Exploding Dog Friday – Christmas Lights Edition

Okay, I laughed pretty hard when I saw these – I hope you do too.  I also hope that you all have a great weekend, and that you get your christmas shopping done!

Exploding Dog, you guys are awesome.



Cree LED Celebrates the 20th Anniversary of the Commercialization of the Blue LED

Ginny from Cree just posted a video that she made with John Edmond, co-founder of Cree – they’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of the commercialization of the blue LED!  Ginny made a video about how things got started, and had an interview with John about the beginnings of Cree.  Very cool, check it out!  Also, check out the Cree blog – it’s an LED revolution!

Will It Blend? THAT is the Question!

I have something that I hope will start your Friday out on a high note.

If you’ve never heard of a Blendtec blender, it’s a possibility that you’ve not seen the Cadillac of blenders before.  You know your little Sunbeam blender or other midstream name brand blender?  Yeah, I don’t think it can take a handful of marbles and turn it into marble dust.  The Blendtec can.  Their blender is so BA that they made a website, Will It Blend, where they just grind stuff up in their blender.

Since it’s Friday morning and you’re probably not on your eleventeenth cup of coffee like me who got up at six for some reason, you might be asking yourself – “wait a minute, I know I didn’t type JimOnBlenders.com into my browser, what the EFF, Jim?”  Calm down – the reason that I am talking about blenders is that you’re about to see lighting related stuff get blended into a fine powder.  No kidding!

Okay – in order, glowsticks, then light bulbs, then laser pointers.  It is awesome!


Light bulbs:

Laser pointers:

Some non-lighting personal favorites are the iPhone 3G (yeah, they grind up a 3G), the grinding of a can of EZ-Cheese, and a whole bunch of neodymium magnets.  Holy crap.

Luminair 2.0 is Coming

Everybody knows Luminair.  What everybody doesn’t know is that Luminaire 2.0 is coming.

I had a chance to play with the 2.0 release on Synthe FX founder Ryan Hisey’s iPhone at LDI 2009 in Orlando.  The new features are pretty awesome, and it’s extra excellent for me since I’m a big WYG user.  Check out the press release from Synthe FX on the Luminaire 2.0 update, which is coming soon.


Synthe FX announces Luminair 2.0, wireless DMX control for iPhone and iPod touch

Following an introduction at LDI 2009, Synthe FX has officially announced Luminair 2.0, the next generation of the wireless multi-touch DMX control software for the iPhone and iPod touch. Luminair is a revolutionary wireless lighting control product, which uses the Art-Net protocol to control compatible lighting and media server equipment via the iPhone and iPod touch’s internal Wi-Fi hardware.

Among the new features in version 2.0 is “Stacks”, which is a cue-list playback system designed to make it very easy to put together shows for a variety of uses. Cues can be programmed directly within Luminair, and also recorded as snapshots from an external console or any other DMX control source using Luminair’s DMX input. “Stacks” has five different playback modes, and each cue has individual assignable timing information, making playback options extremely flexible. Standard playback life using the device’s internal battery has tested to be around 2.5-3 hours, and can be extended to 8-9 hours or even longer using a 3rd party external battery pack. When the device is plugged into a power source, playback can run indefinitely.

Another major new feature in Luminair 2.0 is the ability to assign images as visual references to cues, using the iPhone’s built-in camera, photo library, or transferred via the internal HTTP server. Users can browse and trigger Quick-Touch cues using a CoverFlow like user interface, which renders the assigned images in breathtaking OpenGL 3D.

Also dependent on the new image reference support in version 2.0, is the ability to export “Fixture POV” images and data directly from Cast Software’s next release of WYSIWYG. With this feature, WYSIWYG designers can transfer both a reference image and the necessary DMX data from a fixture POV directly into Luminair, so that a rigger can effortlessly work from the designer’s original vision when focusing that fixture.

Other new features in 2.0 include full group support, cut/copy/paste capabilities, accelerometer support for XY controls, plus extensive additions and refinements to existing features.

Company founder and lead product developer Ryan Hisey gave a presentation and demos of the new features at LDI 2009 in Orlando, where the response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic. “The original goal in creating Luminair was to make a tool that appeals to lighting and media professionals in all fields, whether for studio, architectural, rigging, media servers, testing, the possibilities are almost endless. The combination of the existing feature-set plus the new features and refinements in 2.0 finally solidify this quest to appeal to such a diverse range of customers.”

“The ability to program and playback shows directly from an iPhone or iPod, for periods lasting up to or longer than 8-9 hours on batteries is really amazing. Likewise, never before have lighting professionals had the option of designing looks on a master console, recording snapshots, and building a simple show that they can carry in their pocket.”

“In this release, we also wanted to take advantage of a lot of great features that are built-in to the iPhone and iPod touch, such as the accelerometer, camera, and sync-able photo library. The images in CoverFlow look absolutely amazing, and users can easily add their own custom images and icons via multiple convenient methods. Additionally, we are very excited to be working with Cast Software, who is a highly respected industry leader, on such a groundbreaking new feature for lighting pros.”

Luminair will be available in Q1 2010 exclusively on Apple’s iTunes App Store, for a price of $99 US dollars. For all existing customers, version 2.0 will be a free upgrade. Full details, videos, and screenshots can be seen at http://synthe-fx.com/products/luminair

Barco Lays Off More High End Systems Employees, Just in Time for Christmas


I just found out in a round-about way that digital lighting and display company Barco let some more High End Systems employees go last week.  And JUST in time for the holidays, too!  How fantastic.

You know, I am no MBA holder, nor would I know how to conduct a multi-million dollar business, so I won’t.  But I do have to say that it seems to me like you are trying to erase an American lighting icon from the industry altogether.  I have a problem with that.  Does it matter what I think?  More than likely not in this case.  I have a suggestion, though – why don’t you come on over from Belgium and get to know the people and equipment that people like?

The stock picture – six months:


The last two days (December 15-17, 2009):


On November 27, Barco acquired another business entity, FIMI Medical Imaging.  From Reuters:

Dow Jones reported that Barco NV has reached an agreement with Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV about the acquisition of FIMI. Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV is to sell FIMI for EUR 19 million in cash and the agreement includes an earn-out-construction from which it will earn EUR 10 million in the next five years. The transaction is expected to be completed at the end of 2009.

From Barco’s press release:

Eric Van Zele, Barco’s President and CEO, stated: “Our Medical Imaging Division has been performing strongly in recent years both sales and profit-wise. The acquisition of FIMI fits well within the overall growth strategy of the division as it further strengthens our existing product portfolio, opens opportunities in new segments of medical imaging, and strengthens our strategic relationship with Philips.”

Well, I really hope that you’re going to do more with the High End Systems brand. Those people are good people, and you have an asset in Richard Belleveau.  I hope you realize that and understand the entertainment industry before you spill white-out all over history and innovation.  You could be an industry leader.  Don’t forget, they were doing things well way before you.

Guitar Hero Christmas Lights Creator Speaks with JimOnLight.com!


After posting the article about Guitar Hero christmas lighting this morning, I was able to get ahold of the display’s designer to ask him some questions about how and what he did to have such a great display.  The designer’s name is Ric, and he was gracious enough to answer some questions I had about his work and his background.  I hope everyone enjoys the little interview I was able to get with Ric about his rig and his process.  Check it out!  Also check out the Light-O-Rama site for the control stuff mentioned in the article – very cool!

JimOnLight: Do you have a background in lighting? Your display and control is impressive – I am curious as to if you’re a professional or a hobbyist with some skill!

Ric: I’ve done some lighting, but most of my background is in media production and theatrical style illusions. The Christmas Light show is really more of a media presentation with lots of light edits in time with the music, made like a music video.

JimOnLight: How did you come about the idea of having such a large christmas light rig? Was there a muse or inspiration of some sort that led you to put it together?

Ric: I’ve always loved doing Holiday light displays, and years ago I experimented with simple sequencers. Eventually I was able to put together my first show using MIDI controlled dimmers and programmed it in Garage Band on a Mac laptop. The year after that I discovered Light-o-Rama kits and started building them. Each year more controllers get built and the shows get more elaborate.

JimOnLight: What types of lighting you use for your display? I assume that there are a mix of LED and incandescent lamps – can you give me some insight into your mix?

Ric: I’m starting to use LEDs more and more. I love the single color strings that punch through everything with dichroic style – single frequency light. Especially the blue and violet. LEDs switch on and off instantly allowing stunning music sync. I still have a lot of incandescent lights for the big white moments. I’m not happy with the white LEDs yet, the color temperatures are all over the map, even within a single string. There is a warmth to the white incancesdents that still can’t be matched with LEDs.

JimOnLight: Please tell me about your control system – we would love to have some insight! Are you using some kind of timecode (MIDI, SMPTE), or do you have something proprietary that you’ve created?

Ric: I started with MIDI, but quickly got frustrated with the limitations. Light-o-Rama controllers offer amazingly cheap cost per channel. I usually buy 16 channel kits for around $100. I experimented with some bank switching circuits to allow one board to control separate sets of lights, but that turned out to be more trouble than it was worth. To do the 09 xmas show I added three new controllers for a total of 7. LOR software is quite good, and has been able to handle everything I have come up with.

JimOnLight: Do you provide a way for your neighbors and passersby to listen to your inspiration music to your display?

Ric: The audio plays at a low level until around 9:00 for pedestrians. Any time the show is running, the audio is broadcast on a low power FM transmitter so people can listen in their cars as loud as they like.

JimOnLight: Something that everyone probably wants to know – how are your electricity bills?

Ric: Not bad at all! Compared to the last year we had a static display, the shows use about 75% less energy, mainly due to the fact that in a show any given light is off much more than it is on. Now with all the LEDs, power use is down even more.

Ric, thank you so much for your time!  Everyone should check out Ric’s youtube channel (he’s kumbaric on youtube) – he’s got videos galore and lots of skill!  Enjoy!

Guitar Hero Christmas Spectacular

I ran across this video where someone was making some amazing christmas lighting sequencing, and I was sitting here thinking to myself – I know that yard! Turns out that I wrote about this display a few weeks ago – and they uploaded another video.  Check out this Guitar Hero spectacular!

The funny thing is that they had another pretty awesome video that I wrote about – I want to know that control system!  Here’s the other video, just in case you missed it the first time:

Vari-Lite Videos from the 1980’s – Pure Rock and Roll! #Vari-Lite


I have a special place in my heart for Vari-Lite fixtures.  My first experiences with automated lighting was with the Vari-Lite Artisan and Mini-Artisan consoles, and the very awesome Vari-Lite VL2C and VL6 spots, and the VL5 wash.  I love the VL2C – it’s like a big ol’ square truck that has great optics and color.  It blew my mind when I got programmer training and teachnician training on the fixture.  Taking a VL2C apart was like performing surgery for me!

Derek Heckler sent me a great video from the 1980s from Vari-Lite – it’s like a promo/sales video, and it’s pretty excellent – I kept expecting to see Genesis show up onstage!  I found part two of the video as well – both are embedded below.  Thanks Derek!

Bad Boy, Chris Conti, and PRG at LDI 2009

I had the pleasure of meeting and getting a Bad Boy demo from Chris Conti, product manager at PRG this year at LDI 2009.  Chris gave us the rundown on all of the features of Bad Boy – from optics and color to servos and touchscreens.  I am working on another interview with Chris for some more in-depth information on the fixture.

Have I mentioned I really like this hoss of a moving light?  That thing is designed all the way down to the smell!

I broke the demo video up into three parts, and I have embedded them below.  You can also check out the JimOnLight.com Youtube Channel, where all three are listed.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Thanks to Justin from iSquint for the second camera view!  I added this earlier, but it needed adding again.






JimOnLight.com’s Guide to Christmas Lights, Part 4: Christmas Light Power and Safety


Part Four:
Christmas Lights Power and Safety

So now that you have learned about the history of christmas lights, learned about different christmas lamp types and different form factors, there’s two things that we’ve not considered: power (electricity) and control of the christmas light display.

These two things are usually taken for granted, which is understandable to a point – you plug them into an outlet, and they either turn on or blink, right?  Well, I guess. I, however, am an overachieving geeky nerd that enjoys making a mountain out of a molehill when it comes to the simplest technological tasks.

Did I just use “mountain out of a molehill?” Oh yeah, you better believe it.

This guide will deal with providing power to your christmas light display. However, there is the need for a small disclaimer regarding this topic, since it is potentially deadly and/or property damaging. So, that being said – if you electrocute yourself when you’re hanging your christmas lights, it’s not my fault regardless of whether you read this guide or not. Caveat Emptor, it ain’t my fault if you blow your house up, all that stuff.

Okay, now that the BS legal part of this is over, there are a couple of really, really important things you should heed warning to when you’re preparing to load-in your christmas lights:

  • Electricity can and will travel through you to get to its home, which is the ground. It won’t be good for you.
  • If you discover a loose wire when you’re hanging all of your christmas lights, do not touch the bare wires. Also, refrain from licking them or rubbing them on your neck. All of these are bad ideas.
  • Don’t use staples to hang your lights unless you have a guide for whatever stapler that you’re using that specifically shields the cable from the staples. Stapling into a strand of christmas lights will most likely short them out, creating a dangerous situation and more than likely a pain in your derriere.
  • An easy one to remember: water and christmas lights equals non-fun. There are outdoor rated christmas lights; if you’re putting them outdoors, make sure they have the UL rating and make sure they’re listed as water-proof lighting.
  • Last but not least, when you’re putting up christmas lghts, unless you live somewhere that has 60+ degree temperatures outside, it’s probably gonna be cold out. Hypothermia sucks, my friends. Bundle up, and make sure to take enough breaks when you’re out there christmas lighting your place up!

So, for those of you who do not know the ways to power your christmas lights or really anything about electricity at all, it’s pretty simple when you tear it down to the basic components – the christmas lights plug in to some place either in or around your house that is hooked up to the house’s power, and voila – the christmas lights turn on, you and your family go “wow,” and you go back inside to have some cocoa.

In a sense, that’s the bare bones sense of it. However, there are so many more things to consider – what happens when your lights burn out, for example?  What happens if you plug too many christmas light strands together? These things are all items that you’ll be better for when you learn the answers.  As far as wiring, there are typically two different ways that you’ll find your lights wired – series circuits and parallel circuits. Look at this diagram of a series christmas light circuit:


Series circuits are really easy to spot – they’re the strands that all go out when one lamp in the string is either blown or not seated properly in its base. The reason that this happens is that the connections into each christmas lamp are in a series – get it?  Electricity must pass through each lamp in order for the next to get energized. They’re all dependent on each other for the flow of electrons. In a series circuit of christmas lights, each lamp’s filament is the circuit bridge – so when one lamp goes out, all of the lamps might as well have gone out because there is no way for electricity to get across the one broken filament to power the rest of the lamps. See the issue?

In modern christmas light strands, something called a shunt is added to each lamp to overcome the failure of the lamp’s filament for the rest of the lamps. If the filament fails, instead of losing the entire strand of lamps, the shunt keeps the electricity flowing through the dead lamp below the broken filament. I have no idea how I did it, but I got a close-up of a shunt in a mini-size christmas lamp. Keep in mind this lamp is about the size of a pencil eraser:


Pretty neat, huh?

You might also notice that some strands of christmas lights come with two or three really tiny fuses, like these:


You’ll also probably notice that the fuses go into the female end of the strand, like here:


These fuses are typically 3 amps on a 50-light strand. This is going to become important in the next guide post.

The other way that christmas lights are typically wired is called parallel wiring. Parallel wiring beats the problem of having all lamps out when one lamp goes out by making a common electrical point for all lamps. Check out this diagram:


You all probably know about parallel circuits, so I assume this is a moot point – but as you can see from the diagram, the electricity would flow even if one of the lamps were to go out. Since there is a continuous connection across ALL lamps on the hot and the common lines, there is no way that one lamp would make all of them go out.

Another excellent thing about parallel circuits is the amount of lamps you can put in the chain. Unlike series circuits which require the voltage of all lamps in the string to add up to your total supplied voltage, parallel strings only require that the actual wire handle the amount of electricity (current) going through. In a series set of 50, for example, all of the lamps must be 2.5 volts so that the total voltage across all lamps adds up to 120 volts.

Wait a minute, you might ask yourself – 50 x 2.5 doesn’t equal 120! 48 x 2.5 equals 120. You are right to question that equation – 50 is more of a round number than 48, and adding the two extra lamps in the series lowers the brightness so imperceptibly that we can’t tell the difference. Also, 50 is more than 48, and you’re inclined to buy two more lamps. That’s our nature!

Let’s just quickly recap:

  • keep warm when you’re out there hanging those christmas lights!
  • don’t lick exposed christmas light wire
  • electricity will kill you dead, so pay attention
  • water and electricity like each other as much as Dick Cheney and the ACLU

Next up on JimOnLight.com – Part Five: Christmas Light Math!

Stay tuned!