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There's No Shortage of Electrifying Information on Energy


California's energy hoax, er, crisis, has sparked lots of confusion. Here are answers to the most frequent questions:

Question: On "The Addams Family," how did Uncle Fester get that lightbulb to turn on when he put it in his mouth?

Answer: He had an "electric personality" that enabled him to generate electricity.

Q: How is electricity normally created?

A: Thousands of utility employees shuffle back and forth across special carpets 24 hours a day and then touch metal rods that feed into power lines. If that isn't sufficient, utilities rely on generators fueled by natural gas, nuclear power, hydroelectric power, giant hamsters on treadmills or magic. Failing that, they buy it from out of state.

Q: Are any strings attached when California imports power from Washington or Oregon?

A: No, but to foster goodwill, Gov. Gray Davis tells neighboring states that the power is used strictly for emergencies, such as running hospitals, operating traffic lights and enabling residents to watch "Temptation Island" while sitting in their hot tubs.

Q: I've read that a single 100-watt bulb produces more light than two 60-watt bulbs and uses less power. How can that be?

A: It's called "fuzzy math." But, somehow, it's true, according to Southern California Edison.

Q: In my secret basement laboratory, I'm trying to re-create the experiments of Dr. Frankenstein. But bringing a monster to life requires tons of electricity. How can I reduce power consumption?

A: When buying electronic equipment at your local mad scientist supply store, make sure it is Energy Star-approved. Also, try to bring your monster to life during off-peak hours (after 10 p.m.).

Q: What is a watt?

A: Simply put, it's a measurement of electric power equal to the energy developed in a circuit by a one-ampere current flowing through a potential difference of one volt. Or, if you want to get technical, it's a teeny-tiny piece of electricity.

Q: What's the difference between a blackout and a brownout?

A: In blackouts, the power system shuts down completely. A brownout just dims the lights. And whiteout is a quick-drying fluid used to cover typing mistakes.

Q: What's the most energy-efficient type of refrigerator?

A: A top-bottom model guzzles less power than a side-by-side. Another option is to junk your fridge and simply drive to the store whenever you need something cold.


Roy Rivenburg's e-mail address is

* Sources:,, Webster's New World Dictionary

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