Compared to last year, there are not a lot of noticeable differences with our show elements. That said, there are a few key behind the scenes differences that make the show much easier to setup and run throughout the season. And of course, we have a whole new show with new music and light sequencing!
2018 Show Video
New Stuff for 2018
Everything we developed in 2017 is still in use this year. However, we are tweaking the behind-the-scenes aspects of a few parts as explained below.
Keeping the Snowmen Sober
The inflatable snowmen along the road were a huge hit last year and we think they add a lot to the show. However, they were honestly a nightmare to maintain as the temperature fluctuated throughout the day and throughout the season. When we filled them up to look good at 60 degrees, they would look drunk and leaning all directions when the temperature dropped down below freezing. If we filled them up again at the colder temperatures, we risked bursting the snowmen when the temperature warmed up.
On top of that, actually adding or removing air from the snowmen was an arduous task due to each snowmen having three separate beach balls to maintain. Furthermore, the bottom ball has the air port on the bottom, and thus we had to unstake the snowmen from the ground each time and move the compressor around from snowman to snowman. It was very much not a fun process and not something we want to be doing year after year.
So, this year, we are making some improvements. Most notably, we are connecting all of the snowman bottoms and torsos together into one single pressure system using some irrigation drip tubing and lots of little connectors. This will allow us to add pressure to the system from one single location rather than needing to go snowman by snowman. We also automated the pressure regulation using some digitally controllable valves and a microcontroller.
More details about the snowmen and these changes are on LED Snowmen
Rethinking Universes 6 and 7
Ever since we started our pixel lighting adventure, we have struggled with the lights on the left side of the house. These two light universes are the furthest distance from the attic vent at the top of the house where our main controller and power supplies live and thus have the longest cable run. For some light reading as to why this is a problem, check out the page on Power Injection. Our solution was to put another ESPixelStick Controller and power supply underneath the eaves of our front porch to drive those two universes. Thus far, this is working amazingly well and saved a lot of effort in running extensions cords across the roof. Even better, it seems to have finally solved the problem we had with flickering in those universes due to a lack of power. We have updated that Power Injection page a bit to reflect the new setup as well as the diagrams and discussion on Preparing for the Adventure.
Changing the Networking
For reasons we don’t fully understand, we experienced challenges when testing out the show this year with lights lagging behind the music and with our show wireless router not allowing new connections. We have a few thoughts as to the cause, but the solution was pretty straight forward.
In year’s past, we ran our wireless controllers using the “multicast” protocol. This is essentially where the router sends the information to every device on the network, and only the device that is configured to listen to that information will consume it while the others just throw it away. This year, we switched the vast majority to “unicast” protocol, where information is sent only to the correct device. This lessens significantly the amount of network traffic and this change seems to have fixed our issues. The internet says that we should not have had any issues using multicast (other people do this successfully with 5 times as many wireless universes as us), but who knows. Perhaps our router is just getting old. Since neither of us really want to care about the specifics of IP-based networking, we will just be content that we have a solution that works and move on with our lives! Read more about our network and associated equipment.
The traffic last year definitely got a bit out of hand for us, especially in the days right around Christmas. We had so many more people come out to see our show, primarily due to the video a local news station took of our house and posted on their Facebook page. Since we sincerely intend and hope to be good neighbors, we are working on some steps to help with the traffic and make our neighbor’s lives less inconvenienced while still offering up an awesome Christmas show to the city at large.
This year’s show is about 9 minutes long and runs every 10 minutes. When the show is not running, we have some interlude lighting, a brief voice over from Philip, some background music, and a countdown timer running on the seven-segment displays.
For the show, we play portions of the following songs/quotes:
- Joy to the World | Steve Morse
- I Saw Three Ships | Hawk Nelson
- Let There Be Light | Point of Grace
- Master of Time | Lindsay Sterling
- Quote from Charlie Brown Christmas
- Carol of the Bells (Instrumental) | Everfound
- O Come All Ye Faithful | Trans-Siberian Orchestra
- Carol of the Bells (Instrumental) | Everfound
- This Is Christmas | Kutless
- (Interlude) The First Noel | Gary Hoey