punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,
punkwalrus
punkwalrus

Lava Lamp 101

Lava lamps are kind of interesting. For those of you who have never actually had one, there are several distinct stages.

  1. Off - When you turned it off or the 40watt appliance bulb is burnt out. Wax is in two layers: a large chunk in the bottom with a heating dispersion coil in it, and a thin plate at the top left over that if you tap the globe hard enough, will sink to the bottom.
  2. First On - Nothing exciting, except light. People not used to Lava Lamps will inevitably go, "Is it broken?" No, just wait a while, you impatient Generation-X-jaded, game console-playing, rollerblade-wearing, DDR-dancing, youngster!
  3. The Stalagmite Stage - After about 10-15 minutes, the wax on the bottom becomes molten, and less dense, so it pushes the solid wax above it until it breaks into the fluid column. There it rapidly rises to the top of the globe, but cools off almost instantly, making several hard threads of wax and a thick blob near the top. The cooler fluid rushes in where the molten wax was, and cools off that area, and the sudden burst of activity abruptly halts. Then it stays that way for about 20-40 minutes. People not used to Lava Lamps will inevitably go, "Is it broken?" and may shake it. Shaking a Lava Lamp when any of the wax is molten is a huge, huge no-no, because the wax will break up into a bajillion teeny blobs that just looks like a foggy cloud, and the fluid may never become as clear as it was ever again.
  4. The First Currents - Once the wax starts to evenly heat up, some blobs rise to the top, cool, and then fall to the bottom. At this stage, there are many distinct blobs.
  5. Main Convection - After about 2 hours, you'll get a combination of a rising column and blobs of wax that will undulate in hypnotic ways for hours and hours. This is the Lava Lamp in its "prime."
  6. Overheated - Depending on your individual lamp, the overheated stage may take 6-8 hours before you'll start to notice the wax mostly stays at the top, and small bubbles of wax start to form. You can reset this by turning the lamp off for about 4 hours, and then leaving it on for another 8 hours is fine. Overheating your lamp will eventually alter the properties of the wax so that it never quite works the same way, and you may just have this weird oval blob that goes up and down on the bottom, but never gets more than half-height in the fluid.
I bring this up because I have had a few Lava Lamps over the years, and the one I currently have is a yellow wax in red liquid (it used to be red wax in purple liquid, but it's faded over time). It was a gift from takayla about 5-6 years ago, and I had it at work for a long time until they put so many computers in my room, it got kind of hot, and so the Lamp wasn't helping. I took it home, and for the last 4 years, it's been sitting on the floor of my den, doing nothing (again, the heat issue).

So I had this brilliant idea to bring it to my new job, because I have a dark corner of my desk that needed some extra boost, and I thought a Lava Lamp would be a nice fit. And it is. But the people around here act like I have brought some magical item from an exotic place. I thought the Lava Lamp would be innocuous, and not generate more than a comment or two, but people have stopped by in awe just to look at it. They ask questions, they make comments like, "I haven't seen once since the 60s..." Dude, have you been to a MALL in the last 30 years? Watched TV? It's not like I brought in a fuzzy blacklight poster of Janis Joplin, guys. I mean, I'm not mad, because it's done nothing but make me more popular, but wow... I have always seen these lamps for sale SOMEwhere all my life. Spenser's Gifts? Anyone? Anyone?

Of course, the comments "Is it broken?" early in the morning get a bit tiresome...
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