Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet


February 2017

By Mike Gould

You light up my life…

    Debby Boone 1977     Written by Joe Brooks

OK, time for another hard-hitting political analysis from the punditry of … ah, no. Not gonna go there. Wouldn’t be prudent. En-mired as we all are in the deadly effluent oozing from Washington these days, a bit of light in the darkness is called for, so here is a shiny happy piece about stuff you can wear that lights up. You’re welcome.

This Little Light of Mine
Geezer alert - back in the day, Ann Arbor: I remember the time I saw my first LED. They had just come on the market and I was down at Purchase Radio buying tiny grain-of-wheat incandescent light bulbs for props I was building for Junior Theater, the A2 Rec Dept. group I worked with back in high school. These little bulbs were generally used as indicator lights and as streetlights in model railroads. I used them to build the more explosive and shiny gizmos used by the actors playing wizards, etc. onstage. I was looking for the smallest light source I could get to make a glowing magical mushroom, and a sales guy pointed me to an even smaller doodad than I had been using. This was the new-fangled LED. I bought a couple, and immediately blew them up, not realizing there was more electronics involved.

I eventually learned to work with them, leading up to the moment on stage at the Michigan Theater where I wore LEDs over my eyelids as a member of the Martian Entropy Band. I controlled them by touching two rings together on my hand. Long story, point being that I think it’s cool to wear lights on special occasions. I have this steampunk derby with goggles and a small flashlight on it…

Three Letter Acronyms (a fine bit of meta naming, that) are rife in today’s alphanumeric landscape, so let’s go exploring.

LED – Light Emitting Diode. These make up the bulk of today’s flashlights and automotive lights, and are starting to make their way into household light sockets across the country. This is the heart of the new lighting tech: these are tiny electronic specks that light up when you apply power (or “juice”, as we techies like to say.)( Well, I do.) They are very efficient, low power, low heat, and provide a wide variety of colors for interior decoration. These are what are replacing the CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lights), which replaced the low-efficiency, high heat incandescent bulbs most of us grew up with.

COB – Chips On Board. These are multiple LEDs mounted on a common circuit board - using multiple LEDs increases the amount of light you can put in a small space. These are what you see in most bright light uses, including household lighting. I recently replaced all the lights in my office with LED jobbies – they are as bright as the CFLs they replaced, cost about as much, and will last forever. They are available as pure white lights, good for workshops and kitchens, and in a warmer color, which is more suitable to living rooms, etc.

EL – Electroluminescent. This is a different technology, found mostly in panels and wire form. Not as bright at LEDs, this is ideal in wire format to sew into costumes to provide an outline and additional detailing that glows in the dark. The panels you see as nightlights in hardware stores - pale glowing greenish squares, use this technology.

You see EL wire a lot at events like FoolMoon, where gleeful participants party after dark in downtown Ann Arbor around April Fools day. (URL below). Illuminatus will be there again this year; look for the booth with the lasers shooting out of it draped with glowing EL wire. If you go to the FoolMoon site, note the lumenaria art that people are carrying on sticks: LED powered, all.

Fiber Fashion
Another way to incorporate this into lumen-rich style is to use light-conducting fiber optics to connect LEDs to a cloth undergarment. See the site below for some stunning dresses and suits, as well as purses and such. Fiber optics have been around for years as home lighting accents, and someone finally figured out how to incorporate them into clothes – cool!

Dress for Success
The first time I saw a serious light-up piece of clothing was at a Blue Man performance around 15 years ago. A woman came out wearing a fabulous dress that lit up and did sequencing. My wife Salli immediately said (“…Want!...”). As this was a number of years back, the dress had a long umbilical cord attached to an off-stage controller and power supply. These days, you could no doubt control this from a small fanny pack.

The Blue Man group also do a lot with EL wire and fluorescent paint. If you ever get the chance to see them, run, don’t walk, to get tickets. A not-to-be missed visual and music extravaganza.

Why Would I Want to Set Myself Alight?
Because it’s fun. Think party clothes, costuming, attention-getters at expos, etc. Below are sources for various bits of photonic-enhanced toggery, for those who can’t/don’t want to build your own. For those of you seamstresses/seamsters out there, there is a whole culture built around building your own lit clothing. See the Make article below.

In fact there is so much interest online, it is only a matter of time before illuminated clothing hits the mainstream and becomes available at TJ Maxx, etc. Whoops, I just checked and TJ has this already. See? I told ya.

LEDs and COB:

EL Wire:


Light up clothing:

Make Magazine EL hoodie article:

Fiber Optics:

TJ Maxx:

Mike Gould spends a lot of time lighting things up, mostly with lasers. He was a mouse wrangler for the U of M for 20 years, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Training/Photography mega-mall, is a laser artist, directs the Illuminatus Lasers, and welcomes comments addressed to

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