Quarantine can be a useful time to get stuff done around the house, such as discovering gravity or developing a new theory of optics.

That’s what Isaac Newton did when plague hit 17th-century London. Ensconced at a rural estate, he developed his universal theories of gravity as it relates to mass and distance, and also used prisms to identify principles of light refraction.

That same plague also produced the idea for Philadelphia: William Penn was thinking of the twin catastrophes — disease and fire — that spread through densely built London in 1665-66 when he decided to design his own city from scratch.

He famously proposed “a green country town which will never be burnt and always be wholesome,” and one of out of two isn’t bad.

» READ MORE: Home improvement projects for coronavirus quarantine

My own goals during quarantine were more modest — to install a solar spotlight next to the basketball hoop in the driveway. I’d bought the fixture months ago, waiting for longer and sunnier days and some spare time, and quarantine has certainly given us plenty of the latter.

Firing blind

As with most home-improvement projects, unforeseen obstacles emerged.

Though the box promised the light would provide illumination for up to eight hours, which is far longer than I can play basketball, the actual fixture offered no such capability.

It was motion-activated, and motion-activated only. I tried it anyway. When I affixed the light to a post for a trial run, I discovered that if I wanted the light to come on, I could only stand in a certain spot, and keep moving while standing there.

You drive to the hoop, you go for a rebound, you’re in the dark. Also, you only get 90 seconds of light.

I had no use for a solar spotlight that could only be temporarily activated by movement, so I tabled that project at the prodding of my wife, who had another assignment for me, this one more urgent.

She reported that somebody was aiming poorly during midnight trips to the john, and made the plausible assertion that it could not have been her, and that, therefore, she would not be cleaning up any spills.

Without admitting guilt, I agreed to perform the cleanup, though I was careful to cite mitigating circumstances: After many years, my NFL night-light on the bathroom wall had finally gone dark, so I’d been firing blind in there.

And that NFL light was special — it had a swivel head, which was key, since the bathroom outlet is mounted right next to a beveled wall, and the hot/neutral prong slots on conventional lights send the bulb right into the angled tile, so the prongs don’t go all the way in.

I tried to use a conventional night-light set away from the wall by stacking two interlocking adapters, and it worked, but I had to admit this was an aesthetic failure — too much like Darren McGavin’s overburdened wall socket in A Christmas Story.

The ‘Eureka’ moment

I could scour the store shelves for another swivel-headed night-light, but that seemed like a flimsy reason for altering social-distancing risk profiles. Online shopping? That’s like cheating. Also, it goes against the grain of DIY innovation. If people are making desperately needed surgical masks with sewing machines, l should be able to find a solution with the materials at hand.

So I was left to address, in my Newtonian solitude, my night-light problem, or spend the rest of quarantine cleaning floors.

What I needed was a night-light that didn’t need to be plugged in, that had its own source of electricity.

Perhaps a battery.

Perhaps … and maybe you’re ahead of me here … a motion-activated solar light.


Now, I’m not saying this insight of mine is on a par with a new theory positing that white light is really composed of many colors, each with its own properties of refraction.

What I am saying is that with my new bathroom spotlight, there is zero chance I’m going to miss the bowl. Also, 90 seconds in this case is plenty.

And there is a special Tim Allen-ish thrill to be walking through the inky blackness of the bathroom and to be greeted, suddenly, with stadium-quality brightness that activates as you enter and cuts out as you retreat to the bed.

Why not just use the wall switch? I could make an argument that it’s one less thing you have to touch during the coronavirus, or that running one solar nightlight uses less energy that an array of recessed overhead bulbs, but the truth is this is just more satisfying, and it deploys otherwise unused equipment.

No, it doesn’t look all that great, but I’m not married to Marie Kondo, and the floor is clean.

Divorce rates in Wuhan, China spiked after months of lockdown. So it’s important to choose a home-improvement project that improves mood as well. In my house, every time my wife uses the bathroom she gets a blinding reminder of just what an attentive and thoughtful guy I am.

My solar night-light not only avoids messy spills, it mitigates the friction that can escalate during the hyper-cohabitation of extended quarantine.

Which is Newtonian in its own way, given the gravity of the situation.