My first tussle with hotel room electrics came early in my career when I was a radio journalist. My concern back then was whether I could unscrew the mouthpiece of the hotel room phone. If I could, I would connect my cassette recorder, via a cable and serrated crocodile clips, to two pieces of metal inside the disassembled mouthpiece and play my pre-recorded report to the editors at the other end. As hotel phones became fancier, their mouthpieces came with solid bits of moulded plastic that couldn’t be taken apart — an inconsiderate development for radio journalists. Today, whatever work we do, we conduct our business via mobile phone and laptop, which brings its own problems. Both devices require regular recharging and there is, as every traveller knows, a profusion of national plug designs. The International Electrotechnical Commission, the Geneva-based body that has been publishing international standards for electronics since 1906, lists 14 different types of plug. These include...

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