Category: life

The Light of the Future?

A few weeks ago, Seattle City Light sent out an offer for a free residential LED bulb as part of the Operation LED campaign. I hadn’t gotten around to buying one yet as I still have plenty of CFLs around, so I was pleased to take advantage of the offer, which, as far as I can tell, is still available here online.

Mine arrived today, and I was expecting something much cheaper, but no! This is actually quite a nice bulb, a Phillips Dimmable 60W equivalent light, selling for $8.25 a piece on Amazon, as of this writing.

After using it for a while, I can say that I’m sold, and will be buying LED bulbs exclusively from now on. With price points for conventional bulb-replacements as low as they are, the only thing stopping me from replacing my entire home setup are that my current CFLs are still going quite nicely. Those guys last!

Seattle City Light’s regular mailings suggest that they care quite a bit about responsible generation and consumption of power, and are often engaging the population on these topics. They are proud of how they’ve come along in being carbon neutral, and it’s commendable. Some 96% of grid provided electricity under Seattle City Light comes from renewable sources, and I’ve been impressed at some of the larger initiatives around solar power  including community solar farms that they’ve undertaken. Rather than just an agency to take your money, it, to me, as a public utility, it seems like they recognize their role in ensuring the region’s resource management is sustainable, and that engaging the population is a crucial part of getting the citizenry involved.

Of course, as a voting member of my municipality’s public utility, I expect as much, but I’m impressed with the LED campaign. Thank you, City Light, for providing me my first ever home LED! It was only a decade ago that CFLs became a mass market product, but alas, like all tech, innovations are quite disruptive, and I see very few benefits of keeping around CFLs over LEDs.

Now, onto the light!

Light Bulb 3.0 Unboxing

The first thing I noticed after pulling out the bulb was that it wasn’t quite a bulb at all; more like a plastic halo around a thin/flat core. Not that I’m complaining; whereas CFLs had a myriad of components and intricate/delicate glass loops, the LED bulb was just a solid plastic core, simple and elegant, and felt quite durable.

L) Original 60W incandescent bulb; C) 18W CFL I had replaced it with. R) 10.5W LED.

It was fully encased in plastic, and felt quite sturdy, at least compared to glass light bulbs and CFLs; this one seemed like it would withstand a fall from a kitchen counter. Some earlier generation LED bulbs needed to incorporate a fan to prevent overheating, but this one seems to be entirely passively cooled and runs (mostly) silently. It does warn against using in a fully enclosed container, though it also states that it is suitable for use in damp conditions.


The overall shape is that of a flattened standard bulb, so fit should not be a concern for most settings. The standard light bulb socket (E26) is used here ensuring near broad compatibility.

Let there be light


I was concerned that there may be some trade-offs with the LED compared to incandescents or CFLs, but after a bit of use, I legitimately can’t think of any beyond the upfront cost. The color spectrum is stated to be 2,600K, and it felt quite warm indeed, at least at the level of the “natural spectrum” CFLs I had been using.

It was also quite bright! At only 10.5 W, it expends a mere sixth of the 60W incandescent bulb it replaces, and 40% less power than the CFL. More crucially it, allegedly, has a 22-year lifespan! That’s incredible, that a disposable product could last that long. Whoa.



If you squint really closely, you can make out the physical hoop where the light diodes are situated, but in most cases, it’s too bright to look at directly.


I was also curious to know how it would do temperature wise, and I was surprised at how hot it did get. While markedly cooler than incandescent or CFL-bulb temperatures levels, it felt quite warm to touch. I suspect this could be improved upon in the future, for perhaps a a next gen bulb may need only 5W, with less heat dissipated.

Even with this, this is a big step forward.


Conclusion on the Benefits of LEDs

LEDs are awesome, and in early 2015, they’re reaching a price point where I’m fairly certain that their adoption will accelerate through this decade, and be the preferred source of light everywhere. The key benefits that I saw from my brief time with this bulb are:

Instant on – When you want it, it turns on as soon as you flip the switch, instantly, even faster than incandescent bulbs. This was not true for CFLs, many of which had a noticeable delay (up to a second or several seconds) between flipping the switch, and the CFL being warmed up and at full output.

Power efficient – CFLs were already quite remarkable in their efficiency, and LEDs take that another leap forward, saving yet another 40% in my personal case. There is less heat wasted.

Temperature tolerant – I had replaced a refrigerator bulb with a CFL, and was plagued by dim lighting due to the cold. LEDs on the other hand seem much more tolerant to the temperatures needed, producing far improved light. They’re also much cooler to touch than incandescent or CFLs, though I only ran mine a few minutes.

No mercury! – CFLs are known for their various warnings indicating the dangers of broken bulbs and often including obvious warnings that inside contains things like mercury, cadmium, and other potentially toxic substances. Not so for the LEDs, as far as I can tell, which is a huge step forward in safety.

Durable – The bulbs themselves, if they’re anything like this Phillips model, are far more durable and protected from damage (and injury to the user) than bulbs of previous varieties. I suppose they’ll need to be to weather 22 years of use.

Long lasting – Incandescent bulbs lasted some 2000-4000 hours at best, CFLs last some 8,000 hours, and LEDs an incredible, 25,000 hours! Under given use cases, the methods would last 2-3, 5, 20-years, respectively. I remember reading that the light bulb industry deliberately reduced the lifespan of their bulbs, in order to sell more replacements. So, hooray for pro-consumer changes that throw out that strategy, in favor of innovation-driven replacements.

So, overall, I’m pretty pleased! Thanks again Seattle City Light!

R.I.P. Maxis (1987-2015): In Defense of Simcity

I was originally writing this post to be a defense of Simcity, but in light of the recent shutdown of EA Maxis’s Emeryville studio, the headquarters of what was once Maxis, after years of poor management by EA, I felt the need to speak out on this travesty. There are more complete obituaries of Maxis online–notably this one, which I enjoyed reading; this one is my personal story with Maxis and their games.

I’ve been a long time fan of Simcity, having played every version since Will Wright’s original in elementary school. Each iteration attempted a daunting task and presented the challenge to the player: the simulation of an entire city and its various layers of operation. Nothing gives you more appreciation of urban planners around the world like a game that gives you exposure to various simulated aspects of city building. Maxis took this idea and wrapped it up with addictively fun game mechanic has no formal “end”.

The studio long had a reputation for fun and intellectually fascinating edu-tationment oriented simulation games, which I had become familiar through Scholastic Apple catalogs we’d get from school. I found nearly every offering compelling because, aside from the hugely interesting subject matter, nothing like it was out there (this was the early 1990s). The real lasting appeal to those who love to explore was that many of their games never needed to end and they encouraged you to explore the limits of the simulation. SimLife and SimCity in particular could be endlessly perfected, generating a fascinating steady state of a living ecosystem, whether an entire planet, or a booming metropolis. The Maxis of the 1990s provided great experiences through quirky games like SimAnt, SimLifeUnnatural SelectionSimTower, to smash hit simulations like SimCity 2000. I played each of those, and loved them all. It was the early ’90s and was the golden age of DOS and PC gaming.

Simant (1991) – This was the first game that I ever bought for my DOS computer – This was in second grade, so I was 7 years old, in 1992. The computer I played it on was our family PC, a 386SX 16MHz / 4 MB / 60 MB HDD, and the game came on a single 1.44 MB floppy. I still have the manual.

Being a weird nerdy kid, I loved reading manuals and guides to things, and I loved the literature that Maxis provided, both in their physical manuals and accompanying publications, but also their in-game “lore”, in the form of scientific summary. I learned more about ants while playing SimAnt than I did anywhere else. Oh, the good old days, when Maxis actually cared about the subject matter, and indeed, felt more authentic to the subject matter and left the game mechanics develop around it.

The story of Maxis is a prime example of the sad fate of independent artists and thinkers when forced to operate under a profit machine. Maxis, as one of the most quirky and inventive studios may have had no hope under a monotonizing corporate giant, and sealed its own fate when on July 28th, 1997, it signed away its soul to EA. A quick read through the comment thread of the Ars article shows that this move was little surprise to many:


The Tale of Two SimCities

My latest experience with a Maxis product was Simcity 2013, and the Cities of Tomorrow expansion. Having thoroughly enjoyed both, it’s quite a challenge to reconcile the experience with the online negativity surrounding the game. It has incredibly unique IP, a great game engine, wonderful content and replayability… yet collapsed under the collective weight of player expectations, and poor management by EA. If one came to appreciate it at it’s best, it’s an incredibly awesome simulation that is quite unlike any other mainstream game out there, but I guess in EA’s world, that’s the end of the line.

After buying the game on a whim at the end of 2013, I’ve been pleasantly surprised can say that if you try to enjoy it for what it is, rather than what previous Simcity has taught you expect, or what else you want it to be, then you can come to appreciate that it is an incredibly intricate simulation of a city, that has an incredible amount of dynamic activity that come together in fascinating, sometimes unexpected ways–often in the form of snarling traffic.

Indeed, I too have had many frustrating issues, and the issues that plagued Simcity at launch continued intermittently throughout my play time. A lot of forgiveness later, there still is a thoroughly enjoyable game that is well worth whatever fire sale price it can be had at now. I’ve played quite a bit, and over time, I’ve gotten quite good at building wealthy, highly educated, virtual cities, with wacky transportation options:

Simcity - Endeavour City

Simcity - Endeavour City-2

I won’t address those criticisms individually, but I can say that the game is much more enjoyable when creating an ecosystem of cities, rather than a single gigantic one, and as i got better at engineering entire urban regions, the strategic element of game play became quite rich and enjoyable. As I came to understand the model behind the game, I became increasingly appreciative to the intricacies of what was being simulated. Dan Moskovitz gave a great talk at GDC 2013 on the SimCity engine, Glassbox, after which, I much better understood how to work with the underlying engine.

The game itself, when it works right, is quite fun, and like I mentioned before, is quite like managing a living, breathing entity in some sort of equilibrium. My favorite times in the game would be when I rescued a struggling city, and built it up into a stable steady state, and i could sit back and watch it go. I would say it has the same therapeutic benefit as tending to a garden or watching fish in an aquarium. It helps that the game has a stellar soundtrack, which alone is worth the purchase price for me–I particularly love the soundtrack from the expansion:

All of which, makes the bungled launch, the excessive in-app-purchase like add-on content, and the incomplete feature set at launch (no single player mode?), seem like a series of publisher date/design-meeting compromises, along with an odd review-score changing incident that ultimately dinged the game so badly that I can only imagine that sales must have suffered. A shame really, as it likely was the final excuse EA needed to axe what was left to go fund cheaper projects like EA Sports: XYZ 2016.

In the end, what’s left is an odd lesson on corporate acquisitions and the impact on one’s identity and soul. None of this should be news to any studios today, but Maxis, for it’s long personal history with me, is one that I’ll remember passing. As for Simcity, it’s truly unfortunate that it’s legacy is going to be the one that self-destructed under EA, but for what it’s worth, I know history will remember Maxis for the incredible contributions it made to millions of kids like me, growing up to love games and tinkering around with systems and agents.

But as you’ll notice that the internet has since dumped it’s hate on the review score. Oh well, thus is the life and end of EA franchises. I hope the spirit can live on.