Monday, December 25, 2006

Dyker Heights Christmas Lights

We were over at Dyker Heights to see the incredible display of lights last night. Disneyland has nothing over on these folks. There are several youtube versions of this, but I doubt anyone has used Steve and Eydie. About half of the pics were taken by Stephanie and Emma, the rest borrowed from a really good Brooklyn site,
from the NYTimes 12/7/06
Lights, Music, Action: Try to Keep Up, Please
AT dusk on Nov. 25, the lights started to dance to the music at the twin row houses of Robert DeLauro and Frank Cianflone in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. They blinked and shimmered, their colors fading in and out, as the homes -- linked with a Christmas tree made of lights hovering over a common driveway -- were outlined first in red lights, then green. Candy canes and a ''Happy Holidays'' banner of lights blinked in time to Frank Sinatra crooning ''Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,'' and a nativity scene on the Cianflones' lawn glowed and then dimmed, alternating with spotlights on Santa's sleigh and a snowman at the DeLauros'. Passersby could also hear Jiminy Cricket singing ''Very Merry Christmas'' from an outdoor speaker, or double-park and listen by tuning in with their car radios, drive-in-theater style, to 88.7 FM.
Mr. DeLauro, who decorates both his home and that of the Cianflones, his in-laws, next door, is one of a growing number of Christmas enthusiasts who are using computerized displays of synchronized lighting and sound to produce a kind of musical extravaganza, pushing the ever-mounting stakes in the competitive sport of decking the halls.
Until 1999, there were fewer than 100 such lighting animation hobbyists, according to Chuck Smith, the founder of, a Web site where Christmas display buffs have gathered for the past 10 years. But in 2000, with the advent of early-generation software and hardware that allowed people to create elaborately choreographed Christmas decorations, ''the genie was let out of the bottle,'' he said. (Mr. Smith, an electrical engineer from Franklin, Tenn., who calls himself a ''super-nerd,'' claims to have created the first computerized Christmas display, in 1984.)
Computerized displays enjoyed a huge increase in visibility last year, when an Ohio man's painstakingly choreographed light show became an Internet sensation, and was picked up for a Miller Lite commercial. In just the last year, Mr. Smith said, the Planet Christmas community has more than doubled, from 1,700 members to 4,000.
Until three years ago, Mr. DeLauro's lights merely twinkled in a static display of Christmas cheer. At the urging of his two teenage daughters, he searched the Internet for technology that would allow him to pipe in music to accompany the display. He found Light-O-Rama software and a microprocessor-based Light-O-Rama controller box with 16 programmable channels, which he wired to a computer in his basement. Then he connected his 10,000 lights to the controller using 32 extension cords.
''I spend all summer planning it out on my computer,'' said Mr. DeLauro, 46, a funeral supply business manager who holds a Christmas-in-August barbecue every year to test his lights. He listens to Christmas songs all year long, programming the lights to flicker to the beats. He found an empty frequency that lets him broadcast the show over the radio for about 25 feet on each side of his house using a small FM transmitter.
Mr. DeLauro posted his home on Planet Christmas, where the chat boards buzz 365 days a year about the latest decorating trends, from larger-than-life inflatables to light-emitting diodes, or L.E.D.s, that don't have filaments that burn out and that consume very little electricity. There is much discussion, too, of the fact that attention-grabbing computerized displays -- usually thought of as power-hogging -- actually save energy. ''Your consumption goes down by 90 percent or more, mainly because the lights aren't all on at the same time,'' said Mr. Smith, who has closely monitored his holiday electricity use for 20 years.
Even so, the number of lights on at any one time can be staggering. Marty Slack, 43, a firefighter and musician in Murray, Utah, near Salt Lake City, decorates his 1,800-square-foot town house and adjoining 1 1/4-acre property with some 100,000 lights in more than 400 separately controlled groups. ''Bruno'' and ''Winston,'' two talking heads constructed out of lights, emcee his show, telling jokes in the recorded voices of two of Mr. Slack's friends and singing along with seven animated six-foot-tall musicians playing French horns, drums and a saxophone, all mounted on the front of the house.
Mr. Slack's 15-minute show, which won an international lights competition run by Planet Christmas last year, has been ramped up this year to include 28 wire-frame reindeer, whose lights can be manipulated to create the impression of one or more animals running across a one-acre pasture, jumping a fence and running off into the bushes. There are also more than 50 miniature trees that appear to be chasing each other, all set against a large lighted cityscape backdrop. Videos of Santa waving are screened in an upstairs window.
Mr. Slack takes a two-month vacation before the holidays -- nearly all his yearly vacation time -- to get his light show running. Every minute of music takes more than 20 hours to synchronize, he said, and building the over-the-top display costs him about $5,000 in new equipment each year. But ''people have usually been out fighting the crowds and feeling the pressure to buy gifts and attend Christmas events,'' he said, and ''as they approach my show they seem to forget about all the pressures. Smiles and laughter seem to take the place of worries.'' They may, however, have to sit in 45-minute traffic jams that inevitably back up through the neighborhood to see the show.
Dan Baldwin, a software executive who started his career as a computer programmer and electrical engineer, saw opportunity in all the attention that his own computerized light display attracted. In 1999, he designed and built the first one at his home in Garfield, N.J., with trees on the roof, candy-cane shutters and a nativity scene. Visitors raved, and what started as a hobby soon became a full-time business, when Mr. Baldwin started Light-O-Rama in 2002.
Since then, he said, his business has grown 300 percent a year. ''Many thousands'' of residential do-it-yourselfers get started for $200, he said, and work up to systems costing $10,000 or more, often installed by professional Christmas decorators.
''It used to be that if there was any animation, it would be a Santa waving or a deer's leg moving, where it looked like he was running, but all those things were uncoordinated,'' said Mr. Baldwin, 52. Even store-bought decorations have become more animated, he said, but with a computerized system, people can coordinate the animation and produce a show.
Which is what the Nintendo generation, in particular, craves, said Paul Smith, president of Animated Lighting, a four-year-old Missouri company that manufactures animation software and plug-and-play starter kits, serving some 3,000 homeowners as well as commercial users and municipalities.
''People want a show,'' he said. ''We sell 'wow.' ''
Ken Good, 45, a lawyer in Tyler, Tex., switched from a static to a computerized display last year. He said he uses 300 extension cords to run more than 30,000 synchronized lights in his Christmas display, which includes a 12-foot inflatable snowman on the roof and a multimedia show with a voiceover. As the lights dim, a machine fills his yard with fog and a moving spotlight appears. A drum roll sounds, and red lights flash in one tree, then another, then a third, in an accelerating but seemingly random sequence, to the strains of ''Reflections of Earth,'' a k a the fireworks theme from Epcot. At the crescendo, white strobes shine on a different tree, creating a sparkling effect, and the original trees resume their dance in blue, green and red. Finally the entire yard is illuminated in green.
''It's dramatic,'' he said.
The music portion of Mr. Good's 25- to 30-minute show, which repeats for several hours each night, can be heard on car radios in his cul-de-sac. It includes ''Believe'' from ''The Polar Express'' and ''Silent Night'' and ends with ''Amazing Grace.''
Predictably, computerized light shows are becoming part of the annual display competitions sent up in the recent movie ''Deck the Halls,'' but they also lend themselves to cooperation among neighbors.
Year after year, Rob LaRe of Pickerington, Ohio, tried to outdo his neighbor Rick Griffith with his Christmas lights. Then, three years ago, Mr. LaRe decided that instead of adding more lights, he would make them dance.
''He fired his up and I fired mine up, and he said, 'I've got more,' '' recalled Mr. LaRe, 38, whose home is triple-strung with 40,000 lights. ''I said, 'Yes, but watch this.' ''
Mr. Griffith was duly impressed. Instead of competing, the neighbors ended up synchronizing their homes to the same blinking beats using wireless technology. Soon other neighbors were hankering to get in on the act. This year, Mr. LaRe, a graphic and Web designer, connected 13 houses in the neighborhood, hardwiring connections between the houses along each side of the street and using wireless technology to link the houses facing each other. (The display includes one Jewish couple's house with an inflatable menorah and blue-and-white lights.) An FM transmitter broadcasts ''Picktown Lights,'' a loop of 13 Christmas songs, on a frequency advertised by signs on the lawns, with lights on all the houses blinking and pulsing in accompaniment.
As passersby cruise down the street oohing and aahing, Mr. LaRe, dressed in a Santa costume, and his neighbors, dressed as elves, hand out candy canes and collect items for a local food pantry.
When people ask how the lights were synchronized, Mr. LaRe sticks to a simple explanation. ''It's Christmas magic,'' he says.

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