"Make" Makes Right Call on High Voltage

Interesting reading from Make magazine, the magazine for people who want to create something with their hands, from crafts to electronics: They killed an article because they worried the article might kill (or at least severely injure) readers. The editors published the emailed conversation that they had with their technical advisory board about a piece that would explain how to create an "anti-gravity" device that uses high-voltage, but relatively low-amperage power to produce a lifter. The problem is that the design requires exposed conductive parts, and that the combination of voltage and amperage could be fatal under a variety of circumstances--even if those circumstances were just a subset.

What's great in reading this back and forth isn't that they were cautious and killed the article to avoid a lawsuit, or idiots following directions badly, or underestimating their readers, or pure lack of fun. Rather, the advisory board is full of daring people, many of whom have worked with high voltages and high amperages, and they were a little freaked out about the unknowns. That's the kind of caution that often keeps you from falling off a mountain (you don't climb on the days that are likely to go against you, when you can predict it, which isn't always).

It's fascinating to see that people with lots of experience and knowledge are still freaked out about the capacitance in cathode-ray tubes (CRTs). I have heard a lot about how difficult it is to drain residual power from these tubes practically from when I was a boy and interested in electronics. (I used to do a lot of soldering when I was age 11 or 12.)

The article might still run, but it looks like the publication is trying to figure out if there's a way that they can educate people enough and frame the project in such a way as to provide safeguards--and perhaps a level of difficulty--that would preclude true danger.

Note my comment below the article: One advisor brings up the bugbear of the McDonald's coffee lawsuit as proof that we live in a litigious society. This lawsuit has legs: The woman in question sued and won not because McDonald's was engaged in reasonable behavior. Rather, McDonald's was serving coffee far hotter than was safe. They knew it. And they'd settled many previous lawsuits. In fact, McDonald's knowledge of and lack of response prior to that defining lawsuit is precisely the opposite of how Make arrived at its decision not to publish. Free and opening airing of ideas led to a well-judged conclusion.