HAPPY BIRTHDAY, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson!



What the what?!  That’s William Kennedy Laurie Dickson, the guy who invented the Kinetoscope, among other completely awesome stuff!  Today is Billy Boy’s birthday!  Happy Birthday, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson!

Dickson was one of Edison’s “muckers,” the guys who did all of Edison’s work for him.  What a d-bag he was, that Edison!

Check out the Happy Birthday, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson Official Birthday Post!




Who is THAT?!  Wait, is that — is that Nikola Tesla?!  HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Nikola Tesla!

from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikola_Tesla

from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikola_Tesla

Well, it’s birthday time for one of the most prolific inventory of humanity — Nikola Tesla’s 207th birthday is today (10 July 1856 – 7 January 1943)!  If he was still alive, I would definitely suggest we have a Tweet-up and buy that man a round!  A man who thought all human beings should have free energy, believed in the power of peace, and created more useful inventions than most people alive today — Nikola Tesla is one historical badass.  He also got legally fornicated by Thomas Edison, which is another post altogether, but still managed to do unbelievable work on alternating current electricity.



We here at JimOnLight want to share your amazingness with the world:

The History of Nikola Tesla – a Short Story from Jeremiah Warren on Vimeo.

Also — from The OatmealMAD PROPS to our man Nikola Tesla!  I cross-post this with every positive intention possible:

nikola-tesla-the-oatmeal-1 nikola-tesla-the-oatmeal-2 nikola-tesla-the-oatmeal-3 nikola-tesla-the-oatmeal-4 nikola-tesla-the-oatmeal-5 nikola-tesla-the-oatmeal-6 nikola-tesla-the-oatmeal-7 nikola-tesla-the-oatmeal-8 nikola-tesla-the-oatmeal-9 nikola-tesla-the-oatmeal-10

We celebrate your life here at JimOnLight.com — and here’s a toast to hoping someone makes your dreams of free energy generating devices and perpetual motion systems a reality!



Passing Through from Olafur Haraldsson on Vimeo.

Tesla’s obituary:



Thanks to The Oatmeal, Wikipedia, The Daily Kos, EEP, and Brad DeLong!

The Daily Lamp – Naica, Reminiscing On Carbide Lamps and Caverns, from @SomethingBureau


Today’s Daily Lamp offering is something pretty cool from Something.

Seriously. The design firm is called Something. Two designer pals, Daniel Debiasi and Federico Sandri, created an industrial design firm that seems to be doing pretty well. Today’s Daily Lamp is certainly something I would own, fo sho!

Naica is the name of a northern Mexican city, pretty famous for its crystal mine.  Have you ever seen images of the mammoth crystal formations in Mexico?


Yeah.  It’s that one.

From the product page for Naica at Something:

Reminding a bit on a cavern itself, these lamps are inspired by carbide lanterns from the past, originally used by miners.  The light is diffused by reflection, creating a gently faded glow on the inner surface of the ceramics.
The cable covered with fabric doubles as a handle to easily move the lamp from one spot to another.  The lamp is available either in white or with a red coloured cavity.

This is a really stunning lamp. I would love to see this sitting in my bedroom right now!



For contrast, the lamp makers mention its inspiration draws from carbide lamps from the mining days.  Have you seen one of these?






I had to know more about this crazy cave at Naica.  This thing has crystals of Selenite that are 4 feet wide in some places.  That boggles my mind!  I found this crazy video of a team going into the cave — for some reason they’re all packed up with ice.  I’ve seen several videos now that have people trapsing through the Naica caves, but none with the kind of protection this crew has.

Let’s Compare Energy Efficient Lighting Technologies! [Infographic]

Do you know just how relevant to my interests THIS infographic is?!



This is an awesome infographic — a comparison and history of some of our energy efficient lighting technologies.  Check it out!

Let’s Compare Energy Efficient Lighting Technologies!

Energy-Efficient-Lighting-Technologies-infographicThanks, Precision Paragon!


Hey Tupac, Holograms Have Come A Long Way, Huh!

Hey, how’s it going, world?  I’ve been pretty busy lately — Daphne and Fox have been keeping things running while I’ve been away.  Thanks, you guys.

I have to say it is amazing to have supportive colleagues and work in a place that gives its people the resources to rock and roll.  But enough about that, Have you heard that Tupac Shakur just did a guest spot at Coachella with Snoop?  Yeah, I heard that too.  But with everything, once I see something, I then go wait a second! and start looking at the history of the last time it was done.

Tupac at Coachella?!

I don’t know how many of you remember this, but back in 2006, the Gorillaz and Madonna did a set with some, uh, “holographic” folks – you know, the ones playing the actual music:

Then there was Snoop and Tupac last month, courtesy of AV Concepts in San Diego – everybody’s being real hush-hush about this, but the principle is fairly simple:

You know what?  I think that’s pretty cool.  There were a few times when the Tupac hologram seemed to have its global position moving (look for the times when Snoop was standing next to the Tupac hologram and the hologram seems to have its ground moving around, a la the Virtual Insanity video), but other than that, I’d have to say that was some pretty cool stuff.

One thing that most MTV watchers and general population of Coachella folks won’t see (or know to look for, frankly) is that this was done back in 2007 too, in a theatre (gasp!), and with Shakespeare (double gasp!), The Tempest, to be exact.  Well, to be even more exact it was called La Tempete.  The theatre company that put this show out there (and CONTINUES to put holographic shows out there) is called 4D Art, based in Montreal.  Check out these images, this stuff is fantastic:

This one just rocks me for some reason, it’s a really awesome image and interaction:

Back when I was in Oklahoma City and OKCU was being run by the now dead Don Childs, we priced out doing a similar type of thing for their annual A Christmas Carol, and we found that it was somewhere along the neighborhood of about $30,000 for a 20X40 foot piece of that holographic film.  That didn’t even involve the system of projectors and computer.  In the case of the Tupac “appearance” at Coachella, AV Concepts used something called the Eyeliner system, from Dimensional Studios in London.  The system consists of computers, projectors, and some holographic film.  From the Dimensional Studios website on the Eyeliner system, from the company Musion:

The primary components of a Eyeliner set up are:

  • A video projector, preferably DLP with an HD card/minimum native resolution of 1280 x 1024 and brightness of 5000+ lumens.
  • For smaller cabinet installations, a high quality TFT Plasma or LCD screen can also be used.
  • A hard-disc player with 1920 x 1080i HD graphics card, Apple or PC video server, DVD player.
  • Musion Eyeliner Foil + 3D set/drapes enclosing 3 sides
  • Lighting and audio as required
  • Show controller (on site or remote)

Subjects are filmed in HDTV and broadcast on to the foil through HDTV projection systems, driven by HD Mpeg2 digital hard disc players, or uncompressed full HDTV video/Beta-Cam players.

The setup is erected in either a bespoke cabinet or a self contained four legged ground support. Alternatively, the foil can be stretched into a truss framework and flown from its own hanging points.

In either configuration, Eyeliner allows for a full working stage or set to be constructed behind the foil. In so doing live actors or performers, as well as virtual images are able to interact with other projected images in such a way that it appears to the watching audience that all of the objects they are seeing are in stage.

It is therefore quite conceivable to have a live performer sing a duet with a ‘virtual’ partner, a cartoon character or even his/hers projected double.

All the images used on an Eyeliner system are three-dimensional images, but projected as two-dimensional images (2D/3D) into a 3D stage set. The mind of the audience created the 3D illusion. This means that production costs are minimal, needing only the single camera lens for filming and a single projector for the playback – hence the phrase ‘Glasses-free viewing’.

That’s some pretty awesome awesomeness.  Even more awesome, a video of some of the holographic highlights from 4D Art’s production of La Tempete:

Happy Monday, everybody!

Thanks to HuffPo for the Tupac image, everything else is from 4D Art’s website.

Some articles on the 4D Art production:


Nixie Tubes – Old But Awesome Technology

Have you ever seen the trademark amber glow of the Nixie Tube?

Nixie tubes have made a bit of a comeback by Makers and tinkerers of today’s tech — an old-school look with old-school innards using pretty simple technology to create some pretty spectacular results.  Nixie tube clocks, signs, and even Nixie tube wrist watches, as worn by Steve Wozniak:

For those of you nerds out there like me who HAVE TO KNOW MORE ABOUT WOZ’S NIXIE WATCH RIGHT NOW OMFG OCD LALALALAAAAAA, please check this video out!  Here’s Woz talking about scaring the crap out of his seatmates on flights as he changes the time zone!  The maker of this watch is Cathode Corner, and they are pretty freaking cool!

Ok, ok, enough about the watch.  Now as I was saying…  NIXIE TUBES!  In short, a Nixie tube is a little illuminator/signal tube that looks a lot like a vacuum tube but is actually a cold cathode discharge device with either digits in it or symbols.  If you’ve ever seen the very popular hacker device called a Nixie Clock (or Nixie Tube Clock), then you know what a Nixie tube looks like.  They’re pretty unmistakeable – a lot of vintage Russian gear from the 1960’s and 1970’s are filled with Nixie tubes for some reason.  They make such a beautiful display, it’s essentially a kind of neon discharge tube, but not really:

A side note – this entire article came from me wanting to know the origin of the term “Nixie” in reference to these tubes.  Nixie comes from a name that the draftsman working on the tube signal wrote down on his drafting plate – “NIX1,” for Numeric Indicator eXperimental #1.  As you can imagine, the nickname “Nixie” stuck, and the guy who owned the patent also patented the name “Nixie.”  WHY do I love this kind of knowledge?!

Nixie tubes are pretty simple technology that relies on cold cathode glow discharge technology, which is actually pretty cool!  I’m sure you’ve heard of cathodes (the place where electrons come from) and anodes (the place where electrons flow to) – this is extremely important in understanding how these Nixie tubes work.  The difference between a “hot” cathode and a “cold” cathode is basically in how the electrons move from the cathode to the anode.  Instead of using heat to release electrons from something in a vacuum (like in fluorescent tubes and HID lamps), in the case of cold cathode devices the electrons are released by manipulating the electrical field in a vacuum.  Now before this gets really crazy into field emissions and the Zener Effect (not to mention the Aston Dark Space and Positive Columns and Faraday’s Space and whatnot), it’s probably a good idea to simplify this a bit for brevity’s sake.

So, are you familiar with the way that tungsten-halogen lamps work?  Basically, the gas inside them is from the halogen group (I can still remember the mnemonic – ‘F, Cl, Br, I!!‘) at a high pressure vacuum, and the filaments are tungsten.  Gasses from the halogen group loves them some tungsten vapor fo sho, actually, which is why we use them together.  As the filament burns at incandescence, atoms of tungsten evaporate from the filament into gas (think of it as a metal gas because, well, it is) and they float around in this halogen family gas.  As the atoms of tungsten get near the considerably yet minutely cooler glass envelope of the lamp, they also cool down and are re-deposited on the envelope.  Consequently, this is why and how we are able to make T-H lamps last longer and put out higher amounts of light; the redepositing of the atoms back onto the filament helps lengthen its life by re-coating the filament with “fresh” atoms of tungsten.  This is called the T-H life cycle.

I didn’t explain the tungsten-halogen lamp because the Nixie and the T-H lamp are similar; I wanted to put a picture in your head about how atoms (and smaller subatomics) travel inside of a vacuum environment.  In a really simplified explanation of how the Nixie tubes work, look at this great image of a discombobulated Nixie lamp, courtesy of the awesome people at the Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories:

Nixie Tube

See the mesh?  That’s the anode, or the positively charged part.  The numbers themselves, each one in the stack there, is an individual cathode, or the negatively charged part.  Electrons and ions travel from the cathode to the anode (remember ACID and CCD to remember current flow – Anode Current Into Device and Cathode Current Departs).  Inside the Nixie tube, there is a gas – typically one of the Noble gasses group of elemental gasses – that exists in low pressure inside the tube.  When the anode and cathode are given a potential difference in charge, the gas atoms get all angry and split up into negatively charged electrons and positively charged ions.  The ions are attracted to the negative cathode, and the electrons are attracted of course to the positively charged anode.  As these ions go slamming into the cathode, something really interesting takes place — atoms of metal from the cathode are basically knocked out of the cathode in a process called sputtering.  This sputtering of the metal atoms is literally caused by these ions slamming into the cathode.  Imagine breaking a rack of billiard balls with a cue ball — make sense now?

Once the sputtered metal atoms are knocked loose and are flying around, there are also some electrons flying around, too.  The electrons don’t have enough speed or energy to do much with the metal atoms floating close to the cathode (the number itself), so this weird little dark space called the Aston Dark Space (aka the Cathode Dark Space) takes place close to the cathode.  It’s weird, but you can actually see it – look closely at this Crookes Dark Space Tube:

See the dark spaces right at the center?  There is a small round cathode at the middle of that tube, and the dark space occurs right around it.  The larger dark spaces on either side of the bright “ball” of light at the center of the Crookes tube is something else, called the Faraday Dark Space.  Here’s another example, this one a diagram:

What’s cool about this glow outside of the Cathode Dark Space is what happens to make the glow happen — the electrons gain some speed and energy as they travel towards the positively charged anode (the mesh cage in the case of the Nixie Tube), and at a point outside of the Aston (or Cathode) dark space, they have enough energy and speed to cause a strong collision with the metal atoms sputtered away from the cathode.  When this happens, *PRESTO* — we have the release of a photon which causes light!

I think these Nixie Tubes are quite awesome.  Some history on the Nixie Tube’s patent and development:

The early Nixie displays were made by a small vacuum tube manufacturer called Haydu Brothers Laboratories, and introduced in 1955 by Burroughs Corporation, who purchased Haydu and owned the name Nixie as a trademark.  [...] Similar devices that functioned in the same way were patented in the 1930s, and the first mass-produced display tubes were introduced in 1954 by National Union Co. under the brand name Inditron. However, their construction was cruder, their average lifetime was shorter, and they failed to find many applications due to their complex periphery.

Burroughs even had another Haydu tube that could operate as a digital counter and directly drive a Nixie tube for display. This was called a “Trochotron”, in later form known as the “Beam-X Switch” counter tube; another name was “magnetron beam-switching tube”, referring to their similarity to a cavity magnetron. Trochotrons were used in the UNIVAC 1101 computer, as well as in clocks and frequency counters.

The first trochotrons were surrounded by a hollow cylindrical magnet, with poles at the ends. The field inside the magnet had essentially-parallel lines of force, parallel to the axis of the tube. It was a thermionic vacuum tube; inside were a central cathode, ten anodes, and ten “spade” electrodes. The magnetic field and voltages applied to the electrodes made the electrons form a thick sheet (as in a cavity magnetron) that went to only one anode. Applying a pulse with specified width and voltages to the spades made the sheet advance to the next anode, where it stayed until the next advance pulse. Count direction was not reversible. A later form of trochotron called a Beam-X Switch replaced the large, heavy external cylindrical magnet with ten small internal metal-alloy rod magnets which also served as electrodes.

I found a lot of really amazing resources on the Nixie tube.  I had to post some of it, this stuff is amazing, and there are a LOT of really big fans!

American Nixies from Sphere Research:

Russian Nixies from Sphere Research:

Thanks to Nature, Dribble, Wikipedia (ions), Wikipedia (electrostatic discharge), Wikipedia (field electron emission), TeslaTech, and Steve Wozniak for being awesome.  

Caroline and Maisie Broadhead’s “Taking the Chair”

Back when I was in graduate school at the beginning of this decade, my mentor gave me this book called Baltic Light: Early Open-Air Painting in Denmark and North Germany after I designed lighting for a Thomas Dekker script called The Shoemaker’s Holiday.  The book is very reminiscent of the Dutch master painters, like Vermeer, Rembrandt, Paulus Potter, Hals, and de Gelder.  The Dutch master painters have always been so influential to me, even when I was a little boy.  The way that these artists captured light in their painting is the stuff of miracles – I will always remember the skill of a painter named Ann Davis, who could take a piece of paper and a crayon and draw something that would make you cry.  That’s how the Dutch golden age painters make me feel.

I just saw a series of paintings by artists Caroline and Maisie Broadhead that recreates a bunch of Dutch master-esque paintings that are just absolutely brilliant.  Check it out:


Yatzer (which is a freaking awesome design blog, btw) caught up with the two artists and talked shop for a bit – check it out, interesting read!

Yatzer:  What motivated you to draw inspiration from paintings by masters such as Vermeer, Velasquez and Magritte?
MB: We wanted to find a point at which our work could meet, in researching paintings that had an empty chair that we still enjoy the composition of, was what determined the chosen referenced images.
CB: The way in which we worked followed on from previous work completed by Maisie, where she had taken paintings that had jewellery as a strong narrative restaging and photographing them. I had worked on several chairs and wanted to explore this subject more after much discussion where these two ideas came together.

Yatzer:  Which were the common and contradicting elements in your collaboration?
MB: This was the first collaboration it felt very natural, and worked well.
CB: I have worked collaboratively on a number of occasions. One element in this was where we were both keen on getting a balance of producing work that was both collaborative and individual works that retained the identity of each of us. We worked very well together, we talked a lot, and we questioned each other, negotiated and edited ideas that didn’t fit in with the common ground.

Yatzer:  Merging the past and the present is a constant theme in the show. What is it that makes the show unique?
MB: The past as the present theme is something that came about as a reflection of our previous thoughts and concerns, my reworking the old masters and the old chairs.
CB: The past as a constant presence is nothing entirely new. It is a mix of something familiar and a difference from the familiarity that causes tension. It was useful for us to discuss how the situations in the paintings were relevant to our own lives and to the present day.

Yatzer:  Is nostalgia one of the themes that inspired you for this show?
CB: I don’t think the show is a nostalgic one. I think it picks up on threads of experience from a previous age, and re-interprets them into a contemporary time. I don’t think that any of the pieces imply that the past is better than the present.

Yatzer:  Using familiar and personal things like the wedding dress creates an intimate relationship with the viewer who witnesses the show. Was that something you had in mind?
CB: We were using personal icons, objects that are in our living spaces that mean something to us. They also act as substitutes and impersonations of the objects in the paintings. There was a certain flexibility in the way these objects related to the original painting and to the re-staging. Maisie was looking for ways of fulfilling a proximity to the original but also appropriating familiar things to make connections between periods of time / situations.

Yatzer:  Why does the chair become the meeting point where your works confront one another?
CB: The chairs I chose to work with are all upright, wooden chairs that have been bought second hand, they are modest in their design and material.  They are domestic items which wouldn’t be out of place in a modern home as such they are so ordinary. A chair denotes a person. The designs are controlled by the scale and proportion of a body, and most had evidence of use and contact with bodies. All this is interesting to me. In the paintings, all except for one was an empty chair. This gave a sense of expectancy of who might be approaching or who may have just left. I liked the idea of the invisible presence that the chair gave. The chairs had to work in the photographs, and in three dimensions.

Thanks, Yatzer!  Awesome article.


Happy BELATED Birthday, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson!

This is what happens when you live on a planet that is currently in flames with summer heat, you forget the birthdays of famous dead lighting guys.  A local pro performer here in town, Alissa Millar, who just rocked the living sh*t out of Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire at the Civic Center Music Hall this last weekend (congratulations, cast!) can’t think of any dead famous lighting guys.  Here’s ANOTHER!

Check out the initial Happy Birthday, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson! post on JimOnLight.com!

Happy BELATED Birthday, Frank J. Sprague!

There were a few birthdays over the weekend that I totally missed, and now I feel horrible!  Oh wait, both of these people are dead.



HEY, so HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY, Frank J. Sprague!  Check out this proper lookin’ military-turned-mucker dude!

This is Frank J. Sprague and Rear Admiral S. S. Robinson (I told you he was military, he was Navy).  This particular photograph is actually kinda neat, a bunch of folks presented him with a six-volume set of letters and papers on his 75th birthday.  I think back in that time people expressed their pleasure for birthday gifts by taking pictures that look terribly uncomfortable, as you can see here.  Fads change, I suppose, I guess you had to be there.

Thomas Edison and Frank Sprague were friends through a business partner of Edison’s, a guy named EH Johnson.  Edison, in all of his wisdom, actually convinced Sprague to give up his Navy commission and come work in Menlo Park as a technical assistant.  From the Elevator Museum (I’ll explain that later):

Graduating seventh in a class of 36 in 1878, Sprague was assigned to the USS Richmond, flagship of the Asiatic Fleet, where he filled a notebook with detailed drawings and descriptions of devices that evidenced his urge for invention. Among these were a duplex telephone, quadruplex and octoplex telegraph systems, a motor and a means of transmitting pictures by wire. Later, Sprague was ordered to the USS Minnesota. While his ship was in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1881, Sprague invented the inverted type of dynamo. Also in 1881, Spraque transferred to the USS Lancaster, flagship of the European Squadron, on which he installed the first crude electrical call-bell system in the Navy.

Sprague took leave to attend the Paris Electrical Exhibition and the Crystal Palace Exhibition in Sydenham, England, where he served as the only American member and as secretary of the jury of awards for gas engines, dynamos and lamps.

Meanwhile, Sprague’s ideas about motors and lamps had so impressed E.H. Johnson, a business associate of Thomas A. Edison, that he convinced Sprague to resign from the Navy in 1883 to become a technical assistant to Edison. While on Edison’s staff, Sprague assisted in the installation and operation of Edison’s pioneer three-wire electric light systems. Sprague also revised and corrected the Edison system of mains and feeders for central station distribution and developed a formula for determining the ratio of wire size to current amperage.

Now, the weird thing about celebrating Frank J. Sprague is not necessarily due to his contributions to the electric light bulb or electric light in general; Sprague’s contributions were to the electrical systems and main busses in Edison’s laboratory, as well as some of the three-wire lighting systems.  Sprague did a lot of correcting of Edison’s power distribution mains and feeders, and he also did a lot of mathematical “updating” to Edison’s methods.  Sprague knew that if he could do some math beforehand, Edison’s Muckers would have to do a lot less “noodling” and “fooling around” in the lab which would save time.  Seems like pretty good sense, right?

Frank Sprague didn’t last very long at Edison Power and Light – about a year and change.  Edison’s main interest was in light and lighting, but Sprague was more of a motor guy.  So, in a move that I would have loved to see firsthand as it happened (as I have to believe there were some wonderful words exchanged), Sprague left Edison’s employ and went off to start the Sprague Electric Railway and Motor Company.  Suck on THAT, Edison.  What’s funny is that Edison actually DID suck on that, and he spoke very highly about Sprague’s electric motor to the world, and Sprague did pretty well.  From the NNDB archives:

After several years of theoretical work and experiments, it took Sprague and his men only about 90 days to plan the route, lay a dozen miles (19 km) of track, construct the 375 horsepower steam and electric plant, and motorize 40 formerly horse-drawn cars. The first test runs were made in November 1887, and regular service began on 2 February 1888. The first runs were not without difficulties, including frequent mechanical and electrical problems, the indignity of a horse reigned to the trolleys for the additional pulling power needed to climb the tracks’ steepest incline, and the further embarrassment of seeing broken-down trolleys towed away by mule. With some tinkering, though, the system was soon made reliable, and came to be seen as far superior to horse or horse-drawn transport.

Within two years, Sprague had contracts to construct 113 street rail systems, and the within a decade horse-drawn streetcars had virtually disappeared from America’s cities, replaced by an estimated 13,000 miles of urban streetcar tracks. He designed a multi-unit train control system in Chicago, where he built the first of the city’s elevated “L” electric railways. He engineered the electrification of New York’s Grand Central Station, and with William Wilgus he co-invented the “third rail” system of powering electric trains for the New York Central Railroad. Sprague Electric Railway and Motor Company was eventually merged into Edison General Electric, which subsequently became General Electric.

Sprague’s talent lied in railways and motors, both electric, as well as a good bunch of other inventions.  One of my favorites is the elevator – yep, good ol’ Frank J. Sprague here invented the elevator.  I have to believe that he was sitting at a bar one day and realized that if he turned a train on its end and made it run vertically, BOOMelevator.  Done.

Bring me another ale, Bitterman.

Happy Birthday, Frank J. Sprague!  (Frank’s actual birthday is July 25.  Sorry, Frank!)

Thanks Wikipedia, The Elevator Museum, NNDB, the Edison Tech Center, and the Chapin Library!