Using Arduino and Python to Monitor #TheButton

Like other Reddit users, I have been keeping an eye on the “action” over at r/TheButton during the past month. I write action in quotation marks since the webpage only involves watching a clock count down from 60 seconds to 0.

To summarize the concept, on April 1st (April Fools’ Day) the admins of Reddit created a page featuring a clock counting down from 60 seconds with no indication of what would happen when it reached zero. Next to the clock was a button (The Button) which, when pressed, would reset the counter back to 60 seconds. The catch is each user account (and only those created before April 1st) can only press The Button once.

On April 1st, there were approximately 3.5 million user accounts, which could theoretically keep The Button going for 3.5 million minutes (6 years). Of course, only a fraction of those accounts are active, and as of this post, the counter has not hit 1 second without being reset. There have been several predictions on when The Button will hit zero, and even an extensive collection of statistical data on the button pushes that have happened so far.

Reddit records the time when each user pushes The Button and assigns each user a certain color of flair to display next to their username. A certain number of Reddit users, looking for bragging rights on having the lowest recorded number, are waiting for The Button to almost hit zero before they press. The only downside is this requires constant monitoring of r/TheButton to see when the counter is getting close to zero. Unfortunately, this makes being productive in other things rather difficult, so there have been several solutions to monitor The Button’s status including several users modifying LED lights controlled by Wifi or Bluetooth.

The Bluetooth light project, created by Reddit and Github user ALP_Squid uses the WebSocket client module for Python to get the current value of the countdown timer from r/TheButton. It then updates the color of a Playbulb Candle using Bluetooth. As a result, the light displays the current color of flair you would get if you pressed The Button at that moment.

I loved the idea of this project, but I didn’t have a Playbulb to use. However, I did have an Arduino and a bunch of assorted LEDs from building my Xbox 360 Halloween Costume. I made a simple circuit and Ardunio script to display the current status of The Button with one LED for each color flair.


Each LED was connected through a current limiting resistor to an Arduino GPIO pin staring with 2 for purple and ending with 7 for red. The Arduino script is very simple. A byte of data containing a number (2 through 7) is sent to the Arduino over the serial port. The byte is read, converted into an integer, and the digital pin corresponding to that integer is set HIGH lighting the LED.

To handle communication with the Arduino on the PC side I use the Python library pySerial. I modified the original button script to return an integer value (2 through 7) rather than a hexadecimal color to indicate the current color of the button. The top level python file simply converts that value to a string and passes it to the Ardunio over the serial port. The result is a simple LED bar that changes colors according to the current time allowing you monitor The Button without the need to continuously stare at a screen!

All code is available on GitHub.

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