My lights are done…

December 14, 2003 at 8:49 pm

delta a few miscellaneous strings that will go up in the next day or so, my holiday display is complete. I think I’m up to about 4000-5000 lights so far.

There are three main displays:

Santa and the Sleigh

An animated Santa, run by an 8-channel homebuilt animation controlling sporting a Motorola HC11 microcontroller. Santa has 6 blue landing lights that flash, then Santa, sled, and reindeer appear, and then Santa goes up on the roof.

Santa in the day

Sleigh and reindeer from behind

Rooftop Santas

Santa at night


Going up the roof

Up on the chimney

Tree O’lights

The tree of lights is just that, a tree made entirely of lights. The controller is the same system as before, but this time it’s running a 16-channel system.

Tree in the daytime

Hooking up the lights

To see the tree in action, look at the whole-house view pictures at the bottom.

Multi-colored house lights

This grew out of my observation that having single-colored house lights was boring. So, the house is outline with a “light cable“ made of 4 different strings of lights – one each of red, green, blue, and white – hooked up to a special 4-channel controller (once again, based on the 68hc11) that supports dimming. The house is green one minute, blue the next, with a few chaser light effects thrown in. Here’s what the controller looks like:

I took some AVIs of Santa and the tree, but they didn’t come out too good and are too big to fit on my website, so you’ll have to satisfy yourself with a view of the whole yard.

The balls of light in the foreground are 100-light balls that are hung on a 30′ spruce in the front yard. The tree of lights is the huge blaze of light on the left side. Oh, and the large white light above the tree is the moon, which I ordered special for the night.

Here are directions if you’re in the neighborhood.

Garden d’lights 2003 – Bellevue Botanical Gardens

December 14, 2003 at 8:24 pm

Every year, the Bellevue Botanical Gardens bring out the lights. They do a wonderful job of creating plants out of lights.


Troubleshooting holiday lights

December 8, 2003 at 7:59 pm


I spent a fair bit of time putting up my lights this weekend, and had to do some troubleshooting
sets that weren’t working.

This can be tough to do without a bit of help. While many bulbs have shunts that prevent
the string from going out, they don’t always work, nor do they help when lamp wires

When that happens, I fall back on a non-contact voltage detector. Mine is a Fluke VoltAlert
, which I bought at Home Depot for about $20. This is wonderful for general
electrical work, since you can detect hot wires without having to have access to the
conductor. Great if you’re replacing an outlet and you want to make sure that the
power is really off.

For holiday lights, here’s the way you find the bad lights.

Find which section of lights is off (duh). This may be only half of a 100-light string.
Start at one end of the string, testing each light, working your way along the until
you find a difference in state. Test the light by holding the tester near the bulb
part; if you get too close to the cable part, you’ll get a positive from the traveler
wire that’s in the cable. I generally like to start at the end where there is power.
The bad bulb will show power to it, but because it’s bad, it won’t be passing on power
to the next bulb in line.

One little note. Most plugs on US devices are polarized – the two plugs are different
in size – for safety purposes. This ensures (for example) that a lamp socket has the
hot lead for the tip, so that if you change a bulb without turning the light off,
the screw part will not be hot. Most holiday lights, however, don’t have this issue,
so they’re generally not polarized. This means that you can turn the plug around 180
degrees, and switch the hot and dead sets of bulbs in your broken set, which can sometimes
make things more convenient.

One final note: It’s a lot easier to do this before you put the bulbs up on the roof,
or 25′ into the air.



How do you look for code?

December 4, 2003 at 12:27 pm

Another question, this time from one of the other PMs on the team:

The C# team is trying to understand how you look for code when stuck or trying to
learn some new technology. Currently the solution we provide is in the documentation
– you can find among other things –

  • Walkthroughs on the product
  • Documentation for each method
  • How to articles that target specific tasks
  • Code snippets
  • Working pieces of code that we ship in the product that do a specific task.

How do you try to find code for a task that you don’t know how to write? Is the Help
content in VS organized well and is it adequate? What would you change to help
people ramp up on new code, tasks, or the capabilities of the tool faster? What annoys
you about the samples we provide today?