Do you tend to keep an eye on the clock during the working day? In the latest issue of The MagPi, Nicola King learns how watching for a rainbow is far more enjoyable.
We have all, let’s be honest, clock-watched at some point in our working lives. Well, friends of The MagPi, Martin Spendiff and Vanessa Bradley have come up with a little idea that might improve your working day, bringing a colourful rainbow display at close of business, where once there was the face of a benign and mundane clock. This physical Progress Bar could be just the ticket to brighten up your office and gladden your soul.
Inspiration, Martin tells us, came from “a fondness for clocks and way too much time looking at progress bars. As a random bit of pub trivia… the progress bar was first used long before computers were invented – back in the 1800s.”
So, Veeb’s fresh take on the concept began percolating and, armed with a Raspberry Pi Pico W, a metre-long piece of frame from a hardware shop, a plastic light diffuser, and a one‑metre, 144-LED, 5 V addressable LED strip, the duo set to work.
A work in… progress
Martin and Vanessa quickly put the hardware together, wrote some MicroPython code, and then connected Pico W, which is the brain of the Progress Bar. “Pico W connects to the internet and finds out what time it is,” reveals Martin. “After that, it checks the working hours (that you put into the code). It just does a little bit of arithmetic to figure out if you’re at work, and how far through the day you are. It’s then easy to figure out how many lights in the [LED] strip it should turn on.”
Cleverly, the pair also incorporated a link to Google Calendar, so any appointments are shown on the bar (and constantly updated through the day), and the bar also flashes at appointment time as a vibrant reminder, although Martin envisages that maybe “a Knight Rider-style sweep would be better!” Linking to Google Calendar was admittedly “tricky”, says Martin, but the gcalcli command-line tool handles all the Google authorisation.
The duo used the Wi-Fi-capable Pico W because “running a fully-fledged computer to turn on a few lights would be overkill,” says Martin. “It needs to connect to the internet, so we [opted for] Pico W. It was the first time we’ve used one and it was surprisingly easy.”
He and Vanessa are always open to suggestions for tweaks – when someone saw the GitHub page and wanted to use it in a school without the Google Calendar link, they were keen to help, “The idea of a classroom getting to see a rainbow at home time was sufficiently appealing to make us refine the code.”
Easy as Pi
One of the great features of the Progress Bar is its relative simplicity, with very little needed in terms of hardware, making it an ideal project for any new makers. “It is a nice little example that involves very little soldering and relatively simple code,” Martin highlights.
He and Vanessa have received highly positive feedback from the maker community – although Martin recalls how one person did declare, ‘imagine hating work so much that you need to keep looking at one of these.’ The pair are pragmatic: “If being pleased it’s home time is a crime, guilty as charged!” They use their Progress Bar every day, highlighting, “There’s a lovely element of it gently reminding you to work and when to down tools for the day.”
The MagPi #128 out NOW!
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