at stores a charge, almost like a battery, by creating an electric field between two conductors separated by a dielectric. how they work is not the focus of this post, though, i am here to talk about a certain kind of capacitor and what draws me to them

the electrolytic capacitor

inside these little cylinders is a sealed chamber containing a special liquid (the dielectric). these capacitors are capable of storing a relatively very large charge compared to other types. they are much bigger than most other fundamental components and are much more prone to failure due to their construction: while in use, they vibrate constantly. an improper voltage differential can cause a conductive pathway through the dielectric liquid, causing it heat up and boil, driving the pressure up in the sealed chamber until eventually it POPS, filling the room with a scent that i am all too familiar with

they are also usually the most expensive passive components, and as such there is a huge market of very poor quality electrolytic capacitors. almost every electronic device made nowadays uses these bad capacitors to shave pennies off manufacturing costs. we don’t build things to last anymore

i hunt for vintage computing equipment. i nurture this equipment back to health; this nearly always involves replacing the most vulnerable parts: the electrolytic caps. the capacitors i use are of top quality and have an air of romance and dignity to them which these words are meant to express to you

the rubycon corporation (ルビコン株式会社) of japan has a wikipedia page comprised of just a few short sentences. you would not immediately think much of this several-hundred-billion dollars/year revenue company that holds a significant share of the capacitor market

rubycon, along with nippon-chemicon and maybe nichicon, are among the very few companies left that manufacture truly proper capacitors. after dealing with hundreds of cheap, shitty, exploding little pieces of garbage, you come to appreciate their work. it’s a hard feeling to express (let alone communicate), and i think the best word that does this is romance

these little capacitors feel heavy in your hand. you do not feel nor hear the sloshing of the electrolytic fluid behind the anodized, notched can. the heatshrink fits perfectly around the body of the can, with regal gold lettering clearly printed upon a dark mauve backdrop. the leads arrive perfectly straight owing to these company’s tight manufacturing tolerances

there is a legend that an engineer left rubycon, some fifty years ago, after hastily and clandestinely writing down the recipe for their proprietary dielectric fluid in an attempt to steal it and use it as a bargaining chip to secure a position at a competing capacitor manufacturer. fate awarded his carelessness and nefariousness: he muddled up several figures in the recipe, turning a renowned a closely guarded formula for a near-perfect dielectric fluid into one that fails (almost certainly) after about five years of use (about 17 percent of what their lifetime should be)

this is the supposed cause of the capacitor plague, a very real and documented phenomenon

enough of me grandstanding, though. the most satisfying and cathartic beauty is found in the places where everyone else isn’t looking