Just about Ready – 2020

Almost everything is complete. Missing some hooks to put out two items (should arrive tomorrow). I have re-secured all the items the wind took down. Added more attachment points for all of them (why I ran out of hooks), and hoping this will make it the entire season.

Everting is in place (two items temporarily until more hooks arrive)

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Wind is not my friend

Tonight, we are getting some very high winds. All the props above the garage have come down. So far, the ones around the front room are holding, but I question for how much longer. Not too much damage to the snowflakes, but will need to spend some time popping the pixels back in to many of the spots.

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Ladder work done

Took advantage of the unusually warm weather to take care of all the work needing a ladder (Note: I really hate ladders).

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2020 Season – Work has started

What better thing to do on a hot summers day, than to think Christmas! Yes, the work for the next season is well under way. New props are ordered (early July delivery), and “in theory”, the layout of what I will be including in the display has been decided on. I only say, “in theory” because last year, I kept changing things up to the last minute before putting things out in the yard. I’m sure that will happen again this year, but will have to wait and see. After all, there is still 5 months before it goes up in to the yard.

Already have 4 songs ready to go. Three are from last year, one new so far.

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Small Change

Have one issue with the show yet that I have been trying to work out. The short version – the computer that plays back has a video card in it that is too old. What does the video card have to do with running lights you ask? Good question. For one of the songs, there is a lighting effect that uses an OpenGL shader. This is just a fancy way of saying, there is a lot of graphics processing going on to decide what each bulb should be doing. The play computer doesn’t support OpenGL v3. When it gets to that part of the song, all the lights change to a cyan color (which the docs say, your OpenGL isn’t supported).

There are a couple of options to fix this.

One, get a new play computer (too expensive).

Two, use the gaming computer I do the programming on. Don’t want to do this either as it means I have to leave a power hungry computer on.

Three, get a Raspberry PI and use the Falcon FPP player softwaret

Tonight, I picked option 3, and got a raspberry pi 4 on the way home from work. A few hours later, it is up and running. xLights (the software I use to do the lights) has support for the player built in, and can upload the config and song files easily. The one song that had issues plays just fine now. Down side, two other songs don’t really play. The music plays, but the lights don’t. The other songs work fine. Guess I have one more thing to figure out yet…

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Another bad Pixel

I hate thunderstorms. Last year a near by strike fried a bunch of the pixels in the display. The rain this past weekend must have had a nearby strike, as now I have one pixel that is just “stuck on” in blue. The other colors still work on it, but it never goes out – even when told to go off. That makes for 2 bad pixels in the display… Grrr

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2019 Display Up and Running

I launched the full show tonight. There are 2 songs I still want to update a bit. Final count, 3914 individually controllable “bulbs” in the display. Each one can be any color I want.

Final props that made it to this years show:

  • Five candy canes with 99 lights each (new)
  • 34 “sticks” of 10 lights each (new)
  • one megatree with 16 strands of 50 lights each
  • one matrix for displaying text (tune to radio station, song titles, etc)
  • 5 mini Christmas trees
  • Lights in 8 bushes and the arborvitae
  • 200 bulbs along the gutters
  • 8 arches in two groups of 4 (new)
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Getting closer

Replacement controller for the “dumb” lights has arrived and is now installed. Back to getting all the programming done.

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Another one bites the dust

As luck would have it, I have another hardware issue. The controller for the “dumb” lights in the dormer windows appears to have gone kaput. Now it’s decision time, get a new controller, or adjust the show to not use those. Leaning toward getting a replacement controller.

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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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