Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

It’s getting colder… FM Issues too?

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Well the title says it all. It’s getting colder here in Brewster. The equipment hasn’t been very happy with that. The FM transmitter was the first to express its dislike of the cold. It went from providing very good sound to very crappy sound in just a day. I tried many different things, moving the antenna, changing the frequency, etc. I eventually broke down and ordered a EDM transmitter out of South Africa (it didn’t take much arm twisting, I’ve wanted one all along but was trying to hold off). It should be here in about a week and a half. Ultimately it came down to the fact that the FM Transmitter is probably the most important piece of the show, and without good audio the show just isn’t enjoyable.

Sunday I decided to try bringing the transmitter into the main part of the basement where it is heated overnight and it seemed that it made somewhat of a difference. I’m going to leave it in the unheated part tonight and see what the results are tomorrow. My suspicion is that the clock crystal is becoming not as accurate in the cold, causing transmission problems. I definitely will be doing whatever I can to keep the EDM transmitter inside. I’m excited because it will have RDS capability, so those of you with RDS capable radios will be able to see the song names on the face of your radio.

Speaking of radio, I had to make a new tune-to sign because the old one just wasn’t getting noticed, but I’m not convinced the new one is getting noticed either. I might have to build a LED Trix for next year to get the point across :).

Anyhow, with it getting colder, the lighting controllers seemed to be acting up more. Again I am attributing that to the clock crystals getting cold and loosing accuracy. To combat this, I’ve decided to leave the controllers on 24-7 so that the heat given off by the voltage regulators will keep them a bit warmer. So far it seems to be working, but it kind of defeats the purpose of putting the SSRs in the main power distribution panel to shut everything off at night. I’ll probably have to rethink that arrangement for next year.

We’re Live!

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Yesterday I repaired the damage caused by the rabbits and I moved the FM antenna more towards the front of the house. I still may end up putting it outside, but it works for now. I think I am going to run the FM all day long with a constant stream of Christmas music playing. I certainly have enough of it to go around.

Last night I ran through the sequences one more time. Everything seems ok, there are some tweaks I will probably make, but they work for now. I also created the background sequence that will play when nothing else it playing. It puts some of the lights at 40% and cycles through some others, with the arch jumping through every 30 seconds. I let that run the rest of the night, and it seemed to do what it’s supposed to.

The schedule is set for today at 6PM to start the show, and it seems like it should go off without a hitch. I wasn’t able to get the plug-in made for the Beta Brite sign, nor was I really able to get my backup plan using the betacom.exe file to work either. So for now, the sign will just be static and will blink the radio station on and off.

First Vandalism

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

I ran through everything last night from across the street to get a better fell for how it looked and if everything was working properly. I found that two of my net light sections only were lighting up half way. Interestingly enough it was the bottom sections of both.

This morning I went out before work to assess what was going on and found that I must have some rabbit and/or squirrel friends that think my lights are tasty. I threw down some moth balls, but am not overly hopeful that it will help. Guess I’ll be doing some repairs tomorrow.

Physical Setup is 99% Complete

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Besides anchoring the blowmold, and putting the master timer in place in the electrical distribution panel, I got the rest of the display up today. I even ran a sequence through (without music though), and everything is working as prescribed thus far. I think I should be on track for lights on Friday night. I still have some sequencing to do on the final song, but I should be able to finish that this week. I also need to figure out what I’m going to do with the in-between time after the last song and before the show starts again. I will probably do a few more tests this week, but everything looks good thus far.

I tested out the FM transmitter again tonight. I was able to get across the street with my daughter’s MP3 player (it doesn’t have an antenna), so it should be sufficient in it’s current form. I think I want to put it on a timer so that it isn’t transmitting during the day, but that’s no biggie either.

If I have some time this week and some nice weather, I’ll try to get some pictures up.

Setup is coming along.

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

I’ve gotten a few more things done since last weekend. I haven’t put anything else outside yet, but that is on the agenda for several hours this morning. Most of my time has been spent redying stuff to go outside today and sequencing. The plan right now is to go with three songs: Music Box Dancer, Standing In Motion, and Wizards of Winter. The sequences are based off ones that were done by Richard Holdman and Frank Kostyun. I then tried to put my own spin on them, but some parts are blatantly similar to the originals.

The plan for now is to go with those three songs, which last about 6.3 minutes, and play the show every 10 minutes. That gives 3 or so minutes for people to leave. During this time the lights will probably be on at some dimmed level with some minor animation as well.

St. Nick’s Choice No Ladder Clips Review

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

I was at Lowes about a week ago picking up a few more 100ct white lights to finish my arches. I noticed these clips by St. Nick’s Choice that claimed to allow you to put lights on your gutters and shingles without a ladder. I was fairly skeptical, but with my recent health issues I’m really not supposed to be lugging around a ladder, nor am I really supposed to be climbing up one all that much. I figured I’d give it a try.

They had sets of 50 clips for $7.97 that could be used with any painter’s pole, and they had a kit, complete with 40 clips, an 11′ extendable pole, and a neat little attachment for the pole to aid in placing lights in trees and the like. The kit was $19.97. I went with the Gutter/Shingle clips that can be used on both gutters and shingles (as I think this is all Lowe’s had, but I could be wrong). According to their website, they make clips for just shingles, just gutters and for eaves.

I was initially going to just get the clips and then try and find a cheaper painter’s pole in the paint section, but I found that an extendable painter’s pole wasn’t any cheper than the kit, and the kit also came with the “v hook” for placing lights on trees. I ended up with one kit and two boxes of extra hooks.

Today I put it to the test. The concept isn’t bad. You screw the first clip onto the pole, and place the end of the lights into the clip and lift them onto the gutter or shingles. Once it is in place, you unscrew the pole from the clip and place another on the end. This time you snag the lights with the clip (because now they are up higher than you are) and then place it just as before. I was worried about the part where you have to snag the lights, but it really wasn’t a problem at all. I simply held onto the loose end of the lights and the wires slid right into the clip, then up to the roof they went.

I had read about some people having problems with the already placed clips coming back off while trying to snag the wire with the next clip, and I only had this happen to me three times. Each of those, however, I believe were my fault in that I didn’t get the prior clip seated properly on the gutter. It seems that for my gutters, once I had the clip on, I need to pull the pole away from the house at an angle to get them to seat properly before removing the pole. Any time that a clip did pop off, I found it easier just to place a new clip, rather than trying to get the old one off the wire or trying to get it screwed back onto the pole while it is 10′ in the air.

Overall I was very pleased with the system. I was able to put up 80′ of icicle lights today with very little effort and no use of a ladder at all. It seemed to take a bit less time, but since I’ve never timed myself the old way, I couldn’t say for sure. I have yet to try the combo clips on shingles yet, but from what I’ve seen I don’t expect any problems.

Setup Begins

Saturday, November 14th, 2009

It’s been very nice here in North East Ohio lately, so it would have been dumb to not take advantage of the weather. I don’t believe I’ve ever set up this early, but I don’t believe I’ve ever had this much to set up either.

I was able to get icicle lights on two sides of the house and the net lights on the hedge row. The net lights didn’t work out quite like I wanted, but I think they will be OK. I also got the power distribution in place. Still a lot of wiring, icicle lights and other misc. stuff to do.

On the Air

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

I scrounged up some connectors to hook up the FM transmitter tonight. Luckily it works! According to Radio Locator 91.9 is the best choice for my channel (even though the pics show 91.1, namely because I was too excited and didn’t read the report from radio locator correctly). I will have to go out sometime with a radio and make sure there is nothing on that channel, but for now it looks like 91.9 will be the home of the 2009 light shows here at Christmas in Brewster.

I took a page out of ukewarrior’s book over at DIYC, and made my connector to the transmitter so that it can only be attached one way, this way I can’t accidentally hook up the power backwards and fry the thing (apparently it happens). Currently the audio goes straight into a 1/8″ headphone extension cord that was damaged in another project, so it was just sitting around anyhow.

To test it I just used a short piece of wire as an antenna, but I hope to get my dipole built soon. I can’t wait to go out and sit in the car and see how everything sounds. I feel like I’m finally making some progress, but there is still so much to do.

Back in Action

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

Well as I mentioned in my prior post, there’s been a few family issues pop up that had side tracked any progress on my Christmas display. Since then, things have slowly begun to go back to normal and I have resumed my interest in getting a few things done in order to put on a show at all. It appears that I will just be lucky to get the hardware and show pieces complete, so I’m not anticipating having any time to sequence. As much as I hate to do it, I think I will have to adapt sequences that have been done by others to my show for this year in order to get anything put out at all. Naturally I will attribute anyone whose sequences I adapt to my show.

Since my last real post, I haven’t accomplished a whole lot. I’ve been playing a bit more with Vixen, learning some more of the ins and outs. I have three of the four DMX to Renard wiring boards installed and tested. The wireless PCBs and parts have came and been assembled. For the most part the wireless works flawlessly. One of my RX modules, however isn’t cooperating. It flickers constantly whenever a signal is being sent. With the help of RJ at DLA, I’ve narrowed it down to the PIC, which means it needs replaced. Not too expensive of an item, but when you throw shipping on top of that, I just don’t have the money right now to be doing a Mouse order. I do need some other stuff though, namely parts to get my FM transmitter working.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned about the FM transmitter. Someone on DIYC was able to get ahold of some of the Vastelec ones which is ultimately what I wanted anyhow because they were like $11, but now I need some parts to make the connections to the board. I could just solder to it, but it would be nice to make it modular in case it ever needs replaced.

I’ve decided to put a few of the pixels that I have assembled into some ceramic pumpkins that we put out for Halloween. I laminated some tissue paper and put it over the openings of the pumpkin to diffuse the light from the pixels. I made up a module of 2 pixels and put it into a food storage container to keep them waterproof. The container then goes into the pumpkin. The effect is very nice. I will try to get some video once I put them out. I hope to get the FM transmitter working by Halloween and perhaps synchronize the pumpkins to something spooky. I may even make up some more modules and put them in the pumpkins that my wife and kids carve rather than candles.

Lack of Posts

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Apologies for the lack of posts lately. Some family issues and some health issues of my own have popped up, and I have been spending the majority of my time tending to those issues. I have been slowly accomplishing a few things. The wireless PCBs arrived last Monday. I began assembly that day, and that’s when things started going south. I do however having semi-working wireless now (need to put the new RX firmware on to see if that fixes anything, just haven’t had time yet). I have pics and other stuff to post, but just no time at the moment. It was kindly mentioned at DLA last week that there are only 99 days until show start time, so I need to get my booty in gear, hopefully after all of this stuff that’s going on has been flushed out, I can put my nose to the grind and still put on a good show. Lots to do yet!