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About the Display




KampLights was a computerized light display tucked away in a southeast suburb of Chicago. 2015 marked the tenth and final year of our operations in Saint John. In 2006, we began with a simple eight channel setup and 4,200 lights and over the years progressed to our current 14,000 lights. Below is a brief history of how our display began.




History

This display hasn't simply evolved over the past two or three years, it dates back almost ten years. When I was in elemantary school, I took charge of decorating the exterior portion of our house. I vividly remember our first purchase of outdoor lights; my mom went to American Sale (Lansing store, to be exact) and bought 4 strands of lights. Two sets had larger bulbs, for the roof; and the other two were standard mini lights, for the porch. My dad put the roof lights up and I installed the porch lights. To power them, we ran an extension cord through the front window. That became the standard setup for a few years, with the addition of a switch to flip them on and off. I can remember flipping them on and off quite a few times each night -- usually just for fun. I think that's where my destiny for animated lights began!

When I wasn't setting up my own lights, I enjoyed watching others decorate. The neighbor on the corner near us put thousands of lights on their trees, the neighbor down the street had a blowmold collection. I would spend hours watching them and mentally taking notes. Our good friends across the street always hung a lot of lights, so I would watch each year. Eventually I took over the job and hung all the icicle lights by myself. In return, I received a few strands of brand new icicle lights. As I completed my paper route each Wednesday, I would pay careful attention to each house we delivered to. I stared at their decorations and even checked to see how people plugged their lights in!
Year after year I tried to incorporate new things into the display. Icicle lights were the highlight one year, a wooden star another. Once, my older brother found a few plastic nativity figurines in the trash. I quickly added them and found bulbs to illuminate them. We received plastic candy canes from another unknown source, and I staked them in and wrapped them in lights. Another time, I had the idea of outlining the windows in lights. One roll of packing tape later, I had the job completed!

While our lights weren't always the best looking, they were surely the most creatively hung. My brothers and I aquired the majority of our lights from leftover boxes in peoples' attics or the trash. My first experience with C7 bulbs consisted of hanging them around our garage. I rigged electrical cords from roof to roof to steer clear of the driveway. Another time we received mini lights, arranged in a strip fashion, and draped them in between the openings of our neighbor's fence. The next year we used icicle lights instead. One thing I was notorious for was rehanging lights. Some years I would rehang our porch lights ten times because they never seemed to look right. So, I would pull out the ladder and unwind the lights from the porch railings and rewind them.

After moving to our current home in 2004, I found the world of Christmas lights. With the addition of high-speed internet, I was able to find PlanetChristmas.com, the home of Christmas Lights 2.0. From there I quickly learned of animated lights and eventually pursued my own. In eighth grade, I purchased my first light controller, and Christmas 2005 was the first year of computerized Christmas lights. Over the past few years I've expanded with a few more lights and a couple of new light controllers, and today's display is a result of the previous twenty years of my life.bulb


Frequently Asked Questions

How many lights are there?
For 2014, we have about 14,900 lights.

Why do you do this?
Ever since I was young, I’ve had an interest in lights. I loved to decorate both the inside and outside of our house. I used to decorate the porch, and redecorate it day after day. Computers have always been something I’ve enjoyed, so I decided to combine it with lights. Along with that, I’ve always made sure to remember the real meaning of Christmas, the birth of Jesus. We hope that through our display, you’ll see the real light of Christ.

How much power does this take?
If everything in our display was on at once, it would take over 60 amps to power them.

How much is your electricity bill?
Our power bill is much less than you might think, only approximately $20-30 more per month. If you take note, all of the lights are never on at once. Usually, about ½ to ¼ of them are lit on average.

How do all these lights work? Are they special?
Yes and no. They are normal Christmas light strands, just like you would buy from any store. And no, we don’t have any sort of “magic box” that powers everything. It’s all run by one central computer that gives commands to controllers, which dim and fade the lights. New for 2012 are our pixel lights, found on the front columns of our house. These high-tech lights feature 3 LEDs and a microprocessor in EACH BULB, allowing us to individually control the color of each light bulb on the strand. Talk about programming 200 individual light bulbs! Still interested? Visit our Technical page.

How are you broadcasting on my radio?
We use a small, low-powered FM transmitter that transmits the music on 90.7 FM. It only broadcasts a few hundred feet away to comply with FCC regulations.

How long does it take to set everything up?
Usually a few days. It could be done in a full day, but because of cold weather and other factors (school), we usually set it up over three or four days. In additin, programming the lights takes anywhere from 2-4 hours for each minute of song. The programming is done in the off-season of the year.


Technical

If you've wandered here, you are probably wondering how all of these lights work. The simple answer is this: a computer sends commands to dimmer packs which make the lights turn on and off in sync with music. We use specialized software that allows us to place commands down to 1/100 of a second which make the lights turn on, off, fade, twinkle, etc. This software then sends commands over our data network to individual controllers. These controllers, each with a unique address, accept the commands and turn the lights on and off. Our music is then broadcast on a low-power FM transmitter from right inside of our house to the cars of visitors outside.

Long version: We use hardware and software made by a company called Light-O-Rama, out of South Glen Falls, NY. LED Pixel Lights Since 2003, they have been pioneering and developing software and technology for animated light displays. In 2006, we purchased an 8 channel (8 individual circuits/elements) controller from them, along with the first version of their software. Each year after, we have continued to use their products to expand our setup. And with additional controllers comes the necessity to link each of them. Each controller is linked by CAT5 cable, which sends receives commands from a USB --> RJ45 converter on the computer.Light-O-Rama uses their own RS485 signal technology, a solution that allows controllers to do the processing power, LED Pixel Lightswhile significantly increasing the amount of data that can be sent over the CAT5 cables to link the controllers.The computer then sends out hundreds of commands per second in order to create a precise, animateable display. On the software side, our programming software looks like a large grid, with the timecode along the top and a channel list along the sides. We're then able to turn certain channels, or elements, on or off with the music. Our software can do fades, color changes, twinkles -- quite a few effects. We're also able see an exact visualization of what our house will look like, thanks to this year's update to the software visualizer.

When it comes time to set up the display, a lot of the hard work has been done already. LED Pixel LightsPower computations, controller configurations and programming are some of the things we do in the off season (July-November) in order to prep for setup. We begin by installing all of the lights.Then, we place our controllers according to our configurations, and then we run extension cords to each controller. Our display uses almost 1/4 of a mile of cords in order to power everything.

For 2013, we have new pixel lights. These lights aren't anything you'd buy from a store; we purchased lights with bare wires and hooked them up. LED Pixel Lights Straight from China, these lights require a specialized control unit -- which we purchased and soldered the kit -- that will feed them 5 volts of power. The controllers accept DMX signal (as opposed to a proprietary architecture, such as the Light-O-Rama network) and feed power and data throughout the light strings. These new pixel lights have revolutionized the Christmas lighting industry and allow for individual color customization of each light.