Friday, September 28, 2007

Who Screwed Up the Lightbulb Interface?

Apparently there's a lightbulb switchover plan for the next few years. One thing stopping me from going out and buying more green bulbs is that you get to the shop, read the fine print, and get welcomed with "NOT SUITABLE FOR USE WITH DIMMER SWITCHES." Poop. So I figured I have the Internet, and it's the 21st century FYOOTERR and everything, so there must be dimmable greenbulbs out there somewhere.

And yay! There are! Just need a shiny jumpsuit and personal rocketpack now. But, wait.

Lightbulbs are probably one of the best interfaces, like, evah. You switch it on/off. If you want to dim it, you turn a dial, like proper interfaces should do. (Except those ones where you hold it down... god-damned atrocities, I call 'em. Make me wanna hurl, etc.) How much complicated could dimming things be???

Much, much more complicated, is the answer. The new dimmable ones seem to have the dimming feature built into the lightbulb itself, so your usual wall switch is basically a proxy. Check out the video here for how to employ this proxy in all its glory, but basically we're looking at a series of "brightness steps" (which in all other contexts sounds like an exceedingly fun, McDonalds-happy-meal-advert type thing).

Switch on, bulb comes on. Switch off, bulb goes off. OK so far. But then.. switch back on within 3 seconds, bulb comes back on dimmer. Repeat a few times to go in a cycle.

Hmm, odd, but not crazy I guess. Unless you gots a dimmer dial and no switch. In which case you need to turn the dial down and back up again, several times, to get to the lowest dimness. (No, wait, greatest dimness? Urkl. Less light.)

I am not explaining any of that to my elderly relatives.

OK, rant over-ish. I was thinking for a moment, "Ack, I'm blogging abut lightbulbs. WTF has gone wrong with me?" But I think there's a serious point under it. Maybe. Or, hey, how about 2? a). Perhaps we can't just expect world-saving innovation to succeed because it's green - it has to be usable too, and as much thought has to go into this aspect as goes into the technological side of things. (That's innovation for ya.) and b). Green goods don't exist in a usability vacuum - there's a thing called "technological momentum" (although it probably has many names, like God) which means we're used to stuff already, and so new innovation needs to take the current state of affairs into account.

In other words, dimmer switches work well, and we're generally used to having them. So why are green dimmer bulbs a) difficult to get hold of and b) stupid to use?

5 comments:

RedYetiDave said...

Why are the not dimmable? Because they're essentially mini fluorescent tubes and you simply can't dim those.

That will change when they finally get a proper LED based version. The current ones are rather pants and only output about 25 watt equivalent, and that in a wide cone shaped beam.

Philips announced that they had a workable LED version a year or so back - but can't find anything on it at the mo'

Give it a year or three and they should have them available. And they'll last even longer than the fluorescents and create less nasty waste when they die!

Scribe said...

Hmm, might be worth waiting then... Personally, I don't see what's wrong with building mirror tubes through the centre of the Earth to channel light from wherever-the-sun-is into houses.

RedYetiDave said...

Oh - now there are dimmable energy saving bulbs apparently...

http://www.energybulbs.co.uk/acatalog/Energy_Saving_Dimmable_Bulbs.html

They're the only ones in the world at the moment so get them quick.

I'd be interested to know how well they work if you get them!

kurgan said...

I ordered products from energybulbs.co.uk two weeks ago, nothing has arrived, despite it says 2 day delivery..

But what is really .... me off is that they are ignoring my attempts to contact them.... they are not replying to neither my emails nor my inquireries through their webform.

So be careful with these guys...

Green Time said...

There are now a few different manufactures suppling dimmable versions Omricron and Megaman being the best products. The supplier that I used for my Dimmable energy saving GU10 is www.megamanbulbs.co.uk
Trialed the Energy Saving GU10 and was very pleased