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back to article Power to the people - if you can find a spare socket

Changing family circumstances have resulted in my need to use long-distance trains more frequently. They used to call them "InterCity" services back in "the age of the train" but the less said about that the better. InterCity trains when I was a child were horrible: dirty, uncomfortable and stinking of piss, an odour that could …

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USB

USB into some unsuspecting victim's PC front-ports seems to be the answer.

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Stop

Re: USB

And wait four times as long as it takes a proper charger to do the job?!

I think not.

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Re: USB

"Hey, I'm visiting from (client company), Is there anywhere I can plug in my phone?" *waving usb cable* "You can plug it into my computer"

At which point, either party to this, probably the visitor (who's from your chinese competitor, not a client) is free to begin electronic warfare against the other's device via any of a number of exploits (infected USB sticks are old hat, and you can do the same things on a cellphone that's acting like mass storage, while the computer could just "backup" the phone memory).

In any case, I think this shortage of power outlets may be a british thing?

In my office, we have 3 sets of 2 standard outlets, and a power-strip on every desk.

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Six sockets easily accessible under my desk, three of them free despite my dual monitor setup. And the same number of sockets under all the other desks in our office.

Seems we're more civilised here in Glasgow than you sassenachs despite your urinary slurs.

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Unhappy

No fair

Are they all a maximum of 5Amps, tend to find our 4 way extensions end up with one working plug after a while (People will plugin heaters or something which should be connected directly to a wall socket.

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Re: No fair

Yes, I know that sort of expensive idiocy. It's a 13 amp socket (dammit), and you put a lower rated fuse in the PLUG if that's appropriate for the appliance at the other end. You can buy the special 5 amp fuses that go in those socket strips from electronics suppliers. I bought 100 of them, and have added fixing stupid electricity sockets to fixing IT equipment. What really annoys me is why they felt the need to fuse every outlet. The laws of physics say one can chain as many UK 13A extension blocks as one wants to. The 13 amp fuse on the first one will blow (and disconnect the whole chain) if the total current drain of all appliances connected to the string exceeds the 13 Amps at which all such blocks are rated. Not much risk of that with IT stuff. OTOH there are some laser printers that can take out a 5 amp fuse, since they take >5A for a few seconds while heating up from cold.

And if there were no 13 amp fuse, four times five amps is 20 amps, which is an overload condition for a 13 amp plug!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No fair

As I understand it, UK power sockets are wired in a loop, with both ends of the loop terminating at the breaker panel. This was done to save copper - each outlet is, in effect, fed by 2 sets of wires, and so you have double the copper free of charge (no pun intended). However, that means that opening a fuse on one end of the loop will NOT disconnect the rest of the loop - only the breaker popping will do that.

Also, the decision to use 220V rather than 110V was for the same reason - reduce copper usage by reducing the current needed to provide the same power levels. Of course, the higher voltage being more dangerous was the reason all the outlets needed their own fuses and switches.

But I could be wrong, as I am not an electrician, and especially I am not a UK electrician.

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Boffin

Re: No fair

No. Both ends of the ring main are wired to the same 30A fuse or contact breaker (not both), so pulling the fuse or tripping the breaker isolates the circuit. The sockets are not fused and do not have to be switched. Plugs are fused at 13 amps (or lower depending on the equipment connected and cable used). Spurs and wired outlets (for emersion heaters etc.) are also fused. Separate cable runs for showers, cookers etc may be fused at the consumer unit only.

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Most 4-way BS1363 extensions are rated at 10A or less.

Do not uprate their plug fuse, they really can't take 13A.

You do see quite a few that really are rated at only 5A.

Piffling tiny copper busbars inside and thin flex is usual.

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Pint

Quart out of a pint pot

The in-desk power strips in office setups usually have individual 3A fuses for each socket so the entire 4-socket strip can only pull 12A maximum. As someone else mentioned you do get idiots who plug fan heaters and such into their desk power sockets which would burn out the false-floor distribution cables and/or pop circuit breakers if the sockets weren't individually fused.

During an office refurb I had to cope with a numpty trying to run his 1500W hammer-drill off a convenient 3A-fused desk socket. He was puzzled that every time he fired the drill up it would run for a second and then stop. He had gone through three or four desks before I managed to get him to stop doing this. I then backtracked and replaced all the fuses he had blown -- why yes I do keep a couple of packets of 3A 20mm slow-blow fuses in my toolbag, why do you ask?

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Your trains sound lush - not like the Greater Anglia fleet.

As for sockets, I often ask our esteemed facility manager about the possibilities of having a useful power management solution. No matter how many cups of tea I give her the fact remains she seemingly refuses to listen to common or uncommon sense.

Behind every PC and monitor is a snakes nest of wires,

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Anonymous Coward

Downvoted for using word "lush" even though I agree with your post.

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upvoted for pointing this out to me.

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So in summary: sockets on trains good, lack of sockets in offices bad.

Cool story, bro.

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Re: Cool story, bro

Cool name, Mr Monkey.

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Re: Cool story, bro

Aw, I think Code Monkey likes you.

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Anonymous Coward

Avoiding taking the last available socket

I added a "trailing"-style mains socket to my laptop power brick's lead, near the plug, so if I take the last/only socket in a public or shared space, at least I can offer daisy-chaining.

I just wish I'd put it slightly further from the lead's own plug, so I could loop the lead back and use the socket to store the plug in, so its pins wouldn't catch in my bag lining.

Stackable mains plugs / wallwarts would be neat, although I suppose people might take it a bit far!

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Re: Avoiding taking the last available socket

I always try to bring some kind of multi-plug adapter if I know I'm hopping on a London-bound train. The seats on the trains that run from here to the Big Smoke have a socket under the seats in front, though you will note the singular form there... bringing an adapter should avoid any awkward moments, I hope.

Mind you, there's a problem I find with these trains: where there's a proper table, they provide two sockets mounted on the wall, just above the table. Why problem? Simple: there's only about an inch of clearance between the tabletop and the bottom of the socket... which when you have a netbook with a "wall-wart" adapter which extends about two inches downward, is a bit of a "show-stopper" :-( (My multiplug adapter has the same issue.)

Perhaps I should bring a four-way "gang socket" for these moments... or a bigger battery?

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New Zealand plugs are stackable.

Neat idea, but people do tend to take it too far.

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Anonymous Coward

Sod the sockets

Most times coming in and out of London I'd just settle for a seat...

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I was helping set up a newly fitted out office about a year ago and noticed that as well as the standard two outlets hidden under the desk everyone got two more outlet above desk level for their gadgets. Very civilised!

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Pint

Desk outlet

I have just moved from an old building to a new one, custom built by my employer. The rats nest is nicely tidied away under the desk in cable racking. Above the desk is a panel that has 2*3A sockets, four USB sockets (powered hub with computer connection) and two RJ45 network sockets.

Beer for the good thinking!

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The two problems I've experienced with trying to get sockets into offices (Personally, I'm an advocate of get as many sockets of any sort, power, data etc in as possible as you don't know what will come - however, as IT-person, I have very little input into this process, only trying to pick up the pieces later):

* Architects who don't seem to want to cater for anyone actually using their creation. We used one who flatly refused to have ugly power sockets ruining the smooth flow of his walls, and eventually compromised on grudglingly permitting the building to have one accessible power point in the lecture theatre, plus some buried in floorboxes where they were all in the wrong place or inaccessible while the seating was deployed. Sadly I was told that it was prestigious to use this architect and simply telling him that if he couldn't design something that met the requirements, he should sod off and we'd find one who could wasn't an option. (On a previous building, same architect sealed motorised projection screens and lighting into the ceiling with no access panels, and thus no way to repair the motors when they burned out, or even to change the tiny sparkly light bulbs when they blew).

* Office staff who insist when having their office space refurbished, that they will have the desks 'here' and 'here', and a printer 'here', (usually as islands in the middle of the floor) and that they must have power/data to those points with no health-and-safety infringing trailing cables. Then after said points are installed, discover that the new desks they've ordered without measuring don't fit, or they have a rearrangement a week after moving back in, meaning that the furniture is now sitting on top of floor boxes that were the only option, with no way to then access them, while the people whose offices they are moan and gripe about not being able to plug anything in.

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Anonymous Coward

That's what building codes are for

"Architects who don't seem to want to cater for anyone actually using their creation. We used one who flatly refused to have ugly power sockets ruining the smooth flow of his walls,[....]"

Here in the US we'd just say "well, sorry, but building codes require an outlet every 6ft on any wall larger than 6ft. If we do it your way, the nice building inspector will not issue a certificate of occupancy and all your nice work will be for naught."

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Re: That's what building codes are for

We have building codes too, but provided any sockets you do provide are at least 45 cm and not more than 120 cm above floor level, and at least 30 cm away from any corners - so that someone in a wheelchair can reach them, then the building inspector will be happy.

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Re: That's what building codes are for

It's the same in Europe - sockets no more than 2m apart. But then Britain is famous for observing the law in the breach… difficult to beat us Brits for cheapskating.

Bout time someone mandated high-power usb power point on all sockets.

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WTF?

Ewww! Really?

The "real world" out there is clearly a very different place from the gummint research labs and universities that I am familiar with, all of which have plenty of power sockets. Rutherford Appleton lab even hands you a temporary WiFi account as soon as you go through security if you are there for a 1-day meeting.

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A single power socket?

Not on any desk I ever specified... had to fight the budget every time, but I usually managed at least half a dozen.

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Odd, they can manage it in kitchens

Modern kitchens have lots of sockets conveniently placed at easily-accessible height. It's the standard way to do it.

So how come the office designers can't manage it?

Maybe it's because the office workers can't do anything about it, but there's no way the designer wants to find out what his missus would say if asked to put up with it?

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Re: Odd, they can manage it in kitchens

same with new build houses. i was pleasantly surprised when viewing a show home of the type i am buying (small starter home) has a double socket on 3 walls of each room even though each room is pretty small (bedroom is just big enough for a double bed and that's the biggest).

Don't know which trains the authors been on though round here (midlands) only first class has plugs at every seat. virgin and wm trains only have them at table seats.

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Pint

Re: Odd, they can manage it in kitchens

"So how come the office designers can't manage it?"

Because a spare socket block to match the nice, new office desks from 'Dick Turpin Office Furniture' is usually priced at something completely insane like £184.39 + VAT. That is why.

Beer, because it's cheaper than socket blocks from an office furniture company!

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Gimp

Wow

Our regular desks have 6 sockets underneath them in the cable tray, the hotdesks have these on top of the desk so the sales chimps can charge their iPhone between bouts of shouting at it.

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Never come across this problem

Everywhere I've worked in the last 25 years has always had some (although to be fair, sometimes not enough) standard power sockets on their desks.

Where I am working at the moment does have some unusual power sockets, but that is because the workstations are on a central UPS, and the powers that be don't want other devices plugged into that supply. There are, however, at least two ordinary sockets per desk.

I do remember the bad-old days, however, when desks were free-standing pieces of furniture without a provision for power, and all that was available were wall sockets. But then, back in those days you were lucky if you had a phone on your desk. There was no desktop electrical equipment unless you had a printing calculator or a mains powered dictaphone, or a lamp! (BTW, these were the days of batch environments, with jobs being written using punch-card decks, and output on fan-fold paper).

At one place I worked, an office refit that was done for a building that was originally built in the '70s, and modern desk furniture was installed, but they didn't upgrade the floor electrical wiring. Once they started putting PCs with large CRT monitors on every desk, they found that the floor wiring presented a fire risk because of excessive power draw. Electrical engineers came around one day with spot temperature meters looking for hotspots, and then isolated about a third of the floor from the power until they could re-wire the whole floor. Caused havoc, as this was the floor occupied by IT support!

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Anonymous Coward

Adaptors.

Some time ago, one of my colleagues got into a spot of hot water. He'd gone on a business trip to England and neglected to pack a power adaptor. In the meeting he needed power for his laptop and nobody else had a power adaptor either. He resorted to the time-honoured trick of stuffing a biro down the earth socket of one of those quaint English sockets under a floor tile and then ramming the standard Euro plug into the live / neutral. Sorted.

Come leaving time, he got hold of the lead and pulled. Hard. The lead, socket and entire underfloor box came away and the whole floor plunged into darkness. What else was on that floor? That'll be the executive offices (for witch hunt value) and the bits of kit connecting the building to the outside world electronically (for burning at the stake being a suitable penalty value).

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Re: Adaptors.

Brill!

I'll admit I've done that a couple of times, just don't ever leave something connected like that it's a really nasty fire hazard. 32A of MCB coupled up to 0.5mm flex cable, is going to burn if you get a fault in the appliance!

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Re: Adaptors.

Great, so he couldn't be bothered to buy an adapter in the airport at either end, so risked burning down the building.

Then compounded it buy yanking on the wire, which you NEVER do under any circumstances whatsoever, because there's a reasonable chance of what he did happening, along with a much bigger chance of damaging the plug.

There's a reason UK plugs have the wire out of the bottom - it's so pulling on the wire doesn't pull out the plug, so people don't try.

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New offices

Over the past decade, I've been involved in a number of new office builds. In each case, the architects are clearly working to standards that were set back in the 70s.

For each project that I've been on, I've insisted that they supply a minum of 2 double sockets per desk, along with a triple network point; and then an extra pair of double sockets at any point where they might think of putting a desk at a later stage.

It's always easier to put them in at the beginning than trying to add them later; and it is a lot cheaper too.

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Anonymous Coward

Don't forget 'Elf 'n' Safety

You didn't mention that any device plugged into the mains need to be PAT tested.

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Re: Don't forget 'Elf 'n' Safety

We got nice heavy duty metal 8socket power bars to fit to our work benches. But they needed an electrician to come and wire them up.

Some bright spark (literally) had a brilliant idea. He only needed 7 of the 8 sockets and had a spare lead with a moulded on plug, all he had to do was cut off the IEC end and wire on another plug. He then plugged it between the wall and a spare socket.

For years it happily passed PAT - well the test machine said it was earthed and the live/neutral was the right way around. Then one day somebody came along and unplugged the end plug and managed to grab the pins.

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Re: Don't forget 'Elf 'n' Safety

Here's the rub - nothing *needs* to be PAT tested.

The management is responsible for ensuring that things around the workplace are safe, and most insist on PAT testing and logging of the results - but the reason they do it is that PAT testing is considered 'best practice' and will cover their ass if something goes wrong.

Given the intelligence exhibited by our local PAT-droid, to be honest I'd rather do without him.

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That's a widow maker.

If it passed a single PAT, fire the tester because he or she is utterly incompetent, and a danger to everyone.

A male-to-male power lead should be an instant fail in the visual, you don't need to do anything else to know its a serious fail and immediately destroy it.

Any so-called PAT tester that just plugs the thing into the machine is a waste of space, and by using them your employer is in breach of PUWER, which is actual legislation with criminal penalties.

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Not really had this problem, keyed sockets are common in places with business critical UPS supported loads, stops someone plugging a fan heater in! Most offices I've been in have had at least two of those 3A fused sockets above the desks for gadgets.

If you want to rant, rant about the make work scheme that is PAT testing, and most office managers die hard belief it's a legal requirement. Peoples unquestionable acceptance of employing someone to ludicrously stick passed stickers all over sealed plastic devices every 12 months never fails to amaze me.

Almost as much as some chap telling me that sticking a cardboard box on top of a trailing flex was a fire hazard, because they all just spontaneously combust all the time don't they!?

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+1 on PAT testing

Try pointing them to this site:-

http://www.hse.gov.uk/myth/july.htm

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Rond hole sockets?

Perhaps the result of sourcing furniture from continental Europe, where we have a much more sensible - and largely compatible - socketing system. The Earthing is country-specific, but the Live and Neutral sockets are the same size and distance apart everywhere (almost).

And when did you last see a portable device that needed an Earth? Or a fuse, for that matter. British plugs/sockets are vastly over.specified for modern use.

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Re: Rond hole sockets?

Yes but in the event of a foreign invasion we can just lay our proper BS133 plugs, pins up, along the beaches and stop tanks landing.

If they had plugs in 1066 we wouldn't have had an invasion and we would all be speaking sort-of German (that doesn't quiter work somehow)

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Flame

Re: Rond hole sockets?

Are toasters, kettles or even your metal cased computers not portable?

I'd hate to have the case on one of those become "live"

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Stop

Re: Rond hole sockets?

The current UK plug was vastly over-engineered at the time to be robust & safe.

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Happy

Re: Round hole sockets?

Agree. As well as the anti-tank function they also have a use as a grappling hook - witness the difficulty on extracting the plug-eng of a lead from a pile of wiring. The best plugs will seek out the nearest wire within 3 feet and lovingly wrap their prongs around it in a vise-like grip.

Phil.

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Re: Rond hole sockets?

The plug itself isn't vastly over engineered, it's designed to do its job. If you run a full 13A load off of one they do heat up. Electric car manufacturers have been discovering there are a lot of cheap 13A sockets which can't take the load continuously and crack and otherwise fail from the thermal effects.

You could argue that the system of high current ring mains, plugs in fuses, etc is over engineered, but I like having a good 3kW available wherever it's needed, and 7kW+ on a circuit.

Euro/ret of world plugs do come out of the wall a lot easier, which can be a pro, and are also a lot less likely to give you a nasty foot injury!

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Compatible sockets in continental Europe?

Not Italy. In one hotel room in Genoa where I once stayed, there were seven different electrical sockets, in none of which could I insert the (European standard) power plug for my laptop. Then there was the flat in which there was a (shaver's?) switch in the bathroom that turned off everything in the flat.

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