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Christmas Cheer

Alek's Christmas Lights Webcam is Back 205

millert writes "Alek's Christmas Lights Webcam is back again which allows you to: 'pan/zoom the webcam and control the 17,000 christmas lights - yep, turn 'em on and off and annoy my understanding) neighbors! ;-)' For those who like a lot of links, check out his christmas lights summary, christmas FAQ (answers quite a bit), what's new for Christmas 2004 (optimization of analog controls and mod_perl on the web server -- he says "I might stand a chance against Slashdot" ... we'll see about that!), real-time Christmas stats (including browser percentage -- go Firefox, currently at 13%), and his analysis of the Slashdot effect." Read on for more.

millert continues "You can Email Santa page and he does respond to Email inquiries. Alek is already thinking ahead for Christmas 2005 ...

The picture quality on his cool webcam pictures seems much better than a run-of-the-mill webcam; the image quality under low-light conditions is surprisingly good. In question D-5 of his FAQ, he says he has it under non-disclosure and all he can say is that it is a "640x480 pixel image using 1/2.7" sensor - size matters when it comes to pixels" and he is right about that -- this is one of the reasons the pictures of Mars from the Spirit Rover were so good. Even more interesting is the info in the jpegs' EXIF header (as displayed by ImageMagick's identify utility. There's quite a bit of information in there, including a reference to a company that provided IP-based video security for the 2004 Olympics and a comment saying 'do NOT release to marketing droids' Fortunately, this is Slashdot.

Slashdot crushed it in 2002 and 2003 -- will the 3rd time be the charm for Alek?"

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Alek's Christmas Lights Webcam is Back

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 12, 2004 @08:51PM (#11069228)
    Dead before it even got out of the mysterious future.
    • by xmas2003 ( 739875 ) * on Monday December 13, 2004 @12:29AM (#11070127) Homepage
      Allright - you guys kicked my *ss when the story first posted, but things are hanging in there now. In response to some of the posts above:
      1. I was using the same web interface as everyone else (and reloading to see when the story would hit) and it was fairly responsive after it showed up in the Mysterious Future ... until 1749 ... and then BAMMM ... welcome to /. ;-)
      2. Per the Christmas FAQ [], the Web Server run Linux/Apache/Perl - IIS on Windoze 2003 - yea, right!
      3. Main stats page is here [] - yea, big JUMP ... and as of 2100, Firefox is > 50% browser percentage.
      4. I'd like to see AC#11069825 put HIS web server on Slashdot, especially with dynamic content. I had turned the webcam on early this evening at 1712, but then disabled it shortly after the story hit at 1749, but turned it back on 1930 and (except for a few Apache restarts for tuning purposes), the web site is semi (!) responsive and the machine was never rebooted ... plus (knock on wood), I haven't blown any fuses ... yet! ;-)
  • by xmas2003 ( 739875 ) * on Sunday December 12, 2004 @08:51PM (#11069229) Homepage
    As a Slashdot subscriber [] (highly recommended BTW) I saw the /.'ers coming in the "Mysterious Future" ... so much for sitting down to dinner with the family tonight! ;-)

    We'll see how well everything works tonight - expect things to be nuts and we'll see if mod_perl can save the day on the web server - fortunately, the analog stuff is throttled at one/second! ;-) I actually turned things on early tonight, but I may need to disable if the load gets too high. For those interested in data, I'll be updating my Christmas 2004 Slashdot Effect Analysis [] and I'll provide some followup here.

    P.S. WRT JPEG/EXIF stuff: ummmmmm ... let me get back to you on that one!

    • Too bad, you're already pretty much a goner...
    • by Atragon ( 711454 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @08:53PM (#11069243)

      Well, seeing as it's loading pathetically slowly right now, just after the story appeared to non-subscribers, I'd say the answer is 'no' mod_perl did not save the day.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      your Slashdot Effect Analysis has been Slashdotted...
    • Wonder if using php-cgi would make any difference, good or bad? What kind of bandwidth do you have out of interest?
    • Error: 503 Service Unavailable Connection refused

      Pop goes the weasel. :)

    • http down, ssh still running. :)
      bash-2.05b$ ssh
      The authenticity of host ' (' can't be established.
      RSA key fingerprint is a3:66:56:46:45:d3:9b:d2:5f:35:56:d8:cc:44:07:8c.
      Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no)? yes
      Warning: Permanently added ',' (RSA) to the list of known hosts.'s password:
      • by xmas2003 ( 739875 ) * on Sunday December 12, 2004 @09:22PM (#11069396) Homepage
        I just about fell outa my chair reading this post when I got to the last line - well done! ;-)

        Actually, ssh is quite responsive - it's just the darn MaxClients limit of 256 I'm bumping into - plus I restarted httpd twice. I think if folks would not open up every link in the article, it would help - every time I've check, Apache Status is showing all 256 requests - I just bumped the TIMEOUT numbers down a bit, so people may see timeouts sooner, but this should release some child process slots for folks.

        HECK - this is looking good - lets turn it on!

        • by Anonymous Coward
          I got slashdotted earlier today buddy, here is how I configured my apache 2.x to handle the load properly. Assuming you're using the default 'worker' MPM and not one of the experimental/non-unix models.
          StartServers 2
          MaxClients 512
          MinSpareThreads 100
          MaxSpareThreads 250
          ThreadsPerChild 32
          MaxRequestsPerChild 0
          My site handled it fine, mind you I have static content and no ribbon cables heading to my rooftop. Good luck handling this one
          • by xmas2003 ( 739875 ) * on Sunday December 12, 2004 @09:55PM (#11069528) Homepage
            Unfortunately, Apache1.x ... so the threading stuff doesn't apply, and 256 (my limit w/o a recompile) appears to be keeping a fairly constant load in the teens (so I wouldn't want to go much higher than this) ... but it's actually fairly snappy right now, especially for static content ... and even the CGI (mod_perl DOES help!) seems to be moving along.
            • Maybe for 2005 you can upgrade to Apache 2.0, where the hard limit is 20000. It is pretty snappy at the moment, interestingly enough, for a site that has thousands of /.ers looking at it. Most people's server-in-the-basement -on-DSL wouldn't stand a chance.
        • Wonder how quickly you can recompile Apache with 1024, or 2048 MaxClients? Seems a shame to waste this nice stream of click-happy surfers :)

          Anyway, it's 1.47am here, so I'm off. Good luck with the /.ing.
        • Using Apache 2.0 you can up this by upping the ServerLimit [] value. Then you can up the MaxClients [] value. Example:

          ServerLimit 768
          MaxClients 768

        • Put "KeepAlive Off" in http.conf and you don't run into the maxclients nearly so fast. Browsers like to stick around and eat up and idle connection unless they are forced closed. I found this one of the single best config changes on one of my extremely high volume servers that was coming nowhere near its cpu, memory, or bandwidth usage limits.

          Also "Timeout 120" or less (default is 300) can help.
          • After fiddling with various other parameters, I finally engaged my brain and realized why you recommended setting "KeepAlive OFF" - you are basically trading some "horsepower" (since connections have to be re-estabilished each time instead of persistant with HTTP1.1) in order to free up more slots - maybe it's because the crowd has slowed down a bit, but pretty darn snappy now and I shoulda done this earlier in the evening - thanx!


            P.S. The Timeout was/is set to 20 seconds - yea, a little agressive,

            • Glad you noticed a difference. I am curious to know how well just this setting would allow other sites to survive a slashdoting

    • So far the site's kind of slow but holding up...we'll see what happens when the controls come online in 35 minutes from now!

      Unfortunately, one/second is not nearly fast enough to flash out obscene messages in Morse code. :-)

    • If you'd like some help tuning your mod_perl server, we'd be happy to oblige over on the mod_perl mailing list []. Off-hand, I would say MaxClients at 256 sounds pretty high and may send your server into swap unless it has tons of memory.
      • YEP - only have a Gbyte of RAM and I waded into that swamp a few times ... there's a definite "performance knee" between 150 and 256. Looks like what helped a lot was was turning off KeepAlive []
        • You should also reduce MaxClients to the point where they will not push you into swap, use Apache::SizeLimit to control process size, and run a front-end proxy. This is how large sites handle it. All of this is explained in more detail in the performance tuning docs on the mod_perl site, and we can answer any questions you may have on the list.
          • Thanx for the offer of assistance. At this point, I have what I have ... but turning off KeepAlive seems to have helped a LOT. As alluded to above, I think the memory/swap "performance knee" is between 150 and 200 ... and since it is just a single script, I don't think I want to use Apache::SizeLimit becaus it's just my script - i.e. it's not a web server with a buncha scripts where one could runaway (?) Finally, I don't think a proxy front-end would work since this is all dynamic content.

            Having written

            • SizeLimit is actually not for catching runaways but for managing the slow growth that most perl scripts exhibit over time. It allows you to replace MaxRequestsPerChild with a better measure.

              The front-end proxy is very helpful with dynamic content because it handles buffering for clients and lets your mod_perl processes move on immediately. This is also explained in the docs.

              Glad to see people using mod_perl for fun stuff. Keep up the good work.
              • HEY ... I said I was going to sleep ... don't get me started on looking at the mod_perl docs ... I'll be up for hours! ;-)

                GREAT explanation - I HAVE looked at the mod_perl docs briefly before, but see that this would be well worth some time - boy, if there is ONE thing I wish Santa would bring for me this year, it would be a six-pack of time ...

  • So how long (Score:5, Funny)

    by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @08:52PM (#11069233) Homepage Journal
    till some creative troll figures out how to make goatse out of Christmas lights?
  • by rbochan ( 827946 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @08:52PM (#11069235) Homepage
    not for long...

  • Drive me insane. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by caluml ( 551744 ) <> on Sunday December 12, 2004 @08:52PM (#11069242) Homepage
    Is [] still up and about? I always wanted to play on his remote controlled car, but it was never on. Boo, I say.
  • Merry christmas
  • fire (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    hahah, he said he might stand a chance. no comments yet and its already dead. i hope his server isnt near the xmas tree cause its gonna catch on fire.
  • the server (Score:4, Funny)

    by kayen_telva ( 676872 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @08:54PM (#11069249)
    is blinking on and off..
  • That's awsome (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mp3LM ( 785954 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @08:54PM (#11069253) Homepage
    I know that this has been an ongoing thing least last year, but I've never got to do it because either
    1. Too laggy
    2. Not the right time
    3. Server not responding
    So this was actually the first time I've done it, and I think it is very cool. Thank you for this experience /.! (and x-mas)
  • by Trogre ( 513942 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @08:54PM (#11069254) Homepage
    For what good it did him.

  • by chris_eineke ( 634570 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @08:56PM (#11069269) Homepage Journal
    Alek's Christmas Lights Webcam is back again which allows you to: 'pan/zoom the webcam and control the 17,000 christmas lights

    Not only can we pan/zoom the webcam and control the 17,000 christmas lights - NO! We can also burn his house down by letting his web server die a horrible heat death.

    Talk about an arsonist's dream. ;-)
  • /. Effect? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Pheonix5000 ( 661842 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @08:58PM (#11069277) Homepage
    "Yikes. Incoming Slashdot'er. Full power to the web server!"
    She cannae take anymore Jim!

    Survive the slashdot effect? I think not...
  • by Pig Hogger ( 10379 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `reggoh.gip'> on Sunday December 12, 2004 @08:59PM (#11069278) Journal
    I don't see the "Chevy Chase" button... :(
    • National Lampoon's Christmas just came on little over an hour ago (7PM, CST, on Channel 11) Here in Minnesota. Watching it as we speak...stupid commercials...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 12, 2004 @08:59PM (#11069280)
    "and annoy my understanding) neighbors! "

    Dude, you just put this link on Slashdot? Understanding undershmanding, you had better hope they have strobe-induced seizure insurance.

  • Nice website, and I like the pop-up, but I can see the possibility for people to /. this guy's entire Christmas light set-up. Either the constant turning it on/off will burn out more than quite a few bulbs (hope they aren't the kind where if one goes, they all go).
    But yeah.. I'm sure what with all the slashdotters there that the neighbors are probably going to be seeing a nice strobelight-like effect. Scare the hell out of anyone who's driving by because of the chaotic patterns of the lights turning on and
  • by merdaccia ( 695940 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @09:00PM (#11069288)

    an entire flock of Colorado geese are completely disoriented tonight. They have been waddling around bumping into garbage bins and parked cars without rhyme or reason.

    This odd sighting is being reported only blocks away from the residence of the woman who was inadvertently hypnotized by her electricity meter earlier today.

  • by RLiegh ( 247921 ) * on Sunday December 12, 2004 @09:01PM (#11069294) Homepage Journal
    For a geek-oriented site (his, not /.) that's not a very good showing, unless the other 87% is lynx.
  • by ircShot_guN ( 737033 ) <> on Sunday December 12, 2004 @09:02PM (#11069295)

    A good friend of mine recently completed work on a 6 thousand light computer controlled light display.

    His website has all the details on how it was built. Along with pictures. []

    Custom built all the electronics, and wrote a number of custom programs to control the lights.

    Best thing is? Being able to sit on the street with a laptop and terminal service into his light controlling computer and control the lights :D

    Great fun for the neighbourhood.
    • A good friend of mine recently completed work on a 6 thousand light computer controlled light display.

      ...And his web site is still up and running! Wait until slashdotters turn their attention to his web server...

    • A guy I talked to arranged basically an digital EQ on his roof.

      He took green, yellow and red lights and arranged them in 16 rows of 16 colums where the bottom 8 light blocks of each column were green, the last 8 were divided between 4 yellow and 4 red. The columns divided among the frequency range he was going for. He built a piece of hardware to control on and off and mated it with some software to take Winamp music and read the frequency and power data and adjusted the lights accordingly to make his ro
  • His real-time analysis was akin to monitoring a forest fire from the top of a tall tree.
    At least now he knows what he wants for christmas... a new server.
    • yeah he was kinda foolish to expect a 2.4 ghz to hold up "Be interesting to see how the 2.4 GHz XEON (with a Gbyte of RAM) holds up!" He didn't even have the mod_perl recompiled for a high visitor load site... and he really shoulda had a dual xeon or dual opteron or better... and shoulda had some kinda raid and/or enough ram (4 gb? 8gb? ram is cheap.)... perhaps making a ram disk to mount for /var/log (or perhaps the entire webserver and all files modified by it to a ramdisc) and periodically copy over the
    1. So... where's the Hulk? He's had that thing for a good few years, right? I don't see it in the pic that is currently available on his site.

    2. Here's the pic I'm referencing. []
  • by Anonymous Coward
    On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
    24 million dollars from Nigeria

    On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
    Two Rolex watches

    On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
    One penis enlargement

    On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
    Three better orgasms

    On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
    18 Viagara pills

    On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
    Two bottles of Cialis

    On the seventh day of Christmas my t
  • by martinX ( 672498 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @09:14PM (#11069355)

    Phone messages for Alek:

    "Please prepare your server for a slashdotting."

    "You have 10 minutes to prepare your server for slashdotting"

    "You have 5 minutes to prepare your server for slashdotting"

    "You have 1 minute to prepare your server for slashdotting"

    "Please extinguish your server".

  • by Piquan ( 49943 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @09:15PM (#11069361)
    I tried going to mirrordot [], but they didn't have his house mirrored.
  • Energy bill (Score:4, Insightful)

    by owlstead ( 636356 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @09:17PM (#11069372)
    Though I applaud the effort, I weep for the amount of energy that is used by people just to show off their house to their neighbours. This has nothing to do with a romantic christmas in my view. The amount of lights is going up here (the Netherlands) as well, probably due to the fact that we have too much money (or energy is too cheap). Some people still think its interesting to copy the USA for some reason...

    Now, let's see if I can turn these lights off.
    • by Sturm ( 914 )
      I thought the term "wanker" was British but I guess it must actually be Dutch...
    • by zx75 ( 304335 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @10:51PM (#11069729) Homepage
      Turn em all off except for one blinking on the very end of the line. When you're neighbours ask, tell them its command line is simply waiting for input.
    • The amount of lights is going up here (the Netherlands) as well [...]

      Is there any way we can /. Amsterdam's red light district???
    • The usage of external Christmas lights is increasing here in the UK as well. When I was a young 'un the biggest public display of Christmas decorations was a string of lights in someone's window, but these days people seem to go all out with giant inflatable Santas, terrible flashing lights and little statues of snowmen and penguins.

      The only reason I can see for it is to show off to the rest of the world that you have quite a big disposable income. I don't participate, since I don't have a great deal of it

      • I don't have anything against external Christmas lights. What I DO have a great deal against is the general tackiness of most of the lights people use. WHY do somebody think that rapidly blinking lights are nice? WHY do they have to be in every color known to man? WHY are flashing Santa's ok while the same people often would never consider a garden gnome? For some reason people seem to consider Christmas decorations a license to lose all sense of taste.

        The most annoying bit is the flashing - why is it tha

  • by mcnut ( 712202 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @09:25PM (#11069406) Homepage
    I wonder why he doesn't say what type of webcam it is. My only thought is that he's possibly afraid someone will find where it is hidden and steal it because its nice. Some form of security through obscurity I suppose.
  • Heh (Score:4, Funny)

    by dghcasp ( 459766 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @09:25PM (#11069410)
    his analysis of the Slashdot effect.

    When I go to that page, I get "connection refused." Yep, his analysis is right on the money.

    You can even do this at home, if your site isn't cool enough, with the slashdot simulator.

    while (fh=accept()) {
    if (fork() == 0) {
    } else {
  • by toetagger1 ( 795806 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @09:27PM (#11069421)
    What will he do if we turn all lights off? I call on slashdot to turn off all nights tonight! Can we do it?
  • Hmmm.
    Your Country Capital : Washington, DC
    Your Country Code : US
    Your Country Currency : US Dollar
    Your Country Flag : country flag click here to see a Large Flag
    Your Country Name : United States
    Your Country Region : North America
    Your Hostname :
    I'll give you a hint. I'm not in the US.
    Your Hostname :
  • by BlastM ( 663010 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @09:52PM (#11069510) Homepage Journal
    It's been a while since we did a good slashdotting, and I was starting to lose faith in our ability to exert domination over any thing with an electrical circuit.

    We've slashdotted NASA, gameboys, and entire countries, but is this the first time we've slashdotted a house?!

    The geeks strike again from their hidden rebel basements!
  • Ways Geeks Celebrate Christmas

    11. Mountain Dew-nog
    10. Printing out "One Year of Free Computer Service" certificates to give to the family.
    9. Designing elf-killing levels for your favorite FPS.
    8. Explaining to children how it would be physically impossible for Santa to deliver all the presents.
    7. Wear mistletoe hat and keep fingers crossed.
    6. Devise a computer-controlled system to detect and prevent household members from trying to peek into their presents before Christmas.
    5. Put a santa hat on your avatar.
    4. Change the blue neon lights in the case to flashing red and green.
    3. Decorating the tree with SDRAM and CPUs burned out from your last overclocking experiment.
    2. Rewriting Christmas carols in Tolkien's Elvish.
    1. Programming the christmas lights to flash out "I hate this holiday of unbridled consumerism" in binary.
  • by _RidG_ ( 603552 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @10:10PM (#11069581)
    His page explaining the Slashdot Effect [] appears to have been slashdotted. Oh, the irony.
  • by Ph33r th3 g(O)at ( 592622 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @10:33PM (#11069666)
    I know just what to do!" The Grinch Laughed in his throat.
    And he made a quick Slashdot link and a post.
    And he chuckled, and clucked, "What a great Grinchy trick!
    "With this link and this post, I'll Slashdot Saint Nick!"
  • But I did - Thank you for a fun moment.
  • by theolein ( 316044 ) on Sunday December 12, 2004 @11:12PM (#11069807) Journal
    If you're reading this Alek, I just thought that you could make a little bit of money off your lights, enough to pay for better or more hosting bandwidth and have some fun at the same time: Each year, when you're about to set up your web-controllable lights, why don't you organise a light party at your house at the same time the story gets posted to slashdot and other sites, say over a weekend when people have time.

    If you organised the lights so that some kinds of funky patterns could be made via the web, you could make some good money with music, drinks and a grill outside for people who turn up to watch the show.
  • We did this in 1999 and 2000 here in Southeastern Virginia.

    It was based on FreeBSD.

    1999 details:
    Used Sealevel DIO cards for digital output

    2000 details:
    Used breadboard ISA card for digital output

    It was tricky because broadband wasn't availible widely. I was planning to do it this year, but so many other projects hit I didn't have time. People in the neighborhood were mentioning it around Halloween.

    I was
  • So it looks like Alek knows how to run an apache webserver, and at 11:11pm central time the webcam is still running, and giving what appears to be alot of diagnostic info about the slashdot effect. What happens when this kind of traffic hits non-apache webservers? Is Apache the only webserver that can handle the slashdot effect? Is Apache the only webserver that can handle and be admin'd by a regular guy in his spare time?

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