My brother-in-law, who is an Electrical Engineer, said “I used to test those things. I’d like to see a picture of it”!
I had called him to tell him the news about the printer. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t about the printer: it was about the transformer which had shorted out and lit the telephone pole in front of my house on fire.
I went out, early, and the fire chief was yelling at me to get back inside, and I was ignoring him: the electric poles are on the other side of the street, and I’ve been working with electricity my whole life, and I wasn’t in the mood to be yelled at anyway.
He came bounding up, and I turned to him, half asleep still, and said “How long?”, like he would know, and he seemed startled, and said “Can you hear me?”, and of course I could but I didn’t feel like having that conversation either.
I went over and talked to my neighbor, and we both remarked on how nice it was that the power had failed during the day, and I told him that I would start my generator, so if he wanted to heat something up for the kids, our stove would be working. I have an old Coleman stove if needed, but the generator has spoiled me, so I went inside and pulled the plugs on the TV and stereo and the other delicate stuff, and then walked to the generator and cranked it over.
I came out again, after breakfast, and one of the policemen told me that the electric company man had pulled my electric meter to test the voltage, because they had seen the side light on the wall over my back door, which I hadn’t realized was on, but the electric lineman must have wondered if I had used a suicide cord and was back-feeding the pole and would kill him when he went up there, and I can sympathize, having been bitten a time or three myself, but they work with HV gloves and shoulder shields, so I guess they would have been OK, but no harm in him checking: there’s no need to have an arc-over at fifty feet in the air.
They took most of the day to get it fixed: the transformer hadn’t really exploded: it was the insulator on the crossarm which failed, and the 13,000 volt “high line” wire had found it’s most susceptible (that’s a pun) way to ground through the metal braces and into the sapwood in the middle of the pole.
They still use creosote on the poles, from what I hear, and that must help prevent termites, but I suspect it keeps the poles from drying out, too, so the arc had gone from the insulator, into the crossarm, into the metal brace, and then into the center of the pole, where it had caught fire. The cop told me the lineman had said we were lucky that it had happened that way, because if the wires had shorted out to the low triples, all our houses would have become death traps. I just smiled and made a joke about not being dead yet, even while I was mentally groaning and wondering just how much truth there was in that story.
Verizon came with a new pole, and put in in a few feet away from the original, and moved the phone cable over, and then the linemen hoisted the transformer back into place and put the high wires back up and had it all together after about six hours. They had done some backfeeding of their own, jumpering the low wires from the transformer down the street over to ours, and my neighbor Marge said that half her lights were on, and I told the electric guys, repeating “half” a few times so that they would realize that one of the 110 wires hadn’t been jumpered as well as the others, and they fixed it, and then I threw my transfer switch and killed the generator.
I didn’t think much about it, except that I smiled when I remembered the great deal I had gotten on the generator, but it wasn’t really a momentous affair, as far as I could tell, and I went about the chores of the day while they were working on the pole. I tried to print a letter, and found out that my Laserjet 4M Plus, which is the best printer ever made, would not turn on.
I loved that machine. It was as reliable as the sunrise and I had gotten it in trade for some work I had done, maybe ten years ago, and it would just chug along all day, and now it was dead.
I talked to Len Zandrow, who is my lawyer, and I told him how my brother told me that I could make a claim against the electric company and get paid for it, except that my brother lives in Maryland, where they have a government instead of a continuing criminal conspiracy, so I figured I would need to bother Len about it. He told me that there was no harm in placing a claim, although I got the impression he was really wondering how long I intended to live before collecting.
I left a voice mail for the person I was eventually transferred to at “En-Star”, and I realized that a ten-plus year old printer wasn’t going to fetch that much anyway.
On Tuesday, I drove in to work instead of taking the train, to drop off the all-in-one printer/fax/whatever and Dell something-or-other that I had gotten from Freecycle, and on the way home I stopped at Micro Center on Memorial Drive, and bought some stuff for work, and then, just wanting to get it done, a new “all purpose” HP Laserjet. It was on sale, for about $260, and I trust the brand, for obvious reasons, and I brought it home and put the box in the corner and went to bed. The Dell printer is inkjet, and I thought to myself that it was ironic that I’d spend for a new laserjet instead of keeping the old inkjet, but my boss can afford the ink cartridges and I can’t, and the new HP was on sale for $260, so I decided to splurge.
Yesterday, while my wife was out yard sailing, I opened it up and read the quick-start guide, and realized that the complete directions were on the CD, and so I upended the box the way that they say, and almost broke a paper-guide picking it up, and I put the new printer where the 4M Plus had been, and plugged in the Ethernet cord and the power.
It was dead. Brand new, right out of the box, but not working at all.
I cycled the circuit breaker on the outlet strip, making sure that the pilot light went off and came on again, but still nothing, and I thought that was a shame, and changed the electric cord, and it was still lifeless.
I unplugged it, and then I realized that the outlet strip was the same one that had been there before, where the 4M Plus was, and I turned it over and looked at the bottom and read where it said “Surge protection”.
“Sometime”, my brother-in-law told me, “they put a fast-acting fuse in the line, and the Em-Oh-Vees will blow the fuse when they fire. I used to test those”, he told me, “and I’d like to see the picture”.
I went and I got the 4M Plus back from the porch where I had put it, on it’s way to the recycling bin or maybe a Freecycle ad, and I plonked it down on the table next to the UPS where the computers used to be, and I plugged it in to the wall outlet next to the cord for the UPS.
It came on right away, with an electronic insouciance I found both anti-climactic and delightful, and I plugged in the spare Ethernet cord and it was back in business, printing the stuff my wife had piled up.
Once my wife’s printouts were done, I moved the cord to where it needed to be: I didn’t bother with the UPS outlets, but they’re all marked “Surge protection”, so I figured I would stay with a proven paradigm.
There are a lot of things in life that I can’t control: the weather, my wife’s moods, the price of gas, and En-star’s delinquent maintenance policies. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try: I now remember that I had, of course, bought an outlet strip which had a surge-protection module builtin, not only because I know that overvoltage spikes aren’t kind to either printers or pocketbooks, but because I couldn’t stand the thought of how foolish I would feel if a spike fried my favorite Laserjet and I hadn’t done anything to prevent it.
The surge-protected outlet strip is, of course, toasted badly, with burn marks all over the inside when I opened it up, and that’s OK: the Metal-Oxide-Varistors are supposed to expel their last breath of magic smoke after giving up their ghosts in service to their owners. There’s no way around that, other than to spend hundreds of dollars on gas-tube discharge units, and the MOV’s had proved that they were, if only once, up to the task.
My new machine is still sitting there. I’m going to hook it up now, but I’ve been enjoying the chance to use the 4M Plus again, and to marvel at how, sometimes, I get a break.