Jason Alexander.blog
Sermons and writing about prayer, camping, bikes, and love.
4-min read

Idling with Phil

Each year Christ Episcopal Church in Little Rock holds a parish retreat. We pack up the boardgames, books, and kids and head up to Petit Jean Mountain for a little R & R with good folks and food. There is always a teaching component built in to the weekend schedule usually with a topic of current personal interest to a member of the clergy. And this year, fresh off his sabbatical in the UK, the rector introduced us to a little-known gem he discovered: The Idler Academy.

The Idler is a “company devoted to helping people to lead more fulfilled lives” by encouraging, well, idleness. That is, engaging in activities that have no productive worth other than bringing joy to the “idler” doing them. One can attend The Idler Academy to learn, among other things, elocution, how to dress like a modern gentleman, philosophy basics, and how to play the ukulele. No, none of these topics will equalize global economic disparities, move us any closer to curing cancer, or find a solution for cleaning the drinking water in Flint, MI. And that’s precisely the point of the Idler Academy!

The fundamental believe here is that in between those times that we’re doing something productive and worth while, the soul, like our bodies every now and again, can use a little R & R — or idle time — when we’re free to do something for the sheer fun of it. From a spirituality perspective, one might say that idle time is when we take a break from actively caring for God’s creation to simply appreciate the creation itself. At least that’s the spin the Christ Church rector put on his retreat presentation in order to justify all the “idle time” he had during his sabbatical. (o: And that’s the same spin I’m going to put on it to justify building my own bike lights instead of buying them!

Yup. Cygolite, Serfas, Planet Bike, and Fenix do it just fine, but why go out and lay down cash on a perfectly good bike light when you can lay down a little more cash and spend a few hours building your own from scratch? Because it’s awesome. That’s why. And who doesn’t want to play with a soldering iron and circuitry?

That’s where Phil comes in. Bikepacking buddy, Krampus owner, camping cook stove collector, and supreme idler, Phil knows how to take advantage of the time when he’s not protecting our power grid as an electrical engineer at Entergy. And one of his recent idle joys is building flash lights. He gets parts off the internet from his “supplier” and crafts the most amazing torches: everything from lights the size of a finger to some the size of a forearm, each one crafted to rival the output power of car headlights — we’re talking thousands of lumens here. They’re mostly safe too.

After seeing a couple of these lights in action on a recent bikepacking trip, I decided I wanted one (or two) for myself. So, I booked some idle time with Phil and we put a couple together.

There are a number of choices to be made when handcrafting a light:

size, number, and color of LEDs (cool or warm light)
reflector or no reflector (spot or flood output)
mode capabilities (bike flasher, beacon, “moonlight” to “turbo” brightness levels)
battery number and size
case color, size, and material

One also has to have developed a few particular assembly skills in order to put one of these together with minimal frustration. It’s tricky to solder a tiny transistor onto a circuit board the size of a thumbnail, especially when a mess-up means you have to order new parts. Phil tells me he’s learned that lesson from experience — but now he nails it just about every time. Those are his practiced hands doing the work in the photos. Not mine!

After a couple hours of idling we had ourselves two bomb-proof bike lights just itching to be strapped to my handlebars to light our next adventure. One puts out a diffuse flood, good for general nighttime riding, and the other has a more focused beam good for spotting the source of spooky sounds in the woods. They both take the same size rechargeable lithium-ion battery — fully compatible with my SP dynamo hub and Revolution USB connector. Good to go!

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