Thursday, January 29, 2009

Good Vs. Evil or How to Avoid Flaming Death for your Children

I realize that when you think about the battle of Good Vs. Evil, power strips are probably not the first thing you think about. They were not the top of my list either. Then again, when the transformer in the back of my house decided that 50 years of reliable service was more than sufficient, power strips suddenly became far more important in my life.

Fried Transformer on PoleFried Transformer on Pole in Backyard

It was 11:30 at night and I was minding my own business. The kids were asleep, we were ready for bed. Right before going to sleep, I was compulsively^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H performing one last check of my email from my iPhone. Right when I hit the email application button, all of the lights went out, there was a loud buzzing sound, followed by a really loud thunk, a bright flash of light, and three battery backups starting to scream at alternating intervals. The timing was so perfect, that I did not want to touch my iPhone for a few seconds. After making sure that this was a localized issue and not a major calamity, we went to sleep. By the way, battery backups on network connections are very cool. I was browsing at over 30Mbps during a neighborhood blackout. Go Comcast!

In the morning, the power was still out. I placed a quick call to the power company and they were in front of my house in less than 5 minutes. They quickly identified that the transformer was indeed past its prime, installed in a very inconvenient way, and was adding a physically uncomfortable amount of live power to the pole (did I mention the rain already). As a side note, the person describing the live power situation, who had just climbed down from the transformer on that pole, may not have used the term "physically uncomfortable" when letting HQ know that they had to bring a team out to replace the transformer.

After a very short while longer, and someone putting a set of wires bridging our wires to the transformer a few houses down, we had power again.

Man Climbing Pole to Give us PowerMan Climbing Pole to Give us Power (Jumper to the Rescue)

Mostly. It took a little while to notice, but there were three areas of the house without power still. After a little investigation I found out that three of the circuits had been tripped at the circuit breaker. I am very glad that I had the system changed a few years ago. The old one would not have tripped. Two of the circuits went back on right away, the third, tripped again immediately.

For those of you following at home, we are finally going to talk about power strips. It turns out that during the power spike, the power strip in my daughter's room had a rather large surge go through it. In fact, it was more than the power strip could handle. When I moved out the bookshelf and flipped it over, you can see the damage.

Fried Power Strip With Scorch Marks on WallsPower Strip Flipped Over After Outage

It was busy trying to light my daughter's bookshelf on fire. You can see the little scorch marks where heat was starting to light the bookshelf and some minor scorch marks on the wall. After all was safely unplugged and the devices were checked (they actually all made it), I took the fried power strip back to my office and opened it up.

What Fried Power Strip Looked Like On InsideWhat Fried Power Strip Looked Like On Inside

I was pretty impressed. If you look closely, you can see that the fuse appeared to have been bypassed by the capacitor exploding and shooting out fire (roasting the fuse). I wonder how hot it was. It was bad enough, if I am correct, for the whole fuse area to get completely roasted and have heat to shoot out the holes. I don't know how long it was frying, the circuit tripped quickly and I did not smell smoke from the device and it did not trip the smoke detector in the room, so I don't think it was frying for long. I will now officially designate this power strip as Evil. Sorry to the sympathizers out there, but if you try and bring flaming death down on my children while they sleep in their beds, you are Evil.

Ok, now that we have covered Evil, you must be wondering what is good. Well, all of the APC power backups and the Belkin power backup came through just fine. I was sitting at my desk trying to work the next morning and I plugged in my iPhone to charge it. Nothing happened. I looked at the power strip on my desk. Only one of the three lights was on. No reset button. It turns out that this power strip was fried as well. Here is a picture of it:

A Good Power StripA Good Power Strip

This power strip was sitting on my desk, next to my computer, under my monitor. It was sitting inside a pile of nice flammable receipts (really need to categorize and file those). No damage was visible, nothing was scorched. It was plugged into a much larger 20A circuit with a new direct line back to the fuse box. If anything should have fried, it was this power strip. It turns out that the manufacturers thought of what would happen in an overload and built the thing to burn itself out, instead of burning your house down. Not a bad trade off. I now dub this power strip Good. I am going to happily order a few more. They have models that offer surge protection and ones that don't. Please make sure you get the surge protected version if you want it.

Power Sentry 5-Outlet PowerSquid Surge Suppressor

The new transformer is properly installed more than two houses away. This took less than 4 hours and I had power the entire time. I love Silicon Valley Power. Santa Clara utilities are the best I have ever experienced.

I am pleased to say, that at least in this instance, Good triumphed over Evil.

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