2010 Blog

It’s become a tradition over the years  that I keep a blog of design ideas for the year’s display.  Here is the blog for the 2010 display.  It will be updated throughout the season, until the end of the 2010 lighting season.

11/19/10: Well, it seems every year I start this “blog” a little later than the previous year.  I used to be good about keeping this up all year, but as life progresses, kids came along, etc, I find my time at a premium.  Let’s do a bit of catching up.

After two bad years of tear-down, last year’s tear-down was the worst yet.  As you may recall, we got dumped on for the entire month of December, and the snow kept on coming throughout January.  Some display items (e.g. the arches) were half buried, and everything was frozen in cement-hard snow.  We usually pride ourselves with getting the vast majority of the display packed away on New Year’s Day, the remainder done over the next week or two, and everything nicely packed away by the end of January, so we can move on to other things.  Last year, although we worked for about 15 hours on New Year’s Day, it was a little hard to even notice any progress by the end of the day.  I chipped away at it, with much help from Cathy, more and more over the following weeks.  There was no hope of pulling up any wires so I just had to try to free the display items and hope to recover them later.  Finally in late February we started getting some warmer temps, and the snow miraculously receded.  There was a week or two period that I’d come home from work, walk the yard, and find a dozen or so cords that were now able to be rolled up and put away.  This sort of process doesn’t lend itself well toward proper storage, and by the end of March I was so burned out that things kind of just stopped.  What was stored was great, what had been tested was tested ,everything else just kind of got stashed.  Which made for all the more work with setup for 2010.

Anyway, we enjoyed a wonderful summer and didn’t think a whole lot about the display much of the time.  The one thing I did play around with was the idea of replacing the lights in some of our larger trees with LED RGB spotlights, which could theoretically light the tree in any color from below, with easier setup than stringing the lights up in the trees.  We ran a few tests with a few different products, and decided that the effect wasn’t going to work for us, unfortunately.

Over Labor Day weekend we attended a decorator’s event in Chicago and got to see some new products first-hand, and meet in person a lot of the people that I get to chat with almost daily on the decorating internet forums.  We came home with a couple new display items and much new knowledge, although it was a bit too late to apply to this year’s display.  I already have some ideas bubbling around my head for next year, however.

So as usual, setup started right after Halloween, and for the first few weeks we had amazing setup weather.  There’s nothing like stringing Christmas lights in 60 degree weather in a T-shirt instead of freezing your fingers with windchills in the teens (or negatives, for tear-down).  However, that took an abrupt turn for the worse when an early snowstorm came in a week ago.  The prediction said “up to 3-5 inches”.  I feared the worst, but figured whatever came couldn’t last long, as I don’t remember EVER setting up a display in significant snow.  I woke up the next morning to at least 8 inches of incredibly wet, heavy snow covering absolutely everything.  Thankfully we had much of the display elements up, but very little of the wiring done yet.  And as of today, much of the snow is still there, with more weather to come this weekend, supposedly.

I took today off of work and we got much of the display’s wiring done.  I’m working on revising our computer sequencing for some of the changes/additions in this year’s display.  Since I took the summer off, the play list will be the same as last year, unless I decide to do some new sequencing in December after the show is in progress and add it in later.  That’s the consequences of taking the summer “off”, but my boys need my attention and I’d rather play with them, frankly.

So while the music will be the same, there will be a few tweaks to the display to keep it fresh.  We continue to add in more LED lighting to make things more colorful, theoretically easier to maintain, and energy-efficient.  Last year we added a video element to the display, and this year we’re upgrading that with a much better video projector.  We’re using some new LED wall wash fixtures on the front of the house, which will replace a few of the MR-16 fixtures we used in the past (some of those still get used also).  The new ones are built up from kits and installed in the enclosures from halogen work lights.  They’re pretty neat, and I hope the effect is as nice as it is in my head.  And last but not least, we have a new “mascot” for the display, which you’ll have to come and see (and I’ll post more info on in the “construction” section soon.  We stopped actively “expanding” the display a few years ago when it got to the point where I felt it was big enough in terms of setup time and scope, but we always like to change things up a bit, add new elements to replace older ones, etc. to keep it fresh, both for us and our viewers.

More to come…

11/30/09: Tonight we “went live” and ran a test show for part of the evening, to identify any technical hurdles that are still remaining.  The major issue is with our video setup – the software that controls the lights and plays the video is not cooperating and displaying the video properly.  I have a support request in with the vendor, as well as posts on their support forums and hope this can be resolved quickly.  There are also some less major problems that I need to fix in the next day or two.  In particular, our new “mascot” has an issue and needs my attention.  I had to disable him once I realized it tonight.

The past week has been incredibly hectic.  The weather, which was beautiful for the first part of the month, turned crazy:  First about 8″ of very heavy, wet snow – snow so heavy that it unplugged lights and literally broke the plugs off of 7 or 8 of our light-up candy canes.  These kinds of repairs make last-minute setup issues crazy.  Then the last few days I’ve been working out some technical hurdles with the new video projector (unrelated to the issues described above).  And I’m having my usual “start of season” issues with X-10 commands not being received properly.  Hopefully I can get these worked out soon so I can move onto photos, video, and better content for this website (as well as just enjoying the season).

12/8/09: We’ve been plagued by technical gremlins this year.  Most of them have not been visible to the average visitor, but are important to solve nonetheless.  It’s been taking up most of my free time, instead of doing things like updating this website.  But tonight I did get a bunch of still photos taken and should have an update soon.  A lot of snow is predicted for this weekend, so I wanted to get some before this happens.

12/12/09: On Saturday approximately 18 inches of snow was dumped on the entire display.  Three foot drifts completely engulfed much of our Nativity (baby Jesus was totally invisible,  and Lucy/”Mary” was a disembodied head), parts of our 3′ high arch fence and some candy canes were totally buried, etc.  Then the plows came through and created a huge “wall” along the entire frontage of our display with the snow berm pushed from the road..  It’s depressing to put so much work into something and have it essentially ruined by an overzealous snowfall.  We did not run the display at all last night, but were able to get it dug out and going with a late start tonight.  It’s definitely not “100%” and it is very unlikely it will be for the remainder of this season.  Bummer.  I need to decide if it’s worth shooting any video at all this year – right now I’m leaning toward no.  I do have raw footage of our 2009 display I can edit to at least get some more recent videos on this site if necessary.

Teardown should be very challenging this year, I’m afraid.

12/19/09: Tonight I finally published some much-needed updates to this website, including pictures of this year’s display taken right before the big snowstorm buried it.  It’s now been a week since the big storm, and after a lot of digging and a lot of ‘dealing with it’, it has still gone on.  People seem to be staying to enjoy the light show so it’s probably worse in my mind than it really is.

Overall the display has been running well.  There has been some mysterious issues with our Light-o-Rama hardware and software that have been getting the best of me including some “stuck channel” issues (channels that stay on when they’re not supposed to, until they’re told to shut off again by a later lighting cue) and the controller running our Merry Christmas sign isn’t doing dimming properly (something that perhaps others don’t even realize is ‘wrong’).  For next year I plan on replacing much of the communications cable that connects all our controllers together out in the yard, and hopefully that will resolve the first problem.  The second one needs more investigation, likely in the off-season since there’s not a lot I can really do without bringing the controller inside to look at it.

I’ve also had to resort to running the static items that are controlled via X-10 using separate software since this year’s version of the Light-O-Rama software is not turning the lights on and off properly.  This causes a minor issue at the very beginning and end of each night, where the static displays can turn on or off out of sync with the animated lights.

I’m still not sure if I’ll be shooting video this year.  More snow is predicted for tomorrow night – perhaps more than another 6″.  As if we’re not buried enough already…

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