Sunday, July 09, 2006

Five million Teslas
Coturnix, whose secret identity is Bora Zivkovic, will be celebrating the Nikola Tesla sesquicentenial tomorrow. For two weeks now he has been having a countdown of sorts to the birthday of one of Serbia's proudest sons. Coturnix has given us a constant stream of Tesla quotes and scientific trivia. I'll contribute a Tesla post to the fun.

In late August 1993 I collected a few of these five million dinar notes in Belgrade. At the time they were worth about two-thirds of a cent American. Over the next four months they lost even more value.

The portrait on the front of the bill is of Tesla in later life. On the back, to the right is a modern hydroelectric dam. Tesla's innovations made the long distance transmission of electricity through powerlines possible. To the left is a picture of Tesla in his lab at Colorado Springs around 1900. Unfortunately, it's almost impossible to see him in this reproduction. Below is a photo from the same series as the basis for the dinar engraving.

Tesla had a series of portraits made of him surrounded by home-made lightning. He loved the shock value of posing is such situations. Unfortunately, it contributed to his public image as a mad scientist, an image that was only confirmed in many peoples' minds as he developed obsessive/compulsive tendencies in his middle-age.

The device is an experimental magnifying transmitter, by which he hoped to broadcast electricity without wires. It is essentially a bigger version of the Tesla coils that were popular at science fairs when I was a kid.

In grade school in the early sixties, I wanted to build a Tesla coil and even had some plans from Popular Mechanics. Most of the parts were things that I could have scrounged from auto junkyards, except for one major step-up transformer. That I would have needed to buy new and the price was some unattainable amount like fifty dollars. In modern prices, that's about $136,000. You wouldn't believe how much candy you could buy for a nickel in those days. Hershey bars were the size of surf boards. Even if I had taken up a paper route, I couldn't have saved that much. [/geezer]

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