Measuring High Voltage in Millimeters (and Other HV Probe Tricks)

I work a lot with high voltages and others frequently replicate my projects, so I often get asked “What voltage is needed?”. That means I need to be able to measure high voltages. Here’s how I do it using a Fluke high voltage probe as well as my own homemade probe. And what if you don’t have a probe? I have a solution for that too.

How Long Is Your Spark?

The simplest way to measure high voltage is by spark length. If your circuit has a spark gap then when a spark occurs, that’s a short-circuit, dumping all your built up charge. When your spark gap is at the maximum distance at which you get a spark then just before the spark happens is when you have your maximum voltage. During the spark the voltage rapidly goes to zero and depending on your circuit it may start building up again. The voltage before the spark occurred is related to the spark length, which is also the spark gap width.

The oscilloscope photo below shows this changing voltage. This method is good for a rough estimate. I’ll talk about doing more precise measurements when I talk about high voltage probes further down.

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Optimizing the Spread: More Spreadsheet Circuit Design Tricks

Last time I showed you how to set up a reasonably complex design in a spreadsheet: a common emitter bipolar transistor amplifier. Having the design in a spreadsheet makes it easy to do “what if” scenarios and see the effects on the design almost immediately.

Another advantage that spreadsheets offer is a way to “solve” or optimize equations. That can be very useful once you have your model. For Excel, you need to install the Solver add-in (go to the Excel Options dialog, select Manage Add-Ins, and select the Solver Add-In). You might also enjoy OpenSolver. You can even get that for Google Sheets (although it currently lacks a non-linear solver which makes it less useful for what we need).

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Wheel of Resistors Form Unique Rotary Encoder

Continuing his tradition of making bits of wire and scraps of wood work wonders, [HomoFaciens] is back with a unique and clever design for an electromechanical encoder.

There are lots of ways to build an encoder, and this is one we haven’t seen before. Not intended in any way to be a practical engineered solution, [HomoFaciens]’ build log and the video below document his approach. Using a rotating disc divided into segments by three, six or eight resistors, the encoder works by adding each resistor into a voltage divider as the disc is turned. An Arduino reads the output of the voltage divider and determines the direction of rotation by comparing the sequence of voltages. More resistors mean higher resolution but decreased maximum shaft speed due to the software debouncing of the wiped contacts. [HomoFaciens] has covered ground like this before with his tutorial on optical encoders, but this is a new twist – sort of a low-resolution continuous-rotation potentiometer. It’s a simple concept, a good review of voltage dividers, and a unique way to sense shaft rotation.

Is this all really basic stuff? Yep. Is it practical in any way? Probably not, although we’ll lay odds that these encoders find their way into a future [HomoFaciens] CNC build. Is it a well-executed, neat idea? Oh yeah.

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Logic Noise: Digital to Analog with an R-2R DAC

Making sound with digital logic usually calls for a Digital to Analog converter. Building one can be very simple, and the sound quality out of an R-2R Ladder is actually pretty good.

In the last edition of Logic Noise, we built up a (relatively) simple VCO — voltage-controlled oscillator — that had roughly one-volt-per-octave response. I even demonstrated it working mostly in tune with another synth’s keyboard. But what if you don’t have a control-voltage keyboard sitting around or you want to combine all of the logic-based circuits that we’ve been building with other circuits under voltage control? That’s where the digital to analog (DAC) voltage converter comes in.

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MacGyver, Jedi Knights, Ammo Stockpiles, and Candy Crush

Everyone’s favorite machinist, tinkerer, YouTube celebrity, deadpan comedian, and Canadian is back with a tale of popping a few benzos, stumbling around Mexico, and wondering why everyone else on the planet is so stupid.

The hero of our story considered the feasibility of one hundred and eighty-sixth trimester abortions as he stood outside a Mexican airport watching a stockbroker complain about the battery in his cellphone. Meanwhile, cars drove by.

Here’s how you charge a phone with a car battery and an ‘ol Dixon Ticonderoga.

To charge a battery, all you really need to do is connect the terminals to a power source with the right voltage. A cell phone battery needs about three volts, and a car battery has twelve. You need a voltage divider. You can get that with a pencil. Take out a knife, get to the carbon and clay wrapped in wood, and wire the battery up. Make a cut a quarter of the way down this rather long resistor, and there you will find something around three volts.

Does it work? Yeah. It works even better if you have some tape to hold wires onto the cell phone battery when charging. Is it smart? It is if there is no other conceivable way of charging your cell phone. Should you do it? Nah. Video below. Thanks [Morris] for the link.

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Giant resistor-shaped Ohmmeter


The fun of having a giant resistor-shaped Ohmmeter is that it reads back the resistance by displaying the color code. If you’re not too hot with decoding those bands there’s a helper band to the right which will display the value numerically.

All of the electronics are housed in the opaque part of the resistor, making for a nice low-profile base. The bent leads are hollow and allow [Sebastian] and his friend to run power and measurement leads through to the power connector on the back and the pair of banana jacks near the front. Each translucent ring houses an RGB LED, except for the one on the right which has four 7-segment display modules embedded in it. An ATmega168 takes the measurements using its Analog to Digital Converter (ADC) to read the value from a voltage divider. You can see a quick demo of the Ohmmeter in the video after the jump.

This would be a fun thing to pair with that giant breadboard.

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Adding charging back to old apple accessories

From time-to-time we’ve been frustrated by the lack of backwards compatibility for Apple accessories. We have a great Monster FM transmitter that used the screen of the original iPod to select a channel. That was a feature we just loved which it never worked with any future hardware. We may not be able to get that back, but perhaps this hack can help us implement the ability to charge newer Apple devices using older accessories.

Seen above is the mounting dock from the iPod Hi-Fi speakers released back in 2006. Apparently the sound out of this set of speakers is just great, but you won’t be able to charge your modern device while it’s playing music. That is unless you’re not afraid to solder on a few simple components and roll in a switching regulator which can source at least one Amp of current. As we’ve seen in the past, Apple uses a couple of voltage dividers to identify modern chargers. These are installed on the D+ and D- lines of the USB connector and are pretty easy to recreate if you know the voltage levels the device is looking for. In this case a 39K, two 51k, and one 75k surface mount resistors are free-formed right next to the connector on the Hi-Fi’s dock PCB. The regulator on the right supplies the juice for charging. It’ll charge modern devices now, and even work with the iPhone five if you use a simple dock connector adapter.