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
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.