LIGHT IT: LIGHTBOXES
Turn your recycling into art. BY ARAM BARTHOLL
The Chaos Computer Club’s Blinkenlights project in brighter and bigger the candle flame, the faster the
2001 — which turned an office building in Berlin’s can turns to switch the designated pixel on and off.
Alexanderplatz into the world’s biggest interactive The light of each pixel fades smoothly in and out.
computer display — inspired me to think and work
on low-tech analog and mechanical screens. 1. Get ready.
Besides being able to play Pong using your cell- First of all, have a good time and drink the beer (or
phone on an 8-story-high, 18-window-wide display, soda). If you’re planning to build several Random
it was possible to send small, self-made movies Screen pixels, it might be wise to invite some
called “love letters.” This was the way my brother friends so that you don’t get too wasted while pre-
asked his girlfriend to marry him. paring the materials. I used to store some beer cans
Since then, I’ve wondered how to play low-res in our shared office fridge, which is a very easy and
pixel movies on a small scale without any stan- quick way to get them emptied.
dard screen technology, and built Paper Pixels,
a punchcard-controlled mechanical analog on 2. Make the pinwheel and stand.
an 8x8-pixel screen. To push things a bit further, I Cut off the top and bottom of the beer can and
started thinking about candles and pixels, and the shorten it to 5". For 9 vent rotors, cut from the top in
concept of Random Screen popped into my head. equal distances 1¾" into the can, at an angle of 12
Random Screen is a non-controllable, 4x4-pixel degrees, with shears or sharp scissors (see Figure A).
screen run by tea candles. Each pixel is a 5"× 5" Punch a hole through each rotor near its top end,
box made of cardboard, which is open at the back so that the tops of all rotors can be drawn together
and closed with translucent film as a projection and a screw can pass up through the holes to hold
screen at the front. A modified beer or soda can is them together. This part needs some patience, and
transformed into a kind of vent and driven by the be careful. Lock the screw in place with a nut.
rising heat from a tea candle, which also serves as Then make a simple wire stand (see Figure A). The
a light source. A window is cut into the beer can, base should fit around the tea candle, and the other
which casts the candlelight while turning at its end should be bent in and up so that the can will
individual frequency, like a lighthouse lantern. The hang over the middle of the candle. Attach a needle
to the end with the cable connector, checking to be
sure that the pinwheel can spin easily.
» .5L or 16 oz. beer/soda cans ( 16)
» 1mm cardboard or (even better)
some similar fireproof material
» Translucent paper, film, foil, or even
glass I used inkjet backlight print film.
» Stiff wire, a needle, a cable connector,
a Phillips machine screw and a nut
3. Cut window.
Cut a 2"× 2" window in this modified can and cut
in some zigzags to make the light fade in and out
smoothly. Run a test and place a tea candle inside
to see if the can hangs straight. Make sure that the
can is able to turn freely. You might have to work
and bend the material a little bit.
4. Build the pixel boxes.
Cut and/or fold the cardboard to build a 5"× 5" pixel
box 7" deep. In order not to cast shadows or any
movement onto the front pixel screen, make a middle
wall inside the box to separate the back candle space
4" from the front projection space, leaving 3".