The Calgary Xmas light display that gave Clark Griswold a run for his money

Back in 1993, Calgary tech teacher Bob Found turned a lesson plan into a show-stopping display of Christmas lights.

Calgary tech teacher Bob Found produced a 'high-tech Christmas dream'

Calgary teacher Bob Found started out creating a classroom exercise for his students, and ended up with a high-tech Christmas lighting plan for his home. 2:48

For most people, decorating the house for Christmas involved putting up a tree and stringing some lights on the eavestrough, so CBC Midday host Kevin Newman told viewers in 1993.

But for Calgary resident Bob Found, the job was a little more elaborate, involving a "complex series of computers, timers and high voltage." 

Calgary resident Bob Found's elaborate set-up for lighting up his house for Christmas required more electrical know-how than stringing up lights around the eavestrough. (Midday/CBC Archives)

Pointing to two panels connected by a profusion of power cords, Found explained "all the equipment on the right-hand side here is essentially power supplies that convert house current into direct current for all my computers."

The timer in the centre of one board simplified the process — "all the relays are activated, all the power is supplied to all the computers and all the lights outside, all simultaneously without me having to be here and without any breakers being blown," he laughed.

And the end result was a show-stopping display, fired up with the help of a list of components that reporter Jennifer Webber read like a high-tech version of The Twelve Days of Christmas song: "6 micro-controllers, 3 computers, 12 motors, 6 power supplies, 9 relays and over 5,000 lights."

'Why do it?'

Bob Found explains the workings of the two control panels for the Christmas lights on his Calgary house in 1993. (Midday/CBC Archives)
Since it took 2,000 hours to build, she asked the obvious question, "why do it?" 

"It started off as just an experiment to demonstrate principles of digital electronics to my students when I was teaching ... and from there it just grew," Found said.

But the system wasn't just for show, as his use of discarded objects was innovative. As Found explained, "I really think I'm ... a king of the recyclers, other people call me a junk collector but I do find a use for most of this stuff."

The proof was in the elements of the computer system and the lights themselves — "I made that computer, and I made these three boards from junk material."

An angel in Bob Found's 1993 Christmas display is lit by recycled elements. (Midday/CBC Archives)

Outside, he showed how one figure was lit up — "the angel's halo here is a platter from a hard disc, and the little blue part is a backlight from a little LCD TV, the lights ... are from an old mudflow computer used in oil drilling." 

And for the crowning touch, "the cover is a margarine container."

The downside of all this complexity? "If a bulb goes out I don't know if it's a problem with the computer, with the computer program, with one of my interface boards or any one of my wires."

"But once running," added Webber, "it's a high-tech Christmas dream."

Bob Found's house in Calgary was a showcase for his computer skills for Christmas in 1993. (Midday/CBC Archives)