National Weather ServiceAfter a record 28 named storms last year, NOAA is predicting 13 to 16 named Atlantic storms this year. While that number seems low it is still above average, and perhaps more astonishing is the fact that our first named storm, tropical storm Alberto has already made a pass over Florida!

As a sneak preview, here are the 21 names set aside for this year’s tropical storms/hurricanes. NOAA even has the next five years already listed.

  1. Alberto
  2. Beryl
  3. Chris
  4. Debby
  5. Ernesto
  6. Florence
  7. Gordon
  8. Helene
  9. Isaac
  10. Joyce
  11. Kirk
  12. Leslie
  13. Michael
  14. Nadine
  15. Oscar
  16. Patty
  17. Rafael
  18. Sandy
  19. Tony
  20. Valerie
  21. William

In addition to setting the record for the most named storms last year, we also retired more storm names last year than any other. A storm name is retired if there is sufficient loss of life or property to make in inappropriate to reuse the name. Dennis, Katrina, Rita, Stan and Wilma were all retired last year. If a name is not retired it will be reused seven years later.

For the most straight-up, factual information about tropical storms and hurricanes visit the National Hurricane Center’s site. For the best local weather with no ads check out weather.gov.

hurricane, tropical storm, weather, hurricane names, tropical storm names, NOAA, NWS, National Weather Service, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

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

I have to say that I spent more hours than desired with my head in a freezer today. Worse yet, this is the second time I’ve had to defrost my previously frost-free refrigerator in the past month.

Conclusion: something’s not right in the defroster unit, but what? Since I’m no appliance repairman I was happy to find AcmeHowTo.com.

The Acme How To Refrigerator Troubleshooting Guide made for easy lookup of symptoms, possible causes, and how to test each part. To complete the picture I found the handy technical data sheet tacked behind the front grill on the fridge.

With that in hand and the faulty part identified I could look up the appropriate replacement part number. Another web search turned up AppliancePartsPros.com. Their site is easy to navigate and search. They have the part in stock and their price is about $10 below Sears, so I ordered it.

Results yet to be seen, but these two sites, AcmeHowTo.com and AppliancePartsPros.com are definitely keepers.

appliance repair, refrigerator, parts, diy

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

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