Losing the Neutral Conductor

This one came across my social media timeline this morning (edited a bit):

I came home on Friday, an hour before we had a birthday party planned. There was a cable company guy who came over and asked if I was the home owner. He did not explain the problem very clearly and became very frustrating but in short, he saved our house from burning down.

He shut down the Internet and told us to shut down the electricity. Apparently the neutralizing wire that runs under ground was not working causing brown outs and power shortages. The smell of electrical fire was heavy in the house.

We managed to have a great party despite the problems. The output caused a shortage in the hot tub and pool. We have no refrigeration or dishwasher along with a few other things that burned out. Last night, we found a power strip that had really burned out with burn marks on the floor. As he moved it, the same electric burn smell filled the room.

Through it all God spared us big. We are still without a refrigerator but at least the stove works.

What happened was that this home lost the neutral conductor from the utility to the service entrance. Without that neutral, there’s no return path except for the safety ground, which is often substandard or high impedance (~25 ohms). The result: Phase-Phase voltages (such as used for an electric stove, water heater, or electric dryer) are fine, but Phase-Neutral voltages can be anywhere from 0 VAC to 240 VAC.

So yes, things blow up, burn, etc. and often in a bad way (high current but not a dead short, so not enough to trip breakers). The “power strip with burn marks on the floor” is typical as internal surge suppressors / MOVs overheat, not because of short term transients, but because of prolonged, sustained AC overvoltage.

Oftentimes this sort of situation has some warning signs: lights dimming or brightening as appliances switch on and off, light bulbs failing prematurely. One online board reports:

When i turned the oven on, the fan went back to normal, the lights normal.  The 240v load
apparently balanced the system.

Sadly, a lot of electricians and utility workers are not that well versed in this sort of issue. From the same message board:

So i get on the horn with the power company.  They come out, and basically look at what i’m experiencing and the first thing the guy does is pull the meter.  Then he measures the voltages on the incoming legs.  All is equal.  Then he tells me the problem must be on the inside.  Puts the meter back in and the imbalance returns.  “yep , he says, problem is on your side”.


Spreadsheet Automation

We’ve spent some time recently putting together a spreadsheet for a client to review advance reservations for a local Dinner Train. It is intended to help management and marketing look down the road to fine-tune marketing and social media efforts.

The magic is the use of templates and macros – the spreadsheet is designed to quickly and easily import data obtained from an eCommerce platform (Shopify), and with the push of a button, to sort, filter, and copy the data so that the charts are automatically produced – in less than a minute, and by users who are not spreadsheet gurus.

Dinner Train Instructions

Step-by-step instructions embedded into the spreadsheet to ensure non-expert users and/or new users can work with the spreadsheet.

We set the spreadsheet and graphs up just once – and through macros, paste new data into the spreadsheet, so that the graphs are updated and ready for use without touching them at all.

DT Spring 10May16B

DT Spring 10May16C

DT Spring 10May16D

Just one of our many skills and services – if you have data that you’re having trouble making good use of, or are spending too much time on repetitive tasks to get your data into useful form, give us a shout. A few hours of work setting up an automated spreadsheet can yield huge savings down the road.

Meet the new boss…..

Siemens Healthcare Becomes Siemens Healthineers

We’ve been working with Siemens since 2001. Somewhere along May 2009, we transitioned reports and templates from being branded as Siemens Medical Solutions to Siemens Healthcare. So I suppose it’s about time for a bit of rebranding. Pretty minor change for us (the word “Healthcare” appears a grand total of 2x in the report templates we start from.

The new name embodies the company’s pioneering spirit and engineering expertise in the healthcare industry. It is unique and bold and gives a new identity to the organization and to the people – the people accompanying, serving and inspiring healthcare providers worldwide – the people behind outstanding products and solutions.

Makes me think of Walt Disney and the Imagineers (I’ve recently watched a PBS biography of Uncle Walt).

Day Out with Thomas 2016

I’ve spent a few hours each of the past three weekends riding herd on social media and eCommerce for my clients down in Essex as they have hosted Thomas the Tank Engine.

Kind of remarkable how Instagram has become the go-to social media platform – we had our fair share of check-ins on Facebook and a few posts – but scores of Instagram photos – wonderfully annotated, tagged, liked, and commented.

Instagram Sunday 1May16C

Trigger warning for cuteness, face-painting, kids in firetrucks, looking giddily terrified on the gentlest of carnival rides, and of course, Thomas, Percy, and Sir Topham Hatt – https://www.instagram.com/explore/locations/97569397/