Sunday, November 16, 2008

Not Very Bright

I don't worry about media bias, but I see a lot of media stupidity. There was an article in the Monterey Herald of Saturday November 16th which was a perfect example.

The article was about compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), and was written by Mary-Liz Shaw of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. I have since discovered that the article has appeared in dozens of papers all across the country, spreading misinformation far and wide.

The gist of the rather lengthy article was that people, even those with strong environmentalist tendencies, are shunning CFLs because they make “your living room look like a morgue” among other potential horrors. Elsewhere she described the light of CFLs as “dull,” “harsh,” “ghastly,” and adds that they can “turn even the most environmentally conscious a sickly green.”

Now the Toy household has been using CFLs for fifteen years, in every room of the house, and we have experienced none of these problems. Our living room looks cozy and inviting, our flesh tones are natural, and we're saving piles of money on our PG&E bills.

CFLs do look a little different. There's no doubt about that. Regular incandescent light bulbs tend to emit light that is somewhat orange colored, like a pale candle flame. You don't notice this because your brain compensates and makes colors look natural. But if you take a photo in this light, without flash, it looks very orange.

Most CFLs have either a slightly yellowish or pinkish cast, depending on the manufacturer. This does not mean the light is bad, but it does look a little different at first. It takes a little time for your eye and brain to get used to them. After awhile you won't give them a second thought. In fact, at our house, it's the orange leaning incandescents that look weird to us now.

A few CFLs on the market have a blueish “daylight” color balance, which mimics the light from a blue sky. These are specialty bulbs that should be avoided for most household uses, because they look unnaturally cold for indoor lighting.

I've only found one CFL brand that had unacceptable color. I bought a pack of Sylvania CFLs at Orchard Supply earlier this year. They had a pink cast that was too strong. I exchanged them for the Durabright brand and all was well.

Ms. Shaw didn't explain much of this, and most of what she did say along these lines was buried near the end of her article almost as an afterthought. Before she got there, though, she spouted plenty more B.S. such as this indecipherable line: “Fluorescents cast a diffuse, ambient light with a narrower radial reach than incandescents. This makes them inappropriate for accent lighting....”

I have no idea what “radial reach” means, but a search for a definition yielded only technical documents relating to construction cranes, robot arms, and the ability of artificial vision experiments to distinguish objects from the background. Nothing related to lighting.

Furthermore, her implication that “diffuse, ambient light” is a bad thing shows her shocking lack of understanding of basic English.

“Diffuse” simply means that the light is spread evenly. In household lighting this is a good thing because it prevents harsh shadows. Standard incandescent bulbs do the exact same thing. In this regard CFLs and regular bulbs are indistinguishable. As for the “ambient” part, that just refers to whatever light is in your immediate vicinity. Any light you can see is ambient, whether it comes from a light bulb or the moon!

What I'm trying to say here is that I hope none of my readers, all three of you, saw this mixed-up article and decided you shouldn't use CFLs. If you haven't already, go get a few. Then a few more. Put them in your most frequently used lights first. Then put them everywhere you can. When your PG&E bill comes, compare this year's kilowatt hours to last years usage (it's right there on your bill) and see how much energy you saved. CFLs use just 25% of the energy as a standard incandescent. If everyone used them wherever they can, it would save our country tremendous amounts of energy.

And remember, for every dollar you now send to PG&E for incandescent lighting, you can chop that down to 25 cents if you switch to CFLs.

If you don't make the switch, you're crazy.