A battery is a device consisting of one or more electromechanical cells that convert stored chemical energy into electrical energy. Each cell contains a positive terminal, or cathode, and a negative terminal, or anode. Electrolytes allow ions to move between the electrodes and terminals, which allows current to flow out of the battery to perform work. Chances are, you won’t have the size you need when you need it, but if you’re like me and you do have the right size, there’s a very good chance that you’ll put at least one battery in backward.
There’s a little box up in the corner of my computer screen, which is letting me know that the mouse batteries are low. The box suggests that I replace them soon, which is what I will do as soon as I find two AA batteries. We generally buy a loaf of these things, but for some reason, they are all gone. I don’t know where they all went. Aside from the mouse and the keyboard, the only things in the house that use them are a few clocks and the thermostat, and those seem to last for years. It’s one of the big mysteries of life, I guess. Where do the all the AA batteries go?
I grew up in an era where very few things had batteries. Flashlights, of course, with their dim yellow light took a few D cell batteries. Those were the big, heavy ones, and I can’t think of a single thing in our house now that requires them. Maybe the car, for all I know. Every flashlight we have has bright and efficient LED bulbs, and any one of these flashlights would probably work for weeks by plugging it into a potato. I think these tiny flashlights take AAA batteries, but I’m not really sure. I’ve never replaced them.
We have a wall clock in our laundry room, which takes three AA batteries every few years, but we had a kitchen wall clock in the house in which I grew up that had to be plugged into a socket. The clock had a stubby cord with a plug that was maneuvered into a special recessed socket made solely for this purpose, and every house on the street had one in exactly the same location. When our electric kitchen clock finally ticked its last, we got a newfangled clock with a battery and put it over the obsolete plug. This was the dawn of the battery age, bringing us to now when everything seems to be powered by a battery of some kind.
The other morning, the dog was lying on our bed. He was let outside before daylight and was now curled up on the residual warmth I had left for him. His collar was blinking. When this happens, I often wonder what he makes of it. I mean, collars, in general, are outside of the natural wardrobe of dogs, so a flashing collar must be viewed with a bit of wonderment. I think he’s ambivalent about it, as he is with most things that aren’t a UPS driver, squirrels or other dogs.
We have an invisible fence type of system, which requires Milo to wear the collar, although he automatically stops at his boundary even if he isn’t wearing it. Still, there’s no point in taking chances. Squirrels can be very tempting.
Those batteries last about three months, and we buy them from the place that installed the system. They gouge us a hefty sixteen dollars for one of these things, but what are we going to do? They’re actually two separate batteries shrink-wrapped into one barrel, and I did find a store that sells nothing but batteries that had the type that fit the collar. Not surprisingly, they were cheaper but the store is a thirty-five-mile round trip, and for some reason, the batteries didn’t last as long.
So Milo was sprawled out on the bed, oblivious to or hypnotized by his blinking collar. I couldn’t tell which. Luckily we had a spare battery, so now we have three months to get another one, and if things go according to plan, we’ll forget all about it until his collar starts blinking again.
That’s the state of contemporary batteries. Oddness. AA is probably the most common, but that doesn’t always mean it’s the battery that’s needed. I have a clock on my upstairs desk that takes an N battery. What the heck is an N battery? When I finally found a place nearby that sold them, I bought four. I put one in the clock, but I have no idea where I put the other three.
I wish every device with a battery sent out a warning of when they were losing power. My watch will start to tick off ten-second chunks of time when the battery is going, and most of the devices with a screen of some kind will have an icon, but there are still some things that will simply stop working.
Many of our battery-controlled devices are rechargeable, which is terrific, but they eventually have to be plugged in to be recharged. On one hand, there’s the convenience of cordless, but on the other hand, that convenience can’t go far without the mothership. My phone is a great example of this. The charge will last about fourteen hours before it blinks out a warning that there is only twenty percent power left, then ten percent, and then it will simply fade to black. The last twenty percent of life fades remarkably fast, so I hurry and try to take advantage of every last bit of what’s left. There’s an analogy here that is too grim to even think about.
Batteries. They’re as much a part of our lives as anything else. Cars are running on them now, although not for very far, and I’ve seen them silently zipping down the road and at the public charging stations, tethered to their lifeline. I think that’s remarkable and I hope they improve to the point where they are a real choice for people. I doubt I’ll ever get one, though. I have enough things blinking at me.