Homeowner Puts Holiday Decor in YOUR Hands

Komarnitsky House

Alek Komarnitsky invites website visitors to control his holiday decorations and lighting display.

Alek Komarnitsky lights up and allows web visitors to control his Christmas decorations -- all in the name of charity.

Dec. 16, 2008 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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.

With thousands visitors each day this season, it should be pretty easy to raise awareness. It’s also kind of fun. Others obviously think so, too. At last peek, the X10 controls had been toggled over 10,000 times—in one 5-hour day.

While the sky (and web) may be lit up with Alek’s holiday enthusiasm, his utility bills aren’t. He says the total cost of the display for a month only averages about $63. He also tries to get most of what he displays when it’s on sale after the holiday—and he is thinking ahead to next year’s setup. Since 2002, Alek has even dabbled in wind-powered lighting, which can be pricey. Also, to offset some of the electricity that the setup consumes, he does make a yearly donation to CarbonFund.org.

Plenty of site visitors have offered to pay for decorations as well as other expenses, but Alek says the costs that he puts out are just a small price to pay. “A whole month of holiday fun is provided to people around the world,” he says on his site. “Plus some awareness and thousands of dollars in donations for Celiac Disease Research!”

Click here to view pictures of Alex’s home.

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