Longmont Daily Times-Call, Tuesday, December 28th, 2004

Next to the Wall Street Journal Article, I consider this the next best on in terms of accuracy and completeness. Only boo-boo is that I'm 41 not 42 years old ... although this is actually the fault of my brother who supplied the incorrect information to them. Richard M. Hackett took the great picture to the right that went around the world, not only online, but also in print - page A2 in the December 28th, 2004 Washington Post - as I heard places as far away as Perth, Australia ran it - you haven't lived until you do a Google News Search for your unique last name and see hundreds of results! The article is reprinted here with permission from the Longmont Daily Times-Call since they don't keep archival copies online.

Holiday Web cam a hoax
Lafayette man reveals secrets to light trick
It might as well read April Fool's Day on the calendar.
By Melanie M. Sidwell, The Longmont Daily Times-Call

longmont daily times call picture

Alek Komarnitsky of Lafayette, the self-described technology geek with good intention, revealed Monday via a story on The Wall Street Journal Web site that his holiday Web cam, which supposedly allowed Internet visitors to flick on and off his Christmas lights, is a hoax. Komarnitsky preferred to call it a "technology challenge." Or "good, clean fun."

But some might see the 42-year-old computer specialist for a defense contractor as nothing more than a trickster, a deluder "a media whore," as one Web site deemed him.

His intent was Christmas cheer, Komarnitsky said. Three years ago, he began to dress his house with layers of holiday lighting and posted on his Web site that visitors could control the lights via a Web cam in a neighbor's tree.

Actually, the Web site shows 32 different digital photographs and, with a sophisticated computer program which Komarnitsky wrote with a friend, gives the illusion that the Web site's visitors controlled the show. The software can plunk flying airplanes, moving cars, a pedestrian and different levels of snow on the ground, depending on the weather, into the so-called Web cam images.

The novelty of this unbeknownst Christmas prank got the attention of "the traditional media" like newspapers and broadcasters, Komarnitsky said, after bloggers and Internet junkies spread his Web site link around. "I knew when I came out (about the hoax), there would be some people up in arms," he told The Daily Times-Call on Monday night as he stood out on his driveway. "For some, it might ruin the experience. But for most, it's still pretty fun."

The only time any of the 17,000 Christmas lights on Komarnitsky's home blinked Monday was when he tinkered with a hand-held wireless remote control.

A few weeks ago, when Komarnitsky rode in a helicopter with a Denver television crew for a bird's eye view, it was his wife inside the house who clicked the lights on and off.

And the Web cam controlled by Internet visitors from all parts of the globe? It's nothing more than a "goofball contraption with lots of duct tape ... with an extension cord" going into a neighbor's house, Komarnitsky said. It's not even plugged in.

Komarnitsky defended his actions on his site, www.komar .org, by saying, "There was never any malicious intent here." He anticipated that some people, including those in the media who reported on him, might vilify him for the stunt. He hopes that most will get the joke.

Some Web site visitors wrote to Komarnitsky about the holiday fun his Web cam inspired, and one Web site dedicated to geekdom had a letter campaign to get Komarnitsky on a late night television show - but this was before the curtain was drawn back.

Marjie Hargrave, the neighbor whose tree holds the fake Web cam, called Komarnitsky a modern-day "Music Man," who brought optimism and hope to people under the disguise of a scam. "Whatever he does, he does it with such zeal and fervor, and I admire him for that," said Hargrave, a managing director of finance for an energy company. And, yes, Hargrave knew about the hoax: "The lights never went on and off."

While Google placed four advertisements to other sites on the Web cam page, Komarnitsky said he only received "mere pennies" if a visitor clicked on a link each time. "This was certainly not a money-making effort," he said. "Whatever revenue I made is going to help offset the cost of my wife's birthday party," which was held last week, Komarnitsky said.

On the eve of his public outing, Komarnitsky said he planned to disconnect the phone so as not disturb his 13 relatives staying over for the holidays. As for next year, Komarnitsky said he was unsure if his holiday lights, or the Web cam, would go on.

His brother, Myke, said he hoped the public would have a sense of humor. "Sometimes people can't take a joke. Sometimes I can't take his jokes," he said. "But people who know Alek know he's a good person."

Neighbor Robert Whitaker, though he didn't even know Komarnitsky or about the Web cam, called it a "very clever ruse." "But this is a tempest in a teapot, if anything," Whitaker said. "I don't think it should bother anybody." The retired industrial builder, who lives three houses down from Komarnitsky in the gated community, said, if anything, he "thought the house was a little overdone" with lights. "It sounds like a fun practical joke. I can't imagine anyone being upset or concerned about it. But stranger things have happened."