Monday, March 9, 2009

Benchmarking Opportunities

You would expect globalisation to lead inexorably towards consumers everywhere having similar choices (which may or may not be a good thing) but also towards natural selection of the best & most efficient solutions chosen from everything developed all over the world, and towards inevitable doom for the worst solutions.
Wouldn't you?

It's easy to understand some changes taking a long time or never happening because of enormous existing investments and changeover costs, with questionable pay-back.
I don't expect Britain to start driving on the right in my lifetime or anytime.
I don't expect to find common electric plugs & sockets across Europe anytime soon, but I do expect some convergence, such as already happened between French & German systems.

They use the same 2 male pins on the plugs, but the French earth connection is a male pin on the socket with a female in the plug, while the German earth uses 2 spring fingers at the top & bottom surface of the socket, sliding on fixed contacts on the outside of the plug.
Sounds incompatible, but in fact it is easy to make plugs which work properly in both sockets, and most appliances now have such plugs.

While writing this, I found a Wikipedia article here which tells me that it is called a CEE 7/7 plug & is also used in Spain & Portugal so Europe has spread further than I thought.
Actually that only applies to the few electrical goods which need earthing, while the bulk of appliances in Europe nowadays have – shock & horror! – reverted to a simple 2-pin plug which is perfectly compatible with the above systems & is small & light enough to slip easy into your pocket without risk of serious injury.
Or to rewind into the Hoover without collateral ballistic damage.

Which brings me to UK plugs…
If Europe ever standardizes to UK plugs, I shall know it is time to abandon all hope!
The idea of incorporating a fuse, calibrated to the appliance in question, seems quite interesting.
If you wanted to re-invent that today, I assume you could do it without needing such a ludicrously big & heavy plug, often bigger than the appliance on the other end of the lead.
The idea of engaging the earth connection before the others is good, but we know from CEE 7/7 that you don't need to have an extremely inconveniently long earth pin on every plug to do it.
The idea of preventing children pushing things into live sockets is indispensable, but we know that does not really force you to put giant 3-pin UK plugs on small, well-isolated appliances.
So I think maybe Britain should wonder about biting the painful bullet & introducing more up-to-date plugs & sockets some day.
If you do – please think to go for something common with as many neighbours as possible.
Of course, I didn't need to say that, did I?

But the UK system has one good feature, which is the real subject of this post – sockets with switches.

Astonishingly, and proving conclusively that globalisation does not lead to levelling-up, switched sockets do not exist at all in France or Germany.
This is a perpetual inconvenience in that every time you stop using, say, the TV or PC, you have the choice between pulling the plug out, so it trails untidily on the floor, or leaving it plugged in, so it keeps using stand-by electricity.
Guess what most people do?
In spite of all the legitimate wailings of ecologists everywhere.
Not to mention that sockets are supposed to be at reasonable heights so old people can reach them conveniently & safely, but what good is that if the plug is on the floor?
You can always add an otherwise unnecessary extension lead with multi-plug adaptor.
For some reason these usually have switches, whereas wall sockets never ever do.
But adaptors end up trailing untidily on the floor too, taking their otherwise handy switches with them…

The solution I am trying out on my PC at the moment, probably illegal, is to use a multi-plug adaptor, with switch, fixed on the wall (by little sticky pads!) at dangling-finger height next to my chair, so I never need to pull the plug out & am not tempted to leave things on stand-by.
Effective but not beautiful.

How can it be that something so obviously useful and so universally available in one country can be totally absent from the countries just next door?
Within Europe?
In the Internet age?

Beats me!

Parting thot: " Seek always, for by looking for one thing you will surely find another - this is the path to wisdom." – anon

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