What she said

DIY-ish Bias Lighting

As the legendary Jeff Atwood puts it:

We computer geeks like it dark. Really dark. Ideally, we’d be in a cave. A cave … with an internet connection.

Social interaction

See, being in the dark room isn’t all about avoiding social interaction. It actually helps me focus. But the brightness of the screen strains my eyes even with the lowest brightness setting on my MacBook. It’s not just working, even watching a movie – I could hear my eyes screaming when the scene switches from night time to bright daytime.

So, allow me to quote Jeff Atwood again, together with what he quoted in his post about bias lighting

You don’t want total darkness, what you want is some indirect lighting – specifically bias lighting. It helps your eyes compensate and adapt to bright displays.

“[Bias lighting] works because it provides enough ambient light in the viewing area that your pupils don’t have to dilate as far. This makes for less eyestrain when a flashbang gets thrown your way or a bolt of lightning streams across the screen,” he told Ars. “Because the display is no longer the only object emitting light in the room, colors and black levels appear richer than they would in a totally black environment. Bias lighting is key in maintaining a reference quality picture and reducing eye-strain.”

Bias lighting is the happy intersection of indirect lighting and light compensation. It reduces eye strain and produces a better, more comfortable overall computing display experience.

I looked up the Antec Halo 6 LED Bias Lighting Kit he recommended. Functionally it looks usable but my biggest problem is that it’d sticks to the back my screen – it’s like getting my MacBook a permanent tattoo… that glows in the dark. So, no thank you. But it’s a great idea and dead simple by design – it’s just a strip of USB powered LEDs. Why don’t I make one myself? I can make it better by attaching elastic bands on both ends of the strip instead of the sticky. With that, it can be striped onto any laptop diagonally.

So off I went to Sim Lim Tower on a Sunday morning. Sadly there was only one shop open that sells LEDs at all. And to make it worse, the LED strips they sell require 12V, while USBs only supply 5V. I thought of getting a converter but it just seems unnecessary when there are 12V strips available online. I figured I’d just order online and wait a couple days. Hopefully by then I haven’t lost interests in building it. As I was walking out the shop, something caught my eyes:

LED lamp LED lamp

It fits my needs perfectly despite its awkward appearance. Still workable. I just need to take it apart and give it a better UI. So with SGD$10 I took it home. Here is what it looks like in action out of the box:

LED lamp in action LED lamp in action

It’s definitely bright enough but doesn’t quite stand well as you can see. So here we go:

  • Step 1: Get rid off what does not work well.

Remove things

  • Step 2: Move fast and break things.

Move fast

  • Step 3: Put it back together, with some soldering, and pretty designer tapes.

Put back

  • Step 4: Change of plan. I bought flat elastic band to attach to the light. But at this point the light has become too pretty to be attached to the black elastic band. I mean, look at it:

Leaf front Leaf back

So I ended up attaching a hook to the back. It hooks up nicely to my Air and is easily detachable:

Hook up off Hook up on Hook up front

  • Step 5: Put it in use and show off on your blog ;) Here’s before and after:

Before After

I didn’t make the bias lighting from scratch. I simply gave the USB powered LEDs a new UI that suites my needs and tastes better. All in all, it was a fun mini project =)

*Thanks Tommy and Zi for lending me some of the tools!