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This Light Bulb Has Been Burning Since 1901

There’s a light bulb in Livermore, California that won’t go out. It hangs on a cord from the ceiling of the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department’s Fire Station #6, and it has been burning since 1901. On June 27, 2015, there was a party held in the bulb’s honor to celebrate its one millionth hour of operation. There were refreshments and music and barbecue. Town officials toasted the bulb's achievement. The light bulb, for its part, burned over everyone’s heads, like it always does.

About an hour east of San Francisco, Livermore sits in a valley surrounded by rolling hills made gold by the drought. The fire station is on East Avenue, and bulb tourists like myself must walk around back and ring the doorbell to get let in. Inside, fire engines and equipment dominate the space. The small bulb hangs about twenty feet overhead, glowing near a row of fluorescent shop lights which, unlike the bulb, were turned off. If it weren't for the camera pointed directly at it (to broadcast a live web stream), the bulb would be easy to miss.

To be an on-duty firefighter at Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Station #6 means you have to both fight fires and give historical light bulb tours at a moment's notice. The two firemen who hosted me said I was the second visitor of the day. Some days they have huge groups who come in—groups that have been known to bunch beneath the bulb and gawk crane-necked at it until the firemen get an emergency call. They then have to politely shoo the tourists outside while they gear up to leave the station, sirens blaring. These visitors will sometimes still be standing outside when the firefighters return, waiting to get let back in to look at the bulb some more.

BULB FACTS

Manufacturer: Shelby Electric Company in Shelby, Ohio (est. 1896, out of business 1912).

Manufacture date: c. 1898.

Designer: French electrical engineer Adolphe A. Chaillet (b. Nov 1867, d. ~1914).

Filament: Carbon, made by a “secret process” that is still unknown today. The filament forms a loop inside the bulb that, from below, looks like the word “no” written in cursive.

Wattage: The bulb is thought to be a 60-watt model (actual figure unknown), but it currently burns at about four watts.

Is it still on?: Yes.

Much of this info (and the information that follows) is from A Million Hours of Service, a book about the bulb written by Thomas Bramell, Livermore's retired Deputy Fire Chief and foremost historian of the bulb. It is for sale at the fire station, along with bulb T-shirts and other bulb memorabilia. (Proceeds go to the Livermore-Pleasanton Firefighters Foundation, a non-profit that supports injured and fallen firefighters, the burn foundation, and other charities.)

Brief History of the Bulb as *THE BULB*

The bulb's current residence.

The bulb had been burning without much fanfare for 71 years before Mike Dunstan, a reporter for the Livermore Herald and News, starting asking around about it in 1972. Through interviews, Dunstan was able to confirm the bulb’s longevity.

The bulb was likely given to the fire department in 1901 as a gift from local businessman Dennis F. Bernal. One of Bernal’s children recalled to Dunstan that her father had given away a stash of business and personal items in 1901 and that this stash probably included the bulb. Older residents remembered passing the fire station and seeing the bulb during walks to and from school in the early 1900s. John Jensen, a former volunteer firefighter who served in Livermore in 1905, said he recalled the light being on at all times as far back as he can remember. Because it worked as a sort of emergency light to help firefighters see at any time of the day, the bulb was never turned off.

The light has been burning so continuously, the few instances when it has been turned off can be printed on a small bookmark:

1906: The bulb was moved from a fire house on Second Street in Livermore to a new fire station on First Street.

1937: The bulb was turned off for about a week when the station underwent renovations that were part of a WPA project.

1976: The bulb was moved to the newly built Fire Station #6. It was off for about 22 minutes during that move, plus a few seconds after it was installed and wouldn’t work. (City electrician Frank Moul slightly rotated the bulb’s socket switch, rectifying the problem.)

May 20, 2013: The bulb went out in the early morning hours when its uninterrupted power supply malfunctioned. A man in Australia watching on the bulb web cam noticed the outage and frantically tried to get in touch with the fire station from the other side of the Pacific Ocean. The bulb wound up being off for about nine hours.

To fix it, firefighters bypassed the uninterrupted power supply with an extension cord. Worryingly, it burned about four times as bright as normal when it was turned back on, raising fears that it was about to surge out. Over the next few days, however, it returned to its normal brightness level, which is to say about as bright as an overzealous nightlight.

Three Theories On Why the Bulb Hasn’t Burnt Out

1: Consistency: Matt, one of the firefighters who showed me the bulb, tossed out this theory (which he identified as “a theory,” meaning that it is in no way definitive). As described above, the bulb has been turned off and on so infrequently that the filament has burned at a steady rate without having to cool down and heat back up repeatedly. This results in a sort of “thermal momentum.” (“Thermal momentum” is my phrase, and I thought it sounded super smart when I said it during Matt’s explanation and am including here for posterity, hoping it gets reprinted in further reports about the bulb, granting me a slice of the bulb's immortality).

2. It’s just one of those things: Joel, the other firefighter present during my visit, added to the previous theory by calling the whole thing a “perfect accident” (which I concede is a much better phrase than my “thermal momentum” mumbo jumbo—mumbo jumbo, it turns out, that is already a term in the physics community and not a term coined by yours truly; thus my immortality burns out). “The Shelby bulbs are hand-blown,” he explained, and the uniqueness of its shape, size, filament, and other factors that can’t be achieved during mass production all contribute to this “perfect accident.”

3. Planned Obsolescence: On December 23, 1924, executives from the world’s major light bulb manufacturers met in Geneva to hatch a plan. GE, Philips, Tokyo Electric, Germany's Osram, France’s Compagnie des Lampes, and others joined together to form what is known as the Phoebus Cartel. The cartel divided the world into market zones they would individually control and instituted sales quotas to keep each company equally dominant. They also decided to limit their lightbulbs’ average operating lives to 1,000 hours, about half the number of hours the companies’ existing bulbs were capable to burn.

“The cartel took its business of shortening the lifetime of bulbs every bit as seriously as earlier researchers had approached their job of lengthening it,” writes Markus Krajewski in the trade magazine for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. “Each factory bound by the cartel agreement—and there were hundreds, including GE’s numerous licensees throughout the world—had to regularly send samples of its bulbs to a central testing laboratory in Switzerland. There, the bulbs were thoroughly vetted against cartel standards.”

The cartel unraveled by the 1930s, partly due to government intervention and fair trade legislation, and also because smaller competitors were able to disrupt the manufacturing giants by selling cheaper bulbs.

While the cartel’s shelf life was as short as the bulbs they produced, its legacy has lasted much longer. Accusations of planned obsolescence are routinely pointed at companies nowadays, and every time someone’s smartphone breaks after its warranty runs out, the ensuing complaints (justified or not) have their roots in the Phoebus Cartel's scheme.

If this all sounds like the plot of a paranoid novel, it’s because it is. Thomas Pynchon wrote about the Phoebus Cartel in Gravity’s Rainbow. They appear in a section about “Byron the Bulb,” a plucky talking light bulb who never burns out and becomes a target of the the cartel. While Pynchon was obviously writing fiction here—lights bulbs don’t talk, not even famous ones hanging in California fire stations—the Phoebus Cartel was very much real.

Seeing as Gravity’s Rainbow was published in 1973, it’s possible that Pynchon, who lived in California, had read Dustan’s coverage of the fire house bulb in the Livermore Herald and News and used it as inspiration for Byron the Bulb (he'd have to have quickly put it in the book he had been working on for years, though).

Either way, the centennial bulb has become a smoking gun of sorts for people who believe that companies still conspire to shorten products’ operating lives for profit. It was featured in the 2010 documentary The Lightbulb Conspiracy, and a British film crew traveled all the way to Livermore to film the bulb, glowing away in humble glory.

No matter how well-made those pre-Phoebus bulbs are, 114 years is still a ghastly overachievement for Livermore's little light.

When I asked the on-duty firefighters about the theory of planned obsolescence, they shrugged and were democratically noncommittal as to whether or not their station's nightlight pointed to a global conspiracy.

Landesarchiv Berlin

What Happens When/If It Burns Out?

After that close call in 2013 when it was off for nine hours, the keepers of the bulb saw its life flash before their eyes. Should the centennial bulb burn out for good, they don't want to be without a strategy for saying goodbye to it with dignity. While nothing is official yet, they want to have a full funeral procession through town, finishing at the historical society where the bulb will be displayed in a resting place of honor.

If you show up and quietly do your job without fuss for long enough, there's a chance you'll be celebrated like a head of state when you die.

Murmurs of a replacement bulb also abound. A supposedly unused Shelby model just like the current centennial bulb has been acquired by a party who may be willing to part with it when the time comes. Keep in mind, these plans all hinge on the bulb actually burning out, something that hasn't happened for 114 years.

Don't be surprised if it buries us all. Long live the bulb.

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25 Amazing Netflix Hacks to Enhance Your Viewing Experience
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We know you love watching the hottest movies and TV shows on Netflix, but are you getting the most out of the streaming service? If you want to binge-watch like a pro, any—or all—of these amazing hacks can help.

1. USE CATEGORY CODES TO FIND WHAT YOU REALLY WANT.

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If you feel like you’re seeing the same movies and TV shows on your Netflix homepage again and again, that's because the streaming company caters its recommendations to your taste through a highly specific algorithm. But if you’re in the mood for something different, Netflix breaks down each movie and TV show into more than 76,000 hidden categories, which are as broad as "Action & Adventure” or as detailed as “Critically-Acclaimed Witty Movies from the 1930s."

You can find category codes within the Netflix URL itself: The last four numbers in the web address correspond to each category code. It looks something like this: http://www.netflix.com/browse/genre/1365. So if you want “Exciting B-Horror Movies,” type in “2852” at the end of the URL (replacing the 1365 in the example)

. Do you want to find something in “Feel-Good Sports Movies For Ages 8 to 10?” That’s “855.” “Visually-Striking Movies For Ages 5 to 7?” Type in “2851” to unlock the category.

Check out a very extensive list of Netflix category codes here.

2. GET THE SUPER NETFLIX EXTENSION FOR BETTER VIDEO QUALITY.

If you’re watching Netflix via the Google Chrome browser, there’s a free extension called Super Netflix that can enhance your viewing experience. Once installed, the extension allows you to pick your video streaming quality instead of Netflix automatically doing it for you. This is ideal if you want the best video quality at home on your Wi-Fi connection, or if you want to reduce it on the go to save your data.

Super Netflix can also automatically skip TV show intros, blur plot descriptions and image thumbnails to prevent spoilers, enhance video brightness and color contrast, and speed up the video (just in case you want to binge-watch Stranger Things as quickly as you can).

3. MAKE EXTRA ROOM ON YOUR HOME SCREEN.

From American Vandal to Wormwood, Netflix Originals are highly entertaining and definitely worth watching. But sometimes you want to watch something that isn't produced by the streaming service. No Netflix Originals is a Google Chrome extension that does exactly what its name suggests: removes all Netflix Originals from your home screen, so you can see everything else Netflix has to offer.

4. DISABLE THE DREADED "ARE YOU STILL WATCHING?" PROMPT.

Are you tired of hitting that “Next Episode” button when you’re binge-watching a new TV show? The Never Ending Netflix Chrome extension puts an end to that inconvenience. After you install it, the extension allows you to skip titles sequences, automatically play the next episode, and disables the dreaded “Are You Still Watching?” prompt that pops up every couple of hours. The extension even lets you search Netflix by genre.

5. ADD NOTES TO YOUR FAVORITE TITLES.

Created by the good people at Lifehacker, Flix Plus is a Chrome extension that allows you to completely customize your Netflix viewing experience. It comes with 18 built-in customization settings, such as hiding spoiler descriptions and images, disabling a shrinking screen during end credits, and pinning your “My List” page to the top of the home screen. But the best feature is the ability to add notes to titles. Now you can add the reason why you added Wild Wild Country to your list or add a note about when Disney’s The Jungle Book will expire from the streaming service.

6. SEARCH HIDDEN CATEGORIES RIGHT FROM THE HOME SCREEN.

FindFlix: Netflix Secret Category Finder is a Google Chrome extension or Firefox add-on that allows you to search through all of the hidden category codes without leaving Netflix itself, instead of scrolling through a never-ending list on a separate website. Once installed, just search for a genre or whatever you’re in the mood to watch like “movies starring Sean Connery” or “movies for children between ages 2 and 4 years old.”

7. HOST A NETFLIX PARTY FOR ALL YOUR FRIENDS.

Do you want to watch BoJack Horseman with your significant other, but they are on the other side of the country? Don’t worry, Netflix Party has got your back! It's a handy Chrome extension that allows you to watch Netflix with anyone, even if they’re not in the same room, city, or even state.

After you install the extension, you can create a shareable link of what’s on Netflix. The link opens to the exact movie or TV show you’re watching at that moment, so you can watch together at the same time and perfectly synced. It even comes with a group chat feature, so you can comment on the action on the screen. Netflix Party is perfect for people in long-distance relationships, so you’ll never be accused of “Netflix Cheating” again.

In addition, if you’d like to take the party on the road, use Rabbit for Android and iOS. It’s a platform that allows you to watch Netflix, Hulu, Crunchyroll, YouTube, or just about any video streaming platform with your friends via mobile app or Chrome extension. You can even message or video chat with each other while you’re watching an episode of Ozark on the go!

8. AUTOMATICALLY SKIP OVER EVERY SHOW'S INTRO.

Are you sick of clicking the “Skip Intro” button when you’re watching a TV show on Netflix? SkipFlix is a handy Chrome extension that skips all intros automatically, so you don’t have to. Now you can spend more time binge-watching The Crown instead of fiddling with a mouse.

9. WATCH IN THE HIGHEST QUALITY HD POSSIBLE.

While web browsers like Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox have a lot of useful extensions and add-ons, respectively, they're not the best browsers for streaming Netflix in the highest quality HD possible. Chrome (on Mac and Windows), Firefox, and Opera tap out streaming resolution at 720 pixels, while browsers like Apple’s Safari and Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Edge browsers delivers Netflix in full 1080 pixels.

It’s also important to consider your Wi-Fi connection. Netflix recommends at least 5.0 megabits per second download speed for HD quality. (For more helpful tips, here are some simple ways to boost your home Wi-Fi network.)

10. SEE A MOVIE'S DROP-OFF RATE BEFORE YOU START IT.

Enhancer by Simkl is a wonderful Google Chrome extension that works over multiple streaming platforms, including Netflix, Hulu, and Crunchyroll. Once you install it and register an account, you can hover your computer’s cursor over any title to reveal its IMDb score, TV rank, and even its drop-off rate—which means you can now see how many others stopped watching midway through a movie or TV show. And since it syncs with other streaming services, you can track your viewing habits across multiple services.

11. SORT MOVIES BY YEAR.

While Netflix features the ability to sort movies and TV shows by genre, there’s a simple hack that can also sort chronologically by year (at least in a web browser). Just go to a category page like horror, drama, or comedy and look for a small box with four dots inside on the upper right hand side of the page. It will then expand the “Suggestions for You” dropdown menu, which gives you the option to sort by year of release with the most recent titles at the top of the page and the older ones at the bottom. It can even sort in alphabetical or reverse alphabetical order.  

12. SAVE ON YOUR SUBSCRIPTION FEE WITH DISCOUNT GIFT CARDS.

Did you know you could pay your monthly bill with a Netflix gift card? Raise.com is a service where you can buy or sell gift cards for retailers like Target, CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid at a deep discount. If you buy one for, let’s say Rite Aid, at a 12 percent discount, you could then buy a Netflix gift card in-store to save money on your monthly bill. So if you buy a $100 Netflix gift card from Rite Aid, it would only cost you $88, which you could turnaround to save 12 percent on your Netflix bill, too.

In addition, you can even buy Netflix gift cards directly from Raise.com at a discount, but the savings won’t be as deep as ones from a retailer.

13. GET EASY ACCESS TO NON-NETFLIX REVIEWS.

While Netflix has its own user-generated rating system (thumbs up/thumbs down), you can use a trusty Google Chrome extension called RateFlix to add ratings from other rating aggregates. Once installed, IMDb ratings, “Rotten” or “Fresh” percentages, and Metacritic scores will appear in the movie's description.

14. BROWSE BY MICRO-GENRE, OR WHAT'S EXPIRING SOON.

So now that you know all about Netflix’s secret categories and codes, you have to admit that more than 76,000 micro-genres is far too many to remember. Luckily, Super Browse takes the most popular categories and makes it easy to navigate and scroll through the Netflix interface itself. Just click the genre you’d like to browse and the handy Google Chrome extension will do the rest. You can even browse by what’s new to Netflix and what’s expiring soon.

15. ROTATE THE VIDEO SO THAT BINGE-WATCHING IN BED ISN'T A LITERAL PAIN IN THE NECK.

This one is a game-changer! Instead of craning your neck to binge-watch Marvel’s Daredevil while lying down, Netflix Flip is a Chrome extension that will flip the video 90 degrees on your computer screen, so you can comfortably watch Netflix in bed. No more turning your laptop on its side to get a better viewing angle—Netflix Flip will do it for you.

16. BINGE-WATCH WHILE YOU WORK.

Sometimes you just want something playing in the background while you’re working on a spreadsheet, but it’s tough to always have video playing when there are other windows taking up space on your desktop. However, there’s a way to always have Netflix running in its own window that’s floating above everything else, if you watch it in a Helium web browser on a Mac.

Helium is a browser that keeps media playing in a transparent “floating” window that will never get lost behind other windows, even during task-switching. You can still click, double-click, drag, and scroll behind Helium and never interact with the micro-browser itself. It’s ideal for watching Netflix while working ... not that you would ever do that, of course.

17. FOCUS ON "WHAT'S NEW."

When it comes to new and old titles, Netflix is always adding to and subtracting from its catalog. To stay updated, you should take advantage of services like JustWatch or WhatsNewonNetflix.com to see all the great movies and TV shows that will appear or go away on Netflix.

18. VOLUNTEER TO TEST NEW FEATURES BEFORE THEY BECOME PUBLIC.

Do you want to be the first to try out new features from Netflix? The streaming service allows you to opt-in with “test participation,” which is where new features—such as new interfaces, new rating systems, and pre-roll trailers—are first rolled out. If you want to give it a shot, go to “Accounts,” then “Settings,” and look for the “Test Participation” toggle. Turn it on if you want to try the latest and greatest features from Netflix before everyone else.

19. ENABLE AUDIO DESCRIPTIONS SO THAT YOU DON'T MISS A THING.

If you can’t keep your eyes on a TV screen or mobile device, but still want to enjoy Netflix, there’s a handy little category hidden deep inside of the streaming service called “Audio Description” that offers narration explaining what the characters are doing on the screen. This hidden feature essentially turns your favorite movies and TV shows into an audiobook or a podcast.

It's chiefly seen on Netflix originals, but it’s perfect for anyone who wants to follow along with the latest episode of 13 Reasons Why or Grace and Frankie while taking a walk in the park.

20. CLEAR OUT YOUR “CONTINUE WATCHING” QUEUE.

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Over time, your “Continue Watching” queue can get overrun with half-watched Adam Sandler movies and episodes of The Ranch. (We're not judging.) You know you’re never going to finish Bright, so clear out your queue to make it cleaner and easier to navigate.

Go to “Account,” and then under “My Profiles” you’ll see an option for “Viewing Activity.” This is where Netflix stores everything you’ve ever watched on the streaming service. Simply click the “X” on anything you’d like to leave behind and Netflix will adjust your queue accordingly. And now you have more time for the things you actually want to watch.

This is also the method to use if you want to delete your Saturday afternoon binge-watching session of Fuller House before the other people on your Netflix account find out. (Again, we're not judging.)

21. STREAM IN 4K.

Streaming video in 1080p is so 2017; Netflix makes it possible to stream in full 4K resolution (2160p) with the streaming service adding new titles available in Ultra HD. If you meet all the requirements, like owning an Ultra HD TV, high-speed Internet (about 25 megabits per second downloads), and Premium subscription ($13.99 a month), you can access all of Netflix’s 4K content. Just type 4K or UltraHD into the search box to see all the titles available.

Please note, not every title on Netflix is presented in 4K, but it does offer more than 200 popular titles, including Alias Grace, Ugly Delicious, Chef’s Table, Okja, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Just be aware that this can eat through your data plan: Netflix estimates that UltraHD uses 7 GB an hour.

22. CREATE DIFFERENT PROFILES FOR YOUR MANY CONTENT-CONSUMING PERSONALITIES.

Every Netflix account comes with five profiles for your friends and family to use, but if you don’t want to give out your password, you could always use those spare profiles for any occasion. Since Netflix recommends things you might like based on each specific profile's viewing habits, you can “train” it for your mood or special event.

For example: You can create a profile that’s entirely filled with horror movies and TV shows for a Halloween party, and another with rom-coms for date night for some real “Netflix and Chill.”

23. SET PARENTAL CONTROLS.

If you have children and want them to enjoy Netflix, but not its mature content, you can set up a special four-digit PIN code that will restrict what they can and cannot access. Go to “Account” (which should open up a web browser) and under “Setting,” you’ll find “Parental Controls.” Once you click the link, you’ll be prompted to enter the account's password and then be asked to create a special PIN code.

Afterwards, you’ll be asked to set the age restriction for “Little Kids” all the way up to “Adults.” If your child tries to access something that’s too mature, a prompt will appear on the screen asking for the PIN code. And since the child wouldn’t know the code, he or she won't be able to watch Disjointed or Hot Girls Wanted.

24. DOWNLOAD TITLES FOR OFFLINE VIEWING.

If you want to watch Netflix, but know that you'll be offline for a good period of time—like on a cross-country flight—you can simply download the title to your Android, iOS, or Windows 10 device and watch it offline with the download feature. You can even download movies and TV shows in standard or high definition.

However, not every title available on the streaming service is available for download. Netflix has a category called “Available for Download,” which is located under the menu option, where you can see all of the titles that are available to watch offline. Just look for the download icon and remember to download the desired titles before you lose your internet connection. Also, if you have an Android device, you can download more titles with the extra space provided on an SD card.

25. REQUEST THAT YOUR FAVORITE (CURRENTLY UNAVAILABLE) TITLES BE ADDED.

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Netflix doesn’t have every title ever produced, and the titles they do have can leave on short notice as licensing deals expire. But if there’s something you want to watch and it never seems to be part of the streaming service’s ever-changing lineup, just ask Netflix directly for a movie or TV show and they might add it.

It might be a long shot, but you can actually request a new title for streaming. You can even call or start a live chat with Netflix to make a request. It just goes to show that the company is always on the lookout for more streaming content.

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New AI-Driven Music System Analyzes Tracks for Perfect Playlists
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Whether you're planning a bachelorette party or recovering from a breakup, a well-curated playlist makes all the difference. If you don't have time to pick the perfect songs manually, services that use the AI-driven system Sonic Style may be able to figure out exactly what you have in mind based on your request.

According to Fast Company, Sonic Style is the new music-categorizing service from the media and entertainment data provider Gracenote. There are plenty of music algorithms out there already, but Sonic Style works a little differently. Rather than listing the entire discography of a certain artist under a single genre, the AI analyzes individual tracks. It considers factors like the artist's typical genre and the era the song was recorded in, as well as qualities it can only learn through listening, like tempo and mood. Based on nearly 450 descriptors, it creates a super-accurate "style profile" of the track that makes it easier for listeners to find it when searching for the perfect song to fit an occasion.

Playlists that use data from Sonic Style feel like they were made by a person with a deep knowledge of music rather than a machine. That's thanks to the system's advanced neural network. It also recognizes artists that don't fit neatly into one genre, or that have evolved into a completely different music style over their careers. Any service—including music-streaming platforms and voice-activated assistants—that uses Gracenote's data will be able to take advantage of the new technology.

With AI at your disposal, all you have to do as the listener is decide on a style of music. Here are some ideas to get you started if you want a playlist for productivity.

[h/t Fast Company]

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