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Today we accept lightning as a natural phenomenon--magical, but easily explained by science. Traditional Aboriginal people accepted it too, but like many people of today, were cautious of it. The Dreamtime legends of lightning and its sometimes terrible effects are many. Although the legends vary from place to place, most of them agree in portraying lightning as an element of rage.
The following legend is from Arnhem Land, where the lightning has always been given a human form.
The lightning man was called Wala-Unayua.

Wala-Unayua lived in a deep waterhole in the river known now as Liverpool River. He went quietly ashore now and then to hunt wallabies and much of the time lived peacefully.

The local people knew, though, that Wala-Unayua was easily angered and that if an Aboriginal hunter was foolish enough to wander into that territory, lightning would strike him down.

It was also known that Wala-Unayua would leap into the sky and create a ferocious storm if a stone was accidently or worse yet deliberately tossed into his waterhole.

During the wet heat of the monsoon season, he was at his most dangerous. As soon as the monsoon rains began to fall, Wala-Unayua would fly into an uncontrollable rage. In that rage, he would travel across the sky, hiding in the thick clouds and with his angry voice thundering, crashing and echoing across the land. Flashing the lightning of his long arms and legs, he would savagely attack the earth, throwing down trees and leaving a stricken landscape in his path.

Wala-Unayua would gradually become calmer as the monsoon season came to an end, eventually returning to the quiet of his waterhole. There he would stay, always on the watch, ready to strike out again if anyone or anything dared to disturb him.

The blonde haired girl wanted a Van de Graaf Generator so I made her one.

It makes me quite happy to write those words so I'll do it again, differently.

My wife wanted a Van de Graaf Generator so I made her one.

This is contentment on many different levels.

First, the idea - we've already got a Tesla coil, let's go for a static generator. Let's master two types of electricity in our garage. Let's get the whole lightning thing down so we can move on to warping space-time.

Second, the opportunity for construction. Let's figure out where we can get a big metal globe. Let's get some latex and some triboelectrically opposite pulleys. Let's figure out what triboelectric means. Let's turn some stuff on the lathe and cut holes with the drill press.

Third, the coolness of the results. Someone asks, "What are you building?"

"This makes lightning."

"I thought that over there made lightning."

"Tesla coil. Different lightning."

Fourth, the woman you sleep with on a regular basis thinks you're a better partner if you can make big lightning bolts.

I'm starting to get a handle on what women want.

Thank god it has to do with electricity.

This part of the article is to inform you that sex and lightning are the same thing, in case you didn't already know.

"There is a number of eggs," he says. He being me.

She says, being the northwesterner, "What?" Driving. Eyes on the highway. Cars dribbling along at twenty-five or thirty miles per hour. Three abreast. Miles of steel.

"There's a number of eggs. It's finite." I can't stop myself from thinking these things. Usually there's not much purpose in sharing. But sitting in traffic gives me an opportunity.

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"As we drive along I'm looking at all the restaurants thinking -- hey, they all have eggs. And then I wonder how many eggs get eaten every morning. And you know, if you're in the egg business you probably know how many eggs you're shuttling around the state. Then multiply by the number of egg companies and the number of states, and you could figure out how many eggs are eaten every morning in America. And then world wide. And it's a number you could know. In fact, I bet there's an annual meeting of the Breakfast-egg-council and they probably have bar graphs and pie charts showing the increase in egg consumption every year. I mean, this is something you could know if you wanted."


"Well it's out there. Waiting to be known. The number of eggs."


"And you're happy to just let life go on without knowing?"


Wolfram Alpha suggests that on average the population of the United States consumes 139.2 kilograms of eggs per second.

Imagine how many chickens there would be if we stopped eating their eggs.

The triboelectric effect occurs when two materials come in contact and separate, and a charge is left on them. Some materials give electrons, some take. Rub wool against teflon, the teflon winds up with more electrons, the wool with less. Rub a balloon against your wool sweater, the balloon winds up with more electrons, and you can stick it on the wall.

A Van De Graaf Generator works by creating a vertical conveyor belt of some sort of triboelectrically "neutral" material - like latex rubber. The two rollers at either end of the conveyor are triboelectrically different - that is, one will tend to give up electrons and the other will tend to take electrons. You set this conveyor in motion, either with a little motor or you can crank it manually.

At the bottom end of the vertical conveyor you put conductive "brush". Imagine a bundle of thin wires with the ends hanging out in space like a bouquet of flowers. You put this under the bottom conveyor pulley without touching the rubber conveyor belt. And you connect that one to ground. You do the same thing on the top of the conveyor, only that bundle of wires you connect to a big conductive ball that surrounds the top of the conveyor. Note that the "brushes" don't actually touch the conveyor belt. Nothing touches the belt, except the rollers that make it become a conveyor belt.

As the belt runs the charge that builds up on the bottom gets drained to ground, leaving a net of the opposite charge to go upward toward the top pulley, where it is drained off onto the ball. Thus the ball starts accumulating a positive or negative charge. A static electric field is created. If you put something conductive in the area of that field which is charged in the opposite way, (like by simply grounding a piece of metal and raising it toward the ball) a bright spark of current will flow between the top of the generator. This is the same thing that happens when you rub your feet on the carpet in the winter and you get a shock when you touch a doorknob. Only worse.

I have friends who know I build electrical things. They pepper me with weirdness and innuendo. They want my approval, I suppose so they can say, "I know this guy who's an engineer and he says..."

I can tell it's coming when a sentence starts with, "I was watching the Sci Fi Channel last night and..."

Tim: "I was listening to Coast to Coast AM last night and they had this guy on who said he could levitate entire buildings with his Tesla coil."

Me: "Hey, do you want to go to the Indian place for lunch?"

"He said he did it by suppressing the sparks. If you can run the Tesla coil without the lightning bolts, apparently the energy goes into anti-gravity. He had some nuclear physicists with him backing him up."

"Well, they would know. How about sushi?"

"You know what your problem is, don't you? You're making too many arcs with your Tesla coil. If you could get the lightning to stop, you'd be creating a scalar electric field. That's what you have to do for anti-gravity. Create a scalar field."

"A scalar electric field. Uh huh. No sushi?"

"See, I can't talk to you about anything serious. You take this attitude."

"Sorry but this stuff is just way beyond me. I spent a lot of time going to school to learn that electric fields aren't scalar. Charge is scalar. Temperature is scalar. Gravity is not scalar. If it was, you'd fall nowhere."

"See, that's what I'm saying. These guys make gravity scalar, and so there is no more 'down.' It's anti-gravity. It's way beyond the understanding of conventional science."

"Conventional science doesn't understand anything. People do, or don't. People invented the idea of scalar and vector, and saying something like "scalar gravity" is just stupid. It's like saying Beethoven was a great NASCAR driver. That's why people don't understand it because it's just idiotic."

"Why do you always have to be smarter than everyone else?"

"I got it from Wikipedia. Why don't we go for Thai? It's cheap. Why is Thai always the cheapest restaurant?"

"It's not. Jack in the Box is cheapest."

"But it sucks. Thai is good. It's the cheapest good food."

"See what I'm talking about?"

And so on.

I was on the ladder in the garage, replacing the blown out controller board in the garage door opener when the blonde haired girl came in and said, "I'm going to bring the generator to class. How does it work if those copper brushes aren't touching the belt when it spins?"

"Well, it's electromagnetism. There's this electric field on the belt because when the rollers rub they gain or lose electrons, so the belt gets charged. The charge on the belt is moving so it induces a current in the copper brush. It's kind of like radio, sort of, only really short radio. Like radio that only goes an inch."

"Why couldn't you just tell me something simple? I have to explain this to grammar school kids."

"It is sort of simple."

"Not for kids."

"What do you want to tell them, then?"

"Something they'll understand."

"Tell them it's like when you get a shock from carpet. Tell them the conveyor belt is a carpet and the brush is a foot."

"But the foot is not touching the carpet."

"Your satellite TV isn't touching the satellite."

"Isn't there something else you can think of?"

"If you give them ice cream, they'll be happy."

"Something useful..."

"Two magnets can pull each other without touching. The earth pulls you down when you fall off a cliff without touching. Till the very end, of course."

"Is it really like that?"


"Why is our garage door opener always broken?"

"Because our Tesla coil keeps shooting lightning bolts through it."

"Why don't you take your Tesla coil outside, away from the garage door opener before turning it on then?"

"Because it's nicer in the garage."

"Take it outside next time."



The world is full of things that I could understand if I had the time and the wherewithal to learn them.

The average number of complete revolutions taken by the ball in the tip of a Bic ballpoint pen during its lifetime. The number of snails living on the earth at this moment. What George Lucas was looking at when he came up with the name, "Darth."

Then there are things we will never know the answer to, and life is better for it.

I got married because I had a great loneliness in my heart that went away when I was close to the blonde haired girl.

Very ungreat writers and poets have told about the magnetic attraction between people. About fate and true love.

I'm pretty certain these things cannot be decomposed analytically. That makes me damned happy.

One less thing I have to worry about learning.

"Did you read that article I e-mailed you?" asked Rick. He walked into my garage while I was finishing up some tweaks to my tesla coil.

I said, "Um, no. Maybe. Yes....?"

"The one about the guy who's generating electricity with his magnetic motor?"

"Well, dynamos have been around for over a hundred years..."

"No, it's free energy. He's creating it with his Bedini motor."

"I thought we've been through this, already. I made you a Bedini motor. It doesn't produce energy. It's a regular motor that eats energy."

"Well, yours doesn't make energy. But this guy's does. Didn't you see the YouTube?"

"When was the last time you got laid?"


"You heard me."

"Well, not so long ago, actually. Just last..."

"Are you going to see her again?"

"This Friday, in fact. What's this got to do with anything?"

"One is a mystery. The other is just stupid."

"Look, this guy's discovered a new law of physics."

"When I was a kid and a bunch of guys would get together, we'd talk about girls and how far we got with them. Why did growing up turn us into such weirdos?"

"You have to open your mind to this stuff."

"How many miles can you walk on a typical pair of New Balance model 993 running shoes before the soles wear out?"

"You're not listening to me."

"How many times will Jupiter orbit the sun in the typical person's lifetime?"

"Come on..."

"Why does it look like you're rolling uphill at the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz?"

"It's an optical illusion."

"Why do I not care about any of this when I'm with her?"


"How does she calm my mind like that? And I know it's all out there, waiting to be figured out and somehow, within my reach..."


"Watch. This is the lightning I make for her."

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