Recently in Tools & DIY Category
Items not drawn exactly to scale
- eBags backpack: I switched to a backpack from a traditional computer bag last year, and I'm never going back. Besides having a plethora of pockets and pouches for storing all kinds of gears and accessories, a backpack doesn't scream "steal me because I have $2,000 of equipment inside!" Plus, a backpack frees up your hands for carrying suitcases or coffee.
- Eagle Creek mesh bag: This is one of the handiest accessories I've run across. Everything you see in the photo (except the backpack and the table!) will fit into this three-compartment (two smaller ones are on the back side) zippered bag...along with the power adapters and cables for my laptop, phone and iPad. The mesh bag then stores nicely inside the backpack's middle compartment.
- Kensington notebook lock: This won't prevent a determined burglar from making off with your computer, but it will thwart snatch-and-run thefts by passers-by who peek in while the housekeeping crew is busy leaving you those useless little soaps.
- Nite Ize gear ties: I've just discovered these at REI, and I buy a pair every time I'm in a store. They're twist ties on steroids, and their usefulness is limited only by your imagination. Plus, they're fun to play with! They come in multiple sizes and the big ones are truly heavy duty. Bend them to use as a makeshift tripod for your compact digital camera, or a document holder when you're typing.
- 1-to-3 AC adapter and 12" power cords: Hotels are getting more savvy about providing abundant AC outlets, but you still occasionally find one that just won't accommodate all your electronic charging needs. These simple accessories multiply the available outlets, and the short power cords accommodate adapter bricks.
As you can imagine, lifting a 50 pound bike up and onto the carrier was quite a job. Fortunately, I was able to effectively supervise my wife as she did the job and I thought it worked quite well. OK, you got me...this was a two-person job, one of which I could never farm out to somebody else.
As it turns out, this little guy can move an amazing amount of air in a very short period, and has replaced the floor pump that I previously used to inflate our bicycle tires, as well as the 12-volt inflator I used for bigger jobs.
The inflator has a built-in pressure gauge, and the unit is rated to 200 psi, meaning it easily inflates our 110 psi bike tires. And did I mention it moves a lot of air? Earlier this week, the tire pressure monitoring system on my Honda Ridgeline indicated that one of truck's tires was under-inflated. It took less than two minutes for the Craftsman inflator to bring the tire's pressure from 27 to 31 psi.
The inflator also has a nifty automatic shut-off feature that allows you to specify a pressure setting that turns off the pump once that pressure is achieved.
The only caveat is that the pressure gauge accuracy needs to be calibrated. In the case of my unit, the gauge reads 4-5 psi high, meaning that I need to set it for around 35 psi to achieve 30 psi (I determined this by using the Ridgeline's built-in pressure monitoring...assuming that it's accurate. But I also double-checked it with a pencil gauge.). But once you know the adjustment, operation is a no-brainer.
If you already have tools that use the Sears 19.2 volt battery system, this inflator would be a very economical and useful addition to your workshop or garage. The unit comes with a battery, but it doesn't include a charger, so you'll need to factor in that purchase if you don't already own any related products, and those chargers are not inexpensive.
Link via Neatorama
OK, so where were we? Let's see...peace, joy, presents, blah, blah, blah...oh yeah, plumbing.
We have to backtrack to early Christmas afternoon, when some potato peels were fed to the garbage disposer in my father-in-law's kitchen sink. I'm not saying who did it, or what volume was sent down the drain; that's not important and won't be, until we bring it up again at a future family gathering.
Anyway, we all know that while garbage disposers are marketed as being able to, you know, dispose of garbage, their actual function is to keep the federal government's Full Employment Act for Plumbers in effect, and the insertion of anything more substantial than melted ice and not more than eight sesame seeds at one time is a really bad idea.
So, the end result was a clogged kitchen drain. No big deal; happens all the time, especially during holidays, when professional help is unavailable, and the liquor stores are closed, too. We went ahead and ate Christmas dinner (consisting of the traditional brisket, pinto beans, mashed potatoes [peels off, unfortunately], and crescent rolls, the latter suffering greatly at the hands of the Nephew, who eats them by the dozen) and then waited until the Dallas Cowboys were looking especially ugly during another nationally televised embarrassment to explore the possibility that the clog was just under the sink. Which, of course, it wasn't. It never is, but you still have to disconnect all the pipes and get doused with yucky water in order to confirm what you knew all along.
We sent a poor man's plumbing snake (a metal tape measure) down the pipe that ran through the kitchen wall, hoping the clog was nearby. Which, of course, it wasn't. So we quickly reached the end of the very short checklist of Things I Know How To Do When It Comes To Plumbing, except for the last item, which doesn't do you any good on Christmas Day in Fort Stockton, because it's "Call a plumber," and good luck with that. Heck, even Wal-Mart was closed so we couldn't buy and apply the requisite ten gallons of Drano (The Extra Useless Version). We were somewhat optimistic that we'd make progress because we were able to send a pretty good load of water down the drain before it backed up again, so chances were that the clog was becoming more porous. Perhaps it would miraculously dissolve. It was, after all, Christmas. Did I mention that already?
So we did the next best thing which was to rejoin the Cowboy fiasco still in progress, biding our time until something more entertaining came on TV. We were just settling into a state of Christmas miasma...no, wait...that's not the right word. Myopia? Misanthropy? Something starting with an "m." Anyway, we were pleasantly zoning out when it happened. Without warning, great gouts of evil black water began spouting up from the double sink in the kitchen, as if we'd tapped the very springs of hell.
Much running around and yelling and waving of arms ensued, by parties varied and sundry, including the dogs, who, while limited by a lack of arms, more than compensated with what passed for yelling. It was a malevolent mystery (more "m" words, except those are right, I think): where could the water be coming from? The dishwasher wasn't running; even we were smart enough to know better than that.
Then I heard that familiar ka-chunk...ka-chunk. I ran into the garage, opened the laundry room door, and -- sure enough -- the clothes washer was busily pumping black water back into the kitchen sink, where it was attempting to re-create an Everglades Christmas. I slammed my palm against the knob to turn the washing machine off, and ran back inside to survey the damage. The kitchen carpet was completely saturated, all the way into the dining room. We rushed out to the workshop and grabbed the big honkin' Sears wet/dry shop vac and I started squeegeeing the water from the floor. Fortunately, the carpet is thin and not laid over a pad, so the vacuum was pretty effective in getting the excess water up; after all, those Craftsman shop vacs will suck the skin off an anvil. After the emergency vacuuming, we set out a box fan and let the dry west Texas air do its thing.
Nobody fessed up to starting the washing machine, and I can't argue with that, since there weren't any clothes in it. All we can figure is that all that water we thought we were putting down the drain and which was moving through the "porous clog" was, in fact, backing up into the washing machine, which at some point, for reasons and by abilities still unperceived, decided that it was time to drain, sending the water back whence it came. If anyone has a better explanation, we'll be happy to entertain it.
It made for quite an exciting Christmas evening, which we capped off by watching the first few episodes from the first season of Northern Exposure. So, things could have been worse.
Well, they actually did get that way, but that's another story for another time.
The December issue of MacWorld has a good tutorial for setting an "if found" message on the home screen of your iPhone. This is accomplished by creating an image to use as wallpaper on your iDevice, and that image is overlaid with text giving instructions regarding how to get in touch with the rightful owner of the lost device.
The example in the magazine uses the following text:
If found, please return phone to Dan Miller 415/555-5555
I'm not crazy about this example. For one thing, it's illogical; you can't return a phone to a name and a phone number. Also, I don't like the privacy implications of putting my name on my phone's screen, along with a phone number.
I think a better approach is what I've done, as shown below.
No name, no extraneous text, and the phone number I actually used in place of the sample shown above is my wife's mobile phone, making it harder to cross-reference to a person. But this also has the advantage of increasing the odds of the caller actually reaching someone quickly.
I think I'm more likely to misplace or drop my phone when I'm traveling, and most of my traveling nowadays is done with my wife. Using her cell number means that we wouldn't have to wait until we got home to get information about the missing phone. I'm simply playing the odds.
While MacWorld's tutorial is directed toward the iPhone, the technique will also work for iPad and iPod touch users. The iPod's screen resolution is the same as the iPhone's (320 x 480 pixels), but the iPad's is 768 x 1024 pixels.
Here are the steps for creating your custom "If Found" message.
- Find a photo or image that you want to use as your wallpaper, and crop it for the device you're creating the wallpaper for (again, 320x480px for iPhone/iPod touch; 768x1024px for iPad)
- Use a photo editing program to overlay the cropped image with the text you want to use
- Save the edited image in JPG format
- Import the image into iPhoto
- Connect your iDevice to your computer, open iTunes, and on the Photos tab of your connected device, make sure that Sync Photos from iPhoto is checked, and that the event or album containing the image that you just imported is also checked. Sync your device to transfer the image to the iPhone/Pod/Pad.
- Disconnect the device from your computer and open the Settings panel. Select the Wallpaper setting and navigate to Last Import. Choose the image you created and click the Set Lock Screen button. You can also use the image for your Home Screen wallpaper, but it's not essential, and may not be advisable since the "return phone" text will make for a distracting background for your device's icons.
It was a lock-back razor knife housed in a carabiner-style frame, with swivel-out screwdrivers, one flat and one Phillips. I felt guilty picking it up - what if the owner realizes he lost it and comes looking for it? - but decided to take it home and send out a message on the neighborhood mailing list to see if anyone claimed it. If not, well, finders-keepers and all that.
I put the tool on my workbench and we ate our guilty pleasures* and then I remembered my plan to email a note to the neighborhood. I went into the garage, picked up the tool, and thought, "this looks an awful lot like the one I have, only mine doesn't have the screwdrivers." I decided to compare the two, and reached up to the rack where I kept mine handy for all the box cutting work. I reached in vain, as mine was mysteriously missing.
Only then did I realize that the owner of the lost tool was actually me. I had used it earlier in the afternoon to break down a carton so it would fit in the trash, and I laid it on the truck bed rail. I forgot to put it in its rightful place and when I later left for Sonic, it made it about two blocks (and two corners) before falling into the middle of the street, waiting for someone to pick it up. Which I did about twenty minutes later.
There are many morals to this story, chief among them being that hot dogs destroy one's cognitive abilities; also, you probably don't know your tools as well as you think. But at least I didn't have to feel guilty about taking someone else's lost property.
*Our 25 mile bike ride this morning served as our penance, and believe me, it felt like it.
Well, here's the actual completed version:
The little coyote was created by my brother years ago and it was hanging on a different gate at our old house. I wasn't sure I could "re-purpose" it for this gate because of the mounting mechanisms, but the carbide cutter on the trusty Dremel tool solved that problem.
We think he's quite dapper, howling at the Texas star. (The neighborhood coyotes apparently agree, as they've been more vocal than usual lately.)
This gate took me approximately 18,000 hours to complete, with 463 discreet steps and 139 different tools (power and other), not to mention enough steel to build a suspension bridge over a decent-sized river. But that's not important; what's important is that my wife's ground cover will no longer be bunny food*, nor shall this section of our yard become the equivalent of the elephants' graveyard for tumbleweeds.
*Unless, that is, they learn to pole vault. And, frankly, I'm a bit worried about that prospect.
Anyway, someone has posted step-by-step instructions for converting an AC wall outlet to USB, presumably so you can plug your iPod or iPhone directly into the wall to recharge it. At first, this struck me as one of those "why didn't I think of this?" ideas, at least until I saw the approach they are taking.
The whole project is essentially hard-wiring a USB mini-charger to an AC circuit, then gluing the mini-charger to the back of a standard wall plate. From my perspective, all you've accomplished in doing this is (1) spending 30 minutes of your time (2) playing with potentially fatal electricity to (3) replace a perfectly adaptable wall outlet with a limited purpose USB outlet, (4) using something that was meant to be plugged into said wall outlet to begin with. I mean, if you already have the mini-chargers, why limit their use to one location by integrating them into a wall plate?
I give this project a rating of one ant (out of five, in case you're keeping track). They could have at least provided instructions on how to make the outlet glow in the dark or something equally useful.