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June 10, 2006

Improving the Everyday

Light bulbs and batteries, two boring everyday things everyone uses. Each of them has had new technology trickle down and become mainstream and both suffer from cheap consumerism.

The everyday light blub has given way to LEDs and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). LEDs generally offer increased light/power efficiency, but haven't been developed for higher brightness applications, they also suffer from directionality. LEDs seem to have completely replaced the light bulb in flashlights, they also carry a bit of a coolness factor with them. I haven't been able to directly prove the efficiency, but I'm happy with my LED flashlights. At university they replaced all our incandescent bulbs with CFLs, we immediately swapped them back. We encountered all the common issues, slow startup, poor light color and flicker. As such I was reluctant to try a CFL again, but they were getting quite popular. When the light bulb in my hall burnt out quickly, I noticed a higher wattage bulb had been replaced and must have over heated. A lower wattage was not enough light for the area, so I though this was the perfect time to try a CFL again, especially since the hall light is usually on or off and not switched much at all. I was pleasantly surprised, the light color was excellent, the brightness excellent and no flicker. The only noticeable difference from the incandescent is a short startup delay. Time will tell if the CFL lives up to its selling feature of a long life. The incandescent bulb still reigns supreme though. I still use far more incandescent bulbs than any other type, from the car to the microwave, it's there steadily illuminating the way. The only down side is cheap bulbs. Like so many other items, cheap bulbs aren't worth anything. They burn out far faster than any regular bulb, thus not saving any money.

Batteries are everywhere! It's amazing to think what would stop working if all your batteries died tomorrow. I've found myself using a lot more rechargeable batteries, both by choice and by default as they come as standard equipment in many devices now. What has shocked me lately is that the price of rechargeables keeps coming down, while standard alkaline batteries seem to keep climbing in price. Monitoring my long term usage, I've noticed some trends. Rechargeables are essential in high drain devices. Alkalines are better in low drain devices like remote controls, where the higher voltage allows the device to work better, longer. AAA batteries are just useless. I avoid them where I can, they cost more, but provide less power. I much prefer an equivalent device that runs on AAs. In general I've also found it prudent to check into the specs of rechargeable batteries included with a device. My digital camera, for example, has a custom battery that is made up of one Li-Ion cell, which is why it seems to die very rapidly. Other cameras often have 2-4 cells. Finally the law of getting what you paid for applies to batteries (and chargers) as well. Cheap batteries just don't last as long, rechargeable or alkaline, and dollar store batteries are already half dead it seems. As for chargers, the little ones they sell bundled with a pack of batteries that take a day to recharge don't seem to do near as good a job as a nice, more costly quick charger.

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Created By: Steven Nikkel (steven_nikkel@ertyu.org)
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