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

Three separate people have commented on my previous article on How to Create Auto Increment Columns in Oracle asking how they can retrieve the value of an auto increment column for use later in their code. Well Daniel, Shaun and Zach, here’s the answer.

After you have referenced sequence.NEXTVAL for a particular sequence (or it is referenced on your behalf by, say, a trigger), you can then reference sequence.CURRVAL to get the value just used for NEXTVAL.

To illustrate this we’ll use the table, sequence, and trigger created in my previous article.

If we insert a row into the table test, the trigger test_trigger automatically calls test_sequence.NEXTVAL.

SQL> insert into test (name) values ('Matt');

1 row created.

We now have test_sequence.CURRVAL available in that session.

SQL> select test_sequence.currval from dual;

CURRVAL
----------
8

In this simple example we can confirm this is the same value just used with this simple query:

SQL> select * from test
where name='Matt';

ID NAME
---------- ------------------------------
8 Matt

Now if we wanted to use this value in another SQL statement, say for an insert on a table which uses this as a foreign key constraint, we can include it on our insert like this:

SQL> insert into tool (owner_id, tool)
values (test_sequence.CURRVAL, 'hammer');

1 row created.

SQL> select * from tool;

OWNER_ID TOOL
---------- ------------------------------
8 hammer

Of course, if we just want to see the value of test_sequence.CURRVAL we can select it from our favorite table dual.

SQL> select test_sequence.currval from dual;

CURRVAL
----------
8

For the table, sequence and trigger used here see my original article on auto increment fields.

Armeno Coffee RoastersA few weeks ago I emailed Armeno Coffee Roasters to ask if there was any chance of seeing my old favorite coffee Maui Kaanapali Moka again. This coffee had disappeared from the market a few years ago. All I knew was that the plantation had closed down.

I was thrilled when I got a prompt response from John Parks, one of the owners of Armeno, saying he’d called the new owner of the plantation and Armeno was going to get a sample of new Maui Moka to try out. The sample must have been good since last week Armeno sent out an anouncement that Maui Moka is back!

About the plantation

This coffee is grown on the Hawaiian island Maui on the Kaanapali estate. Full details on the grower and estate can be found at their website. Specifically they have this to say about the Maui Moka:

Moka (a.k.a. Mokka, Mocha, Maui Moka)

This by far was the most intriguing variety in the trials. Based on the outcome of the cupping results, Pioneer Mill eventually planted a third of their acreage to this variety. It is contrary to the belief that large beans mean a better cup. In the case of Moka, size does matter! It is hard to find a bean larger than a screen 14. The bean is round and is often mistaken for a peaberry. Upon closer examination one can notice the classic dicotyledonous flat side signifying two whole beans per cherry. The cup is smooth and wonderfully fused with different chocolate flavors and often times with good acidity.

In the cup

The bean is quite small compared to other coffees and the smell of the roasted coffee is divine. I could hardly wait to see if it would be as good in the cup as I remember.

Yesterday I finally brewed up a pot and I must say it’s as good as ever. The nose is rich and complex and the flavor outstanding. The coffee has a medium-full body with relatively low acidity and rich chocolate flavors. The coffee drinks equally well black or with cream and sugar. The aftertaste is pleasant and fades quickly compared to other coffees with this much body and flavor.

Armeno’s meticulous treatment of their coffee (which is carefully chosen, roasted to order in small batches and shipped immediately) shows through in all their coffees, and the Maui Moka is no exception. There is no burnt flavor or bitterness, just rich coffee goodness.

At $19.95 per pound this rare bean may not be for everyone, but if you’re a coffee lover who likes a richer cup I highly recommend the Maui Moka. The full, rich body sets it apart from Hawaiian Kona and other fine coffees and makes it my absolute favorite coffee.

If you’re interested in trying it you can order Maui Moka directly from Armeno’s website. While you’re there check out their other coffee varieties.

coffee, hawaii, rare coffee, moka, mokka, mocha, maui moka

Drizzle a large martini glass with:

  • Caramel Syrup

Fill shaker with ice. Add:

  • 1.5 oz DeKuyper Sour Apple Pucker
  • 1.5 oz Vodka
  • .75 oz DeKuyper Buttershots Liqueur

    Shake well and strain into martini glasses. Garnish with a cherry.

    beverage, drink, drinking, alcohol, martini, cocktail

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