This kitty is just getting started glowing. 2022 review & 2023 preview.

glowingkitty
12 min readJan 4, 2023

While I am not a fan of many New Year’s Eve traditions (like exploding rockets), I did learn to appreciate two things about NYE: using it as a chance to meet friends — and reflecting on my personal life situation, what happened the past year and what comes next in the coming year (or at least, what I plan for 2023). And while I honestly find it difficult to be optimistic about 2023 for our society at large, at least when it comes to my personal life and future I am optimistic when it comes to this coming year.

So, let’s dive into what happened this past year, what I learned, and what my plans are for the coming year, shall we?

2022 — big steps, toward a glowing future

This past year was primarily focused on two aspects: prototyping and sharing knowledge. When it comes to prototyping, I learned two super useful new skills, which will enable me to build awesome projects, going forward.

The latest GlowCore development board

New skill — PCB Design:

It has only been a year ago (January 2022), when I started to design my very first PCBs (printed circuit boards), for GlowCore and GlowCore Mini. Did they work as expected? No, of course, they didn’t (at least the GlowCore board had issues, while the GlowCore Mini board worked fine). Since then I designed and ordered over 30 different PCB prototypes for multiple LED projects I developed. It was partially also a very frustrating experience, when I couldn’t get the battery-powered projects to work properly for a long time (more specifically: I couldn’t get the voltage conversion chips from some Chinese brand to work properly in my PCB design). But eventually, with the advice of some other engineers I ended up fixing all my electronics issues (turned out, replacing the chip with one from Texas Instruments fixed it, yessss!). And now I am super happy to say, that I can now go from fixing PCB designs, to instead improving the products — both the hardware, but also the software.

To have others not go throw the same frustration as me, I made my LED projects open source, including the PCB designs. So you can learn from them and easily design your own LED projects that way, with a lot more confidence that they will work directly on the first try.

A two part silicone mold for the case lid of GlowLight

New skill — Resin casting:

The other important new skill I learned (which of course also took a lot more time and money to get right) was resin casting. Which is the process of creating parts by filling a silicone mold with epoxy resin and letting it harden in that mold. A method that has multiple advantages over 3D printing: you can get a consistently high-quality cast every time (once you figured out the process…), you can change the color of the material easily, it’s cheaper than ordering SLA prints in high-quality (and also faster) and I noticed that the epoxy resin parts seem to be stronger then SLA prints as well, and also keep their color for longer without getting yellow.

All of this sounds great of course. But turns out, getting a resin cast free of air bubbles and air pockets and properly mixed, was a process that took much longer, multiple attempts with multiple newly designed (SLA printed) molds and a bunch of silicone for making new molds. What ended up fixing the issues I had? Three essential tools:

  • an electric stirrer, to properly mix the epoxy resin + the color for multiple minutes
  • a pressure pot, which I converted for resin casting, to crush all the air bubbles in the epoxy resin
  • silicone tubes with epoxy resin on top of the two-part silicone mold, allowing more epoxy resin to flow into the mold once the air pressure in the pressure pot increases and crushes the air bubbles in the mold
Me and the latest MagiqWand prototype, the first one where the hardware just works

New hardware:

Empowered and excited by the power of PCB design, I developed prototypes for a bunch of exciting LED projects and also started selling some of them as DIY kits. Here is an overview:

GlowCore

GlowCore

  • A development board for people who want to easily build an LED project themself, without the need to solder anything.
  • The very first prototype didn’t work as expected, then switched to designing separate PCBs for every of my LED projects. Recently then redesigned it from scratch — and now it works just fine :)
GlowCore Mini

GlowCore Mini

  • A development board for people who want to build an LED project themself, in a super tiny form factor, but fully packed with features.
  • After designing a very first prototype beginning of the year, I recently also took a new approach to the project and redesigned GlowCore Mini to be as small as possible. However, that also resulted in some reliability issues caused most likely by overheating, which I need to fix with the next version (I am working on it).
GlowTube

GlowTube

  • An LED tube that is mounted on the wall, and provides a great lighting atmosphere for a room or a house party.
GlowLight

GlowLight

  • A beautiful desk lamp
GlowTower

GlowTower

  • Like GlowLight, but as a 1m tall floor lamp
GlowSign

GlowSign

  • A portable LED sign with a replaceable logo/image. Easy to mount on a laptop or other surfaces.
GlowBand (the electronics, without the battery, at least)

GlowBand

  • One of my very first (and favorite) LED projects. An LED wristband for dancing, long-time exposure photography, and everyday flashlight, including a microphone for animations that react to music — and a gyroscope, for animations that react to movement as well.
MagiqWand

MagiqWand

  • An LED magic wand, for festivals.
my bike, before someone decided to steal the LED strips, flex tubes and control unit.

my LED-equipped bike (no specific name for that yet)

  • LEDs mounted on my bike. Which looked so good and professional it seems, that people stole the LED equipment a few months ago…
shop.glowingkitty.com

New software:

Hardware wasn’t the only thing I worked on this past year. When it comes to software, I for example published my online shop (shop.glowingkitty.com), where I started selling my first LED lamps as DIY kits and my development boards for the next generation of engineers and makers.

design for new main website

In addition, I also started designing and building a completely new main website, with all the information you need about my LED projects, links to all documentation, the shop, and more. It’s not finished yet, but I will do so in the coming weeks.

New GlowOS layout concept (in development)

And when it comes to the software that runs on all my LED projects: I also started my fork of WLED (the open-source software I used for all my LED projects, to control the LEDs), called GlowOS. The current version of GlowOS contains some first changes to optimize WLED for the hardware of my LED projects. But in the coming weeks, I will add a bunch of additional features, especially for my battery-powered projects, to further extend their battery life and improve the user experience. And I also started with the first steps of designing my custom frontend to control GlowOS as well, with all the core features of WLED, but a focus on simplicity, ease of use, and a more beautiful-looking design.

MagiqWand at GPN Karlsruhe, long time exposure shot

Events:

In 2022 I joined a bunch of great events, to show people my LED projects, give talks, organize workshops and of course, have fun and meet new people. At GPN in Karlsruhe, I was seeing familiar & fresh faces, had interesting conversations, and saw some cool LED projects from other makers while showing my own LED projects (for example the at that time buggy version of my MagiqWand PCB). At re:publica I had the chance to tell people about how cool LED projects and 3D printing are (while showing some of my latest prototypes), at OpenTech Summit and Meshcon I was giving talks about how LED projects can be a great introduction to industrial design, at the Jugend Hackt Hackathon in Berlin I helped teenagers getting into 3D printing, laser cutting, and soldering — and at HIP (a few days ago) I was giving both a talk on how to plan & build an LED project — and a workshop showing people how to control LEDs with an ESP32. I am really glad I have been to those events and hope to join even more events in 2023 and give more workshops and talks — to share my experiences with even more and to inspire more makers to build awesome projects with LEDs.

xHain hack & makespace

Meetups at xHain:

2022 was also the year when I started organizing workshops at xHain, the hackspace where I spend a lot of time working on my LED projects. Since the first workshop a few months ago, I had multiple bi-weekly workshops on “How to plan & build your own LED project”, bi-weekly “LED co-hacking” evenings, and also a first “Learn PCB design with KiCad” workshop. People enjoyed it and seem to have learned some new things, while also getting more excited about building LED projects. And I got more practice in organizing workshops and also feel more relaxed now when doing so — and really look forward to our upcoming workshops, on 3D modeling in Fusio360, how to use Figma to create everything from UI designs to documentation + more for your LED projects. And more workshops with new topics will follow in the coming months.

Noisebridge hackspace, San Francisco

Trips:

Summer of 2022 was also the first time since years that I visited the US again — and both saw friends who I haven’t seen in years, but also had the chance to visit Noisebridge again (the first hackspace I got ever introduced to). This trip was important for me in multiple ways — for example, to realize that the months before I was focussing too much on just work. Since then I focused more on having a healthy work-life balance and taking breaks on the weekend. But I also got some super helpful advice from some experienced engineers on how to fix the issue I had with my battery-powered LED projects. Resulting in the now perfectly fine running MagiqWand, GlowSign, and GlowBand prototypes.

New learnings:

Some of my key learnings this past year have been:

  • Learning new skills always comes with making mistakes and frustration — but results in being able to build awesome things with much better quality. And once you combine multiple skills it gets especially exciting.
  • Progress is likely slower than you planned, but that’s fine as long as you keep making progress and making progress in a sustainable way. Better slower sustainable growth than fast growth dependent on venture capital money, that comes crashing down, once that money for whatever economic reason isn’t as accessible anymore.
  • Work/Life balance is important. Focussing on work more than usual for a short time is perfectly fine. But once this temporary state becomes a permanent way of life, don’t be surprised if you work yourself into burnout long term.

2023 — going from prototyping to delivering

A lot of stuff happened this past year. And I am really excited looking ahead to all the upcoming projects for 2023. So, let’s talk about my plans for this coming year.

Main goal:

The one thing that annoyed me over and over again this past year has been the lack of money and not being able yet to make a living with my LED products yet. Guess that’s the downside of a bootstrapped approach to building up a business. But I am fine with that regardless. Since I still think that this is the more sustainable way to build up a business. But my goal for 2023 is clear: being able to make a living completely from my LED products and workshops by the end of the year, to make this path also a long-term sustainable path. And since I am now in a stage where I am able to create LED products (even battery-powered ones) that just work the way they are designed, I am optimistic that I can reach that goal in 2023.

Focus on work/life balance:

You cannot run a business well and cannot create awesome products if you are burned out. That’s already clear to me from other friends of mine whose burnout stories I heard over the years, as well as my personal experience of going a bit too much in a workaholic direction in 2022. And I am optimistic that I will keep up this balance this coming year — so I can both build awesome LED products, come up with a lot of new ideas, make a lot of progress — but also enjoy life and spending time with friends and doing also stuff that isn’t LED related.

More hardware ahead:

I am especially looking forward to now focusing on going from making hardware work, to both making the hardware that works more available to more people via my website and workshops — but also to developing new products as well. Here is an overview of new hardware I have planned so far for the coming year:

  • New ESP32 S3 based GlowCore Mini & GlowCore
  • GlowBand
  • New GlowSign, which can also be used as an external battery
  • New GlowTube, with support for USB-C Power Delivery, to power all LEDs at max brightness, without a bulky power supply
  • Updated LED bike (and likely also a DIY kit, so you can easily modify your bike this way as well)
  • and more to come…

New main website + more documentation:

What I started designing & building this past year, I will finish and release in the coming weeks. The new main website will give you all the information you want to know about when it comes to my LED projects. And I will also make more documentation and FAQs available, so you have an even easier time playing around with my LED products — or even uploading your own software to them.

GlowOS turns v1.0:

The current version of GlowOS is only a slightly modified version of WLED. But this will change a lot from a usability perspective in the coming months. With a completely new web interface, and a lot more additional features (improving especially the user experience on battery-powered LED projects), you gonna have a lot to look forward to. I certainly do:)

Sharing even more knowledge:

2022 I got (back?) into organizing workshops and talks. And 2023 I plan on giving even more workshops and sharing my knowledge with even more people — both in workshops at xHain, but also conferences and events of all sorts.

So yeah, I am really excited for the coming months. Especially about coming to the point of seeing lots more people using my LED products, having fun with using them, and learning more about electronics, software development, industrial design — and how much fun it can be to be a maker.

Hope you liked this update — and see you again in the next regular update in February. Stay tuned!

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glowingkitty

Hey, Marco here! Maker and LED enthusiast. Loves learning new skills and exploring the world.