Light Nerdery: Evolving Solutions At Homes

Of all topics, I find myself surprised that I can be considered a bit of a lights nerd. Sure, not as much as Technology Connections, but then again, who is nerdier than him on this? The lightbulb moment (see what I’m doing?) was while I was preparing to write the post that is now going to be in the future, and realized that a lot of what I was about to write needed some references about my experiments with early LED lighting, and what do you know? I wrote about it in 2008! And after all, it was a post about new mirror lights that nearly ended up the last post ever of mine, being posted just a few hours before my trip to the ICU for the pancreatitis.

Basically this is going to be a “context post” or “setup post”: it likely won’t have a call to action, but it will go into explaining the details of why I made certain tradeoffs, and maybe, if you’re interested in making similar changes to your home, it can give you a bit of an idea as well.

To set the scene up, let me describe the three locations that I’ll be describing light setups in. The first is my mother’s house in Venice mainland, which is an ’80s built semi-detached on two floors. The second is the flat in London, when my now wife moved in. And the third one is the current flat we moved into together. You may notice a hole in this setup: Dublin. Despite having lived there for longer than in London, I don’t have anything to talk about when it comes to light setup, or even in general about home; looking back, it sounds like I have actually spent my time in Dublin taking it nearly as a temporary hotel room, and spent very little time in “making it mine”.

A House Of Horrible Wiring

In that 2008 post I linked above, I complained how the first LED lights I bought and set up in my bedroom would keep glowing, albeit much dimmed, when turned off. Thanks to the post and discussions had with a number of people with more clue than me at the time, I did eventually find the reason: like in many other places throughout the house, deviators were used to allow turning the light on and off in different places. In the particular case of my bedroom, a switch by the door was paired with another on a cord, to be left by the bed. But instead of interrupting the live of the mains, they were interrupting the neutral which meant that, turning the light “off” still allowed enough current to go through between live and ground that the LEDs would stay on.

This turned out to be a much, much bigger deal than just a simple matter of LED lights staying on. Interrupting the neutral is not up to regulation: you may still have phase and get shocked if touching the inside of the lampholder, even with the switch turned off, but most importantly, it looks like it causes a number of CFLs electronics to be “stressed”, with their lifespan being seriously shortened by that. This was actually something that we have noticed and complained for many years, but never realised it was connected.

Eventually, I fixed the wiring in my bedroom (and removed the deviator I didn’t quite need), but I also found another wiring disaster. The stairwell at my mother’s had two light points, one on the landing, and one on the top of the stairs, and they were controlled together by switches at the top and bottom of the staircase. As expected, these interrupted the neutral, but most importantly, each position was wired into the live of the floor it was closest to, ignoring the separation of the circuits and passing through a phase even when turning the circuit of. And that explained why no bulb ever lasted more than a year for those.

Unfortunately, fixing the deviators there turned out to be pretty much impossible, due to the way the wiring conducts were set down inside the walls. So instead, I had to make do with separating the two lights, which was not great, but was acceptable while I was still living with my mother: I would turn on the light upstairs for her (I was usually upstairs working) and she would not need the light downstairs. But I had to come up with a solution after I prepared to leave.

The first solution to this was adding a PIR (Passive Infra Red) movement sensor at the bottom of the stairs to turn on the light on the landing. That meant that just taking the first step of the stairs would illuminate enough of the staircase that you could make your way up, and then the timer would turn it off. This worked well enough for a while, to the point that even our cat learned to use it (you could observe her taking a step, wait for the light, then run all the way upstairs).

Then, when I was visiting a couple of years back, I noticed that something wasn’t quite working right with the sensor, so I instead ordered a Philips Hue lightbulb, one of those with BLE in addition to ZigBee, so that it wouldn’t require a bridge. At that point my mother could turn the light on and off with her phone, so that the sensor wasn’t needed anymore (and I removed it from the circuit).

This worked much better for her, but she complained earlier this year that she kept forgetting to turn off the light before she would get to bed, and then she’d have to go back to the staircase as her phone couldn’t reach the light otherwise. What would be a minor inconvenience for me and many of the people reading this, for my mother was a major annoyance, as she starts getting old, so I solved it by getting her a Hue Bridge and a couple of Smart Buttons: the bridge alone meant that her phone didn’t need to reach the light (the bridge would be reachable over WiFi), but the buttons restored a semblance of normality about turning the light on and off as she used to before I re-wired the lights.

This is something that Alec from Technology Connections pointed out on Twitter some time ago: smart lights are, at the very least, a way to address bad placement of lights and switches. Indeed, over ten years later, my mother now has normal-acting staircase lights that do not burn out every six months. Thank you, Internet of Things!

While we won’t be visiting my mother any time soon, due to the current pandemic and the fact she has not been called in for the vaccine yet, once we do I’ll also be replacing the lightbulbs in my bedroom. My office there is now mostly storage, sadly but we have been staying in my old bedroom that still has the same lights I wrote about in 2008. A testament to them lasting much longer now that the wiring is right, given that for the most part I don’t remember spending more than a few months without needing to replace a lightbulb somewhere, when I was living there.

The 2008 lights I chose to keep the light to a minimum before going to bed, which I still think is a good idea, but they do make it hard to clean and sort things out. Back then I was toying with the idea of building a controller to turn on only part of the lights, but nowadays the available answer is to just use smart lights and configure them with separate scenes for bedtime and cleantime. And buttons and apps mean that there is no need anymore for having a separate bedside lamp, for the most part.

Sharing A Flat Planned For One

When I moved to London, i went looking for an apartment that, as I suggested to the relocation aide, would be “soulless” — I had heard all of the jokes about real estate agents defining flats falling apart as having “characters” or big design issues considered “the soul of the building”, so I wanted to make clear I was looking mostly for a modern flat, and something that I would be able to just tweak to my own liking.

I also was looking for an apartment that was meant to be mine, with no plan on sharing. Then I met my (now) wife, and that plan needed some adjustments. One of the things that became obvious early on was that the bedroom lights were not really handy. Like pretty much all of the apartments I lived in outside of Italy, that one had GU-10 spotlight holders scattered throughout the ceiling, and a single switch for them by the door. This worked okay for me alone, as I would just turn the light off and then lay on the bed, but it becomes an awkward dance of elbows when you share a fairly cozy mattress.

So early on I decided to get an IKEA Not floorlamp, and a smart light. I settled for the LIFX Mini, because it supported colours (and I thought it would be cool), didn’t need a bridge, and also worked without Internet connection over the local network. The only fault in my plan was to have gotten a Not with two arms at first, which meant we have a few times turned the wrong light off, until I Sugru’d away the main switch on the cable.

I said “at first” there, because we then realised that this type of light is great not only in the bedroom but also in the living room. When watching TV keeping the light on would be annoying (the spots were very bright), but turning it entirely off would be tiring for the eyes. So we got a second Not lamp, and a second LIFX bulb, and reshuffled them a bit so that the two-arms one moved to the living room, as there the additional spotlight is sometimes useful).

This worked very nicely for the most part, to the point that I considered whether my home office could use some of that. This was back in the beforetimes, where the office (i.e. the second bedroom) would mostly be used to play games in the evening, by my wife when not using the laptop, or in the rare times I would be working from home (Google wouldn’t approve). That meant that in many cases having the full light would also be annoying, and in other cases having very dim light would also not work well. In particular, for a while, I was keeping company to my wife while she played by reading, and I would have wanted light on the side of my seat, but not as much on her side.

Since the office only had four spots, we decided to buy four LIFX GU-10 lights. I’m not linking to those because the price seems to have gone off the charts and they now cost more than twice what we paid for them! These are full-fledged LIFX bulbs, with WiFi and the whole colour range. Lovely devices, but also fairly bulky and I’ll get back to that later on.

Overall, this type of selective smart lighting helped significantly with the enjoyment of the flat, by reducing the small annoyances that would be presenting on a regular basis, like navigating the bedroom in the dark, or having the light too bright to watch TV. So we were looking towards replicating that after moving.

No Plan Survives Contact With The New Flat

When we moved to the new flat we knew that a number of things would have had to be changed. For instance, the new office had six rather than four spots, and the rooms layout meant that some of the choice of where to put the lamps would be not as good as we had previously.

Things got even a little more complicated than that: the LIFX GU-10 bulbs are significantly bigger than your average GU-10 spots, so they didn’t actually fit at all in the receptacle that this flat used! That meant that we couldn’t get them in, even if we decided to only keep four out of the six.

It’s in this situation that we decided to bite the bullet and order a Philips Hue Bridge for our flat, together with six White Ambiance spots: these spots are the same size as normal GU-10 spots, and do not have issues with fitting in the receptacle, so they could be used in the new office. While there is a model supporting colour changes as well as white temperature balance, in the office we never really used colour lighting enough to justify the difference in price (though we did and still do rely on the colour temperature selection).

Once you have a bridge, adding more lights becomes cheaper than buying a standalone light, too. So we also added a “reading light” to the bedroom, which is mostly for me to use if I can’t sleep and I don’t want to wake up my wife.

Another thing we would have liked to do was to replace the clicky switch for the ensuite with a soft/smart button. The reason for that was twofold: the first is that it took us months to get used to the placement of the switch in this flat, the second is that the switch is so damn noisy when clicking that it kept waking the other up when one of us went to use the toilet overnight. Unfortunately changing the switch appears not trivial: with our landlord permission we checked the switch connection, and it is not wired with the correct L/N positions or colours, and I could see a phase on three out of the four positions.

Instead, when we could confirm that the switch did not control the extraction fan, we decided to put on three Hue spots in the bathroom, this time not the temperature controlled once, but just the dimmer ones. And at that point, we could keep a single one at 1% overnight, and not need to turn anything on or off when using the restroom during the night: it gets very dim, so you don’t wake up, but you can still see plenty to use the toilet and wash your hands. This by the way was an idea that came to me after watching some of BigClive videos: the very low level light makes for a good light to have overnight to avoid waking youself up.

To explain just how useful this setup ended up being for us, the ensuite has three spots: one is pretty much in the shower box, the other two are by the door and in the middle. Overnight, we only leave the shower spot running at 1%, with the other two being off. If we need more light, for instance to brush our teeth, or for me to get my insulin, we have an “on” scene in which all three spots are at around 30%. When we’re taking a shower, we only turn on the shower spot to 100%. And when we’re cleaning the bathroom, we set all three to 100%. At maximum light, the new bulbs are brighter than the old ones were; in the “on” scene we use, they are much less bright, because we don’t really need that much light on all the time.

We also have ordered more spots, this time from IKEA, that sells an even cheaper model, although with not as good low-light performance. We could do this because I’ve recently replaced the Hue Bridge for a ZigBee stick on our Home Assistant, and I’ll go into more details about that in a future post. At the time I’m writing this the spots have not arrived yet, but we decided that, now that we’re more likely going to be going out again (we both got our first dose of vaccine, and soon to receive the second), it makes sense to have a bit more control of the light on the entrance.

In particular, the way the entrance is currently set up, we turn on six spots all the time in the T-shaped hallway. When coming back during the day, only one spot would be necessary, to take off shoes and put down keys, the rest of the flat is very bright and does not need illumination. And similarly when just going back and forth during the evening, only the two or three spots illuminating the top of the T would be needed, while the ones at the door are just waste. Again smart lights in this case are helpful to shape inflexible wiring.

Conclusion

I wrote before that I get annoyed at those who think IoT is a waste of time. You can find the IoT naming inane, you can find the whole idea of “smart” lights ridiculous, but however you label it, the ability to spread the control of lightbulbs further than the origin wiring intended is a quality of life improvement.

Indeed, in the case of my mother’s house, it’s likely that the way we’ll solve the remaining problems with wiring will be by replacing most switches with smart lights and floorlamps.

And while I have personally some questions about keeping the “off” lightbulbs connected to something, a quick back of the envelope calculation I did some months ago shows that even just the optimisation of being able to automate turning on and off lights based on presence, or the ability to run the light most of the time at lower power, can easily reduce the yearly energy usage considerably (although not quite to the level that buying all new bulbs would save you money, if you already have LED lights).

So once again, and probably not for the last time, I want to tip off my hat to Home Assistant, Electrolama, and all the other FLOSS projects that work with the wishes of people, rather than against them, to empower them to have smart home technologies they can control.

Household hardware

I have written before of my bad luck with my external hard drive, but there had been a few more more failures at my house, not related to computer hardware though, mostly related to household appliances: both the dishwasher and the washing machine decided to break up.

On the bright side the washing machine is under a 5-years warranty (I extended it when we bought it, my parents didn’t want to) and the dishwasher was quite cheap at the time. I’m going to replace the latter with a new AAA-class (highly energy efficient) appliance, possibly with programming support so that my mother can make smaller loads (for instance when she’s alone eating at home) or make it run early in the morning while we sleep. Since the problem, at least with the washing machine, is with the hardness of water (it’s full of calcium) I’m also considering adding a filter to the tap the washing machine is connected: the boiler already has one based on polyphosphate “salts” (not sure if they are actual salts, I’m sorry but my chemistry is not really that good), and it seems to work decently well; finding something that would be refilled with the same stuff is better since it’d be less stuff to buy, and keep at home.

Luckily there has been also good news: I finally replaced the light fixture in my room with a 4-way (from a shitty 3-way that always looked like falling down); the new fixture uses GU-10 sockets, and was designed to hold four 50W halogen lamps (which would give it a 200W total energy use, which is definitely too much for my bedroom). I bought instead four GU-10 LED lamps, 78 LEDs each, declared between 2.3 to 3W the lamp. They are bright! They are brighter than the three CFLs that I used to have at the beginning, which, total, consumed around 30W. Sure there is still the problem of cost (€47 of the four lamps, from Germany), and the size (the fixture had some glass container that was quite nice to the eye, but the LED lamp does not fit in it), but it seems like that kind of technology is really flying.

I’ll have to see if I can get more LED lamps around the house, saving money with energy efficiency on lights will probably allow me to hide the money I spend on computers turned on all day long…

Digital light dimmers

We almost all are well comfortable with the idea of a light dimmer, it’s a simple device that usually changes a resistor in series with the an incandescent or halogen lamp to allow reducing or increasing the light that it makes. It ha a very nice effect when you want to have a more softer tone of light in a room, for instance a bedroom.

There is one huge problem with light dimmers though: they work only with lamps that reduce their light depending on the current that passes through them. It does not work well with LEDs (it works up to a point, if my electronics skills tell me good, but it’s not very efficient anyway), and does not work at all with fluorescent lights.

So what is a digital dimmer? Well, it’s not a dimmer at all, at least the one I’m thinking about ;)

You can easily achieve a softer light tone without using actual dimmers and incandescent lights, by using different lamps with different light bulbs. I wrote about this before, I think, saying that I prefer using LED lights in bedroom as they give a softer tone to the light, which is perfect to read, or play the PS3, without getting the eyes tired. Unfortunately, it ’s not very good to clean when there is no light coming from outside.

My solution to this would be to replace the ceiling light with a different one, with, say, five Edison connectors, wired 32 with two different switches. I’m just looking around for what I want to use. The idea is then to put two CFLs on one switch, and the tree LED lights on the other: when I need to clean up the room, I could just light up the CFLs and be done with it.

A similar thing I want to do in my office, which is now empty to be cleaned up and refurnished. Instead of changing the light support there, which is quite nice for me and quite nice to light the room, I want to use different lamps entirely.

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A picture of my 2008 home office desk with a fading LED lamp on top.

You can already see in the photo on the right that I have a desklamp on the desk (well, I had, the desk is now closed in half waiting to be replaced too), with a LED bulb that I use when I’m working the night and I don’t want to stay awake too much. It gives me light reduced to the area around the monitors and the keyboard. I used to have a CFL on that lamp, and it made a nice halfway to light most of the room, with a softer tone. As I can’t replace the bulb every time I need a different kind of light, I thought of a different solution for the problem.

I have an old standing lamp, very nice design, let me just ignore for a second the pink glass on it, but it’s not so bad to have around. Unfortunately, it is designed to use halogen lights, and it hasn’t been used for many years now because of that. The bulb in it is a 300W halogen light, so you can think of how bad it is. I’m thinking of removing the dimmer it has, replacing it with a big pushbutton (designed to be pressed with your foot), and replace the circuitry so that I can put a fluorescent light in it. I’ve seen kit with all the circuitry needed at a local shop, it shouldn’t be too difficult to adapt to put it in the lamp.

When I’ll have analysed the structure of the lamp and I’m tearing it down to replace the circuitry I’ll see to blog about that, maybe with some photos, it might be useful to others :)

LED lights photos

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I didn’t blog more about them when I received them because I didn’t want to suggest to a friend of mine what I did get him for his birthday ;) I also wanted to make a long post explaining the difference in usage patterns between compact fluorescent lights and LED lights, but it’s late, and I’m actually working on quite a few other stuff at once, so for now I’ll just link this photoset where I’ve described a bit my LED lights :)

And to leave you with a link for today, I think this podcast from RTÉ looks quite interesting :) I’ve downloaded a few episodes but only listened to latest for now, I’ll have something to listen to tonight :)

I’m happy with my LED lightbulbs

Yesterday I received the new LED lights I ordered last week. They are quite nice, very little power consumption, and they do quite a nice light. The 2W spotlight version I have in my bedroom now make as much light as a 25W incandescent lightbulb.

It sure isn’t the flood of light I had before, with just two fluorescent lights, but I didn’t want so much light in my bedroom anyway, it distracted me wile reading, and caused me not to sleep when I wanted to read something. The new lights give me a cone of light just on my bed, and keep the corners of the room in half-shade, which is a very nice visual effect, I have to say. There is enough room to cleanup and to choose my clothes day after day.

I’ve traded 2x8W fluorescent lights with 3x2W, so it’s a decent improvement in consumption too.

I also bought another one, spherical, true white rather than warm (amber) white as the ones of the bedroom, to put in the lamp on my office room. I used a bigger 20W fluorescent light before, it flooded the whole room with light. Now it only lits the area of the desk where I work, exactly like I wanted. The bulb there is less than 2W, which is quite a nice saving too.

I’ll be looking for some different kind of bulbs for the stairs though, as the opaque types I found on the eBay store where I bought these didn’t seem powerful enough to light my stairs properly.

But, for all the people skilled with electronic out there, I’d like to know something. Somehow the lights I have in my room lit up even when I turn them off. It’s not entirely bad for me as I actually sleep better with a minimum of light around, rather than in pitch dark. But I’m a bit concerned. I thought it was a condensator before, but it doesn’t uncharge even after a whole night, so I’m more thinking along the lines of a possible electric problem, like a wrong return line, or some problem with the grounding, but I admit i have o idea how to proceed. If I unscrew the light, it shuts down.

Also, the fluorescent lights I removed started being employed already: one replaced one of the stairs’ bulb, that was the last one in the house, now I can say that the whole house is powered by green lights, either fluorescent or LED.

Talking about lights

Russell Cooker posted today about fluorescent and incandescent lights. It’s an interesting reading for those of you who are interested in energy saving for environment and money (the two things can easily go along).

His notes about the need to remove excessive heat from incandescent lights might not be as obvious as it seems for many people, but it’s actually an important part of the whole package. I for one started spending extra money for compact fluorescent lights (CFLs, like Cooker called them) when I was sure I couldn’t put air conditioning at my house, and during summer even just turning on a light made me sweat.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid I never tried a low pressure sodium lamp, so I don’t even know what they look like. I should look them up on Wikipedia, but I haven’t had time to do that yet, and I doubt it’s going to be my next “paradigm shift” in lamps. As he said, fluorescent tubes aren’t always an option.. they don’t even look that good, and they can be a bitch to deal with as their starters an fry quite easily if the voltage is not properly regulated… and where I live, even if the nominal voltage should be 220V, it’s usually about 200V – sometimes, still having lights on, I have the UPSes moving to battery, even the line-interactive ones! – so just having three of those is hard enough.

I wrote before the night I was hospitalised, by the way, that I would be considering LED lamps, and so I do have LED lights in my bathroom on the mirror, rather than fluorescent (making too much light to be useful) or incandescent (wasting too much power). Maybe they are less efficient as a whole, but rather than using a more-efficient CFL using five times the power needed by two LED lamps to make more light than needed, I find this useful.

Similarly, I’ve been wondering about my bedroom. I already have a LED-powered desklamp; the new furniture that my sister got me gives way less shadow than before, as I don’t have a bridge-like wardrobe anymore, so I removed one of the three CFL I used to use. Still the amount of light is huge. When I want to read something before going to sleep, two CFLs are already too much, but I can’t reduce the lamps too much or I wouldn’t be able to have enough light to clean the room, or find the proper clothes to wear for a night.

So my idea at the moment is to get one ceiling light with four lamp sockets, and two switch lines (thus two switches). On a pair of sockets I would put the two CFLs, on the other two, two LED lamps. Having two switches I could easily choose between high light (for cleaning and choosing clothes), and lower light for reading (and no light for sleeping). Unfortunately I can’t really make decision on placement of lights here, as the house is quite old, and breaking the ceiling to change the lights position wouldn’t be feasible – especially after painting the room anew last september – but if I’ll ever get an house of my own, I would certainly prefer having a lot of smaller lights around, so that I could use the right light as needed, rather than a “catch all” light.

Christmas tube lights

So, my mother is preparing the house for Christmas, yes it’s tremendously late, but this year we had some problems, somehow related to my health condition.

One recurring problem with Christmas time, is when the lights break. In most cases the lights lasts for enough years to let us just throw off the broken ones, and get new ones. This year, though, a tube of light broke down, this was bad because I bought it just four years ago, and they aren’t as cheap as standard lights.

So I opened the controller box on the cable to check it out, and indeed, one of the ICs was burnt down. The IC is a PCR406J, produced by UTC. For what I gather on Google, this IC is used in mass production of Christmas light controllers, it works directly on the 230V alternate current, although I’m still not sure *what the IC does*… (the best I could find is that it’s a Silicon Controlled Rectifier I can’t seem to be able to order that IC anywhere on my usual webshops, and also for what I read it’s also hard to find in standard shops; also, the lights controller might as well be fried, if something was able to fry this IC.

So what are my current options? The first and probably easiest is to throw away the tube, and buy a new one. But it’s not funny to do.
The funny thing to do is… design a new controller! :)

I certainly won’t be able to design it before this Christmas, or before the end of the holiday season, but I can try for next year’s at least. It will be a nice project to distract me from other more complex stuff, and might finally give me the time to refresh my electronic skills, as I don’t want to die knowing to do just one thing (developing).

Right now, I need to find how the thing works: it’s entirely AC-powered, no transformer or converter of sorts. There are the two PCR406J, a 50V 10µF capacitor, two resistors (one 180KΩ, one 240KΩ, neither seems to be ready for high power dissipation), and four things that are probably diodes, they seem to be IN4007 from DC Components (they are Rectifiers, but I admit I don’t know what they are or what they actually do). The board is certainly handmade, and the only two components I could track down to a producer, are Chinese, so I suppose the whole thing is Chinese.

The lights themselves look like a lot of LEDs, but I somehow doubt they are actually LEDs, probably some gas lights or something like that. The lights are connected through three wires, one red and two black wires. I know there are two series of lights, so one is the common (probably the red one), and the other ones are returns for the two sets. Also, as one of the programmed modes had the lights fading in and out, I’m sure that they work at different voltages, and they decrease their luminosity depending on the voltage they are given.

I start to doubt they actually use 220V and even less that they work on AC, as the red wire is connected to two rectifiers, each of one connected to one of the two mains’ wires. I suppose this could be the part of the circuit that straighten AC into DC, although I’m by no mean expert of that. The 220V idea was mostly killed by the 50V capacitor, and the size of the two resistors.

This is the time when I’d like to have a controllable power supply like I had in the lab at school, to check out which voltage do the lights take correctly.

Actually, I think the capacitor and the 180KΩ resistor could actually be an RC net, which makes sense, as the controller changes the program after a few seconds. So I should probably ignore those two, as they are part of the controller. There is also a button used to change the current program, but that just concerns the controller circuit which I don’t care about.

The controller is connected to the two SCRs (PCR406J) by two lines, which are, as far as I can see, connected the gates of the ICs. Which makes sense, as the controller decides when to turn on either of the lines.

I have doubts right now on how the thing the fade in/out thing, as that was a pretty nice effect.

Now, I suppose it shouldn’t be too difficult to design a new controller, maybe with some extras like music (this one does not support it), through a programmable (versus hardwired) microcontroller. It might not be convenient (as in it could probably cost more than a new tube of lights) but it would be interesting.

My main problem now is how to control the lights, do they work in DC or AC? Which voltage do they support? If they work in DC, I suppose I could get the fade in/out effect by using a potentiometer, a digitally controlled one for instance, or by using two properly sized capacitors.

If I need DC, I can use that to power up the microcontroller, otherwise I can simplify things by using batteries to power it.

Anyway, this is the start of a new project for me. If someone can help me by providing information I might be lacking in all this, it’s certainly welcome. As it would be welcome a configurable power supply, or at least some idea on where to find a cheap one.

Oh by the way, there’s a good side to writing your own lights controller if one breaks, I think and hope: it should produce less waste to just create a new controller rather than throwing away the old lights and buy a new tube.

LED lamps, part two.

You might or might not remember that the last post on my blog for the three weeks I spent on ICU was talking about mirror lights.

Well, my interest in LED light bulbs hasn’t disappeared yet, so a few days ago I decided to take a look to eBay to see if there are other similar LED lights to put on a desk lamp (I needed one in my bedroom to read something before sleeping without having the ceiling light on, which makes it difficult to get sleepy.

When I looked for LED lamps last summer, the only eBay shops carrying them were Hong-Kong shops, and indeed I bought them there (they arrived while I was in the ICU). When I looked the other night, the shops were mostly German instead. Nice change I’d say, although I can’t tell how this happened.

So I ordered four new lightbulbs, two of a “candle” type, and two spotlights. The (cheaper) spotlights have a reddish light, unsuitable for me to read (I react better to greenish light), but still nice, they would probably be good for either my mother or for big flashlights. The two candles instead are quite good, they make quite some light, and consume less than 2W. I put one of them in an old ceramic and glass desklamp my mother was not using for a while, and put it in my bedroom (strange effect such a classic lamp against the modern bedroom, but the light is quite good); they have a soft white tone, which makes it perfect to read before sleeping, and it’s enough light even to get to the drawers to get socks and company.

Not sure if LED technology improved this much while I was in the hospital, but at least I have to say that the LED lightbulbs are becoming quite interesting even for ceiling lamps. Who knows, maybe in a few years we’d be all saying “fluorescent lights? bah you’re not green enough!” ;)

Mirror lights

When you feel depressed for your personal situation, there are many things you can do to stand up again and don’t think about it. Myself, what makes me feel better most of the time is bricolage. Just making a new hole for a frame, or recabling a power plug, or changing the disposition of my room. Today, it was changing the ceiling light in my bathroom.

Let’s skip over the fact that my neighbour had a new ceiling light at home, and just focus on why I wanted to change mine: the previous one was quite small and a fluorescent light wouldn’t fit, and the bathroom was the last room in the house with an incandescent bulb. Well beside a couple of desk lamps that are never turned on.

I’m not sure if it’s a testosterone thing or whatever, but punching holes on the ceiling with a 18V battery drill is something that makes me feel powerful. Am I a freak? Probably.

Anyway what I want to hear others’ opinions about is about the lights of the mirror: right now it has two E14 screws, with just one 15W incandescent bulb in it, I used it mostly while shaving (as the 75W incandescent light on the ceiling wasn’t good enough) or when I didn’t need much lighting and this was a nice power saving. Now, the fluorescent light takes 20W, so I’ll probably just turn that one on, as it has better performances when compared to the amount of light, and it shouldn’t be much of an issue while shaving.

Even if the need for the mirror light is now quite reduced, it doesn’t mean I’ll never have to use it. Sometimes you need some more near lightsource to look for instance at a broken nail. It bugs me to have to use a 15W bulb for so little light. First I thought to replace the lights with some kind of halogen bulb, but even if those have way better performances, they still consume quite a bit. I don’t need so much light, I just need to reduce the power consumption.

Then an idea was in my mind: I have a sort of flashlight in a three-in-one tool (screwdriver and spirit level are the other two tools); the light tool uses a LED, supplied by a button battery, and has quite some autonomy. This convinced me that the best thing for my mirror lights would be a LED-based light system.

Now, do you think there are already kits to set up LED lights on a mirror closet? Are there LED-based bulbs that just need a socket and a controller? Are those 220V supplied, or should I decide for something battery-based? Any pointer and suggestion is very welcome.

Environment- and Wallet-friendly

As I think I said previously in one of the many posts related to the active PFC power supply units, I’m not really one of the greenest person on the world. I’m quite pragmatic, I’ll try not to increment waste, but I don’t usually actively try to reduce use. I know, I should care more and be more active on this, but I just can’t get enough time to care about so many things on my day.

There are, though, some things I care about because they are both good for the environment and help saving money, like the active PFC units, who both reduce the power waste, and makes it cheaper to keep a box running by improving its performance (and adding to this the fact that almost all active PFC units are rated 110~250, they are usually more suitable for places like here, where the voltage is actually floating between 195 and 240).

One other thing that is both environmental savvy and good for your wallet is the usage of fluorescent lights, which consumes a lot less than the old-style incandescent lights, and by now, the lights themselves are quite cheap too! I have changed all the lights in my house already, but two (one because I need to change the whole light support, the other because, well, the bulb support is broken and the higher weight of fluorescent lights stops it from making contact, plus for some silly reason if I leave it without a bulb, the other light connected to the same line starts blinking — problem with the electric return).

Then there are the water pressurisers, which I installed on every water outlet in my house, they increase the pressure the water flows, so they not only reduce the water usage, but increasing the pressure makes it way easier to clean stuff like toothbrushes and shaving razors; they also work as raw filters if the water is full of mineral residuals (like here) as most of the time the biggest grains will get stuck instead of coming out. This actually is half a problem as you need to clean the pressurisers regularly, at least once a month here, or the water flow will be easily cut in half.

But there is again another useful thing that is often ignored: the use of rechargeable batteries. In today’s world, there are a lot of devices that use AA or AAA batteries, and I know a lot of people who regularly buy tons of batteries to run them. This is especially critical here during Christmas and Easter, as my mother loves all that silly gadgets that move, make sound or light. Lately I’ve been buying NiMh rechargeable batteries to avoid this.

I started using them for my cordless keyboard (well, the same was true for the mouse, but those were provided initially by Logitech, while the keyboard was supposed to be used with alkaline batteries), but nowadays I have those in all the remotes, in the nail-grinding tool, in the book lights and in the wireless headphones. It’s way easier to just swap them with the charged backup pair when I hear the headphones growing softer.

As with many other choices, there is an initial “high” investment, as they do cost quite more than normal alkaline batteries, but then you easily get to cover their cost when you start recharging them after the first few uses (the average recharge count is about 500). It’s a nice thing to avoid polluting with tons and tons of alkaline batteries, and nowadays there are batteries with high enough mAh to last at least as long as alakine batteries even in high-drain use cases like book lights (at least for AA batteries, whose alkaline counterpart declared average is 2850 mAh: there are AA rechargeable batteries reaching 2800, and even if the cost is even higher, I’ve seen at least a model declaring 3000 mAh).

One step further, that I’m unable to make right now, would be to recharge them with solar panels. It shouldn’t be difficult, after all you just need to invert the polarity; I haven’t seen any specific hardware for this available, if someone knows of some, I’d be glad to know. After all during summer there is a tremendous amount of sun here, I might as well make good use of it. Having it recharge my Nintendo DS and the cellphones would also be nice ;)

Really, if I could put a solar panel just under the window of my room, during summer it could easily take care of recharging my stuff, considering it’s in direct sunlight between 14:00 and 21:00 for three/four months an year. And if there is nothing to charge, it could just be an extra fan that tries to take off the heat from me…

Oh well.