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Christmas Lights for Celiac Disease

By hulkster in Internet
Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 09:57:30 AM EST
Tags: News (all tags)

It's a sad state of affairs at K5 when the front page is a 15 word haiku ... so how 'bout a holiday story since it is the Christmas season. The Christmas Lights Webcam features 26,000 lights and 3 inflatables along with 3 webcams where you can view it all. And in case you want to annoy the neighbors, you can turn those 26,000 lights on and off along with inflating/deflating Santa, Frosty the Snowman, and Frankenstein. Yes, Internet folks around the world can control Griswold's lights.

The web site suggests Internet surfers who enjoy the show consider donating for Celiac Disease Reearch and so far, almost $3,000 has been raised for the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research.

But there is some history to this story ...

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It all started back in 2000. Alek Komarnitsky (disclosure: yours truly) started putting pictures of his thousands of Christmas lights on the Internet. He mentioned casually to a friend in mid-2002 that he was using X10 to turn his lights on at dusk and off at 10:00PM via 3 different zones. The technically minded friend points out that is 8 different combinations - a light goes on in Alek's head.

He could write a program that uses 8 pictures (representing the different state conditions of the 3 zones) and provide the illusion that people were turning his thousands of Christmas Lights on and off. Sure was a lot better than trying to use crappy Webcam technology that was available then. It debuted in 2002 with moderate interest in the online community and when it showed up on Slashdot, the 1 Ghz Pentium with 128 MBytes was blasted into oblivion at the end of its T-1 line. But everyone loved it and assumed they were actually turning Alek's lights on and off.

So Alek did it again in 2003, adding "pan/tilt/zoom control" to the webcams by basically having the perl program do an on-the-fly crop/resize of the 8 six mega-pixel still images shot by a Canon 10D DSLR. Many more people enjoyed turning the christmas lights on & off along with moving the webcam around. Slashdot shows up again and while Alek's server puts up a valiant fight, it is knocked outa commission for the evening. Once again, nobody suspects that the only lights they are changing is the image on their computer screen.

Alek reviews webcam technology in 2004, but it still basically sucks. But fortunately, Perl and the GD graphics library are again up to the task. So with various refinements, he put up a halloween decorations webcam and then does it again for Christmas. By now, it's an annual tradition for Slashdot and they pay a visit for Halloween and Christmas. Alek's 2.4 Ghz Xeon on 100 Mbps struggles for about an hour or so, but thanks to mod_perl, hangs in there pretty good.

But then it gets REALLY interesting as the Mass Media picks up the story and the Associated Press sends the story everywhere. A media frenzy ensues and despite the webcam being "broken" that night, several impatient TV stations report live from Alek's front yard. And the next day, Denver's ABC-7 has him broadcast live from their Helicopter for the 6:00 News. The lights actually blink (that time) for all viewers to see. Alek's wife stays home ... along with the X10 wireless remote.

Alek is overwhelmed as even web surfers from Antarctica write to say they enjoy turning his Christmas lights on and off. In actual fact, the lights don't blink - Alek's neighbor's aren't sure whether to believe their own eyes or the media. Story continues to spread as original reports are reprinted. NOBODY from the press circles back to check it out

So ... two days before Christmas, he contacts the Wall Street Journal ... and 2 days after Christmas, they publish their story and Alek discloses it was a fun little hoax. Needless to say, the media howls at this turn of events as does the Slashdot crowd. The ever-so-serious 4th estate didn't take kindly to being duped, and some of the inaccurate reporting post-hoax rivals that from beforehand as they take some swipes at Alek.

Much more could be said ... but from 2002-2004, the webcam/webcontrol was 100% a simulation - i.e. the only lights changing was the image on your computer screen. For 2005, it is absolutely 100% real - you are actually changing the 26,000 christmas lights (1,000 more than Clark Griswold) at Alek's house and seeing the results on one of the 3 D-Link DCS-6620G webcams. Alek's neighbors are very supportive - except the one night he left it on all night. Supporting the effort is 5 servers with an aggregate bandwidth of 500 Mbps. Alek isn't too worried about Slashdot this year.

More importantly, the almost $3,000 raised (so far) for Celiac Disease Research is real.

And oh yeah, the media has circled back for 2005, and needless to say, are doing some real reporting this time. Here's what they have said so far and Alek has this to say about one definitive report.

2005_12_10: James Meadow from the Rocky Mountain News writes (on the front-page) the entertaining and informative "Lights back on Web in flash" and be sure to also read the accompanying hilarious piece by Tim Skillern titled "Can we prove this is a hoax?" Let me tell you, the Rocky guys were GOOD - very professional and thorough ... and even (occasionally) cracking a smile as they grilled me, ruining the stereotype of the dry, humourless media type. In addition to numerous phone calls and Emails, various folks from their organization swung by a total of 5 times (all caught on video by the ChristmasCams) with one of those being a "secret, nighttime stakeout of his house." Great skepticism and fact-checking on their part - the world needs more of that. Top notch reporting (reminds me of my dealings with the Wall Street Journal last year) and I've highlighted this definitive report by the Rocky Mountain News.

I was glad to see them mention the fund-raising effort for Celiac Disease Research, and my Christmas wish is that this type of increased awareness about Celiac Disease will result in other parents not having to go through what we did with our first-born and eventually a cure will be found.


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Related Links
o Slashdot
o 15 word haiku
o Christmas Lights Webcam
o University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research.
o on the Internet.
o it showed up on Slashdot
o Slashdot shows up again
o halloween decorations webcam
o pay a visit for Halloween
o Christmas.
o the Associated Press sends the story everywhere.
o has him broadcast live from their Helicopter for the 6:00 News.
o Alek discloses it was a fun little hoax.
o the media howls at this turn of events
o Slashdot crowd.
o Here's what they have said so far
o "Lights back on Web in flash"
o "Can we prove this is a hoax?"
o (all caught on video by the ChristmasCams)
o fund-raisi ng effort for Celiac Disease Research,
o Also by hulkster

Display: Sort:
Christmas Lights for Celiac Disease | 27 comments (11 topical, 16 editorial, 0 hidden)
HA! (none / 0) (#2)
by cbraga on Sun Dec 11, 2005 at 10:26:31 PM EST

I'll believe it if next year you make a huge clock display and put it next to your lights, not hidden inside your office.

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p
Simulated outdoor clock was present in 2004 (none / 0) (#4)
by hulkster on Sun Dec 11, 2005 at 11:20:34 PM EST

Actually, there was a clock visible from the outside cam last year when it was simulated. From the christmas hoax writeup:

"And oh yeah, I got a chuckle out of putting a clock up in the window and having the hands of the clock display the right time (it actually started out 3 minutes slow, but then gained a minute a day, until it was 4 minutes fast, and then reset itself) - again, all computer trickery!"

But it was fairly dim, so you could only make out the shadow of the hands, versus the well-lit one in my office (aka Santa's workshop) for 2005. Plus I put the latest Wall Street Journal next to that. Yea, you can't really read it, but the headlines/pictures/layout will match.

Along those lines, a timestamp was inserted on the images last year - hey, you gotta make it look real! ;-)

[ Parent ]

20721 sign (2.00 / 3) (#5)
by Linux or FreeBSD on Mon Dec 12, 2005 at 12:50:04 AM EST

[ Parent ]
Haha, beautiful (none / 0) (#8)
by some nerd on Mon Dec 12, 2005 at 11:46:22 AM EST

Your comprehensive IRL trolling of so many people over an extended period is to be commended. The X10 automation stuff is nice too, but in a way I'm more impressed by the fake version.

Home Sweet Home

Are you listed on... (none / 0) (#10)
by Psychopath on Mon Dec 12, 2005 at 01:33:00 PM EST

...Ugly Christmas Light already?
The only antidote to mental suffering is physical pain. -- Karl Marx
-1, Bah-fuckin-humbug (1.40 / 5) (#17)
by nostalgiphile on Mon Dec 12, 2005 at 10:14:41 PM EST

You're trying to weedle your way into our sympathies from the first line, bashing that lovely haiKu (which isn't on the front page, but on its proper section page, btw) to get us to vote for your crap.

"Depending on your perspective you are an optimist or a pessimist[,] and a hopeless one too." --trhurler
Is it me, or do you tell this story every year? (none / 0) (#18)
by Arvedui on Mon Dec 12, 2005 at 10:22:30 PM EST

Your profile says you have one story posted, but remind me, how many times have you tried this one now? Still, it's not El Guapo, so I'll at least not vote it down.

Not that bad (3.00 / 2) (#20)
by rusty on Tue Dec 13, 2005 at 12:06:30 AM EST

He submitted it earlier this year, if I recall, and everyone said "wait for christmas." Which he did, and that's fine. It's a good christmas fluff story.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Oh? Ok then, my apologies to the author. -nt (none / 0) (#28)
by Arvedui on Sun Dec 18, 2005 at 07:58:20 AM EST

[ Parent ]
+1SP: K5 Christmas Tradition $$ (none / 0) (#22)
by bml on Tue Dec 13, 2005 at 09:36:59 AM EST

The Internet is vast, and contains many people. This is the way of things. -- Russell Dovey
Update on $$$ raised for Celiac and eBay auction (none / 1) (#27)
by hulkster on Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 12:12:39 AM EST

BTW, I can't update the article itself, but thought I'd let you guys know I got an update Tuesday morning from the UofM and the new total is $3,098 as of Decemeber 13th.

And I forgot to mention that our eBay charity auction is up. I figure the 'Virgin Mary' French Toast went for $28,000 ... so what the heck, maybe the "Webcam that Fooled the World" can bring in a few bucks for Celiac Disease Research.

Christmas Lights for Celiac Disease | 27 comments (11 topical, 16 editorial, 0 hidden)
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