Why Are Electrical Plugs Different in Europe?

iStock / RTimages
iStock / RTimages

In a nutshell, plugs and sockets differ from region to region and even country to country because, at the time they were being developed, no one really saw any reason to make them all the same.

First, a little history. When electricity was first introduced into homes and businesses, it was primarily for powering lights. Early devices and appliances that ran on electricity had to be wired directly into a building’s electric system. It was a little inconvenient—you couldn’t easily move, say, a lamp, from one room to another without wiring it in again—and a potentially hazardous task for most people to attempt.

Starting in the 1880s, several inventors patented variations on a connector that allowed the cord from an appliance to be screwed into a lightbulb socket for power. (Thomas Edison was not one of those inventors, and that was a “curious oversight” on his part, says historian Fred E. H. Schroeder, since he “anticipated almost everything that might relate to the incandescent light bulb and its applications.") These connectors made it much simpler and safer to connect an appliance to power. Since they screwed into the socket, dropping the appliance or pulling too hard on the cord meant you might damage the device, the cord, or the socket.

In the early 1900s, inventor Harvey Hubbell improved on the idea with his Separable Attachment Plug. The plug had an inner connector screwed into the light socket and an outer connector (attached to an appliance by a cord) that plugged into that via two prongs and could easily be popped in and out. It was the ancestor of the modern two-prong plug and socket.

Other inventors soon started coming up with improvements and safety features for this ancestral plug (like a third prong for grounding, insulation for the prongs, and plug shapes that ensured the plug was connected to the socket properly). Just like there’s more than one way to skin a cat, there’s more than one way to design a safe, convenient plug. All over the world, inventors, tinkerers, and engineers approached the task with their own spin, and we wound up with a bunch of different plugs and sockets that all started with the same basic idea, but were designed in very different ways.

At the time, there was no real reason they shouldn’t have been different. The world wasn’t as connected as it is today and electrical appliances weren’t as ubiquitous. International travel wasn’t convenient or attainable by most people, and even those that could hop across the pond probably weren’t going to be lugging a lamp or a fan with them. It didn’t really matter if someone half a world away could use the plug you were developing, so different countries and regions did things their own way and developed plugs and sockets according to local and national standards that often differed very much from each other.

By the time travel and appliance portability were at the point where standardization made sense, electrically wired homes and electric appliances were widespread, and switching to new plugs and sockets was an expensive proposition—which is not to say that a global standard doesn’t exist and a switch over can’t be done. In 1986, the International Electrotechnical Commission unveiled a “universal plug,” known as a Type N plug, that they hoped would become a widespread standard. So far, though, only Brazil and South Africa have adopted the design for their plugs and wall outlets.

For the foreseeable future we’re stuck with the hodgepodge of plugs and sockets that we have. If you want to see what different countries use, see here and here. And if you’re wondering if one plug is actually better than the others, Tom Scott makes a pretty good case for the British design.

If you’re abroad, it’s not just the plug and socket that will be different, but possibly the voltage and frequency of household electricity, which differs from region to region. Even if you have a plug adapter for when you travel, the voltage disparity means that your gadgets might not work as well, or could become damaged. The voltage split has its roots in the “War of the Currents,” which is an interesting story.

Apple iPhone Users Should Be Wary of This Convincing Phishing Scam

iStock.com/Onfokus
iStock.com/Onfokus

Anticipating or identifying telephone phishing scams can resemble a game of Whac-a-Mole. Just when you’ve gotten wise to one fraudulent approach, several more spring up in its place.

The latest attempt to grab your private information should be on your radar because of how convincing it is. Users of Apple’s iPhone are reporting calls that appear to be coming directly from Apple itself, according to Business Insider.

Here’s how it works: Users receive an incoming call from a number that appears to originate with Apple’s help line. If the scammer is successful in replicating that (genuine) number, it will appear to be legitimate on phone screens because the help line comes pre-loaded into the phones. Rather than showing an unrecognized number, iPhones will display the Apple logo, giving the call the appearance of being authentic. Scammers will then explain that Apple servers have been "compromised" and that the users should dial a second number for more details.

Of course, the report is false and the number connects you to criminals. Scammers are hoping the veneer of the call being from Apple will prompt users to lower their guard and give out personal information such as passwords or credit card numbers.

To avoid being victimized by these efforts, it’s important to remember that callers can present, or “spoof,” any number they want, including official company extensions. Don’t presume an Apple logo is any guarantee of the call being genuine. Also bear in mind that Apple’s support division never makes outgoing calls to consumers unsolicited.

If you’re on the fence about whether Apple or any other company is trying to reach you, it’s best to disconnect incoming calls and dial them yourself. Before giving out any secure information, make sure you’re the one who initiated the call.

[h/t Business Insider]

George Mason University Becomes First College to Include Food Delivery Robots in Its Meal Plan

Starship Technologies, Sodexo
Starship Technologies, Sodexo

Students at George Mason University will now be able to buy fuel for their study sessions without trekking to the dining hall. As of Tuesday, January 22, the college is offering a robot food delivery service on its Fairfax, Virginia campus.

The new system, a collaboration between Sodexo and Starship Technologies, is the first of its kind to be integrated into a college meal plan. To use it, students must first download the Starship Deliveries app for Android or iOS, and from there they will be able to order food and drinks from a handful of locations, including Blaze Pizza, Starbucks, Dunkin', and the on-campus grocery store. Deliveries cost $1.99 per trip, and usually take about 15 minutes to complete.

The service is made possible by the school's fleet of more than 25 delivery robots. Reaching about knee-height, the boxy vehicles can hold 20 pounds each, or roughly three shopping bags of food. They navigate the campus autonomously, updating users on the journey in real-time via an interactive map in the Starship app, and when they arrive, users can unlock the hatch from their phones.

Food delivery robot outdoors.
Starship Technologies, Sodexo

"With the hectic schedules students lead, there is a convenience for students to have their food, groceries, and packages delivered," Ryan Tuohy, SVP of business development at Starship Technologies, said in statement. "Our goal is to make life a little bit easier for students, whether that means skipping the line, eating lunch on the lawn rather than in the cafe, or finding the time to eat better when studying for exams."

George Mason University is the latest place to experiment with delivering food via robot. Domino's rolled out similar autonomous vehicles in New Zealand in 2016, and 2017, the robotics company ZMP and the food delivery service Ride On Express debuted sushi delivery robots in Japan.

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