They Didn't Ask Me (dr_phil_physics) wrote,
They Didn't Ask Me
dr_phil_physics

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Safety First

About an hour ago, there I was, minding my own business... in my family, nothing good happens after the phrase "there I was, minding my own business"... when the lights suddenly went OFF, then ON, OFF, ON-OFF-ON. And finally stayed ON.

Not sure what anybody did, but it doesn't seem likely that a pack of new students would like stick their tongues into electrical outlets in May at the beginning of the Summer I term.

However, the point of this story is that my computers never went down and never went off-line.

Speaking In A Stern, Lecturing Tone

If you have a desktop PC and it's not even plugged into a surge protector, you're an idiot. There's enough junk signals and problems in ordinary electricity that surely you will either have problems or fried components (which I suppose counts as a problem) if you "don't use protection". When all we had were toasters plugged into the wall, this wasn't really a big problem. Now I suppose some toasters have microprocessors in them and flash 12:00 12:00 12:00 when the power goes out, so all bets are off.

There Is A Brighter Tomorrow

One step even better than a surge protector is an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). It's a surge protector, plus a sealed lead-acid battery, plus a battery charger, plus an inverter to take the DC from the battery and turn it back into the AC your devices need. Mine are APC Back-UPS 500 units which are a few years old, so that model isn't available any more. I have them at home and in my office on campus. Tripp-Lite also makes good units.

The cool thing is that if the power glitches, or goes out, or even if you yank the cord from the wall, the PC and monitor act like nothing happens. Oh, and you get this annoying sound from the UPS telling you the power is out. As if you hadn't noticed the lights had gone out. With my units, I'm supposed to get 17 minutes of backup power. At some point, I'll have to replace the batteries -- or else get newer/better UPS units -- because like car batteries, they eventually go bad.

They used to be really expensive, I think I paid $149 for my first one, but you should be able to get a unit for 500 to 1000 watts of backup power for under a $100. That should keep the CPU, monitor and some other peripherals going. I have a small Tensor desklamp hooked up, too. You should be able to connect an inkjet printer, but on mine at least, you aren't supposed to try to use the backup outlets with a laser printer. There's a high voltage coil in a laser printer to energize the corona wire which creates the static charges so the toner knows where to stick on the paper -- my guess as a physicist is that this messes up the impedance of the circuit and the UPS's "fake AC" inverter would end up fighting itself.

I've also got an APC terminal-strip style UPS hooked up to the TV/VCR/DVD player. As long as the cable company has power, we can check the status of the weather, since a lot of the time, the power goes out during thunderstorms. Don't know what the problem is today -- blue skies above -- though they are starting some big renovations in the building next door and might've done something dumb/stupid...

Choose Free Shipping

If you need to order a UPS to be shipped to you, rather than lugging one home from the store, be advised that these suckers are heavy. They've got a lead-acid battery in them! So try to find some outfit that'll give you a free shipping option, or whatever money you save by getting it online, instead of at the local Office Max Despot Etc., will be soaked up by the S&H.

Uh, and if you buy one at the store, you won't be putting it in one of those CompUSA plastic bags... (grin).

Some Assembly Required

All the ones that I have gotten have had either a plastic pull tab, or you had to open the hatch on the bottom, pulled out the battery to attach the last wire to the battery. These are LOW voltage batteries, they are NOT dangerous. You might see a little spark when you make the connection, but there's nothing wrong. Generally you have to plug them into the wall and let them charge up for a few hours before you should hook them to your equipment. Has to do with shipping requirements.

On The Road

Laptop owners have some of this UPS capability just from having their own batteries. I still recommend you get a travel surge protector to plug the laptop charger into. APC makes a line of Surgearrest Notebook models which are designed to connect inline with your 2- or 3-prong cable to your laptop charger. (Laptop power supply cable from wall to Surgearrest, Surgearrest short cable to laptop charger, laptop charger to laptop.) They operate from 100 to 240 volts, as probably your laptop charger does, so with the right adapter you can be in a hotel room in Helsinki, Finland, and have your laptop protected against power spikes. My first unit also has RJ-11 telephone surge suppression; the ones I just ordered have wider RJ-45 jacks for either telephone or Ethernet surge protection. All models under $20.

That Smug Feeling

There is something incredibly satisfying, having put in the UPS units years ago and ignoring them, when your work and equipment are saved, and you hear random sounds of annoyance down the hallway from your office. It's never a question as to if the power is going to go out, but when.

An Aside
Most annoying morning of my life was when the power went out right in the middle of my final push to get semester grades done. And because I hadn't saved recently or the open file got corrupted or something, I had to re-input a huge worksheet of grades into the grading spreadsheet. Grrr.

Aside^2
The second most annoying morning of my life was when someone decided that with the students gone after finals, that no one, least of all those of finishing semester grades, would mind terribly if they TESTED THE BLOODY FIRE ALARMS IN THE BUILDING *WHICH* *WAS* *RIGHT* *OUTSIDE* *MY* *OFFICE*. I think it was half-an-hour before I calmed down enough to reach up, peel my heart off the ceiling and stuffed it back in my chest. Whew... exhausted.

/An Aside

Anyway, if you (1) consider your work important, (2) consider your time important and (3) don't really care to spend an afternoon troubleshooting a damaged computer or (4) spending money you didn't feel like spending to get a new computer or monitor, then go out and get a UPS.

Someday you'll thank me.

Dr. Phil
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