Below is a list of the web sites that I have found to be a) instructional; b) interesting; c) important, or d) irreverent. If you have something or someone you think I should list, e-mail me at
Essential lights sites
- The core component of do-it-yourself animated lights is the software application Vixen. Written by K.C. Oakes, the software can control hundreds – even thousands – of channels (which in turn can control hundreds or thousands of individual lights) and outputs in a variety of formats that can drive a wide spectrum of controllers. Without Vixen – and without K.C. – there would be no blinky flashy.
- Do It Yourself Christmas Forums
- The main watering hole for the big buffalo of the do-it-yourself blinky-flashy world, DIYC has forums where specific pieces of hardware are discussed and explained, as well as hosting the Vixen forum, where K.C. gets his marching orders from his loyal “customers.” You cannot participate in this hobby without participating in this forum (which has an extensive wiki as an adjunct). Honcho Brian (aka Macrosill, “Your friendly site admin”) runs a fairly loose ship, but will reign in transgressors who get out of line. In 2008, the forum had almost 1900 members and by November 2011, it had 9000 members; about 250-300 contribute regularly.
- DIY Light Animation
- Robert Jordan (aka “RJ”) of Avon Park, Fla., developed two mainstays of the DIYC repertoire, the Grinch and the LED Triks (a low-part, on-off controller, and a scrolling LED sign, respectively). As he moved into using DMX as a show transport protocol, he decided to create his own web site, in order to better control the distribution of his printed circuit boards. Hence, DIYLA, which focuses on RJ’s Lynx line of controllers, the DMX USB Dongle, the Freestyle, the DMX Splitter, the Express, the SSR4, the MR16 board and Wireless DMX. Soon to come: LED Smart Strings, which are RGB lights where every element on the string is controlled individually. This forum had about 300 members in December 2008 and has grown to 2200 members in October 2011, though fewer than 100 participate on a regular basis.
Lights sites worth visiting
- Planet Christmas
- The biggest web site devoted to Christmas decorating (it encompasses blowmolds, inflatables, faith-based displays, indoor decorating, holiday cooking[!], as well as computerized displays and do-it-yourself endeavors), if you have an obscure question that needs answering, this 13,000-member community will probably have an answer. The computerized lights areas are aimed toward the off-the-shelf crowd (those who buy complete systems from turnkey suppliers). The DIY section on electrical questions attracts the contributions of a number of licensed electricians and (more importantly) a number of electrical inspectors who will weigh in on your plans for a sub-panel or a new circuit. There’s more here than you could possibly ever read (more than 30,000 postings on blow molds alone), but it is a great resource, if moderated in somewhat bizarre ways (the site's owner shut it down for a few weeks in late 2007 because he felt the tenor of discussions was getting out of hand).
- Synchronized Christmas Lights
- When things get weird over at DIYC or PC, they seem to remain sane at SCL ... probably because there are fewer than 500 registered members of the board. Nonetheless, an entirely different vibe, but even these people seem to be entranced by blowmolds and inflatables. Also heavily toward the off-the-shelf solutions, the DIY section picked up a little traction in fall 2008 when DIYC got a little strange regarding the definition of “do it yourself.”
- Computer Christmas
- It could be argued Hill Robertson, founder of Computer Christmas, invented do-it-yourself synchronized Christmas lighting. For many months, his web site was the nexus of that world, and Robertson and others (Sean Bowf, Peter Olsen, Robert Jordan) posted dozens of “how-tos” that helped spread the hobby around the world. I’m not quite sure what happened to the site, but the momentum moved over to DIYC (perhaps having the Vixen forum right there helped) and postings to Hill’s are few and far between these days. But if you’re interested in knowing how we got to where we are, you need to go through the “how-tos” on this site.
Individuals’ lights sites
- Crazy Lights Lady
- So, this all got started when Shirleen and I were watching the 2007 HGTV show, What’s With That Decked Out Christmas House? (or perhaps it was the companion piece What’s With That Christmas House?). She turned to me midway through and said, “I expect you to do that for next year.” I said yes. Apparently she was joking; I wasn’t. Nonetheless, the show featured a woman in Texas named Annalisa – a notable name – and I Googled her the next day. I found this site and from it, moved on to the Computer Christmas web site and then into the beyond. Annalisa is an expert on LED lighting and many of her “how-tos” on this site are important if you’re going to use that type of lighting at all.
- Kevin Cook’s Computer Controlled Christmas Light Project
- If you look up “over-achiever” in the dictionary, you’ll see Kevin’s picture right there next to the definition. Talk about going from zero to 60 – he started out in October 2007 building a light-show for Christmas 2008 that will have 392 individual channels as well as a big scrolling LED sign. He’s talking about 80,000 lights here. Unbelievable. Nonetheless, Kevin is a great guy who has documented every aspect of his build and if you’re getting started, reading his build notes and looking at his photos is of immeasurable help. As Garth used to say (or was it Wayne?), “I’m not worthy.”
- Holdman Christmas
- Synchronized Christmas light mania has had two main avenues of publicity – the aforementioned HGTV Christmas lighting specials and YouTube. If you have cruised the latter and seen a spectacularly lighted home, then you’ve probably seen the Holdman house. Richard has done wonderful shows over the years, but was shut out in 2008. He lives in a gated community and the traffic caused by his light show offended a majority of his members, who voted to effectively ban him from doing the show that year. Holdman secured a new venue – his parents home – and rebuilt his show there, and while it is certainly spectacular, it just isn’t the same. Nonetheless, all of Holdman’s videos (and some of his tricks) are on his site, which is well worth visiting.
- Land O’Lights
- Mike lives in Land O’Lakes, Fla, (get it?) and has a really great site. His “DIY Corner” has some really good tips for those doing this Christmas lighting thing a little obsessively (his LightKeeper Pro how-to is excellent). In addition, he keeps a blog of his activities (sinkholes on his property almost ate his house and almost cancelled the 2008 show) and has a good videos as well as live web cams. Well worth the visit.
Other Christmas sites
- Carol’s Christmas Treasures
- An old friend from the newspaper business has ended up doing hand-crafted Christmas items and I just couldn’t resist including her site among my recommendations. Carol Toner makes quilts, bags and pillows by hand and specializes in a couple of Christmas-themed quilts that are very attractive. She also has a number of advent calendars for counting down those days until Santa arrives. Be sure to visit.