Tag Archives: tools

Illuminating one’s sweetheart

320px-A_pair_of_African_penguins,_Boulders_Beach,_South_AfricaIt was one of those grand romantic moments that in movies are usually accompanied by swelling music.

But as you know from my pancakes post, I’m a little geeky. What actually happened is that my man friend got a new bag that opened out flat, unlike the cylindrical duffel bags that he had always used before.

I had never done something so intimate in front of him as to empty my purse (I suspect many women are quite intimate with a man for many years before being willing to do such a thing), but he laid open his bag before me and said, “This is what I carry all the time.”

One item made me gasp. I stammered, “You have a headlamp, too! You carry a headlamp!”

“Well, of course,” he replied levelly. “How else could I see into the backs of things?”

I could have kissed him right then, but was overwhelmed by emotion at finding not just someone special but a true kindred spirit. We both carried headlamps every day; we really were meant to be together!

Petzl E91 Tikkina 2 headlampYou see, there is a small, powerful Petzl Tikkina 2 in my purse at all times. I’m all set if the power goes out in the subway. I admit to using it most to find earring backs on the floor at the office, but it rose to full magnificence when power completely failed in my neighborhood for half a week. I was all the envy of the neighbors for having a flameless, handsfree, wearable source of light. It attracted enough attention on the street that the next time a major storm approached, the corner store got in a supply of headlamps, which promptly sold out.

Headlamps do make fine gifts to people of a very practical mindset who do not expect to be amused. After my most recent major surgery, I was under the care of a visiting nurse for some weeks, and on her last visit, gave her two headlamps. She was delighted to have a handsfree tool (cleaner than a penlight) for looking into throats and examining wounds in less than stellar home lighting, “and,” I reminded her, “if your car breaks down.”

I am so passionate about my head lamp that it pains me endlessly to find no possible reason for me to buy another wonderful flameless handsfree light, the Striker Light Mine, which is ideal for dark times when having a protruding light on one’s forehead is an impediment and magnets are an asset rather than something that wipes out the information on one’s cards.

Let me let the Striker people describe it in their own words:

Striker Light MineProfessionals, including automotive technicians, electricians, plumbers and HVAC contractors, will want to have one on hand, as it is small enough to fit into tight areas and aim a powerful beam of light where it is needed most. Because of its 12 neodymium magnets, it also works as a “pick up” tool for dropped screws, nails and hardware.

Do-it-yourselfers and homeowners will also find hundreds of uses for the Striker® Magnetic LED Light. Use it when working on an engine, changing a tire, wiring a home theater, switching on a breaker, crawling around under a counter or sink. It will stick to the fridge, making it the go-to flashlight for the whole family, and its great to have on camping trips.

This light is so clever, and looks so jolly and cute, like a cartoon hedgehog in the midst of getting a perm, that I ache to find a use for it in my own life. It seems impossible that I cannot, but try as I might, it is useless to me. This makes me sad.

But those who use it must use it a lot, because it is sold not just individually but in a “stocking stuffer” five-pack, as well as a “professional” model that yields more modes of light. I once knew someone whose hobby was repairing antique cars, and he would have liked them. Like headlamps, they will be good gifts for a practical person who could use them.

And I think that if you see a need for it in your own life, you should try one, and maybe you, too, will discover your sweetheart!


Smart decision

Smart_ForTwo_PureI took a cab to the hairdresser’s this weekend, but none were visible when I was finished, so I walked home, stopping on the way to treat myself to a nice lunch. Waiting for my order, I mused about what it would be like to have a car. I wouldn’t have to go out into the street in front of my place and hail a cab; I would just get in my car and go! I was seized by a sudden longing. The nuns had two cars, after all, and they weren’t exactly materialists; maybe I should get a car, too.

Could have gotten a driver’s license; didn’t leave home until four months after my sixteenth birthday, after all. But one way or another, never did learn how to drive, and over the decades, never saw a reason to.

Don’t know any other way of getting around than walking, cabs, and public transportation. Once, years ago, I visited a church, and a woman wanted to drive me home. “I just live around the corner,” I demurred. She insisted, so we got in her car. We went up the block and got to the corner. “Okay, thanks, this is where I live,” I told her as I got out. She was amazed. So was I. I hadn’t realized that to car users, “around the corner” is merely a figure of speech.

I sense what I’m missing by not having a car: Necessities would be so cheap! Walmart, Target, and Costco are places of legend I’ve never visited. There, 200 ounces of laundry detergent would cost next to nothing, instead of $8 for 40 oz when it’s on sale.

And there’s the Grownup Factor. When one doesn’t know how to drive, one is spoken to gently on the topic, like a slow child, even by people who treat you as a fully competent adult in other ways. It rankles me, when I let it. Pride, again, I guess.

I decided to crunch the numbers when I got home. Smart ForTwo is an economical car, isn’t it? One of the hotels in my neighborhood has them for their guests’ use, and the ForTwos look pretty useful and easy to handle.

So Smart USA’s website has a payment estimator. I picked a model (the Pure Coupe), plugged in the 2.99% rate my credit union offers, and came up with a rate of $202 per month, let’s say $200. Then add in $310 per month for parking at home, and, lowballing it, $170 for parking at work in one of the lousy lots far away from my office. I’m not interested in taking out a mortgage on a $50,000 parking space.

Let’s leave out the cost of insurance, gasoline, and maintenance. $680 per month still buys a LOT of laundry detergent even paying $12 for 40 oz. at the corner store. My habit of frequently taking cabs is pretty cheap in comparison. Having a car would pretty much obligate living in poverty like the nuns.

Counting the cost, I can’t even recommend that YOU have a car.

Well, that was one of the fastest longings I’ve ever had and disposed of. If only it were so easy to stop wanting other things.

Eye of the needle

Okay. You have to get these. Really. These are great. If you don’t want them for yourself, you have to find someone who can use them, and give them some. Please.

Admittedly, I bring these to your attention because of my fascination with tech without moving parts or electricity, again. But don’t you know someone who quilts, embroiders, or mends?

Spiral Eye Needle close upThese Spiral Eye Side Threading Needles are handmade, very clever, specially easy to thread hand sewing needles. They are also made in America. The inventor writes, “I have yet to find a company in America that actually manufactures hand sewing needles.” And neither have I. Check, the next time you see a pack of needles in a store. In this era of free trade, here’s your opportunity to support American small business!

Go to the inventor’s website. The inventor painstakingly, earnestly explains how her needles work and why they are superior to any competitors. I believe her.

You’ve read me complain repeatedly about my presbyopia. If you have it (and even if you don’t), these needles will make your sewing much easier by making the threading simpler and quicker.

OK, here’s why I don’t have any of these needles even though I think they’re the cat’s pajamas and the neatest thing since sliced bread.

SENcase-183x138My clothes virtually never rip. I buy such sturdy clothing that if something does rip, I need a new one. And buttons and zippers are anathema to me.

Every time I have bought a mending kit in the past, I have misplaced it, lost in the chowder of stuff in my place. So I am sure I will misplace these fine, fine, American needles. Even if I bought the add-on optional coolissimo needle case for them.

And no, I don’t know anybody who sews. But I wish I did.

Be a patriot, buy these needles! Your place has got to be neater than mine, and when you need them, you will be able to find them. And if you don’t live under a rock like me, you know someone for whom these are the perfect gift.

Smell New Zealand, see through Belarus

I have only owned one thing made in New Zealand, a rather nice plastic pen I picked up in a library or somewhere that I reluctantly threw away when it ran out. But I have never owned anything from Belarus.

Like most Americans, I know little about Belarus except that it is said to be not very nice to live in, filled with Soviet-style buildings and Soviet-style friendliness. It is run by an allegedly iron-fisted guy named Alexander Lukashenko (aka Lukashenka) whom the West ardently dislikes.

Lukashenko’s resistance to Western-backed “shock therapy” during the post-Soviet transition has met great resistance from the U.S. and Europe.[7] Belarus is labelled as ‘Europe’s last dictatorship’ by much of the West.[8][9] Western governments accuse Lukashenko of an authoritarian style of government.[10][11][12][13] Lukashenko responds that his policies are the only alternative to instability, and have spared Belarus from the poverty seen elsewhere in the former Soviet Union and from powerful networks of organized crime known as the “Russian mafia.”

Lukashenko and other Belarusian officials are also the subject of sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States for alleged human rights violations off and on since 2006.[14][15] Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, under Lukashenko’s leadership, Belarus has largely maintained government control over key industries and eschewed the large-scale privatizations seen in other former Soviet republics.

BelOMO loupe So that’s what I know. I don’t intend to boast of my ignorance about Belarus, I really don’t. I am ashamed not to know more about the countries of the world. However, the embarrassing fact is, it was with astonishment that I read over and over on gemological websites that Belarus is the source of the finest loupes in the world. A state-owned company there apparently is run by people with world-class standards.

It is silly to assume a country accused of human rights violations can not produce fine technology, but I did. As a self-flattering American, I imagine such countries being as technologically backward as their regard for rights. But in short, BelOMO loupes, unlike Belarus, are highly esteemed everywhere.

I really want a BelOMO loupe. There’s my fascination with fine technology without moving parts again. Further, not only do these loupes themselves have the lapidary appeal of a gem, seeming to attract light, so tiny and so bright to hold sparkling in the hand; these loupes, like that pen from New Zealand, also bear the mystique of a faraway place that may as well exist only in my imagination. What, after all, does New Zealand smell like?

New Zealand and Belarus are not the only lands I imagine. Philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote about the wonders of magnifying lenses as far back as the seventeenth century:

…another astonishing prodigy, let him behold the tiniest things he knows of. Let a mite show him in the smallness of its body parts incomparably smaller, legs with joints, veins in the legs, blood in the veins, humours in the blood, drops in the humours, vapors in the drops, which, dividing to the smallest things, he wears out his imaginative power…

view-quarter-20xWith a sufficiently powerful BelOMO loupe, I could explore this unknown world without a microscope, carrying it about hither and yon looking at this tiny world.

How did I get to this point of craving a little piece of Bearus? A few years ago, I had become interested in buying a diamond for myself (my shopaholism again). I observed how grading drastically affects the price of a diamond, and even though there are terrific websites for diamonds for information and sales, wondered how well anyone in daily life could see the flaws in a tiny stone 5 or 6 mm in diameter. Then, fatally, I read the justifiably famous 1982 article “Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?” that persuaded me that a diamond was a poor use of money.

By then, I had become interested in gems of all sorts. I realized that the non-famous gems were cheaper than the so-called precious stones, and could look just as interesting. I spent huge amounts of time on Multicolour.com and the now-defunct site of a now-deceased gemstone cutter.

Ultimately, I decided that even semiprecious stones were not for me in any serious way. Just not my style. Perhaps I will write about them another time. But years later, gemstones or not, I still want a BelOMO loupe. If I can’t have a diamond, I can at least have something diamond-like.

My fevered imagination leads me to imagine studying everything from cockroach legs to the paint on the stair railing outside my building, a whole new world just in the city. I thrill to the thought of my hot little paws holding an exemplar of small, affordable excellence.

Nevertheless, being honest as I strive to fight my shopaholism, I have nothing I sincerely want to look at with one. Presbyopic as I am, I do perfectly well with a sheet magnifier made of a plastic Fresnel lens costing just a few dollars. Admittedly, my work has me often encounter print smaller than people normally see, but I need nothing more than that flexible sheet of plastic I store shoved between my computer and my monitor.

So again, I covet a thing without having any use for it. It would just become junk in the chowder. But if you or anyone you know want to see something small but not microscopic, the gemological community seems to be in consensus that you cannot do better than a BelOMO loupe.


The neck, as in, the thing between head and shoulders, is on my mind because someone I know is having serious health problems with his. So I would like to take the opportunity to introduce you to a product I have coveted for years, which is also illegal for me.

Necks seem to be a particular stress point in all mammals. Anyone who has massaged a cat or dog has witnessed this. A narrow cable it is, between the restless shoulders and the weight of the head.

And necks are a particular weakness in chordates. If we had no neck, we could be like amoebas, which simply use their whole bodies to surround and ingest what they want to eat, as with this amoeba turning live struggling creatures into dead food while we look right into it.

Instead, we chordates, being basically tubes made of meat, are prone to choking at that vulnerable point where what my primary care physician charmingly calls “the swallowing tube” meets the, um, air tube.

Hence the Heimlich Maneuver, which has saved countless lives.

But what if the Heimlich doesn’t work and that piece of steak is really lodged in there and you haven’t an EMT’s set of equipment on you? If you’re lucky, there will be a doctor on the spot with a penknife and the tube from a pen to perform a cricothyrotomy, aka a “crike,” the way TV doctors do? A cut is made in the cricothyroid membrane (ligament) and a tube is inserted to allow breathing through the tiny tube, hardly a yoga breath but enough to preserve life.

What if someone on the spot had something more cleanly, more dignified than a penknife and a bit of pen for performing that crike?

lifestat_imgEnter the LifeStat, a crike kit small enough to fit on a keychain.

I want to own an LifeStat. Say I’m eating at a restaurant and someone starts choking. The burliest person around performs a Heimliich, which fails. Meanwhile, I’m undoing my keychain and preparing the LifeStat. Puncture and the tube goes into the cricothyroid ligament, the patient lives, and I’m the hero. The instructions are right on the website.

Larynx_external_CricothyrotomyBut things aren’t so simple. Because of the bottleneck nature of the neck, there are lots of important nerves and blood vessels there. The cricothyroid ligament is a small target. The airway has plenty of cartilaginous support. You have to know what the cricothyroid membrane feels like, how to find it in different people. And thus, the LifeStat is reserved for sale only to physicians.

But I still want one for the sheer cleverness of the thing. It has great power for something so simple, with just a few parts, no electronics, small enough to put in one’s pocket. I want to hold one in my hands, to see how it works, to marvel at it. For about five minutes.

I will never own an LifeStat because I will never be in a position to learn how to use it, and thus it is of no use to me. But if you’re a physician, I hope you will buy one of these and keep it on your keychain, because it’s a damned clever little crike kit and you might just save someone’s life when you don’t have the usual equipment at hand.

Keeping the home fires burning

FirestarterI really want this magnesium-ferrocerium firestarter because it is elegant, inexpensive, and indisputably a help to survival, which all together give my acquisitive nature a good excuse. Making fire is a fundamental human need. Making fire in wet conditions without liquid fuel is impressive. This is coolissimo! I must have it!

This firestarter is simultaneously paleo and techno. I envision ancient human beings slamming rocks together to make sparks if their campfire died or was washed out. And then ferrocerium makes me imagine high-tech smelters shining in a darkened lab melting rare earths together. What a combination!

The part of the political spectrum in which I abide tends to attract preppers (that is the politically correct name for survivalists, the latter term having acquired a pejorative connotation). And so I’ve read a lot of descriptions of what a good prepper should have, such as Ferfal’s notes on Argentina and Selco’s notes on Yugoslavia. Selco says that lighters are good to trade. And many lesser known lists say you should have at least three ways of making fire. (Did you know you can start a fire by putting some steel wool across the contacts of a nine-volt battery?) This firestarter fills the bill nicely for one means of starting a fire – no battery to wear down, no fluid to evaporate.

I take much more care with preparedness than the average urban dweller. I have a headlamp (for electric outages), work gloves (for handling broken glass and wood after an earthquake), and iodine pills (in case the nuclear plant nearby goes kablooey). I plan to buy a few small emergency water filtration bottles (for the aftermath of an infrastructure-destroying hurricane). And I have a butane lighter, too; but that will be my sole gesture toward the need for fire.

Magnesium_in_pouch-lgIn reality, I don’t need a means to start a fire. There is no place around here in the inner city where I can safely build a fire, and what am I going to burn? Keeping a hatchet to take down a tree is a little more commitment to prepping than I have. When the power went out in my neighborhood for three days, I persevered for two, and then when the temperature in my place dropped under sixty, I threw my laptop in a backpack and fled to the nearest four-star hotel to defrost, take a hot shower, and eat hot room service. If TEOTWAWKI happens in the dead of winter and there is no heat or electricity within walking distance, I am just going to have to be one of the millions of urbanites who will perish en masse like ye plague victims of olde.

Still and all, I want this firestarter, just because it’s neato. You want a gadget? You don’t need an iPhone in TEOTWAWKI, you want this. You get some tinder (ideally), then scrape some shavings of magnesium onto it, then use the scraper on the flint rod to strike sparks onto the magnesium. That is so cool, to set metal ablaze to save your life and that of others around you! And this company even has a decorated leather sheath for it! All for only $15.95 (the scraper and sheath are sold separately)!

But I can’t even try it out in my sink because burning metal is not exactly something you want in your sink. And it would just end up in a box of chowder so that I won’t be able to find it when TEOTWAWKI hits, assuming it ever does.

If your preparedness plans call for yet another means of making fire, this firestarter surely should be one of them. But realistically, I’ll never use it.

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