The LED Revolution

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you may have noticed that LED light sources are now appearing in a number of devices, from pocket flashlights to laptops to televisions, primarily because they are cheaper to produce and tend to use less energy in devices than their non-LED counter-parts. In this article, I examine 3 new LED replacement technologies and evaluate whether or not the technology is mature enough to start replacing your non-LED devices.

I. LED Printers

In the home printing market, first there were dot matrix printers, followed by inkjet and laser printers, and now color LED printers. LED Printers use an array of LEDs as opposed to a laser to produce images from toner. They have fewer moving parts than most laser printers, making them more reliable, cheaper to produce, and possibly faster than conventional laser printers. They are even deemed safer to use due to the potential health concerns of laser printers. The only problem is print quality, which is currently limited to 600 DPI, whereas most laser printers can print 1200 DPI. This means images produced with LED printers may not be as sharp or high quality as those produced with laser printers.

The verdict: Once LED printers close the DPI gap, they will be positioned to replace laser in both home and business environments. Costs are still high for LED printers, but that’s expected to fall over time.

II. LED Televisions

Most people aren’t aware that there are light bulbs of any kind inside LCD TVs, referred to as backlight devices, which allow TVs to be viewed in pitch black rooms. Therefore, many novice shoppers often confuse the technology, comparing LED versus LCD televisions, despite the fact that both are actually LCD devices. The difference, then, is that LED TVs are LCD devices with LED’s for the backlighting, whereas what is commonly referred to as an LCD television is the same device but with a fluorescent light bulb providing the backlighting. The most obvious advantage is the depth or thickness of the TV, which can go from 4-5 inches to a remarkably thin 1 inch since LED bulbs are significantly thinner than fluorescent bulbs. The cost should be cheaper, although LED televisions are so new that they are often priced higher than their LCD counter parts. Finally, the power consumption and overall lifespan of the TV are improved, in part because there’s no fluorescent bulb to change. I’ve read dozens of television reviews that claim LED televisions have superior picture quality due to the fact that they have more even lighting, but after viewing them in person, I find the picture quality improvements are vastly theoretical. The biggest disadvantage of LED picture quality is the reduced viewing angle. If you’re looking at the TV from any angle other than directly in front of it, such as from the side or slightly above/below, the picture becomes extremely dark.

The verdict: Due to the reduced picture quality and the fact that LED televisions currently cost more than LCD, now is not the time to switch to LED. The thickness of the TV provides a bit of bragging rights, I’ll admit, but for now I’ll stick with improved picture quality and lower cost.

III. LED Light Bulbs

The most common light bulb we have all seen is the incandescent light bulb, which are now being replaced with compact fluorescent lamps that use far less power. While these two types of light bulbs each have their advantages and disadvantages, I’m reluctant to call one better than the other. A third type entering the market is LED light bulbs, which uses a cluster of small LEDs inside a shell to simulate a standard light bulb. The biggest advantage of these bulbs is significantly less power usage; since they don’t generate much heat, even more energy than is saved than with CFLs. The biggest disadvantages are the cost per bulb and weak ambient quality. Because LEDs create directed light, such as in a flash light, they perform poorly when use as an ambient light source such as a lamp or overhead room light.

The verdict: There is still a long way to go on LED light bulbs, both in terms of quality and price, which is right now quite expensive per bulb. While we’re still a long way off from replacing all the lights in our house with LED bulbs, the potential cost saving is astronomical. Granted, there are some previously unknown side effects of replacing lights with LED, such as this Wisconsin town found out, causing increased costs for snow cleaning crews.


The advantages of LED devices are pretty consistent: they use less power, are cheaper to produce, and often allow for smaller, lighter, and more compact form factors. One disadvantage is also pretty consistent, though: they tend to sacrifice quality. I suggest holding off jumping on the LED band-wagon until the technology has matured. There’s no doubt the prices of these devices and quality will improve, as manufacturers see lower costs equaling greater profits, but the technology just isn’t there for widespread adaptation. If you value quality over energy savings, you would do well to wait for the technology to catch up.

female programmers and programmers to be

Kathy Sierra has been tweeting about Women in Technology over the last week or so.  Today’s tweet really got me thinking.

Tired of being a Woman In Tech. I’m a programmer. I’m female. Does it have to be SO political/significant? Sometimes a coder’s just a coder. -Kathy Sierra

While I certainly haven’t been in the field as long as Kathy, I am a female programmer.  And I haven’t really thought about it since college.  Until recently.  It’s not significant to me; I don’t think it is significant to people I work with.  And yet in some ways it is.  My response to this tweet was:

@KathySierra sorry; you’re a VISIBLE female programmer & a role model for the next generation(aka me); don’t have any at work so branch out -Jeanne Boyarsky

And this is why I’ve been thinking about it.  Whether I notice or not, I am starting to become a role model to some people.  I know because they told me!  Sometimes it is people I know and sometimes it is people who read my posts on JavaRanch.

High schoolers

Kathy has also been writing about getting girls into IT in the first place.

Do high-schoolers choose a career based on who speaks at conferences? To claim even a trickle-down effect (respect! exposure!) feels wrong. -Kathy Sierra

@jeanneboyarsky agree in principle, just that conference keynoters are NOT on teen girl’s radar and don’t “count” as visibility/motivation. -Kathy Sierra

I agree with her that high schoolers don’t choose a career based on who speaks at conferences.  I do think some more awareness of women in tech is helpful though.  In the Spring, I volunteered at a high school robot competition.  A college professor asked me if ANY of teams had girls on them.  With thoughts like that influencing careers, it isn’t very encouraging.  I heard my share of “girls shouldn’t go into IT” when I was in high school as well – 1995-1999.  (The answer in case you are wondering is of course there are girls on teams.  In fact, there were a few all girl teams.)

This school year, I started volunteering as a mentor with FIRST robotics as a high school programming mentor.  The lead student programmer is also female. Nobody thinks much of this.  Which is the point.    People want to be accepted.  Being accepted for being a techie is better than people thinking differently of you because you are female.  It’s just a part of me as is my brown hair.  Or at least that is how it should work.

Female Architects

I think another reason for the dearth of female role models in technology is that less females tend to stick with it over time.

@KathySierra: “women speakers in tech?” I always wonder why ‘women’ are different. Don’t we want good _people_ in these sessions? –Steve Johnson

I think Steve makes an excellent point.  Of course we want good people in these sessions.  And I do see women at conferences.  I just tend to see them in “softer” roles like talking about social media than “harder” programming parts.  And absolutely favor strength over gender when choosing conference speakers.

Where I work, there aren’t yet any female architects. And by that I mean the really senior folks who have been doing this 20-30 years like Bear Bibeault and Ernest Friedman Hill rather than the watered down “developer with 7 years experience” definition.

I think this is due to a number of things:

  1. The culture of the past – If many years ago people were pushed a certain way, it affects the present.  I can’t speak to the past since I wasn’t there at that point.  But I do think it has an impact.
  2. The greater chance a woman would go into management than stay in technology – soft vs hard skills? preference? social conditioning? path of least resistance?
  3. Interest in keeping up with technology – you have to really like something to stay with it in your free time; money isn’t enough

Yes, I want to be an architect someday.  But I want to get there because I’m good at what I do, not because I am female.

What can we do

Thinking about three things I and people I know do to make things a tiny bit better:

  1. Like what you do; be passionate about what you do – Male or female, this is the core of why technology is fun!  If you happen to be female, let this excitement shine through and let others see it.  I’m volunteering as a programming mentor for robotics because I enjoy it.  Being a positive role model for the students is a side effect.
  2. Point out the “she” – If you are female and someone refers to you as “he” or “sir”, correct them.  This is how we introduce visibility into the fact that there are strong techies out there.  Scott Selikoff does so if someone calls me “he” in a blog comment. Some people do this so often at JavaRanch that Campbell Ritchie has made it a running joke. But it helps.  It serves as little reminders that we do have strong female technical females running around.  Not to the the teens of course.  But to the existing programmers.
  3. Look to the future – Things change over time.  The senior architects of the today were largely born in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.  This was before people had the internet in their homes.  The students of today are growing up with social networking.  Computers aren’t as geeky.  There is more social interaction in the job.  In another couple of decades people my age will be those senior architects and then there will be more female role models.

[edited to add “when choosing conference speakers.” per comments on redit]

Yet another reason not to switch to Blu-ray

The Sony Blu-ray launch has been marred by a near-endless amount of mistakes, not least of which was the two years they spent duking it out with Toshiba’s HD-DVD, which, although they won, came at something of a high cost. For example, despite being launched in 2006, 3 years later Blu-Ray players are still ridiculously priced, especially when compared to DVD players. Not to mention that a lot of people have predicted the format war was so off-putting to customers that many may skip it and go directly to digital distribution. With the popularity of Hulu, iTunes, and Tivo, that does seem to be the case.

But, if you had any more doubts about Blu-Ray, never fear, Netflix will now charge you 20% more to rent items on Blu-Ray than on standard DVD: Boost Blu-ray Fee as Demand Increases

Makes you wonder, do they even like their customers? I don’t blame Netflix, I imagine the discs do cost more, I blame the studios for raising prices and missing a golden opportunity to be competitive with DVD. There’s just no compelling reason to switch.