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Everything posted by csmith

  1. csmith

    Latest Topics

    This video shows how to create a latest topics block, showing the full post, and then adding that block to a new page.
  2. This video shows off some of the user interface you can expect to see in the article management area of the ACP.
  3. Learn how to use the new "Promote to Article" feature to copy a post to the articles section.
  4. Behind the scenes, your techies have been struggling with the constant updates coming from the vendor supplying the PlanetChristmas forums software. Every update seems to fix one problem while generating new ones. According to the vendor's official website, they still have 1300 bugs to resolve, down from 1700 a year ago at this time. We are seeing improvements but it appears glacial at times. Enough! The PlanetChristmas Forums will soon be changing the underlying infrastructure to another vendor. All existing posts and accounts will be migrated to the new platform. The functionality you're used to is the same though some of the terminology has changed. I expect some inconvenience, but it will be worth it to stabilize our forums and allow us a steady platform for growth. As for me, I can't wait to start moving forward after treading water for a year. What can you expect during the transition? There will be a 24 hour window where the current forums will be out of service while all the data is transitioned to the new platform. The forums will then reopen and you'll pick up where you left off... with many new new options available. Worried? Don't be. We've been through this before. Just for the record: I had a full head of hair when the PlanetChristmas forum was first opened in 1996 More to come so please stay tuned.
  5. No need to worry about the "humble enthusiasts"... there will be plenty to do and learn for everyone in Gatlinburg. The schedule on the website was written last summer... almost a year before the event so it was a bit tough putting the right spin on things. The goal was to get people to at least put the date on their 2011 calendar Remember pros and enthusiasts have plenty to learn from each other. The website is due for an update in a couple of weeks. One of several sessions we'll be adding is called "As Seen on TV" where we hope to bring in many of the people you've seen on the various Christmas specials over the years. You'll learn how they got picked, what it was like to be followed by a TV camera and how their life has changed since the show was aired on national television. Not quite like American Idol but I prefer to think PlanetChristmas decorators are just as talented in a different kind of way. Pointers heard in this session will help you when the local TV stations come calling as word gets out about your display. There will be sessions on indoor decorating, lasers, incorporating videos, next-gen Christmas lights and more. Stay tuned!
  6. RGB: Red Green Blue. Think of a single bulb with these three colors built in... mix the colors and produce just about any color in the visible lighting spectrum. RGB based LEDs are coming on strong. The dream of many light fanatics is to have a string of lights where any bulb can be told to be any color at anytime. Imagine the possibilities! Philips Color Kinetics pioneered this idea several years ago with their iColor Flex nodes, but gosh were they ever expensive. Now we're seeing other manufacturers getting interested and the prices are dropping. What's the biggest challenge besides the cost? Think control. Every bulb needs three channels to control the intensity of red, green and blue. That 100 light string suddenly needs 300 control channels. That megatree with 3200 lights needs 9600 control channels. My head is already starting to hurt imagining a 9600 channel sequencing grid. Ouuuuucccchhhhh! Are RGBs in your future? If not yet, they will be. Let's talk about them here so we all can be on that bloody cutting edge of technology and dazzle our audiences!
  7. The PlanetChristmas community self-moderates. What in the world does self-moderate mean???? I rely on everyone to follow our three fundamental rules: family friendly, positive and Christmas centric. Anyone should feel comfortable allowing their six year old child or 100 year old mother to wander around PlanetChristmas and the forums. If you see a post violating any of our three rules before I do, please send me a private message (at the upper right of this page underneath the buttons) or high priority email at [email protected] and I will address the issue. PlanetChristmas has zero tolerance for rule breakers. Violators will lose all rights with no notification.
  8. Let's be careful here. No pirate CDs are allowed at PlanetChristmas. We pay for what we use. Everyone needs to make a living.
  9. PlanetChristmas is hear to help every day of the year. Congratulations on a job well done!
  10. TYM In the very early days of my display there wasn't much traffic. Then I dropped a hint to my mother she come watch what I had done. Within a few days traffic really picked up. Tell Your Mother. She'll inform everybody as she brags about her kids Now that I thnk about it... the traffic picked up the closer it got to Christmas... no doubt just a coincidence
  11. DANGER WILL ROBINSON! Evil is not what we do. As tempting as it might be to punish the bad guys for messing with Christmas displays, leave that to law enforcement. They wear the bullet-proof vests. Signs and bright lights are the best deterrent.
  12. An artist is never satisfied with their work Sequencing lights to music is a bit like learning the piano. You can play a very simple tune quickly (I'm exceptionally talented at "Mary had a little lamb") but it takes years of practice, hard work and perseverance to find and take advantage of the instrument's nuances you hear when a great artist performs the same thing. If this was easy, everyone would do it. What's the key to a great show? Don't wait until the last minute. Practice your craft year-round.
  13. One of my tricks is to video the synchronized display initially using just the camera microphone...you can quickly move the camera around for different angles without having to worry about extra radios, wires, etc. Edit your final video keeping everything in sync with the field recorded audio. When done, mute the field audio track and add another track of the same music your synchronized show is using. Now you have great video with perfect audio. Another hint: cutaway shots don't have to be in perfect sync with the final audio... the viewer has already figured out the lights flash with the music and the cutaway breaks the monotony of just one long shot. Word to the wise: editing video can become a black hole of time... but it sure is fun!
  14. I just pulled some snide remarks from this thread. Let me remind everyone about the PlanetChristmas rules: we're POSITIVE, family friendly and Christmas centric.
  15. Almost all of the giant frames you see in Gatlinburg (and most other cities) are custom made. It kinda makes sense if you think about it. Cities want to be unique and the size of the frames mean they're hand built and not sitting in quantity on a shelf in a warehouse. Building the frames does take a welder with talent. Really big frames might require a structural engineer just to make sure it doesn't collapse. If you can provide a scaled drawing of exactly what you want, getting it fabricated can usually be done locally. As for getting the lights attached... well, get ready to do that yourself or contact one of the pro Christmas fabricators. It's certainly not hard but it does take time. Large frames are lit with C7 LEDs. Why? Low current draw and you don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure out how to replace a bad bulb. Bottom line: your imagination is your only limitation.
  16. Vandalism. It's going to happen. Someone will figure out a way to steal or damage some of your display. Why? I wish I knew. Some suggestions: Passive Prevention: Scatter some signs in your yard that aren't too big but send a subtle message. My favorite is "Danger, High Voltage, AT ALL TIMES" Find a template at http://www.planetchristmas.com/Signs.htm Ask your local police to park an out-of-service cruiser close to your home. Active Prevention: Vandals hate light. When your display is off, turn on all the flood lights. Anyone sneaking around will cast long shadows and alert others. Get some motion sensing flood lights and scatter a few around the yard. When someone sneaks in, a light will suddenly come on and casting doubt that he/she/it is all alone. Sit on the front porch with a paint-ball gun and wait for an opportunity to use it. When vandalism does happen: Call the police and fill out a robbery report. The missing items might not be worth much but law enforcement is put on notice there's trouble in their community. Call the press. Stolen items from a Christmas display is a great human interest headline. You probably won't get your stuff back but the community will take your side and offer unexpected support. What are the odds of vandalism? Very low, but it's going to happen sooner or latter if you put out an elaborate display every year.
  17. Think you're ready to take your static display, hook it to a computer and dazzle the world with an incredible sound and light show? Look before you leap. Think of it this way. You walk into a room, turn on the light switch and the overhead light comes on. Pretty simple concept. If you turn on the switch and nothing happens, chances are really good the light is burned out so you replace it and life returns to normal. In the computerized world, you don't have one light switch controlling one light, but at least 16 electronic light switches controlling hundreds or thousands of lights. Each electronic light switch is controlled by a computer and each switch is connected to an extension cord snaking out through your yard and plugged into a bush, column or roof outline. Now when there's a problem, is it the string of lights, extension cord, electronic switch or computer? See how things get more complicated in a hurry? Then there's that computer. They're great when they're working right... but if you've worked with computers before, you know it doesn't take much for them to start doing really odd things. It sure doesn't help computers revert to geek-speak when they veer off-course leaving you to try and understand a very foreign language. The light control manufacturers do everything they can to simplify the technology but the bottom line is there are a lot of parts that must work together perfectly to have a great show. If this was easy, everyone would do it. Notice everyone isn't doing it. If you're ready to shift from a static to a computerized display, when should you start? Now. Note that as I write this it's December 2010 and time to get ready for your new computerized display in 2011. Evaluate the vendors and order a simple 16 light channel system now. Set it up in a dedicated work area in the house and start experimenting. This stuff takes time to understand as you get comfortable with all the different pieces of this complicated puzzle. Go ahead and plan now to get frustrated. Be patient and take baby steps. By next November, you'll be able to roll out a computerized light show, feel confident in what you're doing and dazzle the neighbors. Each year you can then add more computerized channels to your display and build upon your hard earned knowledge. Is it worth the hard work, expense, pain, frustration and time? Yes, yes, yes!
  18. Elaborate Christmas displays typically mean more traffic... which almost always brings out the "Grinch" behavior in one of your neighbors. You can ignore the Grinch but don't underestimate their power. They will complain to your city officials or home owners association and end up causing headaches. Once this process has started the time spent trying to please the Grinch is time you're not enjoying the holidays. How do you handle the Grinch? It's best to let him/her know about your display ahead of time. Listen to any concerns he/she might have and offer to work with them. Sometimes offering to shut down your display at 11:30 instead of midnight on weekends does the trick. Making sure you play their favorite Christmas tune during the show is another. Show them respect and you'll be amazed how many Grinch types will become your biggest fan. What's another reason for reaching out to the Grinch early? Should the Grinch complain to the local government, you can say you've already tried working with him/her and you'll look like the hero.
  19. LED Christmas lights: new technology, bright and pure light sources with vibrant colors. Incandescent Christmas lights: proven technology and no surprises. If you are power limited, LED based Christmas lights are the way to go. They typically use only 20% of the power consumed by incandescents and the lights are made of plastic so they're nearly unbreakable. That's the good news. The not-so-good news is LEDs can cost 3-8 times as much as incandescents and quality varies wildly. If you're an over-the-top decorator faced with installing new electrical service just to power your old incandescent lights, shift to LEDs and save money all around. If upfront expense is a concern, incandescent Christmas lights are still viable. They're cheap to buy but do consume plenty of electricity. LED or incandescent Christmas lights? Do the math.
  20. How many lights should be on a Christmas tree? Now that's a tough one to answer. The easy rule of thumb is 100 lights for every foot in height. But... A one foot tall tree with 100 lights would be, well, odd looking since you'd see nothing but the wires connecting the lights. A 50' tree with just 5,000 lights would look... poorly lit. Here's a better rule of thumb: You can never have too many lights on a tree (except maybe for that one footer version above.) Use as many lights as the tree can hold yet you're still able to see the branches.
  21. Christmas vendors have a real challenge. They do the bulk of their business the last quarter of the year. The two weeks after Thanksgiving are frantic. They can't hire enough people to handle the demand. What if you need help from the vendor during the peak time of year? Don't panic. Keep in mind the vendor really does want to help but it's tough when the whole world requests something at the same time. The most useful information will come directly from the vendor so get in line as soon as possible. Go to their website, call the phone number and/or request support through their help desk. Describe your problem with as much detail as you can think of. Simply saying it doesn't work doesn't help. Exactly what is it not working? Has it ever worked? Have you made any changes? Have the questions answered before they need to be asked. Check the public forums the vendor might maintain. Chances are your problem isn't unique and someone else has already experienced it. Still searching for the answer? Post your question in the PlanetChristmas forums. Best as I can tell, people are available 24x7 to offer advice. Use an Internet search engine to look for an answer. Think carefully how you phrase the search. Include the vendor name, product name and a few words about the problem. The key to resolving your problem ASAP is to be searching for the answer in multiple venues at the same time. If you find the answer before the vendor has a chance to officially reply, don't get mad but instead be glad you got the problem fixed.
  22. In the beginning you long for just one car to be sitting in front of your display and enjoying what you have done. Over the years the traffic will keep increasing. If your display becomes well known, the traffic can get pretty dense the closer you get to Christmas. You might think it's a good problem to have because people are seeing your work. Not so. Traffic issues make people irritated and they leave with a bad impression. Address the flow of viewers in front of your display now before it becomes a problem. Anticipate lots of people on weekends. Count on them ramping up the closer it is to Christmas and plan for Christmas Eve to be a potential zoo. If you have a static display, switch the lights off for a couple of minutes every 30 minutes. Some people call it the dump mode. Lights go out and people quickly move on so the next group can move in. If you have a computerized displays, shorten your playlist on busy nights. People typically leave when they hear a song repeated. The fewer songs played, the faster people will cycle through. Put out a sign that more songs are played other days of the week. What about fender benders? They happen but they're at slow speeds and typically minor. Luckily, people are always in a good mood. When the police car shows up to fill out the accident report, take advantage of the extra blue light show Traffic still out of control? Contact your local police department. They will offer useful tips on how to handle the crowds and might loan some traffic cones/barricades to help the flow. On really busy nights you should consider hiring an off-duty police officer. He/she will sit nearby in their cruiser and help when traffic jams up. Don't be surprised to pay a law enforcement officer $100+ per evening... but it's well worth the expense in extreme traffic flow cases. Bottom line: when it comes to traffic, be careful what you wish for.
  23. Got the big display reveal coming up in just a few hours? Are people already starting to gather to experience a full display immersion? No pressure. Been there. Done that. The Boy Scout motto is "be prepared" and it certainly applies to over-the-top displays. Somewhere it's written that the component you only have one of will be the component that fails at the worst possible time. In the computerized lighting world it's typically the little gizmo that connects the computer to the light controllers... or the computer itself that decides to fail when you least expect it. In the static display world it's usually the circuit breaker or master timer that fails. Bummer. Think like a Boy Scout and be prepared for the worst. Have extras of critical components so you can quickly replace anything. It's worth a few minutes thinking about where your weak spots are now and shore them up. The time and money spent planning for the worst will pay off handsomely when you realize your display is in trouble.
  24. Have a computerized display? Ever noticed a light channel will go nutso on a controller an hour before the TV crew shows up to document your masterpiece for the evening news? Been there. Done that. As tempting as it is to use every light controller you have in your display, it's not a good idea. With so many individually controlled light circuits, odds are something will go wrong with one of them at the worst possible time. If the only fix is to send the light controller back to the manufacturer for repair, you're in a world of hurt... ...unless you have a spare controller to use until the sick one can be fixed. Having a spare sitting around might seem like wasted money. Not so. That spare is insurance and can be worth its weight in gold when you need something fixed in a hurry.
  25. Tried taking pictures of your display at night and ended up with lots of blurry lights or a picture that looks like it was taken during the day? Been there. Done that. Your camera defaults to thinking every picture it takes should be lit like it's noon under a full sun. At night your camera holds the shutter open until it gathers enough light to look like the sun's out. Unfortunately, when the shutter is open the camera must be rock solid stable and humans aren't good at holding things steady. The pros take pictures at twilight... those few minutes in the evening right as the sun is setting. I'm not a pro. If you have a tripod, use it. It will make all the difference in the world. If you can control how your camera takes pictures, set it for night shots. If you can control how long your shutter stays open, keep it short enough to capture light but not long enough to expose like it's noon. If you can control your camera ISO (think how sensitive the film is to light) then go ahead and crank it up high. You'll see a little noise in your digital images but the exposure will be shorter so the chances of a blurry shot are less. Dark pictures taken with digital cameras can be greatly enhanced using software (Photoshop, Picasa, etc.) Blurry photos are, well, useless. Finally, with digital cameras, take a gazillion pictures using various camera settings. You'll end up with the "money" shot eventually.
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