Filtered for light

19.36, Thursday 29 Jul 2021


Thomas Edison in 1879, around the time of the first public demonstration of the incandescent light bulb:

We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles.

The cost of light.

Source: Early Light Bulbs, Engineering and Technology History Wiki.


Theatre lighting designer Alex Forey’s eye-opening Young Directors’ Guide to Lighting: Intensity, Colour, Angle, Texture, Atmosphere.

we are often responsible for directing the gaze of the audience to where it needs to be

Just an incredible piece about shaping light, both the practicalities and the narrative control. Worth a read for a glimpse into another world. (Assuming you’re not already a theatre person, which I’m not.)

It is galling that software interface design lacks a similarly rich language and set of tools for how to speak with the user.

RELATED: What wipes in Star Wars teach us about the brain and also interface design (this blog, April 2021).


An attempt to hack the human eye into seeing near-infrared (Science for the Masses, 2014).

Humans use the vitamin A1 to build red-sensitive pigments in the eye.

But freshwater fish use vitamin A2 instead to create a pigment which has been shown to be sensitive to light of wavelengths up to 1400nm in some species, which is well into the near infrared range.

And so, an experiment:

The members of Science for the Masses and a handful of our collaborators will completely eliminate all retinoids and caretinoids (vitamin A and its provitamins) from our diets by switching to a special vitamin A deficient (VAD) blend of Soylent provided to us by special request. We will then supplement with two compounds: 3,4-dehydroretinol (A2) and retinoic acid (RA).

The idea being that it’s possible to deprive the body of vitamin A1 in order to force the eye to use vitamin A2 instead, and therefore see the world as fish do – in the near-infrared.

So - I guess - you could see objects glow with heat, directly?

Sadly it wouldn’t work: No, These Biohackers Can’t Give Themselves Infrared Vision (Wired, 2015).


I am less concerned with biohacking itself than what this idea shows cultural anticipation for…

You could hack the same experience with augmented reality smart glasses. Take the video feed, then compress the colour spectrum such that deep red is unused. Then take a separate feed of the infrared, and hue shift it into the red channel.

(Note that standard cameras see infrared by default and it has to be filtered out. The rear camera on my iPhone is filtered, but the front-facing camera is unfiltered and can see IR – which I use pretty regularly to see if the TV remote batteries are working. Point the remote at your phone and press a button: the IR bulbs will appear as sharp points of light. All of which is to say, you wouldn’t even need a dedicated IR sensor for the smart specs.)

Then wear the specs for a few days to give it time for your brain to adjust, touch a few objects of various temperatures (while looking at them) to train your perception, and you would be able to see heat. A kind of lo-fi cyborg prosthetic.

Could be a practical industrial application for smart glasses, aimed at plumbers, mechanics, and electrical engineers.


A nugget from Venkatesh Rao’s newsletter back in December:

The amount of work that bought 1 hour of light in prehistoric times now buys 53 years of light.

The cost of light!

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