Show testing from an iPad

Technology to the rescue in the Christmas lighting world

So, you want to test your lights, and the more you have the more you need to test as you get ready for launch night. Like most however, I started off my first year of doing animated lights using the more primitive 2FSS run method.

Better known as the two feet, two sneakers and stairs method, aka: running upstairs to turn on display, then back down to see if it works, then back up if it did not, or if it started some of them, but not others. Wow, plain exhausting, and the more lights, stairs, yard you have, the more you develop a love / hate relationship with the 2FSS method.

To make the point, the first year I did this I only had 5,160 lights spread across a large yard, so the 2FSS method gave me a big workout and major frustration when somethin

g would not work or light up when I expected it to.
In my second year (2011) I had 17,305 lights! That’s a 235% increase from the first year and the very thought of 2FSS was making me exhausted.

Did I mention that the entire staff for my show is one? There was some pity help from my wife on the days she felt her sanity at risk if she did not prevent me having a heart attack trying to get all the lights up by myself.
So, how to get the lights in place and test them to make sure they not only went on and off, but would perform correctly when a sequence was run? A starting point was PlanetChristmas, followed by an article in the PlanetChristmas Magazine.

The story showed how to use a modified small light show controller to do quick testing, nice but limited to a small section of lights without the ability to test larger groups of lights as you progress along.

Now, by trade I am a computer systems engineer, which means I have been working with computer systems for over 30 years now, networking, operating systems and for the past ten years: virtualization, which involves getting a single large computer to run many virtual computers on it. So, if anyone should have SOME idea of how to do this, it should be me. One would hope, expect, count on, and prey for! Yeesh!

This led me to ponder a solution, or in computer speak, ‘parse the data through many filters to reduce total dataset down to a few ideas for testing’ and while pondering I was using my new iPad my wife had given me for the 2010 Christmas holiday. And then the little idea icon in my head started flashing, (think C9 bulb) the iPad is small and portable and most of all powerful enough to do so many things.

LogMeIn screen
LogMeIn screen

I already have wireless connections in my house, the iPad receives and sends wireless signals, so my mind is saying ‘Hello”, wake up, idea here, why not use the iPad to test the lights?

Ah, ha you say, and that is exactly what I said, followed by the next question, how to run the Light-O-Rama software on the iPad. Simple answer, you don’t, it runs on the PC, I just have to be able to see it and control it from the iPad, and I have been working with remote access for a long time.

Next step: locate software that would allow my iPad to talk to my PC so I can reach and run my lights. To do this, my first stop is online software that allows me to use remote access to any computer that has the client installed on it, from any other computer. So I headed for, it offers free and paid versions of its software, so I could install the client on my PC without any problems.

Sequencer as seen on the iPad
Sequencer as seen on the iPad

Now I just needed someway to connect to the client aka: iPad, you see LogMeIn works with Internet Explorer or Firefox and while I could connect with Safari, it just won’t work correctly from a small screen such as the iPad, and is not supported by LogMeIn.

And the flip side is IE and Firefox do not run on the iPad.

LogMeIn figured out real quick that many iPads and smart phones desire for remote access would require a non-browser product to use remote desktop access. And they were ready with a product called “Ignition” which allows for direct connection to the remote agent on the actual PC.

Test console running on my PC but shown on the iPad
Test console running on my PC but shown on the iPad

So, now I have my wireless router, my iPad and a connection between the two, so I am good to go.
I setup my lights, and when I had a section to test, all I had to do was leave the software open on my desktop (I could open it remotely, but come on, I already had it open and was working on it, so why would I close it?) Head outside, open the iPad, make the connection, and like a shining beacon, there it is my desktop and the Light-O-Rama sequence editor or hardware utility depending upon what I was testing, just waiting for me to click on it. Now it is just a matter of using the hardware test sliders to see if each section of lights will turn on correctly and then I run a sequence to see if the lights do what they should in the correct order.

This is way to cool!

This article was included in the July 2012 issue of PlanetChristmas Magazine.

By Wayne Gateman

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