Computing at 60,000 volts

Computing at 60,000 volts

A beautiful wallpaper and a sneak peek at what to expect from issue 95.

Issue 95 is off to the printers.

And we're legally bound not to tell you about all of the awesomeness within, because we've signed things that will let Intel castrate us and seven of you if we mention a certain new chip. We can't let you take that risk.

But we can tell you that Big Willy is back, and more power hungry than before. 12 power supplies have gone up against the beast. Our in-line watt meter measured 1099 watts being drawn from the AC at one point.

To celebrate, we've made a wallpaper for you. It's the medium format photograph that illustrates the double page spread in the next issue.

And it is, frankly, beautiful.

It's an old power supply that's been cut open and placed on top of an awe inspiring home-made Tesla coil. It was built by Matt Bingham, who I've dubbed -- after borrowing film crew terminology – the project’s Gaffer. He designed the Tesla coil and the control circuitry specifically for the shoot.

Tesla coils are essentially giant step-up transformers. The one Matt built will illuminate an incandescent bulb from 20 centimetres without a wire in sight. (And yes, commenters, it sure as hell does light up an incandescent bulb from 20 centimeters away. It was that powerful.) It sends about sixty thousand volts to the corners of anything metal you place on top of it.

Here's how he built it, in his own words:

Dave told me he wanted something big enough to cook a power supply on, so I worked backwards from there.

The secondary coil has around one thousand turns of wire wound onto a six-inch PVC pipe, and the drive circuit uses four big MOSFETs in an H-bridge, like you may have seen in PWM fan controllers.

We were able to push the output up to over one hundred kilovolts before we started getting sparks and fire from all the wrong places.

Plenty of thrills were had after the shoot, toasting fluorescent tubes, plants, and fingers.


Cat Sweeny photographed this thing of absolute beauty with her medium format film Hassleblad. This was perfect, because it has no electronics for the coil’s electric field to mess with.

And not being able to just put a memory card in a PC to look at your photos feels weird after so many years of shooting digital. Until you've shot something serious and not had instantaneous feedback, you haven't lived. The anticipation as we waited for the film to get back from the lab could have killed us.

Luckily, Cat is an excellent photographer. The only ones that weren’t perfect were the ones where I’d been playing with the lighting, and even they were perfect in their own way. We scanned nine of our favourite negatives, and wound up with 3.8 gigabytes worth of images. That’s because they were scanned at resolutions no less than 11,811 by 12,008 pixels, at 600 dpi in 24 bit, uncompressed colour.

I got an email from our IT guys this morning asking me to get them off the server because it was taking too long to backup to tape last night.

We hope you love the wallpaper as much as we do.

Creative: Dave Field

Gaffer: Matt Bingham

Photographer: Cat Sweeny

2560 * 1600
1920 * 1200
1680 * 1050
1440 * 900
1280 * 1024
1024 * 768


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