Above is an apparatus first built by Lord Kelvin. It works because, as the water splits into the two streams, a minute and random difference in the charges between them will cascade and build in strength. Eventually the two pails of water will build up a large enough charge differential for a spark to jump the gap.
As long as we're talking about Lord Kelvin, the book Edison's Conquest of Mars by Garrett Putman Serviss comes to mind. I found it on Project Gutenberg.
After H.G. Wells had published War of the Worlds in Britain, but before it was published in the U.S., a New York newspaper took the story and rewrote it, giving an account of the invasion as it happened in America.
Edison's Conquest of Mars is a sequel to that story. Some time after the first Martian invasion astronomers observing Mars notice signs that the Martians are planning on launching a second attack.
At first the world is thrown into depression at the thought, but it turns out that Thomas Edison (he apparently licensed his name for the story) has invented an electric spaceship and a handy disintegration gun.
Edison and Lord Kelvin become the prime movers for building a fleet of Earth ships to preemptively attack the Martians. What ensues is much silliness, with Edison and Lord Kelvin calmly blazing away at the Martians when all around them is chaos. Conveniently, there are also some hot Earth babes to rescue from their enslavement on Mars. It is all quite insane.
|Martians firing on the Earth fleet|