Like my previous What Was I Thinking? projects (light fishture, hangerhedra), this one resulted from an aha! moment that sort of spiraled out of control. Unlike those projects, however, this one has a happy ending, in that something more-or-less good did, eventually, come from it.

It began, predictably enough, with an over-caffeinated trip to the pet store…

Whatever it was I went in for was quickly forgotten when I wandered down the aisle with the hamster-balls and saw them all arrayed there, a cornucopia of hollow, clear acrylic spheres in various sizes and fluorescent colors, with built-in removable access hatches: Just think of the possibilities.

As a chemist, my thoughts went immediately to the idea of somehow sticking them together to make giant molecular models. It hit me that if you removed the access cover from one sphere you could fit the resulting opening over the surface of another sphere, glue them together, and have something that looked a lot like a space-filling model of, say, methane.


Cool, enough, I supposed. But then what would you do with it?

My first thought was to fall back on that great standby justification for useless junk: Well, I could always make a lamp out of it. But even in my excited state, I might have passed that up as too trite if it hadn’t been for the fact that I already had four amber LED cluster bulbs lying around, the residue of yet another failed project–an ill-fated attempt to replace the inefficient incandescent bulbs in my car’s hazard flashers with LEDs.

(That’s another story unto itself, but the short version is this: The LED bulbs don’t draw enough current to drive the old-school thermal flasher unit in my ’98 Cherokee. They illuminate just fine, but to make them actually flash I had to wire a cluster of enormous resistors into the circuit, which of course defeated the whole point.)

Anyway, so, a lamp it was. And since, like the methane molecule itself, my lamp was going to be tetrahedral, it occurred to me I could add the nifty touch of having the lamp turn on or off depending on which of its four faces it was resting on, and maybe that bit of cleverness would somehow make up for the fact that I was building a junk-lamp in the first place. There was a Radio Shack right beside the pet store, so I stopped on my way out and bought a tilt switch and, because I imagined that an AC power cord would interfere with the action of flipping the lamp from one face to another, a huge 8-D-cell battery holder that would just fit into my large central “carbon” hamster-ball.


It was easy enough to put together. I hot-glued the tilt switch to the battery holder and bolted the battery holder to the inside of the hatch cover for the central sphere, so that it would be easy to remove and replace the batteries. I knew the outer “hydrogen” spheres would have to endure significant stresses as the lamp was flipped from one face to another, so I glued them to the “carbon” with a specially formulated epoxy for plastics I bought at the local hardware store.

I got it together. It worked. It also, I realized after living with it for only a couple of days, pretty much sucked: It looked exactly like what it was, i.e. a bunch of hamster balls glued together with a bunch of crap inside. The amber light from the LED clusters was directional, rather than diffuse, and of an awful color for interior decor. The great weight of the battery holder and its eight D-cells put way too much stress on the flimsy plastic tabs that held the access hatch in place, and they rapidly began to deform. Perhaps worst of all, vapors from the special epoxy I used crazed the inside of the plastic spheres–within a month they were clouded and hazy and even uglier than they’d started.

But as a prototype, ultimately, the hamsterlamp counts as a success. I got lots of favorable comments from friends about the concept, if not the actual appearance, and these persuaded me to try again with a better eye towards the aesthetics of the finished project. You can see the result, pictured below, which I call my “sp3 lamp,” so named because “sp3” is the term chemists use to describe a tetrahedrally-substituted carbon atom. Details of its construction are available at my old personal site.


Finally, since today is the last Wednesday in “Failures!” month, this post officially wraps up my regular What Was I Thinking? column. I’ve gotten lots of great comments and e-mails from folks who’ve enjoyed the series and the concept, and even though it won’t be continuing as a regular feature, I still hope to post What Was I Thinking?-type projects as they come up in my life, on the web, and in submissions from “viewers like you.” So, as always, if you have suggestions please send them directly to me at [email protected].

Thanks for reading!