ArcAfter writing about this (and a couple other) insane high-voltage videos last week I’ve been wondering how this particular flaming arc of electricity came to be. Alan said it looked like a Jacob’s Ladder and, according to what I found today, he’s right! After some creative googleing I found this description on the Stoneridge Engineering website:

This video clip was captured by the maintenance foreman at the 500 kV Eldorado Substation near Boulder City, Nevada. It shows a three-phase motorized air disconnect switcher attempting to open high voltage being supplied to a large three phase shunt line reactor.

The arc stretches upward, driven by rising hot gases and writhing from small air currents, until it easily exceeds 100 feet in length. Switching arcs usually terminate long before reaching this size since they normally flash over to an adjacent phase or to ground.

As impressive as this huge arc may be, the air break switch was really NOT disconnecting a real load. This arc was “only” carrying the relatively low (about 100 amps) magnetizing current associated with the line reactor. The 94 mile long transmission line associated with the above circuit normally carries over 1,000 megawatts (MW) of power between Boulder City, Nevada (from the generators at Hoover Dam) to the Lugo substation near Los Angeles, California. A break under load conditions (~2,000 amps) would have created a MUCH hotter and extremely destructive arc.

Yikes! That’s all I can say.

SubstationCheck out the High Voltage Sparks and Arcs page for more info on this and some other amazing high voltage fun, including this video of a substation going poof! Despite its vintage design, this page has some cool footage.


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In case you missed it, the winner of ABC’s American Inventor was anounced tonight on the one hour finale.

Congradulations to Janusz Liberkowski for winning with his invention the Spherical Safety Seat.

Click here for some details on the Spherical Safety Seat. This invention is one of the most original in it’s area since the safety seat itself.

While I do hope there is a second season I also hope the producers will consider changing the format of the show.


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Bulb photo by Knu†.  Click for larger image and license info.Update: The winner has been anounced. Click here to find out who won!

As the first season of ABC’s American Inventor approaches it’s close many are wondering about its future.

Despite my initial disappointment after the premier I have to say it’s been enjoyable watching the inventors grow. That’s the bright side, but after suffering through the laborious and repetitive rehashing of some of the inventions that didn’t make it and back-story of the ones that did I still maintain they could do better.

A different format

Imagine this for a moment. Season 2 begins like season 1. The format for the search is the same and I’m sure more, better, and worse inventions will show up. Yes, the search should be a freak show that even your local RadioShack would be proud of. Riding the wave of the first season we should be able to get something on the order of a ham radio club to the power of a Star Trek convention on the sketch-o-meter.

Week 1: Those chosen in the initial search will refine their pitches and products within their own means and present again. Cut several.

Week 2: Continuing competitors will be given a modest sum and/or the availability of some professional help to improve their products or, in the case of more elaborate products show how the product could be improved and taken to market. Cut several more.

Week 3: A change of pace. Small teams are formed, given a modest budget, and each team must improve an existing product for, say, the kitchen. Cut the weakest team.

Week 4: Again, improve an existing invention. Now individuals compete to improve an existing product for the office. Cut several.

Week 5: High speed invention. Individuals must invent and present a brand new product, including researching the market space and confirming that the invention does not already exist.

Week 6: Advance new inventions. Groups are formed and must choose one of their individual inventions from the previous week to improve.

Week 7: Create a commercial for your initial invention.

And so on… You get the idea. This combination would not only highlight the American inventor’s ideas, but also their skills and teamwork. Yes, there is great value to fully developing an invention, but a professional inventor must be able to work individually or on a team. They must be able to step back from one task to tackle another.

So will there be a season 2? Hard to tell. ABC has a little blurb about casting for next season, but interestingly it links to americaninventor.tv. I wonder if ABC is trying to decouple the American Inventor web content from their network site with the idea of unloading the show on another network.

Americaninventor.tv has the following, very tentative announcement regarding auditions for season 2:

DID YOU MISS YOUR CHANCE TO AUDITION FOR THE FIRST SEASON?

If we head out on a second search, we want to make sure you don’t miss out. Sign up now and we’ll contact you when we’re getting ready to hit the road again.

The competition is open individuals or teams of inventors.

The product must be something that can be mass produced and sold in a retail outlet.

You can come with a sketch, a prototype or even just an idea.

Meanwhile all we can do is hope season 2 is more content than recap.

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All I can say is here are three fairly insane Tesla coil videos. The third one may not actually be a Tesla, but it’s insane enough for me to overlook that.

This guy set up his Tesla to ground to the dropped ceiling grid.

Here we see a crazy man. Note the flames coming from the fluorescent bulb in the last couple seconds of the video.

This… Well, this is just plain the coolest thing I’ve ever seen done with high voltage. I don’t know exactly how this was done, but I’m damned glad it was.

electric, electronic, tesla, tesla coil, electricity, lightning

Pouring a drinkWhile I have written about the Bar Monkey I helped Alan build this winter it’s time to give a better overview of how the whole system works. This is not intended as a how-to but may be of help to folks who are looking to make their own Bar Monkey.

The Bar Monkey is a device for automatically mixing drinks. The concept comes from BarMonkey.net where you can see several other versions of bar monkeys. Almost all of Alan’s Bar Monkey, including the software, was designed by Alan.

How it works

To dispense a drink with the Bar Monkey all you have to do is place a glass under the tap and choose the drink you want from the display. Your drink is poured from the sixteen ingredients (13 liquors and 3 mixers) contained in the Bar Monkey, all you have to do is add ice and stir! If your drink requires something that didn’t make it into the Bar Monkey (we had trouble piping soda and decided milk products would probably go sour) the software will remind you to add it afterwards.

The Software

Pour a drink

The brains of the system is the Bar Monkey software. Alan wrote this custom Java application which, on startup, reads a text file with a list of drinks and ingredients.

The application has four screens for setup and controlling the Bar Monkey. The first and most important one is the “Pour Drinks” screen where just a single click can pour a complicated drink with up to sixteen ingredients. While the drinks are of different sizes any of them will fit into a standard pint glass with room for some ice. If you’re not sure if you’ll like a drink you can view the ingredients on screen or even use the “Taste Test” option which will pour a small drink, one quarter the size of the normal one, with exactly the same proportions.

The second screen will pour a 1.5 oz shot of any of the ingredients in the Bar Monkey. If your favorite drink is not in our list you can use the “Create Custom Drinks” screen to enter the amount of each ingredient for your drink. You can then pour the drink, or pour a “Taste Test” to try it and adjust ingredients if necessary.

The final screen is the “Priming/Cleaning” screen which allows you to control individual ingredients to clear air from the lines, backflow to empty the lines, or run a cleaner through.

Alan is continually updating the software and future features include drink pictures and the ability to save custom drinks. If you’re interested in the software you can contact me and I will pass your requests on to Alan.

Inside the Bar Monkey

ComputerThe software runs on a Windows PC which has been mounted in the Bar Monkey without a case. The PC controls a set of serial relays built from a kit. The kits can be purchased from ElectronicKits.com.

ValvesThe serial relay kit is used to control a series of 16 refrigerator water valves which run on 120 volt AC. These control the flow of each liquor to the tap. Since everything is live 120 volt Alan put together a Plexiglas shield to reduce the risk of electrocution.

C02 tankThe valves provide flow control but, just like in a refrigerator, something else needs to provide pressure. In Alan’s Bar Monkey the pressure comes from a five pound tank of CO2. The variable regulator on the tank regulates the pressure down to only 5 PSI and the valve coming off of the regulator provides easy shut off and converts the thread of the regulator to 1/4-inch outer diameter polyethylene tube. This tubing is the standard for hooking up water to a refrigerator and is available along with a wide variety of splitters, valves, and couplers at home improvement stores.

If you’re considering building your own Bar Monkey I suggest starting with the pressure system. Finding a size and style of tank that fits right and can be refilled locally, then matching it up with a regulator and converters proved to be quite a challenge. Pay special attention to the thread (right-hand or left-hand) of all connections to make sure it will go together in the end.

SplittersIn order to pressurize all 16 bottles the pressure line must be split. While I’m sure there is a more elegant way to handle this, we used T-splitters to make one end into two. It took quite a few splitters but they do not seem to leak. We also added valves to be able to shut off each side independently for easy refills. All the splitters and valves are a quick-connect type which allows the tubing to be removed easily to clean and reroute tubing.

capWe chose to use two liter soda bottles to hold all the liquors. Two liter bottles are surprisingly strong, cheap, common, and all have a standard cap. The bottles, caps and lines are all marked with painter’s tape to assure the right bottle goes on the right line.

capThe caps, which we thought would be easy, turned out to be the biggest challenge of the project. The caps, and the tubes which are glued into them, are made of polyethylene. The molecular bond of polyethylene is so strong it is almost impossible to glue. After several failed attempts with hot glue, cyanoacrylate, silicone and epoxy we finally landed on a solution.

This may sound a bit extreme, but in order to glue polyethylene you must “flash” it first… with a propane torch! By just touching the polyethylene with the blue inner flame of a torch it changes the molecular bond (this is a chemical change, not melting) in a way that it will take glue. We actually found this tip in an Old Town kayak repair manual.

The first step to making the caps was to drill two 1/4 inch holes in the cap. The plastic insert usually falls out at this point, but its absence doesn’t seem to hurt anything. You can then insert the tube through the cap. The tube going to the tap should be long enough to nearly reach the bottom, the other just needs to go through far enough to be solid.

Next we flashed the tubing and caps and wrapped a piece of painter’s tape around it to form a cup for the epoxy. At this point we put the cap on a half full bottle to keep it upright and poured enough epoxy to get a good thick layer. We used 30 minute epoxy but faster epoxy would probably work as well. Once the epoxy had a couple hours to set up the caps were ready to go.

The line which runs to the bottom of the bottle is run up to the valve array. Here wire ties and coaxial cable tack-downs were useful to keep things organized. As seen above, the valves were mounted on three boards to make them easier to install.

The tube coming out of each valve runs all the way to the output of the tap. That is why you can see separate colors on some of the pictures. The tap itself is half of a standard sink trap. Running all 16 tubes around the bend of the tap takes a little fidgeting but is possible.

The full monkeyThe housing of the Bar Monkey was an inexpensive computer cabinet from a popular box store. A hole was drilled in the top for the tap and plywood was used as a substitute for the cardboard backing that came with it. The handles were also replaced to dress it up a bit.

Final Thoughts

Alan, and those of us who helped him, learned a lot on this project. The whole thing took probably around 200 man hours to complete. We have not calculated the total cost, but if you were looking to build one of these yourself you should expect to be into it for up to $1,500 or possibly more depending on how much you can scrounge. I also wouldn’t recommend this as a project for anyone who is not comfortable working with household current.

project, diy, drinking, drinks, entertaining, bar, mixed drinks, bar monkey

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