Technify Your Halloween

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One of our favorite things to do as Geek Squad Agents is to find new ways to bring technology into our lives to improve upon the experience. Holidays is no exception, as this video I created based on the Halloween graveyard lightshow I put together for my home display.

The video is a simple overview of how to technify your decorations with the addition of two components, the first of which is a programmable light controller that can control any number of lights and other electrical Halloween decorations in a choreographed light show.

There are many different companies that make controllers, such as Light-O-Rama or D-Light. If you’re a hobbyist, you can purchase kits to assemble yourself, or if you’d like, you can even find fully pre-assembled starter packages with everything you’d need.

The second component you’ll need is a computer to control your electronic light show. In my case, I use an Intel Atom-based computer running Microsoft Windows 7, but the system requirements for a project like this are basic enough that just about any home computer will do.

To program the light controller, you first create a show combining your lighting instructions with the audio or music of your choice. Sequencing software to do this comes in many different forms, from very simple command line programs to more advanced graphical interface software, such as Aurora, which is featured in my video.

Once your sequence is completed, it can be loaded into a scheduler program on the computer, to be played back on the day and time you select. The computer is then connected to the light controller by either network cable or through a special wireless link, so that the light commands can be played back by the controller in time with the audio from the computer.

While there is a good amount of work involved in setting up a holiday light show of your own, it can be very rewarding when the local trick-or-treaters stop by and almost forget to ask for their candy because they’re too busy watching the show.

5 Excuses For Not Fixing Your Family’s Computer

Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, and for most people that means a grand dinner with the family filled with cheer and good food. Unless, that is, your family knows you’re a computer tech guy, in which it means that you’re going to be hit up for advice and service in the same way your doctor sister and car mechanic brother are.

In light of this, here are 5 handy (if extreme) excuses that you can use to get out of fixing that family computer while the rest of your family enjoys their turkey dinner:

  1. Alien Invasion Excuse – “Oh, I can’t touch that computer. See, I’m saving my skills for when we’re invaded by an extraterrestrial army of alien creatures bent on our destruction, who just happen to run their saucers on an operating system I can easily hack using my Apple MacBook.”
  2. Lawsuit Excuse – “Unfortunately, I’m no longer legally allowed to fix computers. You see, the virus and spyware makers got together and sued me for being too anti-competitive for their business. Turns out the judge who heard the case loves pop-up ads!”
  3. Amnesia Excuse – “I would love to fix your computer, but you see, I was in this tragic blimp accident a few months ago. I came out with a pretty nasty bump on the head, and ever since then, I can’t remember a single thing about fixing computers. The doctors say it’s the darndest thing!”
  4. Cycle of Life Excuse – “Remember when they were trying to explain to Simba in the Lion King that everything has it’s time and place? This is the same thing, except it’s your computer that we’re going to let pass on instead of your lion dad.”
  5. The Bright Side of Life Excuse – “You know how dad is always complaining about all that spam email he keeps getting? Think of not fixing your computer as the best way to stop that problem.”

Of course, most of these excuses are only going to end in pain when you have to deal with your family later.

Christmas Music Remix

SomaFM.com, one of my favorite streaming Internet radio sites, now has a new channel available called “Christmas Lounge“.

They describe the channel as “Chilled holiday grooves and classic winter lounge tracks. (Kid and Parent safe!)” and so far it’s been an interesting mix of remixed Christmas music with a dance and electronic feel, interspersed with old holiday music that I haven’t come across being played on the regular radio stations.

Making Your Own Holiday Light Show

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If you remember the videos a few years back of elaborate Christmas light shows synced to music, you may have wondered how you could do something similar for your own holiday decorations.

In the process of planning my own Halloween decorations, I discovered that there’s an entire industry that has sprung up around helping make displays like that possible for anyone, with the only limit being the time and money you want to invest.

Now, instead of hand-built electronics, you can buy unassembled light controller component kits from companies such as Light-O-Rama or D-Light Designs. Prices for 16-channel kits range from $120 and up, with pre-assembled kits being as cheap as $200.

To create your computerized light show, you’ll need sequencer software. The program I used for my own Halloween light show is called Aurora, available for purchase for $100, though there are a wide range of programs at different price points, including some free, no-frills command-line programs.

If you don’t have the time to create a light show and sync it to music, you can even find pre-programmed sequences from companies such as WowLights Productions, along with a number of other light show product packages.

Having assembled the pieces for my Halloween light show, I can say that it’s definitely not a cheap holiday project, but I can say that the sense of satisfaction when the lights come alive and dance to the music I’ve synced them to makes it worth every dollar I’ve spent.