National Weather Service LogoNeed a good $5-$10 gift for the tinkerer on your list? Buy them the last set of precision screwdrivers they’ll ever need!

RadioShack offers some fantastic precision tools, but only a few make it onto my must-have list. The Kronus 6-Piece Precision Phillips Screwdriver Set and corresponding slotted set are the exception. These are the type of tools you will wonder how you ever lived without.

The slotted set, RadioShack Model 64-2968 span from 1.0mm to 3.5mm in logical steps. Similarly, the Phillips, RadioShack Model 64-2969 ranges from 1.4mm to 3.8mm (the largest is roughly Phillips #1, but the others are too small for the normal Phillips measurement). Also, unlike some sets which come with a single handle and several interchangeable shafts, these are all fixed to the handle so there’s no more switching bits!

At $4.99 per set I highly recommend buying one of each, but if you take a look at the selection, RadioShack also has some combined sets with more or less tools.

Several years ago I purchased both these sets after being frustrated at not having the correct size of slotted driver while working on a turntable. Since then I have never been at a loss for the correct sized driver!

With free-spinning tops and great grips it is easy to apply the right amount of torque, and as for durability… well, I’m rough on tools and I don’t think I’ll be needing the limited lifetime warranty anytime soon.

While I’m sure I could get a comparable or possibly better set of precision drivers through one of the popular mail-order tool dealers but you just can’t beat simply walking into RadioShack and picking these up. You even save on shipping!

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I’ve been patiently awaiting some news on exactly how Apple planned to fulfill the battery claims on iPods and finally there is news… Unfortunately it is not good.

On October, 24 Apple filed an appeal to the settlement on a class action suit which would have forced Apple to replace or repair iPods which failed to meet their originally claimed battery life. While I understand this is big business and big money I am very disappointed with this move by apple.

The settlement, which may still go through, was expected to cost Apple a mere $15 million. I wonder how much Apple will spend on the appeal, and meanwhile I have a third generation iPod which is just over two years old which will not last an hour on battery.

According to the official settlement administration website the appeal could take “up to a year or more”. I was really hoping Apple would replace or repair my iPod before it became obsolete.

I would like to think Apple would learn a lesson from this, but with the iPod Nano, Shuffle, and new Video iPods having the same closed-box construction which all but demands you send the unit back to Apple for a battery replacement I’m afraid they just won’t learn.

So a 60 gig iPod goes on the Christmas list, but until Apple comes through with a slightly more user serviceable model I’ll always be just a little shy of the iPod. Apple should be able to do better.

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Make Magazine’s weblog has an article today on Nasa’s Blue Marble.

It seems Nasa has taken it upon themselves to provide a season-changing flyover of the world. Watch this video (my favorite) cycle through the equivalent of 4 years seasons while you fly from the Gulf of Mexico to New England. This short video must be the coolest thing since Google Earth.

Even more dramatic is the video of the Alps, but the video that will change how you picture our planet is the main tour, which pans over a major portion of the globe over several years worth of seasons.

Check out NASA’s page on The Blue Marble for more info, some high resolution satellite photos, and more.

What next? I’d like to see Google Earth offer the ability to dial a season when flying around.

Thanks to Make Magazine for posting this.

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high waterWondering how high the water really was when I came over the temporary bridge on the Pemigewasset into Plymouth this morning I went straight to the folks who track these things.

The U.S. Geological Survey tracks river and stream data for many points on many streams in the US and they’re nice enough to put it on their website. Their site will never win any awards for web design, but the information is there, even with a webcam (updated hourly or so.) The information on the Pemi in Plymouth is available here, or look up realtime streamflow data for your area here.

The USGS also posts great historical data on their site if you’re interested in doing some data mining!

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With the growing popularity of distance education (The University of Phoenix claims to be the largest accredited school in the US) I wonder how long it will be until you can “outsource” your class work.

Several schools offer distance education in a model which is designed to accommodate students who never set foot on a campus. While this is compelling to the university, who does not have to provide a classroom, lights, heat, parking, and it is compelling to the student who is freed from the restrictions of class times and travel, does this model open the door to a new form of cheating?

An industrious company based somewhere that labor is cheap, could offer a “tutoring” service for online education. If someone had the means (price of enrollment plus a couple hundred dollars per course), they could enroll in an online course for their undergraduate, masters, or even doctoral degree and pass off their username and password to a proxy scholar. The proxy scholar then would complete the class work from anywhere in the world, and the class is applied to the degree of the purchaser.

Sound far fetched? In the game industry “farming” is common practice. Farming is when players play the game, by the rules, and once they acquire items within the game they sell them for real money! To avoid the problems with selling something that is intellectual property of the game producers, farmers sell their time invested in obtaining the item, but essentially the purchaser is buying the item. For more information on this, check out borkweb.com’s article World of Warcrack and the future of MMOGs

Perhaps more concerning is this example of three teachers at a technical college in Georgia who are being accused of this exact crime. While it is currently unclear if money changed hands, it is believed that another individual not associated with the college completed course work under the name of these three teachers.

So how can colleges combat these “proxy scholars?” Of course there are academic integrity policies in place, but they are unlikely to detour the student looking for the easy way out. PKI solutions and biometrics have their own scary side-effects and anyone who thinks they can’t be forged is not paying attention.

I am afraid we will only hear more about this type of fraud. Hopefully institutions offering distance education can develop a way to mitigate this outsourcing of class work before it devalues the online work that so many students are legitimately achieving.

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