Saturday, February 08, 2014

How to avoid triggering the circuit breaker

Heard the following story from a colleague at Amazon:

This happened during the time I was at Amrita University. Back then the hostels did not have power sockets. This was the time when cellphones and laptops were beyond the reach for most Indian students. One day some guy managed to get his hands on an electric heater and wanted to cook in the hostel. Some searching led the guys to a socket in the corridor. Switched on the heater. There was a pop sound somewhere down the corridor and no power for that entire wing. These would be engineers soon figured out that the circuit breaker was getting triggered by the high current drawn.

Ordinary folks would think better and shut down the heater. But there was this one guy (name withheld for obvious reasons) who had this great idea. He proudly told that he will "fix" the circuit breaker. He went down the corridor and asked the guys to switch on the heater. This time there was no "pop" noise. The power went off for the entire wing. And there was a burnt smell.

Turns out that the fix was to hold the circuit breaker to the top contact and not let it "trip" (disconnect). The high load just burnt out the wires instead. No electricity for these guys for a week.

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