Welcome to Christmas In Brewster

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Welcome, and enjoy the blinky flashy!

Light Show Hiatus

February 27th, 2014

In the past few weeks we have decided to take an opportunity that we had to move to a different house. Unfortunately, what comes with this move is a location that is not suitable for putting on a light show. We will now be on a busy road with nowhere for anyone to pull off to safely watch the light show. It is with great regret that we must announce that for the immediate future (next several years), Christmas in Brewster will be no more. This comes at a bitter sweet time. While we have been getting a bit more and more worn out from doing the light show, this past year was one of our best, and we were excited for what 2014 was going to bring. Knowing now that there will be no 2014 show and probably no shows for the next several years will allow us to focus on other projects that have been put to the side due to the amount of work that goes into the show.

From our family to yours, thank you for coming to visit the light show and for all the great comments. Without people to watch the show, there wouldn’t be much reason to do it. We hope to see you all sometime in the future.

2013: Best Display Yet

January 9th, 2014

2013 was a good year for the light display. I had been getting fairly negative about the whole process. Between the money involved and more importantly the time and effort that goes into setting up and tearing down the display as well as the “baby sitting” of the display while it is up, I just wasn’t feeling it. I was even telling people this might be my last year for a while. Well maybe, just maybe I might have this stuff figured out (yeah right). It could have something to do with not adding any new elements this year, but setup went fairly smoothly and most importantly, the changes that were made to try and make the display run smoother all worked to keep the display fairly hands off for most of the time it was up, other than the broken or burnt out bulb here or there everything worked great.

I ran the show with the Falcon Pi Player and for the most part it ran flawlessly. It was great being able to leave the house and know that everything would be working when I came home. At one point I decided to change the schedule to play the show until 11PM on Fri and Sat and 10PM all other days, and that introduced a bug in the software that affected scheduling on Wednesdays. Once the Falcon guys looked into it, they had it fixed, but I didn’t want to risk updating the software so I just went back to an everyday schedule and modified it on the days I wanted it changed. It wasn’t that big of a hassle.

I have struggled with the LEDtriks display since the first year I built it. The bottom set of panels was constantly having problems somehow related to the cold. It would generally run fine inside. Last year I replaced all the easily replaceable parts on the Triks-C with no real improvement. This year I bought all new chips for the LEDtriks that controls those panels and that seemed to do the trick. I was pleased to not have to worry about that at all this year either. I did find a few columns stuck on which means a few bad LEDs, so hopefully I’ll get those swapped out before next year.

Towards the middle of December I worked on sequencing “The Polar Express” using some sequences I found and mostly using xLights/Nutcracker. I really like where Nutcracker is going and it enabled me to do effects on my ridge strips I couldn’t dream of sequencing by hand. They were a lot better than the solid colors I had been using in the past. Ultimately I think Polar Express turned out great and is currently my favorite sequence. This year I used Vixen+ for sequencing the old fashioned way. I have tried other sequencers like LSP and HLS and just can’t get myself to learn them, so I keep going back to Vixen. Vixen+ is great, it’s the Vixen I know with stability and new features.

We drove around to see some other local shows one evening and came across North Canton Christmas. His display was very well done and I was impressed with a lot of the elements. It, along with the fact that my display was running show well, sparked me to want to add some elements this next year. There is quite a bit I want to do, but monetarily just can’t do it all. I originally wanted to do a pixel mega tree, but after talking with my wife we decided that we kind of like our current mega tree and that we’d keep that. We’ve talked about several things, some pixel mini-trees, some pixel mini-mega trees, a pixel matrix on the hedges, dumb strings on the artificial trees, dumb strings on the hedges, dumbstrings on the spiral trees, pixabulbs around the windows on the porch, pixabulbs on the mega tree star, and lastly, what I found yesterday, pixcicles made out of nodes. I really like the look of these and want to do them, but can’t do it all. I’m kind of at an impasse at the moment about what projects I’m going to do, basically where the limited money I have to spend on additions this year are going to go. Ultimately I want more color in the display, as a lot of what I currently have is white and multicolored incandescent, the white incans have their place and I don’t really want to get rid of them, but with the influx of LEDs everywhere, I highly dislike how the multicolored incans look.

While my wife was out during post-Christmas shopping, she found 6 mini blow mold solders and 2 other blow molds that we will be adding to the display. I’m also going to get off my ass this year and get the garlands re-wrapped so that will add a bit more color to the porch.

This year, Brewster held a lighting contest. I wasn’t originally going to enter because I don’t like the attention, but at the last minute I went ahead and entered. We tied for 3rd place which was fine with me because There were some other nice static displays that people put up and like I said, I don’t like the attention. What wasn’t fine with me is a few weeks later I heard more people didn’t vote for us because they thought we paid someone to put up and do the display. I should take it as a compliment that people like it so much they think we pay for it, but still hurts a little because of the hours and hours of effort that go into building display pieces, sequencing, setup, baby sitting the display while it is up and tear down.

The last night we ran the show was New Year’s Eve. It ran until midnight and the lights were on until 2AM. Everything came down Saturday the 4th, minus a few extension cords that came down on the 5th and the lights on the dormer that will stay there until the snow fully melts off the roof so I can get to them.

2013 Underway

December 1st, 2013

The first show of 2013 ran tonight without a hitch. I began setting up the 2nd weekend of November and have been at it every weekend since. Sometime in early November I discovered the Falcon Pi Player over at Falcon Christmas. It is software that runs on a Raspberry Pi for controlling the lights. Is is essentially everything I envisioned the player that I wrote being when it grew up. I ordered a pi and installed the software and was quite impressed. One nagging issue was how I was going to control the Ledtriks panels since ltc.exe is a dos program. Thankfully the author of ltc and designer of the Triks-C sent me the source code and I was able to come up with something in PHP that would talk to the panels. There still some quirks in it to work out, but it does what I need it to for now. It just sits in the background waiting for a certain playlist to play on the pi and when it does it starts displaying the tune to message on the panels.

About 2 weeks ago I decided that we should finally get the firesticks built that we had all the parts for. We stopped into Lowes and got the PVC pipe and some EMT for supporting the sticks. I still had 3 Expresses to build to control the firesticks and 6 firesticks to wrap so I talked my wife into helping wrap them while I built the controllers. She got two firesticks done and got tired of it, so after I finished up the controllers, I finished up the last of the firesticks and got them installed in the yard this afternoon.

2012 – So Far So Good

December 5th, 2012

Well it’s been a while since I’ve posted on here. There’s been a lot that I’ve done to the display that I simply haven’t been motivated to document and post. I would like to do so because It’s fun going back and reading about my first year, but eh, that’s neither here nor there.

I began hanging lights the first weekend in November. It took a lot longer than I remember, probably because I didn’t put anything on the house last year, but wasn’t really done setting up until the weekend after Thanksgiving. I ran the show for the first time November 24th with 4 songs. I’ve since added two more and am working on a 7th that I think will make it in. There is an 8th that I would like to do, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.

So far everything is working quite well. I was still using my own sequence player that I wrote in PHP last year and had plans to use xLights this year as I just can’t convince myself that PHP is the best tool for the job, however during setup I was having problems with xLights and lag on high numbered universes of e1.31, so I went back to my player and it’s been flawless. Sometimes I wonder why I keep trying to find something better. I am still having thoughts about writing my own in c++ or c# so I can have more features, namely web based control so I can control the show from my phone or tablet. My PHP one works, but there aren’t many extra processor cycles left for PHP to do the heavy lifting.

I put 25 Xenon strobe lights in the front of the megatree, but when I raised it up, they all spun around towards the back of the tree, so they don’t deliver the punch I might like. I wasn’t about to take it back down, so they will have to do for this year. Next year I will hang them in the back so they point towards the front. I strung 24 strobe lights in the trees in the front of the yard on December 2nd and those look nice when they are firing. The megatree has 5 channels of strobes to offset them starting up, but probably three would be sufficient. The trees in the front only have 3 each and I chained them off each other and the effect is nice.

The smart strings on the roof have worked better than I had hoped and they look amazing. It’s just a lot of channels to try and program for any decent effects. I’ve written a few effect scripts to do the heavy lifting for me, but it’s still hard to come up with stuff so for the most part they are just all one color at a given time. I was worried about the SSC’s getting wet, so I put them all in ziplock bags. Next year I will try and zip tie the CAT5 dongle closer to the SSC so the bag will fit down lower on it, but so far they seem to be working to keep the water out. If I were do do it again, I would have the cables coming out one end of the PVC instead of both ends.

We had quite the downpour last night and it tripped the GFCI that was running the Smart String Hubs, which in turn relay the DMX to the rest of the display, so the display was dark when I got home from work. There were a few strands of the mega tree on which concerned me, but I’m guessing with the lack of DMX coming out, it was just a stray signal that got on the line. This afternoon I reset everything and it seems as though nothing was damaged. We’ll see tonight, however, when it’s easier to spot problems. I keep toying with the idea of getting rid of the GFCI’s altogether, but I keep coming back to the thought that if there is current leaking somewhere, it might be causing damage to the equipment and I’m better off if it does trip off. Going to have to look into that a lot more. It would sure be nice to keep the lights on in the rain!

Gremlins

December 5th, 2011

Been a lot of gremlins spooking the show this year. I started out with wireless DMX with the hope that maybe I could include my neighbor’s lights once he got them up this year, but the wireless hasn’t performed liked I wanted. Part of the problem was old firmware, and once updated some of the problems went away, but the main problem, the apparent freezing of the transmitter hasn’t been resolved. I have since gone wired, and that in itself has caused some new problems. Doesn’t make sense, but some controllers refuse to respond at power up unless reset using the reset switch. A power cycle doesn’t clear the problem.

The Ledtriks LED sign has caused its own set of problems left over from last year. The bottom set of boards refuses to stay on or cooperate in any manner that would allow me to debug the problem. I’ve tried many things that I didn’t get around to next year, but so far no go. So, probably for the rest of the year, we’ll just be using the top set of boards.

Most of these problems I just don’t understand because no one else is having these problems. I guess I’ll just keep debugging.

The Show Must Go On

November 16th, 2011

It was brought to my attention that I haven’t posted any updates lately, and by lately, I mean SINCE JANUARY! I used to enjoy maintaining this blog, but I find it harder and harder to motivate myself to do so. Due to the lack of updates, there has been some concern that there may be no light show, however it will go on, perhaps just not as planned. I have been hard at work on the hardware side of things. As mentioned earlier in the year, I sold virtually all of my equipment and replaced it with Lynx Express controllers. Throughout the summer I soldered and assembled 15 new LE controllers, giving me 240 channels of DMX control. I needed 6 of them alone just to control the mega tree. I also purchased parts to build hardware that would control Smart Strings. These are strings of lights that each individual light can be any color at any time. I wasn’t sure I would be able to afford the strings themselves, but I bought the hardware anyhow. Towards the end of August I was able to sell enough stuff on eBay to pay for the Smart Strings, so I purchased 14 flexible strips to be used on the roof line of the house. I liked the flex strips because they could be cut every three lights and I could make custom lengths to fit the house exactly. Once I had them in my hand, however I found it wasn’t quite as easy as cutting them as planned. Long story short, the data signal is only passed out in certain places, not every three LEDs as I expected, so I had to do some creative thinking to make everything work, but by the end of October I had all the outline strips cut and ready to go. I also had all the Smart String controllers and hubs built and tested.

Once I had the hardware to play with, I started playing with sequences in Vixen. I quickly found that programming 5000+ channels was not Vixen’s forte. I broke down and bought Light Show Pro during their Halloween sale, thinking it would solve my problems, but it has a big learning curve, and while I still like it and plan to make use of it at some point, I just needed to get stuff done. So I decided to re-program the smart string controllers into hybrid mode, where I could just control the entire string, not necessarily the individual pixels, just so I could finish up the sequencing in Vixen. My hopes are to not add anything major to the display next year, and to spend time learning LSP and using it to the fullest to take advantage of the smart strings.

It was around the middle of October that we began putting a new roof on the house. It’s going to be nice when it’s done, but so far it doesn’t look like it will be done in time to use the house for any lights. So It’s very likely I won’t get to use my new Smart Strings, or anything that I had planned for the house. I have already began setup on the side yard and am beginning plans to move some of the house pieces into the yard.

So, there will be a 2011 Christmas in Brewster, it just may not be quite what I had planned.

All Fixed

January 9th, 2011

The replacement Triacs arrived yesterday and all known problems are now fixed.

More Failures

January 7th, 2011

Well I’m up to 7 failed triacs this year. Most were from 2009, but I had one failed triac in my SSRez’s that were new for 2010. I guess some failures are to be expected. Just annoying. Well once the replacements show up and I get everything tested I can get them up for sale. I’m really anxious to do so, so that I can pay for my LE’s that are on order. I ordered 10 more triacs from mouser (and 10 spares for the LE’s while I was at it). Hopefully they come soon so I can get the boards fixed and move on to something else.

I ordered a light sensor chip from SparkFun that I hope to integrate with my Arduino in order to make a light curve generator. I will try and post more about that project as it progresses.

Very Aggrevating

January 3rd, 2011

I set out tonight to replace the bad triac on the one Ren24 so that I could test them one more time and get them posted to try and sell them. I unhooked everything, unhooked the heatsink, pulled the bad triac, and put in a new one. I tested everything and it all worked perfectly. I put everything back together and wanted to test one last time to ensure I put the channels back in the right order, and wouldn’t you know the next channel over is now stuck on… yup bad triac, so guess what I get to do tomorrow… I get to do it all over again!

I’m so disappointed because I really want to get them posted and get rid of them, but I certainly won’t sell something that I know to not be 100%. Grrr!!!

Lights are Down

January 2nd, 2011

I was hoping to get everything down yesterday, but it rained most of the day. Today I got up at 8:30 and went straight to it. It ended up being a fairly nice day, but I had everything in the house by 2:00. Now put away is a different story, but at least it’s all inside. I even got the two infamous strings of lights (which turned out to be three) out of the tree from 2009.