Chuck Vandenberg, Pen City Current Editor
FORT MADISON - He lit up Avenue E on Halloween and now he's lighting it up for Christmas.
Fort Madison's Matt Emmett of 804 Avenue E has used his own ingenuity, a heavy, heavy dose of motherboards, tech gadgetry, and even 3D printers to create a winter digital wonderland music show for passersby on the city's east side.
Emmett was born and raised in Fort Madison and moved back to Fort Madison with his family this year.
He's a computer scientist by trade but is quickly making a name for himself in circles of progress in the community.
"I simply love Christmas lights," he said.
"My dad drove us around every year looking at Christmas lights. One of my absolute favorites was the late Mike Manka of Fort Madison. He had an amazing display. When I came across computer-controlled displays on the news, I was curious and started researching how to do it. The rest is history.."
Emmett said this is the fourth year of creating a Christmas display and set out to create his own in Fort Madison this year.
The show he's created, which is complemented by radio station 87.9 FM is made up of four components: the individual lights, the controllers the show computer and the sequence software.
"I’m not going to lie, its fairly complicated. These types of shows don’t use normal Christmas lights. The lights in my show are called RGB Pixels. RGB stands for Red, Green and Blue," he said.
Emmett said the RGB pixels differ from regular lights in a couple of ways. First, each light actually is made of three separate lights, red, green and blue. Together, the lights can create millions of colors. Another way they differ is that each light has three wires instead of two. The third wire tells the pixel which color and intensity to display.
The lights are connected to specialized controllers that understand how to control each individual light separately. The show computer connects over a standard data network to each of the controllers. The show computer decodes the song/animation sequences and sends data to the controllers to activate the appropriate pixels at the appropriate time. Finally, the sequencing software is used to create the song/animation sequences.
Certainly not your father's Christmas lights.
The lights are not solid on for the show, they are blinking on and off and different intensities. It’s capable of pulling about 4500 watts on brights scenes with all lights on.
The lights can be seen typically from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Emmett said he was a little late this holiday becuase of the new home and incorporating the Halloween display.
"I was quite a bit late this year, as many of you may have seen," he said.
"Setting this show up at a new house was a massive effort. I have been working on the Christmas show since late summer. I also took time off to work on the Halloween show.
Emmett said he doesn't take donations to suppor the show because of his love for doing, but he said making a donation in the shows name to individual's favorite charity this season would be appreciated.
"There are many in need this time of year such as the food bank, Salvation Army, or Toys for Tots. It would also be awesome if you joined our Facebook page: Lights on Avenue E. In the future I will be posting show times, song lists and behind-the-scene-looks at the show.," Emmett said.
The show's Facebook page will announce more props and songs as they are activated.
Emmett said without his wife and family the who wouldn't be possible.
"First, a special thanks to my wife Sarah, she puts up with a lot of craziness to support me in this hobby," he said.
Emmett said it's a family affair with the couple's children jumping in making the project even more special.
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