Monday, June 25, 2012

Low light headlamp use

Just a quick tip that's related to my previous post about light positioning. I recently went out for a short walk to do some much needed geocache maintenance. It was the night before the biggest full moon of the year, so there was plenty of natural light to walk by, and I didn't want to draw attention to myself, so I decided to keep a low light signature (how can I say that so it sounds less ridiculously tacticool; low light profile?), but, as noted in a recent post, I don't walk by moonlight, I learned not to. My solution was simply to leave my headlamp, the Zebralight H51Fc, on low while walking. Low is rated at a somewhat diffused 2.6lm, which is so dim compared to very bright moonlight that it's hardly even noticeable while walking, but because the light is mounted in close alignment with the eyes it will still cause reflective surfaces, such as the eyes of nocturnal animals, to stand out at 50+ feet, even without aiming the central spot at them. Of course it also allows for a high level of adaptation. This allowed me to walk by moonlight and stay safe too, and it didn't require me to walk in any awkward torch-aiming position. A simple trick, but I think it's one worth pointing out because it's easy to overlook how useful light can be even when it's not serving to illuminate in a typical fashion, and even at an output that might initially seem too dim for the environment. I don't think I'd want to rely on this in a more wildernessy area simply because skunks tend to plop themselves in the way and not turn their eyes in my direction until I'm almost on them, but it gives a comforting added awareness in more open areas without having to resort to lighting the place up.

Of course I was still carrying my 170Cn in one hand; I really don't like walking by handheld light, but just relaxedly carrying one is usually fine, as well as just a good and prudent idea. It's said that you need a torch to look for things and a headlamp to do things, and that's an apt assessment. You can do things (like walk, or work on something) with a torch, but it's awkward and often inefficient; you can look for things with a headlamp (checking out a noise in the dark, peering into dark crevices) but the fixed relative position and shadow/contrast-minimizing alignment can reduce clarity and make it difficult to put the light right where you need it. When walking, especially when keeping light low as in the example, it's ideal to have a headlamp providing the longer term "doing" lighting (monitoring for eyes, navigational light) while still keeping a big torch (let's be serious, a 170C is a very "big" light for most any normal, non-competitive use, especially when you're not blowing out your rhodopsin) immediately accessible to provide "looking" lighting (checking on eyes and sounds, responding to the unexpected). I'm preaching the obvious but, again, I think it's worth it: not enough consideration is given to the optimal and most practical use of different kinds of lights. That goes even, or perhaps especially, for lightphiles/flashaholics, who often get distracted by the hobby mentality with which they approach lighting, resulting in a "more lumens!" lighting technique, or a "torch *or* headlamp" choice based on which "camp" they fall into, as silly as that sounds. The night is its own wonderful world, and considered use of light can greatly enrich the appreciation of it.

The Trouble with Twisties

Tonight I got a lesson in selecting lights for someone else. Michelle has been having cat troubles lately: she brought home a new kitten and her cat is upset about it to the point of running off and hiding for long periods, forcing Michelle to go searching for her at all hours of the night. She started out searching with the E01 I gave her, but that's obviously very limited for outdoor use, so I wanted to help out by loaning her something more powerful in case she has to go through the same thing again. I looked over my lights for an appropriate loaner. Of course I have an abundance of HDSes, but they're inappropriate due to value and complexity. I considered the Inova T1; it's got good power, runs a reasonably long time, has a simple on/off clicky, and the pleasing tint of its K2 TFFC distinguishes it as a torch of serious quality. It would serve well... but, its thick walls of anodized aluminum make it heavy for its size, and Michelle's tiny build makes weight a definite consideration. Also, loaning a light to a non-flashlight-person will always put the light at the greatest risk it will ever see, so I'd rather not send a nice anodized light off to get dinged and scratched up by someone who doesn't appreciate it.

Instead, I settled on the SureFire G2L. It's a little larger, but its plastic body makes it feel light, the plastic will shrug off drops and abusive handling with no lasting damage, it's secure and comfortable to hold even when out in the cold, and it puts out enough light to be pretty impressive to anyone not too jaded, though the tint is a little lacking. Plus its bright yellow color makes it somewhat endearing and difficult to lose. I thought I'd chosen a perfect light to send off to do a good deed.

But I was mistaken.... There was one thing I hadn't taken into account. I realized that a twisty switch is liable to cause initial turn on problems due confusion because many are so accustomed to MiniMags that they can't figure out which direction to twist, but I figured that wouldn't be an issue as long as I gave a quick demonstration of usage. What I didn't realize was the potential for problems with turning it off. When I use a true tactical switch (momentary button, twist for on), I hold the body in my hand and twist the tail between thumb and forefinger. However, someone with much, much smaller and weaker hands isn't going to do that naturally; instead, they'll grip the light with both hands and screw the tail down. This results in the tail getting cranked much harder than it ever would when I'm using it, to the point that it can be difficult to turn the light off if you don't have the necessary hand strength to break it loose again. And this is exactly what happened on the very night I gave her the light. I was on the phone with her while she was out using the light to search for the cat, and when she found, to our mutual dismay, that she wasn't able to unscrew it again. After some failed attempts on her part, I got the problem solved by advising her to gently step on the tailcap to hold it securely in place while she gripped the body of the light and used her weight to break it free, but the incident gave me pause to think about how tricky it can be to figure out what light features would be right and wrong for someone else. Turns out, I should have given her something more like the Inova.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Enchanted Sparkles at Fairy Godmother's House

Involved: Me, Dylan.
Lights: HDS Clickies (170Cn and 100Chc); ZebraLight SC51w.

I attended a birthday party for lady known as the Fairy Godmother, at her enchanted fairy forest house. I won't try to describe too much of what it's like because I couldn't do it any justice, but the garden is filled with little sculptures, wood carvings, baubles, signs, mirrors, lights, and candles.

The part of the decor most interesting to the flashlight crowd was the sizable disco ball hanging from a tree over the driveway.

Of course I lit that up with my 170Cn and high CRI Clickies, to the delight of onlookers, who were reminded of both being underwater and being drunk.... I've flashed a lot of disco balls in my time, but this was the most magical, given the size and brilliant reflectivity of the ball combined with the enchanted environment. I also added in my SC51 on a little hanging display of mirrors for a similar effect up in the forest.

When we left the party, we had to walk out through the dimly lit forest, through a gate, and out onto an unlit road with hardly any shoulder. For the, I'm sure, mostly unlit attendees, this was really a pretty dangerous situation that could stand to be addressed in some way for future parties; I might mention it. I pulled out my two Clickies again, set them both to max, pointed the 170 forward over the heads of the three people I was with to provide more than adequate lighting to see by and be seen, and then I pointed the high CRI mostly down and behind me to act as an additional marker to drivers since the group was walking on the wrong side of the road. One of the group, to her credit, pulled out her iPhone and activated its rear light. I'm always happy to see someone actually prepared for darkness, though it took her a few seconds to load the appropriate app and get it activated, by which time I already had everything well illuminated, and I actually didn't realize she'd turned her light on until we reached the parking area and I moved my beam away from the group.

Dylan was there too, and I noticed, as we parted ways at the gate, that he was ready with the Battery Junction keychain light I gave him last Christmas.