Happy birthday to the transistor!

The first transistorSixty years ago today (December 16, 1947 for those who may not read this right away) there was one transistor in the whole world. The transistor had just been invented by three physicists at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, USA who were looking for a viable alternative to traditional vacuum tubes which were comparatively large and also consumed much more power.

The basic function of the transistor is to act as an electronic switch (without any moving parts.) By combining several of these switches it is possible to make simple decisions based on input and perform basic (binary) math.

While the transistor has at times been the target of an analog-vs-digital style debate in the music field there is no debating that the transistor has changed our world. The modern computer processor contains hundreds of millions of transistors and every pixel on an LCD display has an accompanying transistor lending a few hundred thousand more transistors to the average computer.

Every modern electronic device more sophisticated than the flashlight contains transistors, usually by the hundreds or more. The relatively small size of modern hand-held electronics (e.g. cell phones) is largely due to the ever-shrinking transistor.

Just think how many other advances have been enabled by the mainframe computer and now the microcomputer. The transistor will go down as one of the most significant inventions of the 20th century and will continue to shape our digital world for quite some time to come.

Thanks to the MAKE magazine blog for mentioning this milestone. They also point to an article from Forbes.com which makes for some good reading.

electronics, electronic, transistor, electric, computer

World’s Biggest Jacob’s Ladder

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.


electricity, electronic, lightning, tesla, tesla coil, electric, substation, explosion, explode, fire

Don’t try this at home…

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

Online Electronics Resources

As I am looking into a couple electronics projects I have turned up a handful of fantastic resources on the web. Here they are in no particular order.

Suppliers:

    Jameco – Broad selection of electronic supplies. Good service, includes pictures, great prices. These guys are my current favorite.
    Digi-Key – Has some stuff Jameco doesn’t. Prices are a bit higher in general, but good service. No pictures. Poorly organized site.

Reference:

    The Hardware Book – A great reference for cable and adapter pinouts. Some common, most hard to find.

Projects:

    Play-Hookey – Fantastic, step-by-step instructions on a logical series of electronics experiments. Includes great information and instructionals on logic, electricity, analog circuits, and even optics. This site is definitely a great starting point!
    Bowden’s Hobby Circuit – A wide variety of projects. Great schematics, nice explainations, but not much for step-by-step.

electric, electronic, circuit, electronic suppliers, electronic projects, schematics

MAKE Volume 2: More Good Stuff

Make: Vol 2In the gaps between teaching, work, bloging and working on some pet-projects I have finally finished MAKE: Technology On Your Time, Volume 2. Chock full of home entertainment projects, I am yet again impressed with the quality and quantity.

Highlights include HDTV on Your Mac, Atari 2600PC, and instructions on how to build a twitchy little robot out of a computer mouse. I’m glad the magazine only comes out quarterly… I could spend three months working on the projects from just one issue!

While the quality of the projects outlined in MAKE is undeniable, I am finding the true value of the magazine is how it has changed the way I look at things. I can only equate this to when I learned how to pick locks. Once you have picked a Masterlock and a few door locks your attitude toward locked doors changes. What was once a barrier is now a challenge, even one to look forward to.

MAKE has changed the way I view the world. A broken answering machine, old mouse, dead entertainment system, even a cheap Commadore64 direct-to-TV game have taken on a new value. I’ve always been a hacker, never afraid to take the screws out and rewire, but this is going to a whole new level!

More than a book full of projects, MAKE is full of new ways to apply technology, new tools, and true “maker” attitude. The value of MAKE, and it’s true spirit, is realized when you view it not as a bunch of projects and reviews, but as 200 pages of raw information just waiting to see how the reader will put it all together.

Will I build a Lego robot controlled by an audio chip? Podcast a lecture for a class I will be teaching? Perhaps build a desktop linear accelerator to annoy and harm my cube-mates! (just kidding)

Well, one thing is for sure… I’m glad my girlfriend got me a subscription for my birthday. Time to dig into Volume 3. I’m afraid I’ve only got a couple months until Volume 4 will arrive.

For more information on what started this new obsession of mine, check out this article about MAKE, and this retrospective on Volume 1.

make, oreilly, make magazine, hacks, hack, hacker, electronics, electronic, entertainment, technology, electric, home entertainment, diy, do it yourself,