Creating the 2019 Display

The display for the 2019 display started many months ago. For this year, the original plan was to add 5 “candy cane” props (99 lights each), a stack of 4 nested arches, and a number of “sticks” of lights. Also needed to “fix” a number of light stings that went bad in a thunderstorm last year. Did a big order early in the year to purchase the needed items, created a display layout in the simulator, and even started programming a bit.

As the time got closer, I figured out how to create the arches and the sticks. Finally started working on building around August. Removed and re-inserted 150 lights for the megatree (only later to discover that one string of 50 were actually fine, but showed problems because the strip before it the chain got fried).

A week before Halloween, I tend to get the lights up on the gutters. Did that again this year. Always nice to have them available for some orange and purple lighting on Halloween evening. While putting them up, discovered that half the strip lights around the garage door aren’t working. I knew I had a couple bad pixels and intended to replace on of the 4 strips. Hmm, now looks like 3 strips may need replacing. Looked in to it and it appears that the first chip in each string died. I suspect that a nearby lightening strike over the summer had enough electricity in the air to take them out (I lost 2 bathroom fan timers, and my next door neighbor had a number of issues after that as well). Made the hard decision to just not have lights around the garage door this year. Hopefully I’ll figure out a better way to mount them and bring them back in 2020.

Figured out how to turn PEX pipe into the arches. Discovered that I had enough material to do a second set of 4 (and had the lights). So, why build one set when you can build 2!

Started setting many of the lights up in the basement for testing. This led to a few not so great discoveries. The new controllers purchased appeared to be having issues with the RBG strip lights for the arches. They all work just fine when using the “test mode” of the controller, but when controlled by software, not so much. Turn on Red, get Red, turn on green, get green, turn on blue, get green. Wait, what? Actually, as you changed the intensity of the lights, the strip just flickered and changed to random colors. Not good.

The other discovery, one of my cats likes to chomp on the RGB Strip lights. Found the bite marks, on a number of the strips. Ended up having to order replacements.

Getting close to crunch time, and the RGB strip control was still an issue. Support email requests to the company didn’t get me very far. After much experimentation, I did find a workaround. For what ever reason, if I tell the controller the is one phantom pixel (null pixel) on the output, everything works just fine! OK, except it won’t light up the first pixel on the string.

Next problem, Wisconsin Weather. Normally, I have been putting up the lights in the yard the day after Thanksgiving. This year, the temp got cold early, and even had snow on the ground in early November. Forecast showed a “warm”ish Friday, so decided to the lights out a couple weeks early, for fear of having to shovel the grass to put things out. This meant I had to finish building everything 3 weeks earlier than planned.

Got everything “built” by noon on November 8th. After a lunch break, started putting it up. Ran in to more issues when starting to wire up the props to the controllers. With the shorter days, ran out of daylight. Got through those issues, the following day, and finished putting everything up a few days later.

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