Charles Platt, Contributing Editor to Make magazine


Cool Tools Show 126: Charles Platt

Our guest this week is Charles Platt. Charles has written science-fiction novels, computer books, and books about electronics, including Make: Electronics, which is a best-seller in its field. He was a senior writer at Wired magazine, and has designed and built prototype equipment for a California laboratory.

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Show notes:

Radar Detector ($500)
“I’ve had a Valentine One Radar/laser detector for many years and although it’s the most expensive detector on the market, it certainly has saved me about ten times it’s price, which of course is an indictment of me for not driving slowly enough, but there it is. … The radar component is still useful because a lot of highway patrol guys seem to get lazy and they just don’t use instant-on radar even though they have it. They just leave it on all the time, which is really very helpful and I would like to thank them for that. … The advantage of the Valentine One is that it has two arrows that show you whether the source is in front of you or behind you, or sometimes to one side or the other. Another advantage is they upgrade the firmware on a regular basis. So now that people are driving cars with radar built in, to help you become aware of hazards in the car, my detector was recently upgraded to ignore those signals, which, as far as I know, some detectors still pick them up and give you false positives.”

Hygrometer ($3)
“A hygrometer measures relative humidity, and for those of us who have sinus trouble, which seems to be an increasing number of people, if you are traveling, as I do, and you bring your humidifier with you, as I do when I travel by road at least, it’s nice to know when you need it and when you don’t. Because if the humidity’s relatively high you don’t have to go through all the hassle of unpacking it and plugging it in. … I just bought the cheapest one, which is under $3 and has no batteries, I don’t know exactly what’s inside it, some sort of bi-metallic strip or something, and it’s very light, so it’s easy to carry anywhere.”

Miniature Table Saw, 4” blade ($450)
“Table saws are scary devices. I almost broke my arm with a table saw once when it kicked back it hit my bicep fortunately and not the joint, and I decided that I wanted the versatility of a table saw and less risk, so I decided that a smaller one would probably be a little safer, and then I discovered that it’s actually much nicer to work with because it’s so precise. … So a half-sized table saw, which I think is really intended for people who make models of ships, is a very nice little thing to have. It’s good for wood up to an inch thick actually, so it’s not as limited as you might think. But very precise and I bought mine from a guy in Florida who actually makes them himself in a basement workshop using his own lathe. It’s just a beautiful thing to have.”

Capacitance Meter ($99)
“While multimeters often have the ability to measure capacitors, they don’t have a very wide range. A dedicated capacitance meter does a better job and doesn’t cost much. …The great advantage is that it has a much wider range than the capacitance measuring capability of a regular multimeter. So you can see it as kind of an indulgence, but it’s nice to have an additional meter on the bench so that you don’t have to disconnect your volt measurement in order to make your capacitance measurement, and having indulged myself, I found it was actually very useful.”

Also mentioned:

NeilMed Sinus Rinse ($16)
“Irrigating the sinuses with a saline solution can be just as effective as antibiotics and is also helpful for allergies. Some people use a neti pot, but the Neilmed system is more convenient. A simple squeeze bottle, sold with little packets of saline powder.”

Hot Mask Eye Compress ($10)
“This is allergy season. I get itchy eyes. My ophthalmologist recommended a mask containing granules that absorb and hold the heat. You microwave it for 30 seconds and wear it for 2 or 3 minutes. The heat opens glands that release oils around the rims of the eyes. Antihistamines are not good for itchy eyes because they dry the eyes, making them more itchy in the long term.”

Make: Tools: How They Work and How to Use Them
“Appears to be the only hands-on book that tells people how to use workshop hand tools (and a couple of power tools) from the most basic level upward. Traditionally, young people used to acquire these skills from parents or shop classes at school, but not all parents have the skills, and shop classes are becoming less common. Make: Tools contains numerous simple projects, and begins with the task of cutting and gluing square dowels to make a block puzzle. By the end of the book, readers are encouraged to cut, bend, screw, and glue plastics to create small boxes that can hold anything from jewelry to a multicolor night light.”

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