefer that people get the kit version, to help spur interest in actually soldering some hardware rather than just plugging it in. If you're allergic to paying in other than U.S. dollars, the BlinkStick is also available from Adafruit Industries. Watch the video below to see it in action.

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129 comments

Name (3, Funny)

reikae (80981) | about 5 months ago | (#45612897)

I said his name five times fast, nothing happened. Should I do it in front of a mirror?

Did you spin around? (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about 5 months ago | (#45613381)

Spin around three times, widdershin, while standing in front of the mirror. It may help if there happens to be a Satanic mass in progress - or not. YMMV

Re: Name (2)

MickLinux (579158) | about 5 months ago | (#45614353)

Ar-vee-duhs You-skah-vitch-ee-us. Why not try a hard name like Alison Palin's son?

The name is Lithuanian; Because the first and last name's endings match each other, almost definitely Arvydas was Lithuanian born. Also, that c should be a che, a c with a little carrot over it.

If you want something that is really hard to say, try saying six geese with six goslings: sheshyos zhasheese su sheshiyays zhashy-yukiaise

Make the LED on my monitor blink (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45612935)

It's already there, too bad there's probably no way to control it without turning off the monitor.

Re:Make the LED on my monitor blink (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45613527)

Howabout one of the LEDs on the screen part? Maybe a few thousand of them.

Why is this cr@p on the front page? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45612947)

Nice work, dice holdings, you are continuously degrading /.

Re:Why is this cr@p on the front page? (5, Informative)

danceswithtrees (968154) | about 5 months ago | (#45613137)

I was thinking pretty much the same. This is a computer controlled, USB RGB LED (triplet of TLAs!). You can get a Tiva Launchpad from TI preassembled with RGB LED (surprisingly bright BTW) for $13 including shipping. The 15 GBP is about $25 and 10 GBP is $16 in comparison-- I don't know if shipping included in price. Granted the Blinkstick is in a smaller form factor that plugs in directly but the Launchpad has a ARM Cortex processor, GPIO, ADC, UART, USB, etc on it which you can use for other things should you tire of the notification light thing.

Re:Why is this cr@p on the front page? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45613497)

Exactly! Most junior electronic engineering students can build something like that in a few ours with $3 worth of components. Just use one USB-enabled PIC and 3 leds.

Simple Microcontroller Blinky Designs (2)

billstewart (78916) | about 5 months ago | (#45615429)

In this case it's an Atmel atTiny85 instead of a PIC chip, and a tri-color RGB LED instead of three separate LEDs, but yeah, it's not all that complex. It also has a printed circuit board, not particularly complex, and yes, you could build it yourself on breadboard. You could also snark about how Arduinos cost ~$30 when they only have
You could also buy a Digispark for ~$9 which has a Tiny85 and a voltage regulator, and breaks out the pins for convenient access, with room for headers so you can build the equivalent of an Arduino shield. Instead of a USB socket, it uses the trick of printing traces on the PCB in a layout that acts as a USB Type A plug, so it's more compact and doesn't need a wire.

Or you could spend ~$8 for an Adafruit Trinket [adafruit.com] and add an LED; it may be a shade less convenient than the Digispark just because they put the connectors on two sides of the board instead of one (so it's harder to use an RGB LED, but you could put it on the back of the board.)

Re:Why is this cr@p on the front page? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45614457)

It's not like you'll ever be important enough to change what gets put on the front page, so chill.

Also, tell everyone about how you're obligated to look at this website.

Re:Why is this cr@p on the front page? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45615353)

I was thinking the same too. This has been a sample project for V-USB for many years. This is about as newfangled as smartphones.

It also proved over time to be a very much limited system, and the information density/$ and customizability (or even wife acceptance factor) just aren't there. A 2nd monitor is just a far better option. You could get a 2nd hand 19" LCD for like $50...

Arduino (1)

Saethan (2725367) | about 5 months ago | (#45612963)

More fun to grab an Arduino and a small alphanumeric LCD to read out statuses to you, I say. :P

Re:Arduino (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45613427)

More fun to grab an Arduino and a small alphanumeric LCD to read out statuses to you, I say. :P

Or use a speaker, if you want it to really read out the status.

Why not just blink... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45612987)

... the LEDs on your keyboard?

Re:Why not just blink... (1, Insightful)

bobbied (2522392) | about 5 months ago | (#45613281)

OR.. Brace yourself.... Write a program that pops a dialog box... You can do it for free, no hardware, soldering irons or USB port required.

Re:Why not just blink... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45613651)

But this guy has the balls to sell it. Go ahead and sell your "popup maker" hardware at a booth. Just involve a little USB key with solder-yourself parts.

Re:Why not just blink... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45613305)

This.

I've been using the keyboard LEDs for notifications since the DOS days. Nowadays some people even have an actual screen built into their keyboards. You could also use your second display, phone or tablet for notifications and failing all of that, just have a small pop-up/toast appear in a corner of the screen or on the task bar/system tray.

This project is stupid. Nobody is going to want to put together some big ass (it is HUGE for what little it does), ugly circuit board and waste a perfectly good USB port.

Keyboard has single-color LEDs, not RGB (2)

billstewart (78916) | about 5 months ago | (#45615463)

I don't know about you, but the only time I notice the LEDs on my keyboard are when something's wrong (e.g. everything's frozen, and I look at the disk LED to see that it's just the disk busy again), and they're not very bright. This has a brighter RGB LED that gives you a wide range of colours. In practice, no, I wouldn't bother using one of these things on my laptop, because it's physically awkward; might be fun to build something like this for a desktop machine, I suppose. (OTOH, the next desktop machine I'm likely to build would be a Raspberry Pi, which has its own support for this kind of thing, and the LED could be useful because the box itself would be jammed behind the TV.)

Design (4, Interesting)

benjfowler (239527) | about 5 months ago | (#45613007)

Impressively tiny device. Had no idea that it was possible to build a device that interfaces to USB in so few components (it does USB in software on a tiny microcontroller, and the firmware is around 1kb in size...)

The instructions look easier than falling off a log.

Question for anybody who knows: would it be possible to generalize this design to drive an array, of -- say -- 10 or 20 RGB LEDs ? This would be a lot more useful for me, as then, I could rig my server case with a string of LEDs to tell the status of all my hard drives, network, load (amongst other things).

Re:Design (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45613117)

Did you not see the USB hub that he was using with different notifications?

Re:Design (1)

benjfowler (239527) | about 5 months ago | (#45613143)

I did.

I'm not sure if daisy-chaining a bunch of USB hubs to get a few LEDs going is necessarily the most elegant way of solving this problem though.

Re:Design (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45613585)

Elegant ruins the whole spirit of hackerspace. Large and clumsy is how its done. You want elegant, try Light Flow on Android.

Re:Design (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45613675)

If you want large and clumsy, then you need to take a steampunk approach. Some kind of pressure gauge hooked up to a steam (or for the wimps, compressed air) source and regulated by a valve interfaced to the USB port. Your indicator is the number on the pressure gauge.

For the advanced hacker, make the source of steam a water cooling system heated by the CPU and/or GPU.

Re:Design (1)

bob_super (3391281) | about 5 months ago | (#45613149)

I recommend that you link a couple million LEDs, just in case you need more info. But if you do that, the USB port might not be happy, so you should fall back on the displayport one instead, since it's about the same size.
I've got that thing with a big LED or laser for you to plug into the USB in the meantime, you can use it to rest your hand.

Re:Design (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45613235)

well it is fully open source design anything is possible ^^ tell china someone will make a buck off it

Re:Design (1)

danceswithtrees (968154) | about 5 months ago | (#45613263)

Brian Schmalz has a USB controlled "bit-banging" dev board called the Bit-Whacker. It has 78 IO pins! You can pick one up for $40 at Sparkfun (https://www.sparkfun.com/products/9713).

Or just use the proper thing for the job ... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45613549)

... which is something like http://www.ck3.co.uk/minimus-32-avr-atmel-atmega32u2-usb-dev-board.html, which does USB in hardware, has 2 LEDs already on board and only costs £6.00, or as little as £3.50 if you buy in bulk. Plus you can emulate pretty much any USB device you want - I've used one to drive a whole set of RGB LEDs by mimicking a MIDI output device and mapping notes to colours.

£15 quid for a single LED driven by an inappropriate microcontroller? About the dumbest thing I've heard in a while.

Re:Or just use the proper thing for the job ... (1)

mirix (1649853) | about 5 months ago | (#45614407)

Yep, the AVRs with hardware USB, like the 32U2, coupled with the lovely open source LUFA usb library, make it painfully easy. I like to make things show up as serial ports.

Though these days I've been using ARM cortex M3 (STM32) with the GPL libopencm3, as the tiny stm32's with hardware USB are cheaper and have more, well, everything. Kind overkill for blinking a couple LEDs, though.

Anyone paying $15 for $2 of parts is a sucker. Seems to be a lot of suckers in the DIY crowd, these days.

Re:Design (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45613879)

http://shop.evilmadscientist.com/productsmenu/tinykitlist/157

Re:Design (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45614133)

I wouldn't call it impressively tiny; I know I wouldn't want this hanging out of a USB port on any of my machines because it's large size and very little reinforcement would cause it to get snapped off.

Now, you can expand this with a different microcontroller to use an arbitrary number more LEDs, RGB or otherwise. You'll need (possibly) a bit bigger flash space to use a bit more code for multiplexing and probably manual PWM code, and you'll need a little more hardware and arrangement for multiplexing; but yeah, it's easily expandable. This is back of the envelope calculations basing off what you should be able to do with something like an ATmega8185 (35 I/O pins, the largest through-hole AVR available) with about 256 LEDs in a 16x16 matrix. This will give you 85 RGB LEDs with one extra multiplexed output for a single-color one. If we wanted to go more insane, add shift registers and you'll be able to go even higher.

Driving all those LEDs, on the other hand, will probably be a bit problematic. You'll need to put in higher current drivers and make sure you're within USB spec. Bright LEDs can take upwards of 20mA current, and superbrights tend to go upwards of 40mA, and you'll need at least 16 drivers; 320 mA total for 20mA LEDs, 640 for superbirght ones.

This is all off-the-cuff calculations without any design considerations or looking up specific parts (all knowledge is in wet storage, so it could be massively wrong), so if you want to actually want to do it, you'll need to look it up :)

Re:Design (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 5 months ago | (#45614149)

Changing to a micro with more I/O pins would be possible, or better still adding an LED driver chip with shift register so you can have arbitrary length strings.

Re:Design (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45614219)

Just use an Arduino, you stupid fuck.

Re:Design (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 5 months ago | (#45615399)

That's stupid. If you just want to make a light blink with an LED use a USB port use a USB decoder. That's what they're for.

Re:Design (2)

Hal_Porter (817932) | about 5 months ago | (#45614387)

Had no idea that it was possible to build a device that interfaces to USB in so few components (it does USB in software on a tiny microcontroller, and the firmware is around 1kb in size...)

That's the genius of USB really. Most early USB devices probably had a Serial Interface engine in hardware and a few hundred bytes of firmware written in assembler in flash or masked prom.

This device is actually quite high end

http://www.atmel.com/devices/attiny85.aspx [atmel.com]

http://www.atmel.com/Images/Atmel-2586-AVR-8-bit-Microcontroller-ATtiny25-ATtiny45-ATtiny85_Datasheet.pdf [atmel.com]

You've got 8KB of flash. You can program it in C and you get a USB driver.

http://www.blinkstick.com/help/firmware [blinkstick.com]

Looking at the firmware main.cpp it implements HID class device. Writing to reportId 1 means you set the 3 PWM oscillators for red, green and blue leds. The other reportIds seem to read and write the EEPROM.

Re:Design (1)

thegarbz (1787294) | about 5 months ago | (#45614917)

How many components? All you need for USB communication is to get the line levels right (mostly through the use of external resistors and diodes), and have a micro-controller capable of talking at speeds fast enough that the computer doesn't think the device dropped off. USB1.1 is very easy to emulate in software on most microcontrollers 12MHz or greater.

Microcontrollers with hardware USB controllers built into them start at around $2 and have the clamping taken care of so only 2 resistors are needed to get them going. They are also capable of full speed USB2.0 thanks to internal PLLs giving them some phenomenal internal clock rate.

Re:Design (3, Interesting)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 5 months ago | (#45615315)

You don't need any microcontroller to do this.
Attach an FTDI FT232 chip to the USB port and although its designed an a USB to UART chip it can be configured for GPIO.

Re:Design (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 5 months ago | (#45615359)

That sounds silly. You can "do USB" in a single chip much simpler than a microcontroller. Probably faster and more reliable too.

Re:Design (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45615465)

Google this "digispark"
Prepare to be even more amazed.

AMSTRAD? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45613039)

Or any computer that was built up to the year 2000?
FFS, people...

Slashvertisement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45613045)

I can definitely see how this advertisement, that a good deal of the population here can make on their own or with a little reading, deserves the front page.

Re:Slashvertisement (1)

nospam007 (722110) | about 5 months ago | (#45614309)

"I can definitely see how this advertisement, that a good deal of the population here can make on their own or with a little reading, deserves the front page."

My email reader and other apps have a trillion ways to get my attention without me soldering a hardware msgbox().

Hello World (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45613081)

Getting a microcontroller to blink is the digital hardware equivalent of hello world. This is painfully stupid and I hope people don't buy into it. It's one thing to sell a kit and have an informational DIY blog, it's another to market this shit as an actual product.

Re:Hello World (1)

benjfowler (239527) | about 5 months ago | (#45613121)

It wasn't obvious to me how to get that LED talking USB over that microcontroller.

That said, £15 does seem a lot, when far more capable Arduino kits are selling at Maplin for not much more. But probably reasonable if they're amortizing their costs over only a few units.

Re:Hello World (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45613393)

Their stuff is overpriced resold stuff from China. Even a $2.50 USB-serial chip from China that uses PL2303 (PL2303HX-D has 4) has a couple of GPIO lines you can hook up LED to it.

The microcontroller is probably running V-USB to emulate a USB device. You can talk to it via libusb.
I wrote my USB stack for a different chip, so using V-USB which has a similar style API. Doing this type of stuff is very simple to me.

Re:Hello World (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45614231)

they need to make money but I don't see them selling many, any old $2 usb-serialport converter can drive an led using the handshake signals,
you can buy numerous AVR based AVR programmers on ebay for ~$5 just reprogram if you want blinkenlights instead

Re:Hello World (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about 5 months ago | (#45615873)

Getting a microcontroller to blink is the digital hardware equivalent of hello world. This is painfully stupid and I hope people don't buy into it. It's one thing to sell a kit and have an informational DIY blog, it's another to market this shit as an actual product.

The attention span of hackers these days is so short that they make something extremely simple (and completely unimaginative) like this and productize it already. Just like the punch yourself in the face [slashdot.org] game. Sad.

Old idea (2)

GeorgeHahn (3287255) | about 5 months ago | (#45613099)

Blink(1) [thingm.com]
I'm all for people building things, but if you just want a polished notification LED for your computer, go to the original creators.

Re:Old idea (1)

bobbied (2522392) | about 5 months ago | (#45613255)

How about going for simple and cheap... Write a program that pops a dialog box on your screen when you need to be notified about something..

Re:Old idea (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 5 months ago | (#45613441)

Actually this little device solves a problem we are having with our new, stupider, Electronic Health Record. The old one would tell lab and xray that a stat order was up by triggering the speaker (lab has it set to the Star Trek Klaxxon sound which gets a tad old, but it's their department). This could just light up at the central computer on a trigger.

You would be surprised how useful stupid things like this can be. Yeah, I can rig an Arduno to do this, but I'm kinda time contstrainted. I can solder the thing together and whack on the keyboard for an hour - that's reasonable and for $30, a steal. The EHR vendor is 'thinking' about putting the functionality back in. This usually means they want to be bribed some more. They charge way more than $30.

Re:Old idea (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 5 months ago | (#45615435)

You'd have to write software to make the light blink, and since it's hardware you'd have to deal with a driver of some sort. I would be much easier for you to just write software that plays a sound over the speakers.

Scolllock and Numlock (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45613115)

You can use Autohotkey to turn these lights in to something more useful. In fact, may as well throw capslock in there as well if you don't use it.

Setting the toggle keys states [autohotkey.com]
Now you just need to build the rest of the damn script.
Good luck with that.
There was a script somewhere that did this, but I cannot find it.

There are some interesting ideas from this thread as well actually.
Setting LED states [autohotkey.com]
Also still an active thread which I just saw there on the last page, so all good there.

Re:Scolllock and Numlock (4, Insightful)

mythosaz (572040) | about 5 months ago | (#45613209)

All of the *lock keys are mostly useless. Plenty of people (myself included) have remapped our Caps Lock key to TAB. The number of times I've wanted Caps Lock has greatly outweighed the number of times I've sit hitting it 1-2-3 times making sure it's not toggled wrong. Ditto for Scroll Lock. The number of times I've wanted it on versus the number of times I've said, "Hey, why isn't that scrolling right?!?"

Using those keyboard lights for notifications is OLD NEWS. We've been doing it forever... ...for about £15 less than the £15 in the slashvertisement.

Re:Scolllock and Numlock (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45613375)

You must not be a writer or a software developer. I use the tab key all of the time for formatting.

Re:Scolllock and Numlock (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45613583)

You must not be a writer or a software developer. I use the tab key all of the time for formatting.

You must not be a reader... He remapped Caps Lock to Tab, NOT the other way around.
In other words: He has two tab keys.

Re:Scolllock and Numlock (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45613781)

Whoosh.

Re:Scolllock and Numlock (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 5 months ago | (#45614129)

Many keyboards don't have LEDs any more because they are wireless. LEDs would quickly kill the batteries. I know many here prefer a wired Model M but it's nice to be able to just move the keyboard out of the way sometimes, and my arthritic fingers prefer low impact low travel MS/Lenovo keyboards.

Scroll Lock is useful for breaking out of VMs. The Num Lock key pisses me off because I never, ever want the numeric keyboard not to be numeric.

My boss hates caps lock so much he immediately rips it off every keyboard he gets. I think I might start doing the same thing with Num Lock. I wish they made keyboards with an underscore key.

Re:Scolllock and Numlock (1)

mythosaz (572040) | about 5 months ago | (#45614417)

In that case, I suggest a used second keyboard, for about $2, complete with LEDs taped to the top of your monitor. :)

Re:Scolllock and Numlock (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about 5 months ago | (#45615937)

Many keyboards don't have LEDs any more because they are wireless.

That could be solved mechanically. For each LED, have instead a tiny window behind which you put some flap which is other side red, other side black. Then you just flip this flap when the state of the lock is changed.

Re:Scolllock and Numlock (1)

bobbied (2522392) | about 5 months ago | (#45613237)

Heck, just popup a dialog box from a program and skip all this USB to LED flashy stuff. Shesh..

Re:Scolllock and Numlock (1, Insightful)

strength_of_10_men (967050) | about 5 months ago | (#45613603)

We get it. You think it's a better idea to do this with software. That's fine and there are no shortage of such programs.

But what about when I'm playing a game in full screen? (as mentioned in the article). What if the monitor's gone to sleep? What if I'm listening to music with the monitor off?

Just because there's another way to do this doesn't mean this do-hickey isn't useful.

Re:Scolllock and Numlock (1)

war4peace (1628283) | about 5 months ago | (#45614449)

Cheaper solution: get an USB stick with a LED, write an app which would read files from your memory stick on trigger, enjoy a cheaper AND more useful device which does the same thing.

Re:Scolllock and Numlock (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45615501)

Your PC can't play sounds? And this doohickey is only useful if you're sitting right at your computer looking at your USB ports, which is something I doubt anyone would be doing with their monitor off/asleep.

Re:Scolllock and Numlock (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45615645)

Because it's impossible for software to wake the display...

Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45613225)

As you said, it "might not sound exciting when you have millions of them on a dense display surface".

That's because I can have all my notifications on that one. Right in my FOV.

Looks useless (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45613311)

Oh, it's a 10(british-pound) indicator LED. Oh look I can use it to get notifications from programs that already notify me! How useful! NOT!

Re:Looks useless (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 5 months ago | (#45613389)

Oh, it's a 10(british-pound) indicator LED.

..,. made from less than 5 PetroDollars worth of parts.

Butbutbut... HID firmware on an AtTiny85!

Yea, not impressed. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

Oh the Baltic names (1)

Freultwah (739055) | about 5 months ago | (#45613415)

Arr-VEE-dus You-SKAY-vee-chews. Not that difficult to repeat five times in a row even after a 10% Belgian quadrupel. What's the prize?

Re:Oh the Baltic names (1)

Bucc5062 (856482) | about 5 months ago | (#45613745)

I had to take a moment and look this up Quadrupel [wikipedia.org] as I had no idea what that was when I read it.

You can say that name 5 times after one of those? I tip my hat sir, well done. Now where can I find that fine brew, is my question.

Nice. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45613515)

So someone does something a bit cool and the first thing Slashdot can do is take the piss of his his foreign name.

Re:Nice. (1)

NoMaster (142776) | about 5 months ago | (#45615231)

"So someone gets a slashvertisment on the front page and the first thing Slashdot can do is take the piss of his his foreign name."

FTFY.

SMD (If you can solder DIL & through hole parts you can solder SOIC & 1206 surface mount) would make that thing 1/3 of the size, allow you to have 3 (e.g. red, yellow, & green) or more LEDs, and might make it worth the asking price.

Or, for the same price or less, you could build a USB 2x16 or 2x20 LCD display.

Re:Nice. (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about 5 months ago | (#45615947)

So someone does something a bit cool and the first thing Slashdot can do is take the piss of his his foreign name.

I though it was kind of rude too.

This is an advertorial, right? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45613591)

I've been looking at the "Firehose" submissions page every day and have been voting and have seen which stories there are the most popular and yet less than 1% of those stories are ever posted on /. This story, for example, was not in the queue. Most of the stories posted by samzenpus are not from the queue either even though they sometimes say they're from "Anonymous Coward". Don't let that fool you, that AC is him.

This story, for example, is pure advertisement [wikipedia.org] . It has zero value to our community from the news standpoint. There's over half a dozen more worthy stories in the queue.

Degradation in quality of /.'s front page is truly troubling. When you compare it to reddit or HN or techmeme, you really see how shitty it is. And the saddest part is that it would be 10x better if editors actually started posting top stories from the queue.

I'm posting as AC because the last time I bitched about timothy's stories, my IP got banned.

Re:This is an advertorial, right? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45613723)

Yeh, ever since Tim left, this site is marketing shill products.

shill shill shill

Re:This is an advertorial, right? (1)

BronsCon (927697) | about 5 months ago | (#45613845)

A) Posting as AC only hides you from other users
B) Our friends at dice.com surely record the IP address from which every post was made
C) Probably banned anyway
D) You're 100% correct, otherwise.

DevCon.exe and a red-glowing USB mouse (3, Interesting)

GrangerX (1959200) | about 5 months ago | (#45613673)

I made a top-of-the-cubicle LED indicator using Devcon.exe and a Microsoft Mouse that happened to glow red when it was receiving USB power once.

I basically had devcon.exe 'enable' the mouse when it was ready to indicate something and 'disable' it otherwise.

Worked reasonably well, but that was back before I got all the notifications on the smartphone anyway.

Re:DevCon.exe and a red-glowing USB mouse (1)

aaronb1138 (2035478) | about 5 months ago | (#45613933)

Not digging this device, and especially not the Arduino fans trying to pimp an even more expensive variation. I'm all for kit electronics, but e-mail / smartphone notifications are the way to go for computer notifications remotely. And the comms down argument against fails if you setup some form of heartbeat system. As for the Arduino is the bestest crowd... ummm, your community is already well aware of how to wire in notification LEDs to the kit.

Re:DevCon.exe and a red-glowing USB mouse (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about 5 months ago | (#45615961)

Ha! Pretty clever actually. That has the additional benefit that the USB device is not using any power as it is turned completely off.

What's new about this? (2)

HoldenCaulfield (25660) | about 5 months ago | (#45613901)

There was a kickstarter, blink(1) a little over a year ago that did the same thing - http://stackexchange.com/leagues/1/year/stackoverflow/2013-01-01/759517#759517 [stackexchange.com] (and in a nicer package).

I wanted something similar (visual cues for meeting reminders; my "email" system is on a KVM with other "dev" systems). I ended up getting the Dream Cheeky 815 USB Webmail Notifier (http://www.dreamcheeky.com/webmail-notifier) - the thing is designed for email notifications with webmail, but there's an Apache License 2.0 driver and helper app (http://dreamcheekyusb.codeplex.com/), which worked fine to drive the thing - the little command line app that uses the driver had enough functionality (gradual on, color change, and blink) that I didn't need to write any real code.

A little macro scripting, and it was working fine with Outlook.

A little bigger that the other solutions, so maybe not great for a rack (though it's probably about 1U so it would work fine), but works nice sitting on my desk under my displays . . .

Re:What's new about this? (2)

HoldenCaulfield (25660) | about 5 months ago | (#45613953)

Argh, correct link for the blink(1) Kickstarter - http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thingm/blink1-the-usb-rgb-led [kickstarter.com]

Purchase link: http://buy.thingm.com/blink1 [thingm.com] (out of stock, was $30)

The BlinkStick mentioned in the original is $16

The Dream Cheeky was $10 (I think I paid 9 on a woot sale)

Re:What's new about this? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45614517)

God... you're stupid as fuck. Aren't you?

Not the product we need. (1)

PsychoSlashDot (207849) | about 5 months ago | (#45613971)

How about something similar that perhaps goes into the headphones jack of a cell phone to add LED notification to THAT?

Blackberry got it right and while a smattering of other phones include notification LEDs, it's very rare. If such a device could be powered through the headphone jack (no idea if there's enough current... IANAEE) and a little helper application for Android/iOS was written, I'd spend big bucks for such an add-on.

Re:Not the product we need. (1)

LinuxIsGarbage (1658307) | about 5 months ago | (#45614727)

How about something similar that perhaps goes into the headphones jack of a cell phone to add LED notification to THAT?

Blackberry got it right and while a smattering of other phones include notification LEDs, it's very rare.

Nexus One, Nexus S, Galaxy Nexus, Nexus 4, Nexus 5, Galaxy SIII, S4 are popular phones that include it.

It's pretty silly you think about it. (3, Informative)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about 5 months ago | (#45614009)

Modern connection interfaces are complex enough that you need an IC to negotiate a connection before you can even get a LED blinking. Today's systems aren't exactly designed for hobbyists to build things.

Get an old beige box. You can solder a resistor and LED to the DTR pin of a serial port, and program it with a couple lines of assembly -- Oop, nope. The modern OSs aren't really designed for hobbyists to build things either. You'll be learning how to write a kernel driver for your OS if you use Linux. This is why I still use and make small DOS-esque OSs -- It's quite easy using BIOS interrupts. Also, you can still install DOS on nearly all x86-64 systems...

Data Terminal Ready is just one pin, but with it and the RxD / TxD pins you can build a simple lock-step electronic coms project on a serial port -- So you don't have to implement the whole RS232 chipset just to do a little manual IO. Parallel ports have many more such pins to play with, and don't require serialization either. That's why I teach kids to make robotics with DOS like OSs on my spare "junk" -- Because it's so much faster, cheaper, and easier than with USB, or even RS232 serializing and deserializing state -- Save that for when they get a bit more skilled. There's something almost magical to watching bits flip in memory by making and breaking electrical contacts; Folks immediately start thinking up ways to use such a thing. It's fun watching the scales fall from their eyes as kids realize computers aren't impenetrable black boxes full of voodoo. It's kind of funny that you have to buy a kit with ICs to make more transparent the interface provided by making and breaking pins on older hardware.

In my experience, once you get past a couple of LEDs or controlling higher voltage switches via contactors, etc. the next stop usually isn't a notification app for your system -- It's a breadboard full of gizmos, or using your PC to control your other gadgets.

Eg: Readers who liked TFA also liked LIRC. [lirc.org]
(swap the LED with IR-LED, and control your home theater setup)

Re:It's pretty silly you think about it. (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about 5 months ago | (#45616003)

You can also use a serial/parallel port USB adapter to achieve this on a modern PC.

PC Problem? (2)

pubwvj (1045960) | about 5 months ago | (#45614257)

Is this a Windoze problem?

Macs already have this functionality built in to notifications.

Re:PC Problem? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45615165)

is it soldered on the board along with the ram?

Classic science fiction (2)

pgpalmer (2015142) | about 5 months ago | (#45614655)

When watching science fiction made a few decades ago, one thing that bothered me was that the technology had a lot of fancy LEDs/bulbs that flashed but apparently did nothing else.

See any console on the original Star Trek, or Al's handheld during the first season of Quantum Leap.

But now it makes total sense. They were notification LEDs! Notifying about EVERYTHING!

Re:Classic science fiction (3, Interesting)

istartedi (132515) | about 5 months ago | (#45614993)

That's my thought. If I've got time and money to burn, and I'm going to fire up the soldering iron, I want a wall full of blinking lights that signify... ummm... that the FUTURE has arrived. Yes, see? That green one there? It means we're in the future. The red one? When it starts blinking, you're time is running out...

It's funny that this should come up because just now I was in a fast food Chinese place by myself. I was watching people, and there were these two middle-school aged kids with smart phone splaying games or something. I was thinking, these kids have never known a time when tiny little computers were not everywhere. When I was a kid, we thought a home computer would be a wall full of blinking lights.

USB Email Notifier (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45614889)

I've used inexpensive USB email notification devices for applications like this. They're cheap, have a bright RGB LED inside, and the protocol has been reverse-engineered already. Here's a $8 device with free shipping that includes both a controllable LED and a USB hub. That's tough to beat for the money.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/4-Port-HUB-USB2-0-Webmail-E-mail-Notifier-for-PC-Laptop-/360683701882?pt=US_USB_Cables_Hubs_Adapters&hash=item53fa6c867a

These are easy to setup under Linux to indicate whatever you want, or even on OpenWrt to indicate WAN down or .

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