Robert Frost once wrote "Good fences make good neighbors," but Winston-Salem, N.C., native BJ Sintay proves that 36,000 light bulbs, an Internet connection and a good cause may be all you need to bring people together, even from thousands of miles away.
Sintay, who is currently pursuing a doctorate in biochemical engineering at Wake Forest University/Virginia Tech's School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, is the founder, engineer and tech guru of controltheshow.com, a Web site that gives Internet visitors free rein over the Christmas display surrounding his North Carolina home.
Sintay "dreamed up" the idea for "control the show" back in the summer of 2004. "I was interested in creating a Web site that could control something physically in a way that people could interact with and see, " he wrote on his Web site. "The reason I chose [a Christmas display] was simple: My wife loves Christmas, and I knew I would have her blessing."
After preparing for more than a year, Sintay launched his site on December 1, 2005. Visitors were given complete control over the display every evening for a month between 5 p.m. and midnight. By January 1, 2006, to Sintay's surprise, 25,000 people had taken turns flicking the switches.
This year traffic has increased exponentially. In the week since the show opened, nearly 10,000 people have gotten the chance to control the lights and thousands more have lined up for their turn too. For those who don't have the time or the desire to queue up for hours at a time, Sintay's Web site, thanks to a webcam he rigged up across the street, continually broadcasts the light show. Aside from the long lines and hours of blinking lights, what Sintay finds most exciting is that in the past week alone, the site has received nearly a million hits a day.
"We've had people from all over the world do this. Pretty much every country that has the Internet. People have controlled the show from Great Britain, a lot from Canada, Taiwan, Australia, Pakistan, Hong Kong, all of Africa," said Sintay.
But spreading holiday cheer through a fantastic light show is not Sintay's only goal. His Web site encourages visitors to sponsor a light for a dollar or a candy cane for $30, Rudolph for $35, or, if they're feeling particularly generous, the strings of color-changing lights adorning the house for $1,800. Sintay donates all proceeds from the display to the Ronald McDonald House, a charitable organization designed to give needy families a hot meal, a caring person to talk to or a place to call home during difficult times.
So, what does it take to put on a show like this? "There is about half a mile of extension cords," explained Sintay, "between 35,000 and 36,000 lights," and it takes about five days to set it all up.
The lights, the extension cords, the electric bill, they all cost money. So how does a graduate student pay for all this? This year Sintay's school offered to sponsor his project. They helped him rent bigger servers for the site, pay for replacement bulbs, wires and circuits, and foot his electric bill.
Now that Sintay's pet project has taken off, what do his neighbors think of it? "They love it!" he reported on his Web site, "In fact, they want to get their houses on the show next year." Believe it or not, one neighbor even donated a large pole for putting the lights in the trees and another hosts the webcam in her garage.
As it turns out, in this North Carolina neighborhood, good fences aren't the secret to good neighbors, but, rather, it's a combination of an unusual exhibit, a worthy cause and good people.
For more on BJ Sintay's house visit controltheshow.com.