People whose presence turns off streetlights: the Washington Post gets into the act

You remember Cecil’s 1994 column, Can some people extinguish streetlamps by means of their bodily emanations? (Of course you do. If you don’t, what sort of Doper are you, anyway?)

The good news is that the Washington Post has taken note of the phenomenon, in a story entitled Bad Karma, Or Just Bad Lightbulbs?

The bad news is that they don’t come any closer than Cecil does to being able to answer the question. Pepco, the local power utility, blames it on loose connections, old bulbs, and coincidence. And that’s about as far as they get, other than to mention that now there’s an informal online organization of persons who say they affect the streetlights, calling themselves Sliders.

The other good news is that Cecil is mentioned in the article.

Looking over the old Cecil piece, I do think that “the van is always at the corner” is a better name than “confirmation bias”.

Thanks for that, RT.

Two previous threads about the column are


Read James Randi’s book The Magic of Uri Geller (1975 by Ballantine Books, currently in reprint through Prometheus Books). Geller used to claim that his presence made streetlamps go out, which Uri fans apparently believed. Randi and company used to joke about having the same powers every time they walked by a streetlamp and it went out.

It happens to me all the time, but I don’t believr it’s because of my awesome electrical aura. Coincidence, friends.

Strange, I have the opposite effect; streetlamps nearly always work properly when I walk past them (I’m not sure what they do when I’m not there, because…well… I’m not there).

Well, I’ll weigh in here, just because my experience was such an odd occurence. Five years ago, driving across the Mississippi Delta, I was in a real pissed off mood from the git-go of the journey. My Hon and I were driving through Greenwood, MS, across a pork barrel Highway overpass: a large lighted overpass in a town that didn’t need it. Being pissy, I loudly yammered at how that was a goddamn waste, and what the hell was the point of all that light, with great agitation. At that point, ALL the overpass lights went off , at the same time. Just out, Boom, the whole shebang, across the overpass! My Hon said I was really scarin’ him. I suppose it was just chance, but, man what a chance! Weird, no?

I bet the light in your icebox comes on when you open the door, too, ya freak.

Due to some faulty wiring and short-sighted administration, there actually were a few lights at Villanova University which would go out when folks walked under them (this was several years ago when I was there; the situation may have since been fixed). Somewhere along the line, the administration had decided that the footpaths on campus could somehow be rendered more safe if they installed some nice bright lights to cast shadows for people to hide in. But it would be wasteful to keep the lights on all the time, since there were few folks out and about at night. So they had motion sensors, to only turn on when the paths were in use.

Except that the switched got reversed on several of the lights, so that they turned off whenever a person walked past, and were on otherwise.

I always put out streetlights when I drive past them. I even point it out to my friends when they are in the car, and they can’t believe it. They thought I was putting them on, until they seen it happen on many occasions. It is not restricted to one particular area, either. I can do it wherever I go.

I know several people who kill watches, even wind-up ones in minutes… even wind-up stop watches. Wassup with that?

Blow street lights, heck, my chopper does that and car alarms all the time, just ain’t me doing it. :wink:

See the above-mentioned book The Magic of Uri Geller – stopping watches among the TV viewers of his appearances at their own homes used to be part of Geller’s stock-in-trade. As Randi points out, it’s another statistical fluke passed off as “real magic” – the odds are that a lot of viewer’s watches have stopped, just by chance alone, and they hadn’t noticed it until prompted. If their watch hasn’t stopped, it’s no big deal. But if it has stopped, people remember it and attribute it to Geller’s amazing powers. Yeah, right.

Wow, that is weird!

And I agree with you about how wasteful that overpass lighting was.

And have I ever mentioned how intelligent you are, and that I imagine you to be a very attractive person?

  • heresiarch
    (sucking up to the lady with the scary magic powers) :smiley:

Well. thankya, heresie, mebbe it boils down to a redheaded temperament… I know it was just a coinkidink, and the kind that’ll make ya smile, but still, what if it’s my Superpower! The ability to make large banks of streetlights go out when yer cranky and pissed!

How depressing, and that pisses me off even more. sigh

Course, that brings up the point; why would streetlights be more likely to be going off due to human passers by, as opposed to other light sources? Why not porchlights going out, or Storefront signs? My experience was true, and surprising, but I don’t figger my small mind could influence a whole bank of streetlights while whizzing by in a car. I was really pissed, though…:eek:

Anyhoo, why do streetlights have this perception of influenceover other light sources?

The people that can pass it off as a “coincidence” are just too freaked out to really give it a thought. Rain on someone else’s parade, jackass.

As for stopping watches: well, that’s just a coincidence. :wink:

It was the other way round. Geller started watches (although in his terminology he mended them).

I live in a suburb of Chicago. There is a street light on my corner that I can make go on and off at my will.

Of course, it helps if I time my will to coincide with the changing of a stop light three blocks away. It seems some electrical leads got crossed and the street light shorts out the lamp post.

I won’t tell, if no one else does.

I don’t know about streetlights, but I do know about electrical fields around people. A year or two back, I was in my favorite comic store and discovered a novelty Star Trek gift card that, when opened, played the classic Star Trek fight theme as played when Kirk and Spock dueled to the ‘death’ on Vulcan. I found it amusing and cheap, and purchased it. Later, finding the card on its own no longer amusing, I disassembled the card and removed from within the computer chip, speaker, and simple pressure button. It was a portable little thing, and when the button was pressed and released it played that obnoxious midi file at startling volume. I got in quite a bit of trouble at school with it.
I had set it up on my stairs one day, and was trying to work out a way that when people walked by it would go off. I hadn’t figured anything out yet, but when my mom walked down the stairs, it went off.
I assumed that I had accidentally set it off, but over the next few weeks her presence would set the thing going again and again and again, until finally I held it in my outstretched palm, walked toward her until it went off, backed away, and tried again. Their is no doubt about it, my mom somehow triggers this simple little electrical device simply by coming within three feet of it. The results are clear, observable, and repeatable. Or at least were, until a year ago when the speaker wire soldering came loose, and I threw the device away.
My theory is that she emits some form of low-grade magnetic field, and her moving withing a certain radius of the chip, or vice-versa, sets enough of a charge in the wires to initiate the midi file. However, I have not yet been motivated enough to find or devise a meter that could gauge an ambient magnetic field. If you could find a cheap device to do so, or arrange for my mother to be brought to a city location where street lamps are more common to test this thread’s main theory, perhaps we could help settle this discussion once and for all.

Also, I have a friend to whom computers have a demonstrable allergy. When she sits at a computer terminal, any computer terminal, it has an estimated (derived from experimentation) 30% chance of crashing immediately. If it does not, then while she uses whatever program, she will experience “miscellaneous errors”, often consistent with memory leaks, such as programs slowing down drastically over time, failed saves/loads, mouse glitches, and keyboard commands having erratic and unpredictable results. (e.g. Ctrl-Alt-Del bringing up the calculator. Saw it with my own eyes.) Furthermore, while she sits in front of a computer, anyone else using it around her or over her will have the same problems. Also, computers next to where she is sitting suffer similar problems, but to a lesser extent. However, she has no known problems with calculators of any kind, watches, televisions or novelty gift cards.

It is a well known fact in certain circles that the theremin was invented by Aleister Crowley, and to this day, no living human knows how it works!!!


Of course, (except for the Crowley part) there’s some truth to this, if one remembers that for all the use we make of electricity, even physicists don’t know exactly what it is. Not that this bothers me a whole lot.

DM (electronics guru)