Life In The USA, Part 4

Some more complaining, and something interesting.

Power Outlets

You know, those things in the wall that you plug your electrical stuff into. Otherwise it doesn't work.

Power outlets are different in every country, as well as power voltages. The USA has 110-120 Volts, 60Hz, depending on what the power company feels like supplying . Most European countries have a higher voltage, somewhere between 220-240 Volts, 50Hz.

There are advantages and disadvantages to these different voltages. Electricity can be dangerous, so a lower voltage has distinct advantages when it comes to safety. It is quite difficult to kill yourself with mains voltages, however, double the voltage results in four times the electrical power, so the voltages in the USA are quite a bit safer than in Europe.

Of course, the Americans have found a way to compensate for this. In the USA, you have regular power outlets in bathrooms. This is not a good idea, since most home electrocutions happen when people are wet. In Europe, bathrooms have safety power outlets, if any at all. These safety outlets produce a limited current, thus making it harder to kill yourself.

Lower voltages have a distinct disadvantage as well. Energy losses due to electrical resistance of wires are larger when voltages are lower. let's throw some electrical engineering formulas at this.

The current in a copper wire (or any other conductor) is governed by Ohm's Law. This law states that V = I * R, where V is the voltage in Volts, I is the current in Amperes, and R is the resistance in Ohms. So far, so good. There is another law that expresses the power dissipated (lost) in a wire: P = V * I, where P is the power in Watts, and V and I are as described before. Now, let's assume we have a (clothes) dryer that consumes 1100 Watts. At 110 Volts, this means that the dryer will need 10 Amperes of current (P = V * I). Furthermore, let's assume that the resistance of all the wiring leading to the dryer has a resistance of 0.1 Ohms. At 10 Amperes, this leads to a voltage drop over the wires of 1 Volt. (You see, there is a certain low voltage required to chase the electricity through the wires. Ohm's Law tells us how big this voltage is). This leads to a loss of 10 Watts.
Now, if we use the same numbers, but with a mains voltage of 220 Volts, we find that the current is 5 Amperes, resulting in a voltage drop of 0.5 Volts, and a power loss of 2.5 Watts.

All this is exactly the reason why power companies transform voltages up to hundreds of thousands of volts before transmitting electricity over power lines. Higher voltages means lower losses in the power lines.

Anyway, these voltages are a bit of a digression. American power plugs are basically just two flat strips of metal held together by a piece of plastic. These metal strips are somewhat flexible. In contrast, European power plugs typically have round, inflexible pins. You cannot bend them without tools and considerable force. American plugs can be bent quite easily. I don't really know why this is, but I suspect it has to do with the fact that the power plugs sometimes spontaneously fall out of the wall sockets. That's right, they just fall out! This never, ever happens with European plugs. For some reason, the American wall sockets are so poorly designed that they cannot hold the plugs firmly. And I suspect that is the reason why the American plugs can be bent so easily...

Beer Bottle Caps

A far more important subject than the previous one. American beer bottles have so-called twist-off caps. This basically means that you do not need a bottle opener to get the cap off, you can just use your hands. I guess you can get drunk faster this way. European import beers do not have this feature. Drunks in Europe are not stopped by this of course, there are several alternative ways of getting the cap off, like using two bottles, using a cigarette lighter, or using the edge of a table. The last method often damages the table, buy hey, what is more important, having a nice looking table, or getting your beer?

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