Ted Barrett                                                   - Training, Consultancy and Technical Services

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Blog for July

Well holiday time finally came around! I woke up one morning and my Commanding Officer was doing a final kit inspection of our suitcases and making sure that there was no way any air from Oxford was getting in those cases. We usually take so much that I manage to hurt my back lifting cases to go on holiday. Anyway this time we were able to split the load a little by going on a cruise where they let us take two suitcases each. So we loaded up the old four-wheeled chariot and set off for Southampton and our appointment with the Queen Mary II.

We had the Sat-Nag on to get us to the docks but my god, it’s a wonder we couldn’t see the ship from Oxford – it is massive. Without going into loads of figures, from the keel to the top of the funnel is higher that Big Ben (I didn’t actually measure it to check). And you don’t have a cabin, you have a “Stateroom” – don’t you just love it already.

To show how my mind works though, I was pleased to see 13 Amp outlets throughout the ship as well as that namby-pamby 110v stuff. Now, with regard to US/UK voltages I have a theory – would you like to hear it? Of course you would! First off though, Tesla was the father of AC, Edison was promoting a DC system which was only any use for small scale transmission. Tesla realised that for long-haul transmission and distribution Alternating Current was the only way to go (although recent breakthroughs may make DC transmission attractive in the near future). There are many books and papers on Tesla and without doubt the man was a bloody genius and there are many things he worked on that remain a mystery to us today. However, my theory is that when the Americans were trying to decide on what to set as their working voltage level they jumped too soon. Now we know that 50 volts is the line that we draw in the sand for safe working, in other words above 50V is dangerous. But on the other hand we know that Power (Watts) has an inverse relationship with Voltage and Current. So if we lower the voltage current is increased, so we reach a point where we have to decide a reasonable supply voltage at a reasonable current (to keep wire size down) to deliver a reasonable amount of work done (Power, in Watts).

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in the design office at Tesla/Westinghouse at this time and intend to do some more research on this, but it must have gone along the lines of “Well Boss, 100V single phase voltage would be peachy, but with losses takes the current to above 10Amps for a 1kW load, If we increase that to just 110V per phase we get the line current down to 9.3 Amps” says guy with bottle-bottomed glasses, braces and a voice like Kermit the frog as the rays of a NY sunset shine through the smoke-filled room (come on, where’s your sense of theatre).”That means we can use a 12 AWG instead of a 11AWG size cable for a 1kW circuit boss” he continued.

“Okay” says big fat, cigar chewing boss “Let’s do it”. And so 110V single phase distribution was born in the US (At least that’s the Ted Barrett *temporary version).

And now back to my comment on “jumping too soon”. Although most US domestic installations are 110V, what most of us Brits don’t realise (and probably most US non-sparks) is that US premises have another phase brought in. So they have 110V for lighting, TV and most small appliances but cookers and washing machines are wired phase to phase which gives them a pressure of around 190 Volts. This in turn reminds us of the problems with a lower voltage single phase voltage and makes me think that the 110V delivery system was born purely to serve lighting and the phase to phase solution brought in as advances were made in electrical appliance technology. I believe though, the bottom line is that we in the UK benefitted from the US experience and set our single phase voltage higher to avoid bi-phase distribution. Although, it is not impossible that Tesla and the guys only ever envisaged a multi-phase distribution system anyway. As time allows, I will try to follow up on this subject or if any reader can enlighten me I would be very grateful.

Another thing I must say about a cruise is that you want for nothing. It is very relaxing and you can just spend your time resting eating and drinking. If on the other hand you have a guilty conscience you can spend your time power-walking around deck, attending lectures and eating salad. For my part, I think enjoyment lays somewhere between the two camps.

Anyway, we were somewhere off the coast of Newfoundland when my CO informed me that her hair-straighteners weren’t working. Now, to those of you that think this is just a trifle, you are very much mistaken. This at least made me open one eye and engage the major part of my cerebral cortex in a repair plan. A quick examination confirmed suspicion number #1 – continual flexing of cable causing cable damage at plug end. If I were a super hero “Repairman”, I could have welded the damaged strands inside the flex with my heat-vision. Sadly, I didn’t even have a pair of cutters.

In the course of my married life I have got used to taking a First-Aid kit and various potions in order to repair my wife as she frequently breaks down or malfunctions while away. To the same extent I usually pack a few screwdrivers etc to repair the things she breaks “It came off in my hand”. However, as we were on a transatlantic trip and I knew customs to be very tight, and we were being pampered by Cunard, I didn’t think I would need to pack a toolbox.

So, back to the straighteners. On closer examination the cord was actually terminated in a 2-pin plug that snapped into a receptacle ending in a 13A plug. So the conundrum was: No tools and no 13A plug to re-terminate in. Nonetheless, using a nail file, manicure scissors and a Band-Aid, I managed to effect a repair that returned the item to working order thus earning a mention in despatches from my CO. It must though be said that my repair was definitely against the requirements of BS7671, EAWR, NEC (US Regs) and I would certainly imagine Marine Engineering Instructions. However, I can say that the equipment was only operated under my supervision and a full repair was made on return to base. I should also imagine that while I was doing this, a handful of poor sods in yellow galoshes and whatever were being thrown from one end to the other of a small fishing trawler in minus 100 degree temperatures with their eyebrows and ears snapping off in the cold. Or do I have too much of a vivid imagination?

But back home and back to reality, a mountain of post, the next round of home maintenance and courses to schedule in. I’m thinking of developing a “Domestic Installer” course with my good chum Ian Griffiths to run at OEA in 2017 so will start to flesh this out very soon. I know that a lot of electrical contractors don’t approve of this but let’s be honest, if we don’t do it somebody else will. And I would rather be doing the training and assessment to ensure only candidates who are competent and SAFE get through the process.

I also think that this course could fill the gap that is no longer offered by local colleges of providing a way into the electrical trade as it could be offered as evidence in application for employment.

As a training professional and an industry insider, I firmly believe that a major re-hash is needed in the field of electrical installation work. I think we need to restructure the grading system as we have too high a technical content required for those who simply want to be electrical installers. For those that think otherwise, you want to try teaching power factor to apprentices that only want to (and only ever will) install conduit and trunking. I will explore this further in future and list my proposals in more detail.

*With regard to the detail of the “Jumping too soon” story, I can see I need to do some serious research. I had thought to build a time-machine and travel back in time to find out more, but you know how it is with this time travel stuff. I’d probably bump into myself coming back and then have to go back again and stop myself going back again or drop a bus-ticket and cause a huge timequake through the space-time wotsit. So I’ll just have to find out the old-fashioned way.

11 Comments to Blog for July:

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Ted Barrett on 01 August 2016 15:59
Hey Ted, you were right about that time-travel stuff, it can be a bit tricky. I got stuck in 1816 for a while, it took me yonks to charge up my ZX81 to make the leap back home again!
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Holiday time is indeed a great time for fun activities and I am so glad that this is what you did as per your blog. And since holidays are now just around the corner right now as well, let us always remember how we should make the most out of it. There are lots of way to make it happen so I am sure that you won't be out of ideas at all. I am so excited to see what will my family do on this special occasion. For sure, it will be better than last year's,
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