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Brilliant folding power plug
November 4, 2009 7:45 PM   Subscribe

A brilliant industrial design (IMO) for a slimline UK power plug. The UK plug is an exceptionally chunky and large lump; a real pain in the computer satchel. This video shows what appears to be a manufacturable design that turns it into an elegant device. SLYT.

The UK uses a "ring" wiring system (a habit developed during the post-war copper shortages). This means that for outlets in series, the single line carries all the amperage for the loop: there is no individual return circuit for each plug. Essentially, every damn plug in the house is like your kitchen stove 240V monster gonna-kill-you plug, so the plug is designed to help you not get killed. Built-in fuse. Monster blades. Safety plastic. Maybe a switch?

Anyhoo, here's a SLYT where the designer demonstrates CAD and 3D-Printed prototypes. At first glance, I see no reason why this can not be a successful design. Pretty slick solution, at any rate.

previously
posted by five fresh fish (103 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
I am: A) So glad that I don't live in the UK. B) Very impressed by this design. It's the type of thing that you see and wish someone had though of earlier. Like the snuggie!
I'm sure there are many great things about the UK, but the plug is clearly not one of them.
posted by battlebison at 7:52 PM on November 4, 2009


Very cool. I liked the bit at the end where multiple slim plugs were plugged into a small wall adapter while in their folded state.
posted by threetoed at 7:53 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Although the North American 120V electricity is positively pussified compared to the machismo of 240V UK, I think there's argument to be made that one of the great benefits of our system, which puts an appropriate amperage at the outlet, instead of full-on mains amperage, is that our children can learn to respect electricity through direct experience.

Nonetheless, I'm really impressed with those designs. If they're actually allowed, i.e. are safe under UK code, I hope they get made. The folding plug is especially neat, IMO, and presents an elegant (engineering) and elegant (artistic) design.

Next, this student (she?) needs to tackle designing a power brick that won't fall out of our flimsy NA sockets. I like that they're small, and I like not being killed by being a screwup when I plug in my laptop, but it really does suck that they don't have angled or round pins, so that the plug would be more secure.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:54 PM on November 4, 2009


Wow, I've seen that plug before but I didn't realize it was the UK one, with a lot of actual humans using it. I really can't believe they have such a clunky plug. I find our plugs (US) not that well thought out, but geeze.
posted by floam at 7:55 PM on November 4, 2009


Previously (see Collapsible link).
posted by Chuckles at 7:57 PM on November 4, 2009


Also:

Gizmodo — Giz Explains: Why Every Country Has a Different F#$%ing Plug

Crave — Plug versus Plug

Reddit — where I made much the same silliness; and I also found the industrial design video on reddit.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:58 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Chuckles: damn. I had this niggling feeling, but the URL and "UK power plugs" was coming up dry.

Whelp, feel free to remove your hats and place your hand on your hearts, as we remember this front page post's brief life.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:00 PM on November 4, 2009


Very cool design. Thanks for posting.
posted by The World Famous at 8:00 PM on November 4, 2009


While I'm complaining about plugs.

After my successful coup d'état, we're going to get some god-damned low-voltage DC wiring in every house, with one really efficient AC-DC converter in in with the fuse box. And some handy small plugs that aren't fricking cigarette lighter adapters. All our devices can be smaller with no AC-DC converter needed inside (or wall warts), more efficient, and cheaper to produce.
posted by floam at 8:01 PM on November 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


The UK adapter is always one of the most annoying things to tuck into my bag. So big, so bulky, so spiky. So all of these efforts are damn welcome in my little corner of the world.
posted by rokusan at 8:05 PM on November 4, 2009


The idea of stacking the plugs is pretty interesting while folded is pretty interesting, but aren't you going to need bulky power bricks anyway?

What I've found interesting is that a lot of devices just have a single USB plug, and the chargers just have USB Mini-B connectors. So the devices either charge directly from a host computer or the wall with the same connector. Maybe in the future we'll all have power-only USB plugs around the house. The standard is just five volts.
posted by delmoi at 8:07 PM on November 4, 2009


The UK plug is, IMO, quintessentially British.

And I hereby nominate floam for Benevolent Electric Dictator for Life, provided he also mandate a real quality plug design. I'm sure the military has designs that are quick yet damn secure. And when secure isn't needed.

And when secure isn't so important, we need to use the magsafe idea. I love me the magnetic pull-apart connection.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:08 PM on November 4, 2009


Yeah, I was actually trying to imagine a single plug that could both handle some sort of yank-away connection like Magsafe for stuff with batteries where it doesn't matter, while also having something pretty small but with won't-get-bent-up properties that plugs in hard when you can't have stuff getting unplugged. The only other DC standard thing I can think of are those EmPower things you get on some airlines, but they're icky DIN connectors. Better than cigarette lighters, but a bitch to plug in correctly, and the first time one gets stepped on that round metal part is going to crumple.
posted by floam at 8:18 PM on November 4, 2009


Thanks for the explanation - I didn't know exactly why plugs in the UK are so huge.
I do know that in the UK the kettle will boil your water before you've even had time to rinse out the teapot.
That's nice.
But this is a nice solution, maybe not just to the laptop issue; as delmoi points out, you still have the brick, but the possibility of stacking multiple plugs so tightly is really cool.
I'll be interested to see if it gets manufactured. Next stop, the Dragon's Den?
posted by Flashman at 8:21 PM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I saw this a while back and was immediately cross that I didn't own one yet. Each passing day just makes it worse. I had been waiting for Apple to come up with something, because they evidently pay a lot of attention to their power bricks, and Jony Ive is a Brit so he must feel our pain*. To be fair, the new iPhone charger (pic) is a good effort, but it's not on the same level as this.

(Interesting how USB is becoming a defacto outlet. The seats in the last airport lounge I was in had both USB and ordinary electric outlets, which is great touch.)

* That pain is literal, sometimes. We may not have fff's rite of passage of electric shocks, but there are few things that hurt quite like treading on an upturned UK plug in your socks. Just thinking about it gives me a cold shudder, in the same way imagining a shoeing of the nads does.
posted by bonaldi at 8:23 PM on November 4, 2009 [9 favorites]


In its unfolded state it kind of resembles a pacifier (or dummy, I guess). Pretty smart design. I do wonder about the long-term durability of the moving parts, but that's nothing a little automated testing can't determine after a few thousand folding/unfolding cycles.
posted by jedicus at 8:23 PM on November 4, 2009


I hope this makes her (and not someone else) an astounding amount of money.
posted by bicyclefish at 8:27 PM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I like the UK plug because when there is tension on the cord the plug remains in the socket. This is useful when vacuuming!
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:40 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I loved the history of the UK plug the Gizmodo article five fresh fish mentioned surrounding their lack of copper during the rebuilding after WWII dictating they put a fuse into every single plug. I am still envious that switched plugs are not standard in the US. I have to put everything on a power strip that I then switch on and off to kill that vampire wattage.
posted by msbutah at 8:44 PM on November 4, 2009


Yeah, in its defence the current plug epitomises everything I love about British design: it feels like there's no part of it that wasn't considered deeply all morning, break for lunch, reconsidered all afternoon, then sent to committee.

Look at all the details!
- The way that inside the plug the neutral wire is forced through a loop so that it must be longer than the live, so that if you wire them up badly and the wires are pulled out of the plug while it's in the socket, the live will detach first, failing safely
- the plastic sheaths on the live pins that mean live metal is never exposed
- the built-in socket covers to stop inquisitive fingers (though parents still buy plastic ones that are more dangerous)
- the mandatory moulding to make it easier to pull them out without putting your fingers round the back, even though there's nothing live there anyway
- the (er, possibly not intentional) way that the BLue wire is bottom left and the BRown wire is bottom right ...
A whole ton of effort went into designing those plugs, at a time when you'd think the country would be otherwise occupied recovering from a war and a half. Neal Stephenson wrote about this in Cryptonomicon:
There is no in-between with these people. You have to walk a mile to find a telephone booth, but when you find it, it is built as if the senseless dynamiting of pay phones had been a serious problem at some time in the past. And a British mailbox can presumably stop a German tank. None of them have cars, but when they do, they are three-ton hand-built beasts. The concept of stamping out a whole lot of cars is unthinkable -- there are certain procedures that have to be followed, Mr Ford, such as the hand brazing of radiators, the traditional whittling of the tyres from solid blocks of cahoutchouc.
You can always spot the real British made stuff in a house. It's the stuff that was designed to last and last -- so it's the stuff that outlasted its committee-having manufacturers when they were all killed off by nimbler under-engineering Americans.
posted by bonaldi at 9:08 PM on November 4, 2009 [29 favorites]


You can always spot the real British made stuff in a house. It's the stuff that was designed to last and last -- so it's the stuff that outlasted its committee-having manufacturers when they were all killed off by nimbler under-engineering Americans.

Can we discuss the MG roadsters for a minute?
posted by Netzapper at 9:18 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


You can always spot the real British made stuff

It's funny how much the meaning of that sentence changes if you add the word "Leyland" after "British."
posted by The World Famous at 9:27 PM on November 4, 2009 [11 favorites]


You can snark about the bulkiness and the ugliness of the British plug all you want, but let me tell you that when you move from Britain to another country without switched plugs you'll fear for your life every time you plug something in.
posted by ob at 9:47 PM on November 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


I don't know if a folding power plug is a good idea. All those contacts, made with as little material as possible, and operating at 240V. Seems like a fire or shock hazard.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:53 PM on November 4, 2009


Where can one buy a Folding Plug H264?
posted by nickyskye at 10:06 PM on November 4, 2009


It's right beside the Folding Plug H262s, on aisle six.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:44 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


You can always spot the real British made stuff

Because it always leaks oil?
posted by JackFlash at 10:49 PM on November 4, 2009


Can we discuss the MG roadsters for a minute?

I have two of them, come by for a drive. They're vastly over-engineered for what they are.
posted by maxwelton at 10:50 PM on November 4, 2009


I have two of them, come by for a drive. They're vastly over-engineered for what they are.

Indeed. The real problem is the electrical system.
posted by The World Famous at 10:53 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is an absolutely brilliant bit of industrial design. Every piece of it—the stacking, the pacifier-like "pull," all of it. I have always thought that every engineering problem has at least one perfect solution. Hundreds of half-workable, begrudgingly-passable, bad solutions, but just one correct solution. For UK power plugs, I believe this is it. The real genius was the addition of a simple hinge; it allows a two-dimensional challenge to be met three-dimensionally.

It's funny how much the meaning of that sentence changes if you add the word "Leyland" after "British."

Ironically, it's always been the electrical systems that were the source of so many frustrations. Some of my favorite Lucas jokes:posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:23 PM on November 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


when you move from Britain to another country without switched plugs you'll fear for your life every time you plug something in

That's why you put the fuse in the outlet, not in the plug.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:26 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


The UK has actually switched to 230V.
posted by onya at 11:27 PM on November 4, 2009


UKians are amusingly frightened of electricity. My room mates would obsessively turn off all the wall switches when going out (equivalent to throwing the breakers in a North American home). And yet, until fairly recently (and perhaps still) almost every appliance from CD player to toaster came without a plug at all, encouraging any amateur to do a bit of home wiring.
posted by Rumple at 11:55 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Protip: when landing at a foreign airport, the unoccupied gates have unoccupied computers, monitors, and the like with detachable power leads conforming to the local outlets.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:58 PM on November 4, 2009 [7 favorites]


Wow, I've seen that plug before but I didn't realize it was the UK one, with a lot of actual humans using it. I really can't believe they have such a clunky plug. I find our plugs (US) not that well thought out, but geeze.

I was under the impression that the size of the UK plug is intended to make it grippable. In combination with the wire always leaving through the bottom, this prevents the urge to pull plugs out by the wire and cause potential damage to the plug wiring.

UKians are amusingly frightened of electricity. My room mates would obsessively turn off all the wall switches when going out (equivalent to throwing the breakers in a North American home). And yet, until fairly recently (and perhaps still) almost every appliance from CD player to toaster came without a plug at all, encouraging any amateur to do a bit of home wiring.

Actually, when I've seen people do the same thing, it's because they believe that appliances still draw electricity when not in use if you leave then plugged in. For the very same reason, an ex-flatmate of mine used to unplug things entirely, not just switch them off.

I actually think this design is quite cute, and potentially useful, but no, the UK doesn't have plans to change its plugs anytime soon. I haven't done a scientific poll, but most people are happy with the plugs with have, and actually quite enjoy the clunky and safe feeling of it. I've used a few different plugs in other countries, and I find British-style plugs have a much better "handfeel" than other countries - I expect to feel safe and happy when using electrical equipment, you know. The problem with the laptop is a one off, and I've not really heard many complaints until this post, and many of them seem to be from people who haven't ever used this system, Just saying.
posted by Sova at 12:13 AM on November 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


You can always spot the real British made stuff

I'll just put this over here with the rest . . . of the fire.
posted by Mikey-San at 12:15 AM on November 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


Don't worry FFF, I'm pretty sure this will survive. Just remember to hang your head in shame for a couple of minutes, or ten seconds, or maybe knod once, or something :P

From wikipedia, it sounds like ring circuits are gradually being phased out. They still have 20A at approximately 240V at all outlets though. Almost 5kW.. Insane!
Yes, apparently still nominally 240V, even though the standards suggest otherwise.. Anybody have better information?
posted by Chuckles at 12:15 AM on November 5, 2009


You can always spot the real British made stuff

Like the Lucas Prince of Darkness Industries PLC electric equipment...
posted by gen at 1:13 AM on November 5, 2009


The UK plug is an exceptionally chunky and large lump; a real pain in the computer satchel.

Try standing on one in bare feet, then you will know what pain is.
posted by vbfg at 1:26 AM on November 5, 2009 [9 favorites]


Rumple: "UKians are amusingly frightened of electricity. My room mates would obsessively turn off all the wall switches when going out (equivalent to throwing the breakers in a North American home)."

It's not a bad habit: electrical failure is probably one of the commoner ways for house fires to start after all. The absolute risk is pretty low however..

"And yet, until fairly recently (and perhaps still) almost every appliance from CD player to toaster came without a plug at all, encouraging any amateur to do a bit of home wiring."

All appliances are required to come with a moulded, fused plug these days. It's been that way for about 15 years. I last bought a bit of kit which I had to put my own plug on in 1992: Naturally I got it wrong and later tripped all the breakers in the college owned graduate house I moved to in 1995 (the older wiring in my previous rooms hadn't been upgraded to ELCBs at that point, and the amount of power the device required was so low that the fact that I'd accidentally swapped ground and neutral didn't really matter. Still, it was a bit embarrassing.)
posted by pharm at 1:40 AM on November 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh, and if you want some real entertainment, look at the regulations covering wiring colour. Especially the way live can have two (or three) different colours in the same building, thanks to the regulations changing several times (once within the UK & than again for EU standardisation IIRC.) I believe such installations have to have special labels on the wiring panels to warn any unwary electricians that "here be dragons".
posted by pharm at 1:43 AM on November 5, 2009


Maybe it's just the low-rent places I visited in Britain, but this one clunky plug (and its awesome folding version) seems like a huge improvement over the chaotic variation in sockets that I found even in the same building 25 years ago. And get off my lawn.

Also, they apparently didn't have any kind of doorway height standard, since many doorways were amusingly short enough that I didn't have to worry about barely bumping my head -- I was staring the top of the doorway in the eye.
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 2:08 AM on November 5, 2009


I'm quite enamored with the BS 1363 British Plugs. So much more sturdy than the american ones which fall out of the sockets on their own and arc. Thing is, the 2 pin Schuko is on almost everything we buy here, so most stuff comes with 2 power leads or a clunky adaptor. Also the low power Europlug will fit into a Schuko socket. For years I didn't think there was any difference.

I now use both happily at home and work with strips of Schuko sockets on extension leads which plugs into the wall via a 1363 plug. I have to be careful not to blow fuses though as Schuko allows for 16A and 1363 is only rated to 13A.

As for switching stuff off at the sockets all the time. The main reason is to conserve power. It's a habit I picked up from my parents. I estimated all the stuff on 'standby' in my apartment was drawing maybe 200W. I'd love a smart meter to really nail it down.
posted by Homemade Interossiter at 2:14 AM on November 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


The UK has actually switched to 230V.

I believe that the EU standard is 230±10V, to accommodate both the 240V Britons and the 220V continentals. This governs what standard-compliant (and thus legal to sell) devices must accept, not the absolute voltage that comes out of the wall. Of course, with this in place, Britain could have switched to 230V or 220V (especially if it's cheaper or more efficient), though perhaps then a few cranky old devices would have problems.
posted by acb at 2:19 AM on November 5, 2009


UKians are amusingly frightened of electricity.

It's true. I've lived over here for a couple of years now, and one of the first things that struck me is that there are no outlets in the bathrooms. (You might get a tiny "shaver point", which is exclusively for use with electric shavers--nothing else is designed to plug into them.)

And yet they have electric showers. I'd like to hear the reasoning behind that.* "Hm...I enjoy my morning wash, but somehow it's still not quite dangerous enough. I know! I'll run 240 volts of AC current through a box that gets regularly immersed in water that a person is standing in at the time! Brilliant!"


* Actually, a lot of the reasoning has to do with the fact that in a lot of places in England, there's not so much water pressure as water gentle suggestion.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:23 AM on November 5, 2009 [12 favorites]



Maybe it's just the low-rent places I visited in Britain, but this one clunky plug (and its awesome folding version) seems like a huge improvement over the chaotic variation in sockets that I found even in the same building 25 years ago. And get off my lawn.


They still have the old ones (BS546), though they're used on dedicated lighting circuits (i.e., in hotels and such), to discourage people from plugging things other than lights in. They also have some custom BS1363 variants with rotated or T-shaped pins used in places like the London Underground to prevent people from plugging unauthorised gadgets in.

Are these the variants you were thinking of, or was there an ecosystem of bizarre other plugs around in the 1980s?
posted by acb at 2:24 AM on November 5, 2009



A great example of the kind of backward thinking that has destroyed Britain's manufacturing base and its reputation for innovation, and which has turned us into an insignificant backwoods nation less than two centuries after we effectively invented the modern world.

Where is Britain's iPod, Britain's Volvo or Britain's Nissan even?

Nowhere, thanks to that kind of complacent thinking.

This innovation is one example of why Britain needs controlled immigration....
because like the iPod, Volvo and Nissan, immigrants are things that come from overseas.

Yours sincerely

Alf Garnet (via youtube)
posted by mattoxic at 2:31 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


This innovation is one example of why Britain needs controlled immigration

I was laughing at that too. Britain's engineering is backwards and shit, so let's stop anyone getting in!
posted by knapah at 3:28 AM on November 5, 2009


I just realized I wrote "AC current" up above, which is tantamount to "PIN number" or "ATM machine". I'll of course hand in my pedant card immediately and submit for ritual stocking in the town square.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 4:19 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


wait, does this folding plug have the neutral and earth connected? it looks like it.

that seems poor form.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:30 AM on November 5, 2009


Although the North American 120V electricity is positively pussified compared to the machismo of 240V UK, I think there's argument to be made that one of the great benefits of our system, which puts an appropriate amperage at the outlet, instead of full-on mains amperage, is that our children can learn to respect electricity through direct experience.

Does that actually teach you respect for electricity, or does it just teach you to accept always-on sockets and wobbly plugs because they ain't really gonna harm you even if you do touch the live bit?

Anyway, I stuck my finger in a 240 V light fitting when I was a kid, and I'm still walkin' and talkin'. Man up, America.
posted by chrismear at 4:32 AM on November 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Where is Britain's iPod, Britain's Volvo or Britain's Nissan even?

The iPod was designed by a Brit.
posted by idiomatika at 5:04 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


floam, you can try your low-voltage wiring, but the I2R losses will be brutal unless you want to run welding cable.

The North American power plug is so disappointingly wispy compared to the good old BS1363. That, and the alarmingly heavy power cables that we need here to carry our crappy low voltage, high current.
posted by scruss at 5:12 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I accidentally held onto the live bit of a UK plug when I inserted it into the wall* once and the electrical jolt ended up making my left leg jive, which was a little weird.

Hard to do, in practice, but I have a special talent for stupidity.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:14 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


And yet they have electric showers.

Ah yes, I remember those! God, the first time I saw one I thought No thanks, I'll take mine cold, mate. I always assumed this was because the British practice rationing like the war is still on, and electric water heaters in showers mean cheap hostels can easily switch them to coin-op. Pence-pinching bastards!

In my years of net surfing I have found all manner of gruesome confirmation that electric water heaters in showers are indeed a very, very bad idea. (Non-gruesome article)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:29 AM on November 5, 2009


You can snark about the bulkiness and the ugliness of the British plug all you want, but let me tell you that when you move from Britain to another country without switched plugs you'll fear for your life every time you plug something in.

So so true. American plugs are accidents waiting to happen. Especially the plugs on older devices (usually lamps). Flimsy and horrible.
posted by schwa at 6:08 AM on November 5, 2009


brilliant.

I wished we could all finally have a universal power system with the same plugs and voltages but alas, who's gonna change their whole system to be like someone else?
posted by krautland at 6:33 AM on November 5, 2009


krautland: That's why we need a strong leader that will prompt citizens to rewire their houses voluntarily, with the option of firing squad if they're not interested.
posted by floam at 6:50 AM on November 5, 2009


who's gonna change their whole system to be like someone else?

Everyone except me?
posted by electroboy at 6:51 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


No one has mentioned Portable Appliance Testing yet. Despite the general safety advantages of the British plug, things aren't considered safe enough. In grad school, my college announced that everything we plugged into a wall in the student residences would have to be tested by their contractors every year, probably at great expense for the collge, and that we would have to get them to test anything new we wanted to plug into the wall later on (although I doubt anyone ever did this). And my department did the same.

Despite the fancy PAT equipment, I only heard of equipment rejection due to visually obvious problems (frayed cables, lack of ground).
posted by grouse at 6:55 AM on November 5, 2009


It is worth noting that the British plug was a good-faith attempt to solve a problem, not just a monster of bad design.

In the States and elsewhere, we have circuit breakers or fuses that can trip and prevent overloading a circuit. In Britain following the war, just getting the lights back on was concern enough; rewiring the entire country with circuit breakers was too daunting a task! So the Brits have basically the same plug for every appliance that Americans have for their hairdryers--with a built-in circuit breaker. The solution has led to the same mess that every country is in these days, but it was the right idea for the time and place it originated!
posted by jefficator at 6:56 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Interesting that despite all this safety stuff, as soon as Christmas rolls around everyone strings up fairy lights that are basically little more than a piece of metal string wired straight into the mains (usually a couple of runs wired into the same plug, to boot). Then their children swing from them, the dog chews them, auntie wraps them around her head like a crown, etc. Shocking.
posted by bonaldi at 7:14 AM on November 5, 2009


Shocking.

I see what you did there.
posted by grouse at 7:20 AM on November 5, 2009


I see several problems with that plug - not least there is no visible mechanism for attaching the wires in a way that actually allows the E/N pins to rotate like that. In the exploded view deal, they look connected to each other, which isn't too sharp (ie no-worky). I am struggling to see how you could have some reliable rotating contacts that maintain separation in a 90 degree swing like that in such a tiny space.

I always understood that part of the reason for the clunkiness of the UK plug was the requirement for a certain amount of insulator between 240V and your hand. Admittedly, bakelite and the early materials are inferior in this regard to current moulded plastics in their insulation properties so some downsizing has been possible (along with manufacturing ease) but I think the student in the example has suspended a certain amount of realism to produce this plug.

I just can't see how the wires could be connected to those pins and reliable maintain contact once rotated and yet maintain separation. Also, how adequate insulation to any existing Standard would be maintained with what looks like about 1mm of plastic.

I'd love it to work, and maybe it only needs a minor rethink and a less draconian target thickness than a Macbook Air, as I can see a chance at hitting those standards with it being about 5mm or so thicker. But the rotating parts at present have teeny, tiny spaces to fit sufficient wiring thickness to flow any sort of power.

As for:

Electric shower:
When you have such stringent wiring and earthing standards as the UK has, this is hardly an issue. I can imagine (having been gobsmacked by the near ubiquitous 2 pin plug arrangement in North America) how this would freak people out, but when you don't have crappy half arsed wiring and strict licensing of the electrical trade, you can allow different solutions. Google "UK electrical shower electrocution" and see how many issues there are. Paranoia. Nothing more.

The plugs in the UK are clunky and annoying. The ones in the US are MORE so, but don't hurt anywhere NEAR as much to stand on (as noted) with bare feet. Here's my opinion as to why:

1: They fall out of the damn wall every time you sneeze. Every time you step in the wire they jump out and/or damage the plug or socket half the time when they do. Bending the wires back is a regular task as they are so damn flimsy. By contrast, it's almost impossible to damage a UK plug accidentally.

2: 1 again, because it is so annoying.

3: Most of the wires stick straight out of the back of the plug so look crap. 90 deg outlet wires are surprisingly rare by comparison - this issue is compounded by issue 5.

4: They don't flow any current worthy of the name. It is SO frustrating, having grown up with a power supply with balls, trying to boil a kettle, run a heater, use a heat gun even, or several appliances on one outlet in the US/Canada. Toasters, also, are shite here by comparison. I had a very irritating period when I first got here with breakers constantly tripping and being confused as to why before I realised that if you want to run more than two things you need to use sockets across the room from each other (exaggeration, but you know what I mean).

5: The wiring in the houses and businesses are only just big enough to do the job. So you need extra, special, wiring even for a washing machine. In the UK, you just plug it in the wall and worry about the plumbing. The only thing with special wiring is a cooker/stove/oven.

5: Something I find enormously annoying is that you can't find (or I can't, anyway) plugs that you put on yourself. If I wanted to rewire a plug.... you can't, it seems. I wanted to change a plug on an appliance that had bent pins that I lost faith in as they looked ready to snap and were so buckled they were hard to use.... no clue where to get one from. They are all moulded poxy little things that mean you presumably have to replace the appliance if the plug shits out. Irritating.

6: Some plugs are directional, even without an earth, but are so close in size that it isn't that obvious which way the plug goes in. Fiddly and irritating.

However, plus points? Some of the chargers and associated products are awesome. The camera battery charger for my Canon is awesome, as it folds the pins in and is just a tiny rectangle to store. Similarly the Macbook power cord with lead extension is brilliant, and power strips being so much smaller are nice too. Somewhere between the two systems would be utopia.
posted by Brockles at 7:24 AM on November 5, 2009 [7 favorites]


So the Brits have basically the same plug for every appliance that Americans have for their hairdryers--with a built-in circuit breaker. The solution has led to the same mess that every country is in these days, but it was the right idea for the time and place it originated!

Speaking of hairdryers, Britain is (AFAIK) the only country in the world where building codes prohibit standard power sockets in bathrooms. (There are special low-power sockets, with just enough amps for a shaver or electric toothbrush, but not for a hairdryer.)
posted by acb at 7:26 AM on November 5, 2009


My first car was a 1972 Triumph Spitfire. I can not relate in words the feeling that comes to you as you drive down the highway at 100km/h, the car straining and shuddering, foot to the floor to maintain the speed, when all of a sudden, your dash bursts into flames and you enjoy the minature fireworks of an electrical fire.

British electrical engineering is truly a wonder.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:34 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


5: Something I find enormously annoying is that you can't find (or I can't, anyway) plugs that you put on yourself.

I'd attribute that to lack of effort.
posted by electroboy at 7:37 AM on November 5, 2009


UKians are amusingly frightened of electricity.

UKians, at least the student variety, are also amusingly bad at making toast without setting off fire alarms.
posted by pravit at 7:39 AM on November 5, 2009


I'd attribute that to lack of effort.

Really? Where are the standard domestic type plugs on that page?
posted by Brockles at 7:40 AM on November 5, 2009


Really? Where are the standard domestic type plugs on that page?

Here.

Here's a tutorial on how to replace a lamp cord, so you don't have to look for that either.
posted by electroboy at 7:53 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]



You can always spot the real British made stuff
Yup. USian here, bought a Hobbs tea kettle at a garage sale 14 yrs ago for $1. It had no cord, so we carved a US 3-way to accommodate the (only slightly) different spacing on the plug tines. That kettle rolls on, in use every single day, many (many) times per day. The element is actually IN the water too, so the water gets/stays hotter. I've seen the newer ones, and they pale in comparison.
posted by dbmcd at 8:41 AM on November 5, 2009



No one has mentioned Portable Appliance Testing yet


We had that at my UK university. You could buy a CD player, say, down the street, bring it back to the University, plug it in, and if they caught you they would confiscate it to make sure it was safe, then put a huge non-removable sticker on it. Same in hospitals - check your radio at the door. Maybe they should attack the unsafe appliance scourge at the source. It's just one of those eccentricities of the mother country -- like needing a licence to own a TV. I suspect that will be the 2nd amendment to any future written UK constitution:

A well domesticated Population being essential to the order and regulation of the Realm, the Right of the People to keep and watch Televisions shall not be infringed.
posted by Rumple at 8:57 AM on November 5, 2009


like needing a licence to own a TV.

I assume you know this, but for those who don't, it's not a license to own a TV. It's a license to watch broadcast television, and it funds the BBC.
posted by knapah at 9:14 AM on November 5, 2009


Yes I do realize that is where the money goes (and God Bless the Mother Corp), but it is nonetheless not a tax, nor a fee, but a licence to watch. Even spookier than a licence to own.
posted by Rumple at 9:36 AM on November 5, 2009


I assume you know this, but for those who don't, it's not a license to own a TV. It's a license to watch broadcast television, and it funds the BBC.

In other words, it's a licence to turn the TV on...

* * *

I share the concern that, nice as that folding plug design is, it may not be robust enough in practice. But it's sure going in the right direction, and I suspect that it is possible to produce a more 'portable version of the UK power plug.

* * *

True story - In grade nine our home room was the electrical shop. Every desk had an AC plug area, and a stand-alone ground terminal. One day I mentioned to my desk partner that there was 120 volts between the hot (black) side and the ground terminal (as per North American standard). The next day there was a honking big arc-burn on the ground post. My partner says "... you were right".

And that's the spirit that built this country!

posted by Artful Codger at 9:37 AM on November 5, 2009


And for those who don't know, they have little vans stuffed with electronics that cruise around the streets detecting unlicenced TV watching.
posted by Rumple at 9:39 AM on November 5, 2009


"Speaking of hairdryers, Britain is (AFAIK) the only country in the world where building codes prohibit standard power sockets in bathrooms."

Standard power outlets are prohibited in Canada too, you need to have GFCI. Razor outlets used to be allowed but "Low power" isn't really all that safe, a few dozen milliamps is all you need to stop your heart.
posted by Mitheral at 9:46 AM on November 5, 2009


"In other words, it's a licence to turn the TV on..."

No it isn't. For example if you use your TV strictly for viewing DVDs you do not need a license.
posted by Mitheral at 9:47 AM on November 5, 2009


In other words, it's a licence to turn the TV on...

No, no. You only need the license to receive broadcast and/or cable TV. If you're just using it for DVD-playing or game console purposes, for instance, you're fine. (Or so the licensing website tells me, anyway.)
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 9:47 AM on November 5, 2009


Fat chance you're going to convince the licensing man that you're never, ever, ever pulling signal from the air.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:20 AM on November 5, 2009


Fat chance you're going to convince the licensing man that you're never, ever, ever pulling signal from the air.

Good thing, then, that for you to be convicted he has to convince a magistrate's court that you are beyond a reasonable doubt.
posted by grouse at 10:39 AM on November 5, 2009


Wonderful one can get hauled to a magistrate's court for watching TV...
posted by Rumple at 10:56 AM on November 5, 2009


Fat chance you're going to convince the licensing man that you're never, ever, ever pulling signal from the air.

Good thing, then, that for you to be convicted he has to convince a magistrate's court that you are beyond a reasonable doubt.


Yeah, because it's totally reasonable to doubt that someone who owns a TV is ever going to watch any broadcast programming.
posted by The World Famous at 11:04 AM on November 5, 2009


I really can't believe they have such a clunky plug.

Most of the time it's really not a problem. It takes up a little more room; but it also doesn't get accidentally knocked out of the socket if you jiggle your feet under your desk.

As a UK-to-US transplant, it took me a fair while to stop seeing US sockets, plugs, extension cords etc as impossibly flimsy and dangerous.

The OP does note the biggest problem with the UK plug, which has really been exacerbated by the rise of portable electronics: it is a real pain in the computer satchel. It's not just that it's big; it's that it's big and spiky. It's a great design when it's plugged into the wall behind the TV; less so when you're carrying one around with you.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:26 AM on November 5, 2009


The burden of proof is on the licensing authority, and it's well-established that you need more than mere ownership of a TV to prove it.
posted by grouse at 11:28 AM on November 5, 2009


it's well-established that you need more than mere ownership of a TV to prove it

However, that doesn't stop TV Licensing from bombarding you with "you gotta licence for that TV, eh?" letters. (And they know you've got a TV, because retailers are required to inform TV Licensing when they sell you one.)

Detector vans are mostly a thing of the past; these days TVL's best revenue-collection tool is its databases.

The Wikipedia page Television licensing in the United Kingdom is pretty good on the legalities and the mechanics.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:43 AM on November 5, 2009


The burden of proof is on the licensing authority, and it's well-established that you need more than mere ownership of a TV to prove it.

That leads to a pretty compelling argument for not mentioning recent episodes of Mad Men in online discussions.
posted by The World Famous at 11:45 AM on November 5, 2009


that doesn't stop TV Licensing from bombarding you with "you gotta licence for that TV, eh?" letters. (And they know you've got a TV, because retailers are required to inform TV Licensing when they sell you one.)

From personal experience, they will bombard you with letters (where "bombard" means about one slightly threatening letter each month) even if you don't have a TV.
posted by grouse at 12:05 PM on November 5, 2009


We just wrote to them, told them we bought the TV for watching DVDs, playing console games, and to act as a computer monitor, and that we didn't even own an aerial cable and hadn't run the auto-tune feature, and they left us alone forever.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:31 PM on November 5, 2009


TVL's best revenue-collection tool is its databases

Although the database it uses is based on the Royal Mail database, which isn't necessarily accurate (my flat dropped off that database because no one ever answered the door on account of the buzzer being broken. So the post-person insisted it was listed as "Address Does Not Exist". Which means that if anyone sends something to me Special Delivery it gets turned back to the sender at the sorting office, and it was quite difficult to renew my mobile phone because some credit rating agencies use the same database).

I bought my TV license during a period when my address was on the database. However so is another permutation. I phoned them up and told them (I have a license but "reminders" sent to a slightly different address), and was told that it had been taken off and not to worry, but I still get threatening letters.

In other words the database is, as far as I can tell, a fucking mess.

Oh, and whatever your domestic arrangements, if your address is on the database, they'll bully you to get a license. Most people eventually give in.
posted by Grangousier at 12:51 PM on November 5, 2009


... like needing a licence to own a TV

You may be shocked to find out, but in the U.S. there is a tax just to live in your own house. I kid you not.
posted by JackFlash at 1:07 PM on November 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


Licence: A formal, usually a printed or written permission from a constituted authority to do something, e.g. to marry, to print or publish a book, to preach, to carry on some trade, etc.; a permit


The quibble in my head is with the term "licence" when what is really meant is "tax to support the BBC". I am glad that such a tax exists and wish we had something that raised money directly for the CBC. Mind you, UKians seem ok with creeping Orwellianism in the form of omnipresent cameras, "super injunctions" wherein even the application for a gag order can't be reported, and so forth so the notion of a "licence" to watch TV is something to which they are habituated. Lovely country but one with some slippery slopes.

You may be shocked to find out, but in the U.S. there is a tax just to live in your own house. I kid you not.

I would be, because I am not an American. That sounds outrageous. Tell me more about this heinous thing. Unless it called a property tax? "tax" "licence". Different things.
posted by Rumple at 2:07 PM on November 5, 2009


Mind you, UKians seem ok with creeping Orwellianism in the form of omnipresent cameras, "super injunctions" wherein even the application for a gag order can't be reported, and so forth so the notion of a "licence" to watch TV is something to which they are habituated. Lovely country but one with some slippery slopes.

Yes, most people in the UK do accept CCTV and TV licensing, however, most people were rather less impressed with the super injunction against the Guardian recently. Sadly, neither country (UK or US) is a perfect example of a free society.
posted by knapah at 2:24 PM on November 5, 2009


Yup. USian here, bought a Hobbs tea kettle at a garage sale 14 yrs ago for $1. It had no cord, so we carved a US 3-way to accommodate the (only slightly) different spacing on the plug tines. That kettle rolls on, in use every single day, many (many) times per day.

Is this a UK (240V) kettle being used in the US (at 110V)? How does that work? Are the heating elements in 240V and 110V kettles different to accommodate the voltage difference?

Also, are 110V and 220/240V lightbulb sockets of the same dimensions and electrical specification? If you buy a US lamp, can you use it in Europe if you get European bulbs, or vice versa?
posted by acb at 4:08 PM on November 5, 2009


Electric shower: When you have such stringent wiring and earthing standards as the UK has, this is hardly an issue.

Two problems.
  1. The person installing said wiring needs to actually follow those standards. Just having the standards is not, you may be surprised to learn, in any way indicitive that they're actually being followed.
  2. Electric water heaters exist in other countries. No, really! And (here's the real stickler) many of those countries don't have anything remotely approaching the strict standards of the UK.
Google "UK electrical shower electrocution" and see how many issues there are.

120,000 non issues, apparently.

Paranoia. Nothing more.

Nothing more indeed. Last link NSFW
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:24 PM on November 5, 2009


Er. Search results are not at all the same as issues. And what the's with your links? The only slightly relevant link is of an accident due to a badly installed shower....

As for the rest of the links..... What the fuck? Did you read any of them?
posted by Brockles at 5:38 PM on November 5, 2009


and to add a 6a to brockles's carefully modulated English rant: power bars. N America, frankly, wtf?! You can buy power bars that almost no standard plug will fit in, so you have to use every alternate socket. Trying to get wall-warts to fit just plain makes me stabby - gah!

(But I calm myself thinking of the beautiful 500kV project I'm working on - 10m minimum between the phases. Lahvely.)
posted by scruss at 7:13 PM on November 5, 2009


Craig Ferguson and Stephen Fry have fun with British stereotypes at a few points in this or the subsequent clip. Though they did forget to mention British plug and sockets.

And, really, you'd expect Craig to go there. He always does, that's the charm of the show: a wink and a nudge all the way.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:34 PM on November 5, 2009


Yes, most people in the UK do accept CCTV and TV licensing, however, most people were rather less impressed with the super injunction against the Guardian recently. Sadly, neither country (UK or US) is a perfect example of a free society.

Yes, but it has been rather startling how quickly Britain gave it all up. I fear my Canuck citizens would do the same. It's sheep to slaughter.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:43 PM on November 5, 2009


IIRC, the super injunction against the Guardian was one of hundreds issued in recent years but this is the only one to be reportable solely because there was a question tabled in Parliament. So I wouldn't feel too comforted by the reaction to that one - very much the tip of a silent, deadly iceberg at the heart of British democracy.
posted by Rumple at 10:47 PM on November 5, 2009


Do those CCTV cameras actually do anything? Every time I hear about them or see a screencap they look completely useless for identifying someone.

As far as TVs go, I wish it wasn't so outlandish to for a TV to just be a display. I want a 42" display. I don't need it to take signals out of the air. I don't need it to have a built in tuner. I don't need it to emit (crappy) sound. All these features presumably add bulk and cost, but if I want to find something without all that extra crap, I'm extremely limited in my options and they often cost more.

And another thing! (here we go) What the hell is with all these LEDs? Apparently it's so vital for me to know that my television is on while I'm watching it that I'm subjected to a piercing blue LED. The LED is often brighter than the picture on the screen. I've taken to covering all of my gadgets with electrical tape. I had to do this with the LOCK keys on my latest keyboard too. Is there a website or directory that keeps track of which devices and models lack LEDs or at least have an option to disable them?
posted by ODiV at 9:17 AM on November 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


I feel the same way about the blue LEDs that have become trendy as status indicators on all sorts of electronics.
posted by grouse at 9:19 AM on November 6, 2009


Five years ago, the TV Licensing people were very aggressive. Last couple of years, in my experience at least, they seem less so. When I moved into my current place, we just sent them one communication saying that we weren't using our TV to watch live broadcasts, and that was it; haven't heard from them since.
posted by chrismear at 9:26 AM on November 6, 2009


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