Category Archives: Things

Good bike locks

The Ultimate Guide to Ensuring That Your Bike Never Gets Stolen Again in Outside magazine explores the best bike lock options for finding your bike right where you left it. Here’re what I thought were the highlights.

The FBI claims 205,000 bicycles, worth maybe $80 million new, were stolen in 2015. Some say those numbers are conservative because bike theft is widely underreported.

In terms of packaging and strength, reputable U-locks are still the best single bike lock to purchase. They’re less fallible than virtually any other bike lock available. Bike theft is largely Darwinian: the strongest locks frequently survive.

Kryptonite’s New York Fahgettaboudit Mini is a U-lock that resembles a bank safe. Its hardened-steel shackle measures 18 millimeters in diameter, and its crossbar is as thick as a bratwurst. The shackle locks at both ends making it more resistant to prying/leveraged destruction and forces a thief to cut through both arms of the shackle to free a bike.But it’s heavy, nearly five pounds, as much as three full water bottles.

For everyday use, what I wanted something reassuringly sturdy but lighter, more versatile, and less expensive. Enter the Abus Granit Plus 640 ($100). The Abus locks also twice at each end of its 12-millimeter-diameter specially hardened shackle and has its locking mechanism set in the middle of the crossbar. The lockable area approximates the New York Mini’s, meaning a tight fit in terms of proper locking so there’s less room to slide in a prying tool. The Granit’s best quality: it weighs a slim 1.75 pounds.

In terms of value and convenience, the Kryptonite Messenger Mini+ is my top pick. It features an ingenious but unobtrusive second locking loop that makes the lock more versatile. The locking area of the main shackle is slightly more generous than those of the others I tried, your best parking option has a fatter anchoring point. The second locking loop provides the real magic. The main shackle threads through the second locking loop’s two rings. Use the second loop to secure a  chunky rear wheel. Or it can secure your (removed) front wheel. You can also leave the extra loop at home if it’s unnecessary for the day’s two-wheel journey.

The Knog Frankie is an outlier. The rubbery, lime-colored, cartoonish-looking cable lock is only about 28 inches long. But for only $27, you get a 14-ounce package with an incorporated (and thus unsnappable) lock that a thief, with only bolt cutters, will hate. I did. It took several minutes of my grunting effort to sever the thick and gummy silicone sheath, along with a six-millimeter braided-steel cable over a fiber core. Don’t ask the Frankie to fly solo, but as a minimalist second lock for running errands, the Knog felt reassuring.

The best balance of function, portability, versatility, and value came from combining the Kryptonite Messenger Mini+ with the Knog Frankie. In general, I’d feel secure employing that pair of locks anywhere, from errands to a lingering breakfast to a music festival.

Improving the simple

Improving on something that’s already simple and widely used is impressive because most people take the things in their lives for granted.

What about the lowly keyring? Every time you want to add or remove a key from a substantial keyring you risk damaging a fingernail and futzing with the split in the ring always seems to take more time than it should.

It looks like the Tang Ring keyring has improved the keyring. One disadvantage of living in Mexico is not being able to get certain things that are available in the US. It’s not a big deal but next time I’m in the US I’ll get some of these to try out.

Emergency nail clippers?

emergencyNeil Strauss’ book “Emergency” is a story of change, chronicling his transformation  from a soft, city bred, cafe hopping, hipster to a tougher more resilient, self-sufficient man.

The realization he was vulnerable to forces that he couldn’t cope with started around 2000 with the Y2K frenzy, and then became reenforced by the 9/11 attack, followed by Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath, and finally Bush’s  2004 reelection.

Morphing into a more self-reliant person for Strauss occurred over several years of pursuing and mastering a long list of skills he lacked such as outdoor skills, how to exist off the grid, what to do in emergencies, becoming a paramedic, and so on. And then he wrote a book about his experiences.

He’s a proponent of keeping a “bug out bag” (BOB) around to grab quickly when the shit hits the fan and you need to leave in a hurry.

I’ve looked at lists of what various people recommend including in your BOB. They all have lots in common such as a fixed blade knife, water purifier, fire starter, etc.

One thing that’s missing from most BOB’s is the humble nail clipper. Not much to say about nail clippers. If you find yourself needing a bug out bag, your situation is probably pretty bad. The more things you can do to make your life more normal will make getting by easier.

If you’re in a dire situation for an extended time you’ll need to cut your nails at some point. Unless you’re a nail-biter, cutting your nails with a knife won’t be something you’d have done before. Having a nail clipper with you might just make your life a little bit easier during a prolonged break from civilization.

Write it down

Getting ideas out of your head and onto paper is a good thing to do.

cool esThere’re a couple of reasons for doing it. One is about timing. You always think you’ll remember an idea that pops up, but mostly you’ll forget it as another idea displaces it. It’s often a matter of seconds before an idea dissipates, so jotting down an idea before it fades away helps you outsmart yourself.

The next reason for getting an idea onto paper, is that it frees your mind and your memory for tackling other thoughts.

Why keep trying to remember stuff that’s more easily remembered in ink or electronically? An idea you’ve written down won’t fade or distort like ideas can do when they’re just kept in your memory.

Using a pen and paper is always handy. There’re also a couple of convenient ways to do this on your computer. You can use your email account or blog as a place to put your ideas, park them in the draft folder and come back later. I also use a clipboard extender program called Jumpcut to cut and save lots of clippings from the computer instead of only one cut and paste operation at a time. It’s super easy to get and use. And it’s free.

But acting quickly is the hardest part of this, although the reality of writing down an idea is easy when you do get in the habit of doing it.




What’s used most often?

If you’re a regular guy, not making your living using tools, which tools are essential or used most often?

I have 40 or so tools, including sets (like a ratchet set). Since most things follow the 80/20 principle, which ones are the 20%, or 8 tools, that I use 80% of the time?

I haven’t kept notes on this, but here’s what I think I use most often, from top to bottom in the photo.

1) My Stanley narrow, snap blade, utility knife gets used the most, cutting heavy fabric, rope, green branches, sharpening a pencil, scraping stuff, and cutting anything I don’t want to cut with a nicer knife. I’ve heard these have replaced pocket knives for some tool heads because they’re always sharp, light, easy-to-use, and cheap to replace.

2) Next, I’m always measuring stuff, so my Stanley 16 foot tape gets a workout.

3) My favorite tool of all is a pair of Channellock 8″ linesmen pliers. They hold on tight, cut through thick wires, and will hammer something if called upon to do so. These are tough, I found them on the street about ten years ago so I don’t know how old they are but they show no sign of giving up.

4) A #3 Phillips head screwdriver. The majority of screw heads I run across are handled by this screwdriver.

5) An old paint scraper that gets used for scraping, lifting, and light prying along with scraping paint, which is common in the tropics.

6) An 8″ adjustable wrench that works occasionally on bikes or plumbing.

7) An old ice pick. This thing marks, probes, makes holes, and can chip ice too.

8) A standard flat blade screwdriver that’s in semi retirement, see item 4 above.

Pretty basic. Actually the first four tools on my list see the most action.

None of these tools are fancy or expensive, the priciest one is linesmen pliers. If you think about which tools you use most often, I wonder if they’d be as basic as the ones I use the most?

Travel Essentials

I like traveling without a lot of stuff and rarely have checked luggage.

For temperate weather travel, everything fits into an easy-to-tote (not a rolling) bag, something light with a shoulder strap. With this set up I can take the stairs, move about more quickly, have easy access to my stuff.

Here’s the stuff I always travel with on any trip:

In a hangable toiletries bag: Earplugs for blocking out jet engines droning, roosters crowing, and babies crying. Toothbrush, paste, and floss for a shiny fresh smile. Deo for my fellow coach class travelers. A small headlamp allowing hands free mobility in the dark. An eyeglass cleaning cloth for all the lens smudges from kissing international travelers on the cheek. A couple of Ambien pills for jet lag or mental chatter inducing new spaces. And fingernail clippers because short fingernails will stay cleaner. My hair’s so short I just take traveling as an opportunity to let it go crazy (along with the beard) if the trip is shorter than a week or so.

A large outer zippered pocket on my bag holds: My passport, some gum, my Kindle, my car and house keys for my return home, along with a notebook and pen for jotting down interesting things I hear or see.

In my back pocket lives my wallet with credit card, debit card, license, cash, and my  Mexican visa.

Inside the bag there’s usually two changes of clothesunderwear, and socks. And a hat, my hair doesn’t grow fast enough to protect my scalp. Sometimes I’ll have an extra pair of shoes in there depending on the destination.

I know, what about a computer? If I think I’ll use it, I might take it along, but I can usually find a cyber cafe or use someone’s for a quick check.

What’s the one thing you can’t travel without?

Traveling really is easier with less stuff.


Cool Tools

I was a big fan of the now defunct “Whole Earth Catalog” (WEC) and wrote about it here in January.

The WEC was a very large “coffee table book” size paperback printed on coarse, unbleached paper. There were tools, resources for independent study, and things that weren’t already common knowledge. If something was inexpensive, or high quality, and was readily available by mail, then there was a good chance it would show up in the WEC.  Also accompanying each item were excerpts from submitters, staff reviewers and if it was a book, quotes.

A sort of WEC is on the web it’s called “Cool Tools.” I look at it a lot but didn’t think about its similarity to the WEC when I wrote my post in January.  “Cool Tools” is one section of Kevin Kelly‘s site. He was involved for a time with the WEC as the editor, so it all kinda makes sense.

There’s a daily post of a cool tool that’s been submitted by readers. Depending on your interests, the posting might be galvanizing or a yawn but they’re usually at least interesting. The categories span “general purpose tools” to “big ideas.” For example, on different days you could find a recommendation for a small pry bar or a cool espresso maker or the best rechargeable batteries.

I’ve been a fan of Cool Tools for years and I think if you were a fan of the WEC you’ll like it too.

Bookshelves and Wristwatches

If I point to my wrist and look at you questioningly you might tell me what time it is. If you’re under a certain age, you might give me a confused look or check your wrist for a bug or a mustard stain. Wristwatches are fashionable and functional for some people and mainly just fashionable for the other people below that certain age. If you’ve always used a multifunctional device like a cell phone or smart phone then a wristwatch is sort of quaint.

Soon we might be able to say the same for bookshelves too. More and more people use e-readers, phones and computers for reading and keeping up. And when was the last time you heard of someone buying a set of encyclopedias, or even using one in book form? Amazon now sells more ebooks than printed books.

Don’t even mention newspapers, who wants to read today about what happened yesterday? Why would you pay to put a classified ad in a paper when it’s free and easier to do on Craigslist or something similar?

It’s all really interesting. I’m sure a couple of hundred years ago when clock towers were popular,  people looked up questioningly toward towers for the time, and then folks who grew up around pocket watches wondered what was up on the roof that was so interesting to the upward gazers. Next, pocket watch  users probably started miming pulling out a pocket watch to ask for the time and so early wristwatch adopters thought lots of guys had nervous tics. Change happens.

Hey, you can put your wristwatch over there on my bookshelf.


Sometimes, really good design leads to problems.

Recently my girlfriend’s computer died, crapped out. So she bought a new MacBook Air . It’s super cool, I even talked about them earlier in a post. The design is beautiful and the whole thing is intuitive and easy to use.

This ease of use and good design by Apple may lead to a problem. Here it is. The system they have for dealing with the few problems that might arise isn’t well designed, probably because they thought it wouldn’t be used very often.

But when a simple problem arises that can’t be simply fixed, it leads to frustration. Less than five hours after playing around with the new Air, the charger died, crapped out. A pretty simple thing to rectify, but it has been a nightmare instead.

We don’t live near an Apple store, so we’ve been dealing with it by phone. The advice ranged from sending in the broken charger and waiting for another one to be sent back to “You should have bought Apple care.” All of the options presented were very unsatisfying. This wasn’t an issue caused by a consumer it was a problem on a small part of a $1300 product.

The best, most satisfying solution for the customer, and ultimately for Apple too, would have been to say “Sorry, since you are not near an Apple store, where can we send a new charger? And please send the broken one back in the mailer we’ll include with the new charger.” Apple could even have a credit card charge on hold that would be canceled when they got back the broken charger if they didn’t want to use an honor system.

It seems like the best design for the problem solvers would be designing a system to keep the customer happy, say you’re sorry and try to help rather than burn up the innocent customer’s (and Apple reps’) time in lots of unproductive calls and emails. Apple should make the trouble shooting experience as flawless as the computer by design.

Festo’s New Bird

Check out this incredible video I saw on TED. It’s a demonstration of a robot that flies like a bird by mimicking how real birds fly. The video is only about six minutes long, but if you’re only interested in seeing the robot fly that starts about two minutes into the video.

The bird’s creators work for a German firm, Festo. I wrote a post awhile back about another Festo creation, the Air Penguins. They’re amazing to watch too.

If you liked the bird video and want to see more here’s the video featuring Festo’s Air Penguins. Festo has developed a robotic arm technology they use in different applications to demo the technology. The company’s robotic arm technology is used in the graceful noses of the robotic birds and penguins to steer them.

To really appreciate the video, make sure you click on the full screen option.