2007 Log


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For the past several years (e.g. last year), I have been keeping a "blog" of design ideas for the year's display.  Here is the blog for the 2007 display.  It will be updated throughout the season, until the end of the 2007 lighting season.  The newest comments will be appended to the end.

Click Here to go to the bottom of the log (latest entries are last)

1/01/07:  Welcome to the 2007 log!  Today was a major teardown day!  Unlike last year, where I had plenty of help, this year was mostly moi, with help from Cathy and even a little from William when they could.  That fact, and the fact that we got over 7" of snow, which followed freezing rain, did not make for a quick job.  I had planned on bringing the display in piece by piece and going right to storage -- but since everything was coated with snow and ice, that just wasn't going to happen.  Instead, things got piled in the garage, where it was, for awhile, warm enough to melt them off.  Later it cooled down, and I brought a few things in the entryway to melt off.  I piled as much of the rest into the garage, where I"ll be firing up the heater shortly to warm it up so they can thaw and drip-dry overnight.  

I'm thoroughly exhausted!  We got the mega tree, Merry Christmas sign, mini trees, part of the candy cane fence, and most of the infrastructure down.  A small fraction of that is actually stored properly, the rest is sitting in piles in the garage, yuck!  And quite a bit of the display is still outside, buried in snow <sigh>...  This is the part of doing a display that makes me want to quit!  But I never could...

As for thinking ahead to 2007 -- frankly today's setup has burned me out to the point where I hardly want to talk about it!  But I'll try...  As I mentioned in last year's log, we're really maxing out on storage, as well as setup/tear-down time.  I'd still like to do some sort of mechanical object like a Ferris wheel, but I'm not sure that's going to happen this year, just like it hasn't for the past two...  I'm also thinking of enhancing or replacing the candy cane fence with something computer-controlled.  We shall see.  I still have an additional 16 computer channels that went unused this year -- we used 96 LOR channels and I own 112.  

Anyway, I'll keep this log updated throughout the year.  Once tear-down is complete, I'll probably take some time to recharge, but hopefully will jump back in earlier than last year, so some changes can happen.

1/13/07:  Teardown is always tedious, but we're now very close to done.  As of last weekend, we had everything out of the yard and all lights down and inside, except for the icicle lights, which we're at the mercy of the weather to get down (have to wait until the snow is off of the roof).  As of today, almost everything is stored away-- we have one small crate of mini lights to go through yet (test, repair, and store), then we'll be all done, again except for those darned icicle lights.  

The after-Christmas clearance sales were horrid this year.  I was hoping to find scores of cheap LED lights, but no such luck.  I found a very small quantity for half price, but that still makes them darned expensive in my book.  I'll use those somewhere next year.  I did pick up two very nice LED rope light trees at Target at 75% off.  I'm looking forward to adding more LEDs as the years go on.

9/27/07:  Wow, I have not been keeping up this log this year.  Here's a brief update of what's happened since January:

As noted above, I didn't have any luck coming up with many LED's on clearance.  Last spring, I found a dealer who was willing to sell bulk LED's at a price much less than retail (but still way more than standard mini lights).  Against my better budgeting judgment, I bought a number of red and green ones to be used on a new display for 2007 (more on that below).

About the same time, a decorator from California was downsizing his display.  I was able to pick up 2 16-channel LOR controllers for a good price.  With the addition of a 16-channel board I've owned for 2 years but never used in the display, this will mean 48 new channels for the display in 2007.  

All of these LED's and new LOR channels will be used to create an "LED arch fence" across the front of our property, where the candy cane fence has resided in the past.  They will consist of 12 arches, with 4 channels per arch, two red and two green.  The idea is that the arches will be able to "chase" up and down the front of the yard, and do color-changing effects from red to green.

This summer was spent doing lots of summery things, and thinking very little about Christmas.  We also had a new son.  I've been trying to get the "decorating bug" even as I would prefer that summer wouldn't go away...  I did manage to construct 7 of the 12 arches so far, and have the supplies I need for the remaining 5.  I also spent tonight going through some audio -- I really would like to majorly change up the songs we use (several of them  for 4 years now).  The realities of time constraints will likely dictate that it won't be a total new show, though.  I'm shooting for at least 3 new songs, a major rework of the "promo bumpers" that play between songs, and the retiring of several old songs (at least for this year).  We'll see how that pans out.

Now that we're in the groove for getting the 2007 display done, hopefully we'll see much more frequent updates on this page...

10/2/07:  It's hard to believe that October is here already.  That means that I have about a month before I need to shift my focus from "behind the scenes" stuff to "setting up lights".  It's hard for me to get into the Christmas mood when I'm still longing for summer to stick around quite a bit longer!  

Since my last entry, I haven't gotten any display construction work done at all, but I did actually start working on LOR channel configuration and worked on programming our first new sequence tonight.  Even though this will be our 5th animated display, programming is still a very tedious process.  Indeed, as we add additional channels (our first year we had 40, this year we will have 144) it gets harder.  Fortunately, it's not a linear relationship between time and number of channels, as I simply have a bigger palette of things that can be controlled, and I don't have to vary the state of every channel at every beat of the song -- if I did, it would look terrible!  (Some of our older sequences, which were built up as channels were added over the years, are starting to look like that, which is another reason I'd like to retire some of them).

10/12/07:  Status update:  As of tonight, all the arches have been built, I've finished sequencing one brand new song, and updated 2 others with the new channels and some other effects.  Next on my priority list is to finish building out the controller boxes for the new channels, sequence at least two other brand new songs, and work on cleaning up all the others.  I'd like to get much of this work done in the next couple of weeks, because after that, I'll need to start concentrating on actually getting the display set up.

10/17/07:  Status update:  As of tonight, updated one additional "old" sequence (including some major rework of effects, and shortening it slightly, which required a lot of rework) and am maybe 1/5 the way done with a brand new sequence.  Other things have been eating up my time...

11/3/07:  Halloween has come and gone, which means that the display setup season is in full swing.  We've made some good progress setting up some initial display items, as always, concentrating on lights in trees and other things that aren't quite so visible.  Also as always, we have the icicle lights up since getting on the roof can be dangerous later in the month depending on weather conditions.  The weather has so far cooperated nicely and I have lights up in many trees, and I've started staging some of the more visible displays so that once the calendar allows, we can hopefully set them up more quickly.

I also got the bug the other night that I really need to create a new flag for the display.  Our old flag net light is really showing its age, and needs to be retired.  I don't really want to remove the flag from our display, especially since that could have unintended political overtones.  Therefore I'm looking into creating a new one, out of LED lights, that will be displayed in the same location but made out of a window-screen backing.  More to come on that idea...

11/9/07:  The weather really turned colder this week.  Last weekend I was out working in a sweatshirt most of the time, now it's been in the 20's and low 30's most of the time.  I've also had very little time to do anything outdoors.  

On the other hand, I've been getting some behind-the-scenes things done.  I've allocated out exactly how our 144 channels will be deployed this year (it's getting a lot trickier than when we started with 40 channels!)  I've done a little bit more sequencing, although there's much more to do there.  I've also been working on creating some wiring harnesses for our new arch fence.  This came out of the realization that I'd probably have to buy at least 48 new extension cords if I didn't create something.  Instead, I'm making some custom harnesses out of some supplies I had on-hand.  My hand is sore from crimping dozens of little butt-splice connectors onto wiring harnesses.  But they're basically done -- I just have to test them and color-code the outlets for proper hookup.

The LED flag project is also a go -- the red and blue lights have been completed, and I'm looking for a good, cheap source of white ones.  LED's sure are expensive...

This weekend I'm hoping to get more outdoor setup done as well.  The mega-tree should go up soon...

11/16/07:  Got the Mega-tree up last week, although it's not wired yet.  I time-shifted some work time this afternoon and got a good start on the larger displays.  Hoping tomorrow is a productive day as well.  Sunday, I'm going to have less time to work due to some trumpet commitments, but I did take the day off on Monday so hopefully I can catch up.  

Behind the scenes-wise:  I have created some (hopefully cool) new bumper spots to play between songs that feature clips from some of our favorite Christmas shows and movies.  Should be a nice change of pace from the announcements we've been using for years now.  I have to program some light events to go along with those (otherwise the display would be mostly dark while they play).  Not sure yet if I'll treat them like any regular song/sequence like I did with the old bumpers, or just do some color fades, chases, etc.  I also have one more song I'd like to sequence for this year, to replace one of our older sequences we've been running already for 4 years... 

I had a scare with one of our new 16-channel boxes not working the other night, but I got it working well enough that it will hopefully work out ok in the show this year until I can ship it in for repairs in January.

11/29/07:  It's been forever since I've updated this-- that's because we've been either busy with the display, busy with 1000 other things in our lives, or busy with family over the Thanksgiving holiday.  Setup is about 95% complete or more.  I'm hoping to do a "soft run" tomorrow night.  Some things are still not tested, but I guess that's what a "soft run" is for.  

Today I had our large Merry Christmas sign on for awhile and it wasn't working at all.  The custom controller we use for it seems to flake out on us every year.  I'll have to take a look at it on tomorrow or Saturday and see if I can coax it back to health.  If not, I guess I'll have to wire it up as a static display for this year.  Next year I'm really going to have to consider putting it on the LOR network of real computer control along with the rest of the show...

11/30/07:  Well, we're running the show tonight, as a test run.  I'm noticing a few issues I need to get figured out, including a programming error in our arch fence and the fact that I had to bring our static lights up manually since the X-10 didn't do it properly.  But overall it seems to be performing.  I''ll need to walk around the yard and look closer but I've been watching through the window and I've been pleased so far.  We took the Merry Christmas sign controller inside to work on it (kind of a semi-major undertaking to put it down and back up) and low and behold it worked just fine indoors. Brought it outside and it still worked fine. I'll have to keep an eye on it. Next year I think I'll finally have to bring that onto the LOR network...

12/2/07:  Yesterday was to be our official "lights on" night. But about an hour before the lights were to come on, Cathy came inside after taking the dog out, and told me a channel on our arch fence was on. Knot in Tim's stomach commences... Tim turns off the show controller (which was playing holiday music with no lights at the time) -- channel stays on. It's still snowing, so the two of us go out, brush off the controller box, open it up -- and the board is covered with a light mist of snow. OUCH.

So at that point I knew I wasn't going to be having a show. I feared losing an entire 16-channel controller, and I don't exactly have a spare stash of those in the storeroom...

The good news is that after we dried it off, everything worked, except the channel that was stuck on was still stuck on. I figured that perhaps the triac got shorted out or some such -- I was inspecting the board and I find a small hair of wire across the triac. I unplug the board, remove the hair -- and it works as good as new. Hurray!  Since it was still snowing out, we waited until today to check the others (made for a very apprehensive night/morning at church wondering what I'd find in there...)  We found a few more boxes with snow in them, one significant enough to bring in and dry off.  Fortunately it too still works.

I've used these enclosures for years with no issues. I determined that the snow was coming in through a very small gap in the hinges -- and I've hopefully got that fixed for the two enclosures that were brought inside. But the wrinkle is that I can't do a proper retrofit without bringing the boxes inside -- which is a major pain.  I've done a temporary retrofit and am also exploring the ways I have the controllers mounted in the yard.  I just need to get through the season and then I can retrofit the boxes for next year...  

I'm crossing my fingers for a show tonight (supposed to start in 15 minutes from the time I'm making this post.  What a scare...

12/18/07:  This season we've been crazily busy, and I haven't even placed display pictures or videos on this website yet (I'm working on it as we speak...)  The display is running fairly smoothly.  Traffic has been steady but not overbearing, which is a good thing.  We chose not to be listed in the Star Tribune this year to help ensure that traffic did not get bad.  So far at this point it looks like plenty of people are still finding the display.  This was probably helped by the fact that KARE-11 decided to devote much of an 'Extra' on Christmas displays to our display.  This is a bit ironic, considering that we were going to attempt to avoid media attention this year altogether.  They 'snuck by' by telling us they were doing a story on LED lights.  We figured they would take a couple quotes from us, and also from a lot of other local decorators.  Nope -- they just featured our display!  Oh well, it was a lot of fun to do and didn't cause any traffic issues at all. 

It's kind of hard to believe that we're only a few days from Christmas, and I actually need to start thinking about taking down the display soon.  The season is so short, but it's such a wonderful time...

12/29/07:  Only two more nights of lights... that's kind of sad.  But this year I'm actually ready for them to go.  I've been fighting GFCI (ground fault) issues for the last few nights, and tonight it really got ridiculous.  I actually ran one circuit inside to a non-GFCI outlet and another I didn't have another circuit easily available so I ended up hooking the baby monitor to it, and every time I heard static that meant run out to the garage and hit reset...  Sometimes it lasted 30 minutes, sometimes five...

I still have not taken any video of the display.  I'm hoping the weather and the circuits cooperate tomorrow, and I'll try.  It would have been nice to have videos up during December when people are looking for lights, etc. on the web, but it's just been far to busy this year...  Better late than never I guess.

I fear this tear-down is going to be horrid.  Underneath several layers of fluffy snow is a hard crusty icy layer, which is locking down all of our wiring.  I've had to dig up a few for maintenance and it was very difficult.  Unless things go better on Tuesday when I'm hoping to tear much of the display down, it may be a long, hard process...

12/31/07:  Sadly, the lights just clicked off for the last time of the season.  As has become a tradition, we went outside, walked around the display, took some cute pictures of William, and set off some fireworks to celebrate the new year.  It's a lot of fun but sad to see the yard go dark until next December...

Tomorrow will be a long, cold day of tear-down, and I fear it won't be nearly as productive as in past years due to the deep, icy snow we have in the yard.  The snow lead to some challenges this year -- we had to shut off some inflatables permanantly due to them being too buried and icy, and were fighting GFCI circuit trips for the last few days of the display (culminating in me running a cord out a window for the last couple nights, since it wasn't worthwhile to dig everything up for just a couple more nights...

All in all it's been a great year.  We just had a family draw us a BEAUTIFUL picture of our display and leave it at our door tonight.  Things like that are really touching.  We aim to touch lives in a small way with what we do, and sometimes you never know if it happens or not, and to what degree...  Although we don't do this for 'compliments' it's definitely nice to see the months of hard work is appreciated once in awhile...

Happy New Year, all.  This will be my last entry for 2007.  The story continues at our 2008 blog, complete with tear-down reports, as well as initial thoughts for next year.  

Come Back Soon for more information about the Fischer's 2007 Christmas display!

This page was last updated on Wednesday, December 31, 2008

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