Friday, October 28, 2011

Affordable Neon

In my museum like house, I possess and display a uniquely cool neon sign, "Carl Deal Photography", which in bright red both lights my house as if a Bordello or "Amsterdam Alley", and can also been seen in the living room from the street. It is both art and ad I suppose. Alas, this past week, enough molecules of NEON escaped from the tube to compromise the circuit of the sign. And so I was forced to call the Doctor - the King of Neon himself, Ray Lynch - proprietor of "Affordable Neon." Ray by the way happens to be one among a small clan of the most interesting people in the World - but then that's another story. Yesterday morning long before the sun crested the horizon I transported my little "Deal" to downtown San Antonio. As a cursive glass sign, it is built into four parts - each requiring the stability to maintain the electric plasma arc circuit through all four pieces.

Ray was waiting at the warehouse door - the last hot day of the year - smoking a cigarette and talking on the phone. Little "Deal" went inside and waited on the workbench. "Ahhhh" he says, making an analytical observation that it was not in fact the demise of Neon in the tube but perchance a bit of dust and detritus which over time vibrated its way to an electrode - cooking like spilt milk on a stove. A quick fix he says.

With a small file he breaks off each blackened electrode and burns a new one on. Not so easy it turns out - these strange twists and turns only a "Deal" can make - even a misadventure or two. But in the end, my little "Deal" was whole again - absent a charge of gas. For me, science really is a cool thing and so I could not be a very good Republican - ignoring all the those meaningful fantastic facts. And so the process for sustaining a plasma arc inside of a glass tube really is the shiznit. And I'm not a science dork and so I was able to keep pace with the process intellectually - asking some good questions. I thought of course that just filling the tube with neon was adequate. It turns out that not only must you burn the tube clean with blazing voltage, but the neon presence must be far below atmospheric pressure.

Ray attached my "little "Deal" to a transformer, the likes of which you might find on a telephone pole. He'd attached small flakes of Mica in places the forthcoming charge might lurch out through the glass. Not only is it a big charge, but it seems it carries a hefty magnetic field as well - skewing electronic devices like expensive Canon cameras and Android phones - and so I stood back.

With a normal Oxygen and Nitrogen content, the tube glowed a bright green white light. I imagined this was not unlike the red and green of an Aurora but at a much higher energy. The point of course was to cook the insides out of the glass in anticipation of it being evacuated of atmoshere. Attached to a vacuum, it was soon void of gas. With a small charge of Neon, the tube was melted shut - glowing again in its familiar red.

It was still morning in Downtown San Antonio, and along the river walk there was the most magnificent aroma of onion, grilled chorizo, pepper - and breakfast taco in the air. After a long drive home, a few wire twists - the little "Deal" was back home.

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