Surge suppressors

Robert G. Brown rgb at
Sat Nov 2 03:28:16 PST 2002

On Fri, 1 Nov 2002, Jim Lux wrote:

> >This is why I still just don't understand permitting a 15 A receptacle
> >on a 20 A branch, where an 19 A sustained accidental overload (caused by
> >e.g. a partial short circuit) could burn the receptacle without blowing
> >the breaker.
> I think the "credible fault" is a massive overload.. a "listed" device 
> shouldn't be able to develop a partial short of 19A...

I can hear Mr. Murphy laughing hysterically at that notion, standing on
the ashes of everybody killed in electrical fires that "should" have
been prevented by a code nobody is permitted to read without paying for
it, in premises where there is no guarantee that the occupants know how
to read. Building inspectors and code can sanely be applied to the
entire process of wiring a premise, but once ignorant consumers move in,
especially into ordinary households uninspected ever by fire marshalls,
and start plugging stuff in then all bets are off.

I think household wiring code makes too many assumptions and is too
permissive as it is.  I think that all breakers should be GFCI.  I think
14 gauge wire should not be used in households even for short runs.  I
think a safe circuit is one that cannot be made to smoke inside the
walls no matter what you plug into it in the room, including a partially
shorted electrical space heater (which can easily develop interpolant
overloads like 19A).  Nothing, of course, can stop somebody from
plugging a KW room heater into a lamp extension cord, but at least the
fire that starts that way probably happens right away and is in the room
where it might be extinguishable, not the walls where it is invisible
and impossible to extinguish until it is too late.

But then, when I was three years old I plugged a hairpin into a
receptacle behind the sofa, and got third degree burns on every finger
of my right hand as it vaporized (probably at the same time the fuse
vaporized).  Then there was the time I made a carbon arc lamp as a
project, and, standing on the basement floor in bare feet, tried to melt
a nail by holding it in pliers "insulated" with a piece of paper towel
and sticking it into the arc.  Amazingly, after picking myself up off of
the floor I tried it one more time, wrapping the nail a bit more
carefully.  After getting up off of the floor the second time, I shut
down the arc and never cranked it again.

So maybe I can be forgiven for being moderately paranoid about

> In the back of the written copy I have, there's a bunch of stuff about how 
> a municipality that might adopt the NEC (by transcription, as opposed to 
> reference) can make copies of the code for public use and display but not 
> distribution during the law or rulemaking process(i.e. you could make a 
> copy to have available for public reference at city hall or a library), but 
> that they can't publish it online, etc. nor, and this is interesting, can 
> they reproduce the index.  Furthermore, they have to pay a royalty for the 
> copies they do reproduce.

Lovely.  So we can be fined and prosecuted for not complying with the
NEC in areas that have adopted it (like just about everywhere) but
cannot find out what it is without paying for it.

> There was a relatively famous case by West Publishing (who make a business 
> of publishing laws, annotated codes, court decisions, and the like) and the 
> State of California, when the State wanted to put the law on line.  Turns 
> out that while the law itself isn't copyrighted, West had the copyright on 
> the particular publication format, and, more important in a practical 
> sense, the citation format.  If you needed to go look something up, odds 
> are that the citation reference you were looking at was in West's peculiar 
> format, and it made it quite difficult to go find the relevant data, since 
> the state had never compiled an index of things in their "real name" (case 
> numbers and captions, for instance), just in the West citation form 
> referring to the published book and page numbers(things like Cal2ndRpt 
> pp405-...)
> For what it's worth, the California laws and most regulations (except some 
> that are copyrighted, like the Title 24 energy stuff) are all on line now 
> (
> By the way, the Uniform Building Code is handled the same general way as 
> the NEC, as are most, if not all, ANSI and IEEE standards, but, in general, 
> they don't affect quite as many people. The standards organizations (one of 
> which I am a member) do point out that if one protects copyright one can 
> have a "controlling authority" for the "one true version", since one 
> couldn't publish a modified version and call it the standard.
> Personally, I think that any rule that the "public" is subject to should be 
> freely available and reproducible, but, a requirement that one agree to 
> certain formatting and presentation requirements is probably reasonable 
> (i.e. you can't change the intent or meaning by "editing" or "revision" or 
> "excerpting").

Personally, I agree with you.  Indeed, I had rather thought that this is
why huge, expensive, government bureaucracy like NIST was brought into
being.  All public codes should be public, and the West case in
particular shows just how corrupt and absurd our existing set of
copyright laws were even BEFORE the DMCA.  The notions of copyright and
patent have departed far, far from their original purpose of protecting
the rights of the authors or inventors to make money from their creation
or invention and now serve primarily to protect the rights of big
corporations to bleed money from those publications or inventions for


Well, that explains why I've had a very hard time finding the code
online, and I'll be damned before I pay for a copy.  Makes one long for
the days of Abbie Hoffman -- "Steal this book!"


Robert G. Brown	             
Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305
Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
Phone: 1-919-660-2567  Fax: 919-660-2525     email:rgb at

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