Friday, November 18, 2011

Enough with the blue LEDs!

The first blue LED was created by Shuji Nakamura in 1993. It was a technical triumph, and Nakamura eventually managed to win a $9M bonus (after suing his employer). Before then LEDs ranged from red to a slightly yellowish green, and nobody could figure out how to get the wavelengths any shorter. Nakamura's LED was not merely slightly blue; it could go right up into the UV, and was amazingly bright. Today I am typing this in a room illuminated by white LEDs that are made using this technology. Slim, low powered LED-illuminated screens have been created, and blu-ray players use lasers with the same basic semiconductor combination to give us high definition movies on a disk. Science and technology march on, hand in hand.

But that's not what I want to write about.

On Wednesday I plugged in a new cable modem, enabling faster broadband. On the front panel are two LEDs. One is green and shows that the modem has locked on to a signal. The other is blue and flashes. So now I have this bright blue flashing light near me. The coax cable comes into my office near my desk, so I can't move it far. Fortunately I've been able to tuck it into a cubby-hole next to the bookshelf, so its not in my line of sight. Without that I'd probably have had to put it inside a box or something just to hide the LED.

I was not too surprised by the appearance of blue LEDs as an alternative to the old red and green back at the turn of the century; they were novel and eye-catching, which is what manufacturers need if they are to sell stuff. But the trouble is that they are too eye catching; the piercing blue light is actually unpleasant to look at directly, and is far more intrusive than the quiet red and green.

Some manufacturers seem to have got the idea. I have a couple of USB hubs with blue LEDs, but they don't flash and they are sufficiently buried inside that you don't have the piercing gleam. But this cable modem (its a Netgear SuperHub, by the way) doesn't follow that rule. We also bought a moderately expensive audio system a few months ago, and that also has a piercingly bright blue LED on the front. So when we watch TV we have this shining in our eyes just below. We've got some relief by sticking some white tape over the LED, but we shouldn't have to do that.

So could anyone reading this who works for a consumer electronics company please point the design department at this posting. Remember guys; shining bright flashing lights in your customers' eyes may get their attention, but it won't get you repeat business.

I wrote about this before, in 2008. I'm disappointed to have the same problem three years later.

1 comment:

Neil Mitchell said...

The solution is a small piece of blu-tak - I've used that on lots of pieces of equipment in my office.