Alek's 2006 Christmas Lights & Decorations

Christmas 2006 is OVER and the 15,000 lights have been taken down - highlights include:
Chime in on the christmas blog with your comments Santa-Homer Cursor: Remove - Tiny - Small - Standard - Big - HULK'in

BTW, while I appreciate the folks who have asked if they can donate/PayPal to cover the costs of the lights and (wind powered and carbon offsett'ed!) electricity, I've never asked for donations and don't plan to change that. While it is a bit of work to put up all the Christmas stuff, I do it anyway for the neighborhood kids and the web site is just my way of saying "Merry Christmas" to folks around the world. If you feel compelled to make some sort of contribution, my kids have celiac disease ... so make a donation to the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research - tell 'em Komar.Org sent 'ya! ;-)

Closeup of Christmas Inflatables

christmas inflatables

The HULK after the First Christmas Snow

Christmas hulk

Merry Christmas from Komar.Org

Christmas Greeetings

The view from Christmas Webcam 1

Christmas Webcam 1

The view from Christmas Webcam 2

Christmas Webcam 2
For reference, here is the christmas 2005 webcam updates. Most notable was after doing a simulation in 2004, I did it for real in 2005 - there were (three) real webcams (really!) and you actually could turn my 26,000 Christmas Lights on & off via the web. The best writeup (and investigative reporting) was by the Rocky Mountain News - read that and more.

2006_09_09: Since my holiday webcams have been fairly popular over the years, I ante'd up the big bucks for a 3rd (and subsequently 4th) dedicated servers to handle the images. I'm running mod_perl with Apache2 (KeepAlive turned OFF) on Linux (of course), so the whole setup should scale pretty well. One web server will handle the main web site with a separate dedicated web server handling image refreshes for each of the three webcams; that's the maximum amount of load balancing I can do for this real-time application. Each web server has a 100 Mbps connection, so the combined throughput is 400 Mbps powered by a total of 11.6 GHz of CPU power with 6 GBytes of RAM - bring on the slashdot effect!

2006_10_01: The warmup for Christmas is the halloween decorations webcam. I did a major re-write of the underlying Perl code to make it easier to maintain and fix bugs. Most noticable difference to the end-user is the use of Javascript (versus meta refresh) to make the three second webcam updates smoother.

2006_10_13: Last of the Halloween Decorations are put up - final count is 7,000 lights, plus giant inflatable Frankenstein, Pumpkin, Witch, and Homer Simpson - D'OH!!! ;-)

2006_10_31: WOW - what a Halloween night! I'd estimate over 200 trick-or-treaters. The kids had some great costumes and said the halloween display ROCKED. The adults (who enjoyed the dixie cups of Port that I poured for them) also had some appreciative words. Check out all the action in the time-lapse halloween movies and the funny commentary in the halloween blog. Come back for halloween 2007! ;-)

2006_11_01: Some new features added during Halloween was an "Instant Message via webcam" capability was added along with use of the Google Maps API to show where web surfers are coming from. Read/see more halloween messages & halloween maps and the equivalent will be the christmas messages & christmas maps. The "profanity filter" code (unfortunately) had to learn some new words and as always, a number of coding bugs surfaced when things were stress tested - great warmup for Christmas!

2006_11_08: I installed a high-gain antenna for my 802.11g wireless network. Recall that last year I used a Pringles Can which requires accurate pointing. Initial tests indicate that half the neighborhood can now see my (security protected) wireless network! ;-)

2006_11_16: Turned on webcams 2 & 3 - hope to turn on webcam1 in the next week or so.

2006_11_17: With assistance from the candy cane fighters, the lights have been moved upstairs from the basement crawl space into a staging area by the front door - watch the time-lapse christmas videos showing the great help I got. Weather forecast looks good for the next week, so I'll be deploying the lights. Dirk has suggested we go with "HO HO HO" in the front yard - I like it!

2006_11_20: I did a data dump of the geolocation data for the month of November and so far, 96 countries have surfed on by - see the christmas maps - WOW! ;-)

2006_11_21: I signed up for Wind Power several years ago for my electricity - figured I should do my part to be environmentally correct. And yes, people have asked where the windmills are on the webcams (!) - they aren't on my property - it's a program through Xcel Energy. So I decided to take it to the next step and purchase a Carbon Offset for the electricity consumed (even though it already comes from a "clean" source). The last two years, my total electrical usage for the month of December was just over 2 MegaWatt-Hours. So even though I'll have less than 26,000 lights this year, I punched that number into the Carbon Counter and got 1.13 tons of CO2. And then I made a donation to (transaction #VSHJ0C6297A2-350607) to cover twice that. They even sent me a thank you certificate. And while bazillions of people around the world would like to see my lights ON, if you are environmentally inclined, you can help out by turning them OFF! ;-)

2006_11_22: Third webcam came online tonight and I want to do a special thanks to my neighbor's (the Keller's) who have graciously allowed me to mount the webcam at their house and (along with my other neighbors) agree that my lights are wonderful holiday spirit ... even though they blink like crazy! I'd also add that Dr. Don Keller did some great Laser Eye Surgery (Lasik) on my wife - if you live in the Denver Metro area, check 'em out at Boulder Eye Surgeons - tell 'em that Alek from Komar.Org sent 'ya! ;-) And oh yeah, I turned on the X10 controls for a couple hours of shakedown testing this evening. I swapped out the X10 Firecracker transmit module since it was acting a little strange, but otherwise things worked quite well.

2006_11_23: First, hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving - my wife Wendy made a wonderful (gluten-free) Turkey dinner for us. The 60F° weather has been nice - sure beats settings up stuff in freezing/blowing snow. More lights to come, but I'm past the halfway point ... and the HULK is now up on the balcony - now I just have to find the "Santa Hat" that my Mother made for him last year. And we are up to 101 countries that have surfed on my so far in November - see the christmas maps - #100 was Trinidad & Tibago from IP address

2006_11_25: We're approaching the "finish line" as lots of stuff was put up in this great weather. I also found that "Santa Hat" for the ... HULK (!) so the Big Green Guy is ready for the Christmas season. I am having an issue with Stepping Santa - a piece of plastic that reverses him back up the ladder broke off, so I'll have to fashion a replacement. BTW, I have to thank my friend Jon for the cute kid on that page - see his Steamboat Springs Blog for more of 'em.

2006_11_26: Hit the front page of DIGG today ... so traffic bumped up a bit. Good stress test for the 4 dedicated 100 Mbps servers (running Apache/Linux/mod_perl) and they never hiccupped under the load. I did learn some "new words" for my profanity filter as a handful of trolls were potty-mounting the IM on webcam.

2006_11_28: Dave at RedHotRadio in the UK made this hilarious advert about my site - gotta love that accent and ending. Added "daylight shading" to the christmas maps and updated number of countries that have surfed on by - up to 119. Colder front moving in with snow predicted tonight, so raced to finish things up - final tally is 15,000 lights. Less than last year's 26,000 ... but HEY, this year we not only have Elmo, we got Homer Simpson - D'OH!

2006_11_30: Have uploaded some pictures from the last couple of days to the main christmas lights page. Everything has been working well in the 6" of snow we got - even the inflatables which struggle a bit with the added weight until I brush it off. Had a 34 minute outage of my home Internet connection today starting at 1258, but otherwise it has been solid. Main issue has been the potty-mouths and spammers that pop in periodically to the christmas blog and/or the christmas IM messages. One would think they would leave a family-run website that celebrates the holidays (with a charity twist) alone ... but I guess not - sigh.

2006_12_02: Webcam1 burped this afternoon - required a power reset and back in business - they just do this about once/week for no explainable reason. There was a letter in our local paper encouraging people to be more imaginative with their christmas displays, rather than just more lights. While it doesn't appear my response will be published, I had fun writing it and you might enjoy the tongue-n-cheek Republic of Boulder humor - read about the Wind Powered Carbon Neutral Christmas Lights.

2006_12_05: While I've been generally happy with the D-Link DCS-6620G webcams that I use, there are a few annoying issues that could be easily fixed in firmware and benefit me and other users. The Christmas Lights are actually a pretty tough imaging application, since it is in low light with bright contrasty colored points. Read more (with pictures) about the D-Link Webcam Issues. BTW, I still wish I knew how to rebroadcast the MPEG4 video feed from the DLINK DCS-6620G webcam rather than my current approach of FTP'ing up JPEG's that are refreshed every few seconds. This is a pretty non-trivial problem, but if any techies (or someone from D-Link) who has actually done this can provide some pointers, please let me know.

2006_12_08: The Boulder Daily Camera says this is Boulder County's Brightest and includes a nice front-page picture.

2006_12_13: Everything has been running pretty darn smoothly as web traffic continues to build. Last night was totally nuts due to a double-header grandslamfest when this site hit the front page of both DIGG and Fark at the same time! The four dedicated 100 Mbps Linux/Apache servers handled it well as over a 100 GBytes of christmas images were sent. Each webcam has its own server and never hiccupped. The main server where the CGI and X10 controls run recorded a peak load factor of 199.70 but never went down - thank you mod_perl. The only thing that broke was the "number of viewers" counter - last recorded value was 1,238 people viewing/controlling things ... and climbing fast! ;-) And I did fat-finger a quote in the main Perl program that messed things up for a minute - you haven't lived until you are editing live code when your server is getting slammed! Needless to say, the lights blinked like crazy ... check out the December 12th DIGG/FARKfest christmas videos.

2006_12_14: The Rocky Mountain News selects this site as one of their top-10 favorite Christmas Displays and includes a half page picture. Previous coverage by them in 2005. I also uploaded some radio interviews - MoreFM in New Zealand, KPAM in Portland, Oregon, and American Public Radio.

2006_12_20: Controllable Christmas Lights Battle Major Colorado Snow Storm! Two feet of snow piled up here in the Republic of Boulder, Colorado. Time-lapse videos of the blizzard include hilarious "plowing" of the driveway by my neighbor in her 4WD Wagon. See more pictures of the Colorado SnowStorm. Live continous coverage was provided by these webcams as Elmo, Frosty, Santa, and Homer Simpon battled the elements while under control of Internet Surfers - D'OH! ;-)

2006_12_23: I moved webcam3 downstairs to keep an eye on the tree and chimney - i.e. it will act as a Santa Tracker to see if we can catch the Big Red Guy on video again per this picture.

2006_12_24: Christmas Eve! WOW - tons of web traffic today from people worldwide, plus hit the front page of Slashdot and (again) Digg. Read the Christmas Eve, 2006 play-by-play. Merry Christmas to everyone!!!

2006_12_25: Didn't notice until this afternoon that the Front Lawn HO-HO-HO and sidewalk stuff are working sparodically due to presumably an electrical short buried under the snow somewhere - will have to investigate more tomorrow.

2006_12_28: Controllable Christmas Lights Battle Colorado Blizzard - Round #2!!! So after the two feet of snow last week, another major snow storm is forecast and it starts coming down hard Thurday. I venture out that evening with the 4WD Subaru in blizzard conditions to pick up my Mother-in-Law who had flown in that night - she had been turfed last week by the previous storm. Halfway home, my wife calls me - POWER OUT AT THE HOUSE. She says I won't be able to get into the garage - of course my first thought is "Damn, webcams are down! About 5 miles from the house, everything is dark and no traffic signals. While I don't have a generator to power the christmas lights (would require 6,000+ Watts), I use my desktop UPS to power the cable modem & router, and then my laptop to update the site. The last webcam image was received at 20:54:37 and needless to say, surfers noticed when all three flipped to OFFLINE status. Remember two of the webcams are inside the house and they only draw 5 Watts, so if this is an extended outage, I cannibilize extension cords and the UPS should handle this minimal power draw for quite some time. Airport might be closed, Highway shut down, and half of Colorado paralyzed, but can't let some puny Colorado Blizzard and Power Outage take this site down! ;-)

2006_12_29: Power restored and back online. I had the UPS turned off in order to conserve power, but based on the time offset of the blinking alarms clocks, I must have woken up when the power came back on. Turn on the UPS, cable modem & router come up, webcams auto-connect, and first image at 01:15:10. Total outage time is 4 hours and 21 minutes.

2006_12_30: So after all the previous excitement, I figured the last couple of days of December would be boring as web traffic diminishes. But then my main PC crashes and fails to boot - turns out it was a registry problem; damn Windoze - everything else run Linux. I start to futz with that and then realize several Christmas Lights zones aren't working - turns out a GFCI outlet tripped - probably some ice melted and grounded it. Reset it and it didn't trip again, so that is OK. A short while later, I realize that I had cross-wired Santa/Homer and their zones were reversed. And for some reason, the X10 zone 6 circuit that Frosty is on is being erratic again. Finally, I hack the registry, get my main PC back up, and put the IM on laptop back for all to see on Santa's Workshop Cam. Lets hope tomorrow - New Years Eve - is exciting in other ways! ;-)

2007_01_01: Happy New Year to everyone. Despite a bit too much champagne the night before, I skied stumbled down Winter Park/Mary Jane with my wonderful wife Wendy. I'll be shutting down the webcams and taking down the lights ... or at least those that still aren't buried under a couple of feet of snow! ;-)

2007_01_09: A lot of Internet surfers worldwide (157 countries) enjoyed watching & controlling the Controllable Christmas Lights for Celiac Disease but all good things much come to an end as I have turned off commenting on the Christmas Blog. Over $16,000 has been raised for Charity. Surf on back for Christmas 2007 and Merry Christmas from! ;-)

Listen to the hilarious radio advert from RedHotRadio in the UK