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Addicted to Electricity

Electricity really draws me in — especially high-voltage electrical equipment.

I noticed this as a child when playing with a flat flashlight battery. Its brass contact strips make a pleasing sound like musical strings when you touch them. When you feel both strips simultaneously with your tongue, you can taste electricity as a raw current on the surface of your tongue. If you place a miniature lamp between the contacts just right, the lamp lights up and soon starts to burn your fingers. When you wrap some constantan wire around a matchstick and connect the wire ends to a battery, the matchstick starts to smoke soon. Suppose you create a similar coil from blasting wire and insert a needle. In that case, you create a permanent magnet that can be used as a compass when gently floating the arrow on the water's surface.

A flashlight battery has power and smells of electricity; you can sense a faint, resinous odour. A large radio anode battery smells even more like electricity, and you can feel the electricity with your fingers. When you touch the negative terminal with a damp finger while simultaneously touching the +90-volt or +120-volt terminal, you can feel the electricity tingling ominously from one terminal to your finger and through your arms to the negative terminal.


You can feel electricity even better by touching  by touching the electric fence at the edge of the summer pasture.


They say that appetite comes with eating – initially I only tasted electricity from a flashlight battery. Then, I replaced the flat battery with a nine-volt button battery with a more pungent taste of electricity. When you become addicted to something, it often happens that you demand more and more, always more muscular and larger doses; a smoker switches from regular cigarettes to menthols, then to stronger ones, and when those don't provide enough kick, finally to green menthols. Similarly, a fan of spicy foods often starts cautiously with a sprinkle of white pepper, then moves on to Tabasco, and finally to cayenne pepper. When even that no longer excites them, they start experimenting with chilli peppers. An electric addict, on the other hand, begins with DC and small voltages, then moves on to higher voltage levels and stronger currents, and finally switches to AC.


So, initially, I tasted electricity modestly from a flashlight battery. I started tasting it from a nine-volt button battery. Finally, I hid a twelve-volt truck battery under my bed, which had a lot of power – it wouldn't run out quickly. When even that wasn't enough, I switched to alternating current. I built an electric generator from a discarded milk separator and a bicycle dynamo. When you turn the milk separator's crank, the device's mechanical linkage turns the dynamo on the frame at high speed, generating a lot of high-frequency alternating current that makes the connected lamp shine brightly.


You should not taste such charges with your tongue anymore. Otherwise, you can certainly engage in various experiments.


When I had my truck battery as a power source, flat flashlight batteries were ready to be scrapped. Through some lucky coincidence, I realized I should salvage the carbon rods inside them; I could use them as electrodes in small electrical experiments. I also saved carbon electrodes from the large 1.5-volt radio tube heater batteries, which typically contain flat carbon electrodes, almost the size of a pencil eraser.


By connecting the truck battery to two carbon rods, you can create an electric arc between them, which is white and very, very bright! Carbon electrodes can also be used to weld razor blades – it's a wonder I didn't get into trouble after ruining a whole pack of brand-new Gillette razors in my experiments.


You can conveniently conduct electricity from a truck battery to a light bulb: wind a suitable socket from thick, flexible aluminium wire and lead the electricity to the bulb's terminal with another wire. You don't need to insulate the cables; the voltage is not dangerous to the user in dry conditions. Just be careful of short circuits, as the current from a truck battery can melt a small wrench faster than you can remove your hand.


In the 1970s, we finally got actual electricity in our home. They built a new transformer next to the neighbour's barn, and from there, they pulled electricity to our house with tightly stretched aluminium wires. The world changed when you could turn on the lights by flipping a switch and watching TV without needing a tractor to power it near the living room window.


I got my first electric shock from a wall socket. I started testing the operation of a light bulb as before, by winding some iron wire into a socket. I inserted one end of the wire into a socket's hole, and I had already inserted an iron nail into the other hole as a conductor – there was an instant shock. The components I experimented with – the light bulb, iron wire, and the nail – flew in different directions. I want to emphasize that you should never stick anything into wall sockets under any circumstances; there's a hidden "cat" in there that can hiss mercilessly, and an unwary experimenter's life may be in danger.


In later years, I have indeed worked on high-voltage circuits, and my fingers have felt the shock, but miraculously, I've survived. If you need to do electrical installations, don't try to do it yourself; call an electrician.


An electric addict starts with direct current and small currents, moves on to higher voltage levels and stronger currents, and switches to alternating current.


I generated high voltage in many ways, but here I'll only mention the Wico High Tension Start Magneto, a device I obtained from an old, broken stationary engine. The magneto was a separate device, an independent unit, powered by the motor's shaft through a gear mechanism.


With the Wico, you could generate sparks over 10 mm long. I charged the car's ignition capacitor through the spark gap with my magneto, and by short-circuiting the terminals with a screwdriver, I created loud bangs. Each bang also vaporized a small piece from the tip of the screwdriver. A bit older, I took the magneto to school and, in collaboration with my classmates, connected it to some thin, almost invisible copper wire and wrapped it around the girls' chairs. Then we turned the crank. The girls didn't find it enjoyable at all. It took a long time after the stunt before I gradually regained the trust of the female members of the class; perhaps the world would have been happier if electricity had not been invented then.


Nowadays, I desperately need my annual dose of electricity. During our travels, I often stop my car under the national grid power lines. I turn off the engine and leave the vehicle in order to hear the crackling sound of four hundred thousand volts. The corona discharge crackles spectacularly just a few meters above me.


My Dear Light Bearer doesn't like the sound; she doesn't find anything erotic about it.



Tämän sivuston sisältö on lisensoitu Toivo Miettinen CC BY-ND 4.0 -lisenssillä.

CC BY-ND 4.0 -lisenssi