Skills you will need

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Overview

This hobby isn't for everybody. We're not pulling any punches here, just stating the bare truth. It's a very demanding hobby in many ways.

  • If you're the kind of person who doesn't have the patience to try different things over and over until the device works, this hobby is not for you.
  • If you don't have or won't take the time to do the required research to learn how things work and how to configure them, this hobby is not for you.
  • If you are looking for a quick plug-n-play solution for your mind-blowing light display, this hobby is not for you and we'd suggest that you hire a professional decorating company to do it for you instead.
But... if you're the kind of person who enjoys a challenge, understands that the DIY world has few operation manuals, is willing to invest significant amounts of time, energy (and money) to learn the requisite electronic, computing, networking and other hardware-related skills while having a lot of fun in the process, welcome to the greatest hobby in the world -- you'll have a whole bunch of fun!


THE BLUNT TRUTHS: TEN THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THIS HOBBY

  • 1 - Understand that this hobby is not plug-n-play. Almost nothing about it is plug-n-play. Don't even expect that the first time you plug in your lights, they will turn on. There is no manual for this hobby although there is plenty of written documentation and helpful hints and tips. It will be up to you to find them. On your own.
  • 2 - Expect to spend considerable time researching, reading, and hunting for information. Understand that while other DIYers are always glad to help you acquire these basic skills, don't expect them to do it for you and teach you every little thing. Remember, this hobby is a "DO IT YOURSELF" experience where you take ownership of every facet of it, including the study and learning of tasks that may be completely new to you. On your own.
  • 3 - You'll need good planning and time management skills, and you'll need to start early in the year, too. By early we mean that August is too late to start planning an extensive Christmas display. Building the hardware takes the least amount of time; it's the details and loose ends that kill you and this hobby has lots of those... Many DIY'ers start planning and working on next year's show while the current one is still running!
  • 4 - You'll need to know your way around your computer, how to install software on it, how to copy/delete files, how to use the Internet to download and install software, etc. Don't expect other DIYers to teach you how to use your own computer. The hobby relies heavily on the user's ability to operate his/her computer in a much more involved way than simply browsing the web or answering email. You will have to know how to configure communications ports, install/uninstall drivers for external USB devices, how to download and unzip files, copy data from place to place, and more.
  • 5 - You'll need to learn about electrical safety and basic homeowner wiring techniques. This hobby uses high-powered electricity and for your safety as well as the lives of others who live in your house or who visit your display, you'll need to follow local electrical guidelines. Pick up a basic wiring guide at your local hardware/home improvement center and study it thoroughly to learn how to be safe. Don't overlook this issue. It may save someone's life -- possibly your own!
  • 6 - You'll need to have a pretty solid logical, diagnostic-thinking ability because you'll be constructing your own customized electronic light display. There is no manual for this because every DIYer's situation is different, but most DIY gear does have some form of assembly and/or user guide available. However, there is a logic to electricity and how electronics works and it's up to you to learn it. On your own. For example, what might be wrong if you plug a table lamp into a socket, turn it on and it doesn't light up? Think it through...
  • 7 - If you plan to use WiFi or Ethernet-based controllers (E1.31, primarily for smart pixels), you will need to know how to configure computer networking., You'll have to learn about IP addresses and use common network software tools such as ping or telnet as well as opening ports, configuring network routers and wireless access points. If you've never done animated lighting before and you plan to START with some of these jazzy, pixel-type displays, expect to have an extremely challenging DIY experience. Using WiFi networking in this hobby is not even remotely similar to powering up your tablet or phone and connecting automatically to your home network. Don't expect other DIY'ers to help you diagnose and solve your networking problems. They may try to help, but it's YOUR network. YOU have to take ownership of your own network. Remember, this is a do-it-yourself hobby...
  • 8 - You will probably need to learn how to solder, especially if you want to assemble electronic circuit boards or kits to save money. (The cost savings can be huge!) This isn't as daunting as you may assume and in fact, assembling electronic gizmos usually quickly becomes a favorite part of the hobby for almost every DIY'er. It's an absolute hoot when you put something together, fire it up for the first time and discover that it works! The very first time you build your own piece of gear, you'll understand the incredible allure this hobby has on participants and you'll really be hooked!
  • 9 - Construct things for safety. If you intend to build display structures that people can enter or walk under, you'll need to build them structurally sound to prevent possible injury. Again, your hardware/home improvement center has plenty of books on construction techniques. It goes without saying that you'll need to know how to use various household tools -- hammers, pliers, screwdrivers and wrenches, drills, saws, ladders, etc. and possibly many power tools such as band or chop saws, circular or jig saws, drill presses, routers, or even welding equipment. The bigger you go, the more skills you'll need to acquire.
  • 10 - Don't expect other DIYers to bail you out at the last minute because you got into the hobby way over your head. Many newcomers to the hobby don't take the time to learn basic electrical, networking, assembly or construction concepts or plan far enough ahead and consequently become extremely frustrated when crunch-time rolls around. You will quickly acquire a great many friends and acquaintances in this hobby, but understand that they're just like you during crunch time and they're trying to get their own displays operating -- they're running around the yard testing things, plugging things in, fixing plugs or repairing light strings the same as you. This is why you need to acquire your own set of skills so you can be self sufficient. And on this note, here's the results of a survey we took at the end of 2019 of what our experienced users said about their help sessions with "newbies."
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