Wannabe Cake Decorator
Starting out at an early age in electricity, my confidence often exceeded my knowledge. Many years ago, when 120/240V service was just being introduced, the concept of a shared neutral somewhat eluded me. I was installing a receptacle in the basement of my parent's house. Armed with all the confidence I could muster, I was “working it hot.” Making final connections, I removed the twist-on connector from the neutral wire in the ceiling junction box. The wires were not twisted together, so they sprung apart a bit — and a small arc was generated. Almost as fast as the arc extinguished, I heard screams from the upstairs kitchen. Racing to investigate, I found the kitchen walls decorated with cake mix and my mother in a panic. Seems the mixer was on one side of the line, and the heavier loads were on the other. When I broke the neutral connection, the line imbalanced, the voltages shifted, and the old mixer went into turbo mode, spraying batter everywhere. The theory of a shared neutral was now firmly implanted in my young mind.
Engineer Feels the Burn
Years ago, I was doing the electrical design for an addition to a retirement community building where I was to specify a heat lamp for its bathrooms. Listed along with the description of the unit was the phrase “blister pack.” For some reason, my engineering brain thought that a blister pack was a magical feature that turned the lamp off when the folks under it were in danger of developing blisters from the heat. You can imagine my embarrassment when I called the technical department asking for specifications on the blister pack. The guy finally said to me, “It's packing material you idiot!” I've never laughed so hard at work.
Moral of the story: Don't be afraid to ask questions. Everyone needs a good laugh once in a while.
Joseph A. Carter, P.E.
Illustrations by Clint Metcalf