Steven Pinkert’s Tesla Coil

Steven Pinkert’s Inspiration – the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry’s Million Volt Generator

As a young budding scientist growing up on the Southside of Chicago one of my regular weekend haunts was the Museum of Science and Industry.  I was facinated with many of the museums exhibit – particularly those that related to electricity and technology.  (I had experimented with electricity and electrical devices as early as the age of 5.)

One of my favorite exhibits at the museum was the million volt discharge by General Electric.  They would charge a series of capacitors and then discharge them in series producing an electrical arc several feet long of 1,000,000 volts.  As part of the demonstration a block of wood was placed in between the electrodes and the block of wood was shattered by the electrical discharge.  The sound was deafening but it was one of my favorite exhibits until it was shut down maybe in the 60s or 70s.

I think it was a fairly high maintenance exhibit and I read somewhere that it was finally shut down because of PCBs in the capacitors.

Steven Makes His Own Million Volt Generator

Steven Pinkert was an avid reader of Popular Electronics magazine and in the July 1964 issue there was a project to build a 3 foot tall Tesla coil that would produce maybe 200,000 volts!  At the time I was 13 years old.

Steven Pinkert's Tesla Coil Inspiration (and instructions)


So I went though the parts list and to my dismay they called for a lucite coil form for the secondary coil.  This was about 3″ in diameter and maybe 3 feet tall.  It was way beyond my budget.  I worked part time at Nolan’s Radio Repair Shop on 83rd street back then and I don’t think I made more that 2 dollars and hour. So I decided that perhaps a square form out of plywood might suffice even though I was sure that the square form would cause some electrical losses.

So I called cousin Phil and together we hand wound a square and 3 foot long secondary coil with thin enamel coated copper wire and then made a simple square primary, also out of wood. We made capacitors out of aluminum foil and glass and then we needed a high voltage source.  I scoured all the junk shops in the area and finally got my hands on an old neon sign transformer – just what the doctor ordered.

We completed the wiring, stood back and plugged it in.  After just a little fiddling with the spark gap – It worked!  We could hold a florescent light bulb in our hand 3 feet away and it would light up.  We could draw maybe a 4-5″ spark from the electrode at the top to ground.  We actually kept the Tesla Coil in Phil’s mother basement until she sold her home about 10 years ago.  I am going to see if I can hunt down a photograph, but it looked like a crude version of what appears on the magazine cover above.


Pyrotecnics at the Michael Jackson Immortal World Tour (Cirque du Soleil)

Steven Pinkert Attended the Michael Jackson Immortal World Tour at the Miami America Airlines Arena on March 5, 2012

Last Night I caught the Michael Jackson Immortal World Tour – Cirque du Soleil here in Miami.  I won’t go into the details of the show here except to say that it was somewhat disappointing.  (In a few days you can check out my personal blog for a full review.) Let me go on the record that Steven Pinkert is opposed to the indoor use of pyrotechnics.

Indoor use of pyrotechnics

Towards the end of the show there was what I can best describe as a low altitude full fireworks display on the stage.  This included a barrage of aerial shells, comets and roman candles including salutes (the large midair deep sounding explosions).  To put it another way, this appeared like a low altitude indoor full version of an outdoor fireworks display.  While I am not an expert in this area and I may technically be describing the fireworks incorrectly I believe that this is extremely dangerous and should absolutely not be permitted.

Many people have been seriously injured from the use of indoor pyrotechnics over the years.  And these devices can be defective. It is the nature of these devices that you don’t know for sure how they will perform until you ignite them! Besides the obvious risk of a fire or a device sending debris into the crowd, the exit process from the American Airlines Arena is already so congested and difficult that a fire or injury might cause a panic and many people would get hurt in a stampede.

This is just my opinion – but it seems obvious.

Steven Pinkert writes this “Technical” blog and elsewhere publishes a personal blog.  His law firm is Pinkert and Marsh, PA in Coral Gables.  The law firm’s website is

Steven Pinkert’s Psychiatric Residency

Steven Pinkert’s  Last Night on Call

I graduated from Northwestern University Medical School in December 1976 and immediately began my Residency in Psychiatry at the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago.  I had been undergoing a personal psychoanalysis for many years up to that point and so I was quite familiar with what was then very popular – Freudian Theory.  I, like many other psychiatrists at the time, believed that most psychiatric disturbances were a result of childhood experiences (environmental), rather than as a result of imbalances in brain chemistry.

My residency was a good experience.  I was surrounded with very experienced faculty and many were quite innovative. The faculty was split however between the brain chemistry docs on the one hand and the psychoanalytic adherents on the other.  I was clearly in the psychoanalytic camp and that caused me many problems – but I digress.

As a psychiatric resident we had to take call.  Call meant that you were available to deal with hospitalized and emergency room patients who needed care after normal working hours (8:30-5:30). Call could be brutal as there was only one resident on call each night or weekend day, and if it was busy you might have to go without sleep for the entire night and then continue to work the following day.  Also, we covered two hospitals: The University of Illinois Hospital and the Westside Veterans Administration Hospital. This meant that we were responsible for many many patients.  And the more patients you were responsible for the busier you were and thus shuteye was a valuable commodity.

Lots of things can go wrong on call – and you, as just a resident, are responsible for the care and wellbeing of many very sick people.  Sometimes you have to make critical decisions very quickly – but mostly it’s run of the mill stuff such as a patient presents with an anxiety attack, an inpatient is suicidal, medication side effects, or even constipation.  The key to surviving on call was being careful, thoughtful and most of all efficient!  Whenever possible you needed to get sleep.

One thing that we would do was to call the emergency rooms and the inpatient units before going to bed to try and avoid being awoken an hour later. Sleep was the most important commodity.

Now in those years we psychiatric residents didn’t do physical exams. There was the rational that a physical examination would interfere with our relationship with the patient and introduce feelings and issues that would a clear understanding of what the patient was feeling.  We usually had a medical resident do our physicals for us – and patients coming in through the ER already had a physical examination.

Even today many if not most practicing psychiatrists do not perform physical examinations on their patients.  Recently however, there is a movement towards psychiatrists routinely performing physical examinations on their patients.  This recent change is related to a greater appreciation of the frequency of mood disorders and alterations in cognitive function related to many recognized systemic disorders.  Further, the current theory that the etiology of mental illness is a chemical imbalance in the brain also supports the need for physical examination.

Steven Pinkert was a very conscientious resident.

To the best of my knowledge I never made an error.  I was obsessive about providing  patients the correct and finest care.  So it was my last night of call.  I had been on call anywhere from every third night to every 6th night for two years and now, after tonight I would be done with call.

The night had been relatively uneventful.  Then, about 11:00pm, after I had already gotten into bed,  I received a call from Betty White, a nurse on one of the Veterans Hospital Psychiatric Inpatient Units.  (I actually remember her name after all these years.) She said “Dr. Pinkert we have a patient that is hyperventilating.  I think you should come and take a look at him.”



Playing With Fire – Dumb Things Steven Pinkert did as a Young Kid – Part 2

Steven Pinkert’s Stupid Trick Number 2 – Starting a Forest Fire

It seems incredible to me now, the risky and stupid things I did as a kid. As I mentioned in a previous “Tech” story I thought gasoline was an interesting liquid. I used it to clean motor parts, run my go-carts and motor bikes that I built, I loved how it smelled, and it was very flammable. I had well learned that if you couldn’t make damp wood burn with kerosene you could be darn sure it would burn with gasoline! (In a future story about my chemistry set I will describe my attempt at age 12 or 13 to make nitroglycerine – thank god I was unsuccessful!)

I was probably 8 or 9 years old and as I also mentioned in another story I went to visit my cousin Phil Graff, who lived in the Chicago suburbs, very frequently.  We lived on the Southside of Chicago and Phil lived in the beautiful rural area of Flossmoor.   Phil’s home backed up on the woods and he had a beautiful creek that ran through his property and the woods.  Phil and I loved to camp out and build hearty camp fires.

One evening, after it rained all day Phil and I decided it was a perfect evening to camp out.  We pitched our tent, lugged all our supplies from Phil’s house to the woods. Then we began collecting wood for our fire – but we just couldn’t find any dry proper firewood.  Every piece was drenched.  But we were undeterred because we had a trick – Gasoline.

I went back to Phil’s garage and lugged a gas can out into the woods.  We carefully arranged the wood over a hole that we dug in the dirt, poured a liberal amount of gasoline on the wet wood, moved the gas can safely out of the way and ignited our fire. Whoosh! A perfect fire instantly – and why not, the fuel was gasoline not wood.  So we settled in and got ready to roast marshmallows and listen to the radio.  Just after we got comfortable the fire started to die out.  The gasoline had all been burnt up and the wood was hot – there were red embers but it was just to wet for combustion.

So we decided to relight the fire and all we needed was to carefully add more gasoline as fuel.  Now here is where things got interesting.  As we poured the gasoline on the wet hot embers, a thick low lying fog rose out of the hole under the wood and grew wider and wider covering the ground all around us.  It was really eerie like in a horror film with the fog.  Looking down even are feet were barely visible under the layer of fog which was about 6 inches thick.  When we finished pouring the gas the fog surrounded the us by about 10 feet in all directions.  Then I struck a match and lit the fire. Dumb, really dumb.  The beautiful fog was gasoline vapor and it instantly exploded into flames around us.

Lucky for us it had rained all day and we were pretty wet.  We started stomping out the fire with our feet and the shovel and in a minute or two, that seemed like eternity,we had the fire out.  To this day I still remember how frightened I was – and how stupid we were. Needless to say I learned a valuable lesson about dealing with flammable liquids.

Phil Graff - Older and Wiser

Take a look at this picture. Hard to believe that this man, Steven Pinkert’s best and oldest friend, would do something so stupid – right?

Playing With Fire – Dumb Things Steven Pinkert did as a Young Kid – Part 1

Steven Pinkert’s Stupid Trick Number 1 – The Wall of Flames

As a young boy of 10 or 11 on a few occasions I played with gasoline.  Now I know that today I might get in trouble for these antics but back in the 1950s it was just a different time and place.  Kids were kids and as long as you didn’t intentionally cause property damage – you were forgiven your trespasses – even if they were extremely stupid things.

Things were so different back then. I remember when the gas station sold gas when they were closed and you simply left the money on top of the pump! But perhaps my rosy memory of the past isn’t completely accurate as I also recall every week we had to practice getting under our little school desks to practice saving ourselves form a Russian Nuclear attack.

Back in those days I used to take the Illinois Central train from downtown Chicago South to Flossmoor,  a Chicago Suburb.  There I would spend the day with my oldest friend and cousin, Phil Graff.  I would usually sleep over at his house and we had so much fun. It is an understatement to say we were mischievous.

One of our games was “Wall of Flames”.  Evil Knievel performed this stunt many years later, but I think Phil Graff and Steven Pinkert were the first. Particularly since we had random unsuspecting drivers actually drive through our wall of flames.

Here is the incredibly idiotic thing we did.  Phil had a large driveway with an adjoining garage. In front of the driveway was a rural paved road that was not too busy, maybe a car would pass by every 3- 5 minutes.  We would use a one gallon gasoline can with a spout and poor a trail of gasoline across the street, down the driveway and into the front corner of the garage – where we could hide.  When a car would approach we lit the trail of gasoline from our hiding place in the garage.  The flame would rush down the driveway and burst into a wall of flames across the entire street just as the unsuspecting driver drove through the wall of flames.  The driver would be shocked and look around – but the flame was out in seconds. Phil and I would fall on the ground laughing hysterically.  I can’t adequately convey how funny we thought it was – the laughter was only surpassed by our stupidity.

Steven Pinkert's Feet on a Ladder, Photographing Superman Phil Graff

Cousin Dale’s Soldering Gun

By Steven Pinkert –

When I was 6 years old, back in 1957, I lived on 69th and Paxton in Chicago in a two flat with my Aunt Lottie, Uncle Stan, Ellen, Richard and Roberta Wexler. In the basement, my cousin Dale had a nice model train layout.  It was American Flyer not Lionel. American Flyer was the most realistic model train with two rails rather than Lionel’s three rails. .

Cousin Dale Pinkert had a beautiful Weller soldering gun that he used to work on his American Flyer model railway.  Now to a young boy soldering is really amazing – not because you can attach wires and parts to copper contacts, but because you can melt solid metal!  So I discovered soldering. To this day I am an expert at soldering.  Large or small connections, connections that require a torch for heat to the most delicate semiconductors that require a heat sync to protect them while soldering.  I have literally soldered thousands of times over the years. In fact in January I was rebuilding some landscape lighting and I soldered the new bayonet light bulb sockets to lead wire.  But I digress….

Weller Soldering Gun Copyright 2012 - Steven Pinkert

I spent hours and hours alone in the basement experimenting with melting solder with Dale’s Weller soldering gun.  I would drop the molten metal from a height to watch it splatter and harden.  I would form it into a molten ball and let it cool.  I would attach wires together.  It was fascinating to me to instantly melt a solid metal into a liquid metal and the only liquid metal I was familiar with was mercury – which was difficult for a 6 year old to get his hands on.

One day when I was playing with the soldering gun (always without permission), I dropped it.  Now a Weller Soldering gun had a Bakelite case which was an excellent heat insulator but quite brittle and subject to fracture.  I looked at the gun on the concrete basement floor beneath me and it was in pieces – destroyed.

Dale asked me about what happened to the gun and I admitted what I had done. So for the next 40 years whenever I saw Dale he would tease me about ruining his soldering gun.

Dale is a wonderful person with a loving wife Betsy.  Dale’s father, my Uncle Joe, my father’s eldest brother, was one of my favorite uncles and I spent many weekends at their home in the summers. Dale now spends a tremendous amount of time with my father and my father loves him dearly.  In fact today, February 29, 2012, Dale flew to Miami from Chicago to spend a week with my father.

Uncle Raymond’s Electric Shaver

By Steven Pinkert –

Back in 1957, when I was a young boy, I loved mechanical devices.  I was always fascinated with technology and how things worked.  I frequently took things apart to understand how they operated. At the time, this was a bit unusual for a six year old.

My father began in the scrap metal business on the South Side of Chicago and  I spent most of my Saturdays rummaging around in the junk.  Well it didn’t feel like junk to me. I took motors and pumps apart and sometimes tested them and sometimes got them running.

When I was 7 years old my parents took me to Los Angeles to visit my Uncle Raymond and Aunt Betty. (Betty was one of my father’s sisters. )

Well at any rate, the four of them went out shopping and they left me home alone with the Uncle Raymond’s housekeeper.  I wandered around and into Uncle Raymond’s garage which was filled with junk, and found what I though was a drawer of “special” junk and tools, and in a drawer was an electric shaver.  So, since it was junk I got a screwdriver and took it apart to see how it worked.  After all, this was my first electric shaver adventure. When I finished the dissection there must have been 20 parts laying on the garage floor. And of course I had no ability or intention of putting it back together.

My parents and Raymond and Betty arrived home and surprised me by presenting me with a brand new electric train.  I hastily assembled it and was having so much fun with this train on the floor of Uncle Raymond’s living room.

Then my father walked – and he was furious. Let me tell you, my dad was scary when he was furious.  He asked me why I had ruined uncle Raymond’s shaver and I explained that it was in the junk drawer in the garage with tools and so I assumed, of course, that it was junk.  (Which it really was – but that was Uncle Raymond.)

My father told me that I embarrassed and upset him and that I had destroyed uncle Raymond’s good electric shaver!  And with that he scooped up the electric train and I never saw it again. Literally, for years I dreamed about that electric train.  Needless to say I never forgot the lesson and in the future tended to inquire prior to destruction.  But not always…

Copyright 2012 – Steven Pinkert