Happy Birthday, James Watt!

Who’s that old dude sitting on the pedestal, and apparently made of stone?  It’s James Watt!  Happy Birthday, James Watt!


Today is my birthday too – but James Watt (19 January 1736 – 25 August 1819) did a lot more cool stuff than I’ve done, that’s for sure!  What a month for birthdays in lighting history!

What’s interesting about Jimmy Watt is that as far as lighting is concerned, he’s really only partially related.  Watt invented the steam engine – or perhaps more accurately, made some improvements to the existing Newcomen steam engine, which by all accounts hadn’t really changed or improved in 50+ years before.  Yeah, James Watt was a tinkerer and one hell of an inventor – it was said that he rarely (if ever) actually finished something – it could always use “one more improvement.”  However, his improvements in the Newcomen engine were something that was

He didn’t have a lot of luck with health or money unfortunately either, and he was said to have suffered his whole life with debt and sickness.  However, his legacy in the light and electrical fields regards power – James Watt is credited with the name of the SI unit of watt, which I would really hope that you know about if you’re reading this blog!  Watt’s improvements on the steam engine lead to the production of more power, which in turn made it possible to do more work – so the watt is the unit of energy conversion, or a unit of doing work.  One watt is equal to one joule of energy per second.

What I find pretty hilarious at times is the misuse of the unit of watts – not in mathematical form, but in the way it is written!  How many times have you seen someone write “5w” instead of “5W” on a spec document?  The official way to use the unit of watts is very simple – as an SI unit, if it’s named after a person but not used in its whole name form (like W instead of watt), it is a capital letter.  If the unit is spelled out, it is treated in the lowercase form, watt or watts, unless it’s supposed to be capitalized like any other word.  Get it?

I have a 575W lamp for my Source Four.
The box said 575 watts.
Watts is watts, just as long as the silly thing lights up!

Happy Birthday, James Watt!  You’re one of the original hackers – as they say, “if you can’t open it up, you don’t own it!”

The Watt-Boulton engine, detail of a set of planet and sun gears:

Thanks Wikipedia, Carl Lyra, and Spartacus!

Happy Birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

What the – who’s that guy?  Is that Benjamin Franklin?  Hey, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Benjamin Franklin!


Benny Franklin (January 17, 1706 to April 17, 1790) was technically born yesterday, but it was Sunday – so not as many people would have been able to say “WHASSUP BIRTHDAY BOY” had I posted this yesterday.

Good ol’ Benny Franklin is one of a solid handful of light and electricity contributors that were born in the month of January – so being as I share the birthday month with this monster of brainpower, it’s an honor to proclaim that, were you still alive Benny Boy, I’d surely buy you a Shiner Bock and talk of good times with you on your birthday!


For those of you who don’t know who Benjamin Franklin was (?!), this dude made some really heavy contributions to light, electricity, and our society in general.  I get the feeling he’d be turning over in his grave like chicken-on-a-stick from the Texas State Fair if he saw what we’ve done to his glorious ideals of a country, but the man has lots to be proud of.  Benny Franklin can take credit for many things, including:

  • signing the Declaration of Independence, being a Founding Father of the US of A
  • creating Daylight Savings Time, giving us an extra hour of daylight when it’s in effect and saving money on candles
    (he actually theorized that if all of the late-night party animals in Paris would work during the day and sleep at night, they’d save 64 million pounds of candle wax)
  • messing around with optics and creating bifocal glasses.  It was said that he invented them so he “could watch the girls across the room while watching the one close to him.”  Benny, you dog!
  • creating a “lightning rod” that grounded lightning strikes and helped adult males not hide under their bed for fear of “Jobe’s Thunderbolts”
  • coining lots of electrical terms that still stick to the subject, like positive and negative, battery, conductor, and capacitor
  • creating a Fire Department
  • being an all-around flirty dude

Now of course this is not an all-inclusive list, but you get the picture.  Ben Franklin was one Renaissance Man of a guy.  Happy (belated Birthday, Benny Franklin!  Thanks for helping to create America, too!


Thanks Franklin Resources, US History, Wikipedia, and HistoryNet!

Robert Buelteman’s Magic Flora


Do you know who Robert Buelteman is?  A while ago I read an article in Wired about Robert (the article is where I got the images), and I was so intrigued by his art and process that I had to contact him myself and tell him how great I found his work.

Robert is an artist of the utmost depth and skill.  He’s an artist working with light, electricity, nature, and an idea of using those three things to expose images that are hidden from our view by design.  Robert Buelteman creates images of plant life, but not with a brush and pigment, a camera, or a lens.  His images are exposed in total darkness with high voltage electricity.

Robert made an interesting comment in an article in Asian magazine “Photoworld” – he said that his art has more in common “with Chinese Brush Painting and improvisational jazz than it does with the current practices of photography.”

Robert’s process is almost as beautiful as the work that it produces.  In order to get the effect Robert creates, he has to “thin out” the subjects (the plant life) by scalpeling them down very thin to get the aesthetic feeling that he wants in the particular image.  They are then placed on a piece of color transparency film that’s covered with a diffusion filter (could be rice paper, ground glass, acetate, Plexi) laid on top of the subject to scatter light.  The “easel” onto which Robert composes his image is a piece of sheet metal between two pieces of Plexiglas, all of which is submerged in liquid silicone.  Oh, yes – and 40,000 volts of electricity that are hooked up through the plant subject, making electricity jump through the plant life and onto the sheet metal.  All of this is captured on the color transparency film.  Robert then “paints” the plant subject with a fiber optic lead no larger than a human hair using light onto the film.

It’s a trial-and-error process – Robert might do 150+ “takes” of each photo, trying to accurately catch the auras and make it looks how it looks in Robert’s mind’s eye.

The interesting thing to me about the process is the point where the gas surrounding the plant subject gets ionized.  At this moment, the gas is turned into a plasma corona of sorts, and the work takes on an almost Kirlian photography in some cases.  Robert’s process is different than the Kirlian style of photography (which is all blue); what I find very interesting is how the life of the plant is almost released and captured on film.  It’s like looking into the soul of the plant.


I emailed Robert a little while ago, hoping to find out about the way he feels about the work, and some insight on him as an artist working with light.  He was gracious enough to answer some emailed questions – I’ve posted the exchange below:

JimOnLight:  How did you arrive at the conclusion to take such an interesting look into plant life?

Robert Buelteman:  I’ve been photographing nature for over 30 years as a black-and-white landscape photographer, and even though I had been very successful with my work, I became frustrated by the ordinariness of it all. Seemed everything that inspired me had been shot by so many others so many times that my art form had become an exercise in futility. No one SAW what I did – I desperately need a new set of eyes, a new way of apprehending life itself.

JOL:  Does your muse for this work come from a particular fascination or interest in your life?

RB:  I am interested in assisting people to beyond the strait jacket that life puts us in. Day in, day out, life has it’s way with us and we tend to become more dead, more asleep every day. My work is a wholesale rejection of the way of life that says “Nothing to see here, move along” – life is brilliant, life is precious, life is a privilege, life is a miracle. Those are the qualities I work to imbue in every photograph I make.

JOL:  Your works are amazing in many ways, but one of my favorites is the form of the work. It has a slight flavor of the Kirlian Photograhy style mixed in with something that must be specifically Buelteman – can you describe your process, both artistically and physically?

RB:  If these were straight Kirlian images there would be no color other than blue. I meticulously hand paint the subjects using a fiber optic probe the size of a human hair.

JOL:  When you look closely at one of your works, take “Avena Futua” in the Through the Green Fuse Collection for example, the observer notices a very ethereal feeling connected to the leaves and the aura of electricity. How much of your work do you see in your “mind’s eye,” per se, and how much comes from experimentation with the flora and the electricity?

RB:  You have selected the only pure Kirlian image in the entire body of work! And yes, it was a bit of a surprise when I saw that the intense discharge had super heated the leave causing it to turn red. The experience of making these images is very distinct from landscape photography – there is no sense of control – it is replaced by a serendipitous dance between myself, the subject, the vision I have for it, and the vagaries of the process.

JOL:  If you had any bit of advice for young artists and designers working with light, could you share a small bit?

RB:  I try not to give advice as I don’t think it is of much value, and it all sounds so trite:
listen to your hear
think for yourself
follow your dreams
believe in yourself or no one else will
damn the torpedos, full speed ahead

See what I mean? Now, if you can be those qualities instead of merely speaking them, there’s some real value in that.

I am so very grateful to get to connect with this man!  Check out a few more of his images (thank you, Wired) and please check out Robert Buelteman’s studio site with more of his lovely work. Robert has a great new book out of his work in this series.  The book is called “Signs of Life,” and is available from Light Language Publishing.  Check it out – free shipping through the end of the year!

Robert sent me a new work, and I have posted it directly below.  The work is called “Rainbow Chard,” as it is the Buelteman process on a piece of rainbow chard, which is almost as delicious with garlic as it is with light and electricity:




Thank you so much, Robert!  I think your work is spellbinding.


Rock Yourself Some Light – The Murakami Rocking Chair


I am 31 – but I love rocking chairs.  That’s not to insinuate that only old people rock, don’t get me wrong.  When I was a kid, my parents had one of those old, heavy, thick rocking chairs that you could literally rock yourself to sleep in, and the slight reclining shape of the chair makes life that much more sweet.  Rochus Jacob has produced a design for a rocking chair that not only lets you rock comfortably, but also allows you generate energy with your rocking motion that is then released via the integrated lighting fixture above the chair.  It’s called the Murakami Rocking Chair.

The light fixture mounted on the chair is a reading lamp of sorts, made out of an OLED source.  The dynamic energy generation technology is built into the skids of the chair, along with a battery pack that collects the energy when you’re rocking in the daylight.


The designer recently had this to say about the design:

I was looking for opportunities to generate energy through activities we naturally do. The final result is a rocking chair that enables the user to experience production and consumption of electricity in a gentle and rewarding way. An abstract process becomes tangible and eventually cultivates natural awareness. Complexity is covered by simplicity. Advanced nano-dynamo technology which is built in to the skids of the chair and more efficient light sources such as the newly developed OLED generation makes it possible to build a rocking chair with a reading lamp running on electricity generated from the rocking motion. During daylight the energy gets stored in a battery pack. The construction of the flat and bendable organic light emitting diodes allows new form factors such as using the traditional shape of a lamp but instead of having a light bulb the lampshade himself turns out to be the light source. To have a drastic reduction of consumption the big challenge will be to make consuming less feel like getting more.


Thanks to HomeTone, Designboom, and No. 18htn!

Happy Birthday, George Westinghouse!

George Westinghouse’s birthday was actually yesterday – so like a best friend that had to work on the birthday of another best friend, I send a HAPPY BIRTHDAY wish to George Westinghouse, the father of alternating current and a pioneer of electrical systems as we know most of them in the United States!

Hey George Westinghouse – Happy Birthday, man!  (October 6, 1846–March 12, 1914)


That is a crazy mustache, brother!

George Westinghouse was a man with many, many inventions, patents, and other great stuff that contributed to the way we see electricity.  Some great for society, a few that were not so great for life, period.  George had his hands in everything from steam engine work to train brakes to electricity generators to power distribution.  In the great “War of Currents,” George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison punched it out for many years over a great number of projects – but it is Westinghouse’s method of alternating current we used in the end.

Westinghouse had a TON of companies – at one point in 1904 he had nine manufacturing companies across the world with 50,000 workers and a net of around $120 million.  One thing that isn’t highly published about Westinghouse is that while he was a shrewd dude when it came to business, he established lots of worker-oriented practices in his businesses, like a form of retirement pension, working hour limits, higher salaries, workplace safety, and training courses.

Some of George Westinghouse’s achievments:

  • alternating current, which really irked Thomas Edison
  • air brake systems for locomotives, which was a really good thing, as train operators were doing brakes by hand, and per car
  • the electric chair (unfortunately, and in a “whose is bigger” competition with Edison)
  • the Generator
  • power distribution to Buffalo, NY via hydroelectric power from Niagra Falls
  • taking care of workers in his factories
  • the first alternating current locomotive, which spawned subways and that type of public transit

Happy Belated Birthday, Georgie!  We’re sorry you’re dead, but we all have to go sometime, and you made a positive mark on our way of living!

Here’s a clip from the movie about George Westinghouse’s life and achievements, Westinghouse:

Some images of George Westinghouse’s work –

A rotor for a Westinghouse Turbine:


An early diagram of Westinghouse’s system for alternating current:


One of the Westinghouse Generators in place at the Chat Falls Power Station:


Thanks Wikipedia and About!

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s “Lighting Fields Composed”


Artist and photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto has a series of really beautiful photographs of electricity.  The only thing that’s different in these photographs, however, is how Hiroshi took the photos.  By taking a high voltage source and applying it directly to the film, Hiroshi made these absolutely amazing works.

One thing I like almost more than a work of art itself is understanding where the inspiration came from to create it.  From Hiroshi Sugimoto’s website:

The word electricity is thought to derive from the ancient Greek elektron, meaning “amber.” When subject to friction, materials such as amber and fur produce an effect that we now know as static electricity. Related phenomena were studied in the eighteenth century, most notably by Benjamin Franklin. To test his theory that lightning is electricity, in 1752 Franklin flew a kite in a thunderstorm. He conducted the experiment at great danger to himself; in fact, other researchers were electrocuted while conducting similar experiments. He not only proved his hypothesis, but also that electricity has positive and negative charges.  In 1831, Michael Faraday’s formulation of the law of electromagnetic induction led to the invention of electric generators and transformers, which dramatically changed the quality of human life. Far less well-known is that Faraday’s colleague, William Fox Talbot, was the father of calotype photography. Fox Talbot’s momentous discovery of the photosensitive properties of silver alloys led to the development of positive-negative photographic imaging. The idea of observing the effects of electrical discharges on photographic dry plates reflects my desire to re-create the major discoveries of these scientific pioneers in the darkroom and verify them with my own eyes.

Beautiful. I highly, highly recommend checking out some of Hiroshi’s other works, as they a brilliant – full of contrast and wonder.


Thanks, Kottke!

Happy Birthday, Michael Faraday!

If you work with anything that requires electricity, you might want to know who Michael Faraday was – as today is his birthday!


Who’s that?  Is that Michael Faraday?  Hey, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Michael Faraday! (September 29, 1791 to August 25, 1867)

Michael Faraday was one of the fathers of our thinking on electricity and electrical theory – ever heard of Faraday’s Law of Induction?  Yeah, same Michael Faraday.  Faraday had his hands in a lot of electro-magnetic theory of his time, and we have lots of his contributions in use today, either directly or indirectly by people like James Clerk Maxwell:

  • obviously, Faraday’s Law (of Induction)
  • the Faraday Cage
  • the unit of capacitance, the Farad
  • the Faraday (magnitude of electric charge per mole of electrons – I told you I was a nerd)
  • Faraday’s first version of the electric motor

A model of Faraday’s early motor:


Just in case you were wondering – Faraday’s Law states:

The induced electromotive force or EMF in any closed circuit is equal to the time rate of change of the magnetic flux through the circuit.

What does this mean?  In basic terms, it relates to how a magnetic field can generate an electric field.  When you have a magnet and you wrap some coils of wire around it and then spin the magnet in order to change the magnetic fields, you create an electromotive force, or EMF.  This force is referred to as voltage.  That is a really general,  basic definition – but nonetheless the gist.

It’s good to learn something every day!  Happy birthday, Michael Faraday!

My favorite Michael Faraday quote:  But still try, for who knows what is possible…

320,000 Kilowatt Hours Wasted Per Minute

Chris Jordan, an artist from Seattle who produces a lot of commentary work on consumerism, has produced a series of work called Running the Numbers.  In this work is a painting called Light Bulbs, which makes commentary on the 320,000 kilowatt-hours wasted by the United States every minute through things most of us probably don’t think of often – computers in stand-by, poorly engineered wiring, leaving the lights on, etc.

The work is huge, as in size – 72″ X 96″ (six feet by nine feet), and includes 320,000 images of a light bulb to represent each wasted kWh.

Actual detail size:


A little zoomed out:


Zoomed out:


The works in Running the Numbers are all along this theme of over-consumption.  Check out some of his current works here, and check out his portfolio here.  Running The Numbers is showing at the Kopeikin Gallery in Hollywood until October 17, 2009.

Whoa! 1979 Video On Electrical Substation Safety

For the life of me, I cannot figure out where I found this link, but I just came across a video from a UK public service announcement on children playing around electrical service substations.  Talk about dramatic, and freaky!  But seriously kids, stay out of these places, you’ll die.

Check out the video:

What did we learn?  Electrical substation complexes are monsters that eat children.

Kilowatt-Hour Prices Up Almost 5% From Last Year

Just out of curiosity, have you been looking at your kilowatt-hour prices from the electric company you pay for electricity?  If you have, has it gone up, gone down, or stayed relatively stable?  Consumers across the country on average have experienced a 5% increase in kilowatt-hour costs from last year.  Craig DiLouie posted a quick post on LightNOW about this a few weeks ago, and it really got me looking at the numbers.

I’m the kind of person who doesn’t feel I have the right to complain about something unless I have all pertinent data showing me just exactly what the facts are.  Most times, all a person needs to do is to search out the information, and *poof* it appears.  In most cases of information, there is somewhere on the planet that a person can find or access numbers, statistics, and other pertinent data.  In the case of electricity costs and energy figures, you need to check out the Energy Information Administration website.

The Energy Information Administration website provides just about every bit of information that you could need to get statistics or charts for this data – in most cases, they even provide downloadable spreadsheets for you to have and work on.  After Craig’s post about kilowatt hour prices being higher on average from last year, I had to find some other information because I am a super huge nerd when it comes to facts and numbers.  For example, I’m trying to lose weight right now – my best method?  Tracking data and making alterations based on the numbers.

Some statistics I thought were interesting were which states are paying the most per residential kilowatt hour of electricity.  These figures are as of April 2009 – I’m interested to see them at the end of the summer.  This is a sampling of the highest cost per kilowatt hour states:

  • Connecticut:  20.43 cents/kWh – second highest in the country
  • Massachusetts:  17.74 cents/kWh
  • Maine:  15.23 cents/kWh
  • Rhode Island:  15.31 cents/kWh
  • Vermont:  15.21 cents/kWh
  • New Jersey:  15.89 cents/kWh
  • Texas (where I live):  13.02 cents/kWh
  • New York:  17.45 cents/kWh
  • Maryland:  14.82 cents/kWh
  • California:  14.21 cents/kWh
  • Hawaii:  22.19 cents/kWh – highest in the country
  • Alaska:  16.95 cents/kWh

Consequently, the lowest three states’ kilowatt hour averages are Idaho (7.28 cents/kWh), North Dakota (7.34 cents/kWh), and Washington (7.71 cents/kWh).

The average cost per kilowatt hour in the United States for residential consumption of electricity is, as of April 2009, at 11.59 cents/kWh.  The commercial, industrial, and transportation costs per kilowatt hour are considerably less.

You really should inform yourself and look at your state-by state costs.  One of the reasons that I write this blog is so that I can help spread the growth of knowledge in light and things pertaining to light – as a population, things will get better for us all if we are informed.  I took a look at mine, which is Texas, and it helps if you know a few terms when you look at the chart on a state-by-state basis.  Here’s the chart for Texas, in this case, statistics from 2007:


Let’s deconstruct some of the terms in this chart:

Kilowatt Hour refers to one thousand watt-hours, and Megawatt Hour is one million watt-hours.  A watt-hour, without getting terribly technical and discussing joules and that kind of stuff, is a unit of measuring work and a method for charging consumers – or in this case, a thousand units of work per hour (kilowatt hour).  If you have a space heater in your garage, for example, that uses 1000W, and you use it for eight hours on a weekend, you have presumably used 8000W in 8 hours, or 8 kilowatt hours.  Using the national average of cents per kilowatt hour (11.59 cents per kilowatt hour), let’s calculate the cost of 8 hours of your heater:


I hope this makes sense – it should also give you a good idea as to how much your high-wattage equipment can strain your wallet, and why it’s good to have energy efficient stuff, even if just to save you money.  If you were to run that same heater 8 hours every day, it would run you about $85 bucks every 4 months, and about $339 bucks every year, just to operate.

Back to some terms for the chart above, now that the kilowatt hour ramble is over…

Net Summer Capacity refers to how much electricity is expected to be generated by the power station equipment to maintain the highest demand period in the summer.  There’s also a Net Winter Capacity, and I can imagine you know what that means, right?

The Net Generation number refers to how much power is generated at a power plant, and expludes how much power is consumed for power plant usage.

This refers to waste generated by making power.  Carbon footprint and all that stuff refers to emissions.  Most of these come from burning fossil fuels, which makes the wind, water, and solar technologies very attractive.

Something I find just staggering is the Total Retail Sales figure.  From the 2007 chart above, Texas saw a total retail sales of 343,828,582 megawatt hours of electricity.  That is 343,828,582,000 kilowatt hours, which translates to $34,761,069,640.20 billed to end users for Texas alone, in 2007.  That number was 34 billion, 761 million, 69 thousand, 640 dollars and 20 cents.

I hope some of this long post helped you understand a part of your electric bills for the future and keep up with the news and the trends – when you read news about electric companies pushing back against the use of alternative energies in favor of the continuing use of coal, oil, and other fossil fuels, can you guess why they want to keep having you pay for their services?  Just keep in mind, it’s your money!

I *highly* recommend going and spending 20 minutes looking at the articles and statistics on the Energy Information Administration website.  Seriously.