Christmas 2005 Technical Requests for Assistance

As can be imagined, there is a bit of technology involved in having a web site where people can not only view your christmas lights, but turn them on and off. There's a couple of technical problems that it would be great to get some advice on. Email me at xmas2005 AT with your thoughts/suggestions.

BTW, most of the Email I get is a bit simplistic - a common example is someone sends me a code snippet of how to talk directly to theWebcam for the streaming video. Sounds good ... but not scaleable since the upstream 768 Kbits/sec speed of my Comcast connection would support a few dozen connections at most, although the webcam web server would probably die first. Scalability is a real challenge to deal with - remember this website has semi-survived several Slashdotting's and international media attention. So pls do think hard before Emailing me your technical ideas, but thanx in advance for doing so.

Offloading/mirroring of videos. The vast majority of my web site is simple text and (ignoring the biggest BBQ Grill!) small images. However, I have some nifty holiday videos - halloween and christmas - that can be kinda large and could slow down the web server. I'd like to offload/mirror those elsewhere for the holiday season to insure that the christmas webcam stays as snappy as possible. UPDATE: Special thanks to Dominic of Vidahost who has graciousely volunteered to help out. Dominic is a director of Thermal Degree, a UK-based web design and hosting company setup by two friends in early 2004. Vidahost, launched just over one year ago, is their hosting branch which offers shared and reseller hosting. Dominic also handled some mirroring of, a collection of video footage from the tsunami of December 2004 which attracted thousands of visitors and nearly 1Gbit/sec of traffic. And he is also a member of the World Wind community at

Better handling of the JPEG refresh. Read more in the 2005_10_06 webcam update entry, but streaming video isn't being done because I could not get re-broadcasting from the web server working. Instead, JPEG's are FTP'ed up every few seconds, and the web page does a Meta Refresh. But this gives a 1/4 second or so "flash" on the image. Is there some (simple!) way using perhaps Javascript where I can preload the next image, and then just flip to it without that flash? Remember that this is real-time, so the next image isn't available at initial load time. Seems like some sort of AJAX type solution would work, but I don't know much about this - anyone want to provide a simple example? Remember it MUST be scalable and please follow the KISS principal. BTW, it would be soooo cool to do streaming video, but this will almost certainly have to wait until 2006.

Generic Web Server Help. I'm running Apache2 on a 3.2 GHz Pentium Linux box (1 GByte of RAM). The scripts itself are all home-grown Perl code (not releasable) and thanx to mod_perl (which ROCKS) are able to sustain quite a bit of load. Having small images helps - I saw hundreds of folks online at Halloween and it should be capable of supporting a couple of thousand people before it hits a bandwidth limit, although I may run out of RAM and/or bump into a number of connection issues first - yes, I turn KeepAlive OFF in httpd.conf. Fire away with any other optimization suggestions for Apache and/or mod_perl. BTW, I did ante up the bucks for a second server (to handle just the webcam images), but I'm just a Joe-Schmo, not some big corporation. I asked my ISP if they could help out a bit (they politely declined), so if anyone out there has a fast (i.e. 100 Mbit/sec) connection and some extra bandwidth (several hundred GBytes for the month) drop me a note as I'd love to offload the handful of semi-large video files for the month of December.

Any TIVO people in the Denver, Colorado metro area? I was real fortunate to have someone TIVO some of the TV coverage from 2004 - how often do you get to be on the 6:00 News ... in the ABC-7 helicopter a 1,000 feet over your Christmas Lights! I have no idea what will happen for 2005 (the media is probably still miffed) but it would be great if any TV coverage happens to have it captured and then shared for others to see. This stuff tends to go down really fast, so drop me a note in advance at xmas2005 AT if you might be able to help in this area.

Video conversion assistance. Most of the movies - halloween and christmas - are in either MPEG2 or WMV format. The former isn't that efficient, and the later is Windoze specific ... so it would be great if someone who knows a bit about video (I don't) could do a quick conversion into a smaller, more universal format; my guess is either MPEG4 or Quick-Time.

Generic User Interface Feedback. Yea, I know my web site looks like it was designed in the 1980's. And no, I'm not going to use the latest gee-whiz Flash, Shockwave, etc. technologies to make this oh-so-super-cool. As mentioned above, AJAX has a lotta buzz these days and is kinda interesting - but maybe in 2006. But if you have any simple ideas on the User Interface on how it could be improved, pls let me know. Yea, I know the Javascript Santa cursor is over the top (and sometimes he gets lost), so don't nag me about that one - I like the Big Red Guy! ;-)