We’ve all been there. You are trying to stream the new season of Arrested Development, but your brand new router refuses to connect. You’ve unplugged and then re-plugged the device into the wall; the device’s lights pop right up, but still no George Michael Bluth! So you call into the dreaded Linksys phone tree, only to be told you must reset your router and wait 10, 20, or even 30 seconds before plugging the device back in. So what gives? Does the Technical Support Specialist need a brief respite from your problems, or is there some method to their madness?
As it turns out, there is a very good reason for the 10 second wait time, and it all has to do with a good friend who is with us in most every electronic device we own: the capacitor! (note: sans ‘flux’) A capacitor is an electronic component that acts kind of like a mini rechargeable battery.
When you flip on your device, the capacitor will fill up with electricity until it reaches its limit. Once the limit is reached, the capacitor will release the electricity it has stored to the next component in the circuit. In many circuits, a capacitor can smooth an electrical signal, taking an initially noisy signal and outputting a nice, steady version that will play well with the other components in the circuit.
While this is one of many uses for this miraculous component, one fact remains about the capacitor: no matter what, once the flow of electricity to the capacitor is shut off, the electricity stored within it will need some time to drain. Picture what happens when you blow up a balloon and suddenly stop blowing. Minus the sound, this is exactly what is happening inside the capacitor, during those 10 seconds.
The same conditions applies to every renegade router out there. Without allowing the device’s capacitors enough time to fully drain, electricity will continue to flow within the device, preventing it from resetting. This principle applies to more devices than just routers. For example, watch what happens to the power light on your laptop charger once you unplug it. That gentle fade in intensity is just your capacitors winding down after a long day of power storage.
So next time, as you wait out those mysterious 10 seconds, take a breather, look out the window, and before you know it Arrested Development will be back on, and you’ll be laughing yourself blue in the face.