3M X20 Digital Projector

x20-digital-projectorThere’s nothing like a projected image to make you feel like you’re at the movies. When I was a kid, it was always a thrill to see the media center lady roll a projector into the classroom after we got in from recess, because it meant we were taking a break from the drudgery of Science and Social Studies, and getting to slack off with a few action-packed educational film strips instead. And then there was that time about 10 years back when, despite my being a mature grownup, I jumped right in when my Dad hauled out his work projector (typically reserved for presentations) to entertain my sick, stuck-at-home little brother – let me tell you, the best way to watch Ice Age is on the living room wall.

But those childhood (and kid-at-heart) warm-fuzzies toward projectors in general began to change as I left college and became immersed in things like real-world jobs and the multimedia business presentations that they often require. I’ve sat in more than one crowded conference room, looking on as guest presenters fumbled with laptop-to-projector connections as the hour of meeting commencement, pointing and laughing in derision, jogged right past them. Yikes. And these were intelligent, capable people. But technical difficulties will happen, especially if you’re an outsider dealing with other peoples’ electronics. It’s painful to watch.

That’s why I think that the X20 Digital Projector by 3M looks so incredibly useful and promising. What better way to avoid technical difficulties than to bring your own projector along? I know, I know – it sounds like a schlepping nightmare, but it’s not at all. To start out with, the X20 is little: only 11 by 8 by 2 inches (approximately). And at around 4 pounds, it’s definitely one of the lighter projectors out there. Did I mention that it comes with a carrying case? That makes it a natural for travel. But what I really like is that it can help cut down on how many other things you have to haul around.

While the X20 and it’s cousin, the WX20, both offer (of course) connections for laptops and other devices, the X20 also has USB ports for a mouse and flash drive – perfect for computerless .jpg presentations. And you know what that means, right? Leave the laptop at home!

Sorry, this product has been discontinued.

Wall Plate Mounting Bracket

cables-to-go-mounting-bracketIt’s not something that most of us give any thought to, but did you know that studs and beams play a huge role in where your home theater’s A/V faceplates are located? We only see what’s on the surface of the wall, but if you were to take a peek behind the sheetrock, you’d most likely find that your outlets and home theater connections are actually supported by cable boxes, which, in turn, are securely screwed onto studs or other structural supports.

While that system has worked up to now, if you’re installing a home theater from scratch, it can be pretty frustrating to have stud placement dictating where you can or can’t put in a wall plate. The location of faceplates can affect where you place your TV, speakers, and even furniture – who wants their style cramped like that? Not me. That’s why I like the single-gang (in non-tech speak, that’s “regular size”) Wall Plate Mounting Bracket from Cables To Go®. It doesn’t have to be anywhere near a stud to give you a solidly-installed connection.

As I mentioned before, most mounting brackets and electrical/cable boxes need to be attached directly to a stud; otherwise, they’d wobble around like crazy whenever you tried to plug anything in. They also need to stand up to the extra gravitational pull put on them by cables – when cables naturally sag toward the ground, wall plates can take a lot of the brunt from that downward force. Attachment to a nice, solid stud ensures that brackets and wall plates will be as close to rock-solid as possible.

Luckily, Cables To Go® has figured out how to create a solid faceplate installation minus the studs. Their bracket has a unique design that uses fold-down tabs to grip onto drywall. To install, you cut a hole in your sheetrock, fit the bracket into it, and then fold the tabs back to hold it in place. From there, you just attach in-wall A/V cables to your wall plate, and then screw the plate onto the bracket. It’s simple, solid, looks great, and is perfect for retrofit installs.

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Wrap N Strap Adjustable Cord Organizers

wrap-n-strapI’ve been catching up with some of the newer cable tie-like products that have recently made it into our inventory, and there’s one in particular that’s especially versatile: the Wrap N Strap®. Oddly enough, it first caught my eye because I thought it looked like a hospital bracelet. Hmmmmmm.Yes, I know that that’s probably a bizarre association to make, but don’t let that weird you out. I’ll admit that I’m a consummate white-coat phobic, but the colors that these cable straps come in are so fun and cheery that they pretty much killed any negative medical-related vibes right off the bat. Probably took that a little too far… suffice it to say that these look kind of like hospital ID bracelets, but not in a bad way.

That said and done with, Wrap N Strap cord organizers do fasten like a hospital bracelet… you know, with a little round plastic fastener that pops through one of a series of holes? But unlike a patient ID bracelet, these can actually be removed without scissors. This easy removability factor is great for two reasons. First, when it comes to unbundling cables from standard zip ties, it can be a little iffy to introduce a sharp pair of scissors into the mix: it may be your intent to only snip through the cable tie, but if you’re not careful, you can nick or cut through a cable as well. And secondly, the fact that Wrap N Straps can be removed without being destroyed means that you can reuse them – always a smart choice for those looking to save a little money or cut down on waste in general.

I’m sure that by now you’ve caught my drift that Wrap N Straps® work great on cables, but they also play nicely with rope, bungee cord, chain, Christmas lights… pretty much anything in strand form that you’d want to neatly bundle up and store. And remember those fun colors I mentioned earlier? They make these perfect for color-coding.

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MG Chemicals Desoldering Braid

May 17, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Soldering, Tools and Cases 

mg-chemicals-fine-desoldering-braidNo too long ago, we talked about a great type of solder to use when you want a joint to form smoothly, without too much or too little flux. But today we’re going to talk about what to do when you need to get rid of a soldering joint. Depending on exactly what type of project you’re working on, you may need to disconnect a soldered-on cable connector, or maybe remove a solder bridge from a circuit board. Melting the joint back down is usually enough to break the connection, but how do you remove that little bead of molten solder that’s left over?

Some people like to use a solder suction device, which literally sucks up the solder as soon as you’ve melted a joint. But other people prefer a gentler approach, which involves gradually wicking solder away as it melts with a product known as desoldering braid. Desoldering braid is really pretty simple: it’s woven out of very fine copper strands, which, when held against a melting solder joint, “soak up” (or wick away) the liquified solder, to the point that the braid actually becomes so saturated that it loses its signature copper color, and picks up the color of the solder, instead.

MG Chemicals makes a nice desolderer known as Fine Braid Super Wick, which works as well with jewelry and plumbing as it does with circuit board work. Using Fine Braid Super Wick is easy – just match the diameter of the joint to be removed with braid that’s the same width (or a little bit wider than) it. From there, you fire up your soldering iron, lay the braid across the joint to be removed, and apply your soldering iron directly to the braid. This heats up the copper, which in turn transfers that heat to the solder, causes it to melt, and finally soak into the braid. When you lift away the braid, all of that old solder comes right along with it.

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Flammable Storage Safety Cabinets

flammable-storage-cabinetWorkplace safety isn’t limited to ergonomics, lockout/tagout and PPE – sometimes, it’s all about the storage. Take flammable materials… you can’t just leave them laying around or stack them in a corner somewhere. Aside from the obvious ignition risks, many fuels and flammable solvents can also cause chemical corrosion or damage to other materials, so the smartest and safest bet is to keep them well-contained in strategic areas of your facility.

As for what to actually keep them in, I suggest Flammable Storage Cabinets by Eagle Manufacturing. These double-walled enclosures provide an excellent buffer between hazardous flammables and the things that might set them off, such as sparks, open flame and high heat. And they’re just as good at keeping flammables in as they are at sealing ingnition sources out: a 2″ raised door sill keeps liquids from trickling out, even if there’s a leak or spill inside the cabinet.

Leveling legs and an all-around 1.5″ air cushion (remember those double walls I just mentioned?) keep vibration at bay, to prevent seals from loosening and containers from toppling over. As for warning workers of flammability risks, these Eagle enclosures are emblazoned with unmistakable safety warnings in 3 languages (English, Spanish, and French) to eliminate any confusion as to the cabinets’ contents and their potential dangers.

And there’s one other little thing that these help with: OSHA compliance.

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iPod Stereo Adapter Cable

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Cables and Wires, Gadgets 

iPod-RCA-cableI have a problem. In the grand scheme of things, it’s no big whoop, but nonetheless, it’s kind of annoying. You see, fellow music fans, all the good stuff is on my iPod®. Forget about the 200 or so CDs that used to be the life of my stereo. No, I’ve gone and imported all the good songs off those babies, combined them with a few choice iTunes® downloads of things I didn’t yet own, and now a magically eclectic mix of my faves has become the new standard of listening pleasure. Trouble is, I can only enjoy the soundtrack of my life if I wedge a couple of earbuds in, and I prefer to leave that for the gym or a long flight.

This is probably the part where you’re thinking, “Just buy an iPod dock already, you moron.” And now it’s my turn to reply with 3 of the most stubbornly immature words on the planet: “No. Don’t wanna.” You see, I like my stereo. I don’t want to shell out to replace it with an accessory that can only be used with an iPod. One that may even run the risk of sounding tinny or otherwise too small. And so I’ve painted myself into that gym-and-airplane-only corner, just waiting for something better to come along.

Well, it appears that that something has just hit the scene, thanks to the people who understand at Cables to Go®. They’ve created an iPod-to-stereo RCA adapter cable that lets you hook up your favorite Apple companion not only to stereos, but to TVs and home theater receivers as well. iTunes on Surround Sound® – sweet! My favorite part is that the dock connector synchronizes the audio settings of your iPod and whatever other device it’s attached to, so you can raise and lower the music with the stereo or TV’s volume controls.

Sorry, this item has been discontinued.

Triplett GrabLite

May 10, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Tools and Cases 

GrabLite-flashlight_TT110It’s a classic device that’s been used in sitcoms and movies for decades: the main character accidentally drops something small yet very important, and then watches in helpless horror as it skitters away and then falls through a grate or goes down the drain. You’d think that writers would get tired of this little scenario, but it just keeps coming back. And do you know why? Empathy. They know that no matter how many times this plot twist pops up, we, the suckers in the audience, will always gasp and think “oh, noooooooooo!!!!” And that’s because we’ve all pulled the exact same ridiculous move before. Way more than once. We know how much it bites to have something happily in-hand one minute, and then be frantically trying to get it back the next.

Well, apparently the folks at Triplett have gotten good and fed up with this ongoing plight, and have decided to do something about it. While you can’t keep someone from being a butterfingers, you can give them tools to dig themselves out of predicaments, right? That’s the kind of thinking that inspired the GrabLite. Thanks to a little crafty engineering, Triplett’s newest hit not only lets you seen where your lost items are hiding, but also equips you with an extremely handy extension for retrieving them.

Here’s how it works: to the untrained eye, the GrabLite looks just like an LED flashlight, which it is. But here’s the catch: there’s a telescoping, magnetic retrieval arm hidden inside. Just pull on the small, round metal piece in the center of the light, and you end up with a slim and flexible third arm that can reach into tight spaces that you’d never be able to maneuver into on your own. And the fact that this extendable arm is tipped in an incredibly strong Rare Earth magnet just makes things better. With this baby, you’re not limited to picking up only the tiny, practically weightless things like screws and bolts. My coworker actually snagged a pretty substantial full-sized screwdriver, no problem at all.

Heads up, Hollywood: looks like you’re going to need a new comical plot device.

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Eagle Parking Stops and Speed Bumps

06-speed-bump_closeupIf you’ve ever wanted to build your very own parking lot, now’s your chance. I’ve never thought of speed bumps and parking blocks as something you can just go and order online, but we’ve just added them to the website, so I guess you can! Personally, I have no immediate use for parking lot fixtures, but I think it’s pretty cool that they’re easily available if the need ever arises.

While most of us are used to speed bumps and parking stops being molded out of concrete or asphalt, these Eagle products add a neat new twist to things because they’re made out of high-density polyurethane, and are both movable and reusable. This makes them perfect for temporary parking areas at schools, parks, and special events – you can custom-configure them to plot out traffic flow and parking, so everything is safer and a little more organized.

And here’s another thing I like about Eagle speed bumps that you won’t see with the run-of-the-mill asphalt kind: they also do double-duty as cable protectors! Each speed bump has 2 cable channels molded into its underside, so if you need to run power cords or other types of cables across a vehicle path, it’s no problem. Just cover the cables with the speed bumps, and they’ll be protected from crushing while you, at the same time, limit vehicles to a safe speed.

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Hug-a-Plug Outlet Adapter

hug-a-plugEver wonder why power outlets often seem to be located in areas that are natural spots for sofas, bookcases, and even beds? That drives me crazy, considering that you either have to rearrange your room plan so that outlets are accessible (no way), or put your furniture where you darn well want it and lose the use of several much-needed receptacles. It’s easy enough to say that you’ll just compromise by plugging into the outlets and then pushing your furniture in front of them, but in reality, that often isn’t a safe thing to do.

For instance, let’s take the old “sofa in front of the outlet” scenario. It’s not really a problem if you can place the couch 5 or 6 inches away from the wall and know that it will stay there, but let’s face it: that’s not likely to happen. I don’t know about your seating habits, but at my house, it’s pretty rare for anyone to gently lower themselves onto the cushions and remain daintily perched along the forward edge of the sofa. No, we’re more for the end-of-day flopdown to catch a nice, relaxing episode of The Barefoot Contessa. This generally entails a high-impact landing that results in said flopper coming squarely to rest against the sofa’s back cushions. A few of these maneuvers always result in the sofa, which was hereto prudently positioned away from the wall and electrical outlets, making full contact and potentially crushing the power cords and plugs that are unfortunate enough to be behind it.

I do enough research on electrical safety to have a healthy paranoia about shock and electrical fire, especially as they relate to damaged cords. Suffice it to say that a crushed cable can be a bad, bad thing. So I never feel good about plugging in behind furniture, and, to be honest, go to great lengths to avoid doing that. But I just found out a very cool (and cheap – yay!) product that will let you have your furniture and your electricity, too: the Hug-a-Plug adapter.

The Hug-a-Plug plugs into any standard household power outlet to give you 2 outlets that are set at 90-degree angles to the wall. That means that you can plug in behind furniture far more safely, because plugs and cables don’t come jutting straight out from the wall, but instead lay against it. Your furniture can now get cozy with your walls again.

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SideWinder Cable Protection System

sidewinderA decade in South Florida may not have gotten me a tan, but it did something even better: desensitized me to the presence of reptiles. A random gecko or two in the house? No problem. An iguana lumbering across my front walk? Bring it on. And a giant, bright-green anole in the backyard mango tree? Awesome!

I feel so liberated that I can now sleep at night, even knowing that there may be a lizard loose in the house (true, those geckos may be tiny, but still: progress is progress). There’s just one problem: even though I’m finally able to harmoniously coexist with lizards, I still have a major aversion to snakes. I’m not even talking about the various Asian and African pythons that are slowly strangling the life out of the Everglades. I’m taking about garter snakes. They’re generally puny and pathetic as far as slithering wildlife goes, but they keep trying to sneak into the house through my side door, and at that I take great offense.

Ever since I found that baby garter snake hanging out in the middle of my hallway late one Friday night, I’ve begun cringing involuntarily at the sight of anything that’s black and yellow striped and has a tendency to arrange itself in a wavy, s-like shape. I shiver to imagine such things. But I think I may have found something that will get me over that…

Strangely enough, it’s a cord cover, but one of a most peculiar sort. You know how garter snakes are slithery and striped with black and yellow in a bad way? Well, the SideWinder Cable Protection System is both of those things as well, but in a very, very good way.

Most cord protectors are rigid, and have the tendency to run only in straight lines unless you connect them with specially-manufactured angles and bends. Every twist and turn you make is extremely deliberate, and you have to plan ahead and purchase accordingly for them. But what if you could protect ground cables with something that was both incredibly tough and flexible, that you could just snake around obstructions as needed, without any special planning or parts. You can, with the SideWinder.

The SideWinder system is made up of a long line of articulating 1.5″ segments, which are hinged together to form a single, continuous cord protector. Need to round a corner or work around a column, platform, or other obstruction? No problem – just bend the SideWinder to follow any path, no matter how full of turns it may be. It can even be customized for length: just snap on or remove extra pieces, and you won’t be stuck with too much or too little coverage. Talk about great cable protection that won’t cramp your style…

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