The other day we needed AAA batteries for one of our TV remotes (we’ve got three of them, which raises its own set of questions). Could our household actually have two fully charged AAA batteries that we could use? There was only one way to tell. I set my jaw, adopted a look of grim determination, and moved cautiously yet deliberately to the “messy drawer” in our kitchen–which also could be called the battery graveyard.
Yes, there are batteries in the messy drawer. Unfortunately, they are the kind that are not used to power any known modern devices. Helpfully, we’ve got a pristine pack of four C batteries that were copyrighted in 2007, or an unopened 9-volt battery, copyright 2013. Those dates mean we’ve lugged them from place to place as we’ve moved, for no rational reason other than the feeling that you shouldn’t throw out an unused pack of batteries, even if you have no earthly idea how they might be used or whether you will ever, for the remainder of your natural life, own something that might conceivably be powered by them.
Then there are the rogue batteries that are rolling around in the kitchen messy drawer. Typically, they are AA batteries, which are the most used type in our household. Are they good or are they bad? That is the question. The only certainty about a battery charge comes if the battery remains in its original packaging. Once a AA battery starts roaming free in the drawer, you just don’t know for sure. And the impulse to not throw away batteries until you are certain they are bad–typically, when they’ve exploded and start leaking that white, powdery crud–means that some of the rogue batteries might be bad. As a result, you’ll be doing the battery shuffle, using your fingernails as functional tools and putting in and removing random batteries until you find a combination that actually powers the device.
Of course, my search for working AAA batteries came up empty, and I ended up going to the nearby convenience store for a pack of 5 AAA batteries to add to the collection in the messy drawer. That’s the seemingly inevitable result of any battery quest.
Technology is great, but of course it poses its own frustrations — like when the batteries suddenly die in your mouse, the cursor freezes on your screen and can’t be moved, point and click becomes inoperative, and the ghostly “connection lost” notice floats up on your screen. And, of course, there’s not a freaking AA battery to be found in the house, because nobody except an obsessed survivalist is motivated to actually buy batteries until some battery-operated device conks out — and by then it’s too late.
Hey, what did people do to pass the pre-dawn hours in the pre-internet age? Play Spider Solitaire on their handheld device?
Last night when we got home from dinner we heard one of the most reviled sounds ever heard in an American household: the once-a-minute “chirp” that tells you that your smoke alarm battery is dying.
At least, the smoke alarm manufacturer calls it a “chirp” — but it’s nothing like the happy, carefree, burbling utterances of songbirds in springtime. No, the smoke alarm “chirp” is more like fingernails on a chalkboard or the insistent barking of a hungry dog. It’s a sound consciously designed to be so incredibly annoying that after a while you can’t stand it any more and must act immediately to stop it.
Smoke alarm manufacturers realize the “chirp” must be as annoying as possible because the act you need to perform to stop it is even more reviled. No one, but no one, is eager to change the batteries on their smoke alarms because it’s never a simple process. Let’s see … which chair is likely to be tall enough to allow me to get to the alarm if I teeter on the arm and really stretch? And once I’m up there, figuring out how to unlock the alarm from its lofty perch so the battery can be changed is a pain in the ass. Even worse, the batteries for the alarms are always tucked away in some weird configuration. Our unit had the batteries in a kind of sliding drawer that didn’t fully extend, requiring me to use a table knife to extricate the batteries. Fortunately, this unit took AA units that we actually had in the house — which is a one-in-a-million shot.
And finally, the piece de resistance — reinserting the alarm to its base on the hallway ceiling and relocking it. Every homeowner knows the frustrating reek of failure that usually hangs over this final step in the hated process. Four out of five American homes feature smoke alarms hanging by wires, or bases left empty of the alarms themselves, or bases torn from the ceiling when the homeowner, arms fatigued by being held directly overhead for minute after excruciating minute, finally lost his balance trying to perform the delicate placement, thrust and twist that the manufacturer’s evil engineers require.
Today, at least, the responsible thing got done, without incident or injury. I’m proud to say that we now move forward as a once-again chirp-free household.
Should you charge your smartphone overnight, or not? It’s one of those choices that wasn’t an issue years ago but that is now complicating our modern lives.
This article on MSN says: it depends. The act of charging is bad for the battery on your phone, even though my iPhone, and Android phones, have chips that prevent them from being overcharged. That’s because one of the recent smartphone advances is the incorporation of technology that allows phones to accept more current, faster. As a result, we no longer have to groan because it takes freaking forever! for our phones to charge. But, that quick-charging technology also causes lithium-ion batteries to corrode more quickly than they would otherwise. So, if you are charging your phone overnight, you are promoting battery corrosion.
Why is the MSN answer “it depends”? Because the corrosion process is gradual, and batteries usually don’t start showing signs of wear for two years — which is about the period of time many people use a phone before upgrading to get their hands on the latest model. So, if you’re the kind of person who plans on getting a new phone whenever your cell phone carrier allows you to do so, charge away, baby!
I’m not one of those people; I keep my cell phone until is goes toes up. I also charge my phone overnight. Rationally, I accept the conclusion that by doing so I am contributing to eventual battery performance problems, but emotionally it is hard for me to not start the day with a fully charged phone. I’ve been caught with a dying phone too many times, and therefore my reflex approach is to charge up when I can — like overnight. But I defer to science. I’m going to try a new approach, not begin to charge until I get up, and then stop the process when I hit that 100% charged level. We’ll see how it goes. Old habits die hard.
Scientists are always pushing us closer to the future envisioned by sci-fi movies. Now we learn that, like the poor, deceived wretches trapped by the Matrix in the classic movie of the same name, humans soon may become walking batteries — at least, if they wear the right t-shirt.
A professor at the University of South Carolina has figured out how to convert a t-shirt into a power source. He bought a cheap t-shirt from a discount store, soaked it in fluoride and dried it in a high-temperature oxygen-free environment. As a result, the cellulose in the fibers turned into activated carbon. The fibers were then thinly coated with manganese oxide and thereby became capacitors — i.e., a device capable of storing an electric charge. Add an electrode and a plug and — voila! — your t-shirt could be used to power your cell phone or iPad.
I don’t like wearing artificial fibers that don’t “breathe,” so I doubt that I would want to wear a carbonized shirt coated with manganese oxide. What’s more, I don’t think I’d feel comfortable in a garment that was supercharged with electricity. I’d be afraid that a little static electricity could cause a massive short circuit — and I’d hate to think of the electrical firestorm that could be created if I also wore a pair of thigh-rubbing corduroy pants on a cold, dry winter’s day.