2001 Blog

Starting in June, I created a blog of design ideas for the 2001 display.  Many of these ideas did not make it into this years display due to time and budget constraints.  However, the log follows, with the latest comments at the end.

6/11/01: We got a great deal after Christmas 2000 on more than a thousand new mini-lights, as well as some yard displays.  I currently plan on not using many of these lights in 2001 as we are reaching limits on storage space, and set up and tear down time.  Perhaps we’ll figure out a solution to these problems, otherwise they’ll be available to us for new displays or replacement strings in future years.

We do plan on using the new yard displays we purchased.  We have three new colored “pop-up” trees which I’m toying with the idea of controlling with a “light organ” which converts sound to light flashes.  With that, we’d also add Christmas music to the display, with small speakers, and perhaps also with a small FM transmitter.

Our Linus shares the Gospel display, which was new in 2000, will get some updates to the slide show.  I would like to add better cooling to the projector box to prevent the meltdown situation we saw last year (the problem as solved for the end of the season last year, but temps were anywhere from -10 to 10 degrees during that time, and the projector box was still in the high 80’s.  Too big of differential for me…).  We’re also using a different projector lamp, which is supposed to run cooler, with lower wattage and hopefully still adequate brightness.  I’d also like to add a circuit to shut down the projector if the lamp burns out– in that case, I’m afraid the projector will freeze up.  Finally, we’ll finish replacing the remaining warped slides from last year’s meltdown, and perhaps change a few of them.

6/27/01:  I’ve decided to learn more about hardware design and specifically the Atmel AVR series microcontrollers.  This was the same controller used in our Merry Christmas Sign, but my friend Mike Bechtold did all the hardware design and much of the programming for that.  My first real project is going to be a ‘projector-box protector’ which will protect the projector in case of over- and under-temperature, and also shut it down in case of burned-out bulbs.  More on this (probably on it’s own page) as I get further along.

7/17/01:  I’ve done a lot of websurfing, and some experimenting on the AVR microcontrollers.  I have a mental design for the “projector box protector” which I need to formalize soon.  I’ve purchased some prototyping supplies on eBay, and will be ordering many more parts from Digi-Key and others soon.  Summer has been very busy, and we’re going on vacation soon, so I’m not sure how fast all of this will proceed.  As I hinted above, I plan on adding an AVR section to this website once I get far enough along.

9/9/01:  The past couple of months have proved even more busy and unpredictable than I could imagine.  I have done a bit more design work on the “projector box” circuit layout, but haven’t been able to order any parts and do any real prototyping yet.  I still haven’t ruled out getting things done by the Christmas season, but am afraid that time is passing very quickly…

10/3/01:  Due to time and budget concerns, I’ve all but ruled out the “light organ” and radio transmitter ideas for this year.  Oh well– it will give me something to do for 2002.  We’ve also been considering an addition to the house, which could possibly be going on during the Christmas season.  This would obviously cause us to scale back considerably on the display as a whole this year.  Things are very up in the air right now, in many other ways as well.  Projects I’d definitely like to finish (actually start!) are the projector-box controller, and an animated American Flag to commemorate the lives lost on Sept. 11, and provide a tribute to our great nation.  Check back here in the next couple of weeks, as I’ll have to start the microcontroller projcts by then, or cancel them.

10/30/01: Well, what can I say.  This has been a very trying year for Cathy and I, particularly the last four months.   One thing we definitely know is that there won’t be any remodeling work on the house during the lighting season, which is good in that the display won’t be affected.  However, I’ve cancelled all microcontroller projects, as well as the other electronic projects mentioned above.  Gotta have something for next year– right?  This year’s additions will be primarily in the way of store-bought items we picked up last year.

Last year, I was running dangerously low on available power, so tonight I added a new 20-amp circuit, which will help things out tremendously.  Basically, without this new circuit, I wouldn’t be able to add any new lights at all.   We’ve been slowly getting some lights up in trees and on the fences.  I personally don’t like to put the noticeable stuff up until very late in November, so we’re concentrating on lights only right now.

11/5/01: My outlook is a notch or two better than when I wrote the previous entry <grin>.  Things are actually going very well with the setup of Display 2001.  We were blessed with unseasonably warm weather the past few days, and over the weekend, Cathy and I got a lot of the lights up.  In fact, I feel we’re ahead of the game– there’s only a few things left to do that I don’t consider “too noticeable” so I’m taking the night off and going to go check out some of the Christmas items for sale at some of the local outlets!

Also, last week, I found out that Doug Lawrence of Sylvan Lights will be making a stop here on his 2001 road trip.  It will definitely be interesting to meet someone that I’ve know of through the Planet Christmas web board over the past few years.

11/18/01:  Our display is getting REALLY close to finished now, and I’m getting really excited.  This is definitely going to be our best year ever.  This weekend, we went ahead and put all the “noticeable” stuff up, including the Merry Christmas Sign, most of the Linus display, and a lot of brand new features, including trees of lights and some Santa and snowman figures.  There’s only a few little touches left.  In addition, the new slides for the Linus display came back from the processor and look great.  I’ll have the projector box finished in the next day or two, but probably won’t bring that outside until the first “lights on” night.

The visit with Doug happened last Thursday, and it was definitely fun to talk with him about display ideas and other topics.  We were probably the smallest display on his tour list, and I didn’t have things ready to show yet, but I hope he had a good time nonetheless.  I know I did.

The next log entry will likely say that the display is now online!  It will probably accompany a major update to the FischersPlace.com Christmas section to include pictures of the new display!

11/23/01:  Tonight was “Lights On”!  Unfortunately, we had a steady rain falling, which is very unusual for this time of year in Minnesota.  This caused our GFI outlets to trip constantly, until I finally just unplugged everything.  Hopefully, this flukey weather will end soon, and the display can go back online tomorrow.  Other than the rain-related problems– everything is working great!

11/29/01:  The display has been performing quite well, even after getting almost a foot of snow early this week.  The heavy snow collapsed a few of our displays and shrubs, but everything was back in business after an hour or so of work.

The first round of pictures of the display is now posted on the web!  Stay tuned for more pics from my better-quality film camera, as well as some video clips.

12/13/01:  What a strange year of weather we’ve had!  First a ton of rain, then a bunch of really wet heavy snow, and now we’ve had temp’s in the 40’s regularly again.  I kind of hope we get a little snow for Christmas, but at least I don’t have to worry about cleaning off all of the displays (or the driveway!)  The display has been performing well, and we’ve been getting a lot of good comments.  This year, we were listed in both the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and the brochure put out by KARE-11 (NBC), so I hope a few new people find our display.  I’m particularly happy with how the projector box for Linus has been performing, even with temps in the mid-40’s.  The new cooling system seems to be working fine.  The bulb I’m using this year should last all season, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

12/17/01:  We just got a call from KARE-11, our local NBC affiliate, that they plan on coming over to shoot our lights to show on the news.  They’ve been featuring a home every evening throughout the Christmas season.  We are honored to be chosen for this, and excited about the possibility of so many people seeing our lights who haven’t before.

There’s still a couple of weeks of lighting season left, and I’m already thinking about what to change for Christmas 2002!  We went driving around to see other’s displays last night, and will hopefully be able to do more of that in the next couple of weeks.  We definitely like the displays that use solid-colors rather than all clears or multi’s.  We’ve started transitioning to this type this year, and will be adding more of this in the years to come.  I’ll start outlining some of my initial thoughts for 2002 once this season is over.

12/28/01:  This has been a very good year for our display.  Firsts for this year include being listed in the Star Tribune, as well as on KARE-11 and KMSP-9 newscasts (on Christmas Day on channel 9!)  As a result of this coverage, we’ve had limo’s and tour busses cruise by, which we’ve never noticed before.  There’s less than a week left of “on-time” for this year, which means it’s time to start thinking about the 2002 display!

1/01/02:  Happy New Year!  Today marks the last day of our 2001 display.  It’s always a bit sad to go out, view the lights for the last time, and pull all the plugs.  We’re leaving up the American Flag display for now, as well as our holiday projector with Happy New Year for a bit.  Soon I’ll start a Christmas 2002 page with a log similar to this one– I already have some great ideas, and hopefully many more will come, and some will actually make it into the display next year!

1/17/02:  All of our lights are down, if not yet packed away.  Packing lights is probably my least favorite part of doing the display.  We are also quite short on available storage, so it’s always a bit of a puzzle to get everything up and out of the way until next year.

This will be the last entry in the 2001 log– it’s been a great year!

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