Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: How did you do this?
A: That is my favorite question. (Especially with a vocal emphasis on do.) In a nutshell, there's a computer in the garage. I built a controller (pictured at the right) that interfaces with the computer. That controller sends signals to 17 subcontrollers in the yard, and each of them can switch on or off six strings (or sets of strings) of lights. Then I wrote the software the play a song and switch lights on and off synchronized to the music.

If you really want a complete answer to this question, it will take a few hours. There's more information on the a technical page.

Q: How long does it take to put the lights up?
A: It takes me about a day to do the prep work of laying out the power and subcontrollers. Then it takes my good friend Freddie Barber and myself about two days to put all the rest of it up. You can see much of it all in 3 minutes 20 seconds on the time-lapse MPEG-2 video.

However, that is only putting up the lights, which is relatively easy. Designing and building all of the hardware and all of the software took about two years. The choreography of each song took about six to eight weeks.

Q: How did you get 104.1FM to broadcast your songs?
A: There is no 104.1FM radio station in the Plantation area. That is an unused frequency, and I built my own FM transmitter from a kit to use that frequency. It is a low-power signal, and you can only receive it within a block or two of our house.

Q: Is it legal for you to broadcast at 104.1FM?
A: The FCC laws are very complicated. Only an FCC attorney could answer that for sure. But the essence of the law is that I'm not allowed to interfere with anyone listening to a licensed radio station. I'm pretty sure I'm in compliance with that. Besides, there are many pirate radio stations in Broward that are way over the power output limits and actually do interfere with licensed radio stations. Let's worry about them first.

Q: Can you patent/sell/productize this?
A: Thanks for thinking of me. Basically, no. There is already a commercial lighting control solution available called Light-O-Rama. It just cost a lot more than what I was willing to pay, so I decided I could save money, learn a lot more, and have more flexibility if I just built my own. Using my own design feeds the control freak in me. Besides, Christmas is about freely giving, so the show is my free gift to you.

Q: Have you told the TV station about this?
A: Last year I tried but gave up. They would have to pay a royalty fee (not to me) to broadcast my show because of the music, and were not willing to do that. Besides, I don't think I want the crowds that might come as a result of that. Word of mouth is an effective enough way to get the word out.

Q: How many lights are there?
A: Sorry, but I don't have an accurate count. My guess is around 7000.

Q: How does this affect your power bill?
A: It isn't as much as it looks like. It is about 6000 watts, which is about the same as a hot water heater. It's only on from 5:45PM to 11:00PM each day. And the musical show reduces the power consumed - because when you think about it, what makes the show interesting is selectively turning the lights off.