Thursday, September 20, 2012

Blue nights

I usually sleep with open curtains. Fireflies aside, growing up, when I woke up in the middle of the night and looked up, I saw the Milky Way. It was quite a change when as a student I moved into a room in Zürich's Predigergasse that had a gaslight on the corner of the house, just outside my windows. When I woke up in the middle of the night, instead of a black firmament with the twinkling Milky Way, I experienced being bathed in a flickering red light. My insomniac nights changed from black to red.

Our house in Palo Alto features a street light smack in front. At night, monochromatic yellow sodium light shines through the large picture window and paints the house in a warm light, emphasizing the polenta-yellow walls and the golden white oak hardwood floors.

Until yesterday.

The City replaced the sodium lamp with an LED lamp and the floors are now patterned by cold blue reflections, which in turn create eerie light plays on the walls. Instead of averaging and blurring the material structures, the new light analyzes and emphasizes them.

It will take some time getting used to it.

By the way, in 1980 low pressure sodium street lighting became common in the Silicon Valley in support of the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton, to reduce light pollution. The Barron Park neighborhood in Palo is dark at night, because the inhabitants keep their porch lights off. Their neighborhood park is named after Cornelis Bol, a Stanford physicist and the inventor of the high-intensity mercury vapor lamp.