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Quick. Take a look at your MP3 player. What colour is the indicator light? If it's orange or green, you're so 1990s. If it's bright blue, you're cool.

Blue LEDs (light-emitting diodes), which now adorn everything from computers to kid's toys, represent more than the sign of an early adopter. They are also a technical achievement that recently won their inventor, Shuji Nakamura, a court award of $189-million (U.S.) -- his company originally paid him a pittance. Much more difficult to produce than red, green or orange LEDs, they also are more expensive. But prices have crashed in recent months, and you'll now find blue LEDs tarting up every conceivable type of consumer electronics device.

Blue LEDs have a piercing clarity that draws the eye immediately, and which can mesmerize. They shimmer, they twinkle, and they can be incredibly intense for such tiny points of light -- they're really quite beautiful.

The problem is they're suddenly everywhere.

They adorn my monitor, handheld scanner, webcam, a USB hub, a Bluetooth access point, a WiFi adapter, a desktop volume control for my speakers, an external hard drive, a video editing peripheral (that one actually pulses), and the docking cradle for a rechargeable mouse. There are six more on the front of my new computer.

Walk around my house, and you'll notice cold blue cyclopean eyes glaring from components in the home theatre cabinet. A wireless music gateway I'm testing has a couple. Several of my kids' toys have them and there's one on a USB keychain drive attached to my car keys. The power indicator on my portable MP3 player is piercing blue. I even got a pen the other day, one of those giveaways with a company logo, that has a blue LED that lights up as you write.

The LEDs on most gadgets are meant to do one thing -- tell you that the power is on. The original red power LEDs were replaced almost everywhere in the 1990s by less invasive green and orange ones, mostly because they are not as distracting. I find the blue LEDs even more distracting than the red ones.

Personally, I don't want an indicator that can be seen from orbit unless it's trying to advertise an urgent problem.

The blue ray of hope I'm clinging to is that things usually reach this level of overkill right before the balance tips and they become extremely uncool. Like neon-yellow T-shirts, Rick Astley albums and Flock of Seagulls hair styles.

Otherwise, there's always the comforting fact that as the human eye ages, it tends to block certain wavelengths, particularly blue light. If the fad doesn't falter, maybe time will ease my LED blues.

Ian Johnson writes the Geek Chic column for Globe Technology (

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