Years after my first experience using microcontrollers to bring interactivity to projects I found myself looking to them for a fun competition at one of my client offices. Each year in December there are always a lot of holiday celebrations but in 2009 I was working on a contract where the whole organization participated in a door decorating contest and a donation-box top decorating contest with separate judging and prizes.
The door was just a festive competition meant to bring color and whimsy to an otherwise very beige and eggshell building focused on important duties. The donation box was actually a collection for the soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center. The decoration on the box was meant to bring some cheer to those who have served our country and find themselves spending the holidays away from family.
Just weeks before the competition was announced I had been making little Altoid tin USB chargers for people and showing them off so naturally when the time came to find people to help design and build our submissions for the decorating contests, I was immediately paired with the graphics designer who was amazing at coming up with and executing designs.
My role was to suggest fun ways to “engineer up” the designs. We were short on time and I was limited to what I could scavenge around my house and could buy from the only hobby shop in the area that carried servos while the designer was left plucking packing foam from old shipping boxes and using a color inkjet to print sections of pattern that she just couldn’t get to print on the giant plotter printer.