Now, remember I mentioned something about  "I did think about building the 320 port controller,"  back in Feb - 06,  well I thought about it,  & I've decided to build a 128 channel version of it.  I've also been shown a video by a work colleague of Christmas lights animated to music ! ! !  -  This is what started it, it was so big it hit CNN news with all the traffic chaos it caused.  Well, it got me inspired - I was hooked !

This now means a lot of work,  - every single light or string of lights will have to be controlled by the computer and the interface.  So that means I'll have to build lots of opto-isolators & triac/thyristor interfaces.  Errr "opto-isolators & triac interfaces".  Don't worry,  if you know what they are that's okay, if you don't - it just means a lot of work for me and makes things a bit safer.

Oh, did I mention I also managed to get a load of rope light at a good price with the idea of having three different colours around each of the windows,  front door,  under the eaves & outlining the roof of the canopy.  Okay,  yes,  the work load is getting bigger.  Just the rope lights alone is 15 interfaces with three channels in each !
Glutton for punishment or what !    NO !   Just doing it for the love of displaying at Christmas.

Okay,  so how am I going to build this interface ? 

A lot of thinking was done & I decided to build it using a prototyping board  -  no soldering  -  just push the components & wires into the board in the right places,  and the connections are made.
By the time the thinking had been done,  and the decision arrived at to use prototyping board,  the Easter Holiday had also arrived.  Yes - April, and I'm thinking of Christmas, started thinking about it last December actually !

So off to Scotland we went to my wife's parents and took them on holiday in a quiet country cottage.  In the evenings I built the 128 channel version of the interface above. . . 
Phew . . .   1st bit done.

When we came back from our holiday I added the RJ45 connectors and the links to the interface.  - Another bit of fiddly work.
In the picture on the left are the RJ45 connectors and the cables to the opto-isolators outside. 


( Opto-isolators separate the mains voltage from the interface and the computer so that it is safe. )  On the right is the opto-isolators for some of the rope lights.  Three channels in each box,  one for each blue, yellow & red rope light.  Boxes similar to these are deployed throughout the display to interface the mains voltage to the lights.  They are also used for the lo-voltage lights simply as a means of controlling them in a similar way.

In previous years, putting rope light up took some time. So, now that I had a lot more rope lights, I had to find an easy way of fixing it up. The idea I came up with was to secure the three colours of rope lights in square section rain water down pipe, cut in half length ways and using cable ties to attach the rope light. What's more, it's all waterproof and doesn't go rusty !   They are attached to the guttering using gutter mounting brackets in reverse.  This makes it easier when putting it up and taking it down.

Told you this was a big change, - keep reading. . . . . .

Okay,  I mentioned a computer just above,  so what's a computer got to do with Christmas lights going on and off?    Well it's like this.
The lights are going to be animated to music.     Ugh?    Yes the lights are going to be turned on and off in time with some festive music.  Now to do this we need some software, but I'm not that clever, so Enter  "Vixen".   Who?  "Vixen".   Remember back in 2003 I discovered a website called Computerchrismas, well, as a result of this I discovered another website in December 2005 called - this site was more to do with the software capable of controlling a variety of interfaces described on computerchristmas.  This website has now evolved into a massive forum for people who like building there own Christmas lighting displays animated to music using a computer.  -  E N J O Y.

The software ( Vixen ) is available FREE from the Doityourselfchristmas website so I downloaded and installed it on a computer running WindowsXP.  I read the instructions on how to configure the software, add music and program lighting sequences, then got on and did it.

I programmed a small test sequence first, plugged it all together, ( the interface plugs into the parallel port on the PC ),  and;   Yes It works !   How do I know this?  Each of the outputs on the interface has an LED on it for monitoring.     (picture)

It took most of the year to build the interface and the opto-isolator boxes/triac drivers, doing a little bit at a time.  I also programmed the lighting display to two pieces of music, one is the well known piece for Christmas lighting displays, Wizards in Winter by the Trans Siberian Orchestra, and the other piece I chose was a favourite of mine Silent Night played on an organ by Klaus Wunderlich.

Okay !   It's time to jump in with two feet. . . . . .

The programmes are written, the interface is built and tested, the opto-isolator boxes/triac drivers are done, oh - the conical tree got re-built with lo-voltage lights as well. - More work.
Okay, lets put it together.

History Index

Messages from
     The Grinch (2011)
No Change
     (Dec. 2010)
Trees Grow !
     (Dec. 2009)
2008 Display
     (Dec. 2008)
Planning for 2008 !
     (Early 2008)
Here we go !
     (Nov. 2007)
The Big Change !!!
The Night Before
     Light-up (Dec. 2006)
The Tungsten Tree
     (Feb - Nov. 2006)
The Second move
     (Dec. 2005)
Who put that there ?
     (Aug. 2005)
Back in business
     (Dec. 2004)
Click Click Click
     (Dec. 2003)
Rope Lights
     (Dec. 2002)
The Move
     (Dec. 2001)
More Silicon Chips
     (Dec. 2000)
The Next Few Years
     & Chips
The Bug was biting
     (1993 on)
Early Married Life
     (1981 on)
A logical development
     (Dec. 1973 ish)
In the Beginning
     (Dec. 1962)