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Linux Powers Controllable Christmas Lights for Charity

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the tux-and-santa-for-the-win dept.

Christmas Cheer 30

Santa Claus writes "Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier's recent article at Linux.Com tells the hilarious story of Alek's Controllable Christmas Lights. When he out'ed himself to the Wall Street Journal, saying that it was a simulation/hoax in 2004, the mass media howled at being fooled while Slashdot simply said Humbug. Alek claims that he went legit in 2005, as confirmed by the Rocky Mountain News. Brockmeier did an on-site visit to actually see and report in detail how the system really works ... for real! For 2006, there are three D-Link DCS-6620G webcams providing live coverage of 15,000 Christmas Lights, plus giant inflatable Elmo, Santa, and Homer Simpson. X10 power technology allows web surfers to turn stuff on & off with a click of a mouse. You can also type in text for everyone to see on a laptop in Santa's Workshop Cam. This year over $15,000 has been raised for the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research, as a result of the lights. Brockmeier and the Christmas FAQ says it is load-balanced across four dedicated 100 Mbps Apache/Linux servers running mod_perl." and Slashdot are both owned by OSTG.

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Alek says HO HO HO ... ;-) (5, Informative)

xmas2003 (739875) | more than 7 years ago | (#17357462)

As a Slashdot Subscriber [] (highly recommended BTW), I saw this story in the "Mysterious Future" and needless to say, it is EMERGENCY ALERT on [] as I'm sure Scotty will be saying shortly "Control Circuits threatening to overload Captain!" [] The four dedicated 100 Mbps Apache/Linux web servers (using mod_perl) handled a doubleheader of DIGG and FARK on December 13th and are already getting hammered ... but Slashdot could be another level ... lets see how high the load factor goes on this snowy Christmas Eve.

Zonker's article is excellent [] - highly recommend /.'ers RTFA (hah!) since there is ... uhhhhh ... a bit of history associated with my "controllable" Christmas Lights ... ;-) []

People around the world are hammering it allready (Google Maps mish-mash) [] so I'll try to keep the web servers going while everyone turns the lights ON ... OFF ... ON ... OFF ... ON ... etc.

Have fun with it and Merry Christmas to all,

P.S. The web site is totally free ... but raises awareness/funds for the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Disease. [] This is something my kids have, so it's personal for me ... so if you are feeling the Christmas spirit and want to donate a few dollars, please do so at their site.

Re:Alek says HO HO HO ... ;-) (1)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 7 years ago | (#17357516)

I can't imagine how you managed to get modded off-topic when posting about your own stuff. -sigh-

As for the system... Wow. That's quite a setup to try to survive digg/fark/slashdot. I hope it makes it.

Also, I'm glad you were able to use the publicity on this to benefit a worthwhile cause as well. Good thinking there.

Re:Alek says HO HO HO ... ;-) (1, Troll)

khedron the jester (888418) | more than 7 years ago | (#17357626)

Heh, unluckily this has been posted Christmas night, so only the loneliest of /.ers will see it.

Oh, wait... ;)

Re:Alek says HO HO HO ... ;-) (1)

Umbral Blot (737704) | more than 7 years ago | (#17357782)

remember: time zones

Re:Alek says HO HO HO ... ;-) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17364048)

And Muslims and Jews?

Re:Alek says HO HO HO ... ;-) (4, Informative)

Salvance (1014001) | more than 7 years ago | (#17357666)

No offense to Captain Taco, slashdot, or anyone here ... but I hardly imagine slashdot would take down the servers if the servers already handled Digg (particularly on Christmas Eve). Slashdot is News for Nerds, Digg used to be, but is now general purpose slop. As a result, Digg volume is unbelievably HUGE since it's now being used by a far larger population than just techies.

As an example, on a blog I own (not the site in my sig), one of my posts hit all the major "social bookmarking" sites at once. Here are the stats:
- Reddit: 1,027
- 1,856 (I was surprised here)
- Fark: 8,347
- Slashdot: 18,111
- Digg: 94,991

And on my site in my sig, the owner has seen #s from Digg around the 100,000 visits within 24 hours as well (since it's not a tech site, I can't compare #s to slashdot since it wouldn't hit slashdot's front page). It's actually really annoying, because Digg visitors almost never stay for more than ~5 seconds (slashdot readers appear to at least read part of the story).

Re:Alek says HO HO HO ... ;-) (4, Funny)

Jeng (926980) | more than 7 years ago | (#17357756)

It's actually really annoying, because Digg visitors almost never stay for more than ~5 seconds (slashdot readers appear to at least read part of the story).

I think you just said why a site that lets you play with Christmas lights is much more dangerous on Slashdot, than on Digg.

Re:Alek says HO HO HO ... ;-) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17357836)

If it seems to you like discussions here on Slashdot aren't as active as they used to be, that's because they're not. If Google Trends is a reliable indicator, and there's no good reason to believe otherwise, Slashdot currently attracts less than half the traffic it did at its peak in 2005. []

Will the last one out please turn off the lights?

Re:Alek says HO HO HO ... ;-) (2, Interesting)

MP3Chuck (652277) | more than 7 years ago | (#17357948)

Interestingly enough, that peak hits around the same time that Digg picks up [] . I've always been of the belief that Digg and /. server two different (but obviously overlapping) audiences, but maybe I'm wrong.

Re:Alek says HO HO HO ... ;-) (1)

Macthorpe (960048) | more than 7 years ago | (#17359254)

You could be seeing a departure from Slashdot of those who were only here because they had nowhere else to go.

Maybe the Digg and Slashdot audiences don't overlap very much, but because Digg didn't exist people came here anyway.

Then again, I don't know how people work (or at least, I try not to find out...)

Re:Alek says HO HO HO ... ;-) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17359626)

I read /. much less than I used to because *every* discussion here turns into a political flamewar. The moderation system encourages cowardice and me-too-ism.

Re:Alek says HO HO HO ... ;-) (1, Offtopic)

vorpal22 (114901) | more than 7 years ago | (#17357848)

Coeliac disease [] is a very serious condition. I know all about digestive system disorders, having Crohn's disease [] myself. These conditions are largely misunderstood and often dismissed, and as they can already be very physically debilitating, to have them looked at trivially by a large chunk of society adds a huge dimension of emotional suffering and stress to an already horrible situation. I urge people to donate for medical research to these often ignored causes, which seem to be increasing steadily in incidence in first-world countries for reasons that are yet unknown.

Re:Alek says HO HO HO ... ;-) (1)

pieterh (196118) | more than 7 years ago | (#17359122)

Has anyone bothered to study whether children affected by digestive system disorders like Coeliac disease and Chrohn's disease were exposed to antibiotics at a vulnerable young age?

Seems quite evident to me that there is a series of factors: working mothers who have less time to breast-feed; babies put into daycare where they can get more bugs; wider use of antibiotics to cure these bugs; lower immunity and weaker intestinal fauna & flora due to less breast milk...

Probably no cure for someone who's digestive system got so messed by by antibiotics when they were 4-12 months old that they react to gluten, nuts, whatever, as a foreign substance.

But for today's babies, more time with the mother, more breast milk, and no antibiotics unless it's a matter of life and death... that might cure it.

Sheesh.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17357620)

Don't we geeks have anything better to do on Christmas eve?

Re:Sheesh.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17357644)


Surprisingly, I went on a date last Thursday. But the girl I went out with is with her family tonight.

All my friends are out of town. :-(

Re:Sheesh.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17357680)

My video was due back too.

Re:Sheesh.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17357732)

Don't we geeks have anything better to do on Christmas eve?
With the exception of viewing porn -- no, not really.

Linux powers the lights? (5, Funny)

proxy318 (944196) | more than 7 years ago | (#17357768)

Wow! All these years I've been wasting my money using electricity to power my lights. Wish someone had told me about this earlier.

Re:Linux powers the lights? (1)

Doppler00 (534739) | more than 7 years ago | (#17358768)

53.7 amps * 120V = 6.44kW at $0.15/kwh it's about $0.96 an hour. So if he runs this for 30 days it's $696 dollars in electricity. Merry Christmas to the power companies :)

LED's anyone?

Re:Linux powers the lights? (1)

xmas2003 (739875) | more than 7 years ago | (#17359590)

First, hats off to you for actually doing the calculations. But a few significant corrections are in order that reduce the electrical costs to less than $100 for the month ... or about $3/day. My electricity (including taxes) is about 10 cents/KWH, the lights are typically operational for only 5 hours/day, and people turn them OFF about as often as they turn them ON. LED lights are still pretty darn expensive, especially when you have thousands of lights to put up and considering I buy my stuff at the post-holiday 50-75-90% off sales. An excerpt from this page [] is listed below.

November/2006: A letter was published in the Boulder Daily Camera. I sent a response, but it didn't get published - both are attached below.

Published in BDC Open Forum on November 21st, 2006
*LIGHTS* - *This Christmas, less can be more*

Every year, the Daily Camera does a story honoring the beautiful displays of holiday lights in our community.

In the 2006 Season of Light, I'd like to make a plea that the Camera seek out the most /imaginative/ displays, not the most extravagant and energy-intensive. In a year that's seen global warming established as a fact in most minds, as well as a threat to our kids and theirs, it seems to me wrong-headed to pile on the lights (unless solar powered!) or to praise anyone for doing so.

With a little imagination, and encouragement from community leaders (such as yourself), we can do more with less and be the better for it.

Here was my response to that ...

An Open Forum letter a week ago encouraged Boulder residents to be more imaginative (rather than just have more lights) with their Christmas Displays in order to reduce the impact on Global Warming. As someone who is often called Clark Griswold this time of the year, here's what I'm doing along those lines - may also provide ideas for others:

  1. Less Lights - "only" 15,000 this year - down from 26,000 in 2005.
  2. Xcel Wind Power - Will be the 3rd year I've been in this program.
  3. Carbon Offset - even though I'm using "clean" energy, I made a contribution to CarbonFund.Org for twice last year's 2 Megawatt-Hours of electrical power consumption.
  4. For the second year in a row, you can (really) view the display on the Internet via live webcams. I.e. you don't need to burn fossil fuels by driving to see it in person.
  5. Just like 2005 (but not 2004), environmentally inclined Internet surfers can go to the website and turn the lights OFF. Be forewarned that people from around the world (119 countries so far) enjoy seeing 'em ON ... so you will have to "battle" for control.
  6. Lights off after 10:00 - I use a master timer so the display is typically only active between 5:00-10:00MST nightly. The overseas web surfers would like 'em left on all night, but I have great neighbors and figure they deserve a rest from the blinking lights.

Being an open-minded Republic of Boulder [] resident, I respect that some people still may not feel that is enough. However, many folks don't realize that the cost to run the 26,000 Christmas Lights in 2005 was $5/day . i.e. one Double Peppermint Latte.

And for me, that.s plenty well worth it for the joy it brings to people and especially the kids when they see the display in person and/or on the web. "Imaginative" additions this year are giant Inflatable Elmo and Homer Simpson - D'OH! So while my Christmas Lights might be a bit tacky, they make an effort to be environmentally conscious; plus they are just a darn lotta fun. ;-)

Finally, the Internet site has garnered thousands of dollars in donations to charity to help find a cure for Celiac Disease - something my kids have. So you better believe that is lit up again for 2006!

Merry Christmas and HO-HO-HO,

Re:Linux powers the lights? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17359020)

Photons want to be free and once Linux infects them with the GPL virus, they can escape.

Gah! (1)

Umbral Blot (737704) | more than 7 years ago | (#17357892)

My Eyes! The goggles, they do nothing!

Anyone else think that site was just a tad bit spastic?

Re:Gah! (1)

WindowsIsForArseWipe (990338) | more than 7 years ago | (#17358354)

He should be rainsing funds for those who gouged their eyes out after viewing his site aor seeing it in person!

Ow my eyes! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17358092)

Site reminds me of geoshities in the 90's.

just need a few more animated gifs and you're set.

I don't know. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17358250)

4 dedicated boxes seems a bit much for a relatively light project.

Ignoring that for the moment, I don't see what Linux has to do with this. He probably could have just as easily went with Windows, or OSX, or BSD, or whatever else. Though I imagine he went with Linux for the price.

Humbug! (1)

cranesan (526741) | more than 7 years ago | (#17358940)

I say humbug! It's a hoax!

That's all nice and swell, but... (1)

Lorkki (863577) | more than 7 years ago | (#17359486)

Does it r-- oh, nevermind!

hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17359834)

here's a comment:
so fucking what.
u can do that in dos.
no wonder linux isn't taking's getting excited about scraps while ignoring the bread.

I, for one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17360718)

I. for one, welcome Myself as the New Overlord of Alek's Christmas lights. ;)

Good job, Alek!

Joyous Seasons Blessings to you and your family! ......

(Oddly enough, the captcha for this post is "overtake". lol)
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