2006 Blog

I have been keeping a “blog” of design ideas for the year’s display.  Here is the log for the 2006 display.  It will be updated throughout the season, until the end of the 2006 lighting season.  The newest comments will be appended to the end of the log.

1/02/06:  Today was a major teardown day!  With some help from some new friends from PlanetChristmas (thanks Greg and Carl!) we got the vast majority of the display piled in the driveway and garage in just a few hours, and I continued (eventually with Cathy’s help) well into the evening.  I’d say about 75% of the display is properly stored.  I still need to go through all the mini’s, replace dead bulbs, fix bad strings, and properly wind them.  There are a few other displays that need repair.  But it’s nice to have so much of the display down already, just a day after it was running.

In last year’s log I mentioned projects for 2006.  I’d still like to incorporate some sort of home-built mechanical object.  The biggest issues are storage — I’m maxing things out pretty well, and I’m also to the point where I don’t want any more set up/tear down time.  We’ll see how this pans out.  I also got some really cool lights (they look like huge C9 bulbs, but made out of mini’s and colored mesh) after Christmas 2004, but didn’t get them used for 2005.  Finally, I have 32 additional LightORama channels sitting on the shelf, waiting to be deployed (again, didn’t happen in 2005).  I basically took last year off, as far as display design — needed to recharge and regroup.  We’ll see how things go this year — I just didn’t have the motivation for 2005, although the display (largely a copy of 2004’s display) turned out very nicely, got lots of nice comments, and we did manage to squeak in some new touches.

9/12/06:  Wow, I totally ignored this log so far this year.  Sorry about that!  Mostly, I’ve been not thinking too much about Christmas this year.  With a very energetic one-year-old, and lots of other projects vying for my time and money, it just didn’t make the priority list.

But…  the display for 2006 is most definitely in the planning stages.  At this point, I have some ideas for changes, but it’s a matter of how much can get done.  As mentioned above, I have a bunch of computer control channels just waiting to be used.  12 of these will go to the “big bulb” lights mentioned above.  The others — not sure yet.  I probably will not be adding all 32 channels this year, but hopefully at least 16 new ones.  Adding the channels not only means I have to figure out what to use them for in the display, but also means I have to go back through each and every musical sequence and add lighting events for each of the new channels — a painstaking process not unlike stop-motion animation.

The overall display will be a lot like 2005’s (which was a lot like 2004’s).  Given the right amount of time, I’d like to add some new slower sequences.  Most of our music is currently very up-tempo rock/techno/pop.  These songs make for a very ‘flashy’ display, but slow songs are nice too.  I did Queen’s Thank God It’s Christmas last year and that looked great as a slow song.  So we’ll have to see.

I’m also hoping to do some overhaul to the look and feel of this website.  A brand new logo has been designed, thanks to a little logo contest I ran, and will be making its debut shortly.  Anyway, stay tuned as I gear up my mind and motivate myself to get some work on Display 2006!

9/18/06:  I’ve been thinking more about the display.  For starters, we have debuted the new look for PlymouthLights.com!  I’m really happy with it, and there’s still more work to do, but I think it looks a lot better than the old way.  As for the display itself, I’m trying to decide how to use approximately 18 new channels this year (we actually only used 78 last year, due to the fact we decided not to use strobes at all, and didn’t replace them).  As mentioned above, 12 of these will go to the “big bulb” lights we have purchased 2 years ago but never used.  I’m toying with the idea of making a large Cross (to bring in more “reason for the season” to the display, and that would use a number of channels to make it animated (e.g. a chasing border, perhaps a color change).  This is a relatively new idea, and needs to be fleshed out.

10/3/06:  Wow, October already!  My main task right now is working on creating a wiring harness for the 12 “big bulb” lights that we will be adding this year.  It will be stretched under our large Merry Christmas sign and each bulb will be individually computer controlled– hence the need for a wiring harness to better handle the needed 12 circuits of power (vs. running 12 long extension cords to each bulb).  I’m a bit over halfway done with it, I think.

Next on the list is to finish allocating the remaining ‘new’ channels, and then get very busy working on sequencing.  And it will only be a few more weeks until some of the less-obvious things will start going up, as well as the icicle lights, which need to go up when the roof is not slippery.

10/26/06:  Time is going fast!  Since the last update, I’ve finished the wiring harness mentioned above.  I’ve also taken one of our old 16-channel boxes (which had two 8-channel boards in it) and broke it up into two 8-channel boxes.  These two boxes will be used mainly to control the 12 new “big bulb” lights, as well as a few other existing circuits.  The 16-channel box, part of our Mega-Tree control system, will be replaced by a new Showtime controller which is pre-built.  I have also completed the wiring harnesses needed for those channels, since the cords on the Showtime controller aren’t nearly as long as the ones on my old 16-channel box.

Since we’re adding 16 channels this year, we’re up to 96 channels total.  12 of these will go to the big bulbs, which leaves 4 additional brand new circuits, plus two that sat idle last year, since we didn’t use strobes.  I’m looking for a way to re-incorporate strobes into the display.  The mini-strobes weren’t effective the way I hand used them in the past, and the large strobes bothered the neighbors.  I’m hoping to find a way to use both of these and still avoid the earlier problems.  So that still leaves four brand-new channels.  I’m still hoping to use those for a new cross, which still has yet to be built.

New channels means rework to all of our old sequences.  So far I’ve only partially reworked one of them (and only for the big bulbs).  Lots of work remains.  Plus, I’d like to add a new song or two.  Why, oh why, can’t I ever convince myself to do sequencing on a lazy summer day on the deck?  It’s not like I need the lights up to do it…

11/15/06:  Progress continues at a rapid pace.  I’d say about 1/2 the display is up in terms of lights/displays, and probably closer to 3/4 in terms of time (the visible displays go up pretty quickly, while things like tree lights take awhile).  I’m probably about 3/4 done with the programming as well, although there’s a lot left to do — especially if I want to add a sequence or two, which I have not yet.  I’m writing this after finishing erecting the Mega Tree (minus the controllers)– a big job, but actually in terms of “work/coolness factor” ratio, it goes up pretty quick.

Tomorrow I have the day off of work, and hope to get lots of things out — Merry Christmas sign, Candy Cane fence, some of the wireframes, etc.  We’re on the home stretch now…

11/18/06:  The final rush is definitely on.  Today we got about 90% of the display up, but the majority of it is not yet wired up.  Sequencing is getting closer, but needs some work.  Thanks to a friend I met through PlanetChristmas, we’ll be adding a new cross this year.  He is doing the welding for me, and I’ll be (quickly!) wiring it up to run on four LOR channels.  I should be getting it back early this coming week and then will have to scramble to paint it, wire it up, and add it to all the sequences.

11/29/06:  We lit up tonight for the first time!  It was kind of a ‘soft on’, in that a few small things were not quite ready, but I always try to do that just to test out the brunt of the display.  A few minor problems were discovered and will be adjusted/fixed.  But, it’s definitely nice to be almost done with setup.  Too bad it was in the single-digits tonight so I didn’t really get to enjoy the display at all.

The new cross mentioned above looks awesome (I think).  I did it up in 3 circuits of clear mini’s (every 3rd bulb on a different one), plus a 4th channel of blue LED’s — so the effects possible with computer control are many.  I’ll be adding a page about this cross in the near future.  I was able to finish up the sequence cleanup mostly over Thanksgiving, and even add a new sequence, “Jesus Born On This Day” by Avalon.  If I’m feeling particularly enterprising, I may add a second one sometime soon.

12/6/06:  The display is going well so far.  And we have an exciting development:  FOX-9 TV is going to come out and do some live footage of our displays tomorrow night!  We’re excited and and a little nervous.  We’ll report back here soon with the report!

12/25/06:  Merry Christmas!  The display, and the season, have kept us very busy, and prevented us from keeping this log updated.  It’s been a great season and we’ve received many wonderful comments from people who have come out and enjoyed the display.  We are honored to have people come and enjoy our lights, and remember the Reason for the Season.

Earlier this week, the weather did not cooperate– we got a lot of rain, then freezing rain, then very slushy snow.  The temperatures hovered right at or just above freezing for several days, which didn’t lend itself to the water freezing up or drying out.  We were down completely for one day, and partially down for another day or two.

The FOX-9 coverage and experience was fantastic — I will post a link to an excerpt from it in the near future, as well as videos of our 2006 display.  Due to time constraints, the video and additional photos will likely not be published until early January.

Someone in the neighborhood enjoys our display so much that they donated four large, expensive inflatables to it earlier this week.  We were humbled and encouraged.  We are not even sure what we have yet, as we haven’t had a chance to examine them carefully, but we’ll try to find a use for them, or at the very least, sell them to raise money for other new displays for the 2007 season.  We were also honored to have a Jewish man and his granddaughter stop by unexpectedly on the final day of Chanukah and share the blessings of their faith with us, as they lit a Menorah on our front steps.  We were happy that they were able to incorporate our lights into their Festival of Lights.

We look forward to an exciting final week of the display.  Then comes the daunting task of tear-down and storage…

1/1/07:  Happy New Year!  With the ringing in of the new year means the ringing out of the 2006 display season.  This December’s weather was downright bizzare. On the 30th, we actually had to shut the display down because of pouring rain — our GFCI outlets just wouldn’t allow us to run.  When the rain continued throughout the night, and into New Year’s Eve Day, I was sure that we wouldn’t be running the display again.  I was quite bummed as we always like to view the display one last time.  But around noon, the rain turned to snow.  In the end, we got over 7 inches of the stuff — very bizzare since we have had hardly any snow all year.  It gave the display a whole new look for the final night.  We snapped some pictures which I’ll be posting shortly.

As is becoming tradition, we brought William outside to have some fun around the displays and play in the snow.  We even shot off some fireworks to ring in the New Year.  We had very little traffic due to the weather, but it was fun seeing the display one last time.  William absolutely loved the display this year and it was extremely fun being out there with him.

This has been a very gratifying year.  We continue to hear stories about people who make it a family tradition to come and view the lights– often multiple times throughout the season.  People from the neighborhood have let us know the really appreciate the display, and even several Plymouth police officers let us know that they really value it.  Unfortunately, the same nasty forces that have been around previous years have tried to get us down, but compared to the overwhelming amount of positive feedback, it isn’t even significant.

As is tradition, this is my final post for the 2006 log.  I spent the entire day outside doing tear-down, and will report on that, and some thoughts for 2007, in the brand new 2007 log.  See you there!

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