The scourge of LEDs everywhere: Readers speak out

Open source gear might be one way to get around LED pollution on wireless access points, routers, etc.

We didn't claim that our recent story titled "Lights out! Why IT shops are disabling wireless AP LEDs" was tackling one of the world's major problems, but it clearly addressed one of the tech world's ongoing annoyances.

Roughly 300 comments have been made about the story by those who found it on the Slashdot website, others chimed in on Reddit, and more contacted me directly. (The original story was prompted by discussion among IT professionals at universities, seeking ways to reduce light pollution in dorm and hospital rooms.)

Sure, a few noted that it must have been a slow news day, but most of the others either shared their exasperation with manufacturers who overdo it by piling cheap LEDs into their gear or that don't make it easy enough to turn them off or dim them, or offered tips for shielding people from the bright lights.

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Electrical tape seems to be the most popular solution to cover lights ("Electrical tape is your friend," wrote indoninja on Reddit), though some fear the First World problem of leftover tape residue. And others got into the finer details of painter's tape ("painters tape comes in varying colors to denote the length of time it can safely stay on a surface and still be cleanly removed," wrote one Slashdot commenter.).

Another proposed alternative to LEDs, especially blue ones, was to use good old fashioned LCD strips, like on old digital watches. Permanent markers can also at least dim the lights, others said.

[Discussion even veered off to include some marriage advice for a person whose wife says she needs the LEDs blocked in their bedroom even though she admits not being able to see the glow when her eyes are closed. "Marriage tip: Just be a good fella and sort the damn LEDS out, eh?" one would-be counselor suggested.]

Aside from DIY fixes, vendors might also step up with covers, Show LEDs buttons, dimming controls, etc., readers said. One Ubiquiti wireless AP user says that vendor, in fact, does allow you to log in and turn the glowing disk off.

While LEDs on wireless access points and other tech gear might seem like a minor issue, some defended the topic as a serious one.

"Blue LEDs are disgusting and should all be replaced with old school green LEDs" wrote a strident Anonymous Coward on Slashdot.

KiranWolf wrote on Slashdot that: "I'm nearsighted. When I take my glasses off or contacts out, every LED in teh room is like the size of a full moon to me. It makes it very difficult to sleep."

And how can you ignore the comfort of hospital patients?

"You can ignore the [LED polluion] problem but the problem still exists," wrote jellomizer on Slashdot. "Sure it doesn't bother people enough to speak so if they are at the hospital and [feeling miserable] that blue LED may be annoying but they are experiencing far more annoying things. However its absence will just help the person out a little more, get that extra 20 minutes of sleep."

Open Source to the Rescue

One solution to LED overload is going with open source technology.

One Slashdot commenter going by the handle of guruevi uses OpenWrt: "You can reprogram any LED on your router for whatever purpose. Want them all on or off at the certain time of day or blink if it detected anomalous traffic."

I also got email from Dave Taht, who happened to recently write a blog post titled "Blinkenlights: A debugging aid AND a curse" (with the subhed of "Too many LEDs! Give me back the stars!"). Taht is a busy guy as director of the Make Wi-Fi Fast project and co-founder of the Bufferbloat and CeroWrt projects, though took time out to share some LED disabling tips in his blog post.

Taht, like many of those cited above, has made his share of manual fixes over the years, using electrical tape and just plan moving devices behind things. Only recently did he start monkeying with software to solve his problem.

He acknowledges that "LED programming is a great pastime" and that LEDs can convey truly meaningful information to IT and just plain old consumers, but he also warns that "Everyone is trying to encode meaning into these things, because, well, that’s what you do. They are there, you gotta use them for something."

The one place where Taht would urge for an LED to shine is when a camera/mic is on. "I'd mandate that it be wired up in circuit, like it was in the [One Laptop Per Child computer], to make it impossible to change in software."

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Bob Brown

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