How to Control Christmas Lights Over the Internet

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I received an email a few weeks ago, telling me about a very cool interactive website. I have the site owner on the phone with me, so he can tell us more about how we can interact with his holiday decorations.

By going to, you can control the various decorations around their home and yard.

First, you put a bunch out and folks drive by to look at them. Then you put pictures on the Internet and people surf to look at static images. Then you add a webcam to provide a real-time view. And finally, you then integrate that with web_control to not only allow web surfers to pan/zoom the webcam, but also turn the lights on and off!

Since the lights are all controlled via X-10, it’s not difficult to integrate a web interface that takes inputs from the user, sends X-10 commands to toggle the lights, and then update the webcam to show the results.There is a rate-limiter at the web server that throttles the requests since X10 is capable of at most one update/second. I’d also add that the system is fully automatic and can (and has) started itself up and shut down by itself when I have been out of town. There are dozens of outlets (with X10 SR227 Super Sockets) and Appliance & Lamp Modules which are all in eight zones.

I used a Sony F828 and (borrowed) Canon DSLR (10D and 5D) in 2004 and 2005. For 2006, I used a Canon Rebel XTi with 17-85IS lens. For 2007, I used a Canon 40D with the 17-85IS, 10-22, and 50/1.4 lens. I just put the camera on top of a ladder across the street at dusk, use about 1/2 second exposure at around F4.0 with ISO 100. There’s about a 5-10 minute window when the light is “just right” … also helpful is if there is some clouds that evening.

The reason Alek is doing all of this is for a reason other than just loving Christmas lights. Both of his children have Celiac Disease. He is trying to raise money for the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research. So far, they have raised just over $20,000.00 for this wonderful cause. So stop by, play with the lights, and consider making a donation to the University.

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