Dan's Data letters #185Publication date: 24 May 2007.
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.
I read that house electric meters work by the Hall effect, not that I completely understand it but here is my question. I noticed if you hammer a pipe into the ground outside you can use this as a negative terminal, with the AC outlet as your positive terminal. Then you have power but the amperage is much lesser. Does this really bypass the house meter, since it's not using the AC outlet ground?
You're right, though - it is indeed possible to cheat the meter in a variety of ways. Sometimes people do this because they just don't want to pay for power, sometimes they do it because they don't want the very high power draw of the building in which they are growing a buttload of marijuana to be so obvious.
Some cheating techniques are very straightforward - like, for instance, just tapping the incoming power wires before they make it to the meter box. There are many other techniques, though.
Physically blocking the meter wheel from turning. Putting a big permanent magnet somewhere near the meter to interfere with its own magnetic field and slow it down. And, yes, weird tricks involving monkeying with the conductors.
Making your own earth won't work (house wiring in most countries has its own local ground-tied earth already, and the meter doesn't measure earth current anyway), but there are tricks that can be done in this area. Many of these techniques have been around for about as long as the meters have, and later model meters have lots of anti-tomfoolery mechanisms, beyond the obvious crimped lead seals and anti-tamper wires on everything.
You can pretty much bet on cunning electric or magnetic tricks of all sorts not working any more at best, and attracting rapid attention from the power company at worst.
One of the simple old techniques does still work, provided you've still got a simple analogue meter: Just bypass the meter altogether with a separate piece of cable. This strategy is also used by people who want to steal piped gas.
Needless to say, bypassing your gas meter with a length of garden hose is a pretty good way to one day explode your house, but it's perfectly possible to do the bypass trick very safely. Most people who do it do not do it safely, though.
None of this is very helpful, of course, if the meter reader notices. Concealing tricks like this so that meter readers don't notice is a whole other problem.
Note that your own breaker box is also not the only place where power consumption's measured. The power company monitors consumption quite closely, and are apt to notice if one house suddenly drops to zero (or just drops a lot, if your bypass has enough resistance that a reasonable amount of current still passes through the meter).
If the power company suspects you've been cheating, and all of your neighbours haven't been cheating too, then they can just see how much power the nearest metered substation has delivered to you and your neighbours, subtract everybody else's amounts, and see if the remainder matches what you've paid for. If not, they will of course bill you for that remainder, plus interest and penalties, at the very least.
Note that if you've got a new-style digital power meter, you've got pretty much no chance at all of getting away with any shenanigans for even a day. Apart from being less trickable in the first place, new meters frequently also have backchannel communication with the power company. So just disconnecting the meter so you don't fry yourself while you rig your jumper-cable bypass will be noticed. And if the meter then comes back up and says you're drawing much less power, you're likely to get a visit from a man in a van in the near future.
If that man does not see a whole lot of new solar panels on your roof, your immediate future is likely to be miserable.
I have a problem in my area, Illinois, with hard water. My house uses a septic tank for waste "management". Most systems that are sold incorporate salt in the process to eliminate scale from the water that is harmful to a septic system, but there are magnetic versions (like this), too. I can't find a reliable source of info on whether they work, though.
Is there any way magnetic systems can do anything to the water passing through them?
Magnetic water softeners are total bollocks. They're an utter waste of money.
Oddly enough, there's actually some evidence to suggest that magnetic treatment systems for recirculating liquids have some benefit. Personally, I think the supporting evidence is likely to turn out to be experimental error and/or fraud, but evidence it still, currently, is.
(And, obviously, things like magnetic sump plugs in engine lubrication systems, to scavenge shavings out of the oil, are worthwhile. That's not what we're talking about here, though.)
Magnetic treatment systems for once-through applications - fuel lines, household water pipes - are crap. No remotely persuasive evidence for their usefulness has ever been presented. They'd be marvels of innovative physics if they did do anything.
I talk about this in passing in my review of the fantabulous Wine Clip.
In case you haven't seen it, this woman can apparently "feel" Wi-Fi, like a poison cloud. It feels like being prodded with a thousand fingers, apparently.
And a nice quote from the tinfoil hatters at the bottom:
"We've been inundated by calls from people who know this is affecting them, but in many cases are wary of speaking out. The telecommunications companies pour scorn, but none of them has been able to prove wi-fi is safe."
Yes, I did read that, back when it was new and Keith e-mailed me about it (this letter sat on the to-be-used pile for ages, until recent developments reminded me of it). And, as usual, I immediately thought "Wow, another potential winner of James Randi's million dollars!"
Or, as Bob Park points out, she might, just barely perhaps, be neurotic.
She'd only win the Randi Challenge if, of course, she could actually perceive the radio waves. Not if she detected that an access point (or whatever) was on by more mundane means.
Lots of people can, for instance, tell if an ordinary standard definition CRT television set is on without seeing it, because they can hear the 15-point-something-kilohertz whine it makes.
As the scaremongers say, nobody has been able to prove that wireless networking is safe. Other negatives that can't be proved include the notion that Clarins' magic volcanic face spray won't protect you from electromagnetic radiation of all kinds (no, that product is not a joke), and that there is no dragon in Carl Sagan's garage.
While it is not generally possible to prove a negative, one certainly can weigh up the evidence and conclude that, so far as we can see, there's no reason to suppose that Smaug is hanging out in anybody's garage, or that low level 802.11-type radiation actually does do anybody any harm.
People have, conveniently, been exposed to much higher levels of microwave radiation on many, many occasions. Even radiation in exactly the same 2.4GHz band as WiFi uses, thanks to the existence in the world of many leaky microwave ovens.
1. Ghastly illnesses, in the case of very high levels of exposure, as happens when someone turns on a military search radar while a technician's working on it, or microwaves their baby. You certainly can detect the energy, in that case; the first thing you'll feel is strangely warm.
2. No detectable harm at all, in the case of low level exposure, even when it's chronic (restaurant workers in a kitchen with a leaky microwave, for instance).
There is some in vitro evidence of DNA damage to cells exposed to low levels of microwave radiation. There is much more evidence that contradicts these findings, and we have excellent evidence that exposure to alarmingly high levels of radio frequency energy - even to the point of physical harm like RF burns - does not predispose one to contract cancer, or indeed any other disease.
The precautionary principle is all very well, but it depends upon a realistic estimate of the risk posed by the thing against which you're considering taking precautions.
Seeing as you seem to be particularly good at, at take particular delight in, debunking various ridiculous theories and hoaxes I was just curious as to what your take is on the information presented at waterpoweredcar.com. In particular the information on DIY "hydrogen boosters" and the statistics regarding their alleged results?
I find it hard to believe this kind of technology, if it is so cheap and easy to implement, is not in incredibly widespread use but thought I might seek the opinion of a smarter mind than my own.
It is, to a first approximation, a bunch of bollocks.
I've mentioned hydrogen injection systems before; they can do something, but should not be expected to do much. Real hydrogen power systems also exist, though they're not terribly exciting - see this column.
The usual "water powered car" claims, in contrast, are utter hogwash. You can't power a car with electrolytically split hydrogen generated on-board without being able to get better results by using the energy you would have used to crack the water to drive the car directly. All of these systems purport to extract energy from the water itself for free, with varying strings of techno-gibberish used to explain how they do it. Not a one of them actually works, unless "works" is taken to mean "fools people into giving money to a scam artist" or "keeps busy a backyard tinkerer who's sure he'll get the miracle device built from Internet plans to work next weekend".
By definition, the most energy you can possibly get from combusting electrolytically cracked water is the same amount of energy you used to crack it. For the same reason, you should not expect that when you break open your piggy bank you'll find more money than you put into it. This concept, however, continues to be considered too depressing to be true by an awful lot of people, and grifters down the ages have been happy to part those people from their money.
I'm not sure whether you've covered this amazing water fueled car.
It was on Fox, so it must be true!
The depressing thing is how these same scams keep coming around again, and again, and again, and again. They are, invariably, a quick-fire mix of well-known facts and complete lies.
This "HHO" idea, also known as "Brown's Gas", involves the notion that water, if electrolysed in a special way, can give you a mystic mix of hydrogen and oxygen that can do all sorts of amazing things beyond just burn to give you back almost as much energy as you put in to split it.
To address some of the specific claims in the video:
A hydrogen-oxygen flame does not "feel only slightly warm to the touch". Yes, you can wave your fingers through any hot gas flame, but if you leave them in it then it will burn the hell out of you.
Oxyhydrogen torches are well-understood tools. Jewellers use little ones all the time; those small torches are often referred to as "water torches", because they do indeed run on just water and electricity, so you don't need to buy bottled gas. Though you obviously do need more electricity input than you're going to get heat output from the flame.
Oxyhydrogen does give a hot flame, but you don't need that hot a flame unless you want to fuse silica or something. Since you can pack much more heat worth of the denser acetylene into a given cylinder, people keep using acetylene for most large gas welding and cutting applications.
(Oxyhydrogen flames are also very hard to see, which can pose certain practical problems.)
There's nothing in the video to indicate a "very unique electrolysis process" is happening. Patents mean nothing about the truth of extraordinary claims made for a device or process; you can patent pretty much any old crap, as long as nobody else has patented the same thing already. And these particular God-damned stupid extraordinary claims about electrolytic magic keep coming up over and over again.
When Denny Klein says he ran his car on four ounces of water for a hundred mile trip (though, as a reader's pointed out, he hedges his bets by saying that the car can run on water but right now he's running it as a "hybrid", apparently because he enjoys wasting money), he is engaging in an activity which we experts refer to as "lying".
(I've talked about car-on-water-via-hydrogen schemes before, here.)
If this jackass was proudly displaying his newly invented and remarkable "la-ser", or pocket calculator, or cordless drill, people would call him on it, because they know those things already exist. Oxyhydrogen torches are a bit specialised, though, so you can spin a line of bull about them and be believed. Well, provided you stay well away from any scientists or proper journalists, of course.
What's your take on Daytime Running Lights? I think this guy's a loon, but maybe I'm missing something.
Here's his Case Against DRLs.
I find most of his argument suspect, and while I agree that more research may be needed to optimize DRLs, I'm sure his view of the moon landings and the 9/11 attacks is far different from mine. "Follow the money..." comments don't bode well for many discussions.
Bill Gates [probably not the famous one]
I didn't even know DRLs existed until now, but have of course now turned myself into an expert with ten minutes of research.
Yes, it does seem to be goofy to put high brightness always-on lights on the front of a car. I was initially confused about what DRLs actually were, but I now know they're forward-facing lights that are, at minimum, a few times as bright (in the forward direction) as the normal "front position lamps" that you illuminate (generally) with the first click on the headlight-switch stalk.
(Volvos have, of course, had always-on position lamps for decades. They're not nearly bright enough to be annoying.)
On the other hand, full high beam headlights during the day are not terribly glare-y, and the half-brightness high beams that seem to be the most extreme DRL option are less annoying again. I don't doubt that it's irritating to have even mild high beams shone at you by lots of passing cars (especially if they're SUVs and you're in a normal car), and I'm sure they also have some small impact on fuel consumption, but I do doubt either of those things is worth worrying about.
And yet here are these anti-DRL campaigners, in at least the UK as well as the USA. They do indeed seem to think that this is a Big Problem and worthy of their time.
They don't seem to have any strong arguments against DRLs, though, except for saying that they're unnecessary. I don't think the "follow the money" idea holds up, unless they think this is some conspiracy by the light bulb industry, or something.
The idea that car manufacturers want to add useless "safety" devices to their vehicles to attract buyers is just plain stupid. Everybody knows that safety doesn't sell. For every buyer you attract with curtain airbags and seatbelt pre-tensioners, there are 10 that're more impressed by mag wheels and a spoiler. What, still, is the average dude's opinion of Volvos? "Super-safe dorkmobiles", right?
There are a lot of things contributing to the forty-something-thousand deaths every year on US roads, but I doubt DRLs are, or ever will be, a significant factor.
My mother has purchased an Electro-Physio-Feedback-Xrroid device.
She likes to cram this "bioenergetics" stuff down my throat (and everybody else's) and in all honesty, I'm tired of it. I think she has totally wasted her money on this load of crap - all $14,000 of it!!!!!
I would love to send the EPFX to you so you can pull it apart and tell me what it actually does, however, there is probably little chance that I could get near it with a screwdriver.
If you do manage to get hold of one and find out how it works (if at all), please let me know. I am really keen to know what my inheritance is being pissed away on.
Your mother has, of course, been royally reamed.
If she follows the usual trajectory of people who actually buy these things for themselves (as opposed to the people who buy into the QXCI multilevel marketing scam, in which you only buy things with the intention of selling them on at a profit), she will hotly defend the people who are ripping her off, and will do almost anything to avoid removing these leeches from her body.
The very name of the Quantum Xrroid Consciousness Interface is, I think, another of those things that's specially engineered to filter out potential customers who have any critical thinking skills. I mean, seriously. "Quantum Xrroid"? Shouldn't that be one of the bad guys in a C-64 shoot-em-up?
Anyway, the QXCI has been around for decades. It's never been shown to do anything. Its inventor has a long list of made-up qualifications.
I would like to point out that amid all of the scams claiming increased mileage and better performance, there is actually a company out there making a product that works.
Oxonica's fuel-borne catalyst, Envirox, increases diesel fuel economy and reduces CO2 emissions. It's made from nanoparticles of Cerium Oxide (a catalyst), which alter the combustion profile to produce a more complete burn.
They had a successful year-long trial with Stagecoach, and recently signed a deal with Petrol Ofisi A.S., the leading national oil company in Turkey, to provide their product for use across the nation.
Whether it's cost-effective or not remains to be seen...
(I have no affiliation - just an interest in the technology.)
Their "promotional literature" section has some good information about Envirox.
Whatever this stuff does, catalytic combustion enhancement isn't it. Modern diesels, like modern petrol engines, already burn very nearly all of their fuel. No significant gains can be made in this area.
What Oxonica's Envirox page, and the press release reproduced here, actually claim is that their "catalyst" smooths out the combustion process, so that less combustion happens while the piston is still rising.
This, however, means the substance in question cannot actually be a combustion "catalyst", because a catalyst reduces the energy needed for initiation of a chemical reaction, or at least accelerates the reaction (automotive catalytic converters allow undesirable combustion products to combust further, to less hazardous compounds, at lower than the usual temperature).
Actual catalytically enhanced combustion would happen when the fuel-air charge was less compressed, making the combustion-before-top-dead-centre problem worse, not better.
Oxonica keep banging on about "independent, internationally recognised laboratories" that've verified their claims, but as bloody usual, they will not so much as name these "laboratories", much less make the results available for download.
They do have a password protected part of their site, though. Perhaps the evidence is in there. And perhaps it isn't. Why on earth should it be secret?
The only actual evidence on the Oxonica site is their bus case study, and even that isn't really actually on the site - all you get is a very brief summary. And their product, even then, is only claimed to give a thoroughly un-thrilling 6% fuel economy gain.
Greater "gains" than that have been revealed in poorly controlled tests of various useless pseudoscientific talismans. This supports the null hypothesis that, as usual, this is one of those things that has less and less "effect" the better you control the experiment.
I don't even know how many of these sorts of companies have risen and fallen over the years. Some of them manage to get a deal with one or another large fleet of vehicles. Large fleets of vehicles are seldom managed by scientists, so this does not mean much.
I'm ready to be proved wrong, but at the moment, Oxonica look like just another one among many.
As you seem to have the best BS detector on the Net and also seem to have a slight thing for batteries, you may like this one:
This is, of course, a joke. And, I'd venture, a pretty good one.
The same guy's done several other hoax videos, including the one that had countless dorks signing in and out of GMail zillions of times to try to get a nonexistent Google TV beta invite.
Note that if you actually click 9V batteries together in the way he seems to have done close to the end of the clip, you can rapidly make yourself a quite high voltage device. Click together nine, as he has, and the ends of the chain will give you an 81V tingle if you touch them, with enough current capacity to do you significant harm.
(A friend of mine has also created emergency hand-warmers by clicking two 9Vs together in a short circuit.)
Oh, and if you liked that video, allow me to highly recommend "Look Around You", a spot-on and very weird parody of high school science videos.