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Monday, January 27, 2003  

Cursing the Darkness

Okay, why are my light bulbs burning out so quickly? You’d think that after a hundred years of refining the incandescent lamp, modern science would have a pretty good handle on it by now. Yet every time I put a new bulb into the light fixture in our entryway, the thing burns out practically before it’s heated up.

Last spring, the socket in that fixture came partially loose. I patched it up with some electrical tape, gambling that my jury-rigged arrangement would fail before it burned the house down. That’s a gamble I won. A couple of weeks ago, the bulb burned out. I changed it. I changed it again the next day. Then, the following day, I changed it again. I changed it twice the following day. Soon I was spending entire evenings perched atop the step stool while Trash handed me box after box of innocent bulbs to feed into the fixture’s insatiable maw. When we got a letter from the American Federation of Tungsten Miners, telling us, “enough, already,” I realized I had to change the light fixture itself.

So that’s what I did last Wednesday. As it turns out, the only advantage that’s afforded is that while I was tearing out the old fixture and installing the new one, no bulbs were burning out in either one. So that saved me an hour’s worth of bulbs. Then it turned out that the new fixture was just as voracious as the old one.

I was at my brother-in-law’s house in Iowa on Friday night (and now you know exactly by how much you’ve been spared another Deniece entry—for today), and he reported the same problem. I advanced a theory that maybe the lights are burning out more because the winter air is so dry. Later, I spotted the fatal flaw in that hypothesis: it’s stupid. Even if humidity could extend the life of an electrical device, the whole point of the “bulb” component of a light bulb is to keep air away from the filament. Atmospheric conditions are about as relevant to a light bulb’s innards as public opinion is to the Bush Administration.

So, my half-cocked speculation having proved unsatisfactory, I’ve done a little research online. As it turns out, there are several possible reasons why light bulbs burn out frequently:

1. It’s all in your head. It only seems like I’m changing light bulbs with a frequency that could be measured in kilohertz. The fact that there are more smoky white globes than beer bottles in the recycling bin must simply mean that I’m drinking less (not the case). Actually, this one applies more to people who change all the light bulbs in their house on one day, than get all het up when they all start burning out within days of each other a year later. Someday, somebody’s going to have to figure out exactly what percentage of Internet bandwidth is devoted to telling people to calm down.

2. Proximity to an electrical switching station. Apparently, if people who live far away from the nearest switching station are going to get enough juice, the people who live next door to it are going to have to deal with the fact that the electrons get pushed though their houses a little harder. Which, in turn, puts a little more strain on those glowing metal hairs that illuminate your living space. I don’t know where our nearest switching station is, and I’m not going to start caring now.

3. Weird wiring Living in a fifty-year-old house, I never know what I’m going to find when I throw the circuit breakers and start rooting around in electrical boxes. Once I had to evict an enclave of house sprites so I could plug in my computer in the new study. My dad has suggested that the switch is wired “220,” which means about as much to me as it did to Michael Keaton in Mr. Mom. As far as fixing it, I still have a slowly-healing scar on the wall from where I replaced the light switches seven months ago. If I tear all that out of there again, there won’t be enough wall left to hold up the ceiling.

4. Vibrations. Those little glowing metal hairs have enough to deal with, what with having to heat up to solar temperatures day after day. Shaking them up on top of that is just too much for the poor guys. This might be our problem; lately we have to slam our front door pretty hard if we want it to latch. Trash and I discussed implementing a policy of only entering and exiting the house via the living room window, but that’s likely to merely relocate the problem rather than solving it. I’ve decided that we should just leave the front door open at all times, effective immediately. The loss of heat and security doesn’t seem so bad when you weigh it against all the light bulbs we’ve been through in the past week. Of course, I may have to rethink this if someone steals the light bulbs.

5. Cheap-ass light bulbs. Here, in conjunction with number four, we have a winner. Some time ago, Trash and I went to Target and spent about a buck-fifty each on several boxes of light bulbs. Each box was about the size of a retaining wall. It’s entirely possible that these all-but-free assemblages of candyglass and tinfoil are dying more often in the winter because we use them more. It’s different during the summer months when it’s slightly cheaper, lumen for lumen, to raise our windowshades. But with the sun gone until Mid-April, we’re forced to be entirely dependent upon light bulbs that, on an individual basis, barely cost more than the same number of M&Ms. If I can’t talk Trash into letting me take the front door off its hinges, I’m going to have to actually invest in a couple of those seven-year bulbs that you can’t buy without filling out an application.

If that doesn’t work, we’re moving. Preferably somewhere far away from a switching station.

posted by M. Giant 4:14 PM 0 comments


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