When you hear the words “butane torch,” it usually conjures up images of the tougher stuff, like welding, plumbing work, metal shop – those sorts of things. Anything that throws a flame pretty much belongs in a tool box or arsenal, right? Sometimes. As I mentioned a few posts back, there was a time in my life when I thought that soldering was fun, and as a kid, I even had a woodburning set that got some occasional use. But I’m really not much of a pyro at all, and up to now I’ve never considered owning a lighter, much less a torch. I’m starting to change my mind.
It’s not that I’m planning to go into the trades, or take on a DIY project of Rosie the Riveter magnitude. I can be pretty handy with the fix-it stuff, but flamage usually doesn’t play a role in my home improvement jobs. No, I’m thinking more along the lines of creme brulee. The truth is, I love to cook, and for the past couple of years, I’ve been intermittently hell-bent on conquering the French classics. I’ve already knocked out the easy stuff like Pommes Anna and bordelaise sauce, but have yet to work up to things like homemade demi-glace and creme brulee. I’ve put off the demi-glace becasue I can’t seem to find a spare 24 hours to dedicate solely to simmering a bunch of roasted meat bones and aromatics… that’s understandable, non?
But my reason for procrastinating on the creme brulee is far lamer – I just never had a torch to caramelize the tops. See? Lame. I had been waiting to score another gift card to Williams-Sonoma, so that I could purchase the last, flaming piece of the puzzle. But suddenly, the other day, I stumbled upon an article that said that one of the most popular “chef’s torches” out there had actually been originally intended for use by plumbers. It turns out that when the pros need to create a delicate sugar crust on a fragile custard, the more macho the torch, the better.
It looks like my wait has just been dramatically shortened, thanks to the fact that we actually sell the Pro-Torch 200 by Solder-It. I’ve always thought that this compact, handheld butane torch was pretty neat, but to me, it was more of a cool addition to a tool kit… not my next kitchen appliance. As it turns out, it’s both. The Pro-Torch 200 has a refillable butane canister that provides up to 60 minutes of burn time, and it’s just at home with plumbing and auto repair as it is with haute cuisine. Looks like I just met my match. Sorry, Williams-Sonoma and Sur la Table – I still love you, but this time, I’m going to have to go for the Pro-Torch…
Now where did I put those vanilla beans?
Tulips have sprung, temperatures are rising, and as Summer fast approaches, visions of Historic Route 66 are beginning to dance through the imaginations of red-blooded Americans from sea to shining sea. Who can’t picture themselves behind the wheel of that classic Hollywood road trip shot, the one that looks westward down a two-lane highway that’s empty except for a single top-down convertible winding its way toward a couple of cowboy-movie buttes in the not-too-far-off distance?
Ahhhhh, I can feel the wind undoing the affects of my mega-hold styling products just thinking about it. Road trips aren’t just great for a little nostalgia – they’re also the perfect way to squeeze a little freedom and vacation time out of Summer 2010, even though cash is still tight for many of us. There’s just one little difference between road trips Then and Now: technology. Whereas payphones and postcards were the chief means of communication back in the heyday of ’57 Chevys and themed motor lodges, in this age of Priuses and Hilton HHonors® rewards, we can’t live without cell phones and laptops.
One little problem there: said gadgets require electricity to keep their batteries charged and ready to serve us. And as most of you have probably discovered the hard way at one time or another, electricity is most readily available from wall outlets, of which there is a distinct shortage in automobiles. Sure, some of us have the cigarette-lighter chargers for our cell phones, but car-charging can get pretty tricky for items like laptops and iPods®. How’s a recreational road warrior supposed to cope?
Allow me to recommend the Travel Power Adapter by Belkin. This compact little set is made up of a power adapter that can be customized (via an assortment of included tips) to charge all of your must-have gadgets straight from the 12-volt DC port in your vehicle. This thing can even handle USB-driven electronics like iPods®. Just plug the adapter into your DC port, customize its charger cord with the tip that matches the gadget in need of juice, and you’re set.
What I love is that the travel adapter isn’t limited to use in your car. If you need to charge things overnight in your hotel room, you can just switch out the DC plug for the included AC adapter, and just plug into the wall. Now that’s a travel buddy.
Here’s to the Man Cave, that magical realm of testosterone where beer, nachos and video games reign supreme. Where there’s always a rack of pool cues at arm’s reach, and a live sporting event on TV. Where you can work on your Shelby Cobra kit car in peace, and get crumbs on the floor if you darn well feel like it.
Every guy has a different idea of what his personal Planet Man should be like. While I, being female, don’t have anything special in mind, the Dude’s Dude I’m married to has tons of ideas, but he’s mostly riding the fence between the Blowout Tiki Bar, and the “So Manly and Full of Diamond Plate That it Would Make Chip Foose and the Entire Overhaulin’ Crew Pee Their Pants in Envy” Garage.
But of all the types of Man Caves out there, there’s a single common denominator that all of them share: a TV. Preferably of the flatscreen HD variety. And no girly Pottery Barn entertainment consoles, here: that baby’s going on the wall, or better yet, hanging from the ceiling, sports bar-style. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh yeah.
If at this point you’re grinning and nodding your head along in agreement, but at the same time furrowing your brow and thinking: “But how the heck am I supposed to do that?”, allow me. All you need is the Chief® Flat Panel Ceiling Mount. If you’re handy (and what Man Cave master isn’t?), this ceiling mount is pretty easy to install, and won’t require to you to use any expensive or out-of-the-ordinary tools.
What I really like about this Chief® mount is that it makes it super easy to adjust the screen to the perfect angle. A technology by the name of Centris™ lets you adjust your TV using only the pressure of your fingertips, and once it’s positioned, it won’t budge until you decide to move it again. I’m really into this feature, because flat screens are pretty heavy, and you wouldn’t want to worry about your TV spontaneously “readjusting” itself under its own weight. After all, it’s pretty tricky trying climb up and fix that when you’ve just knocked back half a pizza and some wings.
Back when I was just a little kid, way before blogs were invented, my Dad ran a side business installing sound systems in churches. I remember hanging around and watching him solder custom audio cables at home some evenings, and for some reason, I was always dying to get in on the soldering action. It just looked fun. But far be it from any responsible parent to allow their 8 year old daughter to wield a soldering iron, so I was out of luck.
My Dad eventually wound down the custom audio work, and as a result, I pretty much forgot about soldering as less lethal-for-kids projects like friendship bracelets, crepe paper flowers and paint-your-own ceramics came my way. Fast forward to 8th grade, that magical year when public school kids get to experience the wonders of Home Ec, Sewing, Drafting and Wood/Metal Shop, all in two whirlwind semesters. When the “make-a-wire-guy-and-permanently-weld-his-feet-to-a-piece-of-sheet-metal-so-he-looks-like-he’s-walking” portion of the program rolled around, the almighty soldering iron came crashing back into my life, but this time, I was the one holding it.
It’s been around 17 years, and despite the fact that I enjoyed my brief stint as an underage solderer, what I remember most is the flux. The gunky, nasty, greasy tins of flux that we had to dunk our solder into. Without fail, we’d always use too much or too little, and would either end up with a joint that wouldn’t take, or a mess of excess flux spitting and running everywhere. But believe it or not, flux issues can get even worse.
While the excess flux issue was annoying for Junior High-aged me, I imagine that it’s even more frustrating for people who, say, make a living soldering printed circuit boards. While soldering is a vital part of electronics in general, residual flux on circuit boards can cause shorts and electrical leakage, or interfere with a board’s thermal properties. And if you’re not careful while trying to remove flux residue, even more damage can occur.
That’s why MG Chemicals’ lead-free flux-core solder is so great. Filled with a core of just the right amount of flux, this solder leaves behind a bare minimum of residue, so there’s little or no cleanup involved. Whatever flux residue does remain is hard and nonconductive, so it doesn’t carry the threats of diverting electricity or causing shorts. As a bonus, the silver-infused lead-free formula saves you from inhaling potentially harmful lead vapors, but also leaves you with solder joints that have excellent conductivity.
I enjoy nature and a nice hike as much as the next person, but when it comes to taking a load off and getting a good night’s snooze after all that fresh air, I’ve always balked at roughing it in a tent – I prefer to “hotel it.” Don’t get me wrong – I’m not the kind of girl who needs a 5-star resort with full spa services or anything like that. I just like things like electricity, indoor plumbing, clean sheets and a locking door – you know, the kind of things that make one comfortable. Call me crazy, but rocks jutting through the ground tarp and sleeping bag aren’t exactly my idea of lumbar support.
I have to say, though: with regard to the electricity aspect, all of the solar products hitting the market are beginning to make the prospect of bunking in the wilderness a little more palatable. First came solar chargers, which have made it possible to keep your cell phone or iPod juiced up even if you’re miles from the nearest power outlet. But now, things are getting even better, thanks to the GoBe™ solar power system, a portable power source that absorbs sunlight and turns it into enough electricity to power the really good stuff like laptops, electric fans, lights, and maybe even your Magic Bullet blender (margarita or fresh salsa, anyone?).
The GoBe™ system is made up of a briefcase (the solar panel unit) and a hub (the battery that you actually plug into). The briefcase soaks up sunlight, converts it into energy, and then sends it via cable to the hub for storage. When you need power, you just plug into the hub, and run your devices/appliances directly from that. Too easy.
One thing that I really like about the GoBe™ solar power system is that even though it’s primarily a green product, it’s not limited to relying on the Sun for a proper charge. Say that you’re going camping, or soon to be hit by a hurricane that will probably knock out your utilities. If you want to quickly charge the hub to capacity but don’t want to wait on the Sun, you can always plug it into a wall outlet instead. A little versatility is always a good thing…
Sorry, this product has been discontinued.
These days, it’s pretty common to see grommets built into peoples’ desktops, so that they can run phone and computer cables through their work surfaces instead of across them. But what about conference tables? It’s 2010, and just about every conference room out there is wired to the hilt, so that their occupants can run everything from laptops and projectors to phone lines and A/V equipment. All of the cables associated with those electronics can make for a major mess come presentation time, so that begs the question: why don’t conference tables get grommets, too?
As it turns out, they do, and you’ll be happy to know that they’re not the standard-issue round plastic ones that you usually see in desks. You have to step it up a notch for a conference room, right? You bring visitors in there! But I digress. I’ll just tell you about the MHO® conference table grommet.
Conference tables are bigger than desks, so it just goes to reason that grommets made for them should be a little more substantial, right? The MHO® grommet is rectangular in shape, and distinctly bigger in size, measuring approximately 8″x4″. It’s also refreshingly free of flat black plastic, instead made out of very sleek and modern-looking anodized aluminum. The MHO® further differs from your run-of-the-mill grommet in that it doesn’t spend all it’s time as a gaping hole in your tabletop – it actually has a flip-open lid that closes flush with your table when not in use, so you have the benefit of a solid, flat, continuous workspace.
But the really great thing about the MHO® grommet is that it matches the extremely popular MHO® desktop power and data center. If you’ve already installed an MHO® power/data unit, you can still opt for a grommet, too, without worrying about what your conference table will look like with an unharmonious mix of extras installed – everything will look clean and uniform.
If you had asked me yesterday if I knew much about flat-screen mounting options, I would probably have told you yes. Seeing as how I appreciate a well-executed home theater, I’ve stayed pretty in tune with stationary screen mounts, tilting screen mounts, swiveling screen mounts, telescoping screen mounts, and even screen-mounting systems that masquerade as wall art. All around savvy, I would say. But here’s the thing: I’ve never really gone as high-tech as to think about screen lifts, but that all changed this morning.
Your ears just perked up, didn’t they? Yes, lifts. I’m not talking about those things that you slip into your shoes to sneakily make yourself look taller, or the stands you use on your desk to raise the elevation of your laptop or monitor. I’m talking about a real, motorized lift that you can attach a plasma or LCD screen to, in the interest of hoisting that TV to the perfect viewing position, and then lowering it down into a piece of furniture so you don’t have to look at it when you’re done. Just think about it: one little point and click, and your TV levitates out of an attractive piece of furniture, like Aphrodite rising from the sea. Poetry.
All romanticisms aside, though, the Chief® Automated Flat-Panel TV Lift actually lets you hide your high-def TV inside a cabinet or console – as long as it’s large enough to fit the screen and sturdy enough to support the screen/lift weight, you’re in business. Imagine the possibilities. I love the very thought of this, because I’m the kind of person who doesn’t necessarily like to stare at my home electronics when they’re not in use, and I would never, under any circumstances, do something as insane as wall mounting a flat screen above a fireplace. I guess I’m saying that I want to enjoy the viewing benefits of a flat panel, without having to suffer any of the decor hazards on the side. Sigh. The mere concept of this screen lift has left me grinning bigger than I have in a long time.
About three Christmases ago, I thought it would be a great idea to surprise my then-boyfriend (now husband) with an iPod. He’s never been much of a gadget guy, but was dying for some portable tunes to work out to, so I took that tidbit of information, combined it with the fact that I was strapped for cash, and settled on a nice, shiny 2nd generation Shuffle (I am not a cheapskate, people – keep in mind that this was back in the day when those babies were still $100 a pop).
But once I actually had the tiny piece of electronic wonderment in hand, I thought: “Hmmmmm, this is kind of small – maybe I should find him a few accessories for it.” So, I started mulling over everything from interchangeable iPod skins to iTunes cards. Then I saw it: a special dock that he could plug right into a wall outlet, for those times when the old Shuffle just needed a charge, and not a complete sync. After all, who wants to leave their computer grinding away for hours at a time just to charge a dinky (albeit cool) MP3 player?
My enthusiasm, however, came to a screeching halt when I saw that the stupid thing cost (if I remember correctly) upwards of 30 bucks. Are you kidding me??????????? So I settled for some assorted-color silicone iPod covers from my favorite bargain cool-stuff website, and called it a day. My man would just have to stick with computer-based USB charging for the time being.
Fast-forward 3 years. My husband and I are still charging both of our Shuffles (it turns out that he had the exact same gift idea for me that Christmas) from a laptop, and I’ve more or less forgotten about the wall outlet charger… until the other day, when I met a certain mini surge protector by Belkin, which happens to have two USB charging ports built right in. That’s what I’m talking about!
I’ve seen enough portable surge protectors in recent years that they really don’t catch my eye anymore, but those 2 little USB ports came pretty close to making my eyes bug out. The Belkin mini surge protector with USB charger plugs directly into a wall receptacle, and gives you 3 surge-protected outlets for laptops and the like, as well as 2 (also surge-protected) USB ports for charging iPods and other USB driven devices. All that, and it’s only half the price of that original Shuffle A/C wall adapter I saw a few years ago. Guess who’s getting one this Christmas?
There was a time when testing a security network meant accessing each and every camera individually, so you could calibrate the PanTiltZoom (PTZ) functions and and make sure that the image frames and clarity were exactly the way they were supposed to be. Security cameras still need to be checked to ensure that they’re on the proper settings, but Triplett’s CamView PTZ makes things a little easier – okay, a lot – by cutting out the visits to every camera on the circuit.
Following the lead of the remote testers that are commonly used to map and troubleshoot data networks, the CamView PTZ lets installers and maintenance techs connect to the security network via an RS-485, RS-422 or RS-232 interface to remotely view the settings for, and images from, each individual camera – all on one handheld unit. It’s a huge time-saver.
The main feature on the Triplett CamView is a 2.6″ TFT-LCD display, which allows you to quickly navigate through tests for all of the camera’s PTZ modes, functions and settings, and also gives you a clear, full-color view of the images being shot by the camera. You basically get the inside scoop on all of your surveillance system’s operations without having to physically drag a ladder and tester around to each camera location. You can also check video cables, recorders and monitors while you’re at it, so this is a terrific all-in-one option. The only way it can possibly get any better is if you do the old Robert De Niro Meet the Parents “I’m watching you” hand signal while you’re testing shot frames and image quality. I highly recommend it.
You might not think that a box full of power and data outlets embedded into your desktop would be too hot, but let me tell you, they’re getting better-looking all the time. I’ve always thought that the idea of having plug-in points built right into a desk would be super convenient, but a lot of the power/data centers out there just look so… techy. Like whoever designed them was thinking waaaaaaaay more about function than form. Utilitarian, shall we say? But lately, I’ve been seeing some newer models coming out that are definitely going in a more eye-candyish direction, for those of us who don’t like to sacrifice style and decor for electronics. Case in point: the Ellora™ Power and Data Center.
This sleek little beauty has clean lines, a satiny aluminum finish, and mounts more or less dead-flush into your worksurface, so visually speaking, there’s absolutely nothing to complain about. Flip the lid open, and you’ll find a neat row of the outlets and ports of your choice: power, data (internet), USB… you can even order one that has an iPod dock in the mix. Nice. It’s work and listening pleasure, all rolled into one and stashed just below the surface of your desk. Sneaky, efficient, aesthetically pleasing – what more could you want?
Lest you walk away from this blog post thinking that the only reason to buy an in-desk PDU is so you don’t have to crawl under your desk to plug in, let me just say: “but that’s not all!” One of my favorite features is that the Ellora™ totally gets rid of cord clutter on and behind your desk, so you don’t have to look at or get tangled up in computer cables. Even better.