This is a short piece about a nightlight I designed and constructed for some of my friends this Christmas. It is based on an ancient algorithm (circa 1970) by British mathematician John Conway called Conway’s Game of Life. It’s an elegant example of emergent behavior. If you have some graph paper and a pencil, you can play it by hand:
Color some random cells on graph paper black.
Go through each cell and count how many neighbors it has that are black (min is 0, max is 8). Write the number down in the cell.
Go through each cell again, and turn all white cells marked 3 black.
Leave all black cells that are between 2 and 3 alone.
Turn any black cell greater than 3 or less than 2 white.
That’s it. If you run these simple rules, provably devoid of intention or complex behavior, on a grid of data, interesting patterns emerge.
This pattern is called a ‘Glider’. It predictably repeats and travels down and to the right over successive generations. There is no mention of Gliders in the game’s ruleset, no specifics on how fast they travel or how to form repeating patterns. But this particular pattern, processed through the rules above, produces an ‘organism’. Is biological life a vastly more complex version of this idea? Just a very complex repeating pattern borne without intention from the rules of chemistry?
Anyways, it’s interesting to think about is what I’m saying. But also not something you want to be thinking about 24/7. It’s something that’s nice to think about every so often. And so it seemed like the perfect idea to bring to the oft overlooked artistic medium of the nightlight. I’ve got a 3D printer, whose purchase I often seek to justify. And I love browsing around on Adafruit and listening to Boards of Canada and soldering things, and Christmas was coming, so why not?
Adafruit Trinket – Mini Microcontroller – 5V Logic: Trinket may be small, but do not be fooled by its size! It’s a tiny microcontroller board, built around the Atmel ATtiny85, a little chip with a lot of power. We wanted to design a microcontroller board that was small enough to fit into any project, and low cost enough to use without hesitation. Perfect for when you don’t want to give up your expensive dev-board and you aren’t willing to take apart the project you worked so hard to design. It’s our lowest-cost arduino-IDE programmable board! Read more.
Adafruit Mini 8×8 LED Matrix w/I2C Backpack – Yellow: What’s better than a single LED? Lots of LEDs! A fun way to make a small display is to use an 8×8 matrix or a 4-digit 7-segment display. Matrices like these are ‘multiplexed’ – so to control 64 LEDs you need 16 pins. That’s a lot of pins, and there are driver chips like the MAX7219 that can control a matrix for you but there’s a lot of wiring to set up and they take up a ton of space. Here at Adafruit we feel your pain! After all, wouldn’t it be awesome if you could control a matrix without tons of wiring? That’s where these adorable LED matrix backpacks come in. We have them in two flavors – a mini 8×8 and a 4-digit 0.56″ 7-segment. They work perfectly with the matrices we stock in the Adafruit shop and make adding a bright little display trivial. Read more.
We are angry, frustrated, and in pain because of the violence and murder of Black people by the police because of racism. We are in the fight AGAINST RACISM. George Floyd was murdered, his life stolen. The Adafruit teams have specific actions we’ve done, are doing, and will do together as a company and culture. We are asking the Adafruit community to get involved and share what you are doing. The Adafruit teams will not settle for a hash tag, a Tweet, or an icon change. We will work on real change, and that requires real action and real work together. That is what we will do each day, each month, each year – we will hold ourselves accountable and publish our collective efforts, partnerships, activism, donations, openly and publicly. Our blog and social media platforms will be utilized in actionable ways. Join us and the anti-racist efforts working to end police brutality, reform the criminal justice system, and dismantle the many other forms of systemic racism at work in this country, read more @ adafruit.com/blacklivesmatter
Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on code.org, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.