From an interview of Derek Woodroffe by EEWeb
I was brought up on electronics. At an early age I was introduced to TTL logic and computing, even before the PET and ZX80 were available. My father was a ex-radar engineer who became an electronics repair man, who covered TV, radio, record players, and cassette players. For him, electronics was a hobby that turned into his profession. His enthusiasm directed my own interest.
Afrer that, I spent ten Years in telecoms, and seven years as an Electronics/Software engineer in a theatrical/disco lighting company. After that I became a self employed programmer/computer engineer.
Tell us about Extreme Electronics
Extreme Electronics started as a way of keeping notes on the high voltage equipment I built. It grew as my experimentation grew, it now covering the events I attend, and it is a way of publicising and documenting the UK Tesla events.
Extreme Electronics is my hobby. There are no real applications for tesla coils, apart from the entertainment industry, so it has a good chance of staying my hobby.
Can you tell us about your favourite experiment or project?
Probably my favourite project is the Aetheriser, (http://www.aetheriser.co.uk). It’s not a particularly complex or ground breaking tesla coil, but it was built for a steam-punk exhibition and I enjoyed the challenge of getting a modern uP controlled electronic tesla coil to look like it was built in the mid 1800’s.
The Aetheriser’s party trick is to erase DVD’s. A DVD is attached to its top load and the Aetheriser is turned on, Over 20 seconds or so the foil inside the DVD is removed by the discharge, with a great display of arcs & sparks. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ecsVy5SOh4k)
What tools are your favourites?
My favourite tools are a Pic Kit2 and an old 30Mhz analogue oscilloscope — they are much more HV proof than newer machines and don’t cost too much if you accidentally discharge a few thousand volts through them.
What was the trickiest bug you ever fixed?
One of the harder problems I faced was a software error in the error correction routine for the data stream into a tesla coil, It only appeared when the tesla coil was running at high-ish power, so it was not feasible to have any test equipment attached. It took a while to deduce what was going on.
What is on your bookshelf?
Mostly old sci-fi books. C’mon, who gets their electronic data from books these days?
Do you have any experiential stories you’d like to share?
I was faulting a large electronic tesla coil which refused to oscillate. As I couldn’t get a good idea of the fault at low volts, I kept turning up the voltage on the variac powering the coil. I found the problem, but forgot to turn down the variac. I sent a short power burst to the coil which responded by sending a 70cm arc to my head. It hurt a little, but no real harm done…apparently.
This experience did highlight how careful you really need to be around HV.
Is there anything you’d like to say to young people to encourage them to pursue electronics?
Just do it, get a PicKit or Stamp, Aduino or Raspberry Pi and have a go. There is so much information available, and combined with the plug together kits on the internet, it’s so much easier to start these days. You don’t have to build everything up from chip level. If you get stuck, there are many internet forums you can get help from. Ideally attend local maker fairs or hacker spaces and ask questions — most people are really helpful.