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Relay Diodes 2019 Issue-6

I sometimes see a diode placed across relay contacts backwards. Can someone explain the purpose of this and when it’s necessary and when it’s not and why?

Jürgen Abend
Pleasanton, CA

Transistor Confusion 2019 Issue-6

What determines which type of transistor to use in a given circuit? Are they interchangeable with those of a different type that I may already have on hand?

Donald Bodine
Middleham, UK

LED Fader 2019 Issue-6

I need a simple method to slowly fade an LED from bright to dim, then to bright again in about two seconds, then keep repeating. Does anyone have a circuit that does not require an IC?

Cindi Carrillo
Lexington, KY

Ripple Voltage Monitor 2019 Issue-6

I need a circuit to monitor the AC ripple voltage on a 12 volt linear power supply? A digital display would be ideal.

Brian Lambdin
Plano, TX

Electromagnetics: Transformers, Generators, Motors, and Other AC Machinery September 2017

I’m trying to make sense of everything coiled, but the only thing getting wound up is me! I thought I knew a bit about electromagnetics, but recently I’ve been trying to make sense of all these fields and flows.

What is the difference between the magnetic field and the flux? How does flux work in a transformer or a generator? Does anyone really understand Maxwell’s Equations?

So many textbooks dealing with electromagnetism speak in equations instead of English. I want to know HOW it all works, not just how to compute these things. Am I just reading the wrong books? Can you help me figure out what the flux is going on?

Taylor Street
Felton, CA


I have spent a lot of my life wondering about magnetics. Welcome to the club! Hopefully the information that I have is correct

Here are a few basics:

  1. When an electron moves, it generates a magnetic field in addition to the electric field that's always there.  — Why?: Because
  2.The field exists if the electron/electrons move in a wire, a stream (e.g. in a tube), or anything else.
  3. Magnets 'work' because (if I have this right), the arrangement of their molecules is such that the electron orbits of the individual atoms are oriented such that the fields generated add together. The relative strength of a magnetic material is based on how well they are aligned. Magnet discussion usually describes magnetic domains within the material. (Magnetizing a material means that you apply a magnetic field to align the domains.)
  4. Non magnetic materials don't feature this alignment. Electron orbits are in random orientation and the fields cancel.
  5. Magnetic fields are constant for DC current and non moving magnets.
  6. Time varying fields are generated from AC current and moving magnets.
  7. Time varying fields do the following: A. If they pass through a wire they will cause the electrons to move — thus a transformer. B. If they encounter another magnetic field they will cause either an attractive or repulsive force — thus a motor. (This force is also present in static field interactions, but that won't make a motor.)
  8. Coils of wire are used in transformers and motors because the fields add and compact devices can be made.
  9. The field descriptions are always confusing. What I got out of it was that the B field is the description for the field you would find due to the current or magnetic material. The resultant field that you can measure depends on the material that the field is in.

Exmple: If you have a long solenoid, the field inside will be fairly constant if you're not too close to the ends. If you put a piece of ferrous material inside, there will be an increased field through the metal because it's easier for the 'flux' to go through this material. (This also affects the input current to some extent, in the same way that a a lower resistance load affects an electric circuit.)

  10. There seems to be no end of magnetic units — just like farenheit, centigrade, and Kelvin for temperature.
  11. Maxwell hopefully understood his equations, along with some other smart people.

The math that you see everywhere generally shows what fields you can expect due to different circumstances. It is very difficult, and I certainly don't understand it. Happily, computers are now available that are powerful enough to avoid a lot of it. They use a method called finite element analysis. Basically they calculate fields based on the sum of tiny elements at each point of interest in a field.

Harold Johnson
via email

Diesel Computer Mods 2019 Issue-5

There are several entities that will modify the settings on the engine control computer for a diesel Chevy pickup to increase power. I assume they are adjusting the timing curves and other parameters. Is there an adapter and software available for me to experiment with this myself?

Karel Dostál
Covina, CA

Guitar Tuner 2019 Issue-5

I’m trying to build an electronic guitar tuner. Is there an IC available to generate the proper tones?

Hamish Morisset
Norcross, GA

Ethernet Port Expansion 2019 Issue-3

My Internet router is located near our entertainment center in the family room. There are only four Ethernet ports on the router and I have five pieces of equipment that need to plug in. I also run a cable from the router to my home office (in the back of the house) that connects to an Ethernet switch that provides Internet to multiple computers, VOIP phones, as well as network connections for various printers.

At the router, I have to plug and unplug whatever equipment I want to use, since I don’t have enough ports to keep it all plugged in. Some devices can use the Wi-Fi, but performance is better and more reliable on the wired connections.


  1. Can I add another switch at the router to expand the number of ports?
  2. What are the limitations/drawbacks on adding more switches to the network? (I currently have two in the office.)
  3. Is there a better way to do this?

Byron Rochefort
Fort Wayne, IN

Solar Panels And Lightning 2019 Issue-4

Are solar panels suceptable to damage by nearby lightning strikes and would they provide any margin of safety to electronic equipment in a grid-tied or off-grid system?

Alex Freeleagus
Tigard, OR

NFL Magic Lines 2019 Issue-4

Can someone explain how the first down and scrimage lines are generated on screen in televised NFL games? Obviously, it's done by computer, but I can't figure out how the angle and aspect is able to change and keep up with the constantly changing camera angles. Also, the lines are seemingly underneath the players, as if they were actually drawn on the ground.

Ryan Johnson
Jackson, MS

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