by Llewellyn Lafford

Adaptor Fireworks

Don’t you love those neat auto-switching power supplies for your laptop or camcorder or other international electronic device – the transformers that you can plug into 110 – 240 VAC at 50/60 Hz? No multiple converters to lug (except the physical plug adapters to fit the comically huge European receptacles), no need for setting little switches to the right voltage, no worries about precious equipment melting and smoking before your eyes, and no resulting nasty liquid plastic fumes. Nope. Plug one of these babies into any outlet anywhere in the world and they will instantly identify the power and set themselves appropriately.
Except for that *FLASH*CRACK* when the prongs first make contact. Maybe I’m overly sensitive, from years (decades, even, from the mid-fifties) of experimenting with household current and melting or exploding all shapes and varieties of copper wire, aluminum foil, potato plants, whatever. And living to tell the tale. [Children: Do Not Attempt This At Home.]

I can’t help it. I see the arc flash as the plug goes in and hear that *Crack* and immediately think, “Uh oh. Wrong voltage? Supply fried? Or did I pop the circuit breaker?” Then I look at the little green LED coming to life and realize, “Oh right. The auto-switching power supply was adjusting its internal settings to the supplied current and whatever state it starts out in causes this little Big Bang of processing. It’s only a millisecond or two of unbridled raw energy exploding into the universe.

But it scares the liver out of me every time. C’mon, Sony, Toshiba, HP. Can’t you engineer these pods with an initial state that passively detects then gently adjusts, without the fireworks?

I wonder.

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