Saturday, November 24, 2012

PBS Fund-raisers...

I see PBS has gone back into fund-raising mode again.

Is there anything in the universe more incongruous than a PBS fund-raising drive?

What's on PBS during fund-raisers? Shows that are never part of normal programming. Cheap, popular psychology by two-bit therapists. How-to-get-rich pitches by speakers whose fortunes come from writing books and giving pitches on how to get rich. Opinionated, anti-fat nazis who just want to tell you how you should eat food that no one else eats. Chefs that can't cook their way out of a paper bag that's been soaking in warm water for 24 hours.

Really? PBS fund-raisers drive die-hard PBS fans such as myself to discover "normal" television or turn away to put more time into books (where more of my time is deserved anyway). While I'm gone, save for maybe a few quarters tossed over my shoulder on the way, I'm not there contributing. In fact, most of the time I confess I don't contribute out of disgust with what they're doing.

In years past, I was lured into giving by the broadcast of a few great Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes portrayals, a marathon run of Fawlty Towers, the promise of a mug embellished with PBS Mystery, Masterpiece Theatre or The MacNeal-Lehrer Newshour.

Fund-raisers used to be a time where the local PBS station's personnel made a connection with the local populace. Now it's all robotic broadcasts done by paid, D-rank speakers and actors nobody knows.

There must be an audience for the utter rubbish PBS puts on now, but it clearly isn't the people who watch PBS. I can imagine that someone unaware, for PBS fund-raisers aren't publicized, discovers this programming, likes it, contributes his bit resolving to adopt PBS only to find a few days later that PBS doesn't continue to broadcast this sort of thing. Which means that the next time this person sees it, he simply keeps on surfing.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Randomly firing smoke detectors

This has been happening to me. I don't mean the beep every couple of minutes indicating the need for battery replacement, but the whole (linked) system going off. I did some research and found some interesting points that likely explain my problem.

How do smoke detectors work?

There is a source of beta particle radiation (yes, smoke detectors are weakly radioactive) that continually releases particles across a small space to be picked up by a detector. As soon as the stream of particles or even part of the stream is interrupted, the alarm goes off.

Systems that meet modern codes are interconnected both to 120v power and also linked by an additional electrical wire such that when once detector finds reason to go off, every detector in the system goes off in sympathy. This results in a whole house protection that is very effective.

Even though a modern smoke-detection system is wired to sector current and powered by it, each detector has a back-up battery much as radio alarm clocks and other devices for the "convenience" that this provides during power outages. The convenience of this in the case of a smoke detector is simply that if the power's off or out and your house begins to burn, one or more detectors will presumably sense it and sound the alarm.

What can set off smoke detectors?

  1. Low battery.
  2. Condensation.
  3. Change in temperature, especially from warm to cold, probably because of condensation.
  4. Cooking smoke or vapors.
  5. Dust particles.
  6. Tiny insects and arachnids.*
* This appears to have been my case because of the randomness of occurrence coupled with the random length, but short duration of the alarm. My guess is that the vibration of the alarm is annoying enough to chase the little beasties out of the hole in the detector sensor mechanism.

Is it possible to diagnose the exact cause?

If the alarm duration permits it, running around examining each detector will reveal, for most brands, that the offending detector is showing a red LED light instead of the usual, continual green one. This is the detector causing the rest to fire off.

When should I change smoke detector batteries?

Other than the obvious need to do this when the detector begins to complain by beeping every few minutes, many advise spending an hour each New Year's Day or the evening before your locale goes on or off Daylight Savings Time. Detector batteries usually last a good year making this a good policy.

I personally do not replace the batteries until I hear the detector beep. I find that my batteries are lasting several years.

Do smoke detectors go bad?

Yes. However, people frequently replace them unnecessarily with new ones after 1) a family member or acquaintance experiences a catastrophic fire, 2) unexplained failure creates mistrust. Still, better safe than sorry.

Why is the need to replace batteries only detected at night?

This probably lies in the realm of urban lore. No one seems to know why, but it is widely reported. Many also report that it drives them nuts while other inhabitants of the household seem to be able to sleep through the beeping.