The resourcefulness of the frequent traveling physicist September 12, 2008Posted by dorigo in physics.
Yesterday evening I got back at 9.30PM to Hotel Balladins, the place where I sleep when I am out to CERN, for my last night there. Upon sitting in front of my laptop for a few hours of work I realized with horror that the battery was empty. The problem was twofold. First, the outlets in the rooms at Hotel Balladins have a protruding ground pin; and second, the holes lie inside a circular fit which did not match at all with the US/Europe adaptor I happened to bring with me. In the picture on the right you can see the wall outlet and my useless square adopter, taken apart.
Now, you could well ask why on Earth had I forgotten to recharge the battery in my office, and why I had not brought with me the adapter I always have in my bag, which fits everywhere. I have no answers for you: it just happens sometimes to lose control of similar important details…
Anyway, back to the adapter and the outlet. There was absolutely no way to fit the two together, as I realized by taking apart my stupid square thingy. I had no screwdriver, no tools, nothing but some scotch tape and said adaptor. I was desperate for electric power, but it looked like I had no way out.
But then, I looked around. The rooms of Hotel Balladins are really Spartan: they have a small table with a chair, a minuscule cupboard, two single beds occupying 95% of the floor, and a 4’x4′ restroom with toiled and shower. There is one electric outlet in front of the table, another one in the restroom, and a third one where a TV hanging from the ceiling is plugged.
What to do ? I first unplugged the TV screen to see if I was lucky enough that the US-style plug of my power cord fit in. No way. So I went back to the adaptor. When I had taken it apart, I had noticed two thin pieces of copper, which provided electrical contact to the outer pins, and could be removed with no effort; you can barely see them in the picture above. In principle, I could use those metal pieces to create some electrical contact… But with no tools, the thing seemed desperate, as I realized after a few dangerous attempts.
In the end, however, moved more by the need for a computer than by the will to succeed, I found a way to fit the two plugs together. The arrangement involved a 90 degree matching, with the two copper elements fit inside one plug and bent as well as I could around the pins of the other. I finally solved a mechanical problem -some pressure was required to keep the thing together- by using a toothbrush and some scotch to make the whole assembly more solid. The handle of the brush is stuck between the ground pin and the other two, pressing the copper contacts enough to make the thing work.
Here is a more detailed view of the ugly but effective kludge. Now, in absolute terms, my “invention” is really a stupid thing that a child of five could put together (where are they, when you need them). However, I rather measure achievements by the benefit they provide, and I tend to assign more importance to yesterday’s assembly than most of the other spells of creativity I had during the entire week.