About Dave

Dave Tedlock is the head of NetOutcomes, a digital marketing firm. For years he has written a marketing and technology column for various publications, including the Tucson Citizen’s Tucson Business Edge, Idaho Business Review, Inside Tucson Business, and The New Mexico Business Weekly. Tedlock taught writing and business communication for eight years in many universities, including the Harvard Business School and Iowa State University. For 13 years he worked in ad agencies as a copywriter, account manager or creative director. Tedlock has published short stories, scholarly articles and a writing textbook (with Paul Jarvie). He earned a Master’s degree in Fiction Writing from Brown University. He lives in Tucson and Santa Fe.

Ten Things You Should Know About Domain Names

As your website address, your domain name can have a significant impact on your firm.  Here are seven aspects of domain names you should know.

  1. Several different domain names, each with its own purpose, can point to one website. One domain might be simple and memorable, another the firm’s entire name, a third provide the best search engine (SEO) optimization value.
  2. You can point countless domain names to one website, but your primary domain, the one people are on when they arrive at your website, is your domain key to search engine ranking.
  3. The key words in your primary domain have an impact on your search engine ranking. Suppose your prospective clients will typically search for “divorce lawyer Denver.”  Two strong SEO domains are DenverDivorceLawyer.com and “DivorceLawyerDenver.com.”
  4. Even if someone gave you the world’s best SEO domain name, you might not want to use it as your primary domain. Here’s why. If you change your primary domain, you start over again in earning a search engine ranking. If your current ranking is strong, you don’t want to switch to an SEO domain. If your ranking is awful, consider switching.
  5. Consider multiple websites.  If you acquire the dream domain name, one option is to build a new site at your dream address and use that site to give you additional prospects.
  6. If your firm practices in multiple areas of law, consider having one website for each area of practice. You can use multiple domains for multiple sites, each with its own unique effort to score a high ranking on Google and support the other sites with links
  7. Give your domain name the telephone test. The test is simple. If you say your website address on the phone, do people understand it immediately?  If they do, great!  If not, you may want to switch to an easy and memorable domain name.
 

Too many law firms give too little thought to what, exactly, their plan is for converting a prospect into a client.  Sure, you want plenty of prospective clients to contact the firm, but how are you going to convert them into actual clients you want?  Consider these basic principles.

  1. Choose the right person or people to handle incoming contacts: by phone, email, text, contact form, referral or lead service. You want someone who is professional, personable, caring, considerate, scripted and trained. Don’t assign this vital task to a legal assistant who has deadlines to meet and attorneys to please. Your intake person’s top priority should be intake.
  2. Treat everyone equally. Prospects who call with worthless cases and/or ask stupid questions should be treated with the same consideration as the contact with the dream case. Why? Because your firm’s reputation is at stake. Because some of the worst reviews on Google Local are written by  prospects who never became clients. And because every prospective client is a prospective referral source.
  3. Execute a plan for responding to after-hours contacts. In the past, voice messages and online forms have been the primary ways firms captured prospect information 24/7. Today, options include vendors who provide 24/7 chat and even 24/7 telephone answering / intake services.
  4. Contact prospects promptly. If you don’t respond in 24 hours, you may lose the prospect to a firm who did.
  5. Your initial client contact should include learning whether the prospect is the kind of client you want. Qualify prospects quickly. Suppose, for example, you’re a family lawyer who doesn’t accept divorces that include a custody dispute. Find out, right away, if the couple has children.
  6. Avoid legal speak such as “Are there any minor children?” To most parents, all children are of major importance. Instead, ask, “Do you have any children” and then, “How old are they?”
  7. Follow-up with the prospects you want. A fortunate few firms can screen prospects in a single conversation and either refer them elsewhere or schedule an appointment. Studies suggest, however, you may need to contact prospects as many as seven times before they choose your firm. Contacts may include text messages, email, phone calls and postal mail.
  8. One of the first questions you should ask is, “How would you like us to contact you?” Generation Y prospects (Millenials) may not read email. If you decide to text prospects, choose a software system that enables you to keep records of all texts sent and received.
  9. Some firms ask clients to a sign a letter of engagement before the first appointment! Crazy? Not necessarily. Is it possible a competitor could do just that before you meet your prospect, who may be a no-show.
  10. Separate the legal aspect of intake with the financial. Lawyers who review both the engagement letter and the fee agreement with clients run the risk of becoming their own collection agents. Lawyers should turn over the fee details to an intake specialist who is comfortable with being direct and specific, e.g., “We accept MasterCard, Visa and American Express. How would you like to pay today?”
  11. Feeling overwhelmed by the demands and complexities of intake? One option is to farm out intake to a company who specializes in it. You pay a substantial fee, but 24/7 you’ll have specialists helping you make sure you turn enough prospects into clients.
  12. Another option for upgrading your intake is to contact NetOutcomes and engage us in helping you implement an effective intake process.
 

In 2016, Google changed the way Google Local displays businesses or organizations when you search.  That change makes a difference in which law firms are called by prospects.

Before, Google Local appeared in a separate column usually listing several businesses with its iconic map and Call / Website links.  Now Google’s gone to a three-pack listing.

Here are two examples. The search “divorce lawyer Santa Fe” produces the three-pack of Walther Family Law, Jay Goodman and Associates and Bristol Family Law. The search “divorce lawyers Albuquerque” produces Terry & deGraauw, Donna Kufer and New Mexico Legal Group.

If you are in a three-pack search result, great.  You are more likely than ever to get a call from a prospective client.  The three-pack appears higher on the page than some ads and much higher than organic listings. It’s a great to be in the top three.  So how do you get there?

Google says relevance, distance and prominence [on the Internet] are the three factors.  “Distance” you can’t control, but keep in mind it’s the distance from where the search device (computer, tablet or smart phone) is accessing the Internet.  If you complete the same search reported here from your office, you’ll get a different result because of your location.  The proximity of law firms to each another is also a “distance” variable.

Conventional wisdom suggests that having reviews on Google Local, especially good ones, helps. Think again. In our Santa Fe example, the top listing has no reviews, the second one a single, miserable 2.0 rating.  Here’s another surprise.  Change the search phase “lawyer” to “lawyers” and a solo practitioner, Gini Nelson, wins the top spot.

To win the battle of the three-pack requires special effort, so consider searching for some expert assistance.

 

The Odd Couple Sells Leads to Lawyers Now

Before the Internet, Martindale-Hubbell (M-H) had a corner on the market in referral generation for lawyers.  When a lawyer in one part of the country needed to make a referral to a lawyer somewhere else, he or she looked in the appropriate volume of M-H’s massive tombs.  Today, consumers get access to M-H at Lawyers.com.

Nolo (formerly Nolo Press) describes itself as a “Publisher of self-help legal books and software, providing a significant amount of free information, a legal dictionary, and research guide.”  M-H and Nolo are now Martindale Nolo.

One of the new organization’s services is to sell leads to lawyers from Nolo’s website.   Visitors to Nolo’s site may decide they would like a lawyer to contact them, so they complete an online form.  Nolo packages up that info and sells it by practice area and location, 25 leads per package.  The cost per lead varies by state and by practice area and may range from $20 per to lead to $50 per lead.  Refunds are provided for bad leads.

For most firms, dealing with a leads list represents a change and challenge. Instead of fielding incoming calls, the firm just have someone call the prospects, screen them and determine which ones to schedule an appointment with. For many firms, this approach is unthinkable.  For others, Martindale-Nolo’s leads sales may be worth trying.

There’s a huge difference, however, between handling an incoming call from a prospective client who has chosen to contact you and your firm and making an outgoing call to a prospect who may have never heard of you. If you’re going to buy leads from Martindale-Nolo, you must have a plan and a person in place who is ready to make those calls effectively.  Otherwise, you must be ready to plead nolo contendere to bad marketing.

 

Ten Reasons Every Lawyer Should Care About Avvo

One. Lawyers get clients from Avvo.  That’s a fact. Surveys of new clients show that some prospective clients learn what they feel they need to know from Avvo and call a lawyer right then. Some may not even visit your website.

Two. If you’re thinking that prospective clients can distinguish the difference between Avvo and your listing on Lawyers.com, you’re wrong.  To most people Avvo’s just as reliable a source of information as any other online directory of lawyers.  To many prospective clients, Avvo may be more trusted than your own website, with one exception

Three. Avvo has an impact because you can get reviewed on Avvo without even knowing it.  Worse yet, people can post “reviews” of you without having necessarily become an actual client.  So Avvo reviews matter, sooner or later you’ll get a bad one, so your goal should be to stockpile great reviews there to offset the inevitable, dissatisfied reviewer.

Special note: Prospects probably trust reviews on your website as much as they trust the reviews on Avvo. Research shows that today people trust online reviews as much as they trust a referral from a friend, and up to 90% of your prospects will check you out online before they even call your office.

Four. Right now, you’ve already been rated on Avvo.  When you check that out, you may very well find that an inferior lawyer, by all professional standards, has a higher Avvo rating than you do.  Why?  Avvo ratings depend in part on how complete your information is.  Avvo scrapes up information about you and plunks it on your listing there, but it’s nearly always incomplete.

Five. The information about you on Avvo may also be incorrect.  You’ll want to make sure it’s right.

Six. Unless you have someone upload a digital photo of you, Avvo’s going to show you a generic illustration of what you look like.  Who would you call – a lawyer with a photo there or a lawyer with a generic illustration?

Seven. Your competitors may be beating you on Avvo.  They’ve got game, you don’t.

Eight. Avvo lists lawyers by rating, so if yours is low, a prospect would have to scroll a very long way down the page to find you.

Nine. Avvo is free – at least the basic listing is free for you to claim. You should.

Ten. Every lawyers marketing plan should be complete. Like it or not, Avvo’s part of the mix.  Just add a few hours of effort, and stir.

 

Part One: The Fax Machine

The XYZ department in a large healthcare organization faced a challenge in serving its patients and the medical team providing patient care. Within the department, the staff often needed additional medical information about patients, information that could only be provided by the patients’ physicians.

The staff’s solution (in 2014!) was to request its own dedicated fax number and machine. This way, the staff at physicians’ offices could be asked to fax over patient information.

The use of fax machines to send patient information from one office is a business practice that remains surprisingly common. Faxing patient information is compliant with the requirements of the HealthCare Information Portability and Privacy Act (HIPPA).

Ordinary email cannot is neither secure nor private, so ordinary email cannot be used to send patient information from one office to another.

Thus fax machines, even in the United States, even in 2015, remain as an important technological tool in patient care.

A staff member of The XYZ Department accessed the organization’s Intranet and submitted a job ticket to the IT Department. In just weeks, a new telephone line wiring was pulled to the requested office location, a phone number was assigned as the fax number, a fax machine was installed, test faxes were sent successfully and the staff was trained on how to use the fax machine.

The department immediately succeeded in having physicians’ office staff fax them the desired information. The IT Department closed the “ticket” and added the project – completed as requested and on time – to its list of successful projects.

But was this project successful?

Here are some indicators that the project was a success.

People. The right people were chosen to execute the project. There were no errors in running the phone wiring, assigning a number, making the phone line live, installing the fax and training the staff. The project was completed promptly, the result exactly what was expected.

A solid plan was in place and the project management was effective.

The resources needed were available and reasonable in cost and no catastrophic changes occurred.

The internal stakeholders (the staff in the department) immediately used the fax machine and the external stakeholders (the staff in physicians’ offices) were successfully engaged. Faxes were immediately sent and received.

No governance issues arose.

Communication, at the simplest level, was effective – the internal stakeholders got what they asked for and they were able to communicate effectively with the external stakeholders to get them to use the technology – the fax machine – to send patient information.

Importantly, no change management was required. The use of the fax machine did not represent a transition to a new system, a new way of doing things. Even in 2014, staff members in physician offices, and all kinds of other people working in healthcare, routinely use fax machines as they have for decades now.

Therefore, this IT project seems to be a success then, right?

That’s right, until some additional facts are revealed.

 

Nearly every IT project fails or succeeds based on just ten factors. Identifying these factors is the easy part. After you’ve reviewed the list, you’ll have the opportunity to practice using them on some short case studies.

1. People. The right, or wrong, people were assigned to the project. These people possessed or lacked the skills, training, talent and/or experience necessary to succeed.

2. Analysis. The business need(s) and the best IT solution was/was not properly identified and understood.

3. Planning. The plan for the project, including all of its costs, risks, goals, measurements of success or failure, kill switch and more was flawed or complete.

4. Marketing & Communication. Before, during and after implementation, internal and/or external marketing and communication was faulty or effective in helping people succeed.

5. Stakeholders Engagement. The people the project had a direct impact on were or were not adequately involved in the project. The stakeholders might be customers, staff managers and/or subject area experts.

6. Project Management. The right or wrong manager(s) or management team was assigned to the project and managed or failed to manage the project.

7. Governance. The leader(s) of the organization supported or failed to support the project. Bad governance can include not giving IT management does a seat at the executive table or what is sometimes called the “C” level.

8. Catastrophic, Unpredictable Change. Some aspect(s) of the project or its people changed unpredictably and catastrophically after the project was underway.

9. Resources. The organization did or did not have/commit the resources (money and/or people) necessary to complete the project.

10. Change Management. The project required people to significantly change their work habits or processes but this transition from old to new was or was not recognized and managed effectively.

Seems simple enough, right?

Now see how easily things can go wrong.  Read the case studies, one by one, as they appear here.

 

Different experts and analysts identify a range of 7 to 101 ways Information Technology (IT) projects succeed or fail.  Those failures cost billions of dollars per year in the United States alone and should concern anyone in management who is involved in or considering a new IT project.
 
Incredibly, the 2012 Standish report finds only 39% of IT projects succeed!  This report characterizes this dismal rate of success as “another increase in project success rates.”  The 39% success rate is the highest Standish has reported since it issued its first report in 1995.  Back then, it reported the “success rate was only 16.2%, while challenged projects accounted for 52.7%, and impaired (canceled) for 31.1%.”
 
If you’ve been tasked with launching an IT project, you have plenty of reason to be concerned – 69% of the time people like you fail!
 
Depending on how IT project success is measured, 2014 failure rates are projected at 40-70 percent of all projects undertaken.  A 2011 article in the Harvard Business Review reported that “fully one in six of the projects we studied was a black swan, with a cost overrun of 200%, on average, and a schedule overrun of almost 70%.
 
Catastrophic failure in IT project management is so common that the industry has coined a term for these true disasters.  They are called “Black Swan Projects.”  Black Swan Projects cost people their jobs, have put entire governments on the verge of bankruptcy and have caused businesses to go bankrupt.
 
Given these dismal results over the past decade, you should not be surprised to learn that a Geneca survey showed, “Most people believe that their IT projects are either always or usually “doomed” from their onset (75%).
 
In fact, 27% feel that their IT projects are “doomed” from the very beginning . . .”

Chances are you have your own IT project disaster stories to tell. 

All of us have read or heard about spectacular IT project failures.  A newspaper story reports, for example, that a school district spent $8.5 million on a software project before abandoning it altogether and returning to the program it used previously. 
 
A story on network television reports that yet another major retailer has failed to protect the financial data of millions of customers.

In sum, IT projects have a high failure rate, create enormous costs and risk and can even threaten to destroy entire organizations. What can and must be done to make the success rate, say 89%, not 39%?
 
Many of the answers, solutions, steps and processes may surprise you.  Read the blog, Ten Ways IT Projects Can Succeed, at NetOutcomes.com, or subscribe to the newsletter there.

 

One evening recently I got out the big, yellow, ceramic bowl, my mother’s bowl originally, and set it on the kitchen counter. The yellow bowl features a crack – a critical fault line – which runs from one rim down to the base, where it disappears, only to reappear on the opposite side and run up to the top.

On that side a big chunk of the bowl is missing, and two or three pieces are missing from the bottom, these cracks and faults making it seem impossible that the bowl survives in one piece.

Miraculously, more than 50 years later, the yellow bowl waits on a shelf for times like this, when bread dough will rise inside it, double in bulk and still not touch the tea towel that covers the top.

Earlier that evening, I realized we were out of the Pillsbury Crescent Rolls that come ready to roll up and bake after you get them to explode out of a blue, paper-and-metal cylinder with aluminum caps on each end.

For weeks now, my morning routine includes turning on the oven set to 350 degrees, opening the tube, unrolling the pre-cut crescent roll dough, sprinkling the dough with cinnamon sugar, rolling up the neatly cut triangles into crescent shapes and then baking them for exactly 11 minutes.

Once the oven beeps three times, I use a pancake turner to put all eight rolls on a blue plate and pour my son a glass of milk to go with them. On most mornings, he clears his plate, empties his glass, grabs his lunch and heads off to Pima Community College’s Aviation Technology Program, where he is learning to be an airplane mechanic.

But that evening, we were out of the Pillsbury tubes, so I got out the big yellow bowl, gently placed it on the counter next to a 3″ x 5″ recipe card and began to make rolls from scratch, using my mother’s recipe.

We asked her for the recipe decades ago.

“Well,” she said, “I really don’t have the recipe written down . . .”

So we asked her to make bread with us, so we could take notes. Then we practiced, found our notes were not detailed enough and asked her to make bread with us again, explaining more the second time around. The 3″ x 5″ card, in my wife’s hand writing, is the result.

My mental note to myself is to make the water coming out of the faucet so hot it hurts to hold my finger in the streaming water, but not so hot I burn myself.

When my son measures the temperature of a liquid, he gets out a thermometer and uses the microwave oven to get a precise reading. I stick my finger under the faucet and get the feel of it.

I poured the cups of hot water into the bowl and added the packages of yeast.

Just then, the yeast still merrily making bubbles, my wife passed through the kitchen and gave me an appraising glance. She knew what the yellow bowl meant and made no comment about how late at night it was to just now be starting to make bread that was supposed to rise twice before baking.

When I added the powdered milk to the sugar and salt mixture in another bowl, I thought about my son being puzzled, years ago.

“Why would anyone want to make milk into a powder?” he asked.

Just then, he appeared in the kitchen, a college student now, looked at the enormous yellow bowl and said with a smile, “Ahhh! What are we making here?”

“Rolls from scratch,” I said. “We’re out of Pillsbury.”

His eyebrows rose and I could see him making a mental note to return to the kitchen later, for a progress check.

My mother’s original recipe did not involve the use of measuring cups for flour. She simply took a big handful of flour, and then another, and said, “Then you get some flour and you add it to the mixture until it’s not too sticky, but if it is . . .”

When my Mom taught us how to bake bread and rolls, we made her let us measure out the flour. She beamed the way she always did and went along, happy to be with us, smiling at our need to be precise.

That night, even after I’ve added four duly measured cups, I found myself grabbing a handful of flour, and then another, just as she used to, adding and adding until the consistency of the dough was just right.

The last step after kneading is the frightening step. I must wash out the big yellow bowl, rub Crisco on its interior, and put the dough back in it, to rise. Washing the bowl scares me.

The big yellow bowl is heavy, doesn’t fit in the sink well, and makes a clunking sound as I wash it, no matter how gentle I am. The nicks and scratches in its great basin invite ingredients to nestle in and that makes the bowl hard to wash.

Silently, I talk to the bowl. “Please don’t break tonight. Please stay with us, keep my Mom here with us.”

With bread, waiting’s the hardest part. Will the dough rise? How soon? Will it rise enough? If the water’s too hot, the heat kills the yeast. If the water’s not hot enough, the yeast rises unenthusiastically, or not at all, and the bread has the texture of lead.

Success! The second time I check the dough, it has dutifully doubled in size! The dough smells sweet and yeasty.

When I’m wrestling with and rolling out the dough, Ashley comes into the kitchen and surveys the scene with interest but makes no comment. She likes to cook and bake and she’s good at both, but she after a quick study, she goes back to homework or television in another room.

Maybe it makes no sense to her for the dad in the family to be baking, or maybe she’s thinking about her diet. I don’t know.

Next, I gamble, big-time. Instead of making the dough into rolls and letting the rolls rise for another 45 minutes to an hour, I decide to put the rolls into the oven and bake them right then!

So I squeeze the dough into two balls, one for crescent rolls, one for cinnamon rolls. My Mom’s technique for making cinnamon rolls works well. The scent of cinnamon and brown sugar and fresh dough fill the air.

The crescent roll batch presents a problem. I rarely make crescent rolls from scratch. Pillsbury’s crescent rolls come out of the tube partially pre-cut, dotted cutting lines marking off each uniformly-sized roll. I simply use a butter knife to separate the dough along the pre-cut lines and roll it up.

My own crescent roll dough, however, offers me no pre-cut lines. I stand there and stare at it for minutes, smell its sweetness, know it’s perfect, but I cannot remember a single piece of advice from my mother about how to cut out uniformly-sized and shaped triangles and roll them up.

Finally, I just guess. The result is that my first few rolls are too small and then, abruptly, my next few are too big. Huge. Texas-sized. I put them all on the baking pan anyway and bake the rolls – crescent and cinnamon – at the same time, crescent rolls finishing first.

The yellow bowl sits on the counter, empty now, a hint of risen dough sticking to its interior. It must be washed again, another risk taken. For decades the dough from that bowl made cinnamon rolls and crescent rolls and braided bread and whole wheat bread. Rolls and bread that filled the house with a sweet smell, a promise and an expectation.

Even before the rolls are ready to come out of the oven, my family begins to cruise by the kitchen. My wife shows up and asks when they’ll be done. I suspect my son and Ashley can smell them baking all the way in the back bedroom, even with the door closed.

I sigh with relief and then smile when I take them out of the oven. They’re nearly perfect. Everyone has to sample them, fresh out of the oven, both the cinnamon rolls and the crescent rolls, of course, so much sampling going on that I worry for a moment, silly me, whether there will be rolls left over for my son’s breakfast in the morning.

It turns out, some rolls survive the sample. Both kinds.

The next morning, I confess to using a gentle setting on the microwave to warm the rolls for my son again, but he’s late to leave, so he has to put them in a bag and eat them as he drives to school, his empty glass of milk left behind on the kitchen counter.

As he leaves, he gives me a hug and says something like “those rolls were great last night.”

Then he remembers to reach into the pantry and grab a cardboard container that says “Barilla Italian Entrees Ready in 1 Minute” on the front. On some days, he says, there are not enough microwave ovens for all the students lined up to use them. Some students have to wait so long to use a microwave that they are almost late getting to class when their 30 minute lunch break is over.

When I was in school there were no microwave ovens. My lunch was always the same, the high school years involving a brown paper bag that carried a peanut butter sandwich made with my mother’s home-made, whole wheat bread.

I realize it must be 50 years now of dough coming out of the big yellow bowl, first with my mother’s hands on the dough, then mine or my wife’s and on rare occasion, my son’s. My son knows how to make the bread, and some day Ashley will, too, my Mom handing off the recipe, the bowl and to dough to me, and my hands tracing the line onto a new generation. If the bowl can hold together all this time, surely we can, too.

 

Imagine my surprise when I visited the Home Depot website to shop for a pair of outdoor lights for our back patio. When I clicked on some inexpensive, LED lights that promised to save electricity, the following message popped up on my computer screen:

Warning: The Surgeon General has determined that LED lights are known to cause sleeplessness and even insomnia by disrupting your circadian rhythm. When you use this lighting less than two hours before bedtime, wear blue-light blocking eyeglasses.

By federal law, beginning January 1, 2015, HDTVs, computer screens, tablets and smart phones will be programmed to display similar warnings when any of these devices are used between the hours of 8 PM and 6 AM. The warnings are based on sound scientific studies performed repeatedly for years.

Nothing you’ve read so far is true. I made it up.

Here’s the truth. We should all be aware of the health hazards associated with certain kinds of LED light. Instead, governments and retailers across the country are actively taking steps that make it hard for entire populations (customer bases or residents) to get a good night’s sleep.

The City of Seattle, for example, has already begun executing a plan that will disrupt the natural sleep patterns of its entire population. Really. The Seattle.Gov website states, “Crews will install 5,000 LED streetlights in 2010 and a total of 41,000 by the end of 2014.”

People in Seattle began complaining when that city’s “sleepless nights” program first began. One journalist in Seattle wrote, “The rays turned my skin the color of white taffy and cast crisp shadows on the pavement. ‘Zombie blue’ is exactly right.”

Unaccountably, LED lighting seems to baffle us. The dynamics of light are complex, but here’s a simple explanation. The color of lighting — also called “color temperature” — can be measured in a unit called “Kelvins.”  Scientific studies show that, at a minimum, lighting rated at 4,000 Kelvin or higher makes your brain think it’s day time. When your brain thinks it’s day time, your body does not produce the melatonin you need to get sleepy and fall asleep. As a result, any device producing light with a Kelvin rating above 4,000 may very well keep you up at night, even after it’s off.

When I visited the Home Depot website and to shop for LED lights, the site said, “Choose a color of light . . . A ‘cold’ bluish hue which many people complain about from CFLs comes from lights rated at 6,000K.”

Home Depot fails miserably here. For starters, the Compact Florescent Lamp (CFL) bulb (already dated technology) is available for purchase with light that is yellow, not blue.  Then, too, Home Depot’s use of the phrase “which many people complain about” is a sadly inadequate attempt to warn us about the lighting for sale there, especially given available options in LED lighting.

For me, something close to Seattle’s “zombie lighting” was particularly noticeable when I visited the new Walgreens store at Tanque Verde Road and Catalina Highway for the first time.
I immediately told Chris Monrad, an engineer and professional lighting expert, who is a client of mine and has been educating me about lighting.

He was curious about this brand-new Walgreens, so he had a Monrad Engineering employee meet me at the store at 9 PM one night not long ago. We used a portable light spectrum measuring device to get Kelvin ratings from different light sources in the store.

The overhead florescent lighting measured 3811, just under the 4,000 Kelvin danger line, but the LED lighting built into many of the standard display units measured 4467. The worst offender was a Vichy skin care display at 10,467 Kelvin!

Now consider the lighting in your home. Your HDTV, PC, Smart Phone and/or tablet emits light in the range of 6,500 to 10,500 Kelvin. If you have a teenager at home who stays up late at night and has trouble falling asleep, now you know why. Millions of teenagers go to bed at night and use one device guaranteed to disrupt their sleep – their smart phone.

Instinctively, we know the truth in these facts about the color temperature of light, but we have trouble recognizing our reaction, even when we cringe at the blue headlights of a car going the opposite direction. Here’s my own confession of this oversight.

For decades now, my family has taken a few vacations every a year at our vacation home in Santa Fe County, New Mexico. Our home is just eight-tenths of a mile off State Highway 14 and only twenty minutes from town, but unaccountably the house sits in a pocket of hundreds of acres of land, including our small area, that are off the grid.  We have no electrical service. As a consequence, any time our generator is off, our home is amazingly quiet – and dark.

Our routine has been to run the generator to provide our electricity in the early part of the evening, watch little or no TV and then turn off the generator and switch over to low sources of light. In the beginning, we read by candle light or kerosine light and even now, though our battery-powered light is whiter, it’s dim compared to the extraordinary brightness a typical urban home, including ours in Tucson, is flooded with.

The Kelvin of a candle flame – 1,800 – is about the same as the light at sunset. As luck would have it, incandescent light bulbs – the bulbs with filaments in them – put out a yellow light in the range of 2,700 to 3,300 Kelvin. Thus in the days before LED, most of the light in our homes, though possibly too bright, was at least fundamentally yellow. Yellow light does reduce our production of melatonin, but not nearly to the extent that white or blue light does.

If you want to help yourself sleep better, here are some steps you can take.

  1. Quit watching an HDTV two hours before bedtime.
  2. If you’re like me and plan to use your computer less than two hours before bedtime, get the free software f.lux [http://justgetflux.com/]. F.lux uses your computer’s clock to gauge when the color temperature on your computer screen needs to be yellow, not blue-white, and changes it automatically. You’ll notice the difference and have a better chance to get a good night’s sleep.
  3. Cover or remove from your bedroom ANY source of LED light – clocks, DVD players, etc.

Chris Monrad explains that it’s not just the Kelvin of light that can keep you up at night. It’s also the quality of the spectrum of light. We’ve all seen a rainbow or looked at sprinklers spraying water and been reminded that the natural spectrum of light contains a full and amazing range of colors. That’s not true for all LED lights. The spectrum of light that comes from poorly designed LED lights may be oddly distorted and also cause us problems

The second-biggest surprise about LED lighting is that it doesn’t have to be blue at all. LED lighting doesn’t have to be produced so that we think of zombies and can’t get a good night’s sleep. LED lights can be designed to produce yellow, “warm,” and comforting light.

The biggest surprise about LED lighting is that cities like Seattle and retailers like Walgreens haven’t bothered to learn the facts and give people what they want – light that makes them comfortable and helps them get a good night’s sleep.