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Hardware Hacking

After-hours Fun with Capacitors at Work? 82

Posted by Cliff
from the mad-scientists-in-training dept.
Chiggy_Von_Richtoffe asks "Hey, Folks! I start a new job at a small manufacturing plant (capacitors and small run custom circuit boards) in a few days, which itself is kind of cool. What is even more cool is that their facilities include an electron microscope, programmable high temperature ovens (think kilns), rapid cooling chambers (liquid CO2) to test component robustness, a lapping machine, all the kinds of ceramics i can think off, as well as equipment for die cutting, electroplating, and a few other industry related tasks. This of course fills my mind with wicked designs for homebrew projects, but i am always looking for new ideas to try. Given this kind of workshop what sort of (non-destructive, and fully legal) DIY projects could you come up with?"
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After-hours Fun with Capacitors at Work?

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  • Permission? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by karnal (22275) on Friday December 09, 2005 @05:11PM (#14223755)
    Make sure you have permission to do any of this. I know you didn't state that you did NOT have permission, but you also didn't state you DO have permission to use any of these toys "after hours"...

    On a related note, in my early years as a sysadmin some people were "let go" from a company I worked for because they were using the company assets to play games on. Now, this was after hours, and nothing was destroyed, but management finding out about what was happening (from network traces) was all it took to say "See ya!"

    Of course, I could just be over-reacting, thinking you'd be using the facilities just for fun. You might just be willing to be a customer of the company you work for. I guess you didn't spell that out either....

    Just dot your i's and cross your t's.
    • by GuyMannDude (574364) on Friday December 09, 2005 @05:29PM (#14223947) Journal

      Obviously, getting permission is important. But even if you get permission, do you really want to be playing games with work equipment right away? I would strongly recommend waiting until you have become a respected and valued employee before you pull stunts like using work equipment for non-work projects. Hey, I'm a technical manager and I read slashdot damn near every hour -- does your new boss? If s/he sees your post and can easily figure out who you are, what are they going to think about you? You haven't even started work and you're preoccupied with how to play games? That's not the kind of employee I want working for me.

      My advise? Concentrate on doing good work and impressing your co-workers and management before you even think about playing around. You can repost your Ask Slashdot question in six-months (and don't include so damn many details about yourself and your job next time).

      GMD

      • >>> You haven't even started work and you're preoccupied with how to play games? That's not the kind of employee I want working for me.

        Where I work, We like engineers who build toys for themselves. That is what separates the creative mastermind from the average engineer worker bee.

        We are 'told' to place 10% of our work time on a pet project. (let alone after hours stuff)

        i'm sorry to here about where you work and how you are. :)
        • by Anonymous Coward
          No kidding. All of these nanny-boss warnings are really depressing to read.

          When you (the original poster) start your new job, some of your most expensive and highest-performing test gear will say "Hewlett-Packard," "Tektronix," or "Agilent" on it. That equipment was designed by people who were hired, given the key to the company storeroom, and politely asked to go home and take a shower once in awhile.

          Nothing excellent has ever grown from a culture of micromanagement and managerial niggling.
        • I've seen alot of amazing engineering come about this way.

          More than a couple of great products were coctail napkin ideas that an engineer ran off and created a prototype and then showed it to his boss.
    • Re:Permission? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Chiggy_Von_Richtoffe (565992) <F_dyson@h[ ]ail.com ['otm' in gap]> on Friday December 09, 2005 @07:19PM (#14224966)
      Hmmm ... It looks like I failed to state this in a way that would do anything but attract answers from jokers (Karnal , GMD, and HotNeedleOfInquiry exempted). Let me try this again by qualifying my statements.
      *My new job is not something I am not taking lightly, I strongly respect my new bosses/co-workers and I plan on being there for the long haul.
      *Because of this all of my extracurricular activities will be exactly that - done off the clock and in such a way that it does not interfere with any job related processes.

      >> I would strongly recommend waiting until you have >>become a respected and valued employee before you pull >>stunts like using work equipment for non-work projects.

      On this I agree whole-heartedly. I am just using this forum as a sort of brainstorming network for projects that I can look forward to eventually. Preferably those like what can be found in the "Bench Tested Circuits" series rather than "hey jeeter, lookit what i can do!" as well as other not-so electronics based projects - ceramics again (like making a nice graphite crucible for a gingery furnace), filters for optics geekery, or tiny reciever/trasmitter projects. If you have any suggestions of this sort great, if you have anything more imaginative even better.

      Oh and regarding obtaining permission, I have tacit approval already (as long as it's not illegal, excessively dangerous, or would be distruptive to tommorow's workflow) but I want to be able to give strong cogent reasons why allowing me to use their equipment is a good-thing(tm).

      For those who rise to the challenge, I thank you in advance and will post updates of selected projects both here and Hack-A-Day.
      • Re:Permission? (Score:2, Interesting)

        Also, the I.P. for anything you create in this environment will be owned by the company. I suspect if they think you are capable of anything significantly creative, they may 'set you loose' and be ready to sic the lawyers on you as soon as it is to their advantage.

        Many of us maintain signifcant home labs specifically because anything created using the company gear is the companies' property.
      • My new job is not something I am not taking lightly

        Huh?

        Are you or are you not taking your job lightly? Not, not?
      • How happy do you think your boss would be if you broke an expensive piece of equipment because you were working on a "homebrew" project?

        And why do you want to stay at work any longer than you have to?
  • by Myrkur (621981) on Friday December 09, 2005 @05:13PM (#14223766)
    "non-destructive, and fully legal"

    Where's the fun in that?
  • ...and break something!

    Sounds like a fun job to get to break stuff.

    I have no suggestions because all of my ideas or various combinations of non-legal and destructive. Carry on, now.
  • by mnmn (145599) on Friday December 09, 2005 @05:17PM (#14223814) Homepage
    Take a long list of capacitors.

    Put them all in parallel.

    Charge them up.

    Quickly put them all in serial.

    The results can be interesting...

    Speaking of die cutters... make capacitors of two metal plates with a layer of ceramic in the middle. Before you put the ceramic in there and glue it all up, dunk the ceramic in water. Charging it quickly should be fun.

  • Be careful with electricity! [ohmfree.com]
  • I was taking a part an old disposable camera a few months ago, and since the camera was a few years old I (wrongly) assumed that the capacitor had lost it's charge. ZZZZAAAAPPPPP!!!

    Goddamn that hurt like hell... just like a stun gun. Like hooking up one of the informercial ab-dealies to a lightning rod!
    • Haha, I did that once. I had it open and charged up then dropped it. Instictually, I tried to catch it, and ended up with a finger stuck in there such that the capacitor dischared up my arm. It didn't hurt so much as the shock surprised the hell out of me. :-P Needless to say, I didn't do that again for a while.
      • Not as much fun as this...

        I have a portable, battery-powered fence energizer (Premier 20B). Well, my daughter was bringing it over to me. I asked her (she was only 6 yrs old at the time...), "did you turn it off?"

        "Uh huh"

        So I grab the leads, one in each hand, and start to hook to fence.

        I was not laughing a couple of moments later (it's about a 7000V discharge).

        Well, heart was still ticking afterwards, so I didn't defib myself.

        Main message? Trust but verify.

        Other source of fun was crawling under the wire, an
    • Sometimes I help out in the photo-processing department where I work. We get disposable cameras all the time (it's a college town, and people don't want to ruin/lose their digicams when they are drunk). I can't count the number of times I've popped them open and touched the cap inside... sometimes the shock would be so strong I'd lose sensation in my arm for a few minutes and I'd have two marks on my skin from where I contacted the terminals. Of course, what is always fun to do is to charge the cap when it'
      • by Bazman (4849)
        I discharged the cap in a disposable camera once using the nearest handy metal object, which was a swiss army knife blade. The edge needed a good sharpening afterwards, since it took two nicks out of it. If it can vaporize metal, just think what it does to flesh...

      • A co-worker where I used to work would charge a cap and then call someone's name ("Hey, Bob!"). He'd toss the cap as they were turning around and they'd catch a nice suprise. He always chose people who he could outrun.
  • by HotNeedleOfInquiry (598897) on Friday December 09, 2005 @05:45PM (#14224061)
    Loads of fun, just be sure you're checked out on it by someone who knows what they are doing. Before you look at anything organic, make sure it's allowed. A running mechanical wristwatch is incredible.
  • by SeanTobin (138474) <byrdhuntrNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Friday December 09, 2005 @06:14PM (#14224342)
    I've got a couple project ideas for you!

    Project 1: Gather up all the cast-off caps, surface mount parts, bits of stripped wire, and dust bunnies on the floor. Place them into a cylindrical faraday cage, lined with an insulative material, and leave the top off the cage so the odd gamma ray strikes them. See if they self-assemble into something interesting

    Project 2: Perform high-energy tests of the superstring theory in the ovens. In order to assure that you have the required symmetries, you're going to have to use a bit of that easy-off and clean the gunk off the inside of the ovens first.

    Project 3: Test for new low-temperature superconductors. Remember that you're going to have to refill all the empty CO2 canisters first.

    Project 4: Perform a detailed analysis of the wave reflection properties of aluminum vs. tin foil. To ensure an accurate reading, recalibrating the electron microscope is going to be necessary. It's a 10-hour job, so make sure you start the minute you get off of work.

    I'm sure I can come up with more projects for you. Let me know when you've finished these first.
    • > Project 1: Gather up all the cast-off caps, surface mount parts, bits of stripped wire, and dust
      > bunnies on the floor. Place them into a cylindrical faraday cage, lined with an insulative
      > material

      Translation - Clean up the trash lying around your workplace.

      > Project 2: Perform high-energy tests of the superstring theory in the ovens. In order to assure
      > that you have the required symmetries, you're going to have to use a bit of that easy-off and
      > clean the gunk off the inside of the ov
  • safety first (Score:2, Insightful)

    Seriously. The equipment you describe, and the chemicals that are in use at places that have that kind of equipment are pretty dangerous if misused.

    Follow instructions and don't mess around unless you want to wear an eyepatch (or two) for the rest of your life.
  • Permission (Score:4, Insightful)

    by faqmaster (172770) <[jones.tm] [at] [gmail.com]> on Friday December 09, 2005 @08:05PM (#14225348) Homepage Journal
    "It is better to ask forgiveness than permission."

    Be sure and post links to videos of the resulting explosions.
  • Think kiln (Score:5, Funny)

    by lost in place (248578) on Friday December 09, 2005 @08:44PM (#14225622)
    What is even more cool is that their facilities include [...] programmable high temperature ovens (think kilns)

    What's a think kiln? Is that where crackpots are hardened?
  • by Lacit (909742) on Friday December 09, 2005 @09:10PM (#14225799) Homepage
    I own a manufacturing plant and we just hired a guy who was so excited he would have access to our equipment...
  • by spineboy (22918) on Friday December 09, 2005 @09:21PM (#14225861) Journal
    Oh man - sounds like fun. Interesting projects are listed below

    1) See subject title. Cat + Tesla coil = fun
    2)Industrial strength Twinkie testing! - Nickel plated Twinkies anyone?
    3) Raw hamburger + huge charged capacitor = "Insta-cooked" hamburger
    4) Use electron microscope to take picture of a cell of yours. Use inductrial fabricating machine to create 100,000x actual size copy out of rare ceramic. Proceed to chrome it. Use as object d'art.
    5) Does your girlfrind have a second cat? Rapidly freeze in liquid CO2 bath, soak in acetone to remove oily fats, then chrome plate cat.
    6)Make ultra hard/dense ceramic Dungeons and Dragons dice - especially the pointy, pyramidal 4sided die. Can be used as emergency caltops to escape from bad guys.
    7) Make shatter proof ceramic coffe mug out of $10,000 ceramic. "Accidentally" drop off desk often, and make co-workers envious of your "lucky" cup.
    8) Freeze dry rose, and gold plate. This will be useful for making up with girlfriend from steps 1 & 5
    9)Make rail gun and fire magnetically plated ceramic sabot at ultra-fast frozen pumpkin. Film at high speed.
    10) Use industrial kiln as personal trash incinerator.
  • Get one of those big 1F (one Farad) or bigger Capacitors, wet your finger (don't use distilled water, though), and put it across the two leads at the top.

    That one will always make your co-workers laugh.

    Disclaimer: This is a joke. Never intentionally bridge the leads of a capacitor - dummy.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Never intentionally bridge the leads of a capacitor - dummy

      Uhm, what? Whenever I fix, say, a microwave oven, the first thing I do is discharge the capacitors and then short the terminals to each other and to ground and leave it that way until I'm through replacing whatever part I'm replacing.

    • "Good ol' Grimey. [snpp.com] Whatever happened to him?
    • OK, I did this. I found a nice old 1F capacitor. I charged it with a 1.5V battery I had sitting around. I discharged it into my hand. I'm still here. (In fact, discharging the 1F cap was about the same as discharging the battery into my hand. How could that be!?)

      You must have missed the lecture where they discussed what capacitance is.
      • No, I was present for that lecture. However, you Sir, must have missed one of life's most exciting lessons. I think the neer-do-wells call it "Comedy".

        Try partaking in it someday - you might find it humorous. ;)
        • The problem with your comment in the present form is that you emphasize the unusually high capacitance, as though that's important to the comedic effect. Your usage implies that big capacitance == big result, when that's just not the case.

          Your comment would be funny if you said something like, "Take the capacitor and plug it into the mains." That would be funny, because it's likely the capacitor would explode like a mini-grenade and take out the victim's hand. That's funny enough that I'm having to restr
    • The proper way to do that is to take an axial capacitor, bend the leads along opposing sides, charge it. Then throw it to an unsuspecting colleague and shout "Catch!".
  • by munpfazy (694689) * on Saturday December 10, 2005 @03:10AM (#14227208)
    Sounds like fun. (As an aside, I'm shocked by the number of people arguing against having after hours fun with such toys. Is the slashdot readership really so cowardly and unimaginative? Sure, one has to be careful and should avoid pissing off the bosses during the first few weeks at work. And it goes without saying that if the electron microscope happens to break while you're using it for personal projects, bad things are likely to happen to you, unless you have or happen to be a particularly cool boss. But, the risk may well be worth it.)

    If you've got access to a scanning electron microscope, any sample should be fun. Around here (a multi-group academic facility) the machine is jealously guarded by a dedicated staff person and we get charged rather a lot of money for each use, so I haven't done any recreational microscopy. But, just looking at the stuff we're supposed to look at is overwhelmingly nifty. (Obviously you should stop and think before putting foreign objects into either the miscroscope itself or a sputtering chamber.)

    With die cutting, ceramics, and electroplating, you could certainly make some beautiful cases for homebrew projects. If you go in for a retro look, try to cook up some faux-bakelite. (Or real bakelite, for that matter, if you can get your hands on the stuff.)

    Another possibility would be tinkering with electrostatic levitation. Suspended objects are always neat.

    You've also got the ingredients for making homebrew optics toys. With lapping and plating gear, you might be able to make your own optical quality mirrors for homebrew telescope parts / lasers / holography setups / etc. Anything else involving precision ground metal parts and custom ceramics is an obvious candidate: home made particle detectors / geiger muller tubes, for example.

    And there's always the obvious option of making really big capacitors, charging them to really high voltages, and zapping things. (As described, for example, here http://www.amasci.com/amateur/capexpt.html [amasci.com] )

    • by dubl-u (51156) *
      As an aside, I'm shocked by the number of people arguing against having after hours fun with such toys. Is the slashdot readership really so cowardly and unimaginative? Sure, one has to be careful and should avoid pissing off the bosses [...]

      Yeah, I was wondering about that, too. I do a lot of work for startups, and I would never hire a geek that wasn't inclined to play with the toys. They should be smart enough not to break anything expensive. But if I want a job done in a perfectly regular fashion with no
    • Sure, one has to be careful and should avoid pissing off the bosses during the first few weeks at work.


      Why? Doesn't that take all the fun out of starting a new job? Then again I am like a child always testing other people's boundries. ;)
    • And there's always the obvious option of making really big capacitors, charging them to really high voltages, and zapping things.
      I used to mount small caps inside of bottles with leads coming out of the lid, and then use a large cap (or sometimes straight 240VAC) to blow them up.
  • http://www.railgun.org/ [railgun.org]
    No updates since 2002.
    • A railgun like the one described on the linked site is basically a linear motor, except they use the induced magnetic field instead of having a set of magnets at 90 degree angles to the conductors.

      Is there any reason that this same principal could not be used to move a conductive liquid (such as seawater)?
      • No, and AFAIK it's used (or at least was prototyped) in some experimental/stealth ships/submarines, in the army. If you want to shoot water in air, it will sprinkle into tiny droplets slowable over several centimeters really fast though, and you need to provide huge amounts of electricity (simply a nuclear power plant) to maintain a continuous stream. The idea is that given metal thick enough and enough electricity over time short enough you can achieve pretty much arbitrary (within reason...) speeds, so ju
        • Why do you need capacitors? Wouldn't a constant application of DC provide a constant force proportional to the product of current and magnetic field strength?
          • Yes, it would. Just find some other home DC source of several kiloampers of current sufficient to last about a microsecond needed for the bullet to pass the rails. If you want good exit speed at the end of the relatively short rails, you must provide huge current.
            The army doesn't play with capacitors, they just use a nuclear reactor to produce all the electricity they need for the sub.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 10, 2005 @06:11AM (#14227600)
    First off, the electroplating tank:

    These are a blast. Everything looks better if you electroplate it!

    Any of the cool looking, under the hood gagetry for your car, found cheaply at Schuks Auto would look better in gold. Any flat sided metal object can be enhanced with whatever artwork you can make a sillouette of on your computer, print in Press-n-Peel [techniks.com] masking material
    iron on, and plate.

    Flatware should never be monochromatic
    Your own Electron Microscope? Sweet.

    The first thing to do is find the guy that's good at operating this and buy him several good lunches. Getting good images is tricky. That done, there is a world of stuff that looks better super close up, and best yet, the annoyingly black and white nature of this device lends itself to.... Yes! Electroplate sillouttes! Imagine how cool the aluminum case sides of your favorite computer would be if this [ist.utl.pt] were etched on the side. Your kids/nephews could have the coolest metal lunchboxes in the school. Like this [columbia.edu] or this [iastate.edu] or this [maths.org] or this [tamu.edu].
    A clear spray-on enamel will keep oxidation from uglying things up if your experiment with some of the more easily tarnished metals like copper and silver....

    Sounds like you're in for a good time. Good luck.
  • and hook it up backwards...

    nothing bad will happen...really







    Actually, it can explode - don't actually do this, if you have a good enough power supply and capacitor you can get an explosion that's about as powerful as a hand grenade
  • The only electron microscope I've ever seen in person was at a scrap dealer, so it was an old one, but it had warning labels about radiation exposure. I got the feeling that operators needed to wear those badges that measure exposure over time. I really wanted buy the thing. I figured I could work on the electronics if needed, but wasn't sure about the condition of the vacuum pumps. It would have been a blast to see what sorts of things grow in my fridge, but the supporting console was large and very hea
    • You could build your own scanning tunneling electron microsope. It doesn't seem to me that it would be too hard. The disadvantages, of course, are that you can't look at things that are as large as what you are thinking (instead of stuff from your refrigerator, think small molecules), and that it destroys the target object. The upside is that you can use it to manipulate individual atoms and create your own nanotech...

      It's definatly on my list of things to do.

  • I used to play with one. It was fun to put quarters and pennies in it and zoom WAY in on them. The "owners" of it needed me to fix the attached computer and were happy to let me screw around with it if I could keep it running. I do remember that you had to put liquid nitrogen in it every so often. I found out why they let me "play" with it everyday - I was keeping it full for them and when the liquind nitrogen spilled it landed on me and I was the one hoping around going OH F#CK and they were the ones laugh

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