Chapter VI - Patch Work
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  1. Santosh Vattam for correcting tonnes of grammatical mistakes.
  2. Sudarshan for anchoring the concept into sketchs.
  3. Friends: Punchagan, Ritesh, Nandeep, Kartik, Ashish for comments, feedback, suggestions, support, and encouragement.

Continuing from part 5

Mahinder and Madhu assessed their timeline. They looked for predictions from the weather department on the upcoming storm, it showed 87% chances in the 3rd week of April. They will have to hurry to put together everything they can within the next couple of weeks. They scoured through the maps of Sam to locate a good accessible position for their Jig. Mahinder took charge of the arrangement of the commute to the location, putting together a remote control and surveillance setup for their Jig. Madhu was responsible for researching "lightning trapper", making a prototype that they could test in their garage, improve the design and scale it up for the final version, one which can eat those lightning strikes and not burp. Mahinder would assist her with finishing touches and refining. They both decided to reach out to Multan Bhaisaab for their special wires only when they had their working prototype. That way, they will have a better idea of exact specifications.

Madhu looked through research papers in the domain. There were few research labs associated with the shipping company which manufactured Simba, the battery. Other labs that worked in the domain of lightning were working on how to properly ground them and avoid damages to crucial infrastructure. For prototype, she first built a Van de Graaff generator(VdG). It was the closest thing she can use to simulate what happens during lightning. She tried to reproduce a couple of papers. They didn't work out of box for her. While she was doing this she live-streaming her experiments, findings and, learning. Soon she got university professors and students following her actively and giving her more references and suggestions on what to try.

Mahinder on his part went to the district ADM and secured a permit for setting up a temporary observatory for dust storms in Sam. He opened up the last half of his 4 wheel drive jeep and made space for the Jig. He put together a mini solar-powered unit and connected video camera and hologram projection unit with it. With a video link, they will have a good idea about the situation on the ground. With hologram projection, he thought if will help in situations when someone is trying to damage the setup for stealing or something else. He camouflaged the Jeep by painting it so that it doesn't attract unwanted attention in the dunes.

They both kept on pairing over their work and helping each other out. Mahinder would ask Madhu for her comments and suggestions on what could be the final setup and include them in his work. Madhu got her work reviewed from Mahinder. For her, technical expertise and insight of Mahinder were really helpful. Furthermore, Mahinder was good with cleaning up things, rewiring, soldering and improving on her prototype. Many times when they didn't have time for in person pairing over the work, she would leave notes for him. Explaining what she had done, where she got stuck and pointers for him to improve. One such day as Mahinder was looking through Madhu's work and her notes, It appeared to him that she had got something working. He cleaned up some of her solderings, made sure that movement in the motors was working smoothly and it was not stuttering. The initial prototype resembled a flower, with some flaps opening and exposing a metallic hemisphere in the middle with a strong circular magnet at the bottom of it. As the structure opened it also rose. He was not sure of the final functionality of it.

Finally, as they got some time to work together in-person, Mahinder was barely containing his excitement to see things working. Madhu briefed him about the physics behind the structure and roles of different parts. He nodded heavily while she was explaining and wanted her to shift to the demo part.

Madhu also realized that, "Okay, lets get started" and started walking towards her VdG generator.

Mahinder was excited "Yes please, sparks!!".

Madhu turned on the VdG, "So, we know what is a lightning strike, right?"

Mahinder agreed, "Yes, the charge keeps building up till the time air around it can't hold it anymore."

Madhu was tempted to correct him but contained herself, "Yes, more or less, that is correct."

Madhu brought a different metallic sphere which was grounded close to VdG and there was a crackling sound, "See, there, lightning strikes are essentially similar to these sparks, just with a punch."

Mahinder acknowledged, "Heh that is a nice way to put it."

Madhu now picked up an iron nail and brought it close to VdG and the sparks stop, "And this is how grounding works. It essentially provides a path for the charge to flow to earth and see as I bring the nail close to VdG sphere, no more sparks."

Mahinder replied, "That's where your flower, err…. device comes into picture."

Madhu was irritated a bit by the comment but continued with her demo, "Hopefully yes. With help of good Samaritans spread across internet we have something. Now watch this."

She started her device and it unfolded. "So, we just saw how these grounded nails are spoilsports for our little sparks, right?"

Mahinder nodded. Madhu continued, "Now watch this, even with this nail around the VdG as we start our device, and…."

Suddenly there was a louder crackling noise and BIG spark between VdG to Madhu's flower, errr… device.

Mahinder was startled and jumped to his feet, "Holy…… wtf was that. Damn."

Madhu started laughing at Mahinder's reaction. "Heh, easy there, don't worry."

Mahinder calmed down and started asking questions "Are you alright? How did those tiny funny sparks become this BIG?"

Madhu chuckled, "Calm down Mehndu. I am alright. See". She gestured from her hands towards herself.

Mahinder continued asking, "How, what, How?"

Madhu, "Heh. Silly, I explained everything to you a while ago. But you were not paying any attention".

Mahinder smiled sheepishly and spoke while scratching his head, "It was getting a bit too technical. I wasn't prepared for the intensity of this."

Madhu tried to simplify everything into a one line, "Basically with the magnet and these additional sheets", she pointed towards petal like metal strips, "We create a field which sort of holds the charge and eventually it converts into a spark."

Mahinder was very convinced by the demo, "Woohooo…. congratulation Madhu we did it. You did it."

Madhu smiled back, "WE did it."

Now Mahinder started wondering about how will they convert this prototype into the final version that they will use. "How will we scale this?"

Madhu replied, "Most of the material we are using for this prototype are easily available. So structure wise we will just make this bigger".

Mahinder, "And which parts are tricky?".

Madhu answered, "The Magnet part and connecting it to our battery. For this contained environment the magnet was strong enough. Out there, in open we just can't build something like this."

Mahinder, "So how do we do it?"

Madhu replied, "I was thinking of making solonoid and connect it with our solar panel."

Mahinder: "But we won't have that strong a current to create a strong magnet."

Madhu: "I know."

Mahinder: "Fine, lets hook it up with Simba also. That would help a bit."

Madhu: "Ah, yes. That would help for sure."

Mahinder: "What about wiring? How do we connect this with Simba?"

Madhu: "That's where either we use really good quality thick copper wire or wire made from the jewellery."

Mahinder: "Are you sure copper wire will work fine?"

Madhu: "I think so. Theoretically it should be okay. I don't have means to test it out."

Mahinder: "How about we do couple of wiring, one with copper second one, thinner, but using silver."

Madhu: "And connect them both to Simba, right?"

Mahinder nodded.

Madhu: "Yes, that will be a good fallback option for us."

Mahinder: "Cool. Lets get started."

For next couple of days they both built a bigger version of the prototype Madhu had built. They tested it with her smaller VdG generator.

After testing it out, they both stood their figuring out their next move.

Mahinder: "Let us mount it on our Jeep. And I am thinking of bringing Maa on board for handling the remote control of it."

Madhu: "Maa? Really? Why?"

Mahinder: "Well, it won't be one or two day thing. We have some notifications enabled but I think we still need to keep an constant eye on it. And with our work and other things I don't think we can do that. Maa on other hand is mostly watching her TV anyway. She might as well keep an watch on this."

Madhu: "Well for one this won't be entertaining."

Mahinder winked at Madhu and said, "Agreed, but she has a personal stake in this".

Madhu: "Ohh man, this is just pure evil."

Mahinder: "Come on. Don't make me feel guilty about this."

They shifted everything on the Jeep and tested it once again. Later they both went to MML's room.

MML looked at all the cables and joysticks and asked Mahinder, "What is all this about Beta(Son?), updating the TV with more material?"

Mahinder took some time to realize how MML has confused the things he was holding. He clarified, "No no, Maa, these are remote controls for the Battery, remember we talked about it."

MML got more confused, "Why are you bringing it all here?"

Madhu pitched in, "We think you are most eligible candidate for this."

MML gesturing to all wires and controls Madhu and Mahinder were holding, "What? Beta, I have no clue about all these things."

Madhu tried to assure MML, "Don't worry Maa, you don't need to know technical details. We want someone monitoring things manually. Many times, in field, these remote sensors fail and we will miss out on something critical."

MML, "And you think I can make out what is critical or not? Am I speaking french here?"

Madhu sighed. Mahinder took over and replied, "Maa, as Madhu said, don't worry about details. Here, wait, let me walk you through this. It is very simple, this would be nothing for you. Trust us."

Madhu hurriedly started connecting MML's TV with control feeds. Mahinder did a sanity check on joystick he was carrying and looking at the feed on his mobile. He approached MML to explain.

As there was life feed on MML's TV, Mahinder started, "See, here, its that easy. Just like any your other channel. You see our Jeep right?". MML nodded. Mahinder continued, "Here, take this joystick, this is just like you TV remote, but for the Battery and its setup."

MML hesitated a bit. Madhu took the remote from Mahinder and sat next to MML and started explaining, "Look Maa, its tad easy. You see our jeep on the screen?". Maa again nodded. "See, this is how you move the camera and …". She pushed a button and feed started shifting. MML felt comfortable and took the joystick. "Aah, I see it. I get it. And what does this button do?". She pressed a button and holographic projection appeared on the bonnet of the jeep and started speaking something about observatory. MML got spooked a bit and shouted, "What, what is that?"

Mahinder explained, "No, no Maa, nothing is wrong. This is just a simple scarecrow kind of thing we installed. To scare away the wanderers. It gets triggered when someone comes too close to the Jeep or it can be triggered from this Joystick, like you did."

MML replied in approval, "aah, I see. Nice, interesting. How will it stop? Should I press it again?"

Mahinder encouraged her to give it a try and she did, indeed it worked. Both Mahinder and Madhu felt a bit confident. MML was also started exploring on her own and questioning things more openly. "What's that battery status on the top?", MML pointed to the top right corner of the screen.

Madhu answered, "We are using solar panel to power this remote control thingy. It shows the battery and health of that."

MML acknowledged and pressed a few buttons. Suddenly a keystroke turned the TV screen blank. MML got alarmed and worried, "Hai Ram, this time its broken for real."

Mahinder took the joystick from MML and after trying out something replied, "No no, that's just a, ummm how to say, that was a glitch. System is alright". As he said that the TV screen started showing the feed again. Mahinder assured MML, "See, there."

MML felt relief as TV started showing things but suddenly it dawned to her that she would be responsible for operating it. The thought triggered her "What? What should I see? What happened? Why did it stop? How did it start again?".

Mahinder was on defence and tried to explain, "We are still fixing a few things".

MML got more irritated, "What games are you playing here Mehndu. On one hand you both are claiming these big things and here I can't even work with your system. Are you actually serious about this?".

Mahinder was flushed and embarrassed. Madhu pitched in, "Of-course Maa please don't doubt out commitment. We wanted to get an idea of how would you handle it. Don't worry, we are not putting this in SAM in this state. We still have a few days before the storm season starts. We will fix all these faults"

MML gave in reluctantly and warned them both, "I won't be a part of this if you don't do it properly. Please get it fixed before you come here next time".

Madhu and Mahinder disconnected and wrapped up everything and tip toed their way out of MML's room. MML kept on murmuring something to herself. They both felt dejected after their first round. And it took a few more humiliating interaction before they were able to convince MML that they were ready. She pushed them really hard and made sure everything which they were claiming was working as they were claiming.

After all these rounds, MML now knew entire system thoroughly. MML made sure that she knew the functionalities of the all the knobs she was given and understood of all the figures she was seeing on the video feed.

As the storm season closed they all settled to something which they knew was their best bet. One late night, Madhu and Mahinder took their blessings from MML. Hooked MML's screen to system and asked her to start things when they gave her the call from the location where they will put the setup. Mahinder and Madhu drove their Jeep through the city and a while on highway and then went off the route into the dunes. As they finally reached their location they called MML. She booted system from her room. As the mounted camera rotated, both Mahinder and Madhu waved at it excitedly. They both instructed MML to test few things. Once they confirmed that everything was working they both hiked their way through the dunes back to the city.

While both of them had worked their ass off for today, they were not feeling a sense of accomplishment. They both knew that if the system failed to catch a lightning strike all of this will be for nothing. And there was a threat of the setup being stolen which was even more worse. They both walked back to home in silence, without talking with concerns of their own.

Final chapter, part 7

References: [1]. [2].

  • Silver is the best conductor of electricity of all the metals,
  • it resists oxidation, corrosion and electrical sparking,
  • it is the most malleable metal except for gold, and
  • it is the most ductile of all metals except for gold.

[3]. [4].

Based on a 3-meter side length for the coils and estimating 30 windings for each, one can calculate that the current that flowed through them must have been about 30,000 amperes. At its peak of operations in the summer of 1945, the Clinton Engineer Works consumed about one percent of the electrical power produced in the United States, much of it flowing through those silver coils.


How can I work out if a cable can take a momentary current spike?

[6]. 3.6 volts 1000 amps transformer Vs 10mm steel bar [7]. High Voltage, High Current, lethal,

[8]. Lightning Rods That Prevent Lightning Strikes [9]. Does a lightning rod prevent lightning strikes?

[10]. Empire state building: lightning strikes thrice

[11]. How lightning rods keeps lightning from happening in first place. [12].