Author Topic: Electricity is Weird  (Read 1062 times)

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Offline WhiteStorm

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Electricity is Weird
« on: February 22, 2013, 12:04:03 pm »
Was going to put this in tech but it ended up more generic storytelling, so meh.


There was a pretty powerful storm here the night before last (or at least, early morning on thursday). I was just waking up after like 2 hours of sleep, with a bit of light scattered around, some dogs barking, when out of nowhere quite the earth-shattering kaboom shut them all up as lightning... appeared. I'd say 'struck' but it may not actually have touched ground for all I know. Sadly I missed seeing it, but the noise was so sudden and loud it was plainly very close. For all the storms I end up in (not on purpose, it just happens) there's been maybe once or twice before it was ever that loud.

Normally nothing really happens as a result of storms. The electricity to this house (area?) is abjectly terrible so we've got loads of UPSes and surge protectors for everything valuable. This time I noticed the internet was dead, but the router displayed some message about losing the connexion and was still itself on, so I figured it was an issue with the line (note the router was hooked up to power and the phone line via an UPS/surge-protector). Got some tea and went back to bed, as it had started raining heavily a few moments after that crack of thunder, and thunder/rain make me sleepy.

Woke up again later and checked... still no connexion. I decided that the router was lying since the phones worked, and told it to restart, then went to get something to eat. The suggested 2 minutes passed without the router being accessible from my computer. ~15 minutes or so later there was still no sign of it, which is weird, so I went to have a look. UPS was fine, no fuses killed or anything, computer there receiving power. Only the power light on the router was on. Guessing something had screwed up, I picked it up intending to unplug it, and found it about warm enough to cook toast on. On the outside. Still, tried to reset it via deprivation of power anyway, but then even that light never came back on. Totally dead.

About this time I was told that a radio around here decided during the storm that it will never turn off again. You can unplug it to make it die, but the 'off' switch (well, it's a button) no longer works. Bear in mind this radio is probably almost - if not actually - older than I am, for whatever that's worth (24). Also, the blue LED and fan in the side-panel of an old PC I built which was then near the router and using the same UPS had stopped working. The rest of the computer was fine (I think).

Later that day, my Intel CPU in a laptop seemed to have stopped using its 'Turbo Boost' after I restarted it for updates. That kinda sucked, so I went into the BIOS settings looking for things related to it. I got it to show up on the monitor-program again (Intel has some minor application to monitor the boost) but even in games where I was CPU-bound it wasn't going on all the way. Couldn't think of anything I'd changed that would cause that, but just to be sure, I reset to defaults in the BIOS options, then selected just a few settings I'd been using for months without issues.

I left it to restart and went to get food/tea (I forget which - maybe both). When I came back, the power was on, lights and such were on, but the screen was black. CPU light was blinking slowly, and some fan was revving up and going quiet, over and over. Meh. Restarted again in case I missed anything, but that was it: not even BIOS loading. I figured that probably ruled out the hard drives, video card, etc. I considered the screen itself being dead but then... the steady blink of the CPU light, the revving fan, and the fact that the CPU had been why I was here in the first place suggested otherwise. Oh - and I remembered the external screen, plugged in and sitting right next to it, which would have started displaying things if I made it to the whole 'windows' stage of this exercise.

So I took the thing apart and grabbed the hard drives, because I'm not buying another CPU and/or motherboard for a laptop just in the hope it turns out to be the (only) dead component.


Fast-forward to this evening, and I've set up this netbook temporarily. I took the older PC apart to fix that fan, but I noticed it said '12V' on it and decided to hold the wires to a car battery. It was a bit spluttery due to my holding it there, but it began to glow blue and spin, so I decided the problem lay elsewhere. I followed the cable to the motherboard... but accidentally moved the wrong one and disabled the power switch (lol). This is what you get for not labelling components' default wires when they follow roughly the same path, and come with different instances of the same colour combination.

Anyway, after putting that back and tracing the real wire to the front of the case (a part I'd never opened, it was all default) I opened that up and had a look inside. Then traced it again, and again, and again, getting better lights each time to be sure I hadn't got the wrong one again. But I hadn't.

As it turns out, these two little wires, which have been powering this fan and LED for years - and with no assistance I might add - lead away from the fan, into the front of the case, branch into two sets of two, and connect to two clear pieces of plastic. Each of these is connected to a larger, silvery square which I thought to be metal, but upon closer inspection is also plastic. Those attach to the case... and only the case.

My only theory, after staring at this setup for literally hours, is that it... gathers... ambient electricity, somehow. Or rather, it did for about 5-6 years, and now - for reasons I don't even begin to understand - it has run out.

I think tomorrow I might just try plugging the fan into an actual power source, if I can find a suitable plug... or even cut off an unsuitable plug and bind the wires. If it fries the fan, well, it won't be any less useful.
-I still can't think of anything.

Offline Foxpup

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Re: Electricity is Weird
« Reply #1 on: February 22, 2013, 08:53:12 pm »
There was a pretty powerful storm here the night before last (or at least, early morning on thursday). I was just waking up after like 2 hours of sleep, with a bit of light scattered around, some dogs barking, when out of nowhere quite the earth-shattering kaboom shut them all up as lightning... appeared. I'd say 'struck' but it may not actually have touched ground for all I know. Sadly I missed seeing it, but the noise was so sudden and loud it was plainly very close. For all the storms I end up in (not on purpose, it just happens) there's been maybe once or twice before it was ever that loud.
Well, there's your problem! Surge protectors provide no protection whatsoever against direct lightning strikes. This is why you're supposed to unplug everything from your power and phone lines during a storm. If almost everything that was plugged in is now dead or not working right, there's nothing weird about that, and not much you can do about it except call your insurance company.

UPS was fine, no fuses killed or anything, computer there receiving power.
Don't bet on it. Fuses (and breakers) protect against continuous overcurrent, to prevent the wires from melting and starting a fire. They will not always (or even usually) blow during a damaging power surge - that's simply not what they're designed for. You say your computer's receiving power, yet the fan doesn't come on despite there being absolutely nothing wrong with it? Either your UPS is putting out insufficient voltage, or everything that was plugged in to it was fried by a power surge. Either way, it doesn't look good for your UPS. You should get it checked.

About this time I was told that a radio around here decided during the storm that it will never turn off again. You can unplug it to make it die, but the 'off' switch (well, it's a button) no longer works. Bear in mind this radio is probably almost - if not actually - older than I am, for whatever that's worth (24).
Coincidence. The button just happened to wear out during the storm, as buttons in old radios tend to do.

Also, the blue LED and fan in the side-panel of an old PC I built which was then near the router and using the same UPS had stopped working. The rest of the computer was fine (I
think).
Sounds like your PSU and/or UPS is toast. Plug your computer directly into the mains, and if still doesn't work, replace the PSU.

As it turns out, these two little wires, which have been powering this fan and LED for years - and with no assistance I might add - lead away from the fan, into the front of the case, branch into two sets of two, and connect to two clear pieces of plastic. Each of these is connected to a larger, silvery square which I thought to be metal, but upon closer inspection is also plastic. Those attach to the case... and only the case.

My only theory, after staring at this setup for literally hours, is that it... gathers... ambient electricity, somehow. Or rather, it did for about 5-6 years, and now - for reasons I don't even begin to understand - it has run out.
Who built this PC again? :P
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Offline WhiteStorm

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Re: Electricity is Weird
« Reply #2 on: February 23, 2013, 12:18:52 am »
Well, there's your problem! Surge protectors provide no protection whatsoever against direct lightning strikes. This is why you're supposed to unplug everything from your power and phone lines during a storm. If almost everything that was plugged in is now dead or not working right, there's nothing weird about that, and not much you can do about it except call your insurance company.

It wouldn't have mattered much, that strike was the first one I noticed anyway. Usually they're audible for quite a while before they get so close, but I guess this lot just began here. That's not what I find strange though: it's that a lot of things actually didn't have any issues at all, and some that did seem unlikely candidates for 'most sensitive to fluctuations in power'. The radio might have been coincidental, but it would be quite a good one, to happen during such a sudden and brief storm (for reference, the lightning had all stopped by the time I was restarting the router).

I don't insure electronics though, they're out of date so fast anyway, and it might prevent me from messing around with them. The money I'm not spending on insurance just lets me replace the ones that get old or dead.

Don't bet on it. Fuses (and breakers) protect against continuous overcurrent, to prevent the wires from melting and starting a fire. They will not always (or even usually) blow during a damaging power surge - that's simply not what they're designed for. You say your computer's receiving power, yet the fan doesn't come on despite there being absolutely nothing wrong with it? Either your UPS is putting out insufficient voltage, or everything that was plugged in to it was fried by a power surge. Either way, it doesn't look good for your UPS. You should get it checked.

That fan specifically: the others in that computer, and the rest of the machine, work fine (with or without the UPS). I'd be less surprised if there were more issues, it just seems like a peculiar array of things to stop working. There's also another desktop which was apparently completely unaffected.

Sounds like your PSU and/or UPS is toast. Plug your computer directly into the mains, and if still doesn't work, replace the PSU.

The other components still work. The fan (and LED inside the fan - it's transparent) is just an intake on a removable side panel in the case. The fan for venting air still works (and isn't powered so magically) as do the ones on specific components.

Who built this PC again? :P

Strangely enough this fan, its wiring, and the bizarre thing it's hooked up to were all default in the case (when I talk about labelling the wires, it's because some from that same 'bunch' are things to plug into the MB).
-I still can't think of anything.

Offline Foxpup

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Re: Electricity is Weird
« Reply #3 on: February 23, 2013, 01:47:34 am »
That fan specifically: the others in that computer, and the rest of the machine, work fine (with or without the UPS). I'd be less surprised if there were more issues, it just seems like a peculiar array of things to stop working. There's also another desktop which was apparently completely unaffected.
So would I, but there's obviously absolutely nothing wrong with the fan if it works when you connect it to a known good power supply (such as a car battery). It's definitely a problem with the PSU.
“Hmm... They have the Internet on computers now.” - Homer Simpson

“Art doesn't work without pain. Art exists for compensating pain.” - Till Lindemann

“There's a fine line between sayings that make sense.” - Too Much Coffee Man

Offline WhiteStorm

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Re: Electricity is Weird
« Reply #4 on: February 23, 2013, 03:42:02 am »
That fan specifically: the others in that computer, and the rest of the machine, work fine (with or without the UPS). I'd be less surprised if there were more issues, it just seems like a peculiar array of things to stop working. There's also another desktop which was apparently completely unaffected.
So would I, but there's obviously absolutely nothing wrong with the fan if it works when you connect it to a known good power supply (such as a car battery). It's definitely a problem with the PSU.

The fan in question is the one which hasn't (until now) been directly connected to the PSU. Going over the wires (for the n'th time) again in the morning I still couldn't figure out how it had been drawing power from wires connecting to plastic, connecting to other plastic, connecting to the case... so I just liberated a spare power cable from where I'd taped it away in the corner years ago, and connected it to that.

Now that it is connected to the PSU it works fine. The part... system... thing... which actually broke, as far as I can tell, should never have worked in the first place.
-I still can't think of anything.

Offline redyoshi49q

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Re: Electricity is Weird
« Reply #5 on: February 23, 2013, 05:01:41 pm »
Since the thread of conversation has been on the technical side, I moved the thread to Tech Talk.
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