For many, Christmas may be the most wonderful time of the year. However, for residents of Boulder, Colorado, it’s also the most entertaining. Alek Komarnitsky has over 20,000 lights and other Christmas decorations illuminating his neighborhood—and probably much of the sky over it. However, he’s not just another one of Santa’s elves blowing up every inflatable decoration his lawn can handle. All of his decorations are automated—and he welcomes visitors to take the reigns when they stop by his website.
Three D-Link DCS-6620G wireless webcams allow visitors to peek at the display from anywhere with a web connection. This is Alek’s ninth year operating the site, which makes its first live appearance at Thanksgiving, and remains active until January 1. Of course, there is some intentional downtime. One of the webcams runs around the clock, but the others are typically live from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. (MST) each day. This is also the time that users can send instant messages, which pop up on a laptop in Alek’s office, also known as Santa’s workshop (see webcam 3).
However, the real main attraction is the ability to control some of Alek’s decorations. Lights, SpongeBob, Homer Simpson, the Hulk, and an array of other decorations are hooked to an X10 Firecracker Serial Interface and various X10 receiver/transmitter devices plugged into outlets around the house. There are also dozens of X10 SR227 Super Socket modules. The whole setup comes together on one Linux laptop.
“X10 isn’t the most reliable protocol, but my guess is it works over 90 percent of the time, even in this extreme situation,” Alek says, citing a few failed modules over the years. Still, if you go to the site, there doesn’t seem to be many issues—unless you count the occasional eye-twitch from all of the activity. Lights are constantly going on and off, and you can usually see Elmo or another ornament get inflated/deflated. Of course, Alek enjoys the comments, emails and even the endless flickering of his display. “The flickering is outside, so you don’t see it that much and we are used to it,” Alek says. “Stepping Santa [webcam 3] does get a bit old after a while hearing him go up and down the ladder.” Santa aside, the real reason he invites strangers to come into his home during the holiday season is to raise awareness for Celiac Disease.
“I certainly got my 15 minutes of fame in 2004 when the story went (literally) around the world,” Alek says. “So I figured maybe I’d get another 15 seconds of fame and use that to increase awareness about Celiac Disease and raise some money to help find a cure… so when my kids grow up, I can go out for pizza and beer with ‘em.”
Both of Alek’s children suffer from Celiac Disease, which is an intolerance to gluten (wheat, oats, barley, etc.). It’s not your run-of-the-mill food allergy. Alek says it’s actually an autoimmune disorder, which has no cure and requires a strict diet (“Tough with kids!”). So he is using his lighting display to increase awareness and even funds, which go to the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research. At press time, Alek had raised over $34,000 for research.
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Over the past 15 years, Rachel Cericola has covered entertainment, web and technology trends. Check her out at www.rachelcericola.com.