Eneloop Rechargeable Batteries – Perfect for remotes, Wii and much more

Sanyo Eneloop AA BatteriesRecently when listening to the Daily Giz Wiz netcast (easily the most jingle-laden netcast ever to grace my iPod) Leo and Dick got into a discussion about rechargeable batteries and their typical shortcomings like the need to charge them before use and their tendency to loose their charge over time. Recently Sanyo has released a new battery called Eneloop which does not suffer from these problems.

Sanyo eneloop batteries are a rechargeable NiMH battery which claim to only loose 15% of their charge in a year. That means you can charge them and use them when you need them. Like other NiMH batteries they can be recharged hundreds of times, but one of the big advantages is that they come pre-charged! You could buy a set in a drug store, use them that day, then take them home and recharge them.

I’ve only seen these on Amazon so far, but I’m using them in just about everything I have that takes AA batteries, especially my Wii remotes. At first I was disappointed that the Wii remote didn’t come with a rechargeable battery but now it seems much more clever that they went with an industry standard (AA size) battery which can be easily replaced without having to look up a model number.

Eneloop batteries are available in four packs of AA and AAA and 8 packs of AA, but I recommend starting off with the charging kit which comes with the charger and four AAs. The charger will charge AA and AAA sizes and can charge one, two, three or four batteries at a time.

I have been using these rechargeable batteries for over a year now in my Wii controllers, talkabout radios, remotes, wireless computer accessories and more. They have cut my AA consumption down considerably, and when they do eventually die they are recyclable like other NiMH batteries. While there are AA rechargeables which have a higher capacity the low self-discharge of the Eneloop batteries makes them last longer in all but the highest current applications.

Happy birthday to the transistor!

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

Bloc-Tronic electronic kit manual

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

Bloc-Tronic Electronics Toy

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

The Bar Monkey In Action

Pouring a drinkAfter months of planning and weeks of construction, on New Years Eve, 2005 Alan’s Bar Monkey finally made its debut.

I have updated the Bar Monkey image gallery with more photos from the construction, testing and first night of use.

The first night was a limited success. The Bar Monkey made tasty drinks, and calibration was easy, but due to gas leaks in the caps we ran out of gas after only two rounds of drinks.

So we’re currently experimenting with different methods of making caps. The original design used hot glue, but leakage has been a problem. Alan attempted to seal these leaks with silicone sealer but this didn’t help much.

The most recent attempt was made with 30-minute epoxy. Most of us held that this had a better chance than other methods we have tried, but actually failed completely. It seems that polyethylene (which the tubing is made from) is extraordinarily difficult to glue.

So we’re back to the drawing board for caps, but check out the image gallery for pics of the unit in action. There will be more to come.

As time allows I will be posting more info on the construction process and some better pics of the finished unit. Also check out my other stories on the planning process and the relay assembly.

drinks, cocktails, alcohol, bar, bar monkey, electronics, drink, cocktail, alan baker