Sunday, November 28, 2004

Particle Man beats Electron Man

We hosted Thanksgiving for my side of the family and some of Ladybug's side too. All went well as we served up the various traditional (turkey) and non-traditional (butternut squash bisque) fare. After the meal, I persuaded the kids to play some board games. My grand-nephew (great nephew? niece's kid...I just call him by his name and he calls me Uncle Don, so whatever) had been persistently asking me all day to get on-line and play games. After successfully saying no for several hours and suggesting ideas for things to do, I finally relented and set him down behind a PC.

Two minutes after he was on the website, all four PCs went black. The whole north side of the house lost power. Greeeeeeeeat. That also included the Vonage phone setup so we had no phone service (let that be a lesson to all you bleeding edgers out there). I knew the circuits and figured there was too much stuff turned on (which has never happened on this circuit). I trundled out to the breaker panel when ALL OF A SUDDEN (big crescendo of music).....nothing happened. Scarcely able to believe my eyes, I noticed no telltale tripping of the circuit breaker, nor was there any sign of the normal electrical malfeasance. The "Oh crap" feeling crept up.

My dad and brother are handy in the electrical realm. My brother had run into this problem before and said that sometimes the problem was in the outlet box with a bad connection or bad wire. The clock-radio in the master bedroom at some point came back we started with that outlet. We TURNED OFF THE CIRCUIT BREAKER EACH TIME BEFORE REMOVING THE OUTLET FACE PLATE.

The outlets in the house are about 35 years old and the wires were held into the outlet using a connector that pinches them into the outlet. My brother's preference is to use the screw terminals as he believes it gives a better contact. After sanding the wires and reseating them, we turned on the circuit breaker and SOMETHING HAPPENED! The lights came back on. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Dad and brother packed up and headed on home.

Everything was gravy and stuffing after that, literally. The lights glowed, the computers whirred and smell of turkey replaced the pall of electrical uncertainty. Friday morning arrived and turkey was on the menu for breakfast. Why not? We were launching our way into a lazy day when Ladybug turns on the television. Well, she tried to but the power went out again. Mmmmmmbrrrt! Back to the breaker panel...same shiznit, different dazay.

I pulled the master bedroom outlet out again (AFTER TURNING get the idea, safety first yada yada) and wiggled it around then decided to remove and reseat the wires. I turned on the power and BAMMO! it worked. I asked Ladybug to try the TV again went off again.

This was getting depressing. During the course of the next few hours, I talked strategy and technique with my brother and finally decided that I needed to check every outlet for double-wire junctions, pull them out and reseat them in the screw terminals. Crapola on a stick! I decided to attack the outlet the TV went into first and, Voila, there was a double-wire junction. One of the wires broke off as I removed it and I excitedly (and completely wrongly) thought I found the culprit. I fixed the whole thing, did the reseat thing and turned on the circuit with hope welling up in my Junior Electrician's heart. Click. Nothing. Crap.

Plumbing the fringes of despondency, I sat and thought. I had a wild idea the day before that if the entire circuit appeared to be out, the problem must be near the source. Our machinations at the far end of the house on Thanksgiving Day appeared to have belied that beginner's logic. Yet I was faced with embracing it again.

After TURNING OFF, blah, I chose the outlet closest to the breaker panel and pulled off the cover and outlet. I pulled the wires and they were covered in some kind of black corrosion. I sanded the copper ends and seated them in the screws. I walked over to the breaker panel and turned on the power when ALL OF A SUDDEN, something happened. The house burst into flam...just kidding. The lights came back on.

So far, it all seems to be working and Electron Man appears to be subdued...until next time.


Anonymous said...

Kudos to the They Might be Giants reference.

I have vonage too and as much as I love never paying for long distance, the sound quality is not the best and comcast's service is spotty in my area for some reason.

(sigh) what to do what to do.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Personally, I don't think it had anything to do with either electron man, particle man, corrosion, loose wires, or any of that logical, rational stuff.

I think the spirits residing in your house were trying very hard to tell you that you spend wayyyyy too much time in front of a cathode ray tube.

Actually, Japanese tradition holds that many if not most hauntings and possessions are actually caused by the unconsciously outreaching spirit of someone (or something) that is still alive. Maybe it's YOUR spirit, Snabbo! Or maybe it's Ladybug! Maybe it's time to start lighting candles, beating drums, and waving mistletoe inside all the rooms of your house. Realign your spiritual poles. Get your Yin de-Yanged, and all that.

Either that or it's all just some very strange coincidence.

(Hmm...this computer and it's predecessor have broken down on multiple occasions when I neglected to tend the family graves on appointed days. Coincidence? Probably.)

Anonymous said...

I bow before the household god! But not too low, as I am the domestic goddess you know...
In any case, I'm always amazed at the ability of certain people of the male persuation who actually can fix things-coming from a family who's head patriarch said
when asked for a phillip's screwdriver (at ripe old age of 30 while attempting to hang curtains with new wife) said, "What's a phillip's screwdriver?"

Don Snabulus said...


Sorry about the spotty Comcast service. Living inside the Intel reliability bubble where the power (outside the house) never goes out and the cable connections are keen can really spoil someone.


I tried beating candles, waving drums, and lighting mistletoe in my house and nothing happened (except we got high from the alkaloids in the mistletoe). Can you glue candles back together?


You sound sexy enough to be my wife ;)

thehim said...

Mr. Snabulus, I feel your pain. I bought a 50+ year old house last year and figuring out the wiring is just an adventure. My soon-to-be father-in-law helps me a lot though, as I'm not even qualified to call myself a junior electrician yet. He's crazy, doesn't even turn off the power half the time he's working on things.

You should check out his latest 'creation' as well, along with his friend in Oregon, and now up for bidding on Ebay for anyone in the Portland area...

Ah, to be retired...

Don Snabulus said...


Looks like a great project...unfortunately, I am not qualified as a junior baby diesel mechanic. Maybe some day I could play around with a custom car like that.

Vulgarius said...

Its just a fowl spirit getting its revenge.