AC to DC by 2020?

I’d heard about the upcoming transition from analog to digital TV signals, although I hadn’t really paid attention to the date (February 17, 2009) since I don’t actually watch TV. What did pique my interest was the fact that the U.S. government is offering subsidies to households who do not procure a digital TV before the switchover date. If you still “only” have an analog TV, you can get a $40 coupon for a converter to enable you to continue getting your TV fix. No, wait: one TV per household certainly doesn’t satisfy our modern demands! That might require that the whole family watch the same show at the same time. But those clever guys at the Department of Commerce (guess who wants you watching more TV?) are one step ahead: you can now get this subsidy for two TVs per household! Now that’s America in action. We’ll show the world who’s a first-world country, and who can’t even get their constituents one TV per household.

The real point of this post, though, is about a different mandated transition that I recently discovered. By 2020, the DIRECT initiative mandates that all public and private power grids in the country be converted from AC to DC power — and by 2030, all new devices must be able to plug into this DC power bonanza without needing a converter. DIRECT stands for Development Initiative for Return to Edison Current Technology, and it’s sure to have Tesla rolling in his grave. When did this happen? Why wasn’t I told? This is a change that could have real potential for affecting my life!

I wasn’t told because apparently it’s all … an April Fool’s joke. The above link is to Lauren Weinstein’s column in the April issue of Communications of the ACM, in which it is presented without apology or caveat (although with the title “A Current Affair” and an exceedingly poor pun in the final paragraph). Googling to find out more about the “initiative” revealed its positioning as a satire piece. So what I learned today was: don’t trust the ACM! At least not in April. :)

3 of 3 people learned something from this entry.

  1. jim said,

    April 27, 2008 at 10:43 pm

    (Learned something new!)

    The changeover to DC was intended to combat the spaghetti weevil. :)

    [If it’s any consolation, there were many members of the cycling community that were duped by/crossposting the faux announcement that General Motors was buying Specialized (a bicycle company).]

  2. IdahoEv said,

    May 5, 2008 at 10:31 am

    (Learned something new!)

    How fun! I knew the DIRECT DC thing had to be bogus, though, it’s just completely not workable in the modern world, DC won’t transmit far enough.

    I remember a startling problem from my freshman physics class. It was along the lines of “Assume you are trying to supply New York City with X watts of DC power at Y volts from a single power plant. Given the standard equations for losses due to resistance and heating, and a pure copper wire of diameter Z, how far will it transmit before the voltage has dropped to 0? The answer may surprise you.” I think X was 10GW, Y was 120V and Z was 1 meter, though of course these numbers are what I remember after 15 years.

    Anyway, IIRC the answer was 22 meters. Yeah. So DC only works for low amounts of power and fairly short transmission distances, beyond that you have no choice but to transmit the power as a wave.

  3. jim said,

    May 7, 2008 at 8:49 am

    We were asked to calculate how thick the cable needed to be to transmit power over 1km. Equally large results ;-) Anyway, I *loved* that problem.

  4. Echo said,

    May 7, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    (Learned something new!)

    Woo! I seem to get duped by about one well-presented April Fool’s article a year. My goal is to just make my duping as short as possible :).

    I’ve known about the TV switch to digital for years b/c my brother and father are absorbed in the politics. It doesn’t matter to their lives b/c neither of them receive TV over the airwaves anyway. But if you are dependent on airwave TV, then any TV you own becomes a brick after the transition. So it doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to offer as many converter boxes as there are TVs in a household.

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