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Electricity and simple home-made circuits for the holiday season

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Sometimes, the most interesting electrical devices are the simplest. A phone or computer is ordinary because it's so complex, yet so frequently used day-by-day. But a static electricity generator, a simple motor-car toy, or even a simple light-bulb circuit can still astound children and adults alike. These simple gizmos remind us that we've essentially built our civilization on harnessed lightning!

Here are tips on how to harness electricity for your Chicago holiday season, whether for homemade gifts, decorations, or the occasional prank!

–Festive LED lighting arrangements:

To create your own Christmas light decorations, places like the American Science Surplus Store on 5316 Milwaukee Avenue sell cheap coils of wire, battery cases, switches, and LED bulbs in white, red, and green colors.

You can create beautiful and energy efficient displays and tablepieces for the holiday season by making a battery circuit (three AA batteries are optimal), and combining it with paper sculptures and cut-outs of holiday scenes and objects (christmas trees and snowflakes work very well). Just remember that LEDs, like all diodes, only let current flow in one direction: always hook the longer wire of the LED up to the positive terminal of the battery.

–Arts and crafts fun with conductive ink:

Conductive ink pens, made by companies like Adafruit Industries or Bare Conductive, contain special silver/resin based ink compounds that allow users to draw electronic diagrams on wood, plastic and paper. Pens like these are a great way to draw or modify pictures so that they double as circuits for LEDs, sound devices or other applications. They make good stocking stuffers as well.

–Hack audio greeting cards for some experimental holiday music:

Local experimental music group Roth Mobot modifies the sound-boards of old children's toys to create strange new musical instruments that produce eerie warbling noises. In-between concerts and seminars, they also publish periodic articles in Musicworks Magazine about how to 'bend' certain kinds of circuit

This article will show you how to 'hack' the circuits of audio greeting cards and creates new tunes for friends or family members that like theremins, moog synthesizers, or other varieties of auteur electronic music:

–Static electricity on the fly or at home:

Come winter, the air gets dryer, the cotton sweaters get thicker, and static shocks and jolts on doorknobs get more and more likely.

For people who want to fiddle about with static electricity this time of year, whether for pranking or for science, you've got several methods-shuffling feet along shaggy carpets and rubbing balloons or combs through one's hair are classic means.

PVC pipes, however, can generate static very reliably–simply rub a cotton cloth or sheet of standard printing paper along their length several times while wearing rubber gloves, and you'll build up a charge that'll attract running water, collect scraps of tissue paper, and give annoying younger siblings jolts. Dim the lights, and you'll even be able to see the static blooms arcing about like streaks of miniature blue lightning, a festive sight for the holiday season.

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