Six Pack Tesla Coil

Introducing the 6-Pack Tesla Coil

Image of a small Tesla coil

I was invited  (and encouraged) to write an article for Make Magazine for an introductory Tesla coil project. This one is a simple spark gap coil using beer bottles for a tank capacitor and a small Neon Sign Transformer (NST).  It doesn’t play music it just makes loud sparky noises.

The article is meant to teach the basic skills and practices to build and tune a Tesla coil using common materials that are readily available. I wanted to provide enough detail and instruction so that a beginner would be successful.  The coil is made to be modular so that the maker can experiment easily and change out bits as they learn how to get bigger sparks out of their coil.  I hope to post a few improvements after the article gets out so folks who wish to, can get a bit more spark length out of their coil.

The print article will be 18 pages and will be in issue 35 of Make Magazine. The web version of the article includes more detailed instructions and is available here.

I hope a few people actually try to build the coil.  The interns at Make built theirs and were thrilled when they got it debugged and tuned up. Here’s a picture of their coil:

Test coil built by Make Magazine staffPhoto by Sean Ragan

Note that they had to add a bottle to tune the coil so its even better than a Six-Pack!

Thanks to Sean, Keith and the rest of the Staff at Make for the opportunity to write an article.  I’m looking forward to the next, maybe simpler, article.  Thanks to Steve Ward for proof reading the article and making sure I got the technical stuff right.

A special thanks to Bart Anderson for his fantastic JavaTC program and his website. Its a great resource for coilers!



Sound of Shadows at TEDx Austin 2013

A person interactiing with sound of shadows

I was pleased to be invited to take part in the TEDx Austin event on February 9th at the Circuit if the Americas. I produced an interactive video and sound piece for the event called “Sound of Shadows”

The installation used Processing 2 running under Ubuntu 12.04 on a Quad-Core desktop computer.

A Creative HD webcam captured the image from a retrto-reflective screen to obtain a high contrast shadow of a person interacting with the piece.  The program then traced a horizontal outline of the person then scanned it at 150 beats per minute to play musical notes based on the persons outline.

As the videos show, guests got the hang of it quickly and had fun manipulating both the imagery and the sound.

I’ll be continuing to work on the piece to both enhance the images and the sound.

Thanks to Brent Dixon for inviting me and putting together a great interactive space at TEDx.

I will be presenting a new version of this piece at the Austin Mini Maker fair in May.

This video shows people interacting with the installation.

The program grabbed a frame on every scan and saved it.  This video shows all 1400 + frames.

If you were there, you might be able to find your picture!

Sorry about the frenetic nature of this video.   The sound is based on a random walk on a c-major scale.

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Serindipitous Circles

A long time ago, I had an IMSAI 8080 that I built from a kit.  I was working on laser shows at the time and was experimenting with a hand built DAC board for the 8080.  I saw this article in BYTE Magazine called Serindipitous Circles.  The algorithm was real simple but produced some interesting patterns that could be displayed on an oscilloscope.  Graphics displays were hard to come by at the time.

I noticed that the Auduino Due had two built-in DACs, so this was the perfect thing to try on the Due!

The article can be seen here.

I made a quick video with my cell phone.

Here’s the code:

/* Serendipitous circles algorithm from
Byte magazine February 1977
By Craig Newswanger
// Variables
int x,y,xnew,ynew,j;

void setup() {
void loop()
for (j=0;j<80000;j++)

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David Blaine – Electrified by ArcAttack!

David Blaine Electrified

David Blaine near the end of his 72 hour endurance event.

You may know that Austins own ArcAttack was responsible for the massive Tesla coil set-up for David Blaine’s latest endurance event at Pier 54 in New York. Here is Arcattack’s Facebook page.

Look here for some behind the scenes videos.

It was a privilege to work on this project, and although a lot had to be done in a short time, it was very rewarding to see it through a successful conclusion.  The coil electronics proved to be solid.  Kudos to Joe DiPrima and Steve Ward for an excellent design and Christian Miller for the show controller.  Great work by Sam Mcfadden in the design and the build.

Heres a shot of the crew after David left in an ambulance. (Pat Sullivan didn’t make it in the picture though he was there.)

From Left to right, Tyler Hanson, Stephen Chao (David’s Producer), Adron Lucas, Joe DiPrima, Steve Ward,  Craig Newswanger (me).  Other team members: John DiPrima, Pat Sullivan, Sam Mcfadden and Christian Miller

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Percussibot Boards Are Available

Sorry I did not spell this out clearly!
I can build boards to order.
Prices are the same as before as shown here.



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Trigonometry Daydream

Well, I was trying to figure out what to do with all the drawings I’ve made with the drawing machine.

I photographed about 80 images then I thought of making a video with them.

Thanks to John (Giovanni)  DiPrima for the music.

I used GIMP and Phatch to prepare the photos.

I used Sony Vegas HD to create the video.

I’ll post a gallery of the images real soon!


San Mateo Maker Faire

Wow, two in a row!  Now I’m tired.

Photo of Craig at the Maker Fair

Thanks to Joe DiPrima of ArcAttack who invited me to join them in San Mateo for the mother ship of Maker events.  I set up the Drawing machine, now named the Lissagraph, after Jules Antoine Lissajous.  Many people asked what it was called, now it has a name.

Had a great time, though I saw little of the rest of the fair.  Adam Savage gave a great talk and we experienced a solar eclipse to boot!

I was located in the ArcAttack backstage area. Thanks to everyone who came by my table to talk and watch the machine.  After my the guys get back to Austin with my stuff,  I’ll be putting up a gallery of lots of the drawings so I can make it possible for those interested to purchase the images through PayPal.  Each one is unique so as they are sold, (if they are sold)  I will remove them from the gallery.

An odd pattern appears

As I was setting up the machine for a visitor, late on Sunday, an odd pattern appeared.  I was really surprised by it.  Hard to believe that this is created with sine waves.

An odd pattern from the LissagraphNow I have to figure out how to recreate it.  I wrote down the rough recipe but it will take some work to figure out the starting phase.

I always come back from the Maker Faire with inspiration,  I hope it comes to something.  We’ll see!



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Austin Mini Maker Faire

The Austin Mini Maker Faire was a great success!

Great crowds.  We brought the stepper controlled drawing machine and produce lots of drawings.

People seem to be mesmerized by the drawing machine.  Round and round and round and round… your eyelids are getting heavy…

Here are a couple of photos from the event.  I put up a link to a video soon.

Thanks to Kami Wilt for organizing a great first Austin Mini Maker Faire!

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New Drawing Machine

Hello all
It’s been ages since I posted anything. This is mostly because I was not able to get much time in the shop over the last few months.  I’ll try to keep up with the blog a bit better.

I built this stepper motor driven drawing machine based on an idea from a toy from the 1920’s. The Toy is called the “HOOT-NANNY”   Yes, really, that’s it’s name.

I scaled it up to create complex guilloché patterns on paper.

Guilloché is the word used to describe intricate repetitive patterns often used in security printing and fine metal working. The machine uses three micro-step motors that are controlled by a program written in PureData. Careful control of the motor speed ratios and positioning of the pen arms results in complex patterns. Some of the best patterns are the result of setting the speeds very near but not quite on specific harmonic relationships. The pen traces a Lissajous curve and the paper rotates beneath the pen, thus tracing out the complex pattern.
The patterns take from 10 minutes to and hour to create.

Puredata is not really intended for motion control but I found it really easy to manipulate the ascii to create the strings for the motors.  If I tried to do this in C or Python It would taken much longer to program.  In puredata sliders and buttons are a snap.  Opening two serial ports turned out to be easy as well.

Special thanks to Olympus controls in Austin.


Analog Photo Fun- “Lomography”

My wife Sally and I just spent a week in New York City.  Good fun all around.

Congratulations to our friend Judy Jenson on her opening at Gerald Peters Gallery. (A great reason to visit the city.)   We had a wonderful time with our friends from Austin.

One day, after emerging from a Subway station on 23rd st, we noticed a cool store at 106 E23rd Street, NY 10010

It is a Lomography Gallery Store.

I’d heard of Lomography and being photo geeks from way back, I/we had to go in.

A “few” dollars later we emerged with two plastic cameras which we immediately loaded with film and started shooting.

One camera, “Pop-9”, shoots 9 separate pictures at once in a standard 35mm frame.  The other was a wide angle camera called the “Sprocket Rocket”.

I also could not resist  the “Spinner 360” We went back to get that one too.    Here are a couple of pictures I shot with the Spinner:

The indoor shot was shot by rotating the camera body by hand.  The primary way to operate the camera is to pull a ring which which winds a spring. Letting go of the string spins the camera to take a shot.  It made me laugh the first time I shot a picture!

Here is a link to the main lomography website.



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