Thursday, November 17, 2011

How many people does it take to screw in a light bulb?

I am on my way home. By the office bus that is always well-lit. That makes my journey very productive unlike spending a wasted hour in a dark cab. The bus ride is usually spent reading a book. Or an issue of Fortune. In rare moments of insanity, I venture into the Harvard Business Review & try my best to stay awake. Understanding HBR, of course, is light years away.

Speaking of light, I want to tell you about something very important & change the way you think. So I decide to write and open my laptop. The girl next to me looks irritated. “It is 8 PM for god’s sake”, her eyes are saying, “and this moron wants to work on his laptop?” I don’t blame her, but as I said, I am on this mission to change the way you think.

So answer this simple one for me. How many people does it take to screw in a light bulb???

A few of us were walking back to our desks after our break at the Hatti Kaapi counter in Infosys. These guys make great coffee. Drinking it stimulates your mind and opens the conversation in new directions. A friend is about to move into his home and wants the best place to buy light fixtures. I tell of a place in the Bangalore City Market, a second person pips in with ‘Delhi’ while a third says ‘Mumbai’ (I told you that the coffee makes you go in all directions). Before the owner can decide, I ask him whether he has decided on the the type of bulbs to buy. “CFL” he says. “That’s it?” I ask. His eyes narrow with “of course you idiot!!! What else is there?” It’s time for us to split but I am thinking “Boy, I need to teach him a lot in tomorrow’s Hatti Kaapi discussion”.

So answer this one for me folks. How many people does it take to screw in a light bulb???

I vividly remember the first instinct when I first read this joke 20 years ago. It was not the number that my instinct was after. Instead, the ‘logical’ part of my head was saying “No one screws in a light bulb dumbo. Light bulbs have a pin. You put the bulb in a holder and twist it such that it locks tight”. But since this was meant to be a joke, I ignored the grammar and went Ha-Ha-Ha at the answer. I finally discovered light in circa 2000-05 in the USA when I made my first bulb purchase. That was when I saw the light bulb with a screw head. And THAT explained the question in the joke....

Bulb with a pin

Bulb with a screw head

Now that we have established that light bulbs can really be screwed in, answer this one for me…. How many people does it take to screw in a light bulb???

But wait. Let me first nudge you towards four things that you do not know about light bulbs.

1. You really don’t know the right wattage, do you?
Take your simple CFL. It saves power. But do you honestly know whether it is the 11W or the 14W that works best for you? C’mon.. admit it…. you NEED that assuring label to say “11W = 40W” or “14W=70W” before you know what works best.

2. You really don’t know the width of the screw head, do you?
Congratulations!!! You have narrowed your choice to the right wattage. Now do you know the right width of the screw head? Most bulbs have at least 2 widths for the same wattage. If you are darned unlucky, you might even come across a CFL with a pin. The choice of your bulb is wholly dependent on the holder that you did not even bother to look / analyze when you first installed it in your home.

3. You really don’t know the effect of the fixture, do you?
Excellent!!! You have the right wattage with the right screw head. But why is your 14W lamp just right for your 10x10 bedroom and terrible for your 10x10 study? Dear Watson!!! It has everything to do with the glass of your fixture. Clear glasses transmit more light compared to semi-frosted ones that in turn spread more light than fully frosted pieces. And…. and…. the size of the opening of the fixture absolutely matters. The room looks dull if the opening is small and too bright when the aperture is wide.

4. You really can’t open the fixture and screw / twist the bulb on your own, can you?
You are a genius!!! You have the right bulb, screw head and fixture. But can you replace the bulb on your own? Do you have the right tools? And are your hands really steady when you try to extract that microscopic 3W bulb that you got conned into buying for your bathroom when your sweetheart cooed oh-it-is-so-beautiful-I-so-want-it? I am telling you.... falling for your wife’s charms is very dangerous, especially when they offer opinions on electric lamps.

So for the last time, answer this one for me…. How many people does it take to screw in a light bulb???

Here's the answer. There was a time when it was ONE. Buying a bulb was easy then. You bought ‘yellow light’ or ‘tube light’. Fixtures to cover these were rare inside your home. In other words, the lights were ‘naked’. Every room had just 2 lights. The tube with 40W and the yellow light ranging from 20W–60W based on room size. As a kid, you were proud of the fact that you knew what bulb was needed where, how much wattage it had, and how it must be twisted in.

But today, buying a bulb is complex. There is the manufacturer who must print the right label in the packaging. There is that store associate who provides his thoughtful wisdom on the right fixture. There is this electrician who puts it all together. There are at least 3 members of your family who offer counsel on whether the brightness of the lamp is OK. And when their verdict is a resounding No, there is now that YOU who must drive back to the store to get the right replacement.

Ladies & Gentlemen - it takes an army to screw in a light bulb. Let us be at peace with this illuminating fact and stop cracking those jokes. Amen!!!


leoPaw said...

It does arun! It really takes an army now to screw in a light bulb.:)

Anonymous said...

Great writing.

A software professional must've taken over the light bulb design where not having a single standard is the norm :)


Arun Kumar said...

Thanks Leopaw.

And Manju.... What can I say? I will not be surprised :)