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Turn left...NO! MY left!

November 6, 2008 11:08 AM 11/6/08

So a friend of mine came in from Florida to pick up and drive a large-scale computer system back to his home and we had to pick it up in Chicago - specifically Lower Wacker Drive. That was actually fun except for having to wait on the dock because we aren’t union people.

My back is a little sore today as a result but no biggie. It was fun seeing my friend again and the system we picked up was just plain cool. (A Sun E10k system - 1800lbs fully loaded.)

I’d like to do a long travel trip some day. Take a month or two and see my friends all around the country and the world. It would be fun but cost an awful lot of money and would take our daughter out of school for quite some time because I’m not so cruel as to leave her with my in-laws for that long. She’d be confused and upset and I try and minimize that when I can. Maybe when she’s able to communicate a little better.

Got rid of some more stuff from the garage since my friend was here - he picked up some of the stuff he left here as well as took a couple of small things off my hands. That gives me even more space to work with out there. It’s crappy out today and tomorrow so I think I’ll maybe box some of the stuff in the third bedroom so I can get it ready to move out there. (Yes, I know. I should have just left it boxed) I really want another camera out there before I put my nice shiny G5 iMac out there but that may not be a choice right now.

Oh damn. It’s raining today which means all the leaves in my lawn are going to be soggy and nasty. Blech. Well I can live with them getting snowed over and composting a little over the winter. The lawn is pretty fertile so it should withstand suck torture well enough. I need to talk to my wife because I’d really like to work on replacing the lawn with other plants that don’t require so much water and less care but that’s a big plan. (And no I“m not going to astroturf my lawn no matter what Ed Begly does.)

Speaking of green things I really like the fact that people are now getting flyers in the mail from a company selling solar grid-tie systems. The prices aren’t bad for the output ($29k for a 6kw system - 36 panels) but I still can’t afford to do that yet.

We’re doing okay financially but not spectacular. Between gas and other things we spent about $100 or so this weekend. Not good but not bad either.

I picked up some parts to build a replica of the small arc reactor from the Iron Man movie. Radio Shack had some flat-profile white LEDs that look like they’re bright enough and I picked up a bag of glue sticks to melt and hopefully cast around the windings and LEDs. Figured out a very sturdy and easy way to wire the thing too.

First take two pieces of 12ga copper wire and bend them into two rings - one smaller than the other - about the size you want the arc reactor to be.

Slide several small single rubber grommets onto each wire piece and place them where you want the ”coils“ to be. You should end up with four per ”coil“ area. The rubber grommets will keep the two large rings separated which will be important.

Put heat-shrink tubing around the grommets and shrink it using a heat source. (I often use a lighter but move quickly.)

Solder the two large rings closed at the end so that they are stable and solid but separate.

Next wind 22ga or so copper wire around the heat shrink tubing being careful not to touch the main rings.

Next take the flat-profile LEDs (or whatever LEDs you want to use) and solder one leg of them to the outer ring and the other to the inner ring. Make sure and be consistent so you don’t swap legs on any of them.

Now solder one wire to each ring and solder those wire to appropriate connectors on a battery holder.

Likely with the drop in voltage due to the number of LEDs you won’t need a resistor if the supply is 3V or less but you might want to test with a 1k ohm resistor in-line with the (+) side of the batteries.

The next part is a little tricky.

Get two cheap pots from the thrift store or wherever. Note - you don’t want to ever use these for food once we use them here. Anyway one needs to be medium and the other small.

Fill the medium one with water and put it on the stove to start heating. Put the second pot in the first and fill it with a bag of glue sticks. (Low-temp ones if possible.)

After a time these will melt completely. Keep the water in the pot topped off to keep them melted. Don’t let them burn or boil.

While they’re melting get a round tupperware container (has to be microwave safe at least) that is just a hair larger than the outside of the arc reactor. You’ll also need a can of mold release from the craft store. Spray the inside of the container with mold release and put the ring in there face down.

Now pour the melted glue sticks into the tupperware container so that they just barely covers the arc reactor. Turn off the stove, go do something else for about an hour or so, and when you come back you’ll have a completed Mark I arc reactor.

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( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 6th, 2008 11:05 pm (UTC)
Well, I never saw "Iron Man". So how is a simple circle of lights an "arc reactor"? Couldn't you just wire up some LEDs on a circle of any convenient material? And what are the coils around the grommets for?
Nov. 6th, 2008 11:21 pm (UTC)
The arc reactor is actually the fictional source of power for Iron Man's armor. Basically this is the basics for building a visual prop that looks like this:


One of the things that has always fascinated me is when a good special effects shop produces a piece of fictional technology that actually _looks_ completely real. I've got a few sketches of things here and there of similar things.

Not _all_ of my ideas are reality based. ;-)
Nov. 7th, 2008 12:16 am (UTC)
I didn't realize it was a special-effects thing; I assumed it was meant to do something, but I couldn't imagine what. Silly me ;-)

Edited at 2008-11-07 12:17 am (UTC)
Nov. 6th, 2008 11:43 pm (UTC)
Huh...you just gave me a very interesting idea - a round Jacob's ladder.

If you didn't close the 12ga copper rings and made sure the space expanded a bit as it went around you could in theory attach a HV source to it and run an arc in almost a complete circle.

Sandwich that between two thick translucent plastic discs and fill the edges with clear epoxy. Hmm....

That is a project I'll have to look into later...
Nov. 7th, 2008 12:23 am (UTC)
Nope. A Jacob's ladder relies on the fact that hot air rises. The ionized air that conducts the arc is also hotter than the air around it, so it rises, taking the arc with it, until it reaches a point where the conductors are too far apart to maintain the arc. Then a new arc forms again at the bottom, where the conductors are closest together, and the cycle repeats. There's no way to bend this into a circle, alas.
Nov. 7th, 2008 12:46 am (UTC)
Huh. I always assumed for some reason that a Jacob's ladder was a purely unadulterated arc that would run in a vacuum. So much for that idea.

But you _could_ do something else interesting in the "arc" related realm.

You _could_ make the rings of plastic and then populate them with carbon arc points all the way around. Kind of like how spark plugs work. Each arc powered by its own inverter/HV circuit.

Use some switching circuits to cycle the arcs in whatever order you'd like.

It'd be a pain in the ass to insulate and power but it would be damn cool. And of course it'd be noisy in the RF spectrum and probably produce an annoying buzzing noise.

Weird. I think I've come up with a device that's both cool and irritating at the same time.
Nov. 7th, 2008 06:58 am (UTC)
Why bother having each arc powered by its own circuit? Run it exactly like a car's ignition system. You wouldn't even need any actual rotating contacts, because you don't have to keep the spark carefully synchronized with the motions of pistons in cylinders. Just switch it all electronically. I'd enclose the whole thing in a toroidal clear plastic tube, though, just to keep inquisitive fingers (and cat noses) out of the path of the arcs.
Nov. 7th, 2008 01:06 pm (UTC)
Oh duh. And I was just talking to a friend about "phased arrays" not too long ago too. You'd think I would have twigged on that. Thanks for the reminder. :-)

As for the toroidal tube I'd have to make the circuit using straight wire, put it in the tube, then bend it into a toroid. Unless I want to cut the tube in half and re-bond it back together. Be a little tough either way.

Of course it would look more like a Tokamak at that point which would also be cool. ;-)
Nov. 8th, 2008 05:05 am (UTC)
That's why geeks should always have other geeks as friends - to catch each other's design flaws ;-)

You wouldn't necessarily need an actual toroid; a shallow cylinder with the edges rounded off would do, and you could put all the circuitry in the middle. Have the housing split horizontally, and made so that you can just snap it together. (Look in an arts-and-crafts store for some of the objects intended to be made into Xmas wreaths.)

And, while an actual, operating tokamak - if you could see what was going on inside it - would probably look more like a simple neon circle, an array of "spinning" electric sparks would be way cool ;-D
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )



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