LAFAYETTE — The lights are up and the
Christmas Web cam is working.
Or so says Alek Komarnitsky, whose claim to fame this time
last year was tricking the Internet community and media
worldwide into believing his Web site let surfers control an
extensive display of Christmas lights at his Lafayette home.
Komarnitsky hopes last year’s “15 minutes of fame” will
stretch to this Christmas season to bring attention to celiac
disease, an autoimmune disorder that afflicts both of his
The cause is “near and dear to my heart,” Komarnitsky, 42,
To bring renewed attention to his Web site and his cause,
the self-described technology “geek” has connected his
Christmas lights so that Web surfers can this year really turn
them on and off.
Komarnitsky is asking visitors to his Web site —
www.komar.org — to directly donate to the University of
Maryland Center for Celiac Research, and in exchange he lists
donors on his well-trafficked site.
Christmas cam, which is operational from 4 to 10 p.m. takes
pictures every 5 seconds with a time delay of 2.5 seconds,
Komarnitsky said. It includes a cam of Santa’s workshop —
Komarnitsky’s home office — and two views of his lights.
Also, as a fundraiser, the center plans to auction on eBay
the “Christmas Lights Webcam that Fooled the World,” an old
slide projector with duct tape wrapped around it that
Komarnitsky strapped in a neighbor’s tree last December to
fool reporters. Bidding begins Saturday and runs through Dec.
Komarnitsky’s notoriety last Christmas began after local
local media reports were published highlighting his Christmas
lights and how they could be controlled through his Web site.
After The Associated Press picked up the story, the story
circulated around the world.
The Web site appeared to work because Komarnitsky
programmed it so that a series of pictures with varying
Christmas lights turned on would rotate as people clicked on
the site. At one point, when Komarnitsky flew over the house
in a helicopter with a journalist, his wife flipped the lights
on and off to keep up the charade.
He later called the Wall Street Journal and admitted the
deception, which set off an even bigger media frenzy.
But this year, with a charitable cause to drive his holiday
hype, Komarnitsky said his user-controlled display is legit.
Pam King, director of operations for the Center for Celiac
Research, said so far she’s received about $1,800 from donors
who visited Komarnitsky’s site. The money will be used to
raise awareness of the sometimes-
misdiagnosed disease, and
to fund research.
“He’s trying to raise Christmas joy and raise funds for a
disease that really needs funding,” King said.
One out of every 133 people probably have celiac disease,
according to a 2003 study by the research center. For those
with the disease, consuming the protein gluten, which is found
in wheat, rye, barley and possibly oats, can cause bloating,
diarrhea, severe abdominal pain and weight loss.
The disease can be managed through a complicated diet that
forbids foods containing even minute amounts of gluten,
including breads, pizza, beer, cookies, and even some gravies
and soups. In the most severe cases, the disease can cause
malnutrition and be fatal.
Komarnitsky’s son Dirk, 7, progressed normally as a baby
until he was introduced to solid food. After that, he lost
weight and had constant diarrhea. Diagnosed with failure to
thrive, it took 18 months to correctly diagnose the source of
During that time, he lost so much weight that his mother
was worried if he would survive. He developed an aversion to
eating and often refused to eat.
A biopsy of his intestine revealed he had the genetic
disorder. His younger brother Kyle was later diagnosed with
the disease after displaying some of the same symptoms.
Komarnitsky’s site, a difficult-to-navigate maze of links
to articles about his hoax, Christmas blogs and information
about his family, earns money through Google AdSense, a
program that delivers business links relevant to his site,
although he said he only receives “pennies a click” and that
visitors must click on the actual business link for money to
It is not on his donations page, and that money does not go
to celiac disease, he said.
For Andrew Batson, owner of Broomfield-based Brass Key
Property Brokers, Komarnitsky’s charity and cheer were a
combination worthy of support.
“In addition to the donation, Alek’s Web site gets a lot of
traffic,” said Batson, who donated $1,000 after visiting the
Web site. “It was a good site to have a link to our Web site
and support a good cause.”
On Monday, an unannounced spot test of Komarnitsky’s Web
display was working. A reporter drove to his home with a cell
phone and was able to give instructions to someone on the
other end of the phone who clicked on the Webcam from a remote
computer while the reporter watched the lights flicker.