Rather that talking about something directly related to mobile software development, in today’s post I’d like to discuss a useful tool I’ve been using that happens to help me with my hobby development.
For several years now, research has known that short wavelength, or “blue” light can suppress melatonin, a hormone that regulates the body’s sleep and wake cycles. This means using a typical blue-light emitting monitor or other screen before bedtime can cause problems with sleep, and even potentially increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, and other medical problems.
Staring at a computer screen right up until sleep is pretty common for those of us trying to find time for hobby development or gaming in a tight daily schedule. I’m one of these people, but have ignored the rule that says you should avoid using a screen for an hour or two before going to bed.
Recently when researching computer glasses (which are supposed to reduce eye strain among other things), I stumbled across a little free program called f.lux which plays a neat trick – it changes the color on your monitor to reduce the blue light component before bed, thereby reducing the negative effects of melatonin suppression. It does this in a rather intelligent way, by asking you to describe what time you go to sleep, and combining that information with your time zone to gradually dim the blue component before bedtime. It supports Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, and even iPad/iPhone, though I’ve only used it on Mac OS X.
I haven’t done a scientific study on this and cannot rule out the placebo effect, but since I’ve started using this program a few weeks ago I feel my quality of sleep has gradually gotten better. Since the color change to orange (which is what happens when you remove blue) is so gradual, you may not even notice it.
The only main drawback to this tool is if you are doing anything art or graphics-related, certain colors can’t be seen properly and you may have to temporarily disable f.lux. Also, there is a bug whereby the color filtering goes haywire briefly, causing a white flash. This is pretty annoying, but fortunately only happened for me a few times.
It looks like this tool has been around for a few years (to my surprise I see it was even alluded to in the above article about the harmful effects of blue light before sleep), but for some reason I hadn’t heard about it until just recently. Since it is free with no ads or other catches (as far as I can tell), you might want to check it out.
As a side point, I realized that the place I discovered about f.lux is a good example of intelligent advertising. The program was posted as a response to an article about computer glasses, which you can see here. Posting a link on a forum or as a comment to an article can be interpreted as spam and piss people off if done incorrectly, but in this case the target audience was perfect since people who are interested in computer glasses are likely to also have an interest in f.lux. I don’t know if it was someone associated with the program who did the posting, but either way it’s a good example of smart advertising for software.