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Archive for the ‘Free advice’ Category

Must-Have: Industrial Sharpies and Metallic Sharpies

11 Mar

Sharpie selectionI have a long-held faith in the classic, black-capped Sharpie permanent marker. When I was a child, they were the darkest, heaviest, and more reliable pens in the house and were therefore much coveted for labeling toys and clothes as well as making semi-permanent tattoos when you’re bored. Sharpie has become synonymous with “”permanent marker” in my mind, making it a name brand I actually believe in for once. I make many compromises and buy many generic brands in pursuit of thriftiness, but I do not skimp on my Sharpies. Accept no substitute.

In my pursuit of Sharpie perfection, I have found two specialty Sharpies that are extremely worthwhile. Between these two markers, you can write on almost any object of any color and leave an unmistakable impression. These are unusual enough that you won’t always find them at all-purpose retailers like Target, but you can find them at Staples or any other major office supply store.

Sharpie comparison on white paper♦ Industrial Sharpies: Easily spotted by the beefy red letters on the barrel, the Industrial Sharpie boasts “super permanent ink” and the ability to withstand steam and chemical exposure. I don’t get to test all of those properties very often, but I will say that it is the blackest marker I have ever used. Compare the blackness and consistency of the lines from the Industrial Sharpie to those made by the standard model. Industrial Sharpie ink also remains darker for a longer period than normal Sharpie ink, which slowly bleaches to a a dark gray.

Sharpie comparison on navy blue paperMetallic Sharpies: In an off-putting start, the Metallic Sharpie includes the warning to “Store Tip Down” (presumably the lack of a clip on the cap is meant to remind us of this requirement). That makes it hard to find the marker if you store it in a mug or pencil cup. Regardless, this marker shows up bright and clear on all colors, making it invaluable for labeling dark or transparent surfaces like glass or the black plastic found on so many consumer electronic devices. The shiny silver ink is highly reflective, making it easy to locate with a flashlight or lamp. The ability to write over any color lets you turn any piece of scrap paper into an extremely visible note.

 

Classic paper airplane does loops, circles, and tricks

28 Feb

This design dates back to my elementary-school days. The plane is meant for goofy stunts, not distance, and it delivers. Any fool can fold it, and there are a wide range of possible variations by tweaking its wings and fins. A plane that does tricks is great for breaking lamps, scaring sisters, and pissing off the cat. Of course, if you want fast or long-range planes, you should check out my dart and glider designs. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Use name tags to label just about anything

22 Feb

Name tag labelsLong ago, I bought some name tags for a Halloween costume. Of course, I only needed one, so I had dozens of them lying around, begging for a new use. Since then, I have used name tags to label everything imaginable around the house. When I ran out, I actually bought more name tags rather than some other kind of label because I liked them so much. You might have already noticed them on the bottles of vanilla extract I made for the holidays.

Labels make any long-term storage project more effective. My brewing equipment lives in specific boxes, and I store the ingredients inside in airtight containers. Without labels, I would have a lot more trouble taking inventory and selecting ingredients.

The more you use them, the more they help you, too. Using a standard style of label such as a name tag makes it easy for the eye to identify the labels. Using labels consistently means no more forgotten, anonymous leftovers in the fridge or freezer.

To state the obvious: you don’t have to use name tags. Any adhesive label will do, making folders, bins, boxes, and other storage compartments easier to find when you need them. However, name tags can be preferable to blank labels because they add a bit of personality to a practical function. They also have some specific side benefits:

  • Canister with two labelsRemovable, most of the time.
  • Easy to see, easy to read
  • At only two per sheet, these printable labels give you sharp-looking results without making additional wasted labels
  • Same size as Altoids tins (great for storing nails, screws, washers, and other miscellaneous hardware)
  • Absurd humor from personifying everything (“Hello, my name is Vanilla Extract” usually gets a chuckle)
 

Add removable shelving to your freezer

08 Feb

Crate with stackingEvery apartment I’ve rented has had a refrigerator with a freezer on top. Not one of those freezers has had enough shelves; often, they have no shelves at all. Shelves would have been incredibly helpful, but why should a landlord care about that?

If you’ve ever tried to stack meat in the freezer, you already know that frozen food is slippery and frustrating to organize. Even if you build a careful stack and can close your freezer door without knocking down your frigid Tower of Babel, you’re guaranteed to need the item on the bottom of the stack far too soon.

My solution? Find a plastic crate and add your own shelves to the freezer. Milk crates, file crates, or any kind of rigid plastic box can be used to make your freezer a bit more manageable.

My original plan was to saw the crate in half and stack the resulting trays to make multiple levels of shelving (see diagram). Instead, I have kept my crate intact and found that it’s plenty useful in its existing form. My ice-cube trays are up high, out of the way, and the sides of the crate help keep stacked food stable.

Empty crateFreezer shelves

Now, I’m not blind to the fact that this is just a plastic crate stuck sideways into the freezer. It isn’t a glamorous or particularly complicated idea. Still, it solves a real household problem neatly, and you can’t beat the price or the ease of installation. Like the magnetic towel bar, this is a solution that makes no permanent changes and does no damage (a bonus for apartment dwellers or anyone who rents). It’s utilitarian to look at, but it’s no uglier than the inside of the freezer to begin with.

 

Better living through vinegar

13 Jan

Fluffy towelsThree ways to improve your morning routine for under $1

I think modern America is entirely too clean. Perhaps we should blame a lifetime of television advertisements for BRAND-NEW, LIFE-SAVING, home cleaning products that only a neglectful monster would try to survive without. I’m all for labor-saving bathroom cleaners and so forth, but please remember that using antibacterial treatments on our hands and countertops as though preparing for surgery does nothing but breed resistant bacteria and line the pockets of cleaning-product vendors. Moreover, there are often simpler, less-expensive alternatives to the myriad brightly-colored bottles found in the cleaning aisle.

Vinegar is one such miracle product — a cheap, effective, non-toxic cleaning agent with has no lingering effects (true, it has a distinctive smell, but that disappears quickly once the vinegar is wiped up or allowed to evaporate). I’ll skip the hippie justification for the moment and put it simply: You can take better showers, use softer towels, and drink tastier coffee by tomorrow with under a dollar’s worth of vinegar. Find me another cleaning product that can improve your entire morning routine so cheaply! If that isn’t enticing, you must live in a different world than I do or never have to get up and get ready for work. You are free to stop reading, and I am jealous of your life. Read the rest of this entry »

 

An all-purpose glider-style paper airplane

26 Oct

Unlike the needle-nosed dart model we’ve seen before, this airplane is designed for gentle gliding. It’ll go quite a distance if you throw it hard, but it will also float smoothly for ages with light toss. I’m not encouraging littering, but these are great for throwing out your window. Overall, it’s easy to make and remarkably sturdy. All you need is an 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper and a minute to fold it. Read the rest of this entry »

 

The best dart-style paper airplane you’ve ever met

19 Sep

Some paper airplanes do loops and tricks. Some glide lazily along from the weakest toss. This one? It’s a hot rod, a competition-winner streamlined for speed and distance. It’s a simple design perfected over many bored geography classes in my middle-school years. It has narrow wings, so it cuts through the air rather than gliding atop it. Grab yourself a standard piece of letter-sized paper (8.5″ x 11″) and follow along to make your own. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Eat Poo, You Cat – A party game that people actually like

23 Aug

Party games have upsides and downsides. On the upside, they add structure to a party, helping break the ice and turning strangers into new friends. On the downside, most people HATE party games (or at least think they do). That’s because they haven’t played the goofy game I like to call “Eat Poo, You Cat.”

This little drawing game is equal parts Pictionary and Telephone and will keep any group of five or more entertained for at least half an hour. It’s great for parties of all kinds because it is easy to learn, fun to play, and non-competitive; the game is all about the experience and reviewing the oft-ridiculous results. I learned this game from a newspaper column by Orson Scott Card (a great author of speculative fiction); as he puts it, the ridiculous name is taken from a “particularly hilarious final caption” from a game session long ago. You’ll understand once you play it. Read the rest of this entry »

 
 

Convincing your parents to get a TiVo Premiere and explaining how to set it up

06 Jun

TiVo logoIf your friends or relatives ask for your advice on their new HDTV, you can just send them here. I already wrote out the directions, so you might as well use them.

Friends don’t let friends watch nothing but standard-definition on an HDTV. I owed my parents no less, I thought. Forget that they have always resisted my campaigns to have them buy new gadgets that I thought they would enjoy. As always, this was for their own good.

They took to the DVR revolution rather well. It didn’t take them long to fall in love with their original TiVo (Series 2) and fill it with episodes of NCIS and WWII specials. Getting them to transition to a larger TV took longer, but now they’re equally thrilled with that, too.

It follows that I, never content to let them remain happy with what they have, pointed out that they still needed a new cable box or TiVo to actually watch anything in HD. I saw no point suggesting a Blu-ray player (DVDs are plenty) or a mere antenna (no going back once you’ve had a DVR). I figured their brand loyalty would make TiVo the best option, since cable-company DVRs never work as smoothly. I left out BluRay, media computers, and the old-fashioned antenna actual insisted that they needed an HD TiVo. Read the rest of this entry »