October 29, 2009

The Value of Things

Like everyone else in this economy, I've been scaling back purchases and thinking more about what I'm buying. Taking extra time to buy something means you get to mull over all the different factors of the purchasing decision--it's enough to make someone neurotic. Besides monetary expenses, you need to consider the item's carbon footprint and its sustainability and its ability to be recycled or composted or digested in some way after you're done with it.

Maybe it's better to just have things that last so long, or give so much value, that you're never really done with it. The Atlantic deplored the disposable aesthetic of Ikea furniture this summer, noting that when it comes to Ikea furniture, "...when they break or malfunction, we tend not to fix them. Rather, we buy new ones."

In some regard the consumption of disposable fashion (to wit: H&M/Zara/Topshop/OldNavy in fashion, Ikea in home furnishings, Harbor Freight in tools) makes a lot of sense--why spend $5000 on something that will go out of style in 6 months when $5 (or 50) will do.

But I think the trade thought better of it this year with the "fashion investments" trend. If you can't make it through volume, make your margins on the higher end items.

I think it might be better on all fronts to just spend money wisely on things that will last. Tools and implements are easy--a lot of things never go out of style or cease to function well. Some ideas:

  • Swingaway can opener
  • Spyderco Delica knives
  • Simpson Speed Square

In the fashion world, I'm not so sure. Or maybe things come and go over time, but just take a decade or two to come back into fashion. Some examples:

  • Ray Ban aviator glasses and Wayfarers
  • Clarks Desert Boots
  • the whole skinny jeans thing

So you just need lots of closet space to store things for a decade or two until they come back into fashion. I can't wait until the while "Miami Vice" thing comes back. Finally--get to break out those turquoise tshirts and white suits!

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June 16, 2009

Casio GShock Cellphone

Just saw Casio's "G-Shock" cellphone, the G'zOne (how do you pronounce that--"gee zone" or "Guzz One"?). Totally badass.

The Amazon product description says it all:

If this isn't the phone Navy SEALs use, it should be. Not only is the G'zOne waterproof, it can remain underwater for a full-30 minutes, and still maintain all of its functionality. That means if you haven't drowned after 30 minutes underwater, you can use the phone's built-in GPS feature and flashlight to find out just how lost you really are.

Super rugged, super powerful. This phone is made for a rough and tumble life that's also fully connected. Ruggedized to military standards, this super-tough clamshell is not only waterproof, it's shock resistant, and dust resistant, too. Non-tough guy features include a 2-megapixel camera, EV-DO high-speed data capabilities, a QVGA display, a speakerphone, a built-in mobile Web 2.0 browser, and more.

In simpler times, these would've gotten some kind of tie-in branding with Hummer or Land Rover, but now that those gas-guzzling behemoths are out of fashion, Casio has wisely decided to not let them take them down with the land yacht ship.

What would really be cool is one in the old Sony Sports Walkman bright-yellow livery.

Photo of Sony Sports Walkman

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September 15, 2008

Best Groomsmen Gifts

A friend who's getting married soon asked for suggestions for groomsmen gifts. Having been a groomsman plenty of times so far, I had a few ideas.

I've been a groomsman about 10 times, so I've gotten a bunch of things. The classic gift is a money clip or business card case, but I'll admit I rarely use the ones I've received. Mostly because I don't use a money clip that often (um, not much money to put in it?), and I have an old Levenger leather business card holder from the early 90s that holds a lot more than the little metal ones.

But here are some nifty ideas:

I gave my groomsmen Spyderco knives, like the one I always carry but with their initials engraved in them (these were much cheaper back then).

The knives they have at places like Things Remembered and such are crap, so I splurged for the one I personally like. Figured if these guys were close enough to be in my wedding I should get them something I'd want myself. Funny thing is that when we all get together for poker or something we're all still carrying them.

Image of stainless liquor flask

One friend gave us all different things based on what we were into--he gave me a pocket knife, another guy (cyclist) a bike tool thing, another guy (hiker/backpacker) this compass gizmo, one guy a stainless liquor flask, etc. He knows all of us well.

Image of Leatherman Micra multitool

Another useful choice: cheap Leatherman tools like the Micra?

Image of Victorinox Signature II Lite knife

Or a Swiss Army Knife? Always handy. I carry the Victorinox Signature 2 Lite that has a ballpoint pen and a red LED.

Image of Buck Metro knife

Buck makes some good cheaper knives that are key-ring sized and have a small blade and a bottle opener--the two tools guys would use the most often--like the Buck Metro.

Image of Streamlight Stylus flashlight

Another nifty gadget idea is one of the new super-bright LED flashlights. The new redesigned Streamlight Stylus Pro is great and much cheaper than the SureFire.

Zippo lighters are classic and cool, even for non-smokers. Useful when camping, etc.

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August 15, 2008

FabMaps for Cartographical Fashion

The Rand McNally fabMap is a great idea--printing travel maps of popular destinations on microfiber polyester. Everyone can always use another scarf, bandanna, hankerchief, napkin, etc, and when you're traveling in these charge-ya-for-every-extra-kilo days, having gear that fulfills two purposes ("it's a dessert topping and an axle grease!") makes a lot of sense.

Image of fabMap

But like many Cool Things, it's not a new idea at all.

The British military used to print Escape and Evasion maps for pilots who might find themselves downed in unfamiliar locales--like Iraq:

Image of silk map from WWII

Made of silk, one of the original "miracle fibers", these maps could keep a flyboy warm in the cockpit and get him to safety after ditching in the desert.

Image of fabMap for Beverley Hills

Rand McNally sells fabMaps for San Francisco, Beverly Hills, Miami, and other US locations but I haven't seen any for truly fashionable locales like Milan or Paris. I could see a GQ type wearing one of these as a pocket square in his Lanvin suit jacket.

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July 11, 2007

Cool Tool Catalogs

I sent a good friend of mine, a fellow DIY weekend warrior, a list of my favorite catalogs to find rare tools. I think there's a zillion things in each one of these that I'd like to add to my tool collection.

Lee Valley (http://www.leevalley.com)
for woodworking, gardening, hardware

Garrett Wade (http://www.garrettwade.com)
like an upscale Lee Valley

McMaster (http://www.mcmaster.com)
has any hardware item you'll ever need

Gemplers (http://www.gemplers.com)
has lots of ag/farm stuff but you can find 'em cheaper elsewhere sometimes

Japan Woodworker (http://www.japanwoodworker.com)
is in Alameda--someday I'll check out their retail store

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April 09, 2007

Dandux Coal Bag

Sometimes you need to haul around a lot of heavy crap. For me it's usually books, either to/from the library/booksale/used bookstore. One of the best containers for hauling heavy stuff is the classic Dandux Coal Bag:

Photo of CR Daniels Dandux Coal Bag

The L. L. Bean Boat and Tote bags are equally as classic, and more widely available, but just aren't as tough as the Dandux ones. Try carrying around 95 pounds of rocks or machine parts or coal in those preppy L. L. Bean bags. Don't drop it on your topsiders! The Dandux bags are more for real work and real people, official preppy handbook notwithstanding.

The L. L. Bean version does have the redeeming feature of slightly-longer handles, which lets you carry the bag over your shoulder rather than just grasping with your hands.

For really grubby hauling tasks, try to find one of the "tanker" canvas bags that were available on the military surplus market for a while, at places like Cheaper than Dirt or Major Surplus. These were practically indestructible--you could haul around an outboard motor with the prop still on. And at a surplus price, you could just buy a few spares for the price of one fancy preppy bag.

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December 14, 2006

Cool Military Tools

I really dig Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools blog, mainly because it seems like a reincarnation of the Whole Earth Catalog, but in the new medium, the Web.

Well there's a Cool Tools clone that's just for military, hard-use gear: Kit Up.

Kit Up chronicles the gadgets, PX bargains, and everyday items (Silly String as an explosives detector? Whodathunkit?) essential to soldiering life.

Kit Up mimics Cool Tools in a lot of ways, including the sparse white-space intensive layout, the multiple authors, and truly great ideas.


Aussie Cred for Fred

photo of FRED eating tool

The FRED is a cousin of the P-38 Can opener. It utilizes the same basic design, but also adds a small spoon on one end and a bottle opener on the other. FRED is an official acronym - Food Ration Extraction Device - but is usually known by the more popular "Frigging Ridiculous Eating Device." For two small bits of stamped metal, it is astoundingly useful for boot scraping, cutting, wire stripping, prying things apart, and opening boxes. It can also be used as a screwdriver, an improvised tool for firearm maintenance or radio Repair, and even a small but effective weapon. Oh, yeah, and it opens cans.

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November 28, 2006

Gangsta Tank, 1940s Style

The cool Modern Mechanix blog shows off this chillin' old school gangsta tank ride:

1940s article on armor for everyday automobile

I think they were just way ahead of their time. Now how would this look with a gold grille and spinners?

Ford's Jose Paris might've had this in mind when he designed the SYNus:

Photo of Ford SYNus concept car.

Photo of Ford SYNus concept car.

Kind of reminiscent of the Mad Max trucks in Iraq, except with a bit more OEM style. Betcha it'll be just a few years until miniguns and ceramic armor show up at the SEMA show.

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August 17, 2006

Cool Stuff: Speed Square

This little indestructible piece of metal rides around in my toolpouch and is so natural to work with, so much the one thing I instantly grab to square up a cut or do a quick measurement, that it's almost built-in to my hand. [Now wouldn't this have made a better plug-in peripheral for Mr. Han, Bruce Lee's nemesis in Enter the Dragon?].

Swanson Speed Square

Photo of Swanson Speed Square and accompanying hint book

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May 17, 2006

Remodeling Demolition? Get FUBAR

Last year I ripped out ten walls' worth of drywall to replace the termite-ridden studs within, using a cheapo wrecking bar from the local Big Lots. But if I were to do some remodeling demo again (and I certainly will have to, if I tackle the hall bathroom), I'd want to get my hands on Stanley Tools' new FUBAR:

Buy the Stanley FatMax Xtreme Fubar Functional Utility Bar at Amazon.com

This incredibly-named (for a mainline company like Stanley Tools) tool combines the wood-wrangling aspects of a tweaker with a good old wrecking bar.

Before the FUBAR came along, you'd go buy a Mayhew Tweaker bar, like this one:

Buy the Mayhew Tweaker Bar at Amazon.com

I think Stanley caught on to all the buzz that Dead On Tools got with their bad-ass named product line. Like the Death Stick Exhumer cats paw:

Buy the Dead On Death Stick Exhumer at Amazon.com

Tool-wise, I think the FUBAR wins in both the naming category and functionality (And it looks better too, so it wins the swimsuit competition hands down). So what if it doesn't have a bottle opener like the Death Stick? With the quality of home center lumber these days, having a tweaker on hand is a great idea.

Obligatory martial arts angle: And yes, I'm sure all of these could be instant escrima weapons if need be. But think twice before doing that abaniko with the "Death Stick"--they'll really ream you (ahem) for that in court.

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March 23, 2006

DIY Cardboard Activity House

A while back I posted about DWRjax's Cardboard Activity House, a plain (er, "minimalist") cardboard box (er, "house") available from the modern furnishings retailer for the skimpy sum of $110.

Now there's Mr McGroovy, who will sell you cool nylon pop-rivets so you can build your own cardboard structures:

Mr. McGroovy's Cardboard Project Rivets

Plans for making a play castle from cardboard boxes

Like they always say, a man's box is his castle.

I gotta get some of these babies. If you used that corrugated plastic stuff like the US Post Office tubs are made of, you could make something that would last quite a long time.

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November 16, 2005

Get Ready for Atlatl Hunting Season

Duck season, rabbit season, atlatl season.

When I first saw this, I thought, "why would anyone want to hunt those cute Mexican salamanders? I mean I support hunting and all that, and even prairie dog shooting doesn't bother me, but man, those little axolotl's will be dead meat."

photo of axolotl in aquarium

But no, this refers to the use of the good old throwing stick (and really old, like Cro Magnon shit and stuff).

photo of atlatl chambered prior to throwing

The great state of Pennsylvania is about to set standards for hunting game with an atlatl. They liken it to hunting boars with spears, or good ol' bowhunting (Bo and Luke Duke, anybody?).

I think this is great. Preserving ancient technologies and history in this modern age is really important--kids these days might know the best spin strafe move in a first-person shooter video game, but won't know, perhaps even conceptually, how to start a fire without matches ("uh, like, do you use a lighter, man? My dad's got a Zippo").

Even better if people learn to make their own atlatls. Although I see from the press that the commercial atlatl armorers are already ramping up production. Can't wait until the carbon fiber models are available. Oh, I mean the "tactical" atlatls. And if they can make them digital too, well heck, sign me up!

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October 28, 2005

Best Marketing Since the Pet Rock

Design Within Reach's new kids store, DWRjax, sells this nifty Cardboard Activity House. For $110 + FedEx Ground.

Photo of DWRjax Cardboard House

Now, I know big cardboard boxes can, with the right dose of Imagination, be transformed into forts, castles, hideouts, or even a machine that spans the space-time continuum:

Classic C&H

But $110?

This just might be a sly commentary on the overpriced housing market in DWR's hometown, San Francisco--when you think about it, that actually is the going rate for a cardboard house in the City By the Bay.

But not in one of the best neighborhoods, mind you. You'd have to pay a lot more for one of those Pacific Heights cardboard houses.

But seriously, I think it's the best marketing genius since the Pet Rock. Someone at DWR said, "you know, my kid just loved playing with the packaging for our new SubZero fridge/Viking range/other overpriced yuppie appliance. What if we made a designer cardboard box?"

What worries me is the likelihood that your kid will enjoy playing with the box this thing comes shipped in, rather than the overpriced toy inside.

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September 07, 2005

2006 Honda Civic

Just got the promo email for the new '06 Civic. The SI version has a motor that puts out 196 hp stock, even before the Fast and Furious crowd tacks on all that SEMA aftermarket stuff.

I think my stock Chevelle SS350 put out 245 hp from its honkin' huge V8. 1 hp per cu. in. was considered a pretty good benchmark those days, and Honda cranks out much more than that from the new Civic's 110 cu. in.

Pretty cool...

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May 25, 2005

The $100 Laptop

Just read about Nicholas "Being Digital" Negroponte's project to put a $100 Linux laptop into every third-world child's grubby hands:


There's some incredible insights into the economics involved:

About half the price of a current laptop computer is accounted for by marketing, sales, distribution channels, and profit, so removing those aspects will provide big cost savings, Negroponte says.


"The rest of the cost is there to support an absolutely obese, overweight, and unreliable operating system. If you get rid of that and start with a thin, tiny operating system you can do an awful lot," Negroponte says.

He ain't referring to Tiger, is he?

This is a fantastic example of the "Base of the Pyramid" concept--that by enriching the lives of people who live on the low end of the economic scale, like people living in shanty towns (or inner-city ghettos?) you create the ability for those folks to purchase upmarket goods, which for them would be the cheap crap at the dollar store or WalMart. I'm sure some MBA in Bentonville is salivating over the thought of getting a few more billion people into every SuperStore.

Still though, even the project's home page doesn't cover one big drawback: People who live in slums don't always value education over other things. What's to stop someone (like the kid's parents) from selling the Ministry of Education-provided laptop for food--or drugs? (And in the shantytowns, "drugs" could more likely be meds to keep someone from dying of disease rather than stuff to get high).

A lot of kids I knew growing up didn't think of education as their ticket out of the 'hood. It sucked--there were lots of kids who were really smart and could've been "contributors to society" if they focused on getting up and out instead of better ways to rip people off or sell drugs.

And $100 is a lot of money at the base of the pyramid. If it's equivalent to a couple months' wages, it might be pretty tempting for someone to sell Junior's laptop. But maybe if they get wired up, they can sell it on eBay...

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April 10, 2005

316 Wallet Essentials

Just came across the line of stainless steel card accessories sold at TouchofGinger.com. They tout these as "316 Wallet Essentials". I was a bit disappointed to see only 17 on the catalog page. Where are the other 299?

Photo of credit card wrenchPhoto of folding pocket dice
Photo of ball markers with biohazard symbolsPhoto of wallet comb

Too bad DeLorean's car didn't catch on back in the 80s--he jumped on the stainless steel craze (check out all those refrigerators!!!) way too early.

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February 09, 2005

My new PDA...if I ever win the Lotto

At $1999 a pop, the OQO pocket WinXP computer is a bit more than a refurb Palm Pilot. But this thing sure is cool.

Image of OQO pocket XP computer

Looks like a cross between a 1980's Sony Walkman and a TiBook.

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May 11, 2004

Cool stuff: SAK with USB Memory

Image of Victorinox Swiss Army Knife with USB memory

Victorinox's new SAK with its built-in USB memory is going to be the geek keyring accessory of choice here in the Valley.

Most of us aren't taking the nerd birds to Seattle or Austin every week anymore, so we won't have to worry about giving up our knives at the security checkpoints. (Ok, maybe we're flying to Bangalore these days, but not every week like during the Boom).

I like the quote from Victorinox marketing director Urs Wyss:

We have about 35 mechanical tools on our different knives and it is becoming increasingly difficult to come up with new ones, he told swissinfo.

New electronic technology gives us more possibilities to develop our product line further.

What's next, Tasers? Boy, when teledildonics start getting better, watch out...

The Victorinox Web site has a great page on this new product, but uses an annoying keep-on-top JS function. I never knew the Swiss were so insistent that people conform to doing things their way. Click at your own risk: Victorinox press release.

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April 16, 2004

Cool Stuff: Docupen

Image of Docupen
This Docupen thing takes the C-Pen idea a bit further--just run it down the page like James Bond and scan the whole thing. When will they just implant this stuff into our eyeglasses or optic nerves?

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