8th Mar 2004 This is one of my few genuine letters. We were given a Cyalume light stick when we were sailing with the Navy. It was given to us as a safety item but, when the bend came to the snap, it didn't work. View large

Dear Sir,

I recently had the, some may say dubious, honour of testing the sewage on board an Australian warship; the HMAS Labuan. I suspect “Labuan” is an aboriginal word for shoebox, as the vessel was a landing craft, not noted for its sleek lines and winged keels.

As a private contractor on the vessel I was given all due instruction on safety vests, assembly points, life rafts, warning pipes, the need to keep the fluids up and all the other general perils that make life so interesting on a ship at sea. My father, cynic and ex RAN, tells me that the only differences between jail and the navy is that you meet better people in jail, your cells are bigger in jail and the chance of drowning is more remote.

He was wrong about the people but I tend to agree on the other two.

To minimise the chance of drowning, the coxswain, Syd Hilton*, presented me with a Cyalume Safety Lightstick with strict instructions to carry it all times. And, never having put 'keen amateur shark bait' on my resumÄ, I was more than willing to comply. Most days, when Syd found me playing around in the bowels of the ship, he would ask as to whether I was carrying the stick; always one to obey orders I replied with a razor-sharp, pressed and creased “Yes-sah! ”.

Some days later, my navy work done, I was back home telling my sons graphic and enthralling tales of derringdo at sea in my relentless pursuit of the great brown and blind mullet and I remembered the stick.

“Here” said I, “they gave me this to save me if I fell overboard at night. Watch! ” I unwrapped the stick and bent it, breaking the inner glass tube as directed and shook it.


The liquid was a deep yellow. If it had come near my sewage I would have suggested that its owner needed rehydration but did it glow? Nope. Not a glimmer.

Even the glorious leaders of the Coalition of the Willing could scrape together more wattage than that thing put out. Collectively, admittedly, but more none the less.

There are guys back on the HMAS Labuan who think that the stick is a safety device.

If they fall overboard, what should they do? Poke the sharks in the eye with it?

Yours safely back on dry land,

J. Cosmo Newbery.

* Well, actually his name was not Sydney but he was born the same year as the Sydney Hilton was bombed and, well, navy folk have this thing about nicknames....

The reply, which is one of the nicest I have received for a while, went as follows:

The customer wrote, in great and amusing detail, to explain that the single lightstick (Which I've identified from the lot # given (27D01C), to be a 6" yellow hi, P/N 9-42300, DOM 4/9/03 (2nd shift)), did not work.

With a sense of humor no doubt stemming from the Australian cultural awareness that comes from knowing their country gave the world, and is best known for, “Men at Work”, kangaroos, and vegemite, (Sorry, but Mel Gibson was born in New York) the customer explained in a descriptive narrative, that he in fact had carried this particular lightstick with him for some length of time, as a safety device in his particular job of sewage testing in the Australian warship HMAS Labuan.

After unwrapping the stick at home once his critical mission was completed, he “snapped” it for his sons and there discovered that it gave “not a glimmer” of light (as a point of reference, our lightstick output is measured in “lux”, not “glimmers” - that may be an Aussie unit of measurement)

His description of the product as having a “deep yellow” color suggests that it may in fact have been accidentally activated prior to his unwrapping it and was already spent. He does not mention where he carried it. Hopefully it was not in a sensitive area or his rear pocket where he might have activated the stick simply by sitting on it at one point in his mission.

I retrieved some of our retained samples (that we keep for just such a situation) and tested them. They all lit up brightly. I can find no record of any problem with this lot of 9,500 pcs nor any evidence in the retains to explain what the customer found. Since he was handed the wrapped product from a navy coxswain using the alias “Syd Hilton”, it's possible that the product had been activated in the wrapper before he even got it (you know how those Navy people are...)

As to the customer's question regarding the suitability of our lightsticks for use as a hand weapon on cases of shark attack - it would indeed be helpful in poking the shark in the eye as he suggests (I would personally recommend the narrow end to be most effective). Perhaps our marketing department could include this as a product feature in future literature.

To summarize, I can find nothing to support the customers report (no stick was returned) and no evidence of a systemic problem. I would certainly recommend that the customer be somehow rewarded however for what must certainly be one of the most entertaining customer concerns I have ever had the pleasure of reading.


Joseph C. Longo