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*Chuckles* I’m In Danger!

, , , , , , , | Learning | February 4, 2023

In the early 1990s, I bought my first house. Not long after moving in, I noticed that our local community college had a non-credit evening course called “Residential Wiring For Homeowners”. It was, as the title suggested, catering to homeowners who wanted to learn the basics of electrical wiring in the home as it pertained to anything from replacing lights fixtures and switches to minor electrical changes — renovations, etc.

The instructor was a licensed journeyman electrician with a wry sense of humour and more than a few stories to tell of the many wiring nightmares he had come across in his career. He was a great instructor, and I learned a LOT from him in the course.

Each week, he would give a short lecture on the work we would practice. For the course, each of us bought a list of electrical supplies (wire, switches, junction boxes, etc.), and we used a two-foot-by-two-foot square of plywood to attach the various pieces. After each lecture, we would then practice building the circuits and mount the necessary pieces on the board. During this time, our instructor would move about checking our work, offering advice and/or corrections, and answering questions.

On the first night, [Instructor] outlined the course and expectations. He also made it clear there was one rule that had to be followed:

“NOBODY plugs their board in to live power without me checking your work first. No exceptions!”

You may guess where this story is going.

There was one guy in the class — let’s call him “Ralph”. After a few nights, it was clear that Ralph was struggling a bit with the concepts. He never seemed to get it right the first time, kept asking for more explanations, etc. He was a nice guy but clearly not cut out to do this stuff on his own.

One evening, in particular, stands out all these years later. We were working on a more complicated wiring example using four-way switches and light fixtures. Everyone was working away and completing the task when, all of a sudden, there was a loud “FOOP” and the lights went out in the class and in the hallway so we were in the pitch black.

After a few moments:

Instructor: “Who did that?!”

Ralph: “Uhhhh, sorry…”

Instructor: “Okay, everyone unplug your boards, and do not touch them until I’m back. I’m going to find and reset the breaker.”

When the lights came on and [Instructor] returned, he reviewed all the work in progress and gave the okay to proceed… for everyone but poor Ralph. He took Ralph to one corner of the room and sat down with him for a few minutes to have a “quiet conversation”. We proceeded with finishing our work, and Ralph eventually returned to finish his project board under the watchful eye of [Instructor].

A few classes later, we were done with the course. On the final night, [Instructor] began passing out certificates to all of us… except for poor Ralph. They were largely symbolic certificates, just an acknowledgment that we had taken the course.

Instructor: “Ralph, I know you tried your best in this course, but it is abundantly clear that you really have trouble grasping the basics I tried to teach this class. I would invite you to register for and take the course again to get the concepts down. If not, I implore you to never, ever touch the electrical wiring in your home and always call a qualified electrician for any work.”

I have no idea if Ralph tried to take the course again, and I certainly hope he never burned his house down trying to replace a light switch on his own.

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