iBreathWell I certainly wasn’t beating down the door for the Nike + iPod Sport Kit but now DavidSteel.com has come up with an iPod accessory I could really use: an Alcohol Breathalyzer with Integrated FM Wireless Transmitter!

Yup, that’s right, soon for just $79 you will be able to pull out your iPod and check your blood alcohol content, then you can decide if it’s time to drive home to “Born to be Wild” or just mellow out and sober up to some Jim Morrison (ok, maybe someone else.)

Dubbed the iBreath, the device powers itself off the iPod battery, supports the full FM band (88.1 – 107.9) and claims accuracy within 0.01% blood alcohol content. I want one, don’t you?

Thanks to Will for sending this on to me.

drink, drinking, alcohol, ipod, apple, mp3, party, breathalyzer

FingerprintDon Burleson over at Burleson Consulting has written an interesting survey of Oracle biometrics applications.

With the inherent problems associated with passwords Oracle security administrators are finding that Oracle biometrics is a more secure and cost-effective solution. Oracle biometrics system offer more secure environments and also remove the need to dedicate a help-desk person to manage changing passwords for hundreds of end-users.

It’s interesting to see what’s out there, but as Zach will always remind us, biometrics will not hold up in the long run. As biometrics become commonplace they will be hacked. What will you do when someone steals your fingerprints (or the digital representation of them.) You can’t change them. Hell, you can’t even keep from leaving them behind just about everywhere you go.

If a lock can be opened, it can be picked; and if your password can be used, it can be forged. The more common biometrics become (Don mentions in his article that fingerprint readers are now less than $31) the more folks will set their sights on hacking them. These devices work on common interfaces and pass their information over networks potentially exposing your personal password to unknown parties.

If biometrics catch on you could be required to provide fingerprint identification to use your credit card at your local convenience store. Do you really trust them, or worse yet, the government (who can’t even keep your SSN secure) with your password to your bank account, business account, desktop computer and medical history?

So if biometrics isn’t the holy grail of electronic security what is?

I don’t know what the future of password management is. The most holistic solution I’ve seen yet is the one that Zach and I proposed last year where users are provided with a “password change authorization code” which they are encouraged to keep with their birth certificate (or in another safe place) which allows them to change their password through a self-service page in the case of password loss.

biometrics, fingerprint, security, hacking, hacks, oracle

Agent 18 VideoShieldFor the record, choosing an iPod was easy, choosing a case was very, very difficult.

Finally fed up with waiting for the battery replacement on my 10GB 3rd generation iPod I went out and bought myself a black 60GB iPod last week.

I couldn’t be happier with the device, but then there was the real dilemma… Which case to get…

Too many choices. When all was said and done I settled on the Agent 18 VideoShield. I had seen an Agent 18 on a coworker’s nano and it seemed to fit the bill.

I got the case earlier this week and it’s fantastic. The case is hard plastic and protects the back, body and screen very well.

Pros

  • Clear case does not change look of iPod
  • Covers screen
  • Allows access to all ports and hold switch
  • Prevents scratches
  • Hard case gives solid feel
  • Click wheel is not covered to allow easy use
  • The case adds only a minimum amount of bulk to the iPod
  • Installation and removal are both easy

Cons

  • Case does not protect against shock
  • Others have mentioned sand and dirt can enter the case resulting in scratches
  • iPod will not sit in some docks with case on

At $25 the price is right in line with other cases. The bigger problem could be finding it. I got mine at The Apple Store.

Overall the Agent 18 VideoShield comes highly recommended.

ipod, apple, apple ipod, video ipod, mp3, mp3 player

In the “Why don’t they make ’em like that anymore?” category, Bloc-Tronic is a set of electronic blocks that snap together to make a very broad variety of electronic projects.

More Bloc-Tronic Images
The Blocks

Each block has a label on the front and back and a conductive connector on each other side designed to interlock and allow the blocks to be snapped together in many different configurations. Inside each translucent block is an electronic component, ranging from a resistor to a basic amplifier. The blocks are numbered, but also marked with their electronic symbol.

You’ll notice on the picture of the kit that most of the blocks have masking tape on them. I played with this kit so much the print started wearing off the labels. Since I couldn’t stand the thought of not having the kit I started re-labeling the blocks with masking tape.



Full Kit
The Set

This is set ‘D’ which came with 54 assorted blocks, test leads, battery case, meters, microphone and more. According to the case (which has also survived nicely) this is the largest set available. The manual contains 160 combinations for these blocks ranging from a simple circuit with a lamp to a transistor radio.

Add-on sets were available but largely unnecessary with this set. It even looks like you could buy empty blocks to add your own components into the mix.



Click for larger image
The Experiments

This book contains 160 experiments, all possible with Set D. Each experiment has a short description, block diagram, and even the schematic for the circuit. I can’t say I learned how to read schematics from this manual, but it certainly helped when I started to get deeper into electronics.

The experiments get progressively more complex through the book. If one were to complete all the experiments they would have built quite a variety of electronic projects. At some point I may attempt to scan the entire manual.



Better than a breadboard?

While this kit is limited to the components that come with it, Set ‘D’ is sufficient for a great many experiments. The company also offered empty blocks and add-on kits for further projects.

One of the biggest strengths of this kit is the fool-proof way the blocks snap together. Each block connects firmly to the next with a large conductive surface. Even after years of use the blocks still made firm contact and (other than the labels) showed very little sign of wear.

With good instructions, large pieces, and simple, Lego-like construction Bloc-Tronics put a broad variety of electronic projects within reach of a much younger audience than other electronic kits. Even basic prototyping is possible and I have now recovered the kit from my parent’s attic for exactly that purpose.

I’m sure my parents paid a hefty sum for the kit, and took somewhat of a risk that I’d take to it. Whatever the cost, it was worth it.

Where’d it go?

I found only one other reference to the Block-Tronic kit online at Sarah’s Transistor Radio Page. The XTRONIC brand has now been adopted as the name of a Nissan transmission and I couldn’t even find that much information on the parent company Contact-Connect Enterprise.

I’m sure I received this kit sometime in the 1980s, probably around the mid 80s. I can only imagine what a kit would be like today. Imagine an embeded microcontroller, logic gates, synthesis modules, and USB ports!

I don’t know of anything comparable on the market today. The only thing I’ve ever seen that comes close was a homegrown project using Legos which came to me through the Make magazine blog.

Check out my gallery of Bloc-Tronic pictures.

If you’ve owned a Bloc-Tronic set, or have even ever heard of or seen them please leave comment.

Update: I have finally started to scan and upload the Bloc-Tronic manual which is now available on my images site.

electronics, electronic, projects, electronic toys, toy

ArcAfter writing about this (and a couple other) insane high-voltage videos last week I’ve been wondering how this particular flaming arc of electricity came to be. Alan said it looked like a Jacob’s Ladder and, according to what I found today, he’s right! After some creative googleing I found this description on the Stoneridge Engineering website:

This video clip was captured by the maintenance foreman at the 500 kV Eldorado Substation near Boulder City, Nevada. It shows a three-phase motorized air disconnect switcher attempting to open high voltage being supplied to a large three phase shunt line reactor.

The arc stretches upward, driven by rising hot gases and writhing from small air currents, until it easily exceeds 100 feet in length. Switching arcs usually terminate long before reaching this size since they normally flash over to an adjacent phase or to ground.

As impressive as this huge arc may be, the air break switch was really NOT disconnecting a real load. This arc was “only” carrying the relatively low (about 100 amps) magnetizing current associated with the line reactor. The 94 mile long transmission line associated with the above circuit normally carries over 1,000 megawatts (MW) of power between Boulder City, Nevada (from the generators at Hoover Dam) to the Lugo substation near Los Angeles, California. A break under load conditions (~2,000 amps) would have created a MUCH hotter and extremely destructive arc.

Yikes! That’s all I can say.

SubstationCheck out the High Voltage Sparks and Arcs page for more info on this and some other amazing high voltage fun, including this video of a substation going poof! Despite its vintage design, this page has some cool footage.


electricity, electronic, lightning, tesla, tesla coil, electric, substation, explosion, explode, fire

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