Sunday, February 22, 2009

Three Facts about Electricity in Egypt

1. Some people believe the ancient Egyptians invented the electric light bulb.

The ancient Egyptians were an innovative bunch. Among other things, they are credited with inventing polytheism, monotheism, boomerangs, bread, beer, wine, and the Christian cross (a derivative of the Ankh). But we were particularly intrigued to hear the hypothesis that they invented the electric light bulb.

The evidence for this claim comes in two forms (that we heard -- Google can probably provide more). First, there's the question of how the Egyptians were able to see what they were doing when they made carving deep inside a tomb or enclosed temple. There are apparently places in which the nearest natural light was 100 yards or more away. Mirrors were used in some cases, but have limited reach. Torches could been taken even further, of course, and often were (as indicated by the soot covering the ceilings at the temple of Horus, for example). But there is no soot in some deep temples and tombs. So how did they see what they were doing? Perhaps electric light is the answer.

The second piece of evidence comes from carvings, such as those at the Temple of Dendara, that appear (to some) to show electric light bulbs. As the picture to the right shows, however, that interpretation is, shall we say, aggressive. Is the cobra in the elongated space really a filament in the first light bulb? You be the judge. (Maybe he's an electric eel?)

2. Street lamps are a substitute for headlights.

Driving through Cairo our first night, we noticed a peculiar (to us) fact: most cars don't use their headlights. Our tour guide explained that Cairenes feel that they shouldn't waste their batteries and headlights, as long as streetlights provide at least a little light to drive by.

Those drivers would probably be shocked by the growing trend in Europe and the U.S. to use headlights even during the day.

3. Voltage matters.

For the modern traveler, the mystery of electricity is how to get juice for your favorite devices. How do you keep your iPhone, Vaio, Kindle, Flip, and Nikon happy? Woe to the traveler who confuses an adapter (which gets the plug right) and a converter (which adjusts voltages). Happily, the cords for the Kindle, Vaio, and Nikon have converters built in, so all you need is an adapter. And you can charge the iPhone by plugging it into the Vaio.

But then there's the Flip, which runs on AA batteries. Being a good environmental steward, Esther brought rechargeable batteries for the Flip and, of course, a recharger. Too bad it works only with the 110 volt power we have in the States, and not with the 220 volt power here in Egypt. Not realizing this, Esther ran an impromptu science experiment. Result: A loud pop, sudden darkness, and a defunct battery charger. Oops.

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