Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Americans! Beware of FOREIGN ELECTRICITY!

Radio Shack gets major props for having in stock, all the time, so I can waltz in 4 days before a cross-Atlantic flight and buy them, 85W Voltage Converters and Foreign Travel Outlet Adapters. Granted, it would be nice if the outlet adapters came by the singles and not just in $20 4-piece sets; if I'm going to England I'm not likely to make a side trip to "South America, the Caribbean, Canada, Japan, Korea, Mexico." I'd be more likely to want to buy extra U.K.-compatible two-prong adapters by the single. Still, they had them. I walked in and pulled 'em right off the rack. Kudos.

What Radio Shack gets less Kudos for is accuracy in writing.
Converts 220/240V foreign electricity to standard 110/120V
Oh noes! Beware of foreign electricity! You never know what those British electrons get up to! Keep yourself safe; convert them doggone foreign electricities into standard U.S. electricities! (Remember, you can tell they're American electrons by the itty bitty stars-and-stripes pins they wear on their lapels.)

Think about that. "Standard." To the extent that you'd grudgingly concede an objective definition, you might talk about the norm versus the rule, the majority versus the fringe. Radio Shack, however, talks about U.S. versus everyone else.
A majority of the world's countries use 220/240V electricity instead of the standard 110/120V used here in the States....
I am still trying to wrap my head around the idea that what the majority of the world's population does with their wiring isn't to be considered standard. I mean, as far as I can tell, us U.S. people are the weirdos with our 110/120V circuits, aren't we?
So, if you plug a North American appliance directly into a foreign outlet, it will be receiving twice the normal voltage....
OK, style points here for remembering that "American" doesn't equal "U.S." - but then revoke half those style points for forgetting that "North American" also doesn't equal "U.S.". That said, they're still correct, as far as my trip to Toronto last year went; you can plug a U.S. appliance into a Canadian outlet.

Note this. The Radio Shack Foreign Travel Outlet Adapter Set? Contains an adapter said to work in, remember, "South America, the Caribbean, Canada, Japan, Korea, Mexico".... Canada. Yes. I pulled out the Type A adapter, which Radio Shack thinks a U.S. citizen needs in order to plug their hairdryer into a Canadian outlet.

It's exactly the same as a U.S. 2-prong plug.

Tell me again why I paid $20 for a set including something that will turn my computer's plug into a plug indistinguishable from my computer's plug? Oh, yeah - because that was the only way Radio Shack would sell me adapters to allow me to plug my 6-plug power strip into a U.K. outlet.

This converter, however, cuts the foreign voltage in half, and provides a standard outlet like the ones back home for you to use.
Wait wait wait. Again with this misbegotten idea that U.S. equals "standard" even if the U.S. is the only one who does it, and--

--provides a standard outlet like the ones back home?

*takes a closer look at the voltage adapter*

Seriously! It does! There's a North American-style two-prong hole on the back. Why did I buy the plug adapter kit again?

*goes back to Radio Shack for a return and refund*

Belated note: OK, so the Voltage Converter will plug into a 2-prong U.K.-style outlet. The 4-adapter set is meant for use with this Voltage Converter; presumably it takes a U.K.-style 2-pronger and converts it to whatever prongs for wherever you are. Which makes sense if you're going somewhere not in the U.K. and need to convert to the plug shape of that country. But makes no sense for a U.S. citizen traveling to the U.K.; all they need is the voltage converter, I think.

(And now the presence of the Canadian-compatible adapter makes sense; there are other countries that use that shape but the higher voltage. So, what doesn't make sense is why they label it for use in Canada, where no step-down converter is needed at all.)

Yet another afterthought: OK, so, on more closely examining the prongs coming out of the voltage converter, I'm not 100% confident they fit any known country's wall outlets. They are a lot like the U.K. 2-pronger, but maybe slightly smaller...? So anyone buying the voltage converter has to buy the adapter set. Nice racket you got going there, Radio Shack!

I think I'm going to call J. B. Saunders and ask if they have U.S. ground to U.S. non-ground adapters. And honest to goodness U.S. to U.K. adapters for use with our 220/240V-tolerant laptops.

Continuing to think about this: So J. B. Saunders (and this website over here) are telling me that Radio Shack is totally lying when they label their Type B, 2-round-prongs European plug adapter as functional in the U.K. Apparently on the huge grounded monster works there. There is no "U.K.-style 2-pronger" as I've been bleating on about. For cryin' out loud, Radio Shack!

Off to J. B. Saunders to pick up two plain old U.S. to U.K. adapters and a U.S. ground to U.S. non-ground adapter. I hope.

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