Christmas 2004 Updates

2004_09_01: My halloween decorations are the warmup for christmas - check 'em out!
While you are waiting for Christmas, consider using your PC's idle CPU cycle to help Stanford's medical research - click here for details

2004_10_01: The halloween decorations are up and the halloween webcam is quite the hoot! ;-)

2004_11_05: The Halloween "warmup" is over and it was outa control as there were over a million hits from almost 150,000 web surfers - I'm a little worried about what is going to happen at Christmas. I've taken all the Halloween stuff down and packed it away for next year, but starting work on my Christmas Stuff - come back after Thanksgiving to see that extravaganza!

2004_11_17: I have activated the environmental sensors (check out the local Colorado weather) and the near-real-time Christmas 2004 Web Stats. I'm a little behind schedule with the Christmas Lights deployment, so might not have things up until the first week of December.

Thanksgiving: Happy Turkey Day! Christmas Webcam is now using mod_perl ... this is a huge gain in terms of web server performance, but the real test will be if the Slashdot crowd comes by again this year. While mod_perl is unforgiving of poor code (I forgot to close a lock file in one corner case - yikes!), not much tweeking was required. Some misc. ApacheBench testing shows that mod_perl can sustain about 5 times the number of connections (under heavy load) than cgi_exec using the exact same code. Yea, I shoulda done this a long time ago! Read more in the Christmas FAQ which also talks about the other program (running as a daemon) that handles the lights/webcam/etc. (it communicates with the CGI using UNIX signals) and that remains throttled at one update/second - X10 is not a speedy protocol. Would be darn cool to get a satellite photo of it all. And if you are interested in buying some Christmas Lights, check out the auctions over at eBay. And on a less technical note, my folks flow into town (and brother Myke surprised 'em) today. Fed 'em a buncha turkey and fixings ... and after a walk, they all decided football/naps were "better" than putting up Christmas Lights ... so hopefully I can put 'em all to work tomorrow - looks like the weather will stay decent for a few more days. Here's a picture of the christmas helpers ... and SOME of the lights! ;-)

2004_11_28: Got the lights up before the big cold front came in ... so my Pink Flamingo's are a bit chilly in the snow, but at least I don't need to worry about pulling out my weed eater. I installed some new Beta webcam software last week and it's looking good, so have fun with it ... my neighbors have been "warned" that the light show is about to start up! ;-)

2004_12_01: I've added a handful of "cool pictures" from the webcam - so far, no free aerial photos ... but that will change in two weeks ... ;-)

2004_12_02: The folks at MajorGeeks.Com (true recognition!) have linked to the site and the USA Today Hot Sites Crew like it too - maybe because The HULK was caught reading USA Today by Christmas Lights?

2004_12_04: Holy Christmas Lights Overload Batman! Kim Komando mentioned my site to her (gulp!) 3.5 million fans Saturday morning - it was one heck of a "light show" tonight! We had company over (served the infamous BBQ Shrimp and BBQ Ribs) and my stud-muffin waterski friend Jon thought it was NUTS as there was thousands of hits/hour and typically 50+ people trying to change the webcam/lights at the same time (remember it is throttled to one/second - X10 is a slow protocol, plus the webcam is optimized for image quality over refresh rate). On a related note, mod_perl ROCKS - web server broke a sweat, but not much of one, so I think I might stand a chance against the Slashdot crowd this time. On the analog side of things, I did have one inline light fuse pop and take out 6 strands of 900 lights (yea, I know, only connect 3 strands togather) ... but hey, when you have 17,000 lights, it probably wasn't even noticed! ;-)

2004_12_05: Ummmmm ... while mod_perl continues to ROCK, I have a bit of a memory leak in the daemon program that handle the communcations and interface between the CGI and the analog stuff. It basically just sits in an interupt loop waiting for signals (USR1) from the CGI, gets the requested actions, then "talks" to the lights via X10 and other sensors/webcam via Ethernet, and provides the image and info back to the CGI ... but after bazillions of actions, the process size increased 800 MBytes - yikes! I restarted it, but it is growing again tonight so I'll need to look into this ... once again, stress-testing is good! ;-)

2004_12_06: Not only can web surfers turn the christmas lights on and off, but my kids like doing it via the X10 remote control! ;-)

2004_12_09: Seemed like we had a little more light changing than normal earlier this evening, so I finally took my laptop and (cruddy) microphone outside with me and recorded what it sounds like when 17,000 Christmas Lights are flashing on and off - the X10 Super Sockets have mechanical relays and you really CAN hear 'em click-clack-click. I'm amazed these have stood up so far - over the years, I've only had one overheat/fail (when FARK came by for Halloween/2004) and they just keep on clicking!

2004_12_11: Wil Harris from the British Inquirer wrote a funny article about my Christmas Lights/Webcam ... and commented about the "disasterous burn-out in 2003!" And I hadn't heard of it before, but Heise Online must be a fairly popular site as they are sending a buncha surfers here. And I've finally gotten around to creating a page with audio/sounds of the Christmas Lights (yes, you can actually "hear" 'em) which includes (thanx to Santa Elv), a hilarious jingle - Salutes True Men of Genius ... Mr. Too Many Christmas Decorations Guy.

2004_12_12:17:35: HOLY OUTA CONTROL CHRISTMAS LIGHTS BATMAN - as a Slashdot subscriber (highly recommended BTW) I see the /.'ers coming in the "Mysterious Future" ... so we'll have to see how well the webcam holds out tonight - I just called the neighbors to "warn" 'em ... read the blow-by-blow here and here is a screenshot of what it looked like! ... and I even have a 47 second movie of the Christmas Lights - while not that impressive IMHO, you get to see me provide an on-the-spot report! ;-)

2004_12_13: Among various writeups, I got a big chuckle out of this one from Aunty Spam's Net Patrol. BTW, I've noticed some lag (plus it squeeks) in the webcam movement (Slashdot didn't pop any circuit breakers, but they may have caused some "damage) and talked to my buddy who got it for me - they are FedEx'ing me a replacement set of bearings as this is a known failure mode under extremely heavy use.

2004_12_14: Hoping I get a package from Fed Ex today ... looks like it has grinded to a halt overnight. Update: No package, but should arrive tomorrow late morning - Wednesday, 12/15.

Good News: Unknown to me, Tech TV ran a hilareous segment on my lights, and I've also got a video of yours truly providing an on-the-spot live report ... check it all out on the Christmas Movies Page. And there was a front page article (with picture) in the local paper about the whole setup.

Bad News: More details in updates below, but Fed Ex didn't come by today, so no webcam tonight (Tuesday, 12/14) - contact Komar Customer Service for a full refund of your surfing dollars! ;-)

Good News: Going to be doing something a bit unusual tomorrow (Wednesday, 12/15) shortly after 6:00 PM (MST) ... a very UNIQUE perspective on the Christmas Lights with the help from Denver Channel-7 ... I can't disclose what it will be, but it is going to be SOOOO COOL ... and best view for folks won't be my website, but the Channel-7 6:00 News.

HOLY OUTA CONTROL CHRISTMAS LIGHTS BATMAN - the lights/webcam story went out on the AP Wires Nationally - someone make sure FedEx delivers the webcam bearings (darn /. did me in again!) tomorrow - I'll update this page around noon time (12/15) with details. Midnight Update: Fed Ex tracking says it arrived in Denver this evening, so I should get it. Noon Update: Arrived today and we are back in business - I was warned that it's not designed for such heavy duty cycles ... so take it easy on the lights/webcam ... yea, right!

With all the traffic/interest, the web server is a bit sluggish - will be interesting to see if the Associated Press (traditional media) is "stronger" than Slashdot (new media). Komar.Org has a full "money back guarantee" if you don't enjoy your surfing experience ... or just come back in a few days after this media rush is over ... ;-) BTW, my wife just informed me that despite being a media celebrity; Wednesday is trash day and I still need to take the garbage out.

Thanx to Air-Tracker-7, there is a new addition to the funny video footage of the Christmas Lights/Webcam with a rather unique view - Alek reports live from 1,000 feet straight up! ;-)

Ummmmm ... the guys over at Alice 105.9 just offered me $10,000 (on-the-air!) to put an ad up for them on my site - I said I'd prefer to keep Christmas commercial-free (except for the targetted/helpful Google stuff I put on all my pages) but it did get me thinking - that would buy a LOT of Christmas Lights ... was I nuts to turn this down?!?

My wife Wendy works for Natural Habitat Adventures which runs amazing wildlife trips to the far reaches of the globe - before we had two kids, I went on one cool African trip and she just got back on Dec 12th from a great trip with her friend Nancy. If this interests you, check out their web site or call 'em at 1-800-543-8917 and tell 'em (it's a small company - they all know me) that Mr. Christmas Lights sent 'ya! ;-) BTW, I made it clear to the owner of the company that I would not accept ANY compensation for mentioning them here (was my idea to do so actually) ... but I expect to continue to be invited to their jamming holiday parties! BTW, if you feel compelled to send me some $$$, I would ask instead that you simply donate it your favorite charity, and barring that, either an Alzheimer's foundation or something associated with Celiac Disease - both (unfortunately) have afflicted my family.

2004_12_17: Well dang, I got too many "updates" listed here ... but this one is the MOST IMPORTANT. Today (Friday, December 17th) is my wife Wendy's 40th birthday. Instead of making her breakfast in bed, I'll be doing a live interview for the Channel 2 Morning Show - yea, where are my priorities, but she insisted. She is truly wonderful to put up with the Christmas extravaganza and I love her dearly - she's a great mother and wifeee ... and without her, I'd just be a ... buncha Christmas Lights!

2004_12_18: And after a month+ of planning and work, my wife and I are walking out the door to the "Book Club" Party ... little does Wendy know it will be a SURPRISE party for her ... heh, heh! ;-)

SUCCESS - I won't bore folks with all the details, but check out the surprise on Wendy's face as she walked in the door. Since she has travelled all over the world, we had food and wine from all 7 continents (Antarctica was tough!), custom made digitally printed "world" table clothes (dining room and kitchen) , a full-size sheet cake featuring the world imprinted with a few trip pictures ("coolest thing we've done" said the bakery), and even a a continous slide show running at the party with pictures of her life ... and rest assured (thanx to my friend Jon Wade) that the entire sequence of her walking in the door was ADDED to that slide show by 8:00 for the viewing pleasure of the attendees! ;-) Everyone had a great time and later on in the party, Wendy was a bit overcome with emotion. Special thanx to her friend Nancy who helped pulled it off and hosted at her house and here is more about the Wendy Birthday Party. Despite the considerable distraction from my "15 seconds of fame" with the Christmas Lights, I was somehow (!) able to pull this off - don't ask me how!

2004_12_20: I have been doing continous updates to the inbound traffic analysis and this is quite facinating to see how the story has spread and the impact of various web sites.

2004_12_22: The folks over at EarthCam.Com have informed me that I made their list of 25 most interesting webcams of 2004 but despite this new fame, my wife reminded me that Wednesday is again trash day, and that it is still my job to take out the garbage. After a big post-Thanksgiving snow storm (see 2004_11_28 update), it has been mostly cold and dry and it finally melted ... but we got a few more inches of snow this morning (maybe we'll have a White Christmas), which makes the lights look a bit nicer with the glow - check it out tonight.

2004_12_23: I plan to ask my neighbors if I can leave the lights on until Midnight Christmas Eve ... my 6 and 3 year old want to make sure that Santa is able to find our house! This will also be beneficial to those Christmas Lights Fans overseas. It's quite popular outside of the US - some major web sites in England, Finland, Germany, Hungary, and Norway talk about it, I have done a couple of live interviews with Australian radio stations (turned down the morning shows in England, since that's 0230 here here - sorry chaps!), and I have gotten Email from every continent except for Antarctica - someone tell McMurdo Station about it! ;-)
2004_12_23_23:15: MartinG just wrote "Greetings from Antarctica - Christmas greetings from the German Antarctic Research Station O'Higgins" - check out their penguin cam from the bottom of the Earth - neighbors should be asleep, so I just turned everthing back on until Midnight just for you guys - enjoy! So now I just need an Email from the International Space Station - someone contact NASA and let 'em know!

Xmas Eve: Neighbors are OK with me leaving the lights on until Midnight tonight - Santa should have NO problem finding our house and Dirk-n-Kyle will be leaving out milk and (gluten-free) cookies along with a note for Santa. I see that the ever-funny JD over at UserFriendly.Org has me as their Link-Of-The-Day ... and MajorGeeks.Com has me back on the front page - a true honor - those guys rock!

Christmas Morning: I was up before 6:00AM Christmas morning, and not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse - excluding the one next to my keyboard! Santa DID visit last night and responded to the note left by my boys ... and looks like there are a few more presents under the tree - should be fun this morning, although it's all over in about 20 minutes. Merry Christmas to all!

Christmas Evening: It's a family tradition to watch The Sound of Music christmas evening ... but I instead spent a couple of hours and got caught up responding to all (over a thousand) of the Emails that people sent me. If you want a "pick-me-up", read how I succeeded in bringing Christmas Cheer to a lotta folks! ;-)

2004_12_27: The lights are real, but the webcam was a fun little christmas hoax that (except for a few bruised media ego's) most everyone got a good chuckle out of it - Ho, Ho, Ho! ;-)