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Thread: My 1st year experiences.

  1. #1
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    Red face My 1st year experiences.

    Sorry in advance for the long post.

    Reading some of the posts on here after Christmas it was good to find out Iím not the only one that is his own worst critic. Like someone said, everyone else just looks at it and says ďThat looks wonderful!Ē.

    I look at it and I think ďThat channel is stuck on, that channel isnít working, that isnít timed as well as it seemed while I was programming it, that channel shouldnít be on now, I need MORE lights.Ē

    So here are some of my 1st year experiences and thoughts for next year. This year I had 32 channels and Iím using a Helix Network Controller, Vastelec FM02, and 8 SSRneons. I have to say that Greg has always been a big help with the Helix and is always ready to answer questions (Iíve had plenty) and help with some minor troubleshooting of the Helix.


    1) Channel stuck on Ė I moved the opto-isolator in the SSRneon from the stuck on channel to another channel and the problem followed it. Next year I will have spare opto-isolators and spare SSRneons.

    2) Channel not working Ė This problem was actually due to the light string not working. This even though they were brand new lights on my new light pillar. Next year, Iíll have some spare light strings, to try minimizing the inevitable light string troubleshooting. But this type of problem is just to be expected.

    3) Blow molds tipping over Ė Planning to weigh them down, maybe fill the bottom with some concrete or make a wooden base that can be staked. (Iím thinking giant weebles.)

    4) GFCI breaker tripping when it rained Ė Iíll try wrapping the plug connections in plastic and isolating wire frames as suggested in another thread.

    5) FM transmitter hiss Ė I finally fixed this by installing an in-line headphone volume control. The FM transmitter input from the controller on-board MP3 player was being over driven.

    6) After my GFCI breaker trip it took a couple of days before I could power my controller. Then I thought my controller wasnít working. Basic troubleshooting, found all voltages OK, status lights OK. Very frustrated. Turned out the problem was a bad on-board battery that resulted in the clock loosing time. So the controller wasnít starting at 5PM, since it thought it was only 1PM. Reset the time and back in operation. Ė Just a lesson that hopefully will help someone else someday.

    7) Not enough sequences. Ė Well, I found I need to finalize my display earlier, spend more time sequencing and quit striving for perfection. Iím a real believer now about how long it takes to sequence. This will be even harder next year, since Iíll have more channels (going from 32 to 96) and therefore the sequencing will take longer.

    8) So in a nut shell. Ė More planning, earlier building, earlier sequencing, spares on-hand, preventive measures (plastic wrapping, stakes, weights, etc.).

    Questions:
    1) Iím using the TA-200 enclosures for the SSRneons. The cable entrances seem pretty full with the 5 wires (4 pairs for the outputs and 1 pair for the 120VAC in) and I canít fit an RJ45 plug through the opening. Does anyone else have that problem and if so, how do you solve it?

    2) For a 15í-18í mega tree, how many channels are usually used?

    3) Any feedback on SSR and CAT5 cable testers?

    This has been a great hobby. My wife and daughter are into it also. My great helpers and best cheerleaders. My wife is a great bargain hunter and luckily she helps find lights and other display items for our display.

    I know I'm in trouble though, when Jan. 2nd comes along and I'm already planning for next Christmas. My name is Bryan Lantrip and I have a problem.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: My 1st year experiences.

    Quote Originally Posted by blantrip View Post
    1) I’m using the TA-200 enclosures for the SSRneons. The cable entrances seem pretty full with the 5 wires (4 pairs for the outputs and 1 pair for the 120VAC in) and I can’t fit an RJ45 plug through the opening. Does anyone else have that problem and if so, how do you solve it?
    I actually use SSRNeons and TA-200s as well. I cut out some of the "thin" part of the rubber gromit and fit all 5 extension cord pieces through one of the two bottom openings and simply cut a small slit in the second gromit for the RJ45 to push through. The RJ45 fit through, which I crimped before. I've heard of some people pushing the CAT-5 through, then putting the RJ45 on. I mounted all of my enclosures with those openings down as well as about 10" elevation for the boxes so I wasn't worried about water with my SoCal climate. It has rained once (for a couple days) since I put the display up the weekend before Thanksgiving.
    [url]http://christmasonquiethills.com/[/url]
    [url]http://diychristmas.org/vb1/index.php[/url]

  3. #3
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    Default Re: My 1st year experiences.

    I also use the TA-200's, and the first year, I carefully put all the spt-1 lines in, then pushed the cat5 in, and put an end on it. After having to change the first one, I then decided to just slit the front of the rubber, and slide the cat5 in that way, and if it's too tight, just leave it outside the rubber, but in the slot, and close the enclosure. Works just fine. Virtually ALL my SSR's are hard-wired, with terminals, instead of pigtail recepticals. I've never had trouble with water getting in a single one of my enclosures. Maybe luck has a lot to do with it, but I know from years of roofing, that water "usually" will only travel down, and if you give it a path, AROUND your electronics, it will "usually" take it.

    As for a tester, I made several of them, for ukewarrior, and now fathead has one, that looks like this:



    Mine was home-etched, and I can check to see if I still have the files, and if not, maybe ukewarrior does, if anyone is interested. I see that the library and copper files section don't seem to be working. I used mine extensively this year!! Both for testing inputs to the SSR's, as well as individual strings. The Helix lacks a way to conveniently turn on channels, for string testing, so I used my SSR tester. The ONE thing I would change, is I'm using momentary switches, and I would change them to dip switches, probably in parallel with the momentary switches. Now, I have to hold the momentary, to keep the string on. I also have one of the cat5 cable testers from China (OMG, I said that!!!) that someone gave me (that makes it ok, somewhat), that has a remote, so I can plug it in at the far end, and test the cable from the controller end. Works well, but the switch lasted a day - I now have to take something and reach in the housing to turn it on and off, but it still works.

    Curious which version of the Helix, and which mp3 encoder board you are using - I've never had the "over driving" problem with mine, but I'm using V.1 boards, with the older mp3 breakout board.

    96 channels - you'll have a love/hate relationship! I have 288 channels right now, and hope to have 384, if n ot more, next year. The biggest help I can give you, is to make good use of the routines - save everything you make and are happy with, and you can use them over and over again. Cut and paste is fine, but the ability to save and load routines makes life a LOT easier. I also take full advantage of changing the channel order, and have 5 or 6 different channel orders, that I swap back and forth, constantly. It depends on what your set up is, but I have one that the channels are in physical order, color order, one that puts every other element next to each other (for skipping things in the middle), and even one, for a slow motion fading sweep, that is their order from left to right, as seen from the street. Works for me.

    As for the mega tree - I'm going to be putting one up, hopefully, in 2012. Mine will have to be about 26 foot tall, to match the top of the house, but might have to change that depending on the length of strings I end up using. Or, I'll be extending strings to match the tree, one or the other. Either way, I'm thinking with a 26 toof tree, divided by half for the base, that's 13 foot across, or 40 foot around. At 6" spacing at the bottom, that's 80 strings! So at 7-1/2" spacing, it would be about 64 strings, and if I make each string a channel, that's 64 channels, or two Helix daughter boards. However, MOST people double or triple up strings, I'm told, so just do whatever comes naturally to you. By the time, I put my spiral in, it might be nothing to have 128 channels, ate up, just on the mega tree!

    I know I'm in trouble though, when Jan. 2nd comes along and I'm already planning for next Christmas. My name is Bryan Lantrip and I have a problem.
    Yeah, you do!! I at least waited until the 6th, before I started worrying about 2012, although a 250' spool of SPT-1 and 1000' of stranded Cat5 came in yesterday, the 5th. However, I'm getting ready to change over all my sequences, to a higher channel count, so I can start new sequences. The flash drive is already in the usb port...

    Hope you have enjoyed the Helix as much as I have. It worked absolutely flawless this year, and it was on the battery from 2009 - think I'll have to change mine this next year, an ounce of prevention, and all that...I was wondering how long it would last, and I at least had a spare, just in case!

    Looking forward to a great 2012! Hope I helped you with my answers.

    Roger
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by 51fordf2; 01-06-2012 at 03:34 AM.
    [IMG]http://crbest.com/vixenlogo02.jpg[/IMG]

    Roger Phillips
    Oxford, IN
    256 channels of blinkin', dimmin' bliss...
    "[B][I]The road goes on forever, and the party never ends!![/I][/B] [I]Robert Earl Keen[/I]

  4. #4
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    Default Re: My 1st year experiences.

    Welcome to our addiction
    I'm sure 90% of us are already planning for 2012 . I think you are well on track to enter the addiction known as blinky flashy . :/
    2012 Plans
    1 J1Sys ECG-P12R Controller and 2 ECG-P2 Controllers
    1 [URL="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ve3WkB5TX5U&list=UUbcH2uH27u4rBn63opFisvQ&index=8&feature=plcp"]Pixel Megatree[/URL] (Finished)
    3 Pixel Arches replacing my 2011 clear arches (cant decide on design)
    20 x [URL="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5K3xghO4els&list=UUbcH2uH27u4rBn63opFisvQ&index=1&feature=plcp"]3D Mini Trees[/URL]
    40 x [URL="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00WYHIu0s6E&list=UUbcH2uH27u4rBn63opFisvQ&index=1&feature=plcp"]Mini Roof Stars[/URL] (Finished)
    [URL="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=475x10tQ4pI&list=UUbcH2uH27u4rBn63opFisvQ&index=10&feature=plcp"]Columns[/URL] (Qty to be decided)
    Pixels Pixels Pixels

    2011
    [URL="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSAgi4SZxp8"]3 x RGB arches[/URL]
    6 x [URL="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4dOhYaGhZM&feature=channel_video_title"]RGB Window Display Trees[/URL]
    2 x [URL="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1ZWdmwvCAk&feature=channel_video_title"]RGB Window Display Bells[/URL]
    6 x [URL="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTuSFFVHYHg"]RGb Window stars[/URL]
    5 X [URL="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMOEEZUSY4s"]Mini arches RGB[/URL]
    [URL="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WQYu6ylfhE&feature=related"]1 x RGB Bethlehem Star[/URL]
    14metres of [URL="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNcPZfj1fWE&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL"]Eave Lights[/URL]

  5. #5
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    Default Re: My 1st year experiences.

    Quote Originally Posted by 51fordf2 View Post
    I also use the TA-200's, and the first year, I carefully put all the spt-1 lines in, then pushed the cat5 in, and put an end on it. After having to change the first one, I then decided to just slit the front of the rubber, and slide the cat5 in that way, and if it's too tight, just leave it outside the rubber, but in the slot, and close the enclosure.

    As for a tester, I made several of them, for ukewarrior, and now fathead has one, that looks like this:

    Curious which version of the Helix, and which mp3 encoder board you are using - I've never had the "over driving" problem with mine, but I'm using V.1 boards, with the older mp3 breakout board.

    96 channels - you'll have a love/hate relationship! I have 288 channels right now, and hope to have 384, if n ot more, next year. The biggest help I can give you, is to make good use of the routines - save everything you make and are happy with, and you can use them over and over again. Cut and paste is fine, but the ability to save and load routines makes life a LOT easier. I also take full advantage of changing the channel order, and have 5 or 6 different channel orders, that I swap back and forth, constantly. It depends on what your set up is, but I have one that the channels are in physical order, color order, one that puts every other element next to each other (for skipping things in the middle), and even one, for a slow motion fading sweep, that is their order from left to right, as seen from the street. Works for me.


    Hope you have enjoyed the Helix as much as I have. It worked absolutely flawless this year, and it was on the battery from 2009 - think I'll have to change mine this next year, an ounce of prevention, and all that...I was wondering how long it would last, and I at least had a spare, just in case!

    Roger
    Thanks for the replies all.

    I basically made CAT5 pigtails. I pulled a CAT5 cable through the grommet and then put the connector on each end. Then I used a CAT5 female-female connector to connect the pigtail and the CAT5 coming from my controller.

    Thanks for the info on the tester. I'll need to check into that.

    The tip on routines looks like it will be a big help. I'll play with that over the next few days.

    My Helix is Rev. 2.0 and it has worked great from the begining. I love being able to have it stand-alone and not connected to my computer.

    Good luck on your Megatree.

    Bryan

  6. #6
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    Default Re: My 1st year experiences.

    Quote Originally Posted by blantrip View Post
    7) Not enough sequences. Ė Well, I found I need to finalize my display earlier, spend more time sequencing and quit striving for perfection. Iím a real believer now about how long it takes to sequence. This will be even harder next year, since Iíll have more channels (going from 32 to 96) and therefore the sequencing will take longer.

    Questions:
    1) Iím using the TA-200 enclosures for the SSRneons. The cable entrances seem pretty full with the 5 wires (4 pairs for the outputs and 1 pair for the 120VAC in) and I canít fit an RJ45 plug through the opening. Does anyone else have that problem and if so, how do you solve it?

    2) For a 15í-18í mega tree, how many channels are usually used?
    Sequencing- Do a rough draft of each of your songs, then a full draft and a final draft as you have time. After the first draft you've got something to run, after the second you've got a great show, after the third you'll finally be happy with it. Also you get to fix up songs you used last year which speeds it up some.

    TA-200s- I cut a slit in the bottom of the grommet, lay the wires in the hole and push the grommet in over them.

    Megatree- Because controllers come in multiples of eight and music is easy to break into eighths. I like 16 strings or 24 strings or 32 strings of each color. You can start smaller than you want and add on in future years. Like 16 red and 16 green, then add blue and white the next year.

    Just some things to get you brain into gear and think of other ways to reach your goals when time and money are in short supply (always!)

    Brian
    2009 - 48 channel MegaTree 4800 lights
    plus 3200 lights static display.
    2010 - 6 Snowflakes on heavy equipment stored in front yard :-(
    2011 - 72 channel Megatree 7520 lights,
    120 channel total about 10k lights total

  7. #7
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    Default Re: My 1st year experiences.

    Skunbeg

    Thanks, for the reality check and the ideas. That's what makes this community so great. Everyone is always ready to help and provide ideas.

    One year at a time.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: My 1st year experiences.

    Quote Originally Posted by 51fordf2 View Post
    As for a tester, I made several of them, for ukewarrior, and now fathead has one, that looks like this:



    Mine was home-etched, and I can check to see if I still have the files, and if not, maybe ukewarrior does, if anyone is interested. I see that the library and copper files section don't seem to be working. I used mine extensively this year!! Both for testing inputs to the SSR's, as well as individual strings. The Helix lacks a way to conveniently turn on channels, for string testing, so I used my SSR tester. The ONE thing I would change, is I'm using momentary switches, and I would change them to dip switches, probably in parallel with the momentary switches. Now, I have to hold the momentary, to keep the string on. I also have one of the cat5 cable testers from China (OMG, I said that!!!) that someone gave me (that makes it ok, somewhat), that has a remote, so I can plug it in at the far end, and test the cable from the controller end. Works well, but the switch lasted a day - I now have to take something and reach in the housing to turn it on and off, but it still works.
    Roger
    Roger I still have those files and I am currently working on an updated version that uses momentary contact switches and has 4 jumpers so you can install shunts to hold the channels on. I decided that I needed a hands free SSR tester because I had to have one of the kids hold the button down while chased down a few bulbs with the Light Keeper pro. I have attached your files to this post in case anyone needs them.
    Attached Files Attached Files
    Blinky Flashy on a budget since 2009
    2009: 32 channels of Grench
    2010: 80 channels of home etched Ren-16 Simple and Home etched SSRneons.
    [URL="http://www.vimeo.com/user2720474/videos"]My videos [/URL]

  9. #9
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    Default Re: My 1st year experiences.

    Quote Originally Posted by tstraub View Post
    Roger I still have those files and I am currently working on an updated version that uses momentary contact switches and has 4 jumpers so you can install shunts to hold the channels on. I decided that I needed a hands free SSR tester because I had to have one of the kids hold the button down while chased down a few bulbs with the Light Keeper pro. I have attached your files to this post in case anyone needs them.
    Tyler, cool! I haven't had time to look and since no one asked for them, hadn't taken the time.

    What "flavor" are your pcb files in? I'm not at home, so can't try them in PCB Artist, which is what I use almost exclusively. Will have to look at them tomorrow, if I can get them open.

    You mention shunts for keeping the channel on - have you considered 4-position dip switches? I'm about ready to pull the trigger on a bunch of them, and would be more than willing to send some of them out, if people want them. Also trying to get a great deal, on the momentary pushbutton pcb switches. Relatively inexpensive, to buy in bulk, and the quality isn't TOO important, as long as they work. I agree, shunts would be quick and dirty, but DIP's would be SOOOO cool!!

    Maybe I can just borrow your kids for a weekend, to push buttons??? Can't get mine off the couch...

    R
    [IMG]http://crbest.com/vixenlogo02.jpg[/IMG]

    Roger Phillips
    Oxford, IN
    256 channels of blinkin', dimmin' bliss...
    "[B][I]The road goes on forever, and the party never ends!![/I][/B] [I]Robert Earl Keen[/I]

  10. #10
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    Default Re: My 1st year experiences.

    The files I posted are your original PCB Artist files. The new ones I am working on are Eagle files. I had considered DIP switches but I didn't have any 4 position DIP switches on hand so I went with the quick and dirty solution. If their is interest I could switch to DIPs. I will open a new thread in a few days when I get it done. I don't want to take this thread to far off topic.

    Tyler
    Blinky Flashy on a budget since 2009
    2009: 32 channels of Grench
    2010: 80 channels of home etched Ren-16 Simple and Home etched SSRneons.
    [URL="http://www.vimeo.com/user2720474/videos"]My videos [/URL]

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