Exploding capacitors and Radio Moscow

Michael Geary | Sat, 2004-10-09 01:14

Robert Scoble reminisces about listening to BBC on the shortwave, and plugging capacitors into the AC outlet to make them explode.

My capacitor trick was to take a big fat electrolytic and charge it up to 12 volts or so. Then I’d find an audience, and I would grab one terminal of the capacitor in each hand and pretend I was being electrocuted. After a great struggle I’d break free, then take a screwdriver and short out the terminals. Bam! Now that’s a spark!

Of course, this depended on my friends not knowing the difference between voltage (12 volts, no way it can hurt you) and current (virtually none through the high resistance of my skin, but plenty through the near-zero resistance of the screwdriver).

I discovered shortwave radio when I was about ten, traveling through Idaho with my mom and sister. I found a funny old radio in the motel room and tuned around, finding all kinds of radio stations I’d never heard of before.

“Mom! It’s Radio Moscow!”

“Sure, Mike, we’re in Idaho. That’s Moscow, Idaho.”

It really was Radio Moscow (USSR), but I don’t think she ever believed it.