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March 25, 2004

Simple Pleasures: No4

The echo of childhood caused by shaking a blown lightbulb to hear the faint high-pitched rattle from inside, with its naughty hint of adult danger from the knowledge that all lightbulbs are so fragile they will Break At Any Moment!

Posted by Tom Dolan at March 25, 2004 09:07 AM

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Ha, interesting.

This is also a Simple Pleasure for me, but for an entirely different reason.

It's a pleasure of Science, not Memory.

Science is a way of thinking, a methodology.
Something's happened. (The light bulb isn't lighting.)
What do I think is happening here? (Is the light bulb broken? The switch?
The line to the house? The power station?)
How can I test it? Where does the problem exist?

Light bulbs burn through more often than fuses burn out more often than switches break more often than wiring snaps more often than someone cuts through a power cable more often than a nuclear reactor blows up.

Shaking the bulb is the first, simplest test that you can do to locate the source of the problem - that your living room light doesn't work.

When you hear the little tinkle, you know that the filament has burned through and become loose. So there's no circuit any more, so the lightbulb will need to be replaced. If there's no tinkle, you have to look at fuses, wires, switches, cables, power stations.

The sound made by a burned out light bulb is an audible reminder that you can find things out by simple experimentation. An aide-memoire that you can understand the world by thinking about it.

The little rattle when you shake a bulb is an everyday reminder that Science Works.

Posted by: Piers at March 30, 2004 06:48 AM

There's a wonderful interview with Douglas Adams in which he points out that at the end of your lightbulb is a huge, miles long loop of wire that forms an unbroken circuit (presuming the bulb is not blown, and the switch is 'on' of course...) to your nearest power station.

An odd thought.

Posted by: Kim at March 30, 2004 12:55 PM

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