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Friday, June 11, 2010

Pole Pigs*

I called these barrel-shaped things "transformers" but John thought they were insulators. Neither one of us was sure. We decided to find something better to argue about.

The wiring of the world seems primitive to me. We've been wired for over 200 years. I think we're on the brink of finding a wireless way to do things that have been wired until now. Will we miss the paraphernalia? Will telephone poles, wires, insulators and electrical transformers end up in museums soon? Or will we trash them all before we realize they're cherished vestiges of our past?

A few months ago, John and I hiked up one of the fire roads above Altadena. High up where the electrical towers stand, we found bits of a ceramic insulator embedded in the soil. One of the big ones must have fallen from the tower and broken. We brought home bits of it as keepsakes.

*thanks to Ted Thompson for the title of this post.

22 comments:

Shanna said...

My first thought was a sort of binoculars, but rather, tri-noculars.

Kim said...

Communication wires may go by the wayside, but I don't think power lines will be gone anytime soon. They've gone underground in newer communities, but the problem of people digging them up without thinking is still a problem. That's so cool that you kept a little souvenir, and I'm imagining you kept it with some colorful found glass and broken pottery bit from the yard? Love the graphic quality of your shot.
-Kim

Ted Thompson said...

The 3 large cylinders are indeed transformers (aka "Pole Pigs" I have no idea where that name came from)

Insulators are the ceramic or glass objects that go between a wire and the pole (or tower).

Transformers step down the high voltage which is more efficient to distribute to a lower voltage suitable for homes. Insulators prevent unwanted conduction from wires to the support structure while providing a physical support for the wires.

I agree with Kim, communications wires may go, but the power lines are going to be with us for a long time.

Petrea said...

Trinoculars! I love your eye, Shanna.

Kim, the pieces we got are made of this lovely, thick ceramic that's white inside with a deep brown coating. It glowed iridescent in the sunlight.

Ted! I'm changing the title of the post to "Pole Pigs." I love that. Thanks for making the distinction--well, two distinctions, between transformers and insulators, and between communication lines and power lines. I guess we'll have the latter for a while if you say so, because you sound like you know what you're tlaking about.

altadenahiker said...

Pole pigs -- I love that term. Can't wait to use it.

Virginia said...

Ted is our go to guy for all things shocking! :)
Nice silhouette. You've made art from something very functional. I for one will be happy not to lose power everytime we have a big storm due to falling limbs all over my city.
V

Greg Sweet said...

120 years ago, Nikola Tesla figured out how to transmit electrical power without wires, but the problem was that it could not be metered at the consumer end - the power companies couldn't figure out how to make money from wireless electricity.

J+P said...

I know the canisters are filled with oil. I'd heard tales of them exploding, so I always thought of that as insulating the system downline from rogue voltages. But the internets tell me (anecdotally) that the oil is mostly to isolate the internals from moisture. Apparently transformer explosions are rare -- usually it's their fuses which blow. That means the design works more often than not.

It's true: our electrical machines have changed hardly a whit since Volta wowed the crowned heads of [insert extinct regime here]. The main technical reason electric cars are so rare is that their batteries are built with 19th-century physics! The best we can hope for, in our lifetimes, is that utility companies will make enough money to finally bury all the power lines ... then our skies will lose that antediluvian latticework.

Years ago, Bradbury (I think) published a story about a suburban dad who was irritated by the transformer on the power pole behind his house. Its buzz bugged him. At one point he poked at it with a rake-handle -- & the thing sprouted huge insect-wings and flew away.

Remember, kids: never imitate fantasy writers at home!

Petrea said...

Cherished vestiges at Palos Verdes Daily Photo. One of my favorites by Tash, and that's saying something.

Anonymous said...

Love the Bradbury story - flying pole pigs, how cool is that?

Someone at SoCal Edison told me their workers don't like having the wiring underground as they dislike going down into tunnels. So they keep stringing them up on wooden poles even when they burn down in each forest fire (and sometimes cause them).

(It's me, Bellis. Google's forgotten my identity!)

Margaret said...

aryontes. That's my WV and that's what I think these should be called.

Anonymous said...

The flying pigs ...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNa551dR6Rc

Anonymous said...

"if Pigs Had Wings" to go with above entry

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5otKLDrKf88

Mister Earl said...

You can spatchcock a pole pig, but you can't spatchcock him much.

mark said...

About 25 to 30% of all AC power generated is lost in the transmission process mostly due to heat loss withing the grid. Someday 99% of all electrical power will be generated through nuclear fusion.

J+P said...

"A practical fusion reactor will always be about 20 years away." ---Scientific American, current issue.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Strange. Today I went over to my mother's and found this book (between you and me, I think she was getting ready to toss it). Anyhow it's titled Iron Men and Copper Wires; A Centennial History of the Southern California Edison Company 1983. It's addressed to my father and signed by the author William A Myers. Looks like a kind of interesting read. Lots of pictures from yesteryear

sjan said...

If everyone had solar panels, we wouldn't need power lines.

Petrea said...

I wonder, Bellis. There's plenty of unsavory work to do in this world and people willing to do it. I think a large part of the problem is money. We'd have to change the infrastructure, and it costs a lot to do that.

Thank you for the flying pigs, Anonymous. Or maybe we should call them flying aryontes.

Mister Earl. Eeuw.

So Mark, since e=mc2, is that lost 25-30% pollution?

J, funny.

Did you grab it, PA? (Silly question. I know you did.)

Sjan, there's that expensive infrastructure problem again. When the technology becomes affordable to the masses it'll be a great day.

Lori Lynn said...

It is a cool shot.
I don't think we'll miss them.
LL

sjan said...

A rough range for upfront costs, including installation, for solar panels, inverter box, wiring, etc., is approximately $30-40,000 for a single family house, if you are looking to entirely replace grid-based electricity with solar energy. That's about the cost of a new SUV; a house in Pasadena costs around 20 times that. So yeah, it's entirely doable for a middle-class family if people were really serious about it, and if a lot of people were, then the price would come down quite a bit.

Petrea said...

Your lips to god's year, as they say, sjan. Or maybe to the ears of the bankers. As soon as those guys start with the HELoCs again, I'll call it doable. Too bad that wasn't this year, when they were giving all the rebates.