Electricity and me • 5 October 2007 • The SnowBlog

Electricity and me

At Leila's (possibly not very serious) suggestion, I thought I might share with you a few electricity-related stories - including times that I have been electrocuted. Disappointingly, the dictionary insists that electrocution is fatal, so perhaps I've only been slightly electrocuted. So I used to have a job where I had to get up at about 5:30am to go to work. Always a struggle, as it sometimes takes me a while to wake up. One morning, though, as I was about to make some coffee I noticed that I'd left some laundry in the washing machine from the night before. The washing machine had a broken catch, so until I could afford to get it fixed I'd taken the top off the machine so I could reach down inside and open the catch from the back. This morning I forgot to turn the power off first. I'm not blaming the manufacturer, but it seems to me that you can never get your arm out of a washing machine as quickly as you'd like in the event of (partial) electrocution. The funny thing, though, was that once I did free myself from the thing, I no longer felt the need for coffee. Nope. I was wiiiide awake. I recommend you try it some time, but make sure you're with friends, as you might need your heart restarting afterwards. The first time I was ever (partly) electrocuted was when I was very little, but I don't count that. I think I was only about two and so the details are hazy. I remember shortly afterwards various adults impressing upon me the importance of not unscrewing light switches, but that's about it. The next time was at school. Now I did go to one of those expensive traditional schools where they beat pupils for various offenses, but this was an incidental and educational (partial) electrocution rather than a disciplinary one. We were learning about tuning forks in physics class. I was looking for somewhere to stand my tuning fork after I'd struck it and noticed some round holes in the bench. It turns out they were old-fashioned round-pinned electrical sockets from goodness knows how long ago. I remember getting the sense that my whole arm was ringing like a tuning fork, but so loudly that I was surprised the rest of the class didn't look round. After a bit I had the presence of mind to let go. From that day on I possessed the superpower of being quite good at physics - but it might just have been a Pavlovian response whereby I figured the more I learned, the less likely I was to inadvertently (partially or fully) electrocute myself in class. After I left school I worked for a while repairing computers. Monitors tend to store charges of several thousand volts and the spark you could get off one was sufficient to take a notch out of a screwdriver. Mains supplies would also store a charge, though at hundreds not thousands of volts. But motherboards operated on five volts and were harmless. So began my interest in computer logic. I knew I'd done the right thing because the number of (partial) electrocutions I received in a week dropped to zero. Bliss. Just to finish up, I want to make a transatlantic distinction here. UK electricity is at twice the voltage of North America, so if you're empathising with my pain, you should double it for the sake of accuracy. And there's another thing you might not know. While discarded US mains plugs lay on the ground, UK ones stick straight up in the air like caltrops. The pain of stepping on one is a quintessential part of what it means to be British - so much so, I think it should be part of the UK citizenship test.

Anyone else out there got a problem with one of the forces that make up the universe?


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