Friday, August 04, 2006

Beat the heat with a nice piece of grass

It's hot, so take your clothes off
and get in your drawers.

Now that the heat wave that seared the rest of the country has made its way to those of us here in the swamplands of the East Coast (of the U.S., that is, that's the Colonies to you Brits out there), we're enjoying what we've been hearing about from everyone else, but with 135 percent more humidity. Today, for example, immediately after we returned home from another 3B checkup, the power went out--sort of.

Twice now, in our building, we've had not a complete blackout, but what the power company calls a "phase problem," which means that one of the three legs of power coming into the building goes out--this is according to them. I'm no electrician, although if Vinkman is lurking out there, he is an electrician, and he could confirm or deny this. The result is that some of our sockets and appliances work, some don't--even those on the same circuit. For example, in the kitchen, the fridge and microwave didn't work, but the range did. For the fridge, I just drag out an extension cord and plug it into an outlet that has power, so that's not too bad. The main appliance that doesn't work in these circumstances is the air conditioner.

I was out walking Barky at the time, and heard a tremendous boom, then birds chirping. Turns out that when every air conditioner in the neighborhood goes out, it's a lot quieter outside. After Barky and I made our way up a stairwell that was about as brightly lit as a coal mine filled with tar at midnight under a new moon, Mama and I turned on the fans and all four of us settled in for a short summer's nap.

Fortunately, the power was only out for two hours. When we all awoke, the a/c was running again, and the condo was starting to cool down again--a bit. By then, however, it was past noon, which means that our west-facing condo was starting to be baked by the sun, so it will probably be evening before it's coolish in here again, but it's much more tolerable now than with the power out.

While this is the hottest place that Mama's ever lived, I'm somewhat used to the heat because I lived in Palm Springs for a number of years. Even though I was always smart enough to bug out to Montana during the summer, it wasn't unusual to see temperatures well over 100 F there. "Summer" itself is a loose concept in a place where it can hit 90 F in January.

The heat led people to take measures which, viewed from outside Palm Springs, must have seemed extreme, like outdoor air conditioning. Most people from colder climes are used to seeing the tall gas heaters that restaurants will put out on their patios in the spring and fall to extend their outdoor dining season, but in Palm Springs they have the opposite problem: how to cool dining terraces to allow people to eat al fresco through more of the summer. Outdoor air conditioning was a brilliant solution to the problem (thanks, Brits!).

As extreme as Palm Springs denizens were about keeping cool, however, one activity would always get them outside, no matter the temperature: taking their dogs out to pee and poop. Now, thanks to some industrious Californians, there's no longer the need. You can now keep a piece of the outdoors inside your house, in the form of a lawn in a box, for your dog to pee and poop on whenever he wants. Even better, it's on casters, so you can roll the poop-filled lawn from room to room. Imagine how convenient it would be to put toilets on wheels--poop while you cook, while you vacuum, while you play the piano!

So we owe thanks for this new way to beat the heat to those creative Californians, who already so generously gave us the popsicle, the Frisbee, and the beer keg tap. Let's just hope that when the lights go out, Barky won't mistake the Persian rug in the living room for his piece of grass.


  1. I just knew you were going to ask about the dynamic world of laminar flow research and beer keg tapping technology, so I saved this link for you.

    Enjoy the heat. Out here in California, I'm finally back to leaving the windows open at night instead of closing them all to keep the A/C in. Believe it or not, we had nasty mugginess too, very uncharacteristic of this arid climate. It was the weather I thought I'd left behind in NYC.

    Something to study at the point where electricity comes into your building: Does it come in as 3-phase power (480V or higher) and get transformed down to single-phase household voltage? It probably does. Three-phase power will come in with three (or four) leads, usually separated from each other. The transformer box for a building your size would be large enough to notice, and it might hum audibly. It could even be on a concrete pad outside the building.

    Does the electricity coming into the building get transformed down to a single set of two leads (i.e., all on the same phase), or do you have different single-phase circuits serving different parts of your building?

    In your apartment, do any of your appliances (dryer, for example) use 220VAC? If I remember right, in your breaker box you have at least one two-pole breaker.

    From your posting, it sounds as if multiple sockets linked to the same breaker are behaving differently--one still has power, one doesn't. I wouldn't be surprised to see this if they're on different breakers (even if the breakers are still both closed), but what you describe is odd. Blame it on the heat.

    At some point you may want to get a $4 Radio Shack receptacle tester to check whether all your outlets are wired correctly in the first place. It's less expensive than finding out by plugging in a new $200 toy and watching the smoke come out the back.

  2. I'm glad the power wasn't out longer - that seems dangerous when you've got a newborn in the house! I came into my condo this evening to find the stove BEEPING. I was a bit nervous but it didn't seem to be a problem; I just hit the "clear" button and all was well again.

  3. Anonymous2:14 AM

    Out power went out (thankfully before the car accident) and that means the elevators don't work. I live on the 10th floor. I was in the lobby.

    You do the math.

  4. Anonymous12:16 PM

    Or great Potentate of Poop. we use 3 ohase all the time in the rock and roll world. You have an X, Y,and Z leg of power. Those get tapped from a large box in the other room by some sparky. It then travels down about 250 feet of double OT cable which we make sure the union guys pull, cause its heavy. That goes into a motion labs power distro looks like this deal

    Now notice there is a row of outlets 6 of them. 1 and 4 are X, 2 and 5 are Y 3 and 6 are Z.we usually have many more outlets than this in a pack. So if X gets overloaded its breaker blows, but thigs on the other legs still work. Notice 5 colors of plugs? Those mean you have to pull 5 of those heavy cables and that sucks.