Monday, October 15, 2007

Meeting Update, plus a moment of silence.

October 10, 2007 Meeting Summary:

This meeting started the way most meetings start, with only 2 people there. I’m happy to announce that our numbers grew exponentially to 4 after only a few minutes. This worried the mathematician in me. With the population doubling every few minutes, we would surely be crushed to death in no time! Doom! Doom! Gloom and doom! Why me!? I’m too young to be smooshed by thousands of electricity enthusiasts! We ended up leveling out at 4, leaving me significantly embarrassed at having curled up in a ball on the floor.

With nary a mechanical engineer amongst our thriving populace, we didn’t get to have a materials update. As such, I’m going to make one up.


‘S’all good. Next!


Judging from her absence, it would appear that Corinne did not survive the MIT Gerber File Heist. However, with her last ounce of strength she managed to get the file back to us to examine. It turns out the file was approximately useless. Touche, MIT. This is a minor setback which Grant does not seem worried about, so I’m not either. We chatted for a little bit about using a set of jumper pins on each board to allow us to arbitrarily specify any given board’s address. The addressing for the boards became the major topic of conversation for the rest of the meeting, and after Grant showed us his spiffy CAD design for the mini-board, Jacob got to work figuring out how addressing each board was going to have to go down.

That's really all we did at this meeting. It was a short one, but we took care of a few issues which will allow us to press on.

A few final notes:

1) I still don't have any photos, but once construction begins you will be begging for a solid block of text that isn't splattered with pictures of arguably off-topic things.

2) I would like us to share a moment of silence for our fallen comrade, Corinne. You will be avenged!

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Aaaand they're off!

We had our second meeting for the VDF2.0 this past Thursday. Due to the extremely small percentage of the world's population who showed up, I took notes on the meeting and will post them shortly. And by shortly, I mean immediately.

October 4, 2007 Meeting Summary:

This is a long summary, but it covers a lot of the design choices that we’ve made so far. I tried to keep it light hearted for your sake. If you read nothing else, read the conclusion. These summaries should be shorter in the future.


In order to simplify the amount of cables needed for the new dance floor, the MIT circuit board used in the original dance floor will be chopped into two parts. One part will contain the LED drivers. This board has been dubbed the “mini-board” (sometimes denoted µ-board (please ignore the fact that µ means micro)).

Each mini-board will sit at the shared corner of the four cells that it controls. By controlling cells in this manner rather than MIT’s method of controlling full rows with a single board, we use a lot less cable to reach each cell. Grant has already begun a CAD design of these boards, and is continuing to work on it for next week’s meeting.

The second part we will harvest from our Frankensteining of the MIT board has been denoted the “mini-controller” (it hasn’t technically been referred to as µ-controller yet, but give it time). This board’s main function is to control the mini-board. It connects to the mini-board using an I²C connection. The I²C connection has four lines: data, clock, ground, and power. As of now, there are a few questions still floating around regarding this connection, such as: Will power affect data? Can the clock signal get onto the power wire? Should we ask a professor about this? A mysterious file known only as “Gerber 2.x” contains a lot of insight into the MIT board. Unfortunately, this file is currently being horded by MIT, so Corinne is going to ninja-sneak into their database and blindside them. Or maybe she’ll just ask them for it… Anyway, Grant is holding off on CAD-ing the mini-controller until he has gotten to look at the enigmatic Gerber file.

For next week, the Electrical folks are going to…

1) Update the proposal for the electronic aspect of the floor.

2) Work on a CAD design for the mini-board.

3) Ask professors about data/power.

4) Ninja-sneak information out of MIT.


The first mech-y design issue we talked about was the possibility of making the dance floor shallower. We discussed the pros (lighter, more portable, more stackable) and cons (need room for power?) of this change, but eventually decided that keeping the board at the same height as a standard staircase step would benefit the drunken buffoons who will be using the dance floor.

Another design issue was whether the individual cells should be smaller. They are currently 6 in X 6 in. We debated shrinking these down to 4 in X 4 in, but after noting that this would shrink the overall floor size too significantly this idea was scrapped.

One of the biggest problems that the new board faced was that the mini-boards needed to be on the top of the floor (where it would surely be crushed by the weight of the ignorant masses), or on the bottom (where it would surely be crushed by the weight of the ignorant masses plus the weight of the floor itself). This led to Richard’s invention of what is being called “the basement”. The basement is a 2 inch high compartment which will house all the wires, boards, and USB hubs for the dance floor. The basement is a perfect name for this compartment because, like a real basement, it’s the bottom level, it’s going to be a messy hodgepodge of electronics, and it’s where the hot water heater is going to be.

In order to maximize the diffusion of the LED’s, Ben proposed running ribbon wire from the board up to a crimping connector thingy that will house the LED’s. This will dramatically reduce the number of late night soldering parties, but IEEE members didn’t seem to mind.


The board itself will be made out of acrylic. This design has a number of advantages:

1) Lighter

2) Cooler looking

3) Easier construction, since Richard knows a guy who can laser cut the plastic into the right sizes.

The floor is going to be made out of smaller chunks than the last one. 4 cell by 4 cell blocks with approximately 25 inch sides will come together to form the standard 16 by 8 cell floor that everyone has come to know and love. Some of Richard’s assignments for next week include: coming up with a finished design for the floor and doing a cost analysis of the materials.


By changing over from one board controlling a full row to one board controlling a quadrant of cells, the programs that people wrote for the first dance floor will no longer display properly. This is where the software team will need step in. Programming the dance floor based on a row-column idea is a very straight forward way to do it, and since programs have already been written following this paradigm, the most logical solution for the new dance floor is to change the way the cells are addressed. This will allow us to still use the old programs and to continue writing in a common sense style. Any questions regarding how the cells are addressed can be directed at Pehr and/or Garrett.


For next week’s meeting, everyone should read MIT’s DDF 2.0 documentation. I believe that Corinne is going to send out an email with it attached as a PDF. Otherwise, Google that mutha. If you need any more information about any given topic in this summary, send me an email at jtp2 at ye olde

Future posts will have pretty pictures and a lot less boring introductory definitions, so don't get discouraged by the length of this post.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

LED Selection

Last Thursday, Grant and some other students worked to select LEDs for the new dance floor. The main contenders came from SuperbrightLEDs and HB Electronic Components. Four of each LED were placed onto a board and covered with potential housing materials so we could see the effects. We considered the brightness, vividness of colors, and expense of each LED.

In the end, Grant settled on the HB LEDs (using an amber diffuser cap from Digikey to get a more vivid green out of the green LED).

VDF 2.0 - It's Happening!

Grant Williams has become the project chair for VDF 2.0. He'll be posting shortly with some thoughts and ideas on how to build the new version.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Vertigo 2006

Vertigo 2006 was Saturday, November 18th 2006. The theme was industrial / hazmat and the attendance was estimated to be higher than last year (unfortunately there is no official count). We had the dance floor, as usual, and this year added more lights, decorations, and black-light bubbles!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Make Your Own Animations for the Vertigo Dance Floor!

The WU IEEE has released our first VDF dev-kit to make your own animations for the floor.

You can get the zip file here.

While the server still requires Linux to run, the client-side is Java and can be developed and run on nearly any platform.

These animations are written in java and use simple 2-dimensional arrays of Java's built-in Color class. The interface is simple to use and
nearly anything is possible!

The developer kit contains some rough sample code, the code necesary to connect to a dance floor server, and the VirtualFloor server (also contained in the original software release) that will allow you to test and display your animations on your computer.

These do not have to be simple animations, either. They can be interactive programs that use any sort of input as its basis. The sample code demonstrates using your computer's microphone or keyboard for input.

Our goal is to see what people can make and send to us at and we'll show them at our two upcoming events:

Washington University's Dance Marathon - November 4th 2006 - The Athletic Complex

Vertigo 2006 - November 28th 2006 - Lopata Gallery

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Burnin' down the House

The dance floor was recently featured at the Homecoming Dance for Chaminade, a college prep school in St. Louis. The evening included a fire-breather, beatboxing performance, and music to get the kids movin'. This time, the floor ended up strewn with rose petals and bow ties, much classier than the usual spilled beer.

This event marks the full realization of the dance floor dream. The floor was commissioned, transported, and used in an awesome event, and the proceeds will fund new, cool, large-scale projects for Wash U engineering students.

Look for the VDF later this year at Dance Marathon on Nov. 4 and Vertigo on Nov 18!

Friday, August 11, 2006

More Publicity... plus an update

The IEEE is the world's largest engineering professional organization, and they recently featured the VDF in a front-page article of their online newsletter, The Institute. A few people must be reading it, because our blog traffic went up 40x the day it came out. Overall, the article is well-written, with lots of juicy technical details, but mistakenly claims that our floor is larger than MIT's. It's not.

In other news, we're currently planning the next VDF, and our target for the VDF prototype is November 4th, 2006, the day of Wash U's Dance Marathon. At the event, look for a completely redesigned, touch-sensitive, more portable floor module!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

VDF Rocks Bayou Ball

Apologies for not posting this earlier, on March 25th 2006 the VDF graced Wash U's Whitaker Hall (Biomedical Engineering). The event, entitled the Bayou Ball, was a New Orleans-themed dance party to raise money for Habitat for Humanity / Hurricane Katrina relief. The dance was put on by engineering students to replace the annual for-profit EnFormal.

Wednesday Night Fever

Tonight we used the floor at the Cocktails For Life's kickoff event, to great success. Dozens of partygoers enjoyed the floor while DJ Nestor spun some sweet House music. From all accounts the event went well and raised a lot of money for the Saint Louis Effort for Aids and PAWS, the beneficiaries of Cocktails For Life.

This wraps up the Dance Floor for this semester, next semester it's on to bigger and better things!