About the Neon Man

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DokktorWho222
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About the Neon Man

Post by DokktorWho222 » Sun Nov 07, 2004 11:53 am

Ok ok... so i read alot about BM here on e-playa. I read about the Man and all these ideas about what it means and so forth. (the best one is everyone contrubiting a piece of burnable art to get in. AWESOME IDEA). I read about the "playanazis" and all that (trying to keep it all a LNT event) and i wonder to myself.. Why is it that the Man is covered in neon lights? Shouldn't the Man be made entirely of wood? What's wrong with that? A few spotlights and viola!
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Post by Badger » Sun Nov 07, 2004 3:16 pm

Shouldn't the Man be made entirely of wood?
Including the word 'shouldn't' suggests that there is something wrong with the way it is. Shouldn't it not be an issue?
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Post by sonic » Sun Nov 07, 2004 6:20 pm

Interesting point. But it just wouldn't be the same without the lights. And if it was much of an issue in trying to follow LNT, I don't think they'd do it.
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Post by Bob » Sun Nov 07, 2004 6:41 pm

Image
Amazing desert structures & stuff: http://sites.google.com/site/potatotrap/

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Post by theCryptofishist » Mon Nov 08, 2004 8:53 am

So people can navagate at night. (Dang I missed the lasers this year.)
There's also the matter of the hardware--which I believe is sifted out of the ashes. The whole site has to be treated as a burn scar post-burn anyway. Of course, I'm not completely sure what becomes of the glass in the fire.
Anyway, it's darnpretty and rumor has it that John Law was the originator. It may be mindless tradition, like knee-jerk voting.
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Man, no wonder they always win....." Lonesomebri

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Post by DokktorWho222 » Mon Nov 08, 2004 9:02 am

Badger wrote:
Shouldn't the Man be made entirely of wood?
Including the word 'shouldn't' suggests that there is something wrong with the way it is. Shouldn't it not be an issue?

Badger Badger Badger Badger Badger Badger...mushroom mushroom...Badger Badger Badger...a snake!
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Post by ronski » Mon Nov 08, 2004 10:21 am

theCryptofishist wrote:So people can navagate at night. (Dang I missed the lasers this year.)
Anyway, it's darnpretty and rumor has it that John Law was the originator.
According to Doherty's book, John Law worked (and maybe still does) at a neon-sign company.

And I missed the lasers this year too.

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Post by theCryptofishist » Mon Nov 08, 2004 11:29 am

In a properly ordered universe, the caretaking of these
Image
would be a properly paid job and he could moonlight with neon for fun.



IMFO
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Man, no wonder they always win....." Lonesomebri

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Post by robotland » Mon Nov 08, 2004 11:55 am

As a "tube bender" (neon sign artist) myself, it gives me a pang to see hundreds of hours of work go literally up in flames on the Man every year....It's easy to see the sweat equity in a lot of playa projects, and easy to overlook the effort it takes to make even one little stick of neon light up! Power to him, pun intended!
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Post by theCryptofishist » Mon Nov 08, 2004 12:00 pm

So, when are you gonna run an e-playa neon seminar.


ACtually, I really enjoyed that camp on 9'o clock plaza with the neon. I don't really know about the time involved, but the effect is sure pretty. I shoulda taken that MCAD course in '84. . .

*fishy drifts into reverie*
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Man, no wonder they always win....." Lonesomebri

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Eplaya Neon Seminar

Post by robotland » Tue Nov 09, 2004 10:20 am

Good morning and welcome! I'll wait until everyone's had a chance to pick up the handouts at the back of the room.......Okay, let's get started.

First of all, let's clarify the issue of "neon"....There are two flavors of gas in most "neon" tubes, ARGON and NEON. (or a blend of both.) If what you see is a bright red light then it's a NEON tube- They were the first to be used in signage, even back a hundred years or so, because the particular spectrum in which they operate is superbly visible to the human eye under a wide range of conditions. Other colored tubes can be neon-filled as well, but the real workhorse of the rainbow is ARGON, that in a clear tube glows a pale bluish. What really makes the end result colorwise is the combination of the gas and a phosphorescent coating on the inside of the glass tubing, just like in a flourescent tube. You might start with a stick of "4300 White" borosilicate glass, make your bends, attach electrodes, pump in NEON, and get Bubblegum Pink. Pump in ARGON, and you get Soft White.
The whole process of making a neon sign starts with glass tubing, which comes in standard lengths of 4 and 5 feet. There's plain, unpowdered glass that gets used in OPEN signs and the like, when you're making red/orange pure neon tubes; There's coated tubing to make colors, available in a surprising array; And then there's "classic" glass, which comes already colored and is more brittle and difficult to work with but produces really sharp results in the hands of a pro.
The process of neon signmaking is called BENDING and not glassBLOWING for the simple reason that the goal is to make the tube into the shape of a letter or curve or design element without DISTORTING it....Think of a garden hose- If you bend it when there's no water pressure on the inside to keep it round, it'll flatten out. With any kind of tubing, the strength and integrity depends on the retention of this "tubeness" and flattening out results in structural failure. The glass tubing is heated over or between high-temperature burners and then bent while air is applied to it through a blowpipe attached to one end- The other is capped- And learning how much air to apply can take a LONG time to learn. The shop where I learned my techniques had a bare wall and corner that was always kept empty, so that you could scream obscenities and then hurl your screwups at the cinderblock wall where they would explode very satisfyingly.
There is a simple vocabulary of bends used to create any piece of neon. Right-angle bend, U-bend, rise, rise with a 90 degree angle- There's a lot that you can make just with those. Most big signs, like the ones in front of bigbox retailers, contain many individual tubes inside of each "letter can" that fit together like a puzzle. Most angles are made in what's called a "cannon" or "crossfire" torch, where the glass gets bent between opposing gas-fired flames. For a CURVE, you need a "ribbon" burner that creates a long, narrow heat that'll warm up two feet of glass at a time. Ribbons take a LOT of skill to use well, and can really mess you up if you lean over them or against them. A quarter-million BTU's! At least they burn you so quickly that the nerves don't have much time to let you know about it....(I've still got some dead spots from neon burns, and haven't done it in seven years!)
The heated glass is often laid against a pattern that's drawn onto fiberglass or "nonbestos" fabric- A wooden pattern can be used too, but burns up over time. So does the fiberglass, but you can get a lot more usage out of them before they do. The pattern lays on your worktable, which has a sheet of drywall for a top surface, and absorbs excess heat.
Once your bends are made, you need to cap the ends with electrodes. These are glass caps with metal shells inside, and wires that run through the glass ends. They get welded onto the ends with a handtorch or in your crossfire setup. You will also need to fasten on a thin glass tube or "tubulation" through which the gas is introduced. (There are special electrodes that eliminate this step, but it's still commonly done.)
Now comes the exciting part- There's a lot of moisture and impurities in that tube now, since you've been blowing your hot breath into it, and it has to be removed and the gas put in. The tube gets hooked up to a vaccuum manifold by that little tubulation, and pumped down to empty. Electrical leads are fastened to the electrodes, and tens of thousands of volts (!) at a couple of amps (!!!) are zapped through it. The moisture and gunk is VAPORIZED, and sucked out. The tube is allowed to cool down, and then a partial pressure of noble gas is introduced. If you've got a faulty tube, then this is where you find out about it! Too little vaccuum, or a sudden break, and that juice can get out and cause some SERIOUS hurtin' in its path!
Another hazard in the sign industry, and one that remains with the tube after it has left the sign shop, is MERCURY. Argon tubes often contain small amounts of mercury which is added to boost the intensity of the illumination- About a BB's worth of it in a tube several feet long. The mercury vaporizes inside the tube if constructed correctly, but when broken is released into the environment. If the tubes in the Man are made according to this technique, then possibly a ball of mercury the size of a middling Aggie is released when he burns....
A properly made neon tube can last a very, very long time. Glass is vitreous, and the outside air eventually leaks in and spoils the vaccuum that the gas has to be under to light up, but some have been known to last for many decades. Recent advances such as Lumiglass, where gas is sandwiched between two layers of kilnbaked glass, and cold lighting like EL wire and LEDs will eventually overshadow handmade neon tubing, which is already starting to become more of an "art medium". Only hundreds of "tubebenders" still work in this country, and soon they'll be as rare as expert blacksmiths. It's satisfying to be able to make light that way, although there have always been technological and ecological disadvantages.

Alright, I think that takes us right up to lunchtime. Thank you for coming, and I'll stick around for a few minutes in case any of you have questions.
Howdy From Kalamazoo

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Post by thinkcooper » Tue Nov 09, 2004 10:33 am

rbtlnd,

that post made today's trip to e-playa well worth it.

thanks!

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Post by robotland » Tue Nov 09, 2004 11:33 am

You're welcome! Composing that extend-o-rant caused me to recall details of the process that I hadn't pondered in a while- I'm considering playing with the process again sometime soon, although to do it in your garage takes a lot of junk and some serious tinkering!
Shoot me any questions you might have about the details of the process, if you like. Now I'm warmed up!
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Post by Alpha » Tue Nov 09, 2004 11:35 am

robotland wrote:although to do it in your garage takes a lot of junk and some serious tinkering!
Not to mention a concrete wall and some empty floor space! Thanks for the info -- I'll probably never try my hand at neon but I was fascinated to read the process.

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Doin' It In The Garage

Post by robotland » Tue Nov 09, 2004 12:37 pm

Specifically, what you'd need to set up Acme Neon Signs in your garage would be mostly gettable as Obtainium....PVC and gas pipe, a big blower, and some specialty torch-heads that you could, if you were a clever monkey, make from scratch. The hard part's the Bombarder (!), the rig that shoots the high voltage through the tube- That, and the vaccuum rig. They can run 10G's or more, for a good'un. But you could just bend the tubes up at home and take 'em to your friendly neighborhood sign vendor for Bombing and Pumping.
The torches use natural gas and forced air, blended with a special manifold to create a swirled mix or Venturi Effect. They can be used to do smallscale glassblowing or for making lab glass, too. I've watched Mike Drumm, the glassbending guru that taught me the ropes, set up two complete glass shops from scratch.
One thing I forgot to cover was POWER- The finished tubes run off of high voltage transformers- Usually between 10K and 40K volts at, say, 500 Milliamps. The smaller signs, like over-the-counter beer signs, have smaller transformers. It's enough juice to make a swell Jacob's Ladder, or for performing pranks on thick-skinned friends.....You didn't dare turn your back at the sign company I used to slave, uh, I mean work, at- Somebody'd drill holes in your workbench, run high-voltage lines, and electrify your toolbox for you! Cautionary words, should you happen upon an old sign tranny and decide to experiment...It'll hurt ALL DAY, man!
I took to EL wire right away, and sometimes have to run over to Pep Boys for a piece to stick in an art project....(too impatient for internet orders!) Bless them for organizing all their neon, diodes and EL stuff BY COLOR!!!
Howdy From Kalamazoo

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Post by YerNotDaBossOMe » Tue Nov 09, 2004 2:29 pm

So people can navagate at night.
So true, cryptofishist. After the burn I was completely disoriented without the man to point the way. I tried to find my way home and ended up going in exactly the opposite direction. It was not until the next day that I remembered that on my camelback was my hiking watch, which has a compass on it. Oy.
There...I said it and I'm glad!

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Post by Apollonaris Zeus » Tue Nov 09, 2004 9:44 pm

Good thing you don't suffer from mercury poisoning.

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Post by theCryptofishist » Wed Nov 10, 2004 10:34 am

I enjoyed the seminar too. The glass bending does make me long for hot glass, beading or a glory hole. *sigh*
I hope they don't use mercury--is that common in the blue?
Maybe, when I have time I'll take a class at the Crucible. One of the perks of being in the area. . .
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Post by tonytohono » Wed Nov 10, 2004 1:40 pm

theCryptofishist wrote:In a properly ordered universe, the caretaking of these
Image
would be a properly paid job and he could moonlight with neon for fun.



IMFO
Hey I saw these guys at the Lifesize Mousetrap on Halloween. =)

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Post by theCryptofishist » Wed Nov 10, 2004 1:42 pm

I used to drive by their place on Vallejo (street? Ave?) in E(mery)ville just in order to see them.
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Man, no wonder they always win....." Lonesomebri

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Post by robotland » Thu Nov 11, 2004 5:23 am

theCryptofishist wrote:I hope they don't use mercury--is that common in the blue?
.
Unfortunately, yes. It's possible that science has leapt forward since my Signmakin' Dude period, and that better transformers and techniques have supplanted the need for mercury- I'd really like to think so- But 100 years later, I was still learning to put mercury into those tubes and I suspect that nothing's changed. I'm really amazed that the EPA can evacuate a school over a broken thermometer, but do nothing about the vast amounts of contaminated signage waste. I guess nobody worries about landfill trashpickers developing Mad Hatter Syndrome. (English hatmakers used mercury compounds to treat beaver tophats in the Victorian period, leaving many deranged and inspiring the creation of a certain Alice In Wonderland character...)

Glad I'm out of that business, given the volume that we did and the likelihood of exposure.....Now I'm in a safer place- I make radiation shielding blocks for cancer treatment, from a delicious soup of lead, bismouth, tin and cadmium.......
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Post by Tiahaar » Thu Nov 11, 2004 10:28 pm

The thought of what was in the neon tubes hadn't occured to me...hope the amount of mercury used is tiny. I've got a small stash of the element I found in a most unusual way. One day many years ago I saw a fairly nice looking suitcase in a dumpster behind my workplace. Inside were some dry cracked rubber hoses with a bulb on one end and a glass u-tube with graduations on it...and filled with mercury. Part of it looked like what they use in doctors offices to take your blood pressure, so maybe it was old broken medical stuff. Some mercury was puddled at the bottom of the bag even. Its now in a sealed film canister inside a glass jar inside a steel case...wonder if its even legal to have, wonder if I want to find out...? If something like that showed up in the dumpster where I work now the HAZMAT team would be all over it.
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Post by robotland » Fri Nov 12, 2004 5:39 am

Yikes! I'm a LOT cooler with a relatively miniscule portion of mercury vapor getting incinerated on-playa than with some joker ditching a bunch of it in a dumpster! You were wise to contain it so carefully, although you may want to swap out the film can (if it's a plastic one) for a babyfood jar or something else that's less porous....Even though there's an obviously increased risk of shattering, mercury is usually kept in glass due to its vitreous nature. (You can detect mercury in older neon tubes by the black stains and spots that usually begin around the electrodes- In vapor form the mercury eventually begins to penetrate and infuse the glass...) You've got me wondering about the legal ramifications of possessing a poisonous metal- To my knowledge the sign shops that I've worked in never had to apply for special licensing or permission, even though they tended to have WHOPPING big quantities. If you've got enough to spare a little for science, try introducing some to a little sample of clean aluminum and watching the results......(no explosion will ensue, I promise you.)
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Post by theCryptofishist » Fri Nov 12, 2004 11:44 am

robotland wrote:
theCryptofishist wrote:I hope they don't use mercury--is that common in the blue?
.
Unfortunately, yes. It's possible that science has leapt forward since my Signmakin' Dude period, and that better transformers and techniques have supplanted the need for mercury- I'd really like to think so- But 100 years later, I was still learning to put mercury into those tubes and I suspect that nothing's changed. I'm really amazed that the EPA can evacuate a school over a broken thermometer, but do nothing about the vast amounts of contaminated signage waste. I guess nobody worries about landfill trashpickers developing Mad Hatter Syndrome. (English hatmakers used mercury compounds to treat beaver tophats in the Victorian period, leaving many deranged and inspiring the creation of a certain Alice In Wonderland character...)

Glad I'm out of that business, given the volume that we did and the likelihood of exposure.....Now I'm in a safer place- I make radiation shielding blocks for cancer treatment, from a delicious soup of lead, bismouth, tin and cadmium.......
Yes, I do know about Mad Hatter's Syndrome. (One of the "advantages" of growing up in a household where Lewis Carroll was a demi-god). I'm not sure about the school evacuation, that seems like a weird sort of panic that anyone could have done. I just looked it up here
http://www.epa.gov/tri/guide_docs/2001/hg2001.pdf
and the EPA standard for Toxic Release Inventory reporting on mercury is if the facility manufactures, processes or otherwise uses 10 pounds or more of mercury a year. Which would let BM off the hook, I think, for good or ill. And doesn't OSHA have a say too?
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Man, no wonder they always win....." Lonesomebri

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Post by Tiahaar » Fri Nov 12, 2004 10:08 pm

robotland wrote:you may want to swap out the film can... try introducing some to a little sample of clean aluminum and watching the results......(no explosion will ensue, I promise you.)
OK took your advice, its now sealed in a little glass jar that's inside a bigger glass jar (with padding) inside a steel case. I coaxed a little drop onto a piece of aluminum foil but it just sat there??? Maybe the foil has a coating or the mercury drop was dirty...there's a black wispy coating on the surface. What was it supposed to do??? I've only got maybe 16 ounces so am safely under the 10 lb. limit for regulation it seems.

I LOVED the pyramid for the Man in 2003, am really hoping they come up with another big raised tower to put him on next year that you can climb up on to view the city. (a big cone with spiral ramps leading up and around to the top observatory level and back down again would be way cool!) Love the neon always!
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Post by robotland » Mon Nov 15, 2004 6:09 am

I wonder if that coating stymied the effect of the mercury on the aluminum....it's SUPPOSED to superoxidize it, rusting it quickly. Maybe it needs to be aluminum OXIDE. (*throwing away imaginary chemistry degree*)

Even though I LOVE geodesic structures I was disappointed with the base of the Man and his inaccessibility to the public...Although the way he pitched down into the collapsing dome after his new trademark Travolta gesture WAS amusing. I'd welcome the return of a hands-on structure.
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Post by Bob » Mon Nov 15, 2004 7:00 am

One reason (or argument) for the Man not being as "accessible" as it might have been is concern over people handling or climbing on the neon. If you "welcome the return of a hands-on structure", I'd suggest getting on the crew rather than pining because you can't Man-handle the Man-thing.
Amazing desert structures & stuff: http://sites.google.com/site/potatotrap/

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Post by Bob » Mon Nov 15, 2004 7:08 am

BTW, the device in the suitcase was probably a Man-ometer.
Amazing desert structures & stuff: http://sites.google.com/site/potatotrap/

"Let us say I suggest you may be human." -- Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam

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