Big Volts- A Layman's Guide
In response to Mick York's excellent and informative article (in 8BS 40)
on the inner workings of the power supply, I was moved to undertake some
research into Big Volts, or BV as I shall call them, and how they get to
your socket set. In the following short and, I hope, informative article
summarising my efforts, I have tried to explain the technical terminology
in a simple way and, despite the incredulity which this might engender, I
can assure those of a pessimistic nature that everything has been double-
checked for veracity.
BV are in fact all around us all the time, but are just too small to see,
unless you poke your finger in your eye. This is not a course of action
which I recommend as it makes your fingertip wet, but if you take suitable
precautions, eg by wearing a Marigold ( or any other rubber flower ) on
your hand, this can be avoided.
After having poked your eye, the first thing you will see ( after some
sense, I hope! ) is lots of of very bright spots. This effect is quite
normal, albeit painful, but is the only surefire way that I have found of
seeing BV ( for that is what the spots are ) without resorting to dubious
and addictive chemical or herbal aids. Due to the transitory effect of
introducing a digit into the eye, there is not much time to study the
spots. However, I am reliably informed by friends who are unable to
remember the 60's ( and whose presence there cannot therefore be doubted )
that recourse to chemical and/or herbal aids during this decade enabled
them to undertake longer-term contemplative study of these spots. They
assure me that once the haze clears and the spots can clearly be seen,
they are all different colours and sizes, with a very wrinkled exterior
most closely resembling the dried fruit known as a currant. This may seem
incidental at this stage, but it's importance will become clear later.
Having thus conclusively proved their existence, we move on to learn a
little more about them.
Big Volts do not like sudden movement. This is quite easily, and somewhat
less painfully, proved by the simple means of taking off a woolly-pully
very quickly. This sudden action startles all the BV which were quietly
keeping warm in said wooly-pully, causing them in their fright to bite
you. ( This common phenomenon is actually wild BV in their natural state,
and why they were given their true name of startled electricity. Only
those which we manage to domesticate should properly be known as BV. )
Startled electricity are as I said all around us all the time, but being
absotively miniscule in size, we tend not to notice them. ( The afore-
mentioned finger-poking has the dual effect of making your eye water, and
also causing the lens in your eye to temporarily swell due to the trauma,
thus increasing it's magnification. ) As they are so tiny, they are very
difficult to study, but due mainly to the research and effort put in a
while ago by a chap called Michael for a day ( presumably the day on which
he put the effort into his research, although the history books omit to
tell us what he was called for the rest of his life ), the following
details are known.
They do not like noise, and will often bite a gopher playing around and
hitting a ball too loudly in the rain. This does seem to bring out their
worst side, as a gopher not hitting a ball but wearing loud trousers or
socks under a tree is also likely to be bitten during precipitation.
Possibly their most destructive trait, as far as we are concerned, is a
dislike for certain types of clips. I refer to grated circlips, to give
them their full name, and startled electricity seems to particularly have
it in for the marine seamoss type. Exactly what this harmless part has
done to engender such antipathy is unclear, but simple protective measures
can be taken. As startled electricity also has a dislike of handcuffs, if
you wear a pair tied down to your chair ( or anything else on Earth ) when
handling your parts, they will be safe.
They are attracted to water, which is partly why the eye-poking enables
them ( although, temporarily, not much else ) to be seen.
They like warmth, as I mentioned above, and this is one of the main ways
in which startled electricity can be harnessed for our use, of which more
Unless forced to react to sudden movement or noise, they are normally
quite patient, placid, and sedentary, although they can move exceedingly
quickly when they want to, often when you neither expect nor want them to.
They like giving shoddy presents, of which the most common is a nasty
belt, and they seem to have an unlimited supply of these.
They can jump relatively far for their size. This is sometimes known as
arcing ( not to be confused with Arcing which, as we all know, is defined
as taking a Risc whilst using your computer ), or shortening, which I
always thought was something used in baking. Just goes to show, you can
learn something new every day!
Their favourite habitat is tubes, which is why a lot of the more recent
research data emerged during World War II, when a lot of the scientists in
London were also living in the tube during air raids.
They are extremely sociable, towards each other at least, and will come
from miles around when word goes out that some suitable tubes have been
Their second-favourite habitat is hen-houses, or batteries as they are
more commonly known. Quite why they have this affinity for chickens is not
fully understood, but this is where their patience manifests itself, as
they will quite happily sit on the shelf for months or years at a time in
I hope that you have been able to absorb all the above details? They may
seem trivial in themselves, but an appreciation of them is vital to allow
you to understand the following section. This will explain how some of
these characteristics, when taken in combination, enable us to harness a
relatively small amount of the total startled electricity in the world, to
become BV for our use and benefit.
It was discovered a while ago by a loud-trousered Asian/American gopher
called Benfrank Lin, having been bitten whilst playing around, and taken
up kite-flying in the rain instead, that startled electricity was
attracted to long loops. ( In our computer age, this was to become the
basis of many a young programmer's first efforts. ) Someone had the bright
idea of making these loops out of tubing and ( to save having to employ
people to stand holding them ) suspending them between tall towers. Due to
the nature of the construction of these towers, he wanted to pay tribute
to the Ancient Greek father of geometry, Pythagoras. Unfortunately, he got
his Ancient Greeks in a twist, and mistakenly named them after a famous
poet and scribe. Thus he called them Homeryoids or, as we more commonly
know them, piles.
For a reason that even my exhaustive research has been unable to uncover,
these long loops of tube became known as cattery wires, perhaps due to the
noise made when the wind blows through them? Whatever, they were found to
be extremely effective at attracting startled electricity, and this can be
seen with the naked eye. Were the cattery wires to be empty, they would go
in a straight line between the piles. The fact that they sag between the
piles proves that they are full of startled electricity. Yes, I know I
said that they are very very tiny, and therefore individually would be
very very light but, and you cannot argue with the logic of this, lots and
lots of very very tiny and very very light things all attracted to the
same place at the same time makes for very very heavy. Further proof, as
if it could be needed, is shown by the fact that the cattery wires sag
lower in cold weather, as more startled electricity come in to warm up.
Having got the startled electricity into the wires, how then do we go
about getting them out again, so that they can be used? Obviously a 13 Amp
plug is too small to have enough suck to get more than the nearest few out
of the socket set, and the cattery wires and piles go on for miles.
In his article, Mick correctly stated that BV start off as assorted
currants (ac), being converted within the power supply into drift (dc),
and waste (wc). There is a fourth type which he did not mention, as the
article was intended for the magazine and I expect he did not wish to
upset other 8BS members. I hesitate to do so myself, but it plays a very
important part in the whole process, and I can only offer my apologies in
The fourth type is pointless currant (pc), so-named partly because it is
totally smooth, but mainly because it pointlessly crashes at random, and
cannot count past 2000, and what is the point of something that cannot do
that? It is however this random crashing which gives it one saving grace.
If you can remember back to the beginning of this article ( Yes? Well
done! ), I said that BV looked like currants. It is the wrinkled surface
of non-pc BV which can make it difficult to get them out of tubes, as they
tend to get interlocked and clumped together. However, with a pc or few in
amongst them crashing left right and centre, the other currants get pretty
hot under the collar, and start looking for somewhere else to go. Their
love of water comes into play here. At one end of the miles of piles we
put some enormous upright concrete tubes, known as cola towers due to
their resemblance to a squashed soft-drink tin. The cola towers are filled
with fizzy, coloured water ( much the same as a soft-drink tin ), and the
BV rush towards them to cool off.
When this system was devised, it was thought that a pc was pretty rare
( it is now known that they are in fact very common, almost to the extent
of over-population ), and that BV would need encouragement to get to the
towers; as the cattery wires do sag between the piles under the weight of
all the BV inside, half their journey would be uphill and, having got away
from a pc, their calm nature would come to the fore and they would not
bother with the uphill bit. For this reason, all cattery wires were hung
between the piles on insulters, in order to annoy the BV further and keep
them moving. You can get some idea of just how hot they are by looking at
the amount of steam given off from the cola towers. Don't bother looking
at night though, because you will not see it then. It is dark. Each
collection of cola towers is known as a power station, and they are all
rated by Megan Watt, who is a descendant of James, the man who invented
The cattery wires always end a few yards away from the cola towers, so
the BV have to jump across to reach the water, something they easily do in
their agitated state. Incidentally, as it takes forty thousand of them to
jump one inch, you can get some idea of the numbers involved here as well.
As the BV cool off they calm down again, and stay in the cola towers. So
how are we to get them near enough to the socket set for the 13 Amp plug
to suck them out? After all, power stations are usually a long way away.
The final part of the process is possible thanks to a very famous man who
grew apples for a living. His name was Zak Newt, and he invented gravity.
This became so popular that everybody started using it, and as he hadn't
bothered to patent it, he didn't get a penny from it. He did get a night
hood though, which must have helped him sleep. Gravity, as you may or may
not know, makes things fall down. Lumberjax is a form of gravity, as is
Fred Dibnah, but these are copies. The form having original gravity is
beer. There is one type of beer which has very little original gravity in
it at all, and is mostly just fizzy, coloured water. Despite having so
little gravity, this is known as larger. ( Another type, having a bigger
level of original gravity, is called small beer. The world is full of
The cola towers are filled with larger, which has just enough gravity to
make BV fall down. They fall to the bottom of the tower, where there are
millions of tiny tubes. The tubes are wide enough to let the BV through,
but not the fizzy water because it is larger. These tubes go off, three to
each house, and are covered in a thin layer of insulting, just enough to
gently keep the BV on the move at the rate of four and one third per hour,
exactly the rate at which your 13 Amp plug can suck. It all makes sense
now, doesn't it?