f.lux: Making Computing Easier on the Eyes

f.lux is a free program which adjusts the warmth of your computer’s display according to the time of day, most notably at night time, in order to replicate the change in light that happens naturally as the sun rises and sets.

Most computer screens’ lighting is set to replicate daylight light conditions, and are calibrated to 6,500 Kelvins. The Kelvin is the unit of absolute temperature, and settings of over 5,000 K are referred to as being ‘cool’ colour temperatures, and emit a blue-white light.

Noon daylight has a colour temperature of 5,600 K. So, for those of us who spend all day, and indeed, much of the evening hours in front of a screen emitting a colour temperature 6,500 K we find that we end up receiving an abnormal amount of simulated daylight. This can be seen by the blue hue emitted by a computer screen in the dark.

Medical studies carried out at Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois, have shown that abnormal levels of blue light can interrupt the body’s circadian rhythm, an inbuilt biological clock that influences, amongst others, our co-ordination, cardiovascular rhythm and our sleep patterns.

Exposure to daylight levels of blue light at night time can, according to the study, delay the secretion of melatonin, which causes sleepiness.

f.lux takes note of your location in terms of longitude and latitude, and adjusts the warmth of the light to more accurately mimic natural light conditions on the screen, removing blue light, and providing a warmer, orange-red colour.

f.lux was developed in 2009 by husband and wife team Lorna and Michael Herf. The two had previously collaborated on photo software Picasa, and the idea for f.lux came when painter Lorna came downstairs from her “perfectly light-balanced studio,” to where software engineer Michael was working on a computer downstairs.

“All the colours downstairs were warm, all the lights were nice and orange and incandescent, but all the computers were still bright blue. I said ‘this looks really weird doesn’t it?’ And he said ‘I can fix this, I know how to change this.’ So that’s how f.lux was born.”

“From there we realized you could make it automatic, to fit with the time of day where you were around the world and we thought, you know, let’s put it out and see if anybody else in the world will want this. We’ve had about a million and a half downloads, so we’re not the only ones that wanted it! So, it’s been really cool, and people say the nicest things about it.”

As with most good ideas, it seems extraordinarily simple after in hindsight, but surely Lorna must have been surprised when she discovered the amount of medical research around the effects of blue light on sleep patterns, yet no-one had made the connection to computers?

“Right! I mean, nobody really thought of it, that we know about, on computers. I’ve never seen anybody say it until kind of recently, and now with the iPad especially, because you’re using that in bed at night, and it’s kind of right up close to your face. So the research definitely says that looking at screens keeps you up late.”

“We wish that we could get some real research to see whether or not that’s helped by f.lux. We heard from the founders of a company called WakeMate which is one of these kind of cool things that monitors your sleep; and they saw results after a week of using it. It’s not a scientific study but it’s cool, and here’s so many people that write in too.”

Although f.lux has been available for two years, it is constantly evolving. As Lorna notes, “when you’re working with something that changes the colours, and the colour palette in yourmonitor, you can run into some interesting bugs!”.

Lorna and Michael, and two other team members, one in Chicago and another in Amsterdam, invite users to mail them with any glitches or bugs they encounter so that they can improve the software.

“It’s not a big team! So we really welcome any help that we can get and people know that things break sometimes, so we just try and let them know that we’re here. And it helps us when people report bugs, it helps make the product better.”

New versions for Mac, Windows and Linux are currently in development with the Mac version likely to be released “really soon”. Lorna and Michael are in no great hurry; preferring to make sure they get it right rather than rushing a new version.

“We’re working on a couple of new features. Mostly what we try and do is pay attention to the things people ask for. So peoplewill say ‘hey, I like to stay up a little later in the winter,’ or ‘I’m a night owl,’ or ‘I’m an early bird, how do I tweak this to match my schedule a little better?’ We really want to hear them and give them what they need.”

Lorna acknowledges that complaints over the brightness of the iPad’s screen have drawn attention to f.lux recently, “The iPad being as blue as it is has been the greatest source of press for f.lux. People are saying ‘this thing is so bright, we need this f.lux thing on the iPad’.”

Looking at the comments section of their site, the recurring themes are “love letters.” for which Lorna is grateful, and requests for an iPad app. So are we likely to see one any time soon?

“Oh my gosh, we would love to do an iPad app! We are working hard right now trying to crack that nut! To the start I think the only thing we could do is a jail-broken version, but if we could get some help from Apple, for sure, we would love to be on the iPhone and love to be on the iPad. It would be fantastic. I have both at home and hate using them at night.”

So, Steve Jobs hasn’t appeared waving a cheque in front of them yet? “He hasn’t shown up yet, I don’t know, what’s the deal with that?! Steve, we’re waiting! We’re here!”

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5 thoughts on “f.lux: Making Computing Easier on the Eyes

  1. I’ve tried RedShift (https://launchpad.net/redshift… before only available for linux. I liked the idea as sometimes at night time the screen can be very bright and hurt my eyes. I found Redshif it would make my screen really of a really red tint which I found it to much, and there was no way of changing this.I’ll try this one, I hope is better than the other one

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  2. I’ve used flux and love the program. I never have sleep problems now, after turning off the computer at night as I used to have. And one can alter the program in any way to suit your own personal needs, or feelings at just one time. It really gives a lovely golden glow to the once horrid blue-white blast of hospital-whiteness from the computer.

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