Quiet Desperation

For curly bulbs, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel


One of our curly light bulbs burned out. Realizing I didn’t have a replacement, I went to a hardware store. They were out of curly light bulbs too.

“Yes, we’re out.”

“For how long?”


Where was I (four years ago) when GE and others decided they would no longer manufacture compact fluorescent bulbs (CFB)?

And why didn’t I know CFB use dangerous chemicals such as mercury to generate power?

We’re back, as everyone but me must have noticed, to the old design, only with more efficient (and expensive) light emitting diode (LED) bulbs.

Cartoonists are relieved. For years cartoonists have drawn a light bulb over someone’s head when they had an idea.

In other words, “the light went on.”

A curly bulb was 55% more difficult to draw.

Harry and I rely on electricity. We don’t camp, for one thing. Or purposely shut off the power for another.

When there is an outage we manage, but we wouldn’t be able to for very long.

This column would never happen if we lost electrical power. And I couldn’t listen to Yo-Yo Ma’s cello purring from my computer’s playlist.

You can visit Edison’s laboratory, the one where he tested more than 3,000 light bulb designs between 1878 and 1880 before getting it right.

The laboratory was located in Menlo Park, New Jersey, but a wealthy automobile manufacturer had it moved to Dearborn, Michigan, along with the Wright Brothers’ Dayton, Ohio, bicycle shop.

The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village next to it are highly recommended. Both were closed for 16 weeks and they’re facing “unprecedented financial challenges” like so many are.

The Museum and Village are enormous; one or the other a day is suggested.

Edison acquired 1,093 patents, a record. I applied for one.

My invention was a new kind of smoke alarm. It didn’t chirp and make you want to take a hammer to it like all of the others do.

No. Instead a small, colorful, plastic bird dropped out and whistled the first six bars of “Where or When.”

Currently available smoke alarms go off in the middle of the night. Just as bad, it takes forever to figure out which one it is.

With mine all you had to do was look for the bird, change the battery, and shove the bird back into its little compartment.

Unfortunately, I ran into some problems with the prototypes. Several of the birds short circuited and caught on fire.

I wish I had invented the cardboard box, among other innovations. They’re always in demand, versatile, reusable and inexpensive to make.

How many do you have in your basement or attic right this minute?

Maybe you’ve heard of Amazon? They ship 1,600,000 packages. A day. Not all of them are cardboard boxes, but most of them are.

The first cardboard box was invented in England in 1817, but it wasn’t corrugated. In 1895, corrugated cardboard boxes were produced in America for the first time and were an instant success.

Humble as they are, they’re undeniably perfect. Unlike my smoke alarm.

The piercing chirp of a conventional smoke alarm sends Harry flying out of the house. Didn’t they consider the effect the sound would have on dogs?

“Where or When,” on the other hand, is a soothing tune everyone can appreciate. It’s one of Harry’s favorites.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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