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Open Source Wireless Networking Technology

Wi-Fi Light Bulbs Shipping Soon 401

An anonymous reader writes "Computerworld has an interview with an Australian startup called LIFX, producing WiFi-connected LED light bulbs. Each light bulb is a small computer running the Thingsquare distribution of the open source Contiki operating system that creates a low-power wireless mesh network between the light bulbs and connects them to the WiFi network. The wireless mesh network lets the light bulbs be controlled with a smartphone app. Through a Kickstarter project, the company has already raised a significant amount of money: over one million USD. "
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Wi-Fi Light Bulbs Shipping Soon

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  • by justthinkit ( 954982 ) <> on Saturday June 15, 2013 @08:26PM (#44018379) Homepage Journal
    I'm waiting for the Wi-Fi toothpick.
    • Re:Wi-Fi toothpick (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ganjadude ( 952775 ) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @09:23PM (#44018731) Homepage
      yeah, and the wi fi doors.

      look, i dont want my 45 cent light bulb costing me 50 bucks. I dont need a light bulb with a computer in it, can i think of fun things to do with it? sure but when i have over 100 light bulbs in my home, i dont want them all costing me a months pay to replace. what is wrong with a good old fashioned light bulb??
      • Re:Wi-Fi toothpick (Score:5, Insightful)

        by thereitis ( 2355426 ) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @09:43PM (#44018829) Journal
        Seems to me that wifi-enabling the light switch would be more useful and cost-effective (for most people) than doing the same to the bulb.
        • Re:Wi-Fi toothpick (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 15, 2013 @10:13PM (#44018997)

          switching 110/220 is a big deal involving mechanical relays that tend to stick open/closed or flutter when they fail.

          what's more interesting is someone writing a virus/trojan that scans for these devices and then tries to trigger an epileptic fit by flashing all the lights on/off when it's night time.

          • by davetv ( 897037 )
            a semiconductor device - a triac - is more widely used for AC switching than relays
            • Yes, but they result in very dirty power that tend to kill cheap ballasts. If you're making a switch for lighting, a relay is the way to go if you want to support compact florescent bulbs. But triacs are good for incandescent bulbs.
              • Re:Wi-Fi toothpick (Score:5, Informative)

                by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @11:12PM (#44019289)

                Erm sorry but that's false. TRIACs only result in dirty power if they are used to chop part of the sine wave such as in a dimmer circuit. If you connect it high via a transistor or optocoupler it will start conducting from the very start of each half cycle and will not result in any harmonic distortion.

                The only time you'll see dirty power while a TRIAC is used as a simple switch is when it's not conducting. The leakage current is not constant. However if a few milliAmpers are likely to kill your ballast it was well and truly time to replace it anyway.

        • It's a matter of balancing cost and convenience. Putting the brains in each bulb makes it more generally accessible and effortlessly scalable.
          • Re:Wi-Fi toothpick (Score:5, Insightful)

            by tftp ( 111690 ) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @11:11PM (#44019287) Homepage

            Putting the brains in each bulb makes it more generally accessible and effortlessly scalable.

            Unless cost is a factor.

            • Cost vs. what? Plain old "dumb" bulbs? Sure, but then you're obviously not interested in this type of thing anyway.

              But cost of this vs. other systems? OK, maybe a bit more expensive, but you're *getting* so much more. LIFX is an open system, uses existing standardized networking protocols and is *programmable*. That last point, I think is what makes LIFX so much more than other systems (oh, you can turn your lights on with your phone and select 8 different preset colors? How cute!)

              I'm not astroturfing

              • by Nutria ( 679911 )

                So how many are you going to buy?

                As an adult, with children, mortgage, etc, etc ad nauseum to pay, we'll be buying a big fat ZERO of these.

                Now, if there were "intelligent light switches (and power outlets)" with built-in powerline network adapters and who's control protocol is openly documented (so that I could write Linux apps), then I'd consider it.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by tftp ( 111690 )

                I use Insteon and Z-Wave at this house. They run on cheap 8-bit processors and do not require fancy clocks, or complex modulation, or multiple channels. WiFi is overdesigned for the task, is chatty, and needs configuration of some sort.

                If you are interested in home automation, the last thing you want to do is to jump on a technology that is advertised to you through Slashdot. There is not much you can do with a single light bulb; however if you get a proper set of sensors, switches and stuff (Z-Wave on m

                • by Nutria ( 679911 )


                  Does Insteon have an open protocol? IOW, does it work with Linux? Can I write bash scripts to control and monitor my house?

                • Re:Wi-Fi toothpick (Score:5, Informative)

                  by Anrego ( 830717 ) * on Sunday June 16, 2013 @01:07AM (#44019865)

                  x10 .. x10

                  Somewhere in the recesses of my brain that sounds fami.. oh god.. OH GOD!

                  Kidding aside, I played with x10 for a while and if anyone is thinking about it, my suggestion is: don't

                  It's a terrible and outdated protocol. A quick "of the top of my head" list of the major problems:
                  - It's one way (for the most part). There was a kind of handshake thing out there but it was never used.
                  - The signals are easily lost in what were called "signal suckers" in many x10 circles. Basically any device using cheap filtering could kill a signal. This was a bad combination with the first one. It was common recommended practice to send a command 3 times at a 2s interval..
                  - False positives! The protocol is insanely simple and came from olden times when there were generally few noisy devices plugged in. The result is the right burst of noise can actually be a valid message and result in anything (but normally it was your bedroom lights turning on in the middle of the night).
                  - Slow. I don't know what the actual command throughput was.. but it wasn't good.

                  The whole thing was a terrible experience, and ultimately the novelty of it dies pretty quick. The very few useful implications are easily dealt with using much simpler technologies. One of the nicer things was always turning off the bedroom lights while laying in bed. Now I've got a self contained wall switch/remote dealie that works _perfectly_ and didn't even require a neutral ground wire or anything.. literally just swap and go.

                  I still have most of my old x10 gear. I will usually pull some of it out during christmas time.. few appliance modules controlling christmas lights and such.. but I'd never even think of trying to automate a home with it.. stuff is garbage.

                  • Re:Wi-Fi toothpick (Score:4, Insightful)

                    by Monoman ( 8745 ) on Sunday June 16, 2013 @09:34AM (#44021369) Homepage

                    I swore off X10 simply because of their pop up ad assault many years ago.

                • X10 is just worthless. It might have been a good idea once, but now there is so much noise that it never works.

                  On the other hand, Wifi is ridiculous overkill for this application. It quite literally makes no sense. Well, let me qualify that; one day it will make sense, when it costs much less to do, but today it literally makes no sense.

                  All of these problems could be solved trivially if you could just buy a power cable with some data wires bundled into it without spending a lot of money, then you could cont

      • by tibit ( 1762298 )

        I think it won't be too long till the added cost of Wi-Fi in a bulb will be a couple of USD. Remember: a Wi-Fi chip has a microcontroller inside of it. That microcontroller should be enough to run Wi-Fi and a simple mesh network. It doesn't need a full-blown webserver, but even that could be done on a micro. The volume lets you optimize the heck out of everything. It would cost $0.0 in materials to have this chip control the light that already needs to have a power supply built into it anyway. In fact, the

        • Re:Wi-Fi toothpick (Score:5, Insightful)

          by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday June 15, 2013 @11:02PM (#44019243) Journal

          If it costs just 10c its STILL stupid and wasteful, okay? Just because a dumb thing can be done cheaply doesn't keep it from being a dumb thing, especially when others have pointed out a VERY obvious way to get the benefit without the stupidity, and that is putting the Wifi in the socket NOT in the bulb. This would keep the electronics farther away from the heat, let you build a better antenna because you'll have more room, it just makes a hell of a lot more sense to just put it in the socket than it does in the bulb.

          Personally I'd go one better and put it in the switch, as most wall mounts are in hallways anyway, putting it in the switch gives you an easy manual override (the switch itself) and since one switchplate can have 2 or 3 light controls you could use less chips by having one master control say 4 switches and cut the cost down further.

          • The bulb will last more than 15 years. Your arguments are ludicrous.

            • by Nutria ( 679911 )

              The bulb will last more than 15 years.

              Because that's what the manufacturer says?

              Your arguments are ludicrous.

              Believing self-serving advertisements is ludicrous.

            • Re: Wi-Fi toothpick (Score:4, Interesting)

              by Mashiki ( 184564 ) < minus caffeine> on Sunday June 16, 2013 @12:30AM (#44019655) Homepage

              The bulb will last more than 15 years. Your arguments are ludicrous.

              I seem to remember them saying 5-10 years on CFL's, odd that up until I dumped them all and went back to incandescent's, I'd replaced a dozen of them at least twice--though under warranty until I'd simply had enough.

              Hell, even the new replacement 36" mini bulbs that they're pushing to replace the 48" florescent tubes, rarely last 2 years. The bulbs might last a year, maybe. And I've replaced 8 arrays in the last 4 months(all with a standard 2 year warranty), made by sylvania, and phillips. The 48" jobs that I still have, have ballasts made in the 80's and are still working. Hell I've got one tri-bulb 36" assembly that was used in street lights in the 70's where I live, and the ballast is still good.

          • Re:Wi-Fi toothpick (Score:5, Insightful)

            by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Sunday June 16, 2013 @02:51AM (#44020303) Journal

            While I agree, architecturally, legacy infrastructure has serious inertia, which results in the world being largely held together by a mixture of dumb choices and dirty hacks laid on top of antiques that nobody wants to replace.

            Even in situations where there is a logically-separated arrangement widely available(as with fluorescent tubes, where mechanical and electrical standards for fixtures with discrete ballasts have been established for decades), the market is still flooded with ghastly all-the-driver-electronics-crammed-into-an-E27-base-package models that usually fall over and die because their driver circuits are complete junk. People still buy them, because the alternative involves mucking around behind the wall with mains voltages.

            With something like an LED fixture, especially if you want fancy color controls or dimming, or both, there really aren't any existing standards for sockets. The closest thing is probably gear designed for 12v halogen bulbs, which makes driving an LED array pretty painless; but that has no data/control channel. Power only.

            If you had the luxury of doing a legacy-free design, top to bottom, things would definitely turn out much better; but unless you could do that and be able to get replacements from more than just a single vendor who may or may not go out of business and/or gouge you, you aren't likely to displace existing lousy but compatible solutions.

            (Incidentally, this is probably why Wifi keeps popping up in home automation at all: it's brutally overpowered for the purpose, as well as relatively expensive, power hungry, and complex; but its sheer ubiquity and near-absence of vendor market power keep inspiring people to cram it into dubiously suitable places just because the alternatives are overpriced and proprietary, or only compatible with themselves, or both.)

          • Re:Wi-Fi toothpick (Score:5, Insightful)

            by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <> on Sunday June 16, 2013 @05:22AM (#44020697) Homepage Journal

            The problem with putting it in the switch or the socket is that you then need an electrician to install it, or at least some knowledge of such things to do it yourself. With a bulb you just screw it in as normal, any consumer can do it. To the average person that is a big selling point.

      • what is wrong with a good old fashioned light bulb??

        Apparently they're too dumb...

        But I do agree with you. As long as they don't force this shit on us and it's just another option at the store, then I don't mind a little bit of extra choice. I'm not even so sure that I would want to have two dozen basically meaningless "devices" (light bulbs) wasting my router's resources in the first place... but depending on what these things allow, maybe a few of them in certain rooms wouldn't be too bad.

        • As a matter of interest what resources would they waste other than IP addresses, of which you should have more than plenty anyway?

      • Your angst is shared but your spitting in the wind. You see there are far to many people with their heads up their ass to realize not everything in our lives needs controlling by a computer. Sadly you will never be able to convince them.
      • what is wrong with a good old fashioned light bulb?

        It used energy, and was made of sand. Therefore your 50 cent light bulb needed to be replaced with a $50 biohazard made of mercury and other toxins sold by campaign contributors.
      • Speak for yourself, but I can't wait for these things.

        As for cost, how much would it be to have whatever existing proprietary system installed in your home? That's the cost of the hardware itself (I'm guessing hundreds if not thousands), hiring an electrician, possibly ripping out and redoing some drywall for rewiring, etc.

        These? Whatever the bulbs cost, however many you want. In my home, I'd say about 8-10 bulbs. Do you think whatever proprietary systems exist would cost $400-$500 for complete installa

      • by PNutts ( 199112 )

        LEDs will save you more in electricity than they cost (even now). Your 45 cent light bulbs cost a lot more over time than an LED when you include the energy costs.

        • by Xtifr ( 1323 )

          An LED lightbulb, yes. But is that still true of a combination LED/computer/radio? Frankly the whole idea seems to me to be slightly missing the point. Just how much power does this beast draw? I imagine that the LED itself is the smallest part of the load. I think I'll go with a plain, unadorned LED bulb. Geting up to turn on/off the lights is not exactly hard work.

        • ive had CFLs (10X the cost of a normal bulb) die within 6 months, numerous times. ive had normal bulbs die within that time frame as well, but ive also had them last me YEARS. longest CFL i ever had last me was slightly over a year. no i havent spent 40 bucks on an LED bulb when by my avg it would take over 50 years to be cost beneficial at current costs of materials and energy.
        • by Nutria ( 679911 )

          But the capital cost of an LED bulb is so high that it off-sets the energy savings.

          When the price of CFLs came down, I started putting them in my house, mainly for the convenience of not having to replace them as often. But only when the price dropped.

      • This is what I don't like about current LED designs. They really should come in a multipart design. There's no reason I should have to replace the AD/DC converter every time a few LEDs decide to break. Putting everything in a single form factor is convenient, but makes things much more expensive to fix when a single component fails. Since LEDs don't need to be in a vaccuum like incandescent filaments, and don't need harmful chemicals like CFL bulbs, they should be easily user servicable, allowing individua
        • If you're smart enough to fix LED lights, you're smart enough to retrofit an LED light into your own enclosure using replaceable parts you buy from or similar. Instead of complaining, do something about it. Adding all that cost and complexity to something that doesn't fail if it's built worth a crap anyway (e.g. Cree-brand lights, which actually come with a respectable warranty) makes no sense while the prices are on a race to the bottom.

    • Wi-Fi toilet paper. Finally, mankind's eternal dream of wiping from the keyboard cones true!

  • Lights being controlled by computer! The power of home automation at your fingertips! Click here to order today!

    • by tibit ( 1762298 )

      X10 is almost useless in a modern home where almost anything you plug into the outlet has a switching power supply, including every light bulb. It wasn't designed to cope with that. There are much better and higher bandwidth protocols. They leverage modern signal processing. It lets them perform better than X10 in spite of being orders of magnitude higher bandwidth!

  • We finally have energy efficient light bulbs that can last for years and don't cost an arm and a leg.

    Can't have that - let's add some complexity to the system. It'll raise the price and increase the failure rate!

  • I wonder how hard it would be to have bulbs like this subtley modulate their light output to broadcast their address to your smartphone? Your phone could then ID the bulb and give you control over it when your phone is pointing at the light. A scheme like this, implemented with cheap IR beacons, could be applied to other products to allow control without a physical interface. Want to change the thermostat? Point your phone at it and a HTML 5 UI pops up allowing a rich user interface. Someone has to hav

  • Nevermind this has been commercially available long enough for it to be featured on this old house, why in gods name do we need to control everything from our smartphone?

    • by Ksevio ( 865461 )
      The LIFX ones haven't been available that long (except for the kickstarters). It's a more complete solution than others that have been available.

      Why bother to have switches at all when you can have lights controlled by your smart phone? Could even do some cool hacks so the lights come on automatically when your phone is in range and it's during hours that would be dark.
      • by Nutria ( 679911 ) on Sunday June 16, 2013 @12:30AM (#44019661)

        Why bother to have switches at all when you can have lights controlled by your smart phone?

        Not everyone has a smart phone.

        Not everyone carries it around every moment of the night and day.

        You can flip a light switch with your elbow when your arms are full.

        The many 10s of millions of people with presbyopia and myopia don't need glasses to flip light switches.

        Requiring everyone in a family -- from the very young to the very old to carry a smart phone, and to pay for all those contracts, is plain, fucking stupid.

    • How can you patent it without adding "...with a phone"?

  • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @08:40PM (#44018477)

    Why would you put control circuitry that doesn't wear out into the replaceable part that *does* wear out instead of into the fixture that holds it?

    • by Trepidity ( 597 )

      In principle it's not the right place for it, but it does make transitioning much easier. If you were going to put it in the fixture, you'd need to put out a whole range of devices with the new fixture, ranging from recessed ceiling lighting to lamps to whatever else people have in their houses. And once you did that, people would have to replace their existing fixtures with the new ones.

      While if you put it in the bulb, you can just screw it in to any of your existing fixtures quite easily.

    • So that people don't have to rewire their house to use them.

      I mean, I'm not buying them, but that's a pretty obvious answer
    • by Jeremi ( 14640 )

      Why would you put control circuitry that doesn't wear out into the replaceable part that *does* wear out instead of into the fixture that holds it?

      One of the advantages of LED bulbs is that they don't wear out for a very long time. It wouldn't surprise me if they outlast the control circuitry.

    • by msauve ( 701917 )

      Why would you put control circuitry that doesn't wear out into the replaceable part that *does* wear out instead of into the fixture that holds it?

      Fixtures are pretty permanent (difficult to replace for most homeowners). Bulbs are made to be easily changed by anyone. LED bulbs should last a very long time, longer than quickly changing home net/mesh technology.

      Why would you want to lock yourself into a new technology by making it difficult to upgrade? Does this answer your question?

    • by shione ( 666388 )

      I see what you are saying but its actually the other way around. In a LED light the LEDs has a longer lifespan than the controller. You can see this in a LED streetlight. The control circuitry is a simple plug in plugout to replace. The LED panel is modular too but thats more so the streetlight designer can specify how many LEDs for the lumens he needs.

  • by Semmi Zamunda ( 2897397 ) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @08:50PM (#44018537)
    ...absolutely POLLUTE the airwaves with junk wi-fi signals. Seems like this would add a ton of unnecessary interference on currently existing wireless networks.
    • Agreed. Just because WiFi hardware will be cents on the dollar (or soon at this rate) doesn't mean we should be slapping a WiFi chip on every fucking electronic device just to fart over the airwaves. What's next, an IPv6 address for every single kitchen and household appliance? I suppose I should be so snarky about it. I could see the point in being notified when to replace food or notifying you that the burner or oven was left on (no thanks to the kids or elderly). Regardless, WiFi hardware doesn't need to

  • by Yahma ( 1004476 ) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @08:52PM (#44018559) Journal
    While not WiFi, Smarthome has had a network connected LED bulb [] for over a year now. In my opinion, it is better suited for home automation than the WiFi bulb in the OP because it utilizes the Insteon Protocol, which is the replacement for X10.
    • by hjf ( 703092 )

      Same with Philips' "Hue" lights.

    • I like wifi better because it is already here, rather than having to add more hardware and have to support yet another network with yet another addressing scheme routing, etc... And Insteon is not IP, uses both RF and powerline..., and very low bandwidth... interesting but I prefer to use general purpose networks, say Wifi for RF, and HomePlug for powerline, both of which can be used by many more devices (in terms of compatibility), so reducing the total RF flying around.
      • by adolf ( 21054 ) <> on Saturday June 15, 2013 @09:48PM (#44018857) Journal

        More WiFi clients == less RF flying around?

        No, not really: Insteon (and X10) are dead silent unless commands are being sent. Meanwhile, WiFi devices are inherently somewhat chatty; they all spend a significant portion of their time broadcasting "Hey, here I am! I'm still here! I'm still here! I'm still here! Hey, everyone! I'm still here! Are you there? Good! Because I'm still here!"

        • by PNutts ( 199112 )

          Meanwhile, WiFi devices are inherently somewhat chatty; they all spend a significant portion of their time broadcasting "Hey, here I am! I'm still here! I'm still here! I'm still here! Hey, everyone! I'm still here! Are you there? Good! Because I'm still here!"

          WiFi is Facebook?

      • by Belial6 ( 794905 ) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @09:49PM (#44018863)
        There is no good reason that a light bulb that is designed to screw into a standard socket should ever use any kind of wireless technology for it's control. The thing, by it's very nature, is already connected to a wired network in the home. Using wireless pollutes the WiFi spectrum while simultaneously exposing the device to hackers.
        • by PNutts ( 199112 )

          There is no good reason that a light bulb that is designed to screw into a standard socket should ever use any kind of wireless technology for it's control. The thing, by it's very nature, is already connected to a wired network in the home. Using wireless pollutes the WiFi spectrum while simultaneously exposing the device to hackers.

          OK, Debbie Downer.

      • by dfghjk ( 711126 )

        Spoken like someone with no knowledge or experience with Insteon.

        Curious how you think WiFi light bulbs would *reduce* the amount of RF "flying" around compared to Insteon (which would be powerline). Even in RF form Insteon is low power and low range in comparison...oh, and Insteon is "already here" too as are the networked Insteon bulbs. All you need to use them is a switch and a powerline bridge. No big deal.

  • Yup, I can see it now... Drive by someone's house, whip out the phone, plunge them into the stone ages. Keep driving. (puts on sunglasses) AWWWWWW YEEEAAAAH.

  • Barely perceptible changes in lighting levels or hues aimed at changing your behavior. In response to your activity online. Or whatever the NSA deems appropriate.

  • by manu0601 ( 2221348 ) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @09:49PM (#44018867)
    There have been experiments of light bulbs as down link: the bulb adds HF data signal in light emissions, and mobile devices can use it, leaving traditional WiFi spectrum used for just up link. I thought this was what this story was about and I must confess I am a bit disappointed.
  • If you really want automation, put it in the switch, not the bulb. Then you can use any bulb you like. Just program the switch to tell it what type of bulb (whether it's dimmable, and what type of dimming to use). The only advantage in putting it in the bulb is that you can do effects where multiple bulbs on the same switch can be controlled independently, which I don't see as a significant advantage.

    Also, if you put the control in the switch, you can choose between WiFi and powerline ethernet. You also

  • by Tridus ( 79566 ) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @10:36PM (#44019117) Homepage

    Yay, let's significantly increase the cost of making light bulbs (instead of simply making an attachment that screws into the socket and then takes a normal bulb), so we can increase the power requirements to run the light bulbs, so we can add yet more signals and interference to an already overcrowded wifi spectrum, so that we can make our light bulbs hackable... all in an effort to do what? Avoid having to flick a switch?

    About the only thing they're not doing is wrong is suckering people out of money on kickstarter.

    • by Ksevio ( 865461 )
      LED bulbs (even with extra electronics) are already much more power efficient than other bulbs. They also have some definite advantages such as changing colors and lifespan. Controlling the lighting can do a lot to improve the atmosphere of a space. It's easy to change intensity and color of LEDs, so pretty much anything is possible. You can have a rave in your apartment or a flickering fire in your den or just a low blue nightlight in your hallway.

      Honestly I'm amazed at the resentment of so many /.
  • And nobody's put their pinky to their mouth yet?

  • by HockeyPuck ( 141947 ) on Sunday June 16, 2013 @12:13AM (#44019567)

    For a 60W (or equiv brightness) bulb at Homedepot...

    Incandescent bulbs are dirt cheap at $.40 a bulb.
    CFLs... at $2.25
    LED is $13.

    You now want to put wifi in this thing? It takes a long time to recoup the cost of a $13bulb... I can't imagine what it would take to recoup some $25 wifi enabled bulb with encryption.

    Wouldn't it also be the ultimate power vampire? You'd now be putting your lightbulbs into standby if you wanted to turn them on and off via some smartphone app. Last I checked when I turned them off via the wall switch, they actually went off.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Sunday June 16, 2013 @01:52AM (#44020047) Homepage

    It lights up. It can be turned on and off and dimmed remotely That's where we were with X10 in the 1980s. It doesn't relay data around for other WiFi devices.

    It has over-the-air firmware updates. Your smartphone doesn't really talk to the lamps. It talks to their "cloud server", to which the lamps phone home. What could possibly go wrong?

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it is too dark to read.