Cranky Old Luddite - by Mark E. Smith

Sometimes in the evening I'll be sitting in my apartment reading a book by the light of a little headlamp I'm wearing, while I turn the crank on another one just like it so it will be charged when the first one starts to dim.

A real Luddite, of course, wouldn't have a headlamp that is made of plastic, contains batteries, and has LED bulbs, but I'm not a purist, just an old crank with Luddite tendencies. If you wish, you can go on and see what this little marvel of technology looks like:

Mitaki-Japan Crank Led Head Lamp

It all started when I read that Dr. Helen Caldicott, one of the world's leading anti-nuke activists, said that in the interest of conserving energy, she never had more than one light on at a time in her home. I thought that was a very sensible idea, so I tried it. And it wasn't easy. I have a one-bedroom apartment, but it has a bathroom and a small kitchen. Suppose that I'm tidying up the kitchen at night and I want to go to the bathroom. To avoid having too many lights on, I'll go from the kitchen to the living room, turn on the living room light, go back to the kitchen and turn that light out, then go through the living room into the bedroom, turn the bedroom light on and go back and turn the living room light off, then go through the bedroom to the bathroom, turn the bathroom light on, go back and turn the bedroom light off, and reverse the process afterward. There's no way to avoid having two lights on at once, at least for a short time, and it still involves a lot of retracing my steps. But because Dr. Caldicott is one of my idols, that's what I'd been doing, going back and forth and turning lights on and off in an attempt to try to have no more than one light on at once.

My motivation is primarily because I'm opposed to using excess energy, particularly when current energy-generating technology involves some of the worst pollution that appears to be destroying the planet, like nuclear power plants, coal, petroleum, etc. Sure there are some solar, wind, and other energy sources out there, but I really don't have the slightest idea where the energy that turns my lights on comes from. I don't like those energy-saver bulbs that contain mercury, and LED bulbs are still pretty expensive. My electric bill is low because I get a low-income subsidy that takes 20% off my monthly bill. Since I don't have a TV, a microwave, a cell phone to charge, etc., my average bill came to about $11 a month until recently. Then the company got approval for a rate increase and my bill slowly started to climb, first to $12, then to $13, and when it got past $14, I started to wonder if it was ever going to stop climbing.

Before I moved into this luxurious (by which I mean it has electricity, running water, a refrigerator, and a stove--I've lived for many years in less developed countries where, like most of the world, neither I nor my neighbors had such things) senior apartment, I lived aboard a small sailboat. Since I didn't have a generator or a solar panel on the sailboat, I used battery-powered headlamps at night to read and see what I was doing. That meant buying new batteries or trying to recharge batteries with solar chargers that always seemed to melt them instead of charging them, so I bought a lot of batteries. But I also had a hand-cranked flashlight for emergencies that didn't need batteries (it just needs bulbs, which I haven't been able to find), so I did a search online to see if there was such a thing as a hand-cranked headlamp, and found that there was.

Some of the customer reviews were favorable and some were not, so I only ordered one to see if it would meet my needs. It did, and it does, so I ordered two more, one to wear, and one to wind and set aside, so that I have one in use and one that I'm winding or have already wound up, and I don't have to wind one up in the dark. The third is set aside as a spare in case one of the two that I use every night breaks. Two minutes winding gives me enough light to read comfortably for at least a half hour, and sufficient light to walk around and see what I'm doing for another half hour.

Now I can read or walk around my apartment at night without having to turn lights on and off. And my most recent electric bill was just under $10.

The headlamps are made in China, so they probably wholesale for half or less of the retail price, which was about $7.50 each. I was lucky enough to find a seller who offered free shipping, so each headlamp will pay for itself in about six weeks or less.

I'll update this topic when one breaks, which I expect won't be too long, as I crank each one several times every night. But the first month has been fine.

For a cranky old Luddite, I'm pretty happy. I'm saving about $5 a month off my electric bill and I'm not using more electricity than I need. It's a compromise with modern technology, but one that I can live with--and that I'm no longer sure I'd like to live without.



Discussion Forum