Solving England’s Plug Size Problem

When I lived in England, believe it or not, everybody had to be an amateur electrician. I’m really showing my age, but back in the mid 80’s there wasn’t a common universal plug throughout England, so you had to buy your plug separately from the ‘flex’ which they called the electrical cord. I’m serious. You bought your appliance, lamp or other electrical device (I remember that in my case, it was a radio/cassette tape recorder), and then you bought a plug ‘kit’, which let you splice the plug on to the flex. You had to attach your plug yourself to any consumer electronics. It’s almost laughable, but that’s what the state of electrical standards adoption was in late-20th century England.

Eventually, the UK did standardize on a plug, but it ended up being the largest and bulkiest plug you’ve ever seen, including a fuse inside the plug itself. It was almost as if the Brits only begrudgingly accepted this newfangled invention of electricity, and decided that they were going to only allow you to use it if you had the proper muscle power to hold and manage these huge electrical plugs. The notion that you’d carry around an electrical device that needed to be plugged in hadn’t even been entered into the equation.

When people started carrying around laptops, the large size of UK plugs became even more troublesome. In the case of a Macbook Air, the UK plug was several times thicker than the laptop itself. Enter a clever designer and an ingenious design to the rescue. This video shows how a folding approach not only allows one to carry around a slim plug and unfold it when needed, but actually creates a new, secondary standard, where all of the prongs are still accessible but in a folded state, so a whole bunch of these folded plugs can be plugged into an adapter, which is plugged into the wall in its unfolded state (or perhaps, a new sort of power strip, built for the folded prong arrangement). To see what I mean, have a look at the video. It shows that sometimes good industrial design can almost work miracles. Lets hope this idea catches on:

Another Restart. This time, Something Interesting

HAL 9000

HAL 9000

Rather than try to write something profound (at least on the surface), I thought I’d start writing in this blog again with an observation about today’s date, at least in terms of the History of Computer Science:

On today’s date, HAL, the computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey turns 17 year’s old, as the movie says:

I am a HAL 9000 computer, Production Number 3. I became operational at the HAL Plant in Urbana, Illinois, on January 12, 1992. My instructor was Mr. Langley, and he taught me to sing a song. If you’d like to hear it I can sing it for you. It’s called ‘Daisy’

I always thought that the production number being 3 was intriguing. It couldn’t be a nod to Windows 3.1, the first successful version of that software because the book was written decades before that appeared on the scene.  What happened to production numbers 1 and 2? (It was mentioned, I seem to remember, that HAL 1000-8000 series had problems of some sort and were “not entirely successful”).

The idea of a mutinous, murderous central computer is a theme that is still alive and well in movies today: the movie WALL-E has one of these, the Autopilot computer that looks a bit like HAL’s red eye inserted into an old fashioned ship’s wheel (and the voice actor who gets to do it, in the credits is, wait for it… Macintalk, the speech synthesis software on the Macintosh (!))


Needless to say, in this year, 2009, there is no HAL 9000, no similar level of Artificial Intelligence, no ships to Jupiter, and no permanent base on the moon. We do have a space station, but Pan Am airlines never survived to create that beautiful space liner, and although there is talk of private citizens doing flights, it is Virgin Airlines that is going to be doing that.