Happy Christmahanakwanzika from JimOnLight!

It’s Christmas Day obviously, and I’m here in Toronto with my lady and our furbaby Roxy.  Yeah, you know the one:

Roxy Claus!


Roxy/Daddy Christmastime!

We had plans to get home this year to introduce Laura and Roxy to the Hutchison family, but our travel plans fell through.  But, like many other families on the road this year, we’re about to Skype home in a bit and send our holiday cheer back to the States!  If you’re on the road this season and unable to spend your Holiday with the ones you miss, remember that a phone call home or a Skype/G+/video chat home can make all the difference.

I have a couple of buddies overseas in a really shit place right now “defending freedom.”  I hope you guys are safe and sound, warm, not being shot at, and having something hot and rib-sticking to eat today.

If you’re lucky enough to be with those you love this holiday, squeeze them extra tight and remember that there are 26 people who just had that taken away right before Christmas this year.

I really hope that we all realize someday that it doesn’t matter if we believe in everything, something, or nothing – if we can’t coexist, we won’t continue to exist.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone, let’s turn 2013 into a year we can all look back on and be really proud to have taken part!

coexist’s Guide to Christmas Lights is BACK!

Oh yes, it is THAT TIME AGAIN, my friends!

It’s time for the Guide to Christmas Lights! This is the time of year when people dig out the crazy plastic Santas with sled and reindeer, the Frosty the Snowman yard art, and go to town getting all Clark W. Griswold all over their houses!

The Guide to Christmas Lights has been blessed with some pretty worldwide attention, having been read in 190 countries across the world.  We even got plagiarized by Gizmodo last year!  How crazy is THAT?!

I’ll be adding more parts this season – coming on Tuesday, November 30, I’ll post Part Five – Christmas Lighting MATH!  Until then, you can get caught up on the first four parts:

PART ONE:  The History of Christmas Lights

PART TWO:  Modern Christmas Light Lamp Types and Sizes

PART THREE:  Form Factors of Christmas Lights

PART FOUR:  Christmas Light Power and Safety

Stay tuned – more Guide to Christmas Lights parts coming up!

Technicolor Tesla Tannenbaum

Okay, I like Tesla coils just as much as the next lighting geek, but this is just too cool for school.  Aron Altmark on Twitter (@aronaltmark) sent me a link to these amazing shots by the Tesla Down Under people of their Australian Tesla Christmas Tree.

WAY COOL!  Check them out!  You also have to check out the Tesla Down Under page to see how he made this display, and to see how it compares to his past years’ efforts.  Well worth your pre-Christmas work time!




Guitar Hero Christmas Lights Creator Speaks with!


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!’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 – Part Five: Christmas Light Math!

Stay tuned!

Christmas Lights – With A Mind of Their Own

I just found a video of a really kitchy and pretty funny xmas lighting display – I just wonder what the control systems for these crazy installs are!  Do you think this is DIY, arduino controlled?  Would it not be just wicked to hook a Hog III up to your house?!

The music is pretty cool, give it the two minutes to watch.

Thanks, Responsive Arts!

First Ever OLED Christmas Tree!

Wait, shouldn’t this be a “Holiday Tree?”  Ha, just kidding.  It’s OLED!

From the press release at GE:

We haven’t quite achieved Rockefeller or National Christmas tree lighting status yet, but we’re well on our way,“ said Anil Duggal, who leads GE’s OLED program. “We hope GE’s OLED tree lighting will inspire and capture people’s imagination during the holidays on the limitless possibilities of this next generation lighting concept.”

”Customers will recognize that while this demonstration was more for holiday spirit and team camaraderie, it does reinforce how far OLED technology has come and how it is poised to revolutionize lighting and interior design,” says John Strainic, global product general manager with GE Consumer & Industrial, which will commercialize OLEDs for businesses and consumers in the coming years.

OLEDs are thin, organic materials sandwiched between two electrodes, which illuminate when an electrical charge is applied. They represent the next evolution in lighting products. Their widespread design capabilities will provide an entirely different way for people to light their homes or businesses. Moreover, OLEDs have the potential to deliver dramatically improved levels of efficiency and environmental performance, while achieving the same quality of illumination found in traditional products in the marketplace today with less electrical power.

Earlier this year, GE scientists achieved a major research milestone by demonstrating the world’s first roll-to-roll manufactured OLED lighting devices. This process for producing OLEDs has been likened to a newspaper printing process. Roll-to-roll manufacturing is seen as a key factor to making OLED lighting commercially viable in the general lighting industry.

Duggal said, “We’re making great progress toward hitting the metrics needed to successfully introduce OLED lighting to market. We continue to make steady advances in efficiency, lifetime, and lighting-quality using device structures that can be made with roll-to-roll manufacturing, so that we’ll be able to introduce OLED lighting at an affordable price.”

Oh No They Didn’t: Christmas Lighting Controller

Oh no.  Now every person who wants to make an extravagant, overblown, lighting design killing Christmas Lighting display like all of the ones you see on YouTube.  Remember the Trans-Siberian Orchestra display a few years ago that circled the globe via those Internets?

Light-O-Rama makes these devices custom – 16 channels, relays, the works.  This is for those who don’t have access to a lighting rental shop, or who don’t want to pay for long-time lighting rentals.  You know, the non-lighting-dorks.

Check it out – Light-O-Rama’s Christmas Lighting Controller.