The first transistorSixty years ago today (December 16, 1947 for those who may not read this right away) there was one transistor in the whole world. The transistor had just been invented by three physicists at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, USA who were looking for a viable alternative to traditional vacuum tubes which were comparatively large and also consumed much more power.

The basic function of the transistor is to act as an electronic switch (without any moving parts.) By combining several of these switches it is possible to make simple decisions based on input and perform basic (binary) math.

While the transistor has at times been the target of an analog-vs-digital style debate in the music field there is no debating that the transistor has changed our world. The modern computer processor contains hundreds of millions of transistors and every pixel on an LCD display has an accompanying transistor lending a few hundred thousand more transistors to the average computer.

Every modern electronic device more sophisticated than the flashlight contains transistors, usually by the hundreds or more. The relatively small size of modern hand-held electronics (e.g. cell phones) is largely due to the ever-shrinking transistor.

Just think how many other advances have been enabled by the mainframe computer and now the microcomputer. The transistor will go down as one of the most significant inventions of the 20th century and will continue to shape our digital world for quite some time to come.

Thanks to the MAKE magazine blog for mentioning this milestone. They also point to an article from Forbes.com which makes for some good reading.

electronics, electronic, transistor, electric, computer

Love Tester ProjectFor those of you who are interested I have now posted the complete Bloc-Troic manual in my gallery!

From cover to cover (well, not really, the back cover was blank so I didn’t scan it.) the manual contains 163 electronic experiments. Each experiment illustrates the block layout for the kit and also includes a standard schematic for those who want to breadboard or permanently build any of the projects.

The experiments span from a simple conductor/insulator tester to a sound level meter to a basic radio with microphone mixing. While the Bloc-Tronic set was designed for children completing every, or even most projects in this book would be quite an accomplishment!

Unfortunately I have not transcribed the text from these pages to make them searchable. Perhaps someday I’ll get around to that, or better yet, maybe some fan of the set will volunteer to do part or all of them for me. (It took me a year to even get the images up, so don’t hold your breath on my account.)

If you’re having trouble making out something in the images notice that you can switch to a high-res version. The shadows in the image are the experiment on the back of each page bleeding through which should give you an idea of the quality of paper used in this manual. I have made it available because it seems to be orphaned. It is no longer made or distributed, the company named on the manual and box seems to have disappeared and there isn’t a copyright to be found anywhere in the materials.

I hope some others can find this useful with either the set or for building experiments on a breadboard.

electronic, toy, project, make, build, build your own, electronics kit

Bloc-Tronic ManualI have written about my Bloc-Tronic electronics kit before. My original article on the kit has garnered several comments asking if I could scan and upload the manual.

I’ve finally uploaded the first 100 pages to my images site! The entire manual is around 180 pages, so this is most of it and I hope to get the rest up sometime soon.

If you are lucky enough to have a Bloc-Tronic kit without manual, hopefully this manual will be of use. Also, since the experiments include schematics in addition to the block layout they could be done on a standard breadboard or even permanently assembled from components.

The experiments start off simple and get progressively more complicated. There’s everything from a volt meter to a radio receiver.

electronic, electronics, toy, block, educational, electronics kit

USB Warmer CoolerI’m a big fan of gadgets so when I saw that Vat19 had a USB device which would act as both a cup warmer and cooler I just had to try it!

Vat19 claims the device “Keep a beverage piping hot or cool as ice.” A bold claim for something which powers itself on the small amount of juice the USB bus can put out, but out of the box the device seemed well constructed, so I was optimistic.

First thoughts:

Unfortunately I noticed the first two flaws with the desktop appliance before I even plugged it in. First, there was no on/off switch anywhere on the unit which, while not tragic, would become a problem if your only free USB port is on the back of your system. Second, the switch to change from warming to cooling is on the back near where the cord exits. While neither of these flaws are tragic, both proved irritating.

In action:

Warmer Cooler TestI plugged the USB Beverage Warmer & Cooler into my free USB on my laptop and heard the fan on the unit spin up. Surprisingly the small fan made quite a bit of noise, considerably more than my Dell laptop, even more than most modern desktops.

Ignoring the noise I set the unit to warming mode and put my coffee on the unit. Now another problem… The heating/cooling element was too small for a normal sized coffee mug. A half hour later, with my mug straddling the heating element my coffee had cooled to its typical tepid.

For my next cup of the day I switched to a smaller mug which would fit on the heating plate and got somewhat better results. My coffee stayed warmer than usual, but still not warm enough to justify another device and the loss of desk space.

(Please ignore the small army of drinking birds in the background of the picture above. They are of no concern to you.)

Hoping for better results on the cooling side I unplugged the unit and let it cool to room temperature. After lunch I flipped the switch to cool and plugged it in. I was surprised at how quickly the plate cooled so I put my bar-style pint glass full of water on the plate. Half an hour later my water still seemed enjoyably cool, but was it cooler than without?

I decided to do a more scientific test of the cooling capabilities of the unit, so I got two cans of Coke out of my fridge and grabbed the trusty cooking thermometer. With one can on the cooler and the other on the desk (far enough away to not be heated by the exhaust from the cooler) I measured the temperature of each over a two hour interval.

With an ambient temp of 70 degrees F and a starting beverage temp of 39 here are my findings over the next two hours:

After 30 minutes, can on cooler = 50, can on desk = 50

After 1 hour, can on cooler = 57, can on desk = 57

After 1:30, can on cooler = 59, can on desk = 61

After 2:00, can on cooler = 60, can on desk = 63

After the full 2 hours I sipped from each Coke and could tell some difference, but again, not enough to justify another device on the desk.

Conclusions:

While I love the idea of a USB beverage warmer & cooler the current model from Vat19 falls short of both “piping hot” and “cool as ice”. While the price point of $24.95 is very reasonable the novelty quickly wore off and the many drawbacks doom this gadget to the junk drawer. Perhaps a future rendition will bring improved performance and flexibility, but for now there are better warmers to be had and the cooling effect is not enough to justify this unit.

gadget, review, usb, food, drink, cooler, warmer, office toy

Can’t say I’m a big fan of musical instruments that can kill you (I prefer guitar, where the worst thing that can happen is you snap a g-string), but this musical Tesla coil is cool!

If you’re interested in how this is done, this video from The Geek Group explains more than you ever wanted to know about it.

music, science, tesla, tesla coil, electricity, lightning

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