The Internet of Stranger Things

Posted by Cody Merrill

Every Halloween, we try to find a fun way to get our spook on around the office. This year, the obvious choice was anything from, or pertaining to, the Netflix sci-fi phenomenon Stranger Things. A few members of the interactive design and development teams got together and decided we needed to make something more experiential than we have in the past, something IoT, or “The Internet of 🔮~T~H~I~N~G~S~🔮.” With this framework in mind, we made the unanimous decision to re-create the iconic Stranger Things wall. You know, the one adorned in Christmas lights and letters, used to pass messages back and forth from The Upside Down to our dimension? All you had to do was tweet @upsidedownwill and the wall would play tweets in real time, all visible through a 24/7 live stream in the office. But how did we do this? strangeboys

THE WEIRDO ON MAPLE STREET

My official title at GS&F is Interactive Developer, which most people think consists entirely of website/application development. While that is a big part of it, I prefer to think of my job as an opportunity to create more ways for people to do things—both digitally and otherwise.
“We live in the future and it’s cool af.”
I can’t remember the last time I made it through the course of a day without thinking about the fact that we live in the future, and it’s cool af. Sure, it sounds funny, but it’s true. We’ve gone from delivering handwritten letters by foot to sending messages (err, cat videos) to friends across the globe with the click of a button.
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And in the last couple of years, we’ve been given a front row seat to watch it all unfold—especially with the advancement of IoT devices. Just think, you can control your thermostat from your phone, watch TV on your refrigerator, even give your dog a treat when you’re not home. If you ask me, connecting everything to the internet is not only really cool (read: nerd), but also gives us the ability to solve problems that were once considered unsolvable and enrich people’s lives.

THE FLEA AND THE ACROBAT

If you’ve been following our online Makers Series, you’ve seen that turning wild ideas into a reality is one of our specialties at GS&F. So how did we do it? How did we make an actual interactive Stranger Things wall? Well, first we needed approval and funds. After researching the possibilities, planning how it would work and compiling a list of materials, we pitched the idea to our fearless leader, Gregg Boling, and in more or less words he said, “What are you waiting for? Go do it!” But with the green light came a world of variables that we needed to sort through in order to bring life to our idea. bm2b0150

THE BATHTUB

Once I secured the twitter handle (@upsidedownwill) and bought the domain willbyers.net, I ordered some assorted components, including a Raspberry Pi Zero and a bunch of LEDs. Now, I just needed to do something with them. After staying up all night, I had learned enough Python to figure out a way for the Raspberry Pi to take tweets directed at @upsidedownwill and illuminate the message via lights on a miniature prototype wall composed of cardboard and sticky notes. We created a website on GitHub pages, embedded a YouTube livestream (we couldn’t just keep this to ourselves), and got it up at willbyers.net. Our crazy idea was actually coming together.

THE UPSIDE DOWN

Between a few cases of beer, assorted electronic components, a small crew of coworkers great friends, several late nights stripping wire, soldering LEDs and painting letters on sheets, we had successfully assembled a line of communication between The Upside Down and a wall of Christmas lights in our office lobby. All that to say, I’m not just impressed we were able to pull it off, I’m excited that it was even in the realm of possibility. Like I said, living in the future is cool af. halloween-7324-edit