Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Power Plugs and Sockets

Sockets and power plugs are so common and used so often everyday that we hardly think about the design or functionality of them. Back when electricity was new and these products had to be designed the problem was coming up with a simple to use universal way that all similar objects to gain power from a source in a safe manner. That solution was the socket and plug. A solution that minimizes danger, and maximizes simplicity.

Is the design of power plugs and sockets perfect? NO. Is it the best it can be? Maybe.

There are many problems with power plugs and sockets. Plugs in the United States have two parallel flat prongs that protrude out and sometimes a third large grounding prong below. Sockets have to vertical slots and sometime that third hole below. Looks simple enough.

After the fact comes the problems. One not all plugs have that third grounding prong which is much safer if included, and not all sockets have a third hole for that prong to fit. Sockets only have two places for plugs to fit in two, which wasn't a problem a couple of decades ago...but now since our entire lives are basically run by electricity this becomes quite a problem. Thus extension cords and surge protectors were invited eliminating the problem! Nope, still not quite enough sockets for all of the plugs I have running off off my desk and I hardly think I'm the only person with this problem.

Now that we have two many plugs and not enough sockets, lets simplify the whole process and add different power sources. For example, my new-fancy-energy-efficient IKEA lamp has a cord that runs out of the light that ends with some strange plug which connects to some sort of a converter box. Out of that converter box runs another cable that has the stand Type A plug on the end that I can plug into my already overly crowded surge protector.

My favorite is the generic cell phone chargers that have a huge box at the end of the wire that take up the space of about three plugs on a surge protector. Thankfully, someone has already solved this problem.

I won't even bother explaining the problems with trying to plug in my cell charger while traveling overseas...


Sockets and plugs are a very necessary part of our everyday lives and they are only going to become more so our technology advances further. It's unfortunate that such a simple item has the troubles it does, but like most products, if there is a way to use it wrong, humans will find that way. You can thank Murphy for that one.

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