Improbable Island Message of the Day (MoTD)

New Monthly Memento, Cobblestone Cottage bugfix, let me bore you with my homemade light therapy lamps
Staff2021-02-03 20:01:59 [Permalink]
Update 2021-02-03 - I've updated Cobblestone Cottage, since it seems IBM have finally sorted out their GDPR compliance. If you haven't been able to get Cobblestone Cottage working, you need to go to the data sharing page on the World Community Grid website and enable data sharing so that Jake can sniff out your cobblestones. Original MotD follows.

Our new Monthly Memento for February is a homemade light therapy cannon! It gives you a shot of extra Stamina and a mild defence buff to get you through the day. I suffer from seasonal affective disorder (also called winter blues, seasonal depression, a whole bunch of other names that add up to "Caveman get grumpysad if no see sun") and two things reliably blow it away: using light therapy boxes, and building light therapy boxes.

The bit of my brain that says "It's dark, be depressed" can shout really loudly in the final weeks of January, and can put me into a deep depression. Fortunately this brainchunk is also a gullible dumbass and I can trick it into thinking it's the middle of summer just by shining a really, really bright light at it. This knocked-together lightcannon makes me feel like I'm eating fries at Kennywood when I'm actually soldering crap together in a dingy basement in February.

I've built four of these things so far - one for home, one for work (which is probably still in the PAPA warehouse), and two for mates of mine. They're made out of nine (ten in the work one) lamp sockets and accompanying bulbs, put together in a housing made of whatever's lying around (scrap wood sections for most, a bit of roof flashing for the work one). They really should be using LED bulbs but after some mates saw my box and asked me to build ones for them, I bought a bunch of CFL's because this was back when LED bulbs were still really expensive.

"But CMJ, why don't you just buy a proper light therapy lamp?" Initially because they're expensive as hell, but more reasons came up as I built them. First, these things are pretty easy and cheap to make if you've got a good way of cutting circles (a spade bit will do it on the cheap if you don't care about looks, a hole saw bit will do a half-decent job but a Forstner bit is much better) and the physical act of making them raises my spirits long enough that after they're done I can spend a few days not even having to plug them in. Next, I have a lot more control over the quality and quantity of light they put out.

The commercially-made light therapy lamps you can buy in shops (or, at least when I was in England, get prescribed on the NHS) tend to put out around 10,000 lumens in daylight temperatures, with fancy expensive bulbs. Obviously I didn't wanna buy fancy expensive bulbs, I wanted to use bog-standard bulbs you can find in any shop, so I bought bog-standard lamp sockets. On my first attempt I put in nine 1,600-lumen daylight bulbs for a total of 14,400 lumens. It didn't look right! If you've ever seen "daylight" bulbs you know they don't actually look much like outside daylight - they're a far higher colour temperature than what you see outside (higher temperature Kelvin means a more blueish light which counterintuitively seems "colder"). This is because the bulb's colour temperature is designed to mimic the sun. All very well and good and sensible, but here's the rub - the light coming from the bulb tries to match the light coming from the sun, and doesn't factor in what real sunlight does once it's around us. Real outdoor daylight doesn't look like the light from a daylight bulb (except on snowy days) because after the light reaches the sort of places in which we live, it bounces around off trees and leaves and pavement and grass and clouds and stuff, some wavelengths getting absorbed and some getting reflected and refracted and scattered and generally buggered about with. Put a daylight bulb in a ceiling fixture without factoring in this buggeration and it tends to look like weird, cold-looking hospital light, unless you've got a really cool colourful paint job on your walls and ceiling.

You can buy lightbulbs at any shop in a range of Kelvin temperatures that are marked as warm white, soft white, bright light, daylight etc, and every manufacturer does things a little bit differently so there'll be variations even among different bulbs all marked as the same colour temp. So to make a homemade light therapy lamp look like actual outdoor light, I take all the bulbs in the cupboard under the sink and just mix them all together and swap them around unscientifically until the overall light quality makes the dumbass brainchunk squirt out the happymaking chemicals. Daylight bulbs will take up the lion's share of the sockets, but there'll always be one or two "bright white" bulbs and maybe a "warm white" bulb in there too, to better mimic the scattering and splitting that goes on outdoors. If the rooms in your house have those multi-bulb fixtures in them (<PeterKay>"Put t' big light on"</PeterKay>), you can do a miniature version of the same thing in every room if you fancy (there's no rule saying all the colour temps in one fixture have to be the same (and even if there is it's your bloody house)).

Another difference is that most commercial light therapy lamps are designed to be looked at, which means not doing anything else in the meantime. You can't look at these light boxes of mine, they're far too bright - instead I'll arrange it so that it's just outside my field of vision and pointing upwards a bit so that the light bounces off the ceiling and lights up the whole room without shadows, and then I'll just carry on with what I'm doing. This works much better for me than spending minutes at a time staring directly at a lamp, and it has the additional benefit of not totally fucking my eyes up.

The sockets in my light boxes are wired in parallel so that if one bulb blows the rest stay lit, and the switch and fuse interrupt the hot side for extra safety. I use chonky thick wires 'cause it pulls some amps. A brief aside if you're tempted to build one of these yourself: by my own rules I won't be more specific about the wiring, since it's all mains voltages that can hurt or kill you or others (especially in 220v countries) or burn your house down, and if you don't already know what I mean by "wire in parallel" or "interrupt hot side" then you've no business doing this kind of thing yourself. Ask for help from a trusted professional, and the same goes for using the woodworking tools you'd need to knock something like this together.

If you're tempted to build one of these and you search around for instructions on the internet, beware - search engines are total shit these days and the top results tend to be full of SEO-boosted spammy pseudoscientific quackery, saying stupid nonsense that'll do you harm. These boxes don't replace any medication, they won't cure your arthritis or fibromyalgia, and most importantly they don't use incandescent or halogen bulbs, because if they did they'd set on fucking fire. I already have to drill holes in the top reflector to let the heat out just from the CFLs' little ballasts, putting anything hotter in would be insane.

Anyway let's have some pictures.

Version 1 off - my first lightbox build, which featured a dangerous ratnest of exposed wiring at the back and no power switch, you turned it off by unplugging it. I used $1 a can cheapo white spray paint - didn't think it'd matter since its job wasn't to look nice. Miserable experience, like trying to paint with milk. Learned my lesson there.

Version 1 on - this is where I realised it's really damn hard to take pictures of these things. In reality, this room is fully lit by the two workshop tube lights that show up in this photo as white lines towards the top. The room just looks pitch dark because the lightbox is overpowering the camera. Also, the breezeblocks that make up my messy workshop are all painted white, whereas in this photo it looks like they alternate rows of white and brownish nicotine-yellow - I guess the offset between mains frequency and the struggling camera refresh rate happened to match up with the lines between the blocks.

Version 1 turned on from the back - even under my CoC's "No mains wiring advice" rule I can tell you how not to wire a thing, and yeah, not like this. But this is the most representative photo for seeing the brightness of the thing. This is taken at night and all the other lights in the basement are turned off.

Version 2 - I added a back panel and a power switch on this one, as it was for a friend who probably isn't used to having dangerous wires flopping around in their house (version two can be turned off!). It's a little smaller, with less room between the bulbs, so it gets a bit warm. Holes drilled in the top help to let the heat out. I bought the five-dollar spray paint rather than the one-dollar spray paint this time, and it made a huge difference. Big fucking spender. Again the room is fully lit with the standard overhead lights in this photo, it looks much darker because the camera's trying to adjust to make the insanity of this lightbox look normal. Friend reports good results when she's feeling brave enough to plug it in.

Version 3 - this was both an anti-SAD lamp and a work lamp with a specific purpose, so it works differently than the others. It points down to illuminate what I'm working on, rather than up and out to brighten the entire room. PAPA used to have big heavy cameras that they'd aim towards the playfield so spectators could watch the world pinball championships on big TV's - as time went by they switched to using much smaller and lighter cameras so these overengineered custom camera stands were sitting around not doing much. I took some old aluminium from the scrap bin (conveniently already painted white inside) and turned it into this 16,000-lumen Portable Sun. It's on wheels so it can be moved around. Since the whole thing is metal there's an increased shock risk should something wiggle loose, so I had to take some extra safety precautions (which I won't go into detail about because no wiring advice). Players were alternately impressed and terrified. Sometimes news crews would show up to cover an event, and they'd bring their big professional lighting rigs that cost thousands of dollars. The lighting guy would always meerkat over towards the Portable Sun, and would often come over to ask me what the fuck.

Version 4 off - A mate asked me for a light box after she saw mine during a videochat gaming session. I knocked this one together and dropped it off at her house on new year's eve afternoon. Having a bunch of pinball spare parts lying around I went for more buss-style wiring inside this time, and I had a new palm router so rather than sandwiching 2x4's together with a flat board in between, the sides are one piece with a routed slot to accept the light board.

Version 4 on - Our traditional NYE party this year was via videochat software. Since my friend was out when I dropped off the box, I saw her first-time reaction via videochat. The box was out of frame and aimed towards her - I heard the click of the switch and the screen turned white. This box used the last of my stash of CFL's so future lightboxes will use more efficient, cooler-running LED bulbs.

I hope you've enjoyed this lengthy random banging on about light boxes. As usual since the pandemic began, if you usually get every Monthly Memento but you're short of cash this month, send me a Distraction and I'll sort you out and you can pay me back whenthefuckever, no rush and I won't bug you about it.

In other news, variation of the monsters is proceeding - newer players will notice it more, but after all the monsters have been varied a bit I'm gonna change the method by which they're buffed against higher-DK players so that our veteran players can enjoy the variety too.

Have fun!

~CMJ
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