paper clip in a power outlet

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Marvin
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Re: paper clip in a power outlet

Postby Marvin » Sat Dec 08, 2007 12:07 am UTC

Yakk wrote:First, be aware that DIFFERENT COUNTRIES HAVE DIFFERENT SOCKET VOLTAGES.

What is safe in one country will kill you in another. I'm not kidding.

well i don't think there IS a country where socket voltage IS safe... be it 110, 220, 230, 240, 380 or 400, it kills you... (well... actually even less is enough in right conditions)

Yakk wrote:Voltage lets a current ignore your insulating skin, and fry your heart on the way down through your feet.

i'm not so sure about that... not that i'm sure i understand you... after all you are not a wire to have your skin to insulate you, you are more or less insulated as you are, the current flows mostly through body fluid...

Yakk wrote:Second, be aware that you can burn down your house if you get unlucky.

that is a possibility...

Yakk wrote:You are not a bird. You are touching the ground.

yes... you are no bird... you (should) wear shoes...
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Re: paper clip in a power outlet

Postby wst » Sat Dec 08, 2007 1:24 pm UTC

Marvin wrote:
Citizen K wrote:Yes, power lines can and do kill large birds for exactly that reason (a little web search produces plenty of articles). As I understand it, they perch on the pole/support, and when they try to take off, their large wingspan touches two different wires. Zap.


well... i thought more of the usual... i could also imagine a large bird being roasted flying near a high voltage lines by making them connect through air (well i can't say i saw many birds flying around high voltage lines, but i know those don't need no wire to zap something if it's close enough)

how does such a bird taste?


Well, there was a nature documentary a few years ago which featured an opossum crawling along some power lines (UNinsulated), and this creature got to a spacer... and decided that instead of being stuck out on the right hand wire he'd prefer to be on the middle wire...
So he put one foot on the spacer- good, it's unsulated from the wires. He used this extra balance giving support to stretch to the middle wire...

He blacked out quite a sizable area. And it was amazing to see an opossum vaporising. Shame it wasn't in HD :(

Moral of the story- those wires sure as hell ain't insulated.
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Re: paper clip in a power outlet

Postby oxoiron » Sat Dec 08, 2007 5:34 pm UTC

Marvin wrote:
Yakk wrote:Voltage lets a current ignore your insulating skin, and fry your heart on the way down through your feet.

i'm not so sure about that... not that i'm sure i understand you... after all you are not a wire to have your skin to insulate you, you are more or less insulated as you are, the current flows mostly through body fluid...

I think Yakk's point is that skin is a pretty good natural insulator covering a wonderfully wet, salty interior (i.e. good conductor). Some people's skin is such a good insulator that they are unaffected by what other people would consider unsafe potentials. I knew a naval electrician who could be standing in the bilge in sea water half way up his shins, and not get shocks from 110V lines. He used to check if 220V lines were live by licking his fingers and grabbing them. He claimed that if he didn't lick his fingers, he was unable to get even the little tingle he got by doing so.
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Re: paper clip in a power outlet

Postby Fossa » Sun Dec 09, 2007 1:50 pm UTC

Just to point one more thing out to Thoughtfully in regards to his empirical methodology.

Insulation is not a binary property. Something is not simply insulated or non. The materials used simply have their own internal resistance which is high enough for the material to be termed an insulator at a given thickness, but it is not fool proof.

Look where any of the wires in question come near a support, be it wooden telephone pole or metal tower. Notice all the added insulation between the wire (insulated or non) and the support? This added insulation typically looks like stacked porcelain bowls or dishes.

That alone should be enough to tip you off that the wire is not sufficiently insulated to prevent electricity from passing through the insulation if a suitable path to ground exists outside the insulation. If a bird were somehow grounded while on the wire it most certainly would be electrocuted.

In general though, please be more cautious about insulting people's "fine university educations" and "looney profs". What is actually happening in any situation is often far more complex than you can glean with your eyes alone, particularly to an untrained observer.

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Re: paper clip in a power outlet

Postby thoughtfully » Sun Dec 09, 2007 3:27 pm UTC

I'm sorry I made those strong statements. I apologize to anyone I offended, and to everyone who has had to endure this sidetracked diuscussion. I still see birds perching mostly on insulated wires. Probably, the larger diameter and the tackier surface are preferrable to them, at least for larger birds. I've conceeded that many wires are not insulated. Most bird deaths occur at the poles, but the wires are what I was considering.

Let it die. It's not even on topic.
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Re: paper clip in a power outlet

Postby Yakk » Sun Dec 09, 2007 4:19 pm UTC

Marvin wrote:
Yakk wrote:First, be aware that DIFFERENT COUNTRIES HAVE DIFFERENT SOCKET VOLTAGES.

What is safe in one country will kill you in another. I'm not kidding.

well i don't think there IS a country where socket voltage IS safe... be it 110, 220, 230, 240, 380 or 400, it kills you... (well... actually even less is enough in right conditions)


(Relatively) lower voltage lowers the (relative) ability for a current to bypass an insulator.

As mentioned, insulation is not a binary property -- it is a property like "weight". Just because something is heavy, doesn't mean it is just as heavy as something else. Your skin acts as an insulator, but it is not a perfect insulator: there are no perfect insulators.

The higher the voltage, the better the electricity is at bypassing insulation.

So if you take someone with 120 volt AC, and they describe an experience, and then you repeat it at 240 AC, even if the situation is exactly the same and you are a clone, the 240 volt AC could arc right through your skin and halt your heart. Or it could cook you (literally) as it arcs through your flesh.

As nobody before my post mentioned the variation in Voltage, I thought I'd issue a voice of caution. That is a huge factor that people saying "I did X and didn't get hurt" aren't mentioning at all.

Now, note that the insulating properties of the skin vary a huge amount based on how wet it is. So if you have a touch of sweat, while your friend doesn't -- one of you dies, the other doesn't.

Yakk wrote:You are not a bird. You are touching the ground.

yes... you are no bird... you (should) wear shoes...


Once again, shoes are not a perfect insulator. Some shoes are better than others. Do you have CSA, ASA or the like approved insulating shoes? Then there wasn't any standard for how well your shoes insulate.
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Re: paper clip in a power outlet

Postby TizzyFoe » Sun Dec 09, 2007 5:17 pm UTC

i tried to do it this weekend, but my roommates didnt want me doing it at our house (probably for good reason). I proposed the idea of using a car battery instead but they didn't go for it. I fear we may never know the true answer.

btw, i'm in America, which means 110-120 volts. Thats sounds a lot safer then the 240v in Europe.

why does having your skin wet make it more conductive. I would think it would just be like having a low resistor before a high resistor. I mean, touching the paper clip doesn't give my skin lower resistance. I was actually thinking about getting my fingers wet to help keep me from getting burned. I supposed electricity could flow through the water and enter my body at a point were my skin is thinner.
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Re: paper clip in a power outlet

Postby Fossa » Sun Dec 09, 2007 5:21 pm UTC

Ever notice how your fingers get all "pruney" if you stay in the water too long? Your skin is absorbant. :wink:

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Re: paper clip in a power outlet

Postby wst » Sun Dec 09, 2007 5:31 pm UTC

TizzyFoe wrote:btw, i'm in America, which means 110-120 volts. Thats sounds a lot safer then the 240v in Europe.


As far as I know, you run stuff at the same wattage over there as over here (pond-wise).

Well, P=IV
P=Power (Watts)
I= Current (Amperes)
V= Potential Difference (Volts)

You can see from P=IV that if you lower the voltage the current must increase to keep the same power.

Well, it basically turns out that you get more current through you from a 110V system than a 230V system. And current is the killer. That's why it's safe to discharge yourself on people while touching a Van de Graaf machine, although you're at about 30kV potential difference.

And if you don't get electrocuted, those burns will stay there for ages. I got some pretty nasty ones trying a paperclip across a 7.2V NiCAD battery. I couldn't touch metal because it burned me. And I developed (briefly, about 6 months) an irrational fear of that battery, and the end of the room it was in. But I was 7 >_>
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Re: paper clip in a power outlet

Postby Cramulh » Sun Dec 09, 2007 5:47 pm UTC

btw, i'm in America, which means 110-120 volts. Thats sounds a lot safer then the 240v in Europe.


Maybe that's why they made the power outlets harder to get shocked with here :D .
I might be partially wrong, but as far as I know with my little experience in human physiology, tension only provoke muscular contractions. [which may prevent you from letting go the wire, so whenever you want to check the presence of current with your hand (bad idea) use the back of your hand.] If the electric current goes through your heart (like from one hand to the other) these contractions might kill you, or highly affect heart's rythm.
Whereas current might and will burn your muscles and organs, which must be an unpleasant experience too.
So the most usual accident being the (wet and bare feet) user's finger touching the plug when plugging/unplugging something from a power outlet, maybe the tension isn't such an important factor. I'm not sure, and I don't really want to check.
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Re: paper clip in a power outlet

Postby Yakk » Sun Dec 09, 2007 9:31 pm UTC

The voltage lets it get through resistance easier. That is why they transfer power along high-voltage power lines: the loss from the resistance of the wires is less if you are high voltage.

The power in the current is amps*volts.

What keeps it from killing you is the resistance of your skin. A very small volt/amp signal going through your heart can screw you over. Wet skin has a massively lower resistance than dry skin: this is why lots of stories about being shocked to death happen in the bathroom.

I personally don't know enough that I'd feel comfortable shocking myself with household current. If you know less, why are you comfortable? :)
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Re: paper clip in a power outlet

Postby thoughtfully » Sun Dec 09, 2007 9:43 pm UTC

Actually, if you are actually covered with water, as opposed to having some at your fingertips or feet, you should be a little better off. It works like a Faraday cage. I think some folks struck by lightning on golf courses in damp conditions have been saved by this.
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Re: paper clip in a power outlet

Postby Marvin » Mon Dec 10, 2007 12:17 pm UTC

i saw some strange things here, i don't think 120 is more dangerous than 240, it's true that you need more current to have same power on lower voltage, but having same resistance on different voltages won't give you same power output, the voltage in socket varies very little, and with 120V you cannot have higher current on resistor than with 240

and what goes with burns and batteries, batteries don't have fuses, sockets do (or should have)

shoes don't have defined resistance, but if you plan on doing something like putting paper clip in socket you can try to find some more promising

the AC current becomes even more problematic because of capacitors reducing the resistance, but (oh noes again) the shoes should prevent that from interfering too much.

i still think, that having done good preparations, and those would be:
- holding paper clip with one hand
- knowing the positive and neutral wire in socket, and putting the clip in neutral first
- having some decent shoes
- having good fuses
- having dry skin

if you meet all the above requirements you should get by with very small to no ill effects at all
not being close to anything easy to ignite helps a lot, since some serious sparks should be expected, but sockets shouldn't be easy to put on fire

i think some people here have some irrational fear of electricity, which is good in general, but bad for science...
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Re: paper clip in a power outlet

Postby hobbesmaster » Mon Dec 10, 2007 9:36 pm UTC

Marvin wrote:the AC current becomes even more problematic because of capacitors reducing the resistance, but (oh noes again) the shoes should prevent that from interfering too much.


Capacitors are purely reactive and do not reduce resistance. The resistance of a complex load is not effected by reactances. The impedance (Z) would be of the form Z=R+jX, where R is the real or resistive part of the impedance and X is the reactive part. A capacitor in the frequency domain is of the form 1/(jwC) so a capacitive load is of the form Z = R-jX. The current will lead voltage in a capacitive load, by 90degrees if purely capacitive, between 90degrees and 0 degrees if there is a resistive component (easiest to see in the phasor form, |Z|exp(j*theta)). Anyways, capacitors do not reduce resistance! In fact, they have no effect on resistances at all, they however contribute to impedance (and increase the magnitude. well, or decrease if it was an inductive load, but whatever).

What you get out of the wall should have a power factor very near to 1, so I very much doubt that there will be much of a capacitive component there (if anything it would likely be inductive), and I doubt that there will be much capacitance in the human body. But either way, hopefully you're connected to a GFCI circuit that will cutout before too much harm is done (or the fuse/breaker goes)

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Re: paper clip in a power outlet

Postby Alphaniner » Mon Dec 10, 2007 9:48 pm UTC

Being as my dumb ass-friend did this a bit ago:

-Sparks will shoot out
-(in his case) you will feel a mild electric shock
-The socket will be messed up
-You will get yelled at by a teacher

At least that's what happened to him.

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Re: paper clip in a power outlet

Postby Marvin » Tue Dec 11, 2007 3:48 pm UTC

hobbesmaster wrote:Capacitors are purely reactive and do not reduce resistance. The resistance of a complex load is not effected by reactances.


it's true, but you know that if you have a capacitor in AC circuit current goes through it. Now talking form the point of experiment, the current would go through your body. What i think is that your body does not care too much whether the current going through "capacitive part" of your body is in phase with the current going through your "resistive part" of body. They would sum with sqrt(IR2+IC2) if i am not wrong.

Alphaniner wrote:Being as my dumb ass-friend did this a bit ago:

-Sparks will shoot out
-(in his case) you will feel a mild electric shock
-The socket will be messed up
-You will get yelled at by a teacher

At least that's what happened to him.


see? told you... no ill effect at all :mrgreen:
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Re: paper clip in a power outlet

Postby hobbesmaster » Tue Dec 11, 2007 5:12 pm UTC

Marvin wrote:
hobbesmaster wrote:Capacitors are purely reactive and do not reduce resistance. The resistance of a complex load is not effected by reactances.


it's true, but you know that if you have a capacitor in AC circuit current goes through it. Now talking form the point of experiment, the current would go through your body. What i think is that your body does not care too much whether the current going through "capacitive part" of your body is in phase with the current going through your "resistive part" of body. They would sum with sqrt(IR2+IC2) if i am not wrong.


The current through a complex load is just V/Z. Its a complex number, but I'm guessing that the reactive part will be quite small. The power dissipated as heat would be the real power, or Real((I)^2*Z). The reactive power would not be dissipated as heat, it contributes to charging/discharging reactive components (capacitors/inductors). You can say that adding reactive components to a load will reduce the real power dissipated in a load, but it does not reduce the current.

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Re: paper clip in a power outlet

Postby Marvin » Tue Dec 11, 2007 10:23 pm UTC

hobbesmaster wrote:but it does not reduce the current.


well... increasing the current was my idea?

and i never thought that it would make any significant role... especially on such low frequencies...
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Re: paper clip in a power outlet

Postby eternauta3k » Tue Dec 11, 2007 11:00 pm UTC

thoughtfully wrote:Actually, if you are actually covered with water, as opposed to having some at your fingertips or feet, you should be a little better off. It works like a Faraday cage. I think some folks struck by lightning on golf courses in damp conditions have been saved by this.
So no horrible burns from the water heating because of the current? It's like holding on to an electric heater!
As far as I know, you run stuff at the same wattage over there as over here (pond-wise).

Well, P=IV
P=Power (Watts)
I= Current (Amperes)
V= Potential Difference (Volts)

You can see from P=IV that if you lower the voltage the current must increase to keep the same power.

Well, it basically turns out that you get more current through you from a 110V system than a 230V system.
No. The power here isn't constant, what's constant is the (RMS) voltage. I = V/R, therefore you get less current with the lower voltage. It is true that appliances that consume the same power need more current with 110V than with 220V.
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Re: paper clip in a power outlet

Postby thoughtfully » Tue Dec 11, 2007 11:02 pm UTC

eternauta3k wrote:
thoughtfully wrote:Actually, if you are actually covered with water, as opposed to having some at your fingertips or feet, you should be a little better off. It works like a Faraday cage. I think some folks struck by lightning on golf courses in damp conditions have been saved by this.
So no horrible burns from the water heating because of the current? It's like holding on to an electric heater!


"A little better off" here means you don't die a horrible, flaming death. No claims regarding any lesser ignoble fates were made.
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Re: paper clip in a power outlet

Postby sgt york » Wed Dec 12, 2007 5:29 am UTC

TizzyFoe wrote:i've gotten into a debate with some friends of mine, about what will happen if i stick a paper clip into a power outlet. I think the electricity will flow through the paper clip which will make it very hot and blow out a fuse or circuit breaker, but i dont think i will get shocked (maybe just burned).


Scinecey people experiment. It's in our nature.

Back in the day, in my freshman high school biology lab, I regret to inform you that the same idea occurred to me. Thanks to some other more normal high school student type experiments conducted earlier in the day, I was easily goaded into trying it by a few classmates.

Result: Pain, loud noise, lights still on, very surprised teacher. But most importantly, PAIN. I'm pretty sure it was from the paper clip heating up and then burning me, but I don't really care. It hurt like a bitch. On the bright side, I did discover a way to come down off pot really quick.

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Re: paper clip in a power outlet

Postby wst » Wed Dec 12, 2007 9:36 pm UTC

sgt york wrote:On the bright side, I did discover a way to come down off pot really quick.



The ultimate high-speed opium heater, right about in that previous paragraph.

A bit of tin-foil soldered to the top of said paperclip would hold it, or whatever you wanted to heat, and just jab the ends in the socket.

Sure, explain it to the hospital/police, but it's a hell of a buzz when you get it right, I'll bet. (Note: I don't actually take, or condone taking, drugs. Stop spreading rumours!)
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Re: paper clip in a power outlet

Postby Lucasrifer » Tue Mar 05, 2019 3:50 pm UTC

I myself have done this, was it stupid? Yes. Did I get shocked? Yeah, but it was only a little zap. (Just so you know I stick both ends of the paper clip into both holes) the outlet did spark and turn black, and I blew a breaker. The paper clip was hot and it also had black marks on the ends of the paper clip. No I didn’t die, or else I wouldn’t be responding. But I wouldn’t recommend you do it because I might’ve just gotten lucky. There’s your answer from someone who experienced this firsthand. I hope that sums it up.

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Re: paper clip in a power outlet

Postby Soupspoon » Mon Mar 11, 2019 3:47 pm UTC

oxoiron wrote:I knew a naval electrician who could be standing in the bilge in sea water half way up his shins, and not get shocks from 110V lines. He used to check if 220V lines were live by licking his fingers and grabbing them. He claimed that if he didn't lick his fingers, he was unable to get even the little tingle he got by doing so.
Given this necroed thread (if not electricians), I'm bound to mention the old adage:
"There's good electricians, bad electricians and dead electricians. The good electrician remembers his current-testing screwdriver [or equivalent modern tool/device], the bad electrician checks with the back of his hand and recoils from any shock, the dead one goes to grip the wire and can't release it".

However technically accurate/whatever special circumstances apply, many UK electrical sockets have a plastic 'gate' internally across the L/N slots that is moved aside only when the substantial Earth pin is inserted into its hole. But if I had a mind to do anything like this (Om knows why!) and I first jammed any such gate open and had decided to switch the socket on beforehand* is to make sure the wire was solidly in the neutral side first (not without risk, itself, under various circumstances I couldn't rule out) before sending the other end in to the live contact with a backhand nudge. I suspect those here who note having survived the experience to tell of it may have been more likely to have done that, along with all other chance not-as-bad-as-it-could-have-been circumstances surrounding the incident.

Like for skirting-board level sockets, shoes don't help if I'm kneeling. Perhaps I'd need to kneel on my removed/second pair of shoes to benefit from their sole useful feature? Or crouch, providing an electrical route between arm and leg (depending on clothing) that doesn't pass so much through the torso and across the heart.

Look, I wouldn't do it. But there are ways that I definitely wouldn't do it, on top of that.


I'm wondering if the Sparky, in the above quote, was actually like the possibly apocryphal mortician-trainer/surgeon who got his students to repeat his "getting used to the messiness of dead bodies" exercise of sticking a finger in the corpse's anus then in his mouth. But which also was a test of observation as it was a different finger when he had done it.


My own tale (the closest I have been to this, except for tapping a plucked dandelion stalk on an electric fence and not liking the result, when v. young) was in a Physics lab when working with a High Tension power supply (kilovolts or greater,proportionally very few amps), on some test I now forget exactly, I unscrewed the 'stop' on the dial edge to illicitly access even higher voltages during an idle moment. A few moments later I got a kick from… I don't know what, but some part of the apparatus within the cordon must have spawned a spark to jump the gap to me. I switched it all off and restored the safety screw (nobody had noticed, that I knew, maybe the HT supply safeguards had tripped quickly enough, and nothing required physically re-fusing) and stuck to the script again for the remainder of the session.


* Another much used feature, even on extension strips and some direct splitting-blocks is individual socket switching

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Re: paper clip in a power outlet

Postby Sableagle » Tue Mar 12, 2019 2:46 pm UTC

Soupspoon wrote:... the closest I have been to this, except for tapping a plucked dandelion stalk on an electric fence and not liking the result, ...
The only electric fences around here are the kind that "tick" as they discharge, and will give you a nasty jolt if you're earthing them at the time. If you're wearing rubber boots and listening for the "tick" you can tap a bare finger against the string & wire in what seems a very casual manner and always hit it just after a "tick," making it look like it's got no bite worth mentioning.
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Re: paper clip in a power outlet

Postby Heimhenge » Tue Mar 12, 2019 3:53 pm UTC

I don't know who resurrected this old thread, but I see it was started before I found this forum. Interesting discussion. When I was like 2nd grade or thereabouts I had my first encounter with an electric fence (US farm version). I knew not to touch it because there were warning signs on the posts. Somehow my "friend" convinced me to piss on it. Said it would make some cool sparks. At that age I had no idea liquids could conduct electricity. One jolt was all it took of course. He got a good laugh out of it. Not sure what the voltage and current was, but I was sore the rest of the day.


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