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February 27, 2010

Making light under difficult conditions
Posted by Teresa at 10:10 AM *

Or, some reflections on a power outage.

If you can’t find your emergency lighting gear in the dark, you might as well not own it.

It’s okay to know the approximate location of everything else, but you have to know the exact location of the matches and at least one candle. Alternately, stash a glowstick in the same container where you keep your candles.

Carrying the same emergency book of matches in your purse for several years can rub off the striking strip.

In general, do maintenance on your lighting supplies before the lights go out, because otherwise you’ll just feel stupid.

Adorably dim little tea light holders are designed to look pretty, not provide functional home lighting. Standard tapers and candlesticks are much more effective. Glass-sided lanterns are okay, but make sure they’ll accommodate whatever candles you have on hand.

Store the lamp oil near the oil lamp, and vice versa.

(During the Great Blackout of 2003, I patronized a linoleum Chinese restaurant in Park Slope that stayed open by lighting the place with improvised oil lamps: tuna or cat food cans filled with oil from the fryer, with big freestanding wicks made of twisted paper. They flickered wildly, gave off a lot of smoke, and can’t have been safe, but they worked.) (I still wouldn’t recommend using them.)

Your room will not be set up for a candle or lantern. Take the time to identify and clear off a suitable space. Consider putting a shallow dish or pan under it. Watch out for rising heat. In general, regard open-flame lighting as an unstable technology that requires constant monitoring and maintenance, and always manifests its bugs in the worst possible ways.

Candles and oil lamps are dim. No wonder our ancestors gave up and went to bed.

Once you’ve got your first candle lit and stabilized, you can fiddle around with the rest. My choice of first thing is a big devotional candle, the kind that comes in a tall cylindrical glass container, and is rated to burn continuously for seven or eight or fourteen days. I pick mine up at the grocery. Try to avoid the really colorful containers, as less light escapes them. Candles made out of white wax are less likely to be scented.

If you can’t stand the smoke from soft paraffin, they’re called sanctuary candles, and they cost more.

(Keep an empty devotional candle holder around to hold your scrap wax. If the blackout continues, you can melt down your scrap wax, insert a wick, and have a whole new devotional candle. Assuming you have a wick. Note: cosmetic cotton balls are made of short-staple cotton, and don’t spin well.)

A comparative survey: devotional candles are a bit dim until they’ve got a good pool of melted wax to work from, but they’re dependable and long-lasting. Tel Aviv brand utility and sabbath candles burn down quickly, but they’re bright. Three or four of them grouped together are bright enough to let you read big type or cook simple food.

Pure beeswax is awesome! It’s bright, clear, stable, long-lasting, and nearly smokeless and dripless. One beeswax taper in a wall sconce will light an area as well as a half-dozen devotional candles, and five or six inches of it will last all evening.

The chief virtue of IKEA tea lights (go ahead, get the bag of 100) is that they come in little lightweight metal cups. Once the tea light has burned halfway down, blow it out, then stick a sabbath candle in the melted wax and hold it upright until the wax cools and hardens. Stick this “base” into a tea light holder and light the sabbath candle instead.

The best way to get a patch of candle wax out of clothing is to pour boiling water through it.

Comments on Making light under difficult conditions:
#1 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 02:42 PM:

In ye olden days trimming the candles was one of the chores assigned to the house's daughters, no doubt, once they arrived at about age 10.

Candles need a great deal of tending. Was that part of the footmen's duties in wealthy establishments?

Love, C.

#2 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 02:49 PM:

As Betty MacDonald says, "We had quite a few candles but we learned that a wick is a wick even if a candle is three feet tall and bayberry."

(Lack of commas in original.)

#3 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 02:58 PM:

so is this the "a pox on your newfangled l.e.d.s" thread?

#4 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 03:00 PM:

Our last couple of blackouts, we've gathered together a few Ikea pillar candles and had enough light to read by. Use a match to light the stove and boil water for a tall cup of tea, curl up under a quilt, and hope the lights are on by morning.

It helps that we go through periodic candle binges.

#5 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 03:04 PM:

IKEA also sell pillar candles, which they call block candles and 'normal' candles, which they call chandelier candles, which are likely a better choice than tea lights for illumination.

I find an easily portable candlestick to be utterly useful, since it's much easier to carry than a lot of decorative holders.

Based on recent experience, there are clearly some sorts of 'strike anywhere' matches that, well, don't. The large box that I have will only strike on their own box :(

Some sort of reflector (tinfoil works in a pinch, as do metal trays, as long as they're shiny) can also help to multiply the amount of light available.

When you're looking for a safe place to put your flaming item, remember to check above as well as below -- it's rather embarrassing[0] to light laundry or scarves on fire...

[0] Theoretically, of course...

#6 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 03:05 PM:

Two things.

The first light is the most important. It will allow you to get to the other light sources.

Darkness, on this planet, is a temporary thing. Within 12 hours, there will be enough light. Trust me on this.

While hypothermia might get you in that period, thirst or lack of food will not be fatal unless you have Preexisting Conditions. Those can also make lack of medication a serious issue. In general, though, patience is your very best friend.

#7 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 03:11 PM:

Also, I did spend much of my childhood in a cabin with no electricity. We used kerosene lamps for the most part. They were a foot tall to the wick, then had glass chimneys above them. We also had one lantern that hung from a wall, and one wall-sconce lamp with a reflector behind it.

This is where Teresa's point about room setup is crucial. We're so used to lights that hang from the ceiling or sit a foot or two above the work surface. But most of our candle holders put the flame much lower, which means they're either low down (sharing the visual field with what we're looking at, causing our pupils to contract) or high up on some shelf and thus too far away.

#8 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 03:22 PM:

FINALLY, a post that's on the topic of the blog.

#9 ::: Zeborah ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 03:34 PM:

The other things in my house that would provide sufficient light for me to at least find the candles etc are: an led light for reading books by, located by my bed just past my asthma inhaler; my cellphone, located on the floor by the window as an alarm clock; and my laptop, located on the stool in my living room (although that one could theoretically get fried by a surge in the AC).

I've got an old tin can with part of the side cut out so that the remainder can act as a reflector for a candle (sharp edges protected by a quick application of that gel stuff that sets and plugs leaks).

#10 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 03:42 PM:

Altar Guild trick for removing wax from cloth:
Heat iron (NON-steam setting). Place paper towel over wax spot. Iron gently. Wax melts and is absorbed into towel. Prayer optional.

#11 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 03:43 PM:

When my family was living in Quito, during the period of scheduled rolling blackouts during the summer (and somewhat less scheduled power failures during other times of the year), we used to have two big, bulky electric lanterns that plugged into the wall. Their particular feature was that you left them plugged in all the time, and if the power cut out, they'd automatically turn on, then provide power for about eight hours. So any time the power cut out, there'd be at least two lights in the house--we staged them in separate rooms, right near the doorway, so that they'd be easy to find with minimal stumbling on the way--to get to, and then from there one could go light the obligatory candles, find flashlights, and so forth. I'm not sure what that particular type of electric lantern is called, but I'm sure they can still be found for sale online somewhere.

I still distinctly recall the careful maneuvering necessary to set up candles on the right part of the windowsill in the shower, to shower by candlelight. I miss it, sometimes. That and trying to do homework by the light of cheap candles... Funny what becomes endearing in retrospect, when it was mostly annoying at the time.

#12 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 03:44 PM:

This reminds me; I've got plenty of LED flashlights and there's usually one by the bed and there's always one on my desk (to which I can find my way by touch from just about any point in the house). But there are these nifty coleman lantern styled mini-LED lamps in camping shops; quite cheap, run on 4 'AA' cells for up to 48 hours, and perfect for hanging from things because they don't weigh much. A couple of those, pre-fitted with loops of fishing line to hook onto chandeliers or ceiling light fittings, would not go amiss.

#13 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 03:45 PM:

Improvisation from my wayward youth in hurricane and thunderstorm country:

A row of tea lights on the bathroom shelf in front of the shaving mirror / medicine cabinet can illuminate the bathroom quite successfully (keep the aftershave/cologne/rubbing alcohol/etc well away.)

Extinguish the matches, then (because you are paranoid) roll them around in the moisture that lingers around the drain or on the tap JUST TO MAKE SURE THEY ARE OUT before putting them in the wastebasket.

If uncertain about the flammability of the surface, put a brick, slate, ceramic tile or other smooth flat rock or rock-like item under the tea lights in their little metal cups. (Oven-safe cookware, perhaps?)

It's hard to get candle wax off a curious kitten. Use appropriate caution. (No animals were harmed in the production of this sentence, but explaining the result to my roommate was interesting.)

#14 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 03:46 PM:

I find that my cell phone usually provides enough light to get to the big mag lights. That in turn will take me to the Coleman camping lantern in the garage, which is very nearly as bright as a big electric lamp.

#15 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 03:48 PM:

Our current "darn! lights out! need flashlight to go get candles!" needs are met by spare LED bike lamps, a couple of which always seem to be lying around the study.

#16 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 03:53 PM:

Hand cranked LED flashlights are nice to have.

#17 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 03:55 PM:

Recommendations for LED flashlights? Brands? Sources?

#18 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 04:00 PM:

Candle use can violate your rental agreement (it does mine).

#19 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 04:12 PM:

Not big on flames myself. Relatives have given me a couple of those flashlights with a generator inside, a few years back, but I have not been able to get them to hold a charge.
Does anyone know if there's newer ones that are more durable? Cranked, not squeezed (that's all my hands can handle any more.)
One of the reasons I don't like candles much is, my cousin likes to have lots of them and she left one going in the tv room while we had dinner, and I heard something go "clink" and another relative went and looked--sure enough, the glass holder had cracked, and we were all just lucky he caught it in time. LEDs for me.

#20 ::: Eric K ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 04:26 PM:

Also worth noting: Moderately expensive LEDs are at least an order of magnitude brighter than the cheap kind. The good ones are about as bright as a hand flashlight, fit on a keychain, and have several dozen hours of battery life. The actual ultrabright LEDs in these lights used to cost several dollars wholesale, which is why they're a bit of specialty item.

If you keep an ultrabright LED on your keychain, and change the batteries regularly, you can have instant light even in the middle of an office block, far from any window. And you'll have no problem finding your candles at home.

Teresa, thank you for the information about beeswax candles. I've always seen them for sale, but I didn't know they were so bright.

#21 ::: arkessian ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 04:26 PM:

Check: three battery-powered torches, tested once a month (Outlook task).

Check: One within feeling reach on the right bedside table (approx. 33% of the time, and most of the night-time hours, in which case if relevant curse the lack of heating, snuggle under and wait for developments in the morning. Set mechanical alarm clock if necessary.).

Check: One within feeling reach on right of the study desk (approx 33% of time in which case curse the lack of heating, add clothes and consider going to warmer environs for an hour or two, or go to bed early as appropriate. If in the most productive daylight hours, curse -- since other electrically-powered implements not functional -- find a paper or battery-powered e book currently being read if daylight insufficient after candles lit (see following).

Check: One on the top shelf of the living room bookcase: get up from the sofa, feel your way along it to the right, at the end of the sofa turn tight with your left hand held out in front of you; four steps (or less if you're taller than me); torch at right end of top-most shelf in the bookcase. (Go to bed; see what the morning brings).

Check: Tested by me and the lodger; we can both find the nearest torch every time. [Note to self: new torch -- wind up LED one? -- in lodger's new den? There's room to his right... Although if I'm out, he favours my study, so problem solved.]

Check after torch secured (with torch in your hand): matches and saucers (for candle adherence with sufficiently melted wax) and plain white candles in the fifth drawer down to the left of the kitchen sink.

Check: cat does not have access to lighted candles. Corral him in unlit room if necessary and provide bodily heat if necessary...

Yes, I live in rural Gloucestershire where power is a joy, not a right. Why do you ask?

A footman would be useful in all circumstances...

#22 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 04:30 PM:

Between a childhood in rural N.H., part of the time in a house without electricity, and life in Earthquake prone Los Angeles, there are some habits I've picked up.

My parents had Coleman lanterns, but we also used hurricane lamps and lamp oil for spot lighting. Candles aren't so good in drafty 200 year old houses.

In Los Angeles, especially after discovering how useful they were after the 1994 quake, I became a fan of the emergency automatic on flashlights that connected to a wall outlet. They turn on when the electricity turns off. You don't need them if it's not dark, but they last for two two four hours of sustained use, and they can be used like flashlights. They are invaluable when there's an earthquake (or power outage) before dawn. Seriously, they make a huge difference; you can see all the broken glass. You can where see the exit points are. You can use one to find long-term lighting sources.

I also am a fan of the LED keychain lights; they last for years, and generally, you always have a flashlight for emergency purposes. They're small, but quite powerful.

#23 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 04:55 PM:

Fade Manley @ 11...
I still distinctly recall the careful maneuvering necessary to set up candles on the right part of the windowsill in the shower, to shower by candlelight. I miss it, sometimes. That and trying to do homework by the light of cheap candles... Funny what becomes endearing in retrospect, when it was mostly annoying at the time.

It's a bit off topic for the thread, but I've found that a relaxing bath/shower by candlelight at the end of the day does encourage the body to want to sleep. It also means that there's another spot where you're guaranteed to find candles/matches ;)

#24 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 04:55 PM:

My favorite light-it-up tool is one of those long barbecue lighters, made like a cigarette lighter's gigantic cousin Al.

Tea lights are always best massed. I have a couple of holders designed to do just that, and half a dozen to ten tea lights are not lame in terms of output. They won't last for a terribly long time, but for the price, the three or so hours you can get from them isn't without worth. If you don't have a holder that will take multiple tealights, try a plate with several, set on the table or kitchen counter, out of the way of traffic. Even better, set each one in clear drinking glasses.

I have a lot of those candles in jars, which I picked up at varous times on sale--the scented ones don't bother me too much, and I feel a light in a holder like that is safer than a pillar in a dish or tapers, if you don't have a hurricane shade. If you are going to use pillars or tapers a lot, hurricane shades are worth looking into. So is a mirror to set on the table top; one of those really increases the amount of light.

There are more and more good battery lights available; a friend has a couple of those strings of party lights that run off 2 AA batteries, and uses them in the bathroom during power outages.

Also, while everyone here knows this, I'll be a bore and say it yet again: No candle or oil lamp is ever entirely safe, although some set-ups are safer than others, and whatever arrangement you settle on should aim for the maximum of safety first, and the maximum of light second. And, with Angiportus' report in mind, don't leave any candle or oil lamp unattended. Make sure you have something to put things out, as well as to light them up.

#25 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 05:06 PM:

Ikea is selling a whole line of solar-powered lamps right now. I think the idea is that they store electricity during the day and can then give light at night. They seem to be concieved for outside parties, but from my experience in the 2003 blackout, they could come handy in a blackout.

I have several torches in the house because my kitchen cabinets go on for miles under the counter and there's always an elusive baking mold I need back there.

#26 ::: arkessian ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 05:17 PM:

Fade Manley @ 11... trying to do homework by the light of cheap candles...

Ah, memories of the 1974 strikes in the UK. Rolling power cuts, and no concessions from the examination boards. Homework by candlelight or even better -- 'cos it was warm as well -- homework by torchlight under the blankets. Blessings be on my mother, who thought my exam results were worth the torch.

#28 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 05:25 PM:

How about sun jars? Assuming you've got a properly-placed window.

You can even make your own.

#29 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 05:33 PM:

arkessian, #21:
"Check: cat does not have access to lighted candles."

Singed cat fur has quite a memorable odor, I can testify from experience. (Long-haired cat, taking a shortcut across the dresser where several candles were burning, got some of his belly fur frizzled. Not a particularly smart cat, he did the same thing again about a week later before making the connection that candles + fur = bad idea.)

#30 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 05:49 PM:

Chris's sister, who lives in coastal New Hampshire, just called to tell us that they're without electrical power, and will likely remain so through the weekend. (And their heat is electric, and their stove is electric, and their well is electric, so it's much tougher for them than for us decadent city folk with our gas stoves and oil-based steam heat.)

#31 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 05:52 PM:

Tom Whitmore @6 "Darkness, on this planet, is a temporary thing. Within 12 hours, there will be enough light. Trust me on this." Unless you're living somewhere in the high latitudes and it's the middle of winter.

Avram @28: Re. solar powered, I've got a small three-LED solar powered kearing flashlight. Pretty bright. However, it only stays on when the switch is held down (but it only cost £2).

#32 ::: CathyP ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 05:53 PM:

I have yet to see any mention of a gas lantern?

By which I mean a small portable LPG gas tank with a lantern attachment on top. The lantern housing is fully enclosed and there is a shut off valve if it should hit the deck. I think they were designed for camping but we never got that far.

Dad got this when we were kids as the idea of us and open flames in the same house raised his blood pressure.

#33 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 06:01 PM:

Shabbas candles come in convenient dozen and half-gross boxes. Though if you aren't already using them as Shabbas candles, I'm not sure what you'd want with a half gross.

I got a thumbprint-sized LED keychain light a few years ago, and it's so useful, occasionally, that it has stayed there, and is now on at least its third set of batteries. Boy, can you get a grateful look from someone who thinks they lost something under the couch . . .

And tangentially, re week-long devotional candles, I just had occasion yesterday to double check my links for San Precario. Too relevant to many of us.

#34 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 06:06 PM:

We don't often have power outages in my part of London. Nevertheless, I have two wind-up flashlights - one upstairs and one downstairs - and though I'm naturally untidy, those two items are *always* kept in the same place. I also carry a whistle on my keyring since, apparently, should you get trapped somewhere this is easier to hear than your increasingly feeble cries for help. (I did once have a mini-flashligght on the ring too, which I must replace.)

#35 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 06:09 PM:

I can cook even pretty elaborate food in the actual dark, myself. Since I know where things are, and I can cut food blindfolded (note I did not say "chop" as the motion most people use when chopping is more dangerous than using a paring knife to cut slices or chunks), and the stove gives out some light when it's on -- I have gas, which means only the oven doesn't work without electricity.

I have a working flashlight in an obvious place in every room, and a specific drawer devoted to candles, matches, candlesticks, and batteries for the flashlights.

And I have windows, so from dawn to dusk I can read and do other vision-oriented tasks.

I just need a foot-powered computer and I'm set.

#36 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 06:09 PM:

Yep. LED flashlights (including one on my keychain) and reading lights abound here. At least one LED lantern, though it's in the Unreachable Closet at the moment (along with the remainder of the camping gear, including a pair of lanterns, one canister and one REALLY old one that runs on white gas (butane)). Also battery-powered touch lights in the closets. I'd also hesitate to use candles, around cats who've never seen them.

Light, I think, is not a problem. But we really should clear a few cubic feet of space in the closets for water storage.

#37 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 06:16 PM:

I've got candles in various places, flashlights, bike lights, keychain lights. A couple of times, friends have asked why on earth I've got a cigarette lighter? Candles and fireplace fires, of course.

But to emphasize again the need for caution... I'm told that the fire that took Greg McMullan from us was started by an unattended candle.

#38 ::: Samuel Bierwagen ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 06:21 PM:

@17: Maglite makes LED flashlights, now, if you need something that you can buy at a home depot.

Alternatively, Streamlight flashlights if you want something lighter, more durable, brighter, and probably twice as expensive.

Alternatively alternatively, one of the NiteStar shakelights if you want something that is really, really built to last. (review)

Recent models come in several different sizes, and are brighter, thanks to modern LEDs with greater luminous efficiency. They're still nothing like as bright as a battery powered flashlight the same size, but then again, they don't have batteries.

#39 ::: Mike Kozlowski ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 06:35 PM:

Fragano@17: I can highly, highly recommend the 4sevens Quark AA2 flashlights.

They're small, barely bigger than the 2 AA batteries they hold, but amazingly capable. At their brightest setting, they put out 200 lumens, which is insanely bright -- nearly an order of magnitude brighter than a legacy 3D Mag-Lite with brand new batteries. It's nearly impossible to believe that something so small can put out so much light when you see it.

Perhaps as important for this purpose, they also have adjustable output levels. If you put one at the 4 lumen setting (roughly comparable to a Mini-Maglite with lightly-used batteries), it can last for 120 hours on a single pair of AAs. The 22 lumen setting (as bright as a Maglite 3D with fresh batteries) will last you 24 hours. Assuming you don't use it during the day, that gets you through a multi-day blackout nicely without even having extra AAs around.

#40 ::: Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 06:43 PM:

Huh. Thought I posted earlier and I think it didn't go through. Anyway.

I live in a very rural area and, in fact, am currently listening to the wind pick up as a storm approaches. High winds tend to cut our power regularly.

I keep on hand:

A few dozen D cell batteries
Multiple D-cell flashlights
A D-cell operated boom box (also a wind-up radio, but the boom box has better reception).

Propane camping lantern and canisters, used more for cooking on the grill at night than for lighting inside.

I have a good inverter for my truck, which allows me to use my car as a generator, if I need a power tool or electric light for emergency repairs.

A spotlight, so I can figure out what made that bump in the night.

I've never really needed anything else. The power comes back eventually.

#41 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 06:44 PM:

There are lots of places online to order beeswax candles, but this is where I buy mine. They're well-made, reasonably priced, and you're supporting a small business, not a giant corporation.

Camping lanterns give out much more light than candles, and (especially if you have the battery-powered kind) are also safer to use. Make sure you have some spare batteries around as well. We made good use of ours in the evening hours post-Ike.

Glenn, #8: *snork*

Mark, #10: Sort of the inverse of our old trick for preserving pretty autumn leaves: put leaf between 2 sheets of waxed paper, press briefly with hot (non-steam) iron, trim away excess paper. The wax becomes much more transparent on heating, allowing the colors to show thru nicely. You want a piece of scrap cloth to iron over afterwards, to remove residual wax from both the ironing-board pad and the iron itself.

Thena, #13: In a pinch, spit into a cup and use that to wet your used matches. Never discard a matchstick that hasn't been dampened first.

#42 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 06:45 PM:

When my power was out, I pulled out an old standby from a crate -- small floating lanterns which use vegetable oil, whatever you've got around. Mine (branded as "Flambuoyants", some decades old) are basically a thin plastic float that holds a wick. You fill a jar, glass, or bowl with water and oil. The oil floats on the water, and the thingy with its wick floats on the oil. Not so good for carrying around, but nice on tables.

#43 ::: Glaurung_quena ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 06:47 PM:

Re: Matches. Unreliable messy things. Instead, for candle lighting, I've come to rely on a wand-style lighter (sold at barbecue lighters or candle lighters in grocery and hardware stores). Unless you light a lot of candles, they function well for years, and enable you to light even fussy reluctant candles without burning your fingers.

LED flashlights: The bright kind advertise themselves as having a 1 watt (or more) LED. They cost about $20-30 retail, but they're much cheaper online. Mine is a maglite-brand, and uses 2 AA batteries, which makes it reasonably compact without being an unfindably tiny thing hiding at the bottom of the drawer.

#44 ::: glinda ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 07:08 PM:

I keep lighters (Bic-type) next to four of the five oil lamps (the fifth is a wall-hanging Pennsylvania Railroad caboose lantern a neighbor "midnight requisitioned" for us in the early '50s), and another on the bookcase top where a couple of tea light holders live. A couple of weeks ago, I made sure all the oil lamps were full. (I've become the "go-to" person in my apartment complex, whenever the power's out; a neighbor knocks at the door, I hand them a spare lighter and half-a-dozen tea lights. *grin*)

I've also got a 2-burner Coleman stove. Electric heat and stove, alas, but if the power is out for more than two days, I'll head out to friends' in Kingston or Hansville, who have wood stoves.

#45 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 07:11 PM:

Besides various flashlights, both battery-operated and wind-up, I have an LED lantern with a crank and solar panels. It even has a handle for carrying/hanging. I also have a bunch of votive candles (like tealights, but twice as tall) and a few stick candles.

I don't like having a lot of extraneous Stuff on my keychain, but I may buy a keychain light to keep in my purse.

#46 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 07:12 PM:

Interesting. I previewed #44, but never hit post. I wonder if that's related to the double-posting glitch?

#47 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 07:21 PM:

Difficult conditions, not related to vision: I learned during our tsunami alert today that my bathtub will not hold water very long (an hour, maybe). That's useful if annoying information.

#48 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 07:22 PM:

I hope I'mnot too weird for justifying walking round the house in the dark because I can then find everything required should the power go out. Whats more it paid off once as well, although as soon as i'd gotten the torch the lights came back on.

#49 ::: jere7my ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 07:25 PM:

Re: finding matches, this is one area where smokers have a survival advantage.

I'm not one, but I carry a lighter in my pocket at all times just in case a situation arises. (So far, the situations have consisted of "Hey buddy, got a light?" and "Oh no, we didn't bring anything for the birthday candles!") A lighter will give you enough temporary light to find candles or an oil lamp, assuming you have a vague idea where they are.

#50 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 07:28 PM:

guthrie, I make it a point to know my way around my space in pitch-dark. Though right now my apartment is such a disaster that I would just wait for the sun to come up instead.

#51 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 07:29 PM:

xeger @ 23: Does it now! I've been having a rough enough time getting to sleep some nights that I'm all for giving that a shot. I suppose the trick is finding a place to set the candles where the cats can't frolic over them, but they won't melt the plastic shower curtain either. Possibly one of the big jar types would work; there's not a lot of heat on the outside of the glass with those, I think.

#52 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 07:44 PM:

The place where I took P&T on a trip once, where lovely candles (including beeswax) are made.

I don't know if these the the very candles that Miss Teresa was talking about in the main entry, but I recommend them: Mole Hollow Candles.

#53 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 07:47 PM:

i second mike koslowski's recommendation of the quark led lights. they are fabulous.

five levels of brightness from insanely bright down to "moonlight mode", which is very adequate for indoor navigation with dark-accommodated eyes. plus three beacon-modes: fast strobe, slow beacon, and sos.

quarks can eat a variety of batteries--a single AA, a pair of AAs, a single 123 or a pair of 123s, or the rechargeable 18650. you can buy battery tubes for any combination, and i'm embarrassed to say i have them all.

i carry a quark AA all the time with a non-standard AA sized 4-volt rechargeable, the 14500 battery in it. and a quark mini AA in the other pocket!

and if you think i sound slightly obsessed about led lights, then you have not spent time at that's the real nest of flashlight/torch obsessives.

#54 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 07:55 PM:

"linoleum Chinese restaurant" - Please define.

"Candles and oil lamps are dim. No wonder our ancestors gave up and went to bed" - Monticello had mirrors in the parlor so they could stay up later.

I can get around the house in the dark. I make sure of that just in case.

When Typhoon Karen went through Guam and we didn't have power for three weeks, we made candles by heating the melted wax in a pot on the grill, pouring it in a can, putting in a wick (small cotton rope works) that's tied to a stick that's longer than the diameter of the can, and waiting for it to set. You can usually just turn the can over and get the reborn candle out, but sometimes you need to run a knife around the edge. You do lose some wax every time, so if you had to do this for a year, you'd have well-depleted candle stock.

I don't have candles here. My hands shake, I walk unevenly, and I have cats.

#55 ::: Jon Hendry ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 07:56 PM:

I should think a $50 computer UPS ought to run an LED light, and maybe a small radio, and maybe a cellphone (or kindle!) for a good while.

#56 ::: Jon Hendry ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 07:58 PM:

(By which I mean, a UPS used just for those low-draw items, not one that is also being used to run a computer during a blackout.)

#57 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 07:58 PM:

guthrie, #48: There is indeed something to be said for that. It was said even more forcefully in Wait Until Dark. When you know your living area well without requiring light, the darkness can become your friend at need.

#58 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 08:28 PM:

Marilee @54, she means the kind of cheap Chinese restaurant that can be found on almost every block here in NYC. They pretty much invariably have linoleum floors. They do mostly takeout business; the one nearest me doesn't even have tables.

#59 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 08:33 PM:

Having moved into town and abandoned all the country power outage supplies to my ex, I'm having to start over. My cell phone gives enough light to get to candles, LED lanterns, etc.,and the first couple big plastic juice bottles I emptied got cleaned out, filled with water, and tucked away under the sink. My main concern is heat. I lived for years with kerosene heaters, but here I don't have a safe place to store the kerosene. I got a "personal fireplace" that runs on can gel fuel, and it helps to sit next to it, but I think you'd really need a three-can model to keep a whole (small) room warm.

#60 ::: Eric ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 08:45 PM:

I've really found these little LED keychains to be handy when the lights go, and they're quite cheap:

47 cents/ea, shipped, is cheap enough to put 'em everywhere.

Item 15780 on the same site is a pretty good LED lantern/flashlight. I got a lot of use out of one at Burning Man last year and it held up fine; it's currently clipped to a light fixture in case of power outage.

Also, I'd recommend Djeep brand lighters for emergency fire situations- they're really well built for being disposable. Cheap disposable lighters will fall apart whenever you need them not to.

#61 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 09:07 PM:

The variety of candle lantern that I gave to my elder daughter as a present.

#62 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 09:09 PM:

I've had a whole variety of little and not-so-little squeeze- or push-button LED keychain lights, and they're nice for a while, but I got frustrated because eventually the battery died and couldn't be replaced easily, or the switch died, or it would turn on in my pocket all the time and waste electricity.

The Proton PRO was the hardcore LED light I was lusting after when my last crappy disposable light died, but it's pricey on a student budget. I ended up with a $10 keychain AAA MagLite, which is sturdy, not too large for my pocket, doesn't turn on accidentally, and has an easily-replaceable standard-size battery. It's a special (xenon?) bulb, so the light output is pretty comparable to a cheap LED light. I'd prefer it to be brighter, so I'll probably try one of the spluftier ones once I have money again, but it's good enough for finding a bigger source of light. I used to carry a "mini" LED MagLite (2 AA's, I think, and about 8" long) around everywhere, which was really nice but hardly mini, and I'm trying to reduce the amount of crap I carry on my belt, so that's now beside my bed instead.

My flashlights mostly see use during the summer months lighting my way between home and the subway so I don't accidentally step on the ubiquitous slugs around here, which tend to hide in the shadows under the trees where the streetlights don't quite reach. It isn't quite as sexy a use case as a power outage, but it is still sanity-inducing.

#63 ::: VCarlson ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 09:11 PM:

Linkmeister @47: Thanks for the reminder! I just went and pulled the plug (literally) on the tub. The building and bathroom hardware are all just over 30 years old, and, apparently, one of the first things to go was the tub-sealing pop-up. So what's there now is a good old fashioned plastic/rubber stopper on a chain, which held with no appreciable loss for at least 6 hours. Nice to know for the future.

I've also been making all sorts of notes on LED lights. I have a shake-light on top of the fridge, my night vision's excellent, and I have huge windows, but - light's A Good Thing. I remember my sister had to study for an exam during a hurricane (I think it was Iwa) here, and I seem to recall she felt a tad frustrated.

Now I'm looking forward to many nights of fried rice - I made a pot in case the power went out for this all-electric building. My sister had reminded me I'd need food that didn't have to be cooked.

#64 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 09:41 PM:

Kevin, 62: Thank you for introducing me to the word "spluftier."

#65 ::: Eric ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 09:42 PM:

Kevin @62: The LED keychains I linked to above have held up pretty well for me, and I haven't found them prone to accidental activation. You can replace the battery with a #0 Phillips screwdriver.

#66 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 09:46 PM:

I knew somebody would mention candle lanterns just before I could. We've had them for years -- Dad's were fold-ups. I got one at some yard sale that's rigid. I'd just about trust a candle in one of those and be happier than I would be about sticking a candle on a peanut butter jar lid (yes, kids, those used to be metal!). I doubtless have candles around here, but with all the paper stuff around, we've gone in for flashlights and batteries.

I have one of the keychain-size LED lights in my pocket all the time, along with my iPod and an Altoids smalls tin with my earbuds. There are windup LED flashlights in the cars, because they gave Sarah some ability to moderate the darkness and didn't eat batteries.

I found a truly miniscule windup flashlight, but it goes dim in about ten seconds, so I gave Sarah that too.

For real power disruptions, we have the gas generator FEMA repaid us for after ten days without power following Hurricane Isabel, as well as the Coleman stove I heated Spaghetti-Os on (and heated dishwashing water), and now a gas grill that could cook a whole meal. Since we left Virginia, the power's never out enough to justify firing any of those up, except for a tasty meal on the patio.

#67 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 10:19 PM:

PartyLite is a good source for candles with mild fragrances and excellent candleholders. Since most of my colleagues buy candles for the winter--not just for decoration but for power outages on the Mountain--I've learned that most of them swear by PartyLite candles over anything else.

One of the best ones we have for an outage is a hurricane with clouded glass (and forest wire cutouts around it). It holds a votive and provided good, consistent light for getting around the place.

Longer term, we have camp lights (battery). I'm not a fan of using the white gas lanterns inside--seen too many Colemans flare up wildly during our years of camping adventures. We also have a wood stove, though, and that helps with light.

#68 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 10:22 PM:

Fade Manley @ 51 ...
xeger @ 23: Does it now! I've been having a rough enough time getting to sleep some nights that I'm all for giving that a shot. I suppose the trick is finding a place to set the candles where the cats can't frolic over them, but they won't melt the plastic shower curtain either. Possibly one of the big jar types would work; there's not a lot of heat on the outside of the glass with those, I think.

Yup :) The other part of the trick is to avoid turning on bright lights after... (although the overall relaxation is helpful either way :) )

#69 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2010, 10:37 PM:

Joyce @ #67, Yes to PartyLight. I have some very pretty, fancy candle bowls and holders That I will never, EVER put another brand of candle. And they're not just PartyLight candle holders. (Yes they do make nice holders, I have a number of them.) (and I am NOT a dealer!)

PartyLight candles pretty much burn all the way up if you take care of them correctly. So you don't have to fret and try and dig crud out of crystal candle holders.

#70 ::: CassR ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 12:03 AM:

re: #11 et al -
Coleman do a couple of long-term rechargeable lanterns - I've got one plugged in under my desk right now - with the power-off, light-on function. They can be a bit on the pricey side, though. The Primus Nova lights put out a serious amount while being fairly easy on the size and batteries, too.

#71 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 12:43 AM:

Kip W's #66 reminds me of an old Army trick I've heard of (never actually tried it):

You can take the little tin of peanut butter from a package of C-rations, use a cut-off piece of shoelace as a wick, and use it as a makeshift lamp or to heat the rest of the rations.

(If you wanted to try this at home,at a guess natural-style peanut butter would work best, since the oil separates from the solids after a while.)

#72 ::: Daniel Boone ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 01:01 AM:

Growing up in the stereotypical cabin in the woods, I've got lots of experience with non-electric lights.

Candles were, for the most part, considered to be too hideously dangerous, although we did have a high quality tin candle lantern (semi-circle of tin, pane of window glass for the front, hinged door on the back to insert and light candles) that was acceptable for outdoor work in any weather when flashlight batteries were frozen or dead, and Coleman lantern use was not authorized. (There were many politics surrounding which children were authorized to use which of the dangerous lighting instrumentalities under various circumstances -- and a kid in trouble might well be sent outside to work in the dark with the candle lantern as punishment, to make the point that he or she was not currently trusted to use a better but more dangerous light source like a Coleman lantern.)

Kid's living areas were equipped with standard kerosene lamps, about six inches high from base to wick, with wide wicks and glass shades about eight inches tall. Fairly safe if not knocked over. Handy for toasting marshmallows on a fork when one was supposed to be doing one's correspondence school lessons. Bright enough for reading and study if placed front-and-center on one's desk next to the book; not really adequate for reading in bed.

Family areas were lit with the only civilized kerosene light, a brand of lamp called Aladdin (TM). It features a circular woven wick surmounted by a glowing woven silk mantle, akin to those used in Coleman (Blazo / whitegas) lanterns only larger and much more expensive. Very fragile and susceptible to vibration, and prone to shooting flames six feet out the top if they got out of adjustment. Ours was suspended by a chain above our dining room table from the highest point of the cabin roof, using a bicycle wheel as hanging lamp base. This protected it from vibrations it would have suffered sitting on the table, and gave it lots of room above for shooting flames. The quality of light from these lamps is very steady and without flicker, but brightness can be an issue -- and adjusting the wick for greater brightness can lead to the "flames shooting out the top" problem very quickly.

Coleman lanterns (powered by pressurized Blazo or white gas or even gasoline) give brighter whiter light than anything burning kerosene, but make a loud hissing noise as a rule. Modern versions tend to be powered by small bottles of propane, and are also noisy but easier to use. Vibration or shock can break the silk mantles, which are somewhat spendy; but otherwise, these lights are much safer inasmuch as they can be upset without being likely to set things on fire.

For emergency use in case of power outage, I'd prefer a mix of standard kerosene lamps (silent and adequate) for interior lighting and Coleman lanterns (brighter and more portable, but noisy) for working outside in the dark, or doing any task that requires bright white light. Aladdin lamps really require a living space designed for their use, plus a pattern of safety habits that can be learned, but isn't standard for most people. And candles are emergency supplies -- simple and easy to store, but not safe enough to use in any space where you aren't basically staring at them all the time.

#73 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 01:08 AM:

abi writes: "Also, I did spend much of my childhood in a cabin with no electricity. We used kerosene lamps for the most part."

I spent about six of the years before I went off to the maritime academy living with my father on a 35' cruising sailboat that spent most of its time tied up at a mooring can. As a result, I developed some rather odd habits that persist into adulthood, one of which is a tendency to keep oil lamps in multiple rooms around the house. I make sure they're functional, but they're mostly never used.

G thought this was a charming idiosyncracy, at best, until the rolling blackouts started plaguing California in the wake of its stupid experiment with making electrical utilities into commodity trading platforms. I had enough oil lamps to mostly make up for the difference in light. Without missing a beat.

I recall that the propane camp lantern was the main light source on the boat most evenings. We used refillable bottles and turned down the valve to its lowest rate. The oil lanterns were what we used when we were out of propane, which was often.

#74 ::: paxed ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 02:14 AM:


Two headband led lights on the bookshelf, three meters from me on the left. A handful of beeswax tapers, also on the bookshelf. A large candle on the kitchen table, with book of matches next to it.
I think I'm covered.

(Why I know all of this without looking? Because the day length is right now 10 hours, and it's been getting longer for a while.)

#75 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 02:18 AM:

dcb @31 -- I'll leave it up to those who have lived in such high (or low) latitudes to comment on hoe much light actually comes from a sun that's only a little below the horizon. Paula? You've been there.

#76 ::: Rick Owens ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 02:26 AM:

2 lights (of the many around my house) for consideration:

A Fenix LD20 that's on my belt during the day and on the bedside table at night. Light levels from 9 to 180 lumens, and runs on plain AA cells. Currently my favorite flashlight.

PALights are great to set on the frame above doorways. They each take a 9V battery, and as long as the battery is good they emit an always-on 'moonglow' beam which is just bright enough to spot. Nice for power outages or just letting the dogs out at 2 in the morning.

#77 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 03:21 AM:

Eric @65: Oh hunh. That's good to know, thanks -- I'm glad somebody is making cheap LED lights that aren't disposable.

TexAnne @64: You're very welcome! I'm fond of it, but I forget now where I picked it up.

#78 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 05:46 AM:

Tom Whitmore @ 75: Here at 61N, the answer is 'very little'. The claim is six hours of daylight, but in reality this means four hours of weak, watery light bordered by an hour of twilight at either end. That little amount of light doesn't do enough to illuminate the inside of a house for seeing much, especially if no windows face south.

Waiting for light here in midwinter is something of a losing proposition. *g* If you're awake and inside, you'll be wanting artificial light.

#79 ::: individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 06:33 AM:

I bought my sweetie a Faraday torch, in case he ever found himself on the wrong side of a portal to fairyland. Unfortunately he couldn't help taking it to bits to see how it worked, after which it didn't any more.

Geek love...

#80 ::: AlyxL ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 08:36 AM:

I’ve carried a small torch in my handbag, upgrading it regularly until now I have a nice little LED version, ever since I read a story by (I think) William Gibson, in which a character is saved from walking into an empty lift shaft by the torch she always carried in her bag. It has come in useful many times, although not in the same way, but I fantasize that one day I will be travelling on the Tube or Eurostar, the lights will all go off, and I will save the passengers from hysteria and rioting with my little torch.

For the home, I have an amazingly useful gadget consisting of a wind-up pillar-type LED lantern, with 8 bulbs, that doubles as an emergency (flashing) light. It also contains an FM radio, a charger for mobile phones and a little multi-head screwdriver set. I suspect it also fries fish, but haven’t figured out how yet. It came from the much-lamented UK Woolworths, and I have no idea where a replacement could be found.

Tea-lights are no use at all for actual illumination; in my distant Devon childhood they were called night-lights, and used exclusively in children’s bedrooms. They were set in a saucer of water, as an extra safety feature, and one could be a very comforting to a child afraid of the dark. Unless the room was draughty and the flame flickered, which could be slightly more frightening than unalloyed darkness.

#81 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 09:01 AM:

second rick owens on fenix lights--i used to carry those and they are very good (towards the "insanely bright" end rather than the "last for months" end).

pal lights are very cool as well; it's just a little lump that sticks on the end of a 9-volt battery and produces decent working light for hundreds of hours. that's an ideal backup light, and i too have used the doorframe trick.

query: is there a gender split between led fans and fans of the open oxidation of hydrocarbons?

i ask because in my household, the female members actively dislike fluorescents, compact fluorescents, and l.e.d. lights, and prefer incandescents and open flames, because of the quality of the light. i.e., it's the spectral mix itself which they dislike about modern light-sources.

i, meanwhile, am entirely oblivious to this. i want bright and more bright, and don't care as much about spectral warmth or coolness.

and so from an n of less than 5, i immediately jump to an implausible universalizing gender hypothesis. don't you? (or maybe that's just something men do).

#82 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 09:13 AM:

I was once in Opium Den, the Chinese restaurant in Swansea, with a biggish group of fannish friends. The power went out. Within seconds, we had all produced little coloured LEDs and shone them at the ceiling above our table, brightly lighting our table and dimly illuminating the whole restaurant. The colours mixed really well, too, it looked great.

There are a few of things that made this notable. First was that we all had one. Second was that we all had one where we could get to it pretty much right away. Third was that somebody -- Vicki? -- figured out quickly that shining them on the white ceiling gave more light for everyone than other methods of using them. Fourth was that nobody else in the restaurant had, or at least produced, any light. Fifth was that when, after a little while the waitstaff brought candles, they were very grateful to us -- they said people normally panic, but because we'd produced the light right away, everyone kept calm. We'd saved the day! I think they gave us the meal free, too.

I have plenty of candles and matches in the house, I know where they are, I rely on lighting my writing candle and using that light to get out other candles. Power cuts at home are never a problem. But it's that power cut in a restaurant that sticks in my mind. We didn't have those little lights with us in case the lights went out. We had justified buying them to shine on our keyhole when opening the door or for some sensible overt reason like that, but the real reason we had them, and in so many colours, was because we were fans, and they are cool in a fannish way. Our secret reason for buying them was because they were reminded us of the nifty little things in science fiction that in the end turn out to save the day.

#83 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 09:16 AM:

kid bitzer #81: i ask because in my household, the female members actively dislike fluorescents, compact fluorescents, and l.e.d. lights, and prefer incandescents and open flames, because of the quality of the light. i.e., it's the spectral mix itself which they dislike about modern light-sources.

Perhaps you can sell them on the idea of True White™ LED flashlights. Leupold sell modular flashlights where you can get, for example, an MX-400 Multi-Mode LED Tactical Bezel for the front end of their MX™ Modular Flashlight.

#84 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 09:26 AM:


yes, some flashlight manufacturers offer "warm white" or "neutral white" leds in which the spectrum is shifted away from blue towards orange/yellow. some people really love them--they give better color-rendering at night. i like them just fine, but then i never minded the bluer tints, either.

they are going to remain a bit of a specialty item for a while, though. to make an led warmer, you have to sacrifice a bit of light output (maybe 10%-20%). most torch-manufacturers want to be able to boast about their total output, so they are reluctant to use an led that is rated at a lower output.

and the led manufacturers themselves are in a race to produce the highest output for the lowest energy input, so they too have less interest in lowering output by improving the spectrum.

but if there's enough demand, then led manufacturers and torch-makers will come around.

i do have a few neutral-white quarks, and i'd say that my family do like them marginally better.

#85 ::: Rick Owens ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 10:16 AM:

KB @81:

Data point for you: My wife tolerates the blue-white light from "white" LEDs (esp. a bulb I got for a bedside lamp) but far prefers warmer colors in addition to brighter light, while my concern is brightness.

#86 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 10:34 AM:

Beeswax, schmeeswax, for bright candles you want spermaceti - so good they named the candlepower after it. Oh, wait, back office is telling me they have supply difficulties these days...

#87 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 10:35 AM:


yeah, you might treat this as a data point, too:

or you might not. i'm always leery of journalists writing "battle of the sexes" articles. (or blog commenters like m'self, for that matter.)

#88 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 10:36 AM:

kid bitzer @81 and 84--some people find the blue-tinged light hard on the eyes; I know I'm one who prefers a light closer to full spectrum, although if it's choice between dim and an easier color, and blue and bright when I have tasks to do, I'll take brght.

Jo Walton @82 Lovely.
Also, maybe this is one of the reasons why fans are Krugman's people--after all, which group is better to hang out with--people who have lights with them, because they're Useful (and terribly cool and neat and niftilicious) or people who are worried about being seen with people who have things hanging off their belts because that's so terribly unstylish?

Daniel Boone @72--Aladdin lamps are still being made; they've been spun off* from the old Nashville company to become a separate company, headquartered in Clarksville, TN. The company website has a brief history of the company, as well as products and parts for sale. You're absolutely right that they do require a gentle touch, but the light is wonderful. Interestingly, they are branching out to make LED relacements for fluourescent tubes.

*It's complicated, like most things involving American business is these days.

#89 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 10:39 AM:

Thinkgeek has a lot of interesting light doohickeys. A lot of them recharge under sunlight too. is pretty neat. I am not sure how bright th ey are, but they could act as emergency lights near your more powerful lighting.

#90 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 10:53 AM:

kid bitzer, #81: Open flames vs. LEDs -- it depends entirely on what I'm using them for. Candlelight/firelight is great for "atmosphere", dubious for reading, and well-nigh worthless for anything involving visual precision or color discrimination. OTOH, I'm also pretty sure that this is at least partly due to the "aging eyes" phenomenon which also makes me curse people who think that putting CD liner notes in teeny-tiny grey text on a black background is a good idea.

We have pretty much completely switched from incandescent to compact fluorescent bulbs all over the house, and if anything I find it better, because we use daylight fluorescents. People who complain about the blueness of fluorescents often don't realize that incandescent light is significantly yellower than daylight! (To reproduce the color of incandescent lighting with a fluorescent you don't want daylight, you want "warm white".)

#91 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 11:01 AM:

I've put in compact fluorescents all over the house, the "full-spectrum" ones, and it's made my mild SAD vastly better.

Data point for kid bitzer: It took a bit to get used to the blue of the first fluorescent we put in, but now it doesn't bother me or my partner, one male and one female respectively.

#92 ::: Daniel Boone ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 11:13 AM:

Fidelio #88, thanks for the Aladdin link. It is very very strange indeed to see that familiar childhood logo -- which I associate with all things rural and low tech -- emblazoned on a website.

I just remembered one more low-tech way of making bright white light. But I wouldn't recommend it, except for specialist needs.

When first setting out to drag his family deeper into the wilderness, my father procured a wide variety of possibly-useful devices, not all of which proved practical. One of these was a genuine old-fashioned miner's headlamp called the carbide lantern. It came with an apparatus for strapping to your forehead or hard hat, and consisted of a reflector and a small cannister. In operation, you placed a white powder (calcium carbide?) in one chamber, and water in the other. As the water dripped into the carbide, a quantity of acetylene gas was released, which burned in a bright white flame at the center of the reflector, creating a brilliant beam of steady white light akin to (but perhaps not *quite* as bright) as the beam from a vehicle-mounted spotlight. It was easily the brightest source of non-electric light I've ever seen.

#93 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 11:42 AM:

Daniel Boone @ 92 -- Yes, the usual material used to generate acetylene is calcium carbide.

Another bright non-electric light source is burning magnesium, of course. Not recommended for general use.

#94 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 12:00 PM:

Glenn Hauman:

FINALLY, a post that's on the topic of the blog.

Clearly you don't remember the one about my uncle Phil and the five gallon coffee can of magnesium chips with water and a tablespoonful of gasoline. Lots of light was made by the 6 to 8 foot flame, but I doubt that most of us have houses big enough to take full advantage of it. I do guarantee that a cat won't walk over it twice unless it's in a Nomex suit.

It's not a myth, but boy would I like to see the Mythbusters recreate it...

#95 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 12:30 PM:

This reminds me of long ago when I accidentally came upon a stash of St. Rose of Lima candles scented with real damask rose rather than the fake stuff which makes me have migraines or the Rosa gallica which makes me sneeze forty-two times in a row.

At our house we are slowly accumulating a stash of LED flashlights; they are ruinously expensive at regular retail but places like Tuesday Morning often have them in inexplicable number and relatively low prices. With a large cat and two big semi-blind old dogs, I don't much like using candles, and the oil lamps are always dusty when the lights go out (we have our own well; no lights=no water, which complicates everything). I use a few tealights in the middle of the orchid table if the lights go out and it's below freezing, but otherwise it's flashlights and battery lanterns all the way and keep the battery drawer full.

#96 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 01:15 PM:

For affordable emergency lighting, vegetable oil, cotton butcher's twine and a Pyrex bowl make an effective oil lamp. Fill the bowl with oil, and arrange the string with one end in the oil and the other just hanging over the edge of the bowl, as a wick.

Multiple pieces of string can be used to create multiple wicks in one bowl, for extra light. The wicks, and the light, last much longer if you refill the bowl with oil before it burns out.

#97 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 01:34 PM:

I always carried a nicely loaded Swiss Army Knife and a small flashlight in my bag.

But since the ever increasing number and places that enforce security regulations, including airlines, I stopped. I didn't want my Swiss Army Knives and flashlights to be confiscated. They are very nice and not inexpensive items.

But they are useless now, since they were specifically for traveling -- a Swiss Army Knife that provides among other things a tweezers, an ivory toothpick, a corkscrew etc., is perfect for traveling. I have used all its tools while traveling -- and at home too -- for many a quick little job that came up that they were perfect for, even if not designed with the intention of that particularly job.

And now I have to travel without one. Sob.

You have to divest yourself of all these things to enter public buildings now such as the courthouse as you go through the metal detector. The hassle you get put through for having a knife and a flashlight is extreme, as I learned.

But I do now have to carry my passport everywhere as I don't drive and that's my I.D. You also can't get into many places now without producing official i.d., particularly university and college facilities, and we are spending more and more time in them.

Love, C.

#98 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 01:53 PM:

I have one of those little LED keyring lights clipped to my purse. It's handy, and i don't think they'd stop you from carrying it - it's about the size of a large postage stamp. I regret the nailclippers and the jeweller's screwdrivers (and the knitting) that I have to leave home when I get called for jury duty.

#99 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 01:54 PM:

Constance @97:

I always carried a nicely loaded Swiss Army Knife and a small flashlight in my bag.

But since the ever increasing number and places that enforce security regulations, including airlines, I stopped.

I want a Swiss Army Tool...something that has the tweezers and the screwdrivers but not the blades. Less useful than a bladed item, of course, but at least then I'm not stuck looking at a screw and thinking, "Well, what now?"

But I do now have to carry my passport everywhere as I don't drive and that's my I.D.

Depending on your state, you may be able to get a non-driver's ID from your local DMV. My younger brother in California has one; he does not drive but needs ID for the usual purposes.

#100 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 02:26 PM:

Abi: get a Swiss Card, remove knife (and leave at home), QED?

Some variants on the card-tool idea even have torches built in, but I've yet to see one with a non-red LED.

#101 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 02:27 PM:

guthrie @ 48: Yeah, I like to walk around my space in the dark. Aside from the benefits of learning the space well, there's also the fact that if you have to get up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water (or whatever), you're better off if you don't use a light source, which can make it harder to get back to sleep afterward.

I was staffing a retreat once in a mansion (with servant stairs) when the power went out. I was one of the people who wasn't freaked out by tramping around a big spooky house in the dark and helped get some emergency lighting together. (Large number of devotional candles, actually, once we cleared the wicks.)

That was an interesting weekend for many reasons, including the fact that the blackout threw our whole schedule off and left us with approximately three hours of sleep. I'd also just started dating my husband the day before the retreat, his house got robbed*, and I had a Sunday class gathering to discuss Kristin Lavransdatter.

*The story of the robbery is one which includes "What were they on?" and a cop calling the robbers "heathens."

#102 ::: Barbara Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 02:29 PM:

I have a sweet little carabiner flashlight in blue plastic, from a dollar store. I've never had trouble taking it on a plane.
Oh, wait, it seems you can get them here.

#103 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 02:53 PM:

If we make light under difficult conditions, do we sulfur?

#104 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 03:06 PM:

We have regular power outages here, and now have a whole assortment of tiny cheap LED camplights. Some of them are amazingly bright.

LEDs are cheap these days and have one nice advantage; they can't accidentally set your home on fire, as candles sometimes do.

#105 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 03:44 PM:

Serge,#103: If I didn't have a lot of chores lumen up ahead, I'd have something to say to that...
We had one of those Aladdin lamps when I was a teen, marooned out in the butt end of nowhere. I recall I eventually learned to use it on my own, but now I am glad for the more modern alternatives.
I've had certain people look askance on me because I wear a belt with a lot of stuff on it, often including items that preclude my entering some venues. When they tell me it is out of style, I ask them who made up the style rules anyway and they usually shut up. Of course, there was the time I and cousins were in this store, and they wanted a closer look at some item and the attendants couldn't get the package open and guess who was the only person in the whole darn store that had a knife...
My first sight of LEDs, by the way, was many many years back. This school I was at had a mainframe computer--the terminals were all timeshared and the printers all dot matrix, that's how long ago it was--and one time we got to tour the room where the mainframe was, all these cabinets that when open showed rows of crimson LED's flickering in arcane rhythms...Now I will keep my eye out for a multicolored mini flashlight. [Of course, what I really want is a green laser pointer so I can converge it with my red one and see if I get a yellow dot...]
Off to clean house and make room for a backup battery for my CPAP machine.

#106 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 04:27 PM:

Being That Kind of Guy, I seem to have a Collection of various kinds of solar/squeeze/shake (mostly LED) rechargeable flashlights, and keep them scattered around the house, findable by a reasonable amount of groping. Most of them came from 99-cent stores or Target, and were ridiculously inexpensive. Also a few plug-into-sockets, come-on-when-current-dies flashlights from Radio Shack.

I also seem to have Collected/accumulated a largish number of oil and/or kerosene lamps (the oil ones mostly being filled) and brass items, including several small Indian lamps (some of the Aladdin -- the story, not the (TM) -- type, with wicks and filled with mineral oil, which doesn't go rancid). Not to mention portable brass and pewter candleholders. And (being a Smoker) always have cigarette-lighters around (some of which work).

With reasonably-brief power outages, my only concern is possible damage to the computer. (For longer-term outages, there's a bag of charcoal on the back porch, for cooking, and plenty of clothing adequate for Southern California winter chill.)

#107 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 04:28 PM:

Jo Walton @ 82: "Our secret reason for buying them was because they were reminded us of the nifty little things in science fiction that in the end turn out to save the day."

That reminds me of this Russel Davies post on barely games.

Just like when I walk through the crowds on Oxford Street a tiny part of me is pretending I'm an assassin slipping steely-eyed through the crowds in order to shake the agents on my tail. And I bet it's not just me. I'm not saying I'm massively deluded, just that, very often, some bit of us is always trying to play those games, to make mundane things more exciting.

...Or for another perspective let's think about advertising/branding and look at the ultimate pretending object - the watch. A watch is an object built on pretending. The value watch-makers add is all about pretending. As with lots of luxury goods. What we're really buying is an object that lets us pretend.... Indeed, when we dress up, when we're on display and at our most public, these are the times when our costumes get the most pretendy - we get married dressed as princesses and officers - then go back to our everyday lives dressed as squaddies, rockstars or resting athletes.

But it's not just a matter of dressing up. A successful pretending object has to delicately balance pretending affordance with not making you look like an idiot. That's why so many successful pretending objects are also highly functional. As anyone who's been down the Tactical Pants rabbit-hole can tell you it's easy to obsess for ages about exactly the right trouser configuration for your equipment (ooh-er), all with a perfectly straight face. But every now and then you have a moment of self-awareness and realise you're just pretending to be a cop or a soldier from the future or Val Kilmer.

And of course, what you're really doing is both things at once.

#108 ::: Throwmearope ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 04:39 PM:

We had lots of power outages when we first moved home. Less so, now, our suburban electricity company apparently realized they'd worn out the "we're a rural electric company" excuse.

Light is never a problem, my husband and I both spent a lot of our youth up in the mountains, so we always have tons of options.

The worst thing for me was being late to work if the power to the clock was out. I found a lovely (but pricey) solution at one of the geeky stores--an alarm clock that automatically resets the time daily. It taps into the time transmitter in Fort Collins. So if the power is off, the clock automatically resets itself.

The old battery back up alarm I had used to run (it seemed haphazardly) either a couple of hours fast or slow when the power was out. Not helpful.

But my new-ish alarm is efficient and sturdy. The cats knock it off the nightstand with amazing regularity.

#109 ::: Graphicmark ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 04:58 PM:

I haven read anybody mention smokeless lantern oil, aka Ultrapure Lamplight, 99% parafin liquid. Lovely light, no icky sticky smoke, and when the juice is on, very nice for terrace dining. It comes tinted in festive seasonal colors, and can sit as an ornamental until illumination is called for. Here in the boonies of the hollers in southern PA, a must have.

#110 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 05:00 PM:

I've been a candle and lantern nut for years. This came in especially handy about a decade ago when I lived in a Cincinnati neighborhood (Mt. Lookout) notorious for losing power in nearly every thunderstorm. I could always light a couple of candles or an oil lamp and read a book while listening to the thunder. (And I'm a fan of thunderstorms, too; I find them soothing.) By the time the 2003 blackout hit, I was living in Cleveland and once again, I was prepared. My husband likes candles, too, which helps. Not to mention the addition to our lighting collection of a couple of heavy-duty railroad lanterns courtesy of his father's days with Conrail; these run on 6V batteries and can be hung from any convenient hook. They also go camping with us.

Nowadays, my involvement in the SCA has expanded my collection of non-electric lighting implements. I have a large plastic tote that gets loaded up with them when it's time to go to Pennsic or some other camping event, and unpacked for home use upon our return.

And there's always an LED flashlight on my keyring, a flashlight handy in most rooms of the house, and in a pinch I can pull my cellphone out of my pocket and use it to light my way to the flashlights, candles and matches. Surprisingly, our cats seem to understand that they need to avoid close contact with lit candles, for which I am profoundly grateful.

#111 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 06:14 PM:

At the Richard Thompson concert I went to recently, I astonished people near near me by pulling out a small flashlight from my pocket when someone dropped something and wanted it found.

Oddly enough, I'd put it in my pocket a couple of days before, as it's not something I generally carry. So I surprised myself as well.

#112 ::: Dan Boone ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 08:21 PM:

Throwmearope #108: "It taps into the time transmitter in Fort Collins."

My gestalt-text-processor subroutine parsed that as "It taps into the matter transmitter in Fort Collins", generating a double-take. Flash thought: Wait, what? There's a matter transmitter in Fort Collins? What, have I fallen though one of L. Neil Smith's probability broaches?

Probably what I get for spending part of the afternoon re-reading Charlie Stross's Accelerando and getting a severe case of future-shock-by-proxy.

Then the practical part of me turned back to the problem of alarm clocks that lose time when the power drops, and I thought "why not just get a traditional Big Ben wind-up alarm clock?" And then I realized, I haven't seen one of those for sale in about twenty years.

#113 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 08:24 PM:

kid bitzer: The only light whose color I actively dislike is the "daylight" compact fluorescent bulbs. They are entirely different from "daylight" incandescents; much bluer and starker. I find them unnerving.

My fiancé Keith notices and is bothered by light color much more than I am. But he's an outlying data point -- a highly visually attuned person, formally trained and working in design and photography.

Re: general discussion: I gave my father a hand-cranked combination LED flashlight and AM/FM radio for Christmas. It's nice and bright, and he appreciates not having to remember to put batteries in it. I want to get one for myself.

We have a Faraday flashlight, but it's quit working. I keep intending to take it into the lab, which has a reasonable electronics workshop, and see what I can do. I suspect something's come loose.

But the true first-at-hand emergency light source in this house? Our cell phones. That's what we grab to find the matches.

#114 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 08:36 PM:

After one too many middle-of-the-night power failures, I started using a battery-powered travel alarm. (This one runs on a AAA, for two or three years per battery.)

#115 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 08:52 PM:

I've found that using my cell phone as an alarm clock has multiple benefits -- battery backup, a reminder to charge the cell phone, time (usually) set by the network, and a noise I just can't sleep through...

#116 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 09:20 PM:

Avram, #58, ah, thanks. I don't think we have any Chinese restaurants like that here, although some are better than others.

#117 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 09:30 PM:


people like that russell davies fellow really get up my nose, telling me that i'm buying gadgets out of some make-believe desire for fantasy fulfillment.

pompous wanker. makes me want to set my pocket torch to "phaser" mode and give him what for.

#118 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 10:07 PM:

Caroline @ #113: I keep a nice bright LED flashlight in my purse, but more than once I have used my cell phone as a light source to locate an exterior keyhole or the pile of dog poo I need to pick up.

#119 ::: Carol Maltby ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 10:17 PM:

I'm very fond of the "snake lamp" flashlights with their long flexibile bodies. You can drape them around your neck and have your hands free for other tasks.

#120 ::: Janni ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 10:26 PM:

This is one place camping puts one at an advantage--during our every-other-monsoon season 24-hour blackout we bring the propane lantern inside ...

#121 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 10:42 PM:

Summer Storms@ #110, SCA is the main reason we've come by all our oil lamps. We even have wall holders with reflectors.

The one time I managed to get to Pennsic the only inconvenience was the fact I threw out my back unloading our household-rented trailer. It also spoiled me for porta-potties, at Pennsic (at least when I attended) they were cleaned every eight hours. I only had one unfortunate experience AND they all had hand-san in the potty to prevent Pennsic gastroenteritis. (Well, and we thought we had three drivers for the car/trailer event... we let the other person who said she could drive have a shift and got terrified pretty quickly).

Dennis and I had to drive in shifts all the way there and back.

#122 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 11:06 PM:

My favorite purse, bought when I needed a somewhat dressy bag to hold keys, cards, and chapstick, had a little LED thing in a magnetic holder such that when the purse opened, the LED came on and shone down in, and when it closed, it turned off again.

Every single person I showed it to was astounded. I have a bag pattern I've been meaning to make (meaning I might do so before July) and I'm idly looking for a small light to permanently attach to it.

This in no way makes up for the fact that while I got a flashlight for Christmas, I have no clue where it is. Cell phone, check, laptop, check, LED magnetic thing from last Halloween, check, and I can find burning lights, but not the brand-new little flashlight.

#123 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 11:17 PM:

Dan Boone at #112 mentioned not seeing Big Ben windup alarm clocks for sale for many years.

They vanished for a while, but Big Bens have been brought back.

A Big Ben was what my dad used to get up for work his entire working life.

When my brother Dave, a notoriously hard-to-wake sleeper, was in the Navy, he would set up a Big Ben on top of an upside down metal wash-basin next to the bed. The racket was tremendous.

The set-up still didn't always wake him up, so he had a second Big Ben, on top of a second metal wash-basin, across the room, set up to go off a few minutes later.

And if that didn't work, he could always depend, by that point, on having some of his irate Navy buddies punch him awake.

#124 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 11:19 PM:

Dan Boone @112 I had two or three Baby Bens in college. I treasured the last one with a metal winding key, as the (short-lived) one had a plastic key that was remarkably easy to break. Had a heck of a time finding a replacement with a metal key, and loved it as much as one can love an object that emits a shocking noise at dawn.

Nowadays, I use the alarm built into the clock on my iPod. Its chime sound is that of Big Ben. If it could truly reproduce the sounds of ticking clockwork, I might stick it under my pillow the way I once did with pocket watches.

kid bitzer @117 No shit. Who likes being objectified? A pox on Russell Davies and his silly 'analyses'.

We lose power regularly on this island. I think this winter's seen an average of three outages every month, but some were thick and fast in January due to workers on the lines rather than material failures.

It's an expected event, though, so we have lots utility candles and an inverter for making the essential things go, like the water compressor and pump, and bytheby the icebox and heaters and some lights. The main thing is the water; the rest are just tacked on.

Everyone locally travels, especially in the evening, with flashlights or headlamps, and we keep lamps by the door in case someone forgets and needs to be lit out to the street. There's very little street lighting, and most houses are set back from the street anyway. We get a very clear view of what stars are there to be seen on a cloudless night, when in a spot free of tall pine/spruce/fir.

LED lights are huge improvements over trad fluorescents in the matter of vibration. What I remember of old-time fluorescent lighting is not just that they were bluer than natural light, but that the vibration was such to encourage headaches and eyestrain. The newer 'natural light' or 'warm light' fluorescents seem to not have those problems. And LED lighting is astounding. They are all light, and no heat. So much light, for so little cost.

#125 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 11:27 PM:

Paula @ 121: They still clean the Pennsic porta-potties pretty regularly, as far as I can tell. Not sure what the frequency is, but I've yet to encounter a truly dirty one there, nor one that was out of toilet paper or hand sanitizer. And I'm at least a little bit OCD about toilet issues, so if they're good enough for me, they're pretty damn good.

In recent years, some people have taken to hanging ChemLite sticks inside them at night. That's a huge help.

#126 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 11:32 PM:

Hm. During the 2003 blackout, we had the advantage of being observant Jews - IOW, we already had a variety of candles necessary for various ritual purposes. Short 3-hour white candles for Sabbath/holidays, 7-day candles so we have a 2-day pilot light for the stove for holidays when we can't use the electric igniter, and 24-hour candles in a small tin can, for yahrzeits (commemorating the anniversary of a death).

So we set up yahrzeit candles in our bedroom and the bathroom as night lights, had 3-4 Sabbath candles at the table for dinner/evening illumination, one or two of the 7-day candles for night-light level illumination in a couple of other places. A couple of old mica-windowed candle lanterns from my old scout troop, which we also used at Pennsic, also came in handy.

More interesting was my mother-in-law's wedding. It was in a motel in NJ with catering facilities. The power went out for a few hours in a big thunderstorm, going off just as we were about to begin the wedding ceremony, in an inside room (no windows). The catering manager scrounged up some Sabbath candles, we improvised holders with tinfoil, and held the wedding by candlelight.

The party was in a room with lots of windows, so the dinner had plenty of light.

As for phone, I am reluctant to switch to cable modem/VOIP because of blackouts. I keep an old line-powered simple phone just so that if the power goes out, I still have a way to communicate. If we went to VOIP, we'd be relying solely on power company power. While NYC has fewer power outages than other areas, it can still be a problem.

#127 ::: Holly P. ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 11:40 PM:

I finally have a chance to share my Flashlight Trick!

Here it is: if you are in possession of a flashlight and what you really need is a lantern, and you have one of those translucent whitish beer cups (or something else translucent and the right shape), set the flashlight in a container so the light points up and put the beer cup over the top. If, for example, you are at a picnic and it's gotten late, it will diffuse the light so it casts a nice glow over the table instead of pointing up into the trees. If you don't have a beer cup, I would imagine a glass rubbed on the inside with soap would have a similar effect.

#128 ::: Doug Burbidge ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2010, 11:41 PM:

When buying battery-powered appliances where the cost of replacement batteries are a significant part of the lifetime cost of the device, it's worth noting that AAA batteries suck.

AAA batteries generally cost about the same as AA batteries, but hold about half the energy. 9V batteries are even worse: under the hood, they're often made of 6 x AAAA batteries. Presumably at this scale the cost of manufacturing dominates the cost of materials.

This rule doesn't apply to very low drain devices where the battery will only be changed a few times in its life, such as a TV remote control. It also doesn't apply to devices where the typical fate of a battery is for the device to accidentally be left switched on, such as a multimeter.

And of course you don't always get a choice of what size batteries a given device will take.

#129 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 12:43 AM:

#127: I have a faux-oriental lantern meant to be used with tea candles. During the last power outage I lowered my crank-recharged LED flashlight inside. The frosted glass nicely dispersed the light. Result, general purpose light source.

I have a tea candle lamp in each room to use as a night light. Just enough illumination to navigate by. And, well, aim by in the case of the bathroom.

#130 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 12:44 AM:

HollyP @127:

We used to use a plastic gallon milk jug full of water to diffuse the light from a flashlight while we would brush our teeth at the cabin. Your solution is much more elegant and symmetrical, though.

alarm clocks:

I can't switch to a non-electric one, because I am critically dependent on my dawn simulator. On the other hand, regular use of the dawn simulator sets my body clock to wake me at the same time every morning.

Yes, it's so good, I can even skip a day! Bit of a pain for weekends, though.

#131 ::: jsgbs ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 01:07 AM:

The best flashlight to own is the one that's always in your pocket, always on your belt, or always on a chain around your neck, and always charged well enough to light your way to a longer-term light source. A flashlight in a drawer, in a different room, or on a different floor, isn't any use when the lights go out.

I've always carried at least one light ever since the 2003 blackout. It comes in handy for a lot more than blackouts.

Maglites--especially incandescent Mags--are very poor performers in all senses and are extremely vulnerable to impact. Drop one and you'll be left in the dark until you can find another light.

Surefire, Streamlight, and Inova are well regarded manufacturers. Their products are far from cheap but their entry-level models (e.g. SF G2D, SL ProPolymer, Inova Bolt AA) are almost certainly good enough for the vast majority of users.

Besides good flashlights, a good idea for non-renters is to install a hardwired battery backup for some of your house lights. A fluorescent emergency ballast costs only a few hundred (plus installation labor) and will keep a tube fluorescent fixture lit for upwards of 90 minutes without utility power.

#132 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 01:12 AM:

Kid Bitzer @81, when was the last time the female members of your household looked at compact fluorescents? The technology has improved dramatically just in the past four or five years. The bulbs I got in 2007 (GE Energy Smart bulbs) were much better -- much warmer-looking, like incandescent bulbs -- than what was available when I'd bought some in 2003.

#133 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 01:28 AM:

Bruce, #123: There's also a twin-bell Big Ben (plus a lot of other twin-bell styles). That's what I used to get me out of bed all the way thru college. Love your story about your brother in the Navy and the metal washtubs!

Summer Storms, #125: My partner has a story about the last time he was at Pennsic (not an SCAer himself, he was helping one of the big merchants). He went into the men's showers one morning and found that the faucets were sporting handwritten signs. The sign on the left-hand faucet read "Cold". The sign on the right-hand faucet read, "You will never see your testicles again."

#134 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 01:46 AM:

Lee @ 133: Damn, that's some hot water!

I've never actually used the showers owned by the campground. Instead, I've always camped with people who bring their own in-camp shower setup. No long lines, no having to contend with whatever yuck a zillion strangers may have left behind. The very fine folks we currently camp with have a portable shower facility as nice as I've ever seen, nearly on a par with what we have in our secondary bathroom at home.

Although for purely external aesthetic (and shtickish) considerations, probably the coolest Pennsic camp shower I've ever seen was one that had been done up to look exactly like the Tardis from the outside. It seemed quite at home amid all the medieval pavilions surrounding it.

#135 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 03:06 AM:

Some cavers told me, when your batteries run out, there isn't anything you can do about it. With carbide, you can add more water and stir it up and get some more light. Or as they put it, "as long as you can pee, you can see." Unless you completely run out of carbide, which one of those guys did. Fortunately, when we heard the shouts, another member of my party was able to quickly go down a passage leading to a four inch hole in the rock where he could pass some carbide through to the guy on the other side.

#136 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 04:18 AM:

Doug Burbidge @ 128: Re. AAA (and AA) batteries - may I put in a word for the new sort of rechargeable batteries - the ones which hold power for weeks/months. I've had a pair of properly charged rechargeable AAs power my Psion for more than a month, and the chargers are not expensive nowadays either. Also, with modern LEDs, even AAAs last for ages (says she who is waiting for the ones in the bike lights to run down so she can test the new rechargeables).

As for hand-cranked stuff, I got a windup MP3 player (Baylis Eco Media Player) for my birthday which includes an emergency light (of the "keep holding the button down" type, and a radio, and it can be used to charge your 'phone in an emergency.

#137 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 04:19 AM:

Lately, I've been quite happy with the iPhone in my pocket, which can easily pump out enough light for me to find my way to the circuit breakers/ candles/ flashlights without much strain or effort.

Open up Safari to a blank page and I'm fine.

#138 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 07:52 AM:

pericat #124: What I remember of old-time fluorescent lighting is ... the vibration was such to encourage headaches and eyestrain. The newer 'natural light' or 'warm light' fluorescents seem to not have those problems

The real difference there isn't the bulbs, but the "ballast" -- that part of the fixture which starts and maintains the spark inside the tube. Older lights have a magnetic ballast, which produced the nasty vibration (and flicker). Newer lights have an "electronic" (solid-state) ballast, which is much better.

Jon Baker #126: What, no extra Hannukah candles? :-)

#139 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 09:32 AM:

The thing about fluorescents that drives me nuts is not the flicker as much as the NOISE. We have CFLs all over the house and mostly I can ignore them, but I refuse to have one at my worktable or in my bedside lamp because the buzz drives me absolutely bonkers. Tubes are worse, especially the older ones in the basement...

Am I the only person who can hear this? (it wouldn't be the first time; I have weird hearing issues.)

#140 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 09:32 AM:

The thing about fluorescents that drives me nuts is not the flicker as much as the NOISE. We have CFLs all over the house and mostly I can ignore them, but I refuse to have one at my worktable or in my bedside lamp because the buzz drives me absolutely bonkers. Tubes are worse, especially the older ones in the basement...

Am I the only person who can hear this? (it wouldn't be the first time; I have weird hearing issues.)

#141 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 09:41 AM:

Thena, I also pick up noise from fluorescents, and the flicker occasionally gets me-- it depends on the fluorescent, really. I had a couple dimmer-capable ones that really buzzed at lower levels.

#142 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 10:38 AM:

I've got a flashlight in the garage that can use three types of batteries. There are different slots for the three sizes (AA, the C and D types) and a switch with several settings depending on which battery you're using.

I also got an LED flashlight as a longevity gift at my place of work that has three settings; continuous beam of light, a 360 degree lamp setting, and a red emergency flashing option. I left it on the lamp setting inside a storage area above the garage for over a week and it was still going, albeit weakly, when my wife found it.

I had a Duracell flashlight, one of those big black ones that looks like one the police carry, but I dropped it and it doesn't work any more. I find that kind of ironic, actually.

#143 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 10:46 AM:

Holly P. @127 reminds me of an Old Librarian's Trick, useful for reading spine labels in aisles where lighting isn't too good. Hold a piece of white paper (say, the one you wrote the call number on) just under the thing you want to see, and it will reflect a little bit of extra light up on to it.

#144 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 10:55 AM:

so far as i know, all of the 9-volt batteries in that familiar rectangular format are composed of 6 AAAAs. the standard chemistry only gives you 1.5 volts per cell, so you need six of them to give you 9 volts.

(this also means that the 9-volt is the only battery in the grocery stores that is actually a *battery*, i.e. a plurality of separate cells working together, rather than a single cell. you can make a lot of friends in the world by saying, "i don't like to be pedantic, but that AA really isn't a battery, you know; just a cell.")

it's true that AAA's have a lot less power in them than AA's. at the same time, the led has made it possible to do incredible things with a AAA battery.

peter gransee really kicked it off about ten years ago with the arc AAA flashlight--tiny, robust, plenty of light, and about ten hours of it. instantly, the maglite AAA was obsolete.

more recently, the fenix l0d and the quark preon show you what you can do on just a single AAA cell: more light than from a 4x D-cell maglite, and for a longer period of time. or a dimmer light that lasts for 10-20 hours.

i know i'm a bit obsessive about leds, but the leaps in performance--in brightness, longevity, and efficiency, with no downside of any kind--are just amazing. one of the few places in the world where things are getting unambiguously better.

(well, that and the market in pedantry--so many opportunities!)

#145 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 10:57 AM:

The little squeeze-light on my keychain finally fell apart (I noticed the led wasn't sticking out the end any more one day). AND the batteries on my little Streamlight died, and it takes three of those nasty A23s. So this seems like an excellent time to buy more flashlights!

I have to figure out what works on my current keychain. Or find a better way to handle keys, but I've been using this technique since about 1978. Car key on one ring, with a disconnector attached to the big ring with house keys and too much other junk. And the big ring hangs on my belt most of the time (currently by a small carabiner to a fixed ring on a Butch Honeck brass dragon on my belt).

Technology has improved a lot; I'm SO glad I didn't invest seriously in flashlights 5 years ago.

And I'm glad I started investing seriously in flashlights in the early 1980s; I'm still using the 4D maglight (the "bonk bonk on the head" flashlight) and one of the 2d maglights. The other has been replaced with an LED 2d maglight.

(The meaning of "serious" with regard to flashlights has, um, evolved considerably over the last two decades.)

I run a lot of AA NiMH batteries for photo stuff. Currently I'm still working through old-style batteries (the ones with high self-discharge; they lose 10% or more a week just sitting there). I suppose I could use them in emergency flashlights, if I had a really rigid schedule of batter changes. Then when I've used up the current ones, I'll certainly be buying the low self-discharge ones to replace them, an I can relax a little. However, Alkaline batteries will sit happily for years in the flashlight, and that might be more important than avoiding the cost and waste generation of primary batteries.

#146 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 11:41 AM:

Re: rechargeable batteries... If you go looking, it's possible to find rechargeable alkaline batteries. They hold their charge almost indefinitely and they run at 1.5V, vs. NiMH cells at 1.2V. I gather that they may have a shortened life if they're used for high-power-demand devices such as camera flashes, but otherwise they're very nice. The extra voltage can make a big difference in light output for some flashlight types.

#147 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 12:07 PM:

Fluorescent flicker and noise bothers me, too. Some are much worse than others. The new compact fluorescents don't seem too bad, but the spectrum is wrong on the ones I've tried.

#148 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 12:44 PM:

Joel@146: the good modern LED flashlights are the least likely to be affected by battery voltage, though. One of the amusing things I've seen is 4V rechargeable batteries in an AA package, for putting into such lights (don't know what you charge them with; I suppose a special charger).

Police, who use their flashlights a lot every night (the ones on that shift), got into big rechargeables early, but for emergency lighting, being able to sit until needed and still be ready is of great value. Which may argue for getting the expensive lithium batteries for some of the emergency flashlights (pack of 4 AAs for > $10), they've got like a 10 year shelf life. On the third (or "gripping") hand, even with a 10 year life you need to check and replace at the right times, so just getting your maintenance procedures right and using cheaper batteries may well be the best choice.

#149 ::: Kayjayoh ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 12:58 PM:

I'm one of those folks who can and does make my way around my apartment very well with no light at all. I've lived in it long enough that I can do it with my eyes closed.

I also have an LED camping lantern in my from closet, easily accessible. I love my LED camping latern, as it also has a dimmer switch, so you can turn it on slowly and not instantly blind everyone in the vicinity.

#150 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 01:13 PM:

At this point, my house is cluttered enough that getting around with my eyes closed would be unsafe, at least in some areas. (I'm working on the clutter.) On the plus side, I've got very acute night vision; I suppose that if my city were completely blacked out on a moonless night, I might have trouble getting around the house until I got a flashlight or candle going, but that's about the only time. On the minus side, I have to have my bedroom thoroughly blacked out, or wear a blindfold, if I want to sleep at all easily.

My bike light takes two AA batteries, and lights with three bright white LEDs. I assume that this must involve voltage-boosting circuitry?

#151 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 01:33 PM:

pericat @ 124: "Who likes being objectified? A pox on Russell Davies and his silly 'analyses'."

Hmm-wha? Who is Davies objectifying in his post?

#152 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 01:52 PM:


pericat was responding to my 117 in which i admitted (by means of vehement and implausible denial) that russell had analyzed my neuroses spot-on.

i assume that pericat was continuing the joke, i.e. agreement-by-pretense-of-haughty-disagreement.

that piece by russell is very nice--a good observation, well-written. sorry if my attempt to say so in a round-about way led to any misunderstanding.

#153 ::: Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 02:03 PM:

David @ 148

I live in an area that has the potential to be cut off from civilization for an extended period of time due to flooding. My solution for quick-discharging rechargeables vs. alkali is:

1) I keep a few dozen D-cell alkali batteries on hand with a multi-year shelf life. For an average storm-generated power outage, this is more than sufficient for two flashlights (there are two of us here) plus a battery-operated radio.

2) I *also* have a solar-powered battery charger. Most of the time, it sits in a window and charges batteries for the Wii and a few other toys. In an emergency, I'd pull the rechargeables out of various electronic toys and use those those for flashlights, and charge them in the solar battery charger. We'd have to conserve (it charges sloooowly -- a day or two) but it would keep us in batteries for a very long time.

#154 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 02:20 PM:

I have always enjoyed walking around without any light sources. It tests my mental map of the area around me, and it's neat and adventurous.

I used to do it in the forest, which is how I found out about the little luminescent mushrooms that grow there. They look so ordinary during the day, and with a flashlight, you never notice them.

I've even done it in a basement in Brooklyn, not too many days ago.

#155 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 03:11 PM:

David, #145: I think of the Maglite 4D as "Maxwell's Silver Hammer", no matter what color it is. :-)

#156 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 03:16 PM:


I have seen (but now can't find the link) an LED light that runs off discharged batteries. That is, you can take a battery that has stopped working in some other device and run an LED off it. IIRC, the light uses a small capacitor in parallel with the LED, so the light is actually flickering, but too fast for this to be perceptible.

#157 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 03:18 PM:

Lee @ 133: The sign on the left-hand faucet read "Cold". The sign on the right-hand faucet read, "You will never see your testicles again."


Joel Polowin @ 150:

You can run three white LEDs on two AA batteries. The required voltage and current should be enough. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if there is some circuitry in there to make the batteries last longer.

For anyone who's interested, you can make your own Joule thief to run LEDs off nearly dead batteries.

#158 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 03:22 PM:

Lee@155: Yes, that'd be about right.

And they make a 6-Cell; it just always seemed grossly excessive for us. I believe it's officially rated for use as a baton in many police departments.

Thomas@156: Amazing things have happened in the last couple of decades in electronics. The 9v battery was the "transistor radio battery" because they needed higher voltages than most previous battery-powered things to work, but didn't need that much power. And transistor gear was much more finicky about what voltage you fed it. Nowadays, you can produce actual light via solid-state methods from 1.5v, and make use of a much wider range of voltages especially for things like lights (the .7-4.2v heads for flashlights come to mind).

#159 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 03:43 PM:

Kayjayoh @ 149, Keith always walks around in the dark, like you. He says he learned to do it in his childhood, because his parents worked opposite shifts and he had to learn how not to wake anyone up.

Me, I bang my elbows and knees making my way three feet from my side of the bed into the bathroom. I've taken to shuffling like a zombie, arms straight out in front of me, so I can feel for the doorway. I always end up too far to the right -- hence the whacked elbows and knees, as I bang into the right side of the doorframe.

I hope that if I ever lose my vision, I will be able to improve my spatial memory. Right now it's terrible.

David Harmon @ 138, it still depends on the quality of bulb. I bought a set of compact fluorescents from Costco about a year ago, and was very disappointed -- they flickered, buzzed, and took forever to warm up -- and cast an ugly yellow-green light, even though they were labeled "soft white." Slightly more expensive CFLs didn't have those problems, and cast a much more natural color of light.

So my advice is to spring for the mid-range to expensive CFLs if you're going to buy them. And buy one bulb first, to try out that brand and make sure it doesn't flicker and buzz. Since I'd bought a large pack, I felt obligated to live with the damn things for several months. (They also burned out well before CFLs usually would. Just poor quality all around.)

#160 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 03:49 PM:

I used to use a 4-cell Maglite when I had to cross the UC Berkeley campus at 10:00 at night in business clothes.

I was in the habit of flicking it on, pointed at any shadowy niches along my way, then off again. And one night, I flashed a flasher. He wasn't ready to be illuminated before he could do whatever he was going to do; he just stood there, wilting.

I reported this to campus police, but since I'd only seen him from the nipples to the knees, there wasn't much useful description there. The campus police officer I talked to eyed up my flashlight as he walked me back to my co-op.

"That's a pretty large flashlight."
"Yes. I wanted to have a good-sized, bright one for walking across campus after dark."
"Indeed. It looks sturdy and reliable. A good choice."

And then we nodded at one another and parted company.

#161 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 04:06 PM:

Abi... The flasher in the flashlight?

#162 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 04:13 PM:

Say... Is that a flashlight or... Nevermind.

#163 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 04:19 PM:

kid bitzer @ 152: "pericat was responding to my 117 in which i admitted (by means of vehement and implausible denial) that russell had analyzed my neuroses spot-on."

I understood your comment @ 117 (very funny by the way--you've been on a roll these past few days), but pericat's came across as genuinely upset. I guess I misread it?

#164 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 04:24 PM:

David Harman @ 138:

>Hanukah candles? :)

Well, sure, but they're less useful, as they don't burn very long. And carrying the holder around while balancing all those candles...

#165 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 05:40 PM:

guthrie @48: Not weird at all. Thinking back on the multiple power outages we had every winter due to wind when I was growing up, I can't remember a once using anything but the fireplace for illumination. Very early on I got adept at navigating in pitch blackness by touch alone. Can even do so in an unfamiliar environment, if I've seen it once.

#166 ::: Hank Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 05:44 PM:

Recommended, from the earthquake-power-failure zone:

Glow-in-the-dark (astonishingly bright, the glow lasts overnight) "keyfobs"

(Read the first post and the last few, this is one guy, get in touch in the thread after you know what you want and he'll tell you when he can have them for you)

(Friends also attach these to things that get lost in the bottom of their purses)

Plus, from most any hardware store, these little "utility hooks"

along with a "finish washer" over them

these fit right under the little bolts that hold your light switch cover plates on, and look Ok.

(The switch plate bolt heads are conical; they fit the finish washer's shape; the finish washer is big enough to securely cover the hole in the utility hook.)

So then you have a little hook conveniently out of the way right below each light switch.

On the hook, of course, you hang a glow-in-the-dark keyfob plus a little LED flashlight,
One of these little 9v lights that has a "find me" DIM glow that lasts over a year on a 9v battery (rubber-band another 9v battery to it so you'll have a fresh one to replace it with)

#167 ::: jsgbs ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 06:35 PM:


FWIW, if you whack somebody with a large Mag, the bulb will break. The larger Maglites make great clubs but aren't useful for much else.

#168 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 06:38 PM:

Kayjayoh @149: ...and not instantly blind everyone in the vicinity.

In my family, it is regarded as minimum courtesy to call "Photon warning!" before flipping on a light.

#169 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 07:09 PM:

I'm so happy that I don't need Real MagLites anymore. The combination of battery life and short bulb live tended to mean that mine never worked when I needed them. Leds, though, they work.

(Though there's something a little strange about the blue light, it doesnt' seem as effective to my eye. I'll have to try ond of the tactical ones and see if I can spot a gray tabby kitty at 100' at dusk, other than by the eyeglow)

#170 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2010, 07:31 PM:

eric @ 169:

The eye focuses certain shades of blue slightly above rather than on the retina (if I'm remembering the explanation correctly), and a lot of blue LEDs happen to be one of those particular shades of blue.

#171 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2010, 12:47 AM:

jsgbs @167:

Had I got into the situation where I'd had to whack someone with that (as opposed to just carrying a BIG BLACK METAL CLUB without getting into trouble with campus police), I'd have happily replaced the bulb. Or, alternatively, been so wigged out that I figured out some slower but safer way to get home from work.

#172 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2010, 01:06 AM:

I used to mildly fantasize about beating a mugger with a loaded Nalgene bottle. More effective than keys held Wolverine-style, that's for sure.

#173 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2010, 01:26 AM:

abi, #171: Some of the really bright LED flashlights now are actually rated as "assault-quality" -- not for bashing someone over the head with, but because if you hit somebody in the face with the beam, they're going to be effectively blind for a few minutes. This gives you, the potential victim, a chance to run like hell, and it doesn't do any lasting damage.

#174 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2010, 02:22 AM:

I'd interpreted kid bitzer's Russell Davies comment @117 as being somehow related to sonic screwdrivers...

#175 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2010, 03:10 AM:

Lee @ 173: which ones, please? In self-defence classes back in highschool the people running the class pointed out that you've got to be prepared to hurt your attacker - if you go for their eyes or larynx with key-knuckledusters, you need to do so hard enough to blind/choke etc. (then run away). Many people cannot bring themselves to deliberately, seriously injure someone - to the point of at least temporary incapacity, which is what you need (to have time for the "run away" part). So something you could do like shining a really bright light in their eyes sounds great.

#176 ::: jsgbs ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2010, 06:19 AM:


Anything with a disorienting strobe will make a real mess out of the typical person's eyesight for a few seconds. The InForce 9VX is probably the most suitable light from an established manufacturer.

Extremely bright lights (e.g. Surefire E2D or any Malkoff Devices unit with an M60 core) may also have some utility.

Even the best light, however, will only buy you a second or two of advantage to land a disabling blow with some other weapon.

#177 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2010, 09:09 AM:

[after googling "sonic screwdriver"]

yes, roughly, though since it's not a fantasy that i actually have, i didn't do a very good job of filling in the details. indeed, i realized later that the idiom is not to "set X to "phaser" mode", but rather to "set (one's) phaser to X mode". i apologize for this solecism.

on torches as anti-personnel devices:
jsgbs in #176 said the important thing, i.e. that this is at best a way to gain a second or two. i think some of the torch manufacturers are guilty of exaggeration in this regard, hyping them as 'tactical' etc.

that said, bright lights and strobes can at least briefly discommode the dark-adjusted eye. you can find both features in all of the major led manufacturers: surefire, streamlight, inova, quark, fenix, etc. nearly all have high-intensity beams and strobe modes.

#178 ::: Teemu Kalvas ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2010, 09:10 AM:

KeithS @170: Do you have a literature reference for that? I mean, obviously if you have a selection of wavelengths, you'll only get one wavelength perfectly focused, at best. So based on a stupid physics model, in white light you'd get blue focused short and red focused long, unless the part of brain controlling eye focus decides otherwise. (I.e. it'd decide it wants something else than the yellow in focus.)

Of course all focus problems are worse when the light is dim, as the iris will be dilated.

If blue is somehow special, I can't see a reason right away. I've learned not to assume anything about biological systems based on physical intuition, though.

#179 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2010, 11:07 AM:

abi @171, etc. One notes, appropos of nothing much, that the Maglite stores a spare bulb in the battery cover. (And one resists the pun, really too obvious.)

I once got into a discussion about keeping golf clubs, tire irons, baseball bats, etc. in the car. I remarked that I wouldn't carry anything that might be though to be a weapon; I just needed a good bright flashlight.

#180 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2010, 01:24 PM:

dcb, #175: According to my partner, the important spec is that it be rated 150 lumens or more. Also, by preference, you want the equivalent of a hair-trigger -- a switch mode that will come on as soon as you touch it, without needing to be fully depressed. For a stun attack, you point the flashlight at the person's face and THEN switch it on; swinging the already-lit light across their face is less effective because it gives their eyes more chance to adjust in advance.

He also says that CostCo sells a 165-lumen flashlight for around $20; this particular model is less than ideal because it has the on-switch set into the battery cover, but it's an effective light level and cheap.

#181 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2010, 01:48 PM:

In my experience, Maglite bulbs have survived numerous falls while the flashlight was off, and some falls while the flashlight was on. LEDs are much better in pretty much every regard, and I don't think there's any reason to buy a conventional bulb flashlight today (there may well be other high-tech alternatives than LEDs that are worth considering, I don't know the weirder fringes of flashlight lore; but I suspect somebody is playing with "HiD" technology at least for bigger units).

dcb@175: Being averse to hurting people is normal, and in fact quite desirable from a social standpoint. However, sometimes (even with care on your part and good social skills) people attack other people, and at that point you're better off switching your thinking. Very quickly.

Most attackers are in an extremely altered state of consciousness, through some combination of what they've taken and what their own bodies are producing. While some number of them will back down from any serious resistance, others won't stop while they're conscious.

(And, in a related issue that doesn't get mentioned enough -- it's not very funny to fake attacks on people. Between people with PTSD and people who don't recognize quickly enough that it's somebody they know (or don't realize the attack is in fact a fake), you're likely to do damage eventually. Furthermore, you may get damaged yourself; and your friend might feel bad afterwards (or might not, and might not be your friend either). Finally, it's bad for society to train people to accept being attacked; it makes it too easy for the predators.)

#182 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2010, 02:46 PM:

Teemu Kalvas @ 178:

I found some websites agreeing, mostly, with my half-remembered claim. This site says that a combination of chromatic aberration (placing the focus off the retina) and non-ideal location of the blue cones causes anything on the blue end of the spectrum to be less distinct. They reference a book I don't have access to. This is also why black lights (which are purple and UV) look rather fuzzy when you look at them.

I saw some sites that also said that since light at the blue end of the spectrum is more prone to scattering, this also has an effect.

#183 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2010, 06:35 AM:

I saw some sites that also said that since light at the blue end of the spectrum is more prone to scattering, this also has an effect.

Blue light's at the short-wavelength end of the visible spectrum, so it should be less prone to scattering...

#184 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2010, 06:48 AM:

Yeah, 'cos that's why the sky is so red all the time...

#185 ::: Teemu Kalvas ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2010, 07:50 AM:

KeithS @182: Ok, thanks! The cone placement was something I had no idea of. I should have realized the scattering, though.

#186 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2010, 05:04 PM:


I don't have an outlook driven reminder, but my roommate and I burn enough candles that we have a ready supply of matches in an easy to find (decorative) container on the coffee table. Plus I have a small collection of oil lamps that are kept charged and ready to burn. (which reminds me, I need to get more lamp oil.) They came in very handy last year when a micro burst blew the roof blew off the apartment.

I grew up on farm where storm outages happened enough to make me aware of the need for safe, alternative to electric lights. (I also insist on having a land line for the same reason.)

For candle safety when burning votives or pillar candles, I have a homemade zen garden thingy. It's blasting sand in a decorative glass bowl. That way if the container overheats, the sand catches all the hot wax and glass shards.

#187 ::: Eric ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2010, 05:27 PM:

So glad that I stumbled onto this post and actually spent the time reading all of the comments. My son is dependent on his ventilator and bottled oxygen making candles and oil lamps a big no-no in my house. Gotta go out and look for some of the good LED solutions mentioned above. Losing power is one of the many things that keep me up each and every night. We've got enough back-up battery power to give him about 12 hours on his ventilator but anything longer than that means we'll be riding out the remainder in our local fire station or the hospital. The fireman know this and check in on us anytime the neighborhood has lost power. Hopefully sometime this summer I'll have finally saved enough for a generator when all of this becomes a moot point.

#188 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2010, 05:39 PM:

David Dyer-Bennet @ 181: Being averse to hurting people is normal, and in fact quite desirable from a social standpoint. However, sometimes (even with care on your part and good social skills) people attack other people, and at that point you're better off switching your thinking. Very quickly. Many (most?) people can't switch it off that easily. Back at Cambridge I was in the judo club. With new blokes, the problem was getting it through to them that skill did make a difference, it wasn't all strength (finding out they couldn't get out of a scarf hold put on them by a 100-pound girl generally worked). With many of the girls, those who hadn't wrestled with brothers or male friends while growing up just didn't know how to sruggle, how to fight - so groundwork was a real problem. Also, assuming you've read Bujold, remember the comments about stunner tag and prefering a stunner because of not hesitating to use it? Overcoming your civilised feelings enough to really hurt, potentially maim your attacker, isn't necessarily something people can do quickly - even when their own safety/life is at risk.

Most attackers are in an extremely altered state of consciousness, through some combination of what they've taken and what their own bodies are producing. While some number of them will back down from any serious resistance, others won't stop while they're conscious. Which poses even more of a problem, of course. Another reason for the "hit hard then run very fast" approach.

Lee @ 180: thanks for the specifications and advice regarding use.

#189 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2010, 05:43 PM:

Ajay @ 183 -

From Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, paraphrased:

A red photon is lot less likely to scatter than a blue photon. Blue photons have shorter wavelengths, are more likely to bounce off the nitrogen and oxygen molecules in the air, and thus a blue photon can look like it's coming from all over -- which is why the sky is blue.

#190 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2010, 06:33 PM:

My dad has a small surefire torch, which is certainly bright enough to disorientate an attacker at night time, although the battery life sucks.
The old 5 C-cell maglite survived being used as a hammer and other things when he was in the police, and I always found that it had more than enough battery life for intermittent use, ie a couple of minutes dogwalking light in the winter.

#191 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2010, 07:21 PM:

@180, 188--

i wouldn't put too much stock in that 150 lumen number as a threshold for disabling/disorienting effect.

the people who first started pushing the concept of "tactical lights" were surefire with their 6p model back in the early 1990's. that was a breakthrough light, even though it was an incandescent--it was the first to exploit a pair of 3-volt 123 cells in order to create tiny flashlights with the output of 4 and 5-cell maglites.

surefire sold a lot of 6p's on the premise of blinding the bad guy. and that was a 60-lumen light.

fact is, 60-lumens is really, really bright if you're in a dark alley. so is 100, or 150, or 200 (which is what fenix and quarks are now getting from a pair of 123s driving an led).

there's not going to be a flat rule for this--too many variables (e.g. background light, bad-guy's pupil dilation, etc.). but just about every good manufacturer now--surefire, streamlight, inova, princeton tech, on and on--sells some led model that can get you up over 100 lumens. that would have been unthinkable back in 1990.

good times for bright lights!

#192 ::: Edgar lo Siento ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2010, 08:56 PM:

182, KeithS, talking about blue light:

non-ideal location of the blue cones causes anything on the blue end of the spectrum to be less distinct.
It's not just the location, the cones themselves aren't wired for detail. They are designed to preferentially amplify weak signals, instead of detect frequency. (Frequency here means color detection.) They are optimized for dealing with a high noise floor, rather than lots of pixels. That's one of the reasons they are in your peripheral vision: object detection is more important there than edge detection to avoid running into things or falling into holes. Frex, the technique of attending to your peripheral vision in order to see faint stars.

One side effect of blue light is that it wipes out your night vision. Your low light, black and white vision is mostly cones, and blue leds (or under car lighting, or dashboard, blue-white headlights, etc) wash out their sensitivity to weak signals. Thus, amateur astronomers use flashlights with red gels to check telescope settings, etc.

This apparently was exploited by industrial designers in the military: they use red lights to illuminate tank interiors so the driver and gunner can retain their night vision. I heard an anecdote that this design was first stumbled upon when they noticed that mobile units with blue interior lights were preferentially targeted by snipers. (Paradoxically, dim blue light is easier to detect at a distance if all you have working for you is your cones.)

There is some limited evidence that the blue sensitivity peak for cones is right on the frequency for "sky" blue, and is part of the system for resetting circadian rhythms. It has also been suggested that blue LEDs are basically right on top of this frequency, and so, among other things, staring at LCD computer screens (which use blue pixels, of course) can mess up your sleep cycles. He writes, at 9pm, right before bed :)

Moral: blue leds are not helpful, but they sure are pretty.

#193 ::: Edgar lo Siento ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2010, 09:09 PM:

arg. did I say cones? I meant rods.
Rods are sensitive to all light, but peak at a specific blue frequency. Cones, as a group, peak at a red frequency.

Arg. Now that I'm checking my sources, I even have some of that wrong.

Gah. Sleep now.

#194 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2010, 11:13 PM:

If someone's hiding in the dark waiting to attack a victim, a bright light to the face needn't be "disabling" or "disorienting"; in certain circumstances, giving the erstwhile victim a few seconds' head start in their getaway would be sufficient.

Similarly, I know a female bartender who had only been studying martial arts for a few months when she was attacked by a (large, male) customer. She blocked his punch and put him in a choke hold. It only took a few seconds for the bouncers to get there; her rudimentary skills gave her those few seconds, and saved both her and her attacker from getting hurt.

#195 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 01:06 AM:

Edgar @192:
There is some limited evidence that the blue sensitivity peak for cones is right on the frequency for "sky" blue, and is part of the system for resetting circadian rhythms.

Thus the current trend in blue LED light therapy devices for Seasonal Affective Disorder and jet lag.

#196 ::: Hilary L Hertzoff ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 11:03 AM:

When the lights go out, I'm more worried about tripping over the rabbits, while I'm trying to get to a light than getting around in the dark. I can get around my apartment in the dark, but I don't necessarily know where they've wandered to.

On the other hand, I'm never more than 5 steps away from a battery powered light or a candle (bright lantern style flashlight on a shelf above my desk, wind up flashlight in the bedroom by my bed, candles and lighter are kept with the lightbulbs except for the ones I leave in their holders - when I go in there to replace a bulb, I do a quick supply check). All of my other battery powered stuff is in the end table by the door (including a tiny tv and at least one radio).

And speaking of sonic screwdrivers, I've got two that have a flashlight built in - one with a pen which lives in my messenger bag and one that lives with the pens on my desk. Very handy when I need to grab a flashlight quickly and they have a lovely bright blue LED light.

#197 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 11:59 AM:

dcb@188: I didn't intend to say it was easy to make that switch; for many people it's very clearly not. I said you're "better off" switching your thinking; I didn't say, or intend to say, that it was simple or easy for everybody. So I think we're still agreeing, mostly. I'm trying to sell people on the idea of working on making that switch.

#198 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 12:01 PM:

I'm sure it's all the fault of this thread :-). 4Sevens has been out of the two-AA bodies (and hence all the flashlights using them) since they were first mentioned here.

#199 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 02:59 PM:

David Dyer-Bennet @ 197: that's okay. I think part of the reason for those self-defence classes telling us this stuff (and I've remembered it for more than 20 years) was to encourage us to try to do something other that simply be a pliant victim, if attacked. Apparently many attackers are looking for, and expecting, easy victims: if you fight back, you're not an easy victim and he may be sufficiently surprised that you can get away. Thinking it through may help you realise that yes, you have a right to defend yourself and yes, if necessary that means hurting the other person, and screwing up your determination to actually do it, rather than just freezing. I think part of the benefit of having spent some time on the judo mats or whatever is that when you're grabbed, you don't freeze, you struggle.

Hilary L Hertzoff @ 196: Sympathies for the rabbits-in-the-dark situation. May I suggest slow shuffling (based on the fact that rabbits have much more delicate skeletons than cats so can be more easily injured by the poor human who trips other them)? Our cat has recently been working out that (a) she has a voice; (b) the humans are pretty blind (particularly in dark rooms or on the side of their body opposite the eyes) but not quite deaf - she's started mewing sometimes (not very loudly, but until the last couple of months she basically didn't mew at all) to indicate she's entered the room and come up behind one or other of us.

#200 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 04:42 PM:

dcb @199

I have a sister who has a black cat. He's hasn't figured out about the whole "black cats are hard to see in the dark" thing; instead, he's decided that human beings can't see cats in the bedroom. So he's got what they call human-activated cat active sonar. If he and a human are in the bedroom at the same time, he keeps mewing (unless everyone's in bed) regardless of the lighting conditions. His reasoning may be wrong, but since they're most likely to be stumbling around in the dark in the bedroom, it still works out well for everyone.

#201 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 05:52 PM:

Cally Soukup @ 200: well, it does have a certain logic; presumably that's where they tripped over him most often. When I say Freya never used to use her voice, I mean that, for example, she's never thought to mew when accidentally shut in the (cold, dark) porch, various cupboards, or the spare room, or even when she'd managed to get under the floorboards - although on that occasion she did eventually have the sense to reply when I called her (took me a minute to work out that yes, her mewing was coming from under the middle of the hall floor).

#202 ::: Hilary Hertzoff ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 08:53 PM:

dcb @199 Mostly I just listen and try to pinpoint their location that way. Peppermint periodically decides to trip me despite all my efforts to the contrary (and it's not easy to avoid a rabbit in a cluttered dining room when you've got her salad bowl in one hand and her water bowl in the other).

#203 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 09:13 PM:

abi, #195, there's now an iPhone app to cure acne.

#204 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 11:22 PM:

Edgar @ 192: Cones have three peaks, one each at red, blue and and green (technically, green-yellow and yellow-red). Rods, as you pointed out, are motion detectors and are sensitive to the presence of light past the point where color can be detected, which is why all cats are grey in the dark. Scotopic peak is around 500 nm, which is in the blue range, which is why blue lights are so easily sensed.

#205 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 05:58 PM:

Ginger@204: Wait, each cone senses all three colors? I guess I've thought of that wrong for a while. Actually clears up some things, though.

Are there actually people with 4 color bands, or is it only that there are 4 different sensitizing pigments in humanity as a whole, but nobody uses more than three at once?

#206 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 06:20 PM:

David Dyer-Bennet #205: Yes, the cones have a fairly wide response range (IIRC, roughly a normal curve against frequency), and their peaks are not where you'd expect, they're much closer together. The colors we see are constructed from the differences among the responses of the cone types, as much as directly from their signal..

The rods don't feed into the color circuitry, so they don't represent a fourth color band. There are some variant cone receptors in the human genepool, and for a while they were hoping to find human tetrachromats (who would almost certainly be female). Last I heard, that hasn't actually panned out too well, but it was a nice idea.

#207 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2010, 01:13 PM:

First of the new flashlights from has arrived -- the "Mini" one, AA version. I still don't like the head-twist control on these little ones. However, the top brightness is really impressive (and about half the top brightness of the 2AA model still on back-order), and it's conveniently small. Haven't figured out a ring or lanyard to hang it on my keychain yet, but it's fitting comfortably into the coin pocket on my jeans (next to the thumb drive).

#208 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2010, 01:56 PM:

David, I'm not a big fan of head-twist flashlights either. Bought a mini-maglight last year that had that "feature"; took it camping and used it in a few other situations. Carried it on my keyring a lot, but it seemed like every time it got bumped, it would twist a little and turn on, running down the battery if this happened during daylight or in a well-lit indoor area, because I wouldn't notice it was on until I got into someplace dark.

And then one day, it apparently twisted too far from being bumped, and all I was left with was the very end, where the loop attached it to my keychain. Not a clue where or when the rest of the damn thing actually fell off.

So now I need to get something to replace it. Grrr.

#209 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2010, 04:09 PM:

Yes, exactly, I saw enough people with just the tail of the AAA micro-mag or whatever Maglite called it hanging from their keychain to become suspicious.

This one (Quark mini AA) has a hole through the tailcap for a tiny thing lanyard, or maybe a small key ring, so I'd lose the head instead; probably the expensive part of a modern LED flashlight. On the other hand, it may be stiff enough the head won't rotate off on its own.

The bigger one I'm still waiting for has a tail-cap switch, so that may be better.

#210 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2010, 04:27 PM:

D D-B@ 205: There's three different cones, although one is a mutation of the other and thus overlaps more closely.

This is humans, of course; other species have two cones or four (bees see into ultraviolet, for example). The cone peaks are different for each species, which is why cats and dogs see similar colors but in a more pastel version. Grass, to a cat, is more of a white color.

Try here for color vision and here for the Munsell hue test, which is affected by the monitor quality. These will show human color vision, but I think the first one also has links to "animal" color vision demos.

#211 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2010, 05:15 PM:

Thanks for the info and pointers on color vision. I've been dealing with it in photography, and have most of the outlines down (apparently I was separating cones too much, though). I greatly admired Niven and Pournelle noticing that the Moties would likely see colors differently from us in The Mote In God's Eye, I don't remember seeing it in SF before that (1974).

I do surprisingly poorly on the Munsell hue test given the amount of time I've spent working with colors pretty carefully, but so it goes. I suppose I should try it at home on the calibrated monitor to give myself the best shot.

#212 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2010, 05:27 PM:

The Munsell test demonstrated to me that either
a)I am very influenced by adjacent colors
or b) my laptop display is fairly unstable.
When I move a chip, it seems to change visual color. I can think of ways to test the display, I'll see if I'm motivated enough to code one.

I'm thinking of something visually similar to the Munsell test, but with only two hues per line. Then see what the visual effect is of moving the chips around.

Would that test the display or my eyes or the overlap?

#213 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2010, 05:48 PM:

David, 209: actually, all that was left of my other one was the tailcap. I'd bought the mini mag as a replacement for that. Thus far, it's flashlights 2, Summer 0.

#214 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2010, 06:10 PM:

DDB @211L

The monitor makes a huge difference for the Munsell hue test. I took it a year or so ago, on a different computer, and did OK. With my current monitor, I got 100%.

#215 ::: Cheryl ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2010, 06:23 PM:

I lived through Ice Storm '98; flashlights, I've got.

I have a battery-operated lantern that operates on 6 D-Cells; it has two tubes that look like the big fluorescent ones in miniature, but I'm not really sure what they are. They're certainly bright enough to read by. I can turn it so that both tubes are on, or only one, for dimmer light. It lasts for several hours of use before it needs a change of batteries.

I also have what I call my 'aircraft landing light', which uses a large, square-shaped battery (Wikipedia calls it a Lantern battery). That one also lasted for several hours of use. I have various wind-ups and shake-ups in every room in the house, as well as my car. In my purse I have the mini-mag (AAA) with the head-twist on/off mechanism. I've had it since '98, and never lost it, nor noticed it turning on by itself. I might just be lucky?

I just checked, and it still works - I think I may have changed the battery last year sometime.

I also have one of those little thumb-sized squeeze types, which has lasted 5 years so far.

Back in '98, I was on the metro going to work when it suddenly stopped, and all the lights went off. Several metres underground, with no power, is really very dark. It took about 30 seconds for all of us to get out our various portable light-sources... we were about 2 weeks into the blackout by then, and pretty much everyone was carrying something or other to make light (perhaps it was fate that brought me to this blog...?)

The backup power came on shortly and chugged us to the next station, and decanted all of us there, but at least we didn't have to walk in the tunnel. I'm actively afraid of trains, and terrified of walking on the tracks, so I don't know what I would have done.

#216 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2010, 07:09 AM:

@various; I've done the Munsell test on different computers, with varying scores, but all show the same areas of color deficiency. I have tritanomaly, not quite a tritanope like my dad. I have the most difficulty distinguishing orange from pink, and a lesser amount of trouble with blues and greens.

The monitor quality will affect your overall score, but it will not change the areas where your color vision is deficient.

#217 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2010, 10:16 AM:

Henry Troup #212: Actually, everyone's color perception is affected by adjacent colors (inter alia). I'm pretty sure that's why the test programmers made the chips draggable like that -- so you can "hold them up" next to other chips.

#218 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2010, 06:33 PM:

Ginger @216

I'm pretty sure I have tritanomaly, too, but my eye doctor doesn't believe me. I always pass the color blind tests, you see. The fact that I can't see the tritanomaly test on wikipedia, while my husband can (and my identical twin can't, but her husband can) leads me to believe that when they say that only 1% of 1% of the population has it, they're wrong; it's just hopelessly underdiagnosed. Either that, or I'm unlucky. I also have trouble with the blue and green wedges and the orange and pink wedges in Trivial Pursuit, unless under a really good light.

#219 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2010, 10:45 PM:

Cally Soukup @ 218: The fact that I can't see the tritanomaly test on wikipedia

I can pass it, but all three of those images are a lot vaguer than any colorblindness test I've ever seen. There may have been a color management issue somewhere along the line, or else they've been making the tests harder lately.

#220 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2010, 10:54 PM:

218, 219
Those images are nearly impossible for me to pick out, and I have normal color vision.

#221 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 09:12 AM:

Cally @218: Trivial Pursuit was where I realized I could not distinguish pink from orange; I had to ask which one I'd landed on. My mother had actually noticed this deficit of mine years earlier, when she made a scarf with pink and orange yarn, and I saw only one color. I have less trouble with blues and greens; it seems to be noticeable only for distant items, like highway signs. Blue and green are separate colors for me, although my dad sees these two as shades of grey. Pink and orange look alike, and I have learned to identify them by their relative saturation (orange is "brighter").

The regular color blindness tests (Ishikawa plates) test primarily for red-green (protanopia and deuteranopia), and not for tritanopia. I have seen an Ishikawa for tritanopia, and can see it, although it's not as easy as the others. There's probably variants of this condition, as my dad does not see green (therefore gets diagnosed on the regular Ishikawa) and I do.

#222 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 10:14 AM:

P J Evans @ 220: ditto. I was tested with "proper" cards some years ago and I know I tested normal (and I have no problems distinguishing the colours of the Trivial Pursuits wedges), but I'm having problems making out those numbers on the Wikipedia page.

I scored 7 on the Munsell hue test which Ginger linked to @210, so I think the problem is with the Wikipedia page, not with my colour perception.

#223 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 12:35 PM:

Cally Soukup #218, et seq.: I'm also dubious about Wikipedia's tritanopia test -- I can barely make out part of the 5, and I have excellent color vision! (Perfect score on the Munsell test....)

#224 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 12:38 PM:

Cally Soukup #218, et seq.: I'm dubious about Wikipedia's tritanopia test -- I can barely make out part of the 5, and I have excellent color vision! (Perfect score on the Munsell test....)

#225 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 01:16 PM:

"No Original Research" -- heh.

#226 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 03:19 PM:

Oh, I know that monitors vary, and so on, so it's hardly a definitive test. I also know that my husband, my twin's husband, and everyone I tried at work can see it, and my twin and I can't. I suspect that cone is off-spec.

#227 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 11:57 PM:

When you click on the Wikipedia tests, the just-the-image page has a note saying it may not work with LCD monitors.

#228 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 12:32 AM:

Diatryma #227: Oh, well then! Of course, not too many people are still using CRTs....

#229 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 01:10 AM:

Here's a different site for colorblindness testing:

I found the integrated one interesting. I'd had trouble seeing one of the numbers on the Wikipedia entry, but this test says I'm apparently fine, and it seems to work okay on my laptop's monitor.

Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

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