Geekspeak: June 4, 2001

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2001-06-04 Print this article Print

About that bomb in your briefcase

The Compaq laptop battery pictured here is not especially dangerous by the standards of its genre. But have you ever done the numbers on the energy stored in one of these innocent-looking lumps of hardware?

At the batterys bottom left appear the values 14.8 volts and 3.2 ampere-hours. Thats less than 50 watts for a period of 1 hour, about what you get from the light bulb in your refrigerator. But modern batteries get their efficiency from low internal resistance (enabling high current with little reduction in voltage). Any of several forms of abuse could release something closer to 500 watts over a period of a few minutes. That spare battery could become a truly hot accessory.

If youve never read the fine print on a battery, do it now. Believe it, and treat these things as carefully as youd treat a can of gasoline.

The principle is the same: The difference between utility and danger is just a matter of keeping that energy under control.

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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