Note: This column represents the opinions
of the writer and as such, is not purported as fact|
It has been a wild and wet past 24 hours here.
the contents of Aardvark's "million-dollar ideas" notebook
are revealed for all to see!
The power has gone out and even when it's on there appear to be beefy
dips and surges on the line -- so large in fact that one particular voltage
spike took out my TV in an impressive cloud of smoke.
Even when the power is remotely stable, persistent thunder-storms have
forced me to unplug the modem for extended periods (which also explains
why this morning's column is late). If this one gets
killed by lightning that would increase my pile of dead modems to a total
Fortunately the 1KVA Siemens UPS that sits under my desk has (so far)
done a splendid job of keeping my two main PCs running -- but I discovered
that the cheap 600VA unit had a duff battery which gave my other PC a backup
life of about 45 seconds -- oh dear.
If you've got a good UPS and a generator then you can remain pretty much
immune to the effects of power surges, spikes, brownouts and failures -- but
dealing with large spikes coming down the phone line is a whole different
As my pile of dead modems will testify, it doesn't actually take much of
a lightning bolt to turn $200 worth of sophisticated communications hardware
into a useless lump of plastic and wire.
The problem is that when a large electrical discharge occurs, the magnetic
pulse produced causes a voltage to be induced in any wires that may be nearby.
This is very similar to the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that accompanies a
powerful nuclear explosion.
Although it is generally very brief, this induced voltage can be extremely
high. Unfortunately, it doesn't take an awful lot of voltage to punch
holes in the delicate electronics we're using in our modems and computers.
What's worse -- because our phone and power lines don't always take identical
routes to our homes, the effect of voltage spike produced by the lightning can be
greatly magnified when you have a device that is connected to both. Such devices
include modems, cordless phones, etc.
Of course the smarter amongst us will be using a lightning surge protector
on our modem lines -- but don't rely on these simple devices to protect
your gear. They may help with smaller spikes but they're certainly not
a guarantee against damage if the lightning is really close.
Here are some good rules of thumb for protecting your gear in the worst of
winter's thundery weather. When a thunder storm starts, or even looks
One fairly low-cost option (albeit you get what you pay for) is one of those
multi-way power boxes that have built in power and phone-line protection.
The Zap Catcher
is an example of this type of unit (albeit somewhat overpriced).
- Disconnect your modem from the phone line. Pull that plug right out!
- If you don't have to use your PC for anything else, turn it off and
pull the power plug from the wall.
- If you can afford it -- get a UPS. Even a cheap UPS is better than
nothing and should give you a modicum of surge protection along with
a few minutes of time to shut down your PC properly if the power goes out.
- Get a lightning protector for your phone line -- just in case you
don't realise that there's a storm coming. I lost one of my modems to
what was almost literally a "bolt out of the blue." The sun was shining
but a massive black cloud was looming overhead and a single bolt of lightning
was all it took.
- Use an external modem rather than an internal one. This helps ensure that
in the unfortunate event of a powerful lightning bolt nearby, the damage is
probably going to remain limited to the modem itself and not involve any of
the expensive bits inside your PC.
Of course the magnitude of this whole problem will be significantly reduced when
our houses and businesses are all fed by fibre-optic cable -- since this
means that the modems will only have connection to a single electrical circuit.
I just hope I don't run out of modems while I'm waiting.
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