Eclipse Magnifier Workbench Lamp

This is a 5-inch diameter magnifying glass mounted on a swing arm, and the assembly has a vice clamp to mount itself to the edge of a table or desk. It includes a ring of light around the lens to illuminate the work vividly. This allows you to place your work on the furniture surface and swing the magnifier over the work so you can comfortably access tools, the material, and additional lighting when needed. When one does not need it, it can be taken down and stored in twenty seconds, and set back up as needed in almost as little time.

I have used it for 5 years. It allows me to see extraordinarily small things and, when appropriate, make precision repairs, such as cracked or clogged parts in expensive electronics and tiny splinters in skin. Children whose toys are broken sometimes become heartbroken until they are repaired or replaced, and this can allow immediate salve to them. When they get a painful splinter, this not only saves them prolonged pain, but may save the parent a trip to a medical provider. In addition, children tend to adore exploring the world of tiny things such as insects, and manufactured things using these.

headmountFor really tiny detail, one can combine this with a headset magnifier. Most of these headsets allow multiple lenses at one time so you can use only one of its lenses if you want moderate magnification or all three for extreme. The disadvantage of the headset is the disorientation when not looking only at the work, such as looking for tools, parts, and instructions which will seem blurry and distracting unless you continually raise and lower the headset as you look from the closeup work to more distant other things. That is the advantage of the swing arm magnifier; you can look from close to more distant without limitation since the swing arm magnifies only the work you want magnified.

-- John Ward  

Eclipse 5″ Diameter Magnifier Workbench Lamp with Bench Clamp
$64

Available from Amazon



Cheap Cable/Cord Control

To make this cable control system you will need the following materials:

1. Binder clips

2. Magnets (fridge magnets will do)

Not only is my hack pretty much free, as well as capable of being assembled from stuff lying around your office or home, but it also works about a hundred times better than the tricked-out, fancy-pants Kickstarter-funded designer-esque iteration I wasted $39.99 on last month.

You can slide your clip/magnet towers along the length of the cables to wherever suits you; the combination of the size of binder clip I chose (3/4″ wide; 3/8″ capacity) and four Apple cables inside the closed clip gives me a snugly-fitting yet easily movable unit. They stay wherever you put them.

Some people might use just one; others might go wild and use them every six inches along the length of their wires.

Bonus: you can put notes and whatnot between the upraised clip handles to decorate your cable run.

cable-control-cat

-- Joseph Stirt  



Square

This tiny credit card reader plugs into a smartphone or iPad turning your device into a point-of-sale cash register. It allows you as an individual to collect funds via a credit card. Setting up an account is pretty painless. The software will send the buyer a receipt, and keep track of your sales. It can track cash, too. This minimal arrangement is perfect for the solo and small business person selling at crafts at a fair, or swag at a concert, or antiques at a garage sale, or food from a truck.

We used Square to sell our comic book at a comic convention and it worked like a charm (you’ll need either wifi or cell connection). As usual with credit card transactions, you will be deducted a 2.75% fee. Square will send you a free plastic reader when you sign up.  (Paypal has their own version of a reader, a blue triangle called Here, and they charge only 2.70%, but I have not tried it.) Overall, this is a well-designed small business tool.

-- KK  

Sample Excerpts:




Doodle

Doodle is an excellent web app that allows a bunch of people with disparate and complicated schedules to determine the optimal meeting time or date among them. It is the easiest of these types of tools I have tried, and does not require people to register or do anything other than fill in their name and check off boxes. It is free. Doodle has advanced features that allow you to do “if this, then that” type of scheduling as well, but I have so far just used the basic set up.

-- Alexander Rose  

Doodle
Free
Available from http://doodle.com

Sample Excerpts:




Flex One Folding Chair

I’ve always found folding chairs to be extremely uncomfortable. They are cold, hard and my buttocks/legs always go numb from sitting on them. When we needed to get extra seating for a party we were hosting I was really excited when I stumbled across the Flex One folding chair.

The Flex One is no ordinary chair. As the name implies, it has a mesh seating and back that forms to your anatomy. It has a nice give that makes it extremely comfortable. I’ve happily been able to sit for hours without any discomfort. As a plus, the mesh allows for outdoor use and for easy cleanup with a hose or sponge.

The Flex One claims to have a 1,000 pound capacity and is fairly light-weight. I’m a big guy and have found the chair to be really solid.

-- Peter N.  

[For those interested in even more info, here's the spec sheet in PDF form from the manufacturer.--OH]

Flex One Folding Chair
4-pack
$100

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Mity Lite



Make Space

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I’ve worked in many types of spaces, including those specifically engineered for maximizing creativity; it is true, some places are more conducive to innovation and experimentation than others. While designing their own workspace Stanford University’s Design School tested the best practices accumulated over the last few decades and put the best techniques into a cookbook for others to use. They provide tips, principles, recipes for furniture, and even sources of where to get inexpensive components to build a space that encourages groups to make the new. I used some of the ideas here in designing my own studio, and everyone says it really works.

-- KK  

Make Space
Scott Doorley and Scott Witthoft
2012, 272 pages
$33

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Technology can now deliver expert-to-student content (e.g., video talks) anytime, anywhere. The ubiquity of content opens the opportunity for the in-classroom experience to support collaboration and practice with the teacher as a guide or mentor. This flip–content outside class, work in class–is often referred to as the “reverse classroom.” The studio classroom takes advantage of this opportunity; it sets the stage for maximum hands-on experimentation and for students to connect with each other in class.

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Avoid arrangements that include “places of honor.”

Sit in circles and gather around square tables. The symmetry implies that all positions are equal. If a room naturally has a “place of honor” (such as the head of a table), let a lower-status individual sit there.

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Hiding places offer a crucial respite from an open, collaborative environment.

The more extroverted the work space, the more you need these spots of passive, dark yin amid the swaths of hyperactive, brightly lit yang. Few offices have legitimate hiding places; if your space lacks one, people will go elsewhere to find it.

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Corners Provide a Sense of Place

The slightest hint of a corner has a profound effect not he sense of ownership in an open space.

Two perpendicular walls provide a suggestion of an edge that outlines a space. These perceived boundaries are easy to absorb, navigate, populate, and protect.

It doesn’t take much. In one of the early d.school space prototypes, student teams with access to corner spots spent far more time in the space working on their projects than teams whose spaces were on an open wall. In a second prototype space, featuring side-by-side team spaces with partial corners, we interviewed students and found that a corner with a side wall projecting as little as 1′ sufficed to provide a feeling of comfort in the space.

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Storage is not stagnant.

Storage should be as transparent as possible so that artifacts and concepts don’t linger in the dark. Keep things visible to keep them in active use.

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A tall, long, and narrow table is an excellent platform for creating a coffee shop vibe.

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“An escalator can’t break, it can only become stairs.” –Mitch Hedberg, comedian

When sorting through options, ask the simplest question: “What will this do when it is not in use?”




Ugly’s Electrical Reference

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For over 20 years I have referred to this little pocket guide for the electrical field.
When I was first starting out it helped prompt with reminders of formulas and the like, as well as shrink and take-ups for pipe bending. It’s a great reference to have in your toolbox when you don’t have a full size codebook with you!

I give these to my new helpers when they start work and make sure they have an updated one as the code changes. It also serves as a great refresher because I’m not out in the field everyday and helps me remember so I prove I can still do it in the field (not just the office).

-- Jim McLaughlin  

Ugly’s Electrical References
George V. Hart, and Sammy Hart
2010, 198 pages
$18

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

ueb_ohms2.gif
Ugly’s provides useful charts and quick reminders for the working electrical engineer.
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SkyBrush WhiteBoard Eraser

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I have been using the SkyBrush xE for five months on our whiteboards. I used to think that all board erasers were the same, but not anymore. The SkyBrush xE is hands down the best whiteboard eraser I have ever used. With one simple light swipe the board is clean. No longer do we have to use additional chemicals to clean the board.

-- Danny Youssef  

[Note: Owners of cheaper whiteboards may want to be careful as the glass bristles used in the Skybrush can wear away the surface over time.--OH]

Skybrush xE
$25

Available from and manufactured by Skybrush



Hat Grabber

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My husband always complained about his uncomfortable hardhat, and how it would fall off throughout the day. About three months ago I ran across the Hat Grabber on another website and thought I would give it a try.

The Hat Grabber is a piece of textured rubber that clips onto the back of the hard hat strap where it provides greater fiction and a larger surface area to resist the leverage that occurs when the wearer leans over, thereby reducing the likelihood that the hat will fall off. It also means you don’t have to crank down the tightness of the straps.

My husband came home after the first day of trying it out and said, “I don’t know what you paid for it, but it was well worth it.” Now some of his coworkers are wearing them. This is without a doubt a cool tool, and is a must for all the husbands/wives who are in construction.

-- Kerrie Graham  

Hat Grabber
$11
Available from and manufactured by Hat Grabber



Brother P-Touch 2700/2710

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I regularly have to label lots of electronic equipment. Compounding the complexity, I also have to label both ends of the cables that connect to this stuff. My customers generally have detailed requirements about all sorts of info to be included in these labels. While my peers generally have all the same labeling equipment available to them as I do, I use system that makes it much easier to manage the complex task. I use one of the higher end Brother P-Touch label makers, the PT-2700 that can connect to my computer via USB. I got my current one from eBay since the refurbed unit I’d been using for years developed an intermittent problem with the display (but it still printed fine). These were both less than $100.

Most of my peers sit in front of their labelers for hours pounding out one label after another. Frequently, they have to redo labels since their minds go numb pretty fast and they start making stupid mistakes. My approach, in contrast, takes a fraction of the time and is suitable for even small jobs of a handful of labels. My redo rate is almost nil, too.

There are two keys to doing bigger jobs with this little printer. The first is to use Excel’s CONCATENATE formulas to manipulate columns of variables (text or numbers, like names, IP addresses or rack IDs) into little chunks of data that you want to appear on your labels. Don’t be scared of this, formulas aren’t needed, but are terrific if there is complicated sequencing going on. This will make sense with a little fiddling in Excel. The second key is to use Brother’s “P-Touch Editor” software to connect to the Excel file as a database. Many fields, many lines and many format options are available for your typesetting efforts, so some pre-visualization of your finished product pays off here. Each line of your “database” will contain all the cells available to each individual label. One row, one label; many cells, many layout possibilities.

The first time you try this, it may be confusing, but going to File>Database>Connect will make the Excel file available for laying out the fields. Insert>Database Field will get your data into the label representation in the Editor’s screen. The bottom half of your screen will show all the data the Editor has to work with, and cycling between lines there will cycle the info on the label representation.

Once you’ve gotten things tweaked so you’re happy, do a “chain print” and soon a little pile of labels will accumulate. This system based approach is why I think the Brother P-Touch labeler is the best for producing large quantities of labels.

The TZ format tapes this printer uses are available in different widths, color combos and even with better adhesive (TZS labels are the best, and I use them almost exclusively). The PT-2710 adds a case & power adapter, space for various tape cassettes & spare batteries. Good for the back of a truck.

If professional, legible, well-formatted, long lasting identification labels are your goal, this is a terrific system to use. I depend on it.

-- Wayne Ruffner  

[The 2710 is the same unit as the 2700, but comes with the optional carrying case.--OH]

Brother P-Touch 2700/2710
$100-$130

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Brother