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Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments on the behavior of the HTML5 version of John Travoltage. We have posted a new HTML5 version that addresses some of your concerns with the change of behavior of the sim.
As a team we felt that allowing John to discharge with his finger at the maximum distance was too unrealistic. So you can still move the hand while it is discharging, just not to maximum distance. The physics is a bit more accurate. The sim shows that the discharge continues if you move John’s hand (showing the higher conductivity of air), but it is does break off after a certain threshold.
You should also be able to get a discharge going and continuing by rubbing John’s foot (and keeping the finger close to the discharge point). Finally, as you requested we have added a non-zero minimum gap distance between John’s hand and the knob.
The PhET team sincerely appreciates your use of our sims and your feedback!
Ariel J. Paul