chris barr


Light(n)ing In A Bottle

A few weeks ago I decided to finally photo-document a step-by-step process I’ve been working on for a few years now for how to drill a hole into a glass bottle and get an entire strand of Christmas lights inside it.  As seen above, it look pretty cool and these can make for pretty great decorations around your home, or if you’re feeling generous they’re not-too-shabby gifts either.

I made this as an Imgur Album and submitted it to Reddit (my most popular submission to date!), but I hardly post enough content on my blog and I’ve not seen this type of thing documented well elsewhere, so…

Here’s Everything We’ll Need

We will need some pretty bottles, LED Christmas lights, a drill, spear drill bits for drilling glass, and a container of some kind that can hold water.

Up first, a Bombay Sapphire gin bottle

Submerge it

Put the bottle in the container and fill it up with water so it comes over the side you plan on drilling. Make sure the bottle fills up to or else it will probably float. We need to drill this underwater so that we don’t have glass dust going everywhere, we don’t want to breath that or clean it up!

Glass drilling drill bits

These are a must. You can’t drill a hole in glass with normal drill bits. I’ll start with the 3/8 inch bit, it’s the larger on on the right half here.

Let the drilling begin!

Make sure everything is underwater, and drill slowly. Don’t go too fast or press down too hard or else you might shatter or crash the bottle. On this bottle I have a nice flat surface and the glass is thick, but on something like a wine bottle that is a bit thinner and has a curved surface, it’s much more difficult to drill and more likely to break (trust me…)

A hole!

Start with a small bit, and we get a very small pinhole. Stop when air bubble come through.

Time for a bigger bit!

Now we switch to a different kind of glass drilling bit. It’s about the same width, but now we can make a slightly larger hole. That’s the key with this, make a small hole and gradually make it larger.

Slightly larger…

After stepping up the drill bit size a few times, we have this

Bring out the big guns

Time for the biggest glass drilling bit I could find. This ons is 3/4 inch, which makes a large enough hole to put stuff in it!

We begin…

We might have to start at an angle at first…

Now we have a 3/4″ hole!

The edges might be a little rough, but if you drilled slowly and didn’t press too hard then it should be mostly smooth. You can use the drill bits at an angle to help smooth out anything that needs it.

A nice clean hole

Time for another bottle

I did another bottle, and now a standard wine bottle.


Still Drillin’

Notice how cloudy the water is? That’s the glass from 2 previous bottles. That’s all the glass that we are NOT breathing in!

3 bottles with holes!


Dispose of the glass water

Glass particles in your sink are probably not the best thing for it, so I say pour this outside. Pour it slowly so the larger glass particles stay in.


Here’s all the remaining glass bits. Clean these out with lots of paper towels or something so you don’t cut yourself!

Stuff those lights

Now, take some LED Christmas lights and stuff them into the hole we made. Be sure to choose LED lights instead of traditional incandescent bulbs because they don’t produce heat inside the bottle and they are brighter & easier it see through the colored glass. The strand I got for this bottle was 50 lights, which seems about right for this size of bottle. 50-100 lights is probably good for a normal sized wine bottle, but 100 is a lot and it will get TIGHT! 75 is probably a better number to shoot for, but idk if they make lights in that amount.

Keep stuffing

This strand of lights has a plug on both end for connecting multiple strands. We can’t fit that through the hole, so we can either clip it off and put electrical tape over the wires, or just leave it hanging out like this.


Every now and then it might feel like you can’t stuff any more in there, and thats when you need a trusty coat hanger. Make it into a hook and pull the wires around to make more space near the hole for stuffing more lights.

All done!

They all fit!

Our first bottle finished!

200 lights!

The Bombay Sapphire gin bottle is a lot bigger, and I bought this strand of lights last year and I’m ready to put it to use… so hopefully I can fit all 200 lights in here.

Lap-full of lights

So. Many. Lights.

Keep going

This one was just about too many lights, it got really difficult to stuff them all in, but it all eventually worked in the end with enough coat hangar work.

The finished products!

I’m happy with the results. All of these contain white LED lights, and the colored glass really makes a difference on each one. I’ve found myself in the wine/liquor aisle buying things purely based on the cool bottles after I’ve started doing this…

Daisy Chain!

Since we have both ends of the plug on each bottle, we can plug them all into each other, or even plug something else into it. Handy.

Kitty approves

Actually he doesn’t care at all.

A New Life in Georgia & a Wedding Website

Life Update
In less than a month now I’ll be getting married – it almost seems surreal.  I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time, mostly since I proposed to Kirstin about a year ago, but it’s so close I can hardly believe it.  I’ve lived in pensacola, Florida for the past 5+ years and Kirstin has lived Rome, Georgia for a little over 4 years now.  We had a long distance relationship for the entirety of our 2 years of dating, but in the past few weeks I’ve actually taken the plunge and moved up to Georgia.  We figured it was probably a good idea to at least live in the same state if we were going to be getting married.

It all actually worked out quite well.  The company I work for, AppRiver, recently opened an office in Midtown Atlanta.  The office is about 1.5 hours from where Kirstin works in Rome, so we decided to live somewhere in the middle and then we each commute to our workplaces.  The drives are fairly long, but  we think it’s worth it because we finally get to see each other on a regular basis and we both get to keep the jobs we love.

A Wedding Website!


Soon after we were engaged, the wedding planning began.  One task on the list was to get a wedding website.  I thought “I got this!” since I do something similar for a living, so I made one.  I might have gone a bit overboard with the site, but it covers 100% of our needs, we love it, and we’ve gotten nothing but compliments about it.  I’ve made it in a fairly modular way, so I hope that others might be able to make use of it as well.  I’ve decided to put all the code on GitHub because… well why not.

Check out the site:
Get the code:


Portrait Session – Mika Watson & Family

A few weeks ago Mika, a coworker of mine, came to me asking to shoot some family portraits before I moved away to Atlanta; and I was happy to be their photographer! We met out at the Fort Pickens National Park one day in the early afternoon, and we had a lot of fun exploring the fort for nice backdrops, and just goofing around. They were a blast to shoot, and a rather photogenic bunch!

Here are a few of my favorites form the session.








Portrait Session – Lanessa Hunter

My full time job is working as a web developer & designer, before any of our code goes into production we have a team of software testers that makes sure the things we worked on are working correctly. Lanessa is our main software tester at work, and she has an upcoming speaking gig for a conference in New York where she needed a headshot. I was more than happy to be her photographer when she asked me a few months ago (I’m just slow getting this blog post together!)

I went over to her house and we were able to shoot everything in her backyard with her wonderful garden in the background for nearly every shot. This is a small sampling of some of my favorites some the session.




What Steve Jobs Taught Me About Design

With a title like this, you probably think this is going to be about how clean the lines are on the MacBook Pro, or how amazing the attention to detail is in Mac OS X. Nope, I mean that time when Steve Jobs publicly critiqued my work. Let me explain…

Way back in 2005 Mac OS X 10.4 “Tiger” was released and it had an exciting new feature at the time called Dashboard. Dashboard is a neat layer on OSX that allows various single-task “widgets” to be quickly shown and hidden, like calculators, package trackers, weather, etc.  Press a button, get your info or do your task, then hide it.  The thing that was so exciting about Dashboard was that behind the scenes it was just a website, nothing more than HTML, CSS, and JavaScript in it’s simplest form.

To me, this was incredibly appealing because I’ve used a Mac ever since I was a child and I’ve always wished that I could write some useful software for it, but I’ve never learned the languages.  When Dashboard was released I was in college at Full Sail pursuing my degree in Digital Media, which included all sorts of things like programming and web design.  Finally, a part of the Macintosh was now accessible for me to actually write software for!

Now, I just need an idea (which of course is one of the most difficult steps). I was not a very good programmer at the time so I needed something that would be simple to make but also something useful.  RSS Feeds were gaining popularity at the time, and then it clicked when I visited the CNN website. CNN has interesting content and an RSS feed – I can do this! To make it even better no one else had made a Dashboard widget that grabbed news from CNN, so I was the first with this particular idea!

I got started making it, and the code was difficult for me. I ended up modifying another RSS-reading widget and just putting a new face on it.  I struggled with it, but I ended up with something that worked.  When it came time for a design for the widget, it seemed like a no-brainer to me.  I took a look at the CNN website and it simply had to reflect that.

The only thing was that web design in 2005 was terribad, and even big companies like CNN were not excluded.  Here’s a screenshot I grabbed from of their website circa-2005 (warning, it has a popup!).


Not a great looking site, right?  Even going by 2005 website standards it was not considered a beautiful one.  With that in mind, here’s what the widget looked like.


Sadly I do not have an actual screenshot or older copy of the widget, the best I could do was take a screen grab from a youtube video.  It’s not great quality, but you get the idea and can hopefully see the resemblance to the CNN website. Glorious light blue background, mmm.

So there I was in 2005, I made a widget that showed news headlines from CNN which resembled their website. The widget actually got quite popular, I recall one day it actually was listed in the top 5 right on Apple’s homepage!  I was feeling pretty great about it.

Later in the year Apple’s WWDC event was held, and it was a great one.  Steve Jobs is on stage recapping their success with the new operating system release earlier that year, and he stopped for a quick demo of some of the neat Dashboard widgets people had come up with.  Take a look at the video below to see what happened next. (jump to about 15:35 if it doesn’t start there already, and watch until around 17:20 for what is relevant to this post)

Back then Apple would stream these events live on the internet, and I always watched live.  My jaw almost hit the floor when I saw STEVE JOBS himself drag out my CNN widget during a live demo! I was so incredibly exited (for about 5 seconds), but his only comment about my work is that “it’s not as nice looking as BusinessWeeks’ [widget]” which actually got a mild laugh from the audience! Devastation. Steve Jobs is and was almost like an idol to me, what he has accomplished in his lifetime is mind-blowing, and I love everything about the products his company creates.  But there he was, live, in front of the world telling everyone how mediocre my design was.

Ok, well maybe I’m making too big of a deal about this.  I made a thing for free and someone with a microphone and an audience didn’t like it.  It wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened to me, and it certainly wasn’t the worst looking design I’ve ever made. I’ve got a folder full of embarrassing design attempts somewhere on a hard drive that are 10 times worse than this. Once the shock wore off, I realized he had a point.  The widget did match the CNN website, but that didn’t necessarily mean that it was a good idea.

I should have taken a step back and asked myself “does this look good?” but instead I asked “does this match?”

I only mimicked an existing design because it was easy, where what I should have done was get creative and come up with something on my own.  Shortly after the keynote video, I did just that and released an update to the widget with a fresh design.  It looked much nicer and more like what a widget should look like, not what the CNN website should look like.  Here’s a screenshot of the front and back of the redesigned widget.


It’s not the best, I know, but it’s much improved over the original one.  Honestly it didn’t even take me that long to come up with this idea, I just needed to be told “do it over, the current one stinks” and it made me realize that I needed to be creative instead of being close-minded and boxing myself into a bad design.  However, now that I look at this screenshot again, I do wonder what is up with the world’s most expensive lemon.

CNN has since changed their RSS feed, which messed up the widget a bit and I just never kept up with maintaining it.  It’s no longer available for download, and the contact information on the back is no longer good either.  Even though it’s broken, it does still “work” and I keep a copy of it on a backup drive so I can have a record of my work and to remind myself about Steve’s honest and real feedback.  I so wish that I had come up with this design from the beginning and that this was the one that was demoed, I’d be curious to hear what Steve would have said about it, if anything.

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