Improbable Island Message of the Day (MoTD)
A new Monthly Memento and a story about shitty wiring
So the study, Improbable Island's headquarters, is being turned into the baby's room - and the plan was to move the study to the kinda weird extension attic room upstairs with the six-foot ceilings (I am 6'1"). Yesterday - with six weeks until the baby's here and no nursery yet - I discovered the fatal flaw in this plan, as I realised that not a single fucking one of the sockets is earthed.
So gather 'round, my fellow Englishmen, as I tell you the shocking truth about the American electrical system.
Americans use 110v (except if you meter the socket you'll get 120 (and when you buy appliances they're labelled 115)) because they can't be bloody trusted with 240, for reasons which will become clear shortly. We use 240v largely because of our kettles (and we still have to import electricity from across the channel for five minutes a day after Eastenders, when everybody puts the kettle on at once
) - but knowing that we're playing with voltages that'll kill your ass dead if you give them half a chance, we take pains to ensure their safety. Look at the British plug - the best in the world by a long way
, even if it will turn your foot into a butcher's-shop nightmare if you stand on it. The earth pin is longer, and opens a mechanical restrictor gate that allows access to the live and neutral sockets - whose pins are insulated halfway-up, so there's no possible way you can touch them when they're energized. Our wire colours conform to international standards and our earth wire choice actually set
the international standards, designed to be viewable by the colourblind and to still be recognisable when the insulation is faded and covered with dust and grime. Every appliance that has a fuse, has it right there in the plug where it's easy to get to.
So I'm used to this double-safe, well-thought-out electrical arrangement, and then I get to the States and the first time I go to insert one of their tiny, flimsy-ass two-pin plugs, a big fuck-off crackle of lightning jumps from the socket to the pins. Give it a gentle tug and the plug falls halfway out of the socket, exposing the conductors. Not only is there no mechanical gate on the earth pin, there just plain is no earth pin
half the time. Outlets are supposed to have a narrow socket for the live and a wide socket for the neutral, but unless your house is brand-new you'll probably have sockets that aren't even polarized.
It doesn't matter whether the hot line or the neutral line is fused and switched, go ahead and plug it in any old way round! Some appliances come with grounded plugs, some don't bother (even ones with metal exteriors!), so what do you do if you want to plug a three-pin appliance into a two-socket outlet?
Well, you don't, of course, because that would be forehead-smackingly dumb - but if you really, really
want to, you can use a device called a cheater plug
which takes your two-pin outlet and adds a socket for the ground. The ground socket is connected to a little metal tab - you're supposed to screw this tab into the centre of the outlet, which is probably
connected via some circuitous and dodgy route to ground through rusty flimsy shitty little screws somewhere (that has about as much chance of carrying fifteen amps without burning your fucking house down as I have of growing wings out of my dick and flying off into the sunset), or you can run a wire to a water pipe or something and go "Eh fuck it close enough," or you can just kinda leave it dangling there not connected to anything and not have any ground at all, because the Venn diagram of "people who would use a cheater plug" and "people who would wire it up properly" has an overlap about two electrons wide. You don't have to be an electrician to get hold of these things - any old Joe Bloggs can buy them in any hardware store.
So anyway. I'm in the attic soon-to-be-study room looking at the sockets and going "How is this possible? These people sent men to the fucking moon!
" and I get out my meter in the dim hope that there's a ground to be had via the centre screw, which will hopefully connect to the outlet casing, which will hopefully connect to the armour of the wiring, which will hopefully snake into the house and be connected to another thing that probably connects to ground somewhere. One probe into the live socket, the other touching the screw - 120v means there's a solid ground from the casing that the electrician just couldn't be fucked to wire up, an open line means there isn't and I'll have to start tearing into the walls.
My meter reads twenty-two volts. Fucking awesome.
So, this month's Monthly Memento is all about electricity and wiring and tearing apart your house to make it not ridiculous. Or rather, since this is Improbable Island, it's about tearing apart your house to make it more
ridiculous. The new Monthly Memento gives one random Contraption or Contrivance per day. If you have a Place on the Island, you can use Contraptions and Contrivances to create nifty little programs that run inside your Place. Some folks can get quite elaborate, building entirely new games inside their Places - others just use them to give special little individualized touches. Either way, Place Programming is a fun thing to play with!
Hope you enjoy it! Now I'm off to figure out what to do with my study.