My Uncle’s Christmas Tie Revived

I have mentioned before that I have an Easter tie, but I seem to have held back notice that I also have a Christmas tie. So let me go on at length about it, gentle reader.

I inherited it from my uncle, the “rich uncle” with whom I lived briefly. He passed away in, what, 2011? 2012? I’ve had the tie a long time, and I’ve worn it for the last several years running on Christmas Eve. The tie has a little red LED in it that presumably turned on at one time, but not since I’ve had it. You could find the button that operated it, but pressing it did nothing. So I wore it that way for a couple of years, and then I wondered if I could fix it.

So I cut a stitch in the back of the tie to open it up, and I found the simple board with a push power button, a hard-wired battery, and an LED. I took the battery off the board and looked at the tiny wires it held, and thought I could fix it, but it would be a problem for another day. And as so often happens, it became a problem for another year.

Sometime after Christmas Eve 2023, I put the tie back on my desk, and it lay there (well, here and there as I moved things around on my desk) for some months when I was cleaning or pawing through miscellania in the hutch when I came across some sewable LEDs I’d bought, what, a decade ago? I’d thought about putting them into a collar for Roark after we saw The Cat from Outer Space which features a cat whose collar gems flash when he uses his alien powers. Geez, that was probably twelve or thirteen years ago. I ordered some wearable LEDs and a board that makes them flash and a cat collar and…. I put them into a container in my hutch for someday.

Well, finding them again made me think I could look around SparkFun, the Web site where I’d ordered the original wearable electronic bits. I’d hoped to find a battery compartment where I could replace batteries when they wear out and connect it to the board. But I’d cut the leads to the battery, and, brother, those wires were tiny. So I ordered a ten pack of battery packs–you can order single units from SparkFun for under a buck, but if you order from Amazon, all the little electronic bits come in ten packs.

I bought a spool of two-strand sewable steel to use with the project, but I found it too fine to work with. I hoped to simply run the little threads from the connectors on the battery pack to the “legs” of the LED (research has just now indicated that these are the anode and cathode, words which appear in John Donnelly’s Gold but which I did not know applied to LED lights as well). But the thread, as I said, was too fine for my easy use.

So I thought about where I could get a bit of small gauge insulated wire. I feared needing to buy 100 yards of it at the hardware store for an inch or two that I’d use. And then I thought, Oh, no.

As you might know, gentle reader, I am a bit of a pack rat (NOT a hoarder). So it was with great internal fanfare when I recently cleaned out my garage–well, okay, that’s overstating it. When my mother-in-law downsized almost two years ago, she gave us boxes of things to go through, and one such box was extra parts from when she had someone build a custom computer for her. Inside the motherboard box, we had the case slots taken out to put cards into the PCI slots; an IDE cable or two, and power connectors for chaining hard drives to a single power supply connector or something along with a driver CD or two and installation guides for various components. And I threw them away. The very wires I could use. Oh, how I rue the day I discarded anything!

Just kidding. I did throw them out, but I had not emptied the garbage can in the garage, so I recovered the power cables anyway.

And lest you worry, gentle reader, I only disposed of the computer ephemera from my mother-in-law’s most recent desktop. I have bins and bins of my own accumulation over the last 30 years in my store room. But let’s not waste them on this project and save them for something important, okay?

So: I had the battery pack, and I had the wire, and I had the existing LED soldered onto the board that was working. So of course I tried to wire the battery pack to the LED soldered onto the board. But, as you might expect if you’re not some aging English major trying to rediscover electricity, this led to a very shaky set of connections prone to short-circuiting. So I snipped the LED from the board and tried to affix the little wired leads from the battery pack, trimmed from a hard drive power cable, to the anode and cathode (as I now know). But I could not get a good solid link by looping the wires and securing them with electrical tape. I know, I know, but I was trying to do this quickly and simply and without needing to solder.

So I ordered a set of 10 (of course) LEDs with longer legs. Actually, I ordered two sets of 10: 10 of the 5mm bulbs and 10 of the 10mm bulbs as I was not sure which the existing aperture in the tie supported. How do you measure the LED? Height? Circumference? I still don’t know, but I do know that this was a 5mm bulb as I was able to replace it with another 5mm bulb.

And alright, alright, alright. I linked the power supply to the new LED by turning the anode and the cathode like jump rings and looping the wire through them, securing it all with a spot of electrical tape. And it worked. So I fed the LED through the tie and put on the little rubber ring (grommet? Not exactly–what do I call that to get results on Amazon? 5mm rubber rings?).

And my uncle’s Christmas tie lights up for the first time in probably decades.

I have been goofing on the experience on Facebook:

I ordered the parts to repair my uncle’s Christmas tie.
This is the 21st century, you know.

All right. The original LED circa 1995 is still good in my uncle’s Christmas tie.
I just have to bypass the board with the power switch and hard-wired battery with a replacement and we should be good to go.
And if it doesn’t work and catches fire, I will be the brightest candle at candlelight service on Christmas Eve.

By the time I’m finished repairing my uncle’s light-up Christmas tie, it will have cost me $1200 or more at the rate I’m going.
But it will have more processing power than it did in 1985, and it will be able to connect to the wi-fi.

Finished repairing my uncle’s Christmas tie.
Upgraded the LED, too. FAA regulations prohibit me from shining the tie at passing aircraft.

So, yeah, from an electronics perspective, it’s a pretty simple circuit. I showed it to my sophomore, the guy going to be an engineer, and he was a bit, well, dismissive. But I’ve done it, and he’s done some school work and a hella lotta Minecraft.

Still, I’m not sure how proud to be of my work, which is really my fatal flaw. I guess we will find out on Christmas Eve when I try to light it up. But, if nothing else, the tie is hanging in the closet with the other ties and is off my desk. Now, about the sweatshirt that I just want to pull a couple stitches through. Or several years’ worth of Five Things On My Desk posts. As well as a host of other projects of minimal difficulty if you know what you’re doing, but I do not, and I don’t want to bollix it up.

Hey, think you’ve seen this before? I accidentally posted the first paragraphs of it, incomplete, on April 9. Hit Publish instead of Save Draft.

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