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October 22, 2006

My Hardware Toolkit

I'm not a construction professional, handyman, or even much of a do-it-yourself enthusiast. I am a homeowner, though, and from time to time I have to do stuff that requires tools. Having the appropriate, good quality tools makes doing any job a lot easier (and often safer), and frankly, makes me a lot more likely to want to do it!

I've already written about My Digital Toolkit, and as I've been building up my set of hardware tools, it occured to me that it might be useful for others if I share the list of what's in my physical toolkit and why. I'm not going to list every tool, just the ones I think are especially cool or useful. Rather than duplicate what the vendor lists as the benefits of each, I'll try to focus on talking about why I like each tool.


They're not listed in any particular order, though I've loosely grouped them by powered/not powered and put them into two major categories. I've also purposely linked to the manufacturers' websites, rather than to any particular vendor, since part of the reason for putting this list together is to show my appreciation for the tools and the manufacturers that created them, not the resellers.

A List of My Cool Hardware Tools

Hand Tools

Outdoor/Garden/Other Tools

Hand Tools


Husky Pro Tool Bag (Model: 45121) - Jan 2007

Husky Pro Tool Bag

Since we own a home that's not new and tend to do a lot of projects/updates/etc., we found ourselves keeping more and more tools inside, as opposed to in the garage. I had a toolbox, but I quickly learned why it cost only $5 — it was small, and actually unpleasant to use. It was just too much work; I had to open it, remove the top shelf, get a tool, put the shelf back, close it if I wanted to carry it somewhere, etc.

So, we started just keeping a few frequently-used tools in a Sterilite storage box. That worked okay, but wasn't ideal — it provided good visibility, but required two hands to carry, didn't allow organization, and wasn't very safe, given that many tools have sharp edges, which are less visible as their numbers increase in a disorganized box.

I'd been casually on the lookout for a better solution, when my parents recently gave me The Husky Pro Tool Bag, which solved all those problems. It's a large, rigid, open container, with a metal handlebar that allows one-handed carrying (it even comes with a shoulder strap!) and provides plenty of clearance. It has:

  • 19 storage pockets on the inside and outside of the main storage bin
  • A sheath for a handsaw, with a strap to secure it in place
  • All kinds of straps & hooks, even a carabiner

I don't know that I could have imagined a better toolbox; thanks, Mom & Dad!

Pry Bar

Stanley FatMax® Xtreme™ Fubar™ Utility Bar (Model: 55-099) - Oct 2006

Stanley FatMax Xtreme FuBar

I've been wanting this since I first saw it, just because it's so badass! I don't even have plans for any demolition projects, but the moment I need to destroy or break something, this is the tool I'm reaching for. In fact, I couldn't really even justify gettng this, but if you get a chance to check out one of these in real life, you'll see why it's irresistible for any tool junkie. Fortunately, my wife understands (and agrees!) ;)

  • Super-strong, one-piece forged steel.
  • Heavyweight hammer.
  • Pry bar.
  • Nail puller.
  • Board bender/breaker.
  • Comfortable, slip-resistant, rubberized grip.

If any tool can justify being called "Xtreme", this is it; the Fubar ("Functional Utility Bar") is an all-around super destruction tool!


Stanley 20 oz. Rip Claw Jacketed Graphite Hammer (Model: 51-508) - 2005

Stanley 20 oz. Rip Claw Jacketed Graphite Hammer

A full-sized hammer is a staple (no pun intended!) of any toolkit. This one's fairly basic, but feels good in my hand, and I don't think I'll ever have to replace it; it's got a graphite core, so it's not likely to break -- something I don't think one should have to stress about when hammering!

  • Strong, graphite core.
  • Well-balanced.
  • Comfortable, slip-resistant, rubberized grip with flared end.

Retractable Utility Knife

Stanley 6-1/2" InstantChange™ Retractable Knife (Model: 10-788) - 2005

Stanley Retractable Utility Knife

A retractable utility knife comes in handy so often, I think it's reasonable to have more than one. Sometimes, you need to be able to cut something without worrying about damaging or dulling a nice knife blade. Being able to retract the blade does a lot to increase safety. Our standard is to always retract it before putting it down, even if it's "just for a second". That's easy to do since it's got a mechanism that locks the blade into three positions, and has a positive feel even when wearing gloves.

  • Rubberized upper grip and thumb rest reduce the chance of slipping.
  • Blades stored in the handle.
  • No tools required to change blade.
  • Integrated string cutter.

Staple Gun

PowerShot® Heavy Duty Forward Action® Staple & Nail Gun (Model: PowerShot) - 2004

PowerShot Stapler

A staple gun is generally useful to have if you own a home, but also good for projects and repair jobs. This one is designed really well; if you've used a "normal" staple gun and try this, you'll see why the PowerShot makes sense.

Pliers: Tongue and Groove

Channel Lock 10" Tongue and Groove Plier (Model: 430) - 2004

Channel Lock 10 inch Tongue and Groove Plier

When we bought our first house, a friend who knows his tools told me to "just get a pair" of these because I'd need them, and he was right! They seem to be able to do almost anything, and really came in handy when changing a rusted toilet handle.

  • Wide, adjustable jaw.
  • Enable you to exert a lot of force.

Flashlight/Utility Light

Stanley MaxLife™ 369™ Tripod Flashlight (Model: 95-112) - Oct 2006

Stanley MaxLife Tripod Flashlight

I've loved flashlights since I was a kid, and have been eyeing this one for several months; after all, it doubles as a work-utility light! It was actually my wife that prompted this purchase though; I didn't know it, but she'd been coveting it too! It has some really good features, and a very high cool factor. Check out the TV commercial!

  • Tripod and movable head provide hands-free light right where you need it.
  • Can run on 3, 6, or 9 batteries, which are housed inside the tripod legs. Provides the same illumination/brightness regardless of how many batteries, but the more you add, the longer it lasts (200+ hours on 9 batteries).
  • Three levels of brightness.
  • Low-battery indicator - Lets you know batteries are low before you pack it for a trip!

Voltage Tester

Greenlee Non-Contact Voltage Tester (Model: GT-11) - Sep 2006

Greenlee GT-11 Non-Contact Voltage Tester

We had one of those cheap, combination screwdriver/voltage testers, and if you have one, I recommend you throw it away now and go get one of these non-contact ones that has no exposed metal. This tester isn't cheap (nor is it expensive), but this is one case in which you really get what you pay for, and when you're dealing with electricity, safety is especially important.

I went to go buy the Fluke VoltAlert that was recommended on Cool Tools, but the salesman practically laughed me out of the store. They didn't carry the Fluke, but even if they did, I don't think he would have let me buy it; I was half expecting him to accompany me to the register to make sure I got this one! He said it's much higher quality and more durable. I'm not an electrician, and he claimed to work as one, so I figured with such a strong opinion, I'd take his word for it. After all, how many people are emphatic about voltage testers?

  • All plastic; no exposed metal.
  • No contact required for detection.
  • Bright red, visible and audible alert when voltage is detected; no wondering if you saw the dim light on the cheap models.
  • On/off switch to preserve battery.
  • Batteries are included!

Stud Sensor

Zircon StudSensor Pro SL (Model: Pro SL) - 2003

Zircon StudSensor Pro SL Zircon StudSensor Scan and Mark Procedure

A must for hanging pictures (or anything else) on the wall, mounting towel racks, etc.

  • Detects wood or metal studs.
    • Normal mode: scans 3/4 inches deep with 1/8 inch accuracy.
    • Deep Scan mode: scans 1-1/2 inches deep with 3/16 inch accuracy using the dual scan and mark procedure.
  • Visual and audible alert.
  • Projects a beam of light on the surface when it detects a stud.
  • Incremental detection, so you know when you're close.
  • Belt/pocket clip; easy to put aside while marking wall or using other tools.

Rotary Tool

Dremel 10.8V Lithium-ion Cordless Rotary Tool Kit (Model: 8000-01) - Dec 2005

Dremel 10.8V Lithium-ion Cordless Rotary Tool Kit Dremel 10.8V Lithium-ion Cordless Rotary Tool

You can buy the 10.8V Cordless Dremel separately, but the kit comes with a lot of accessories you'll need, and a nice hard plastic storage case.

I've wanted a Dremel for years, but waited until I had a good excuse before I got one: I had to expand the size of the wooden frame of our HVAC air return to accomodate a custom filter that was a tiny bit too large; the Dremel worked great! It's really come in handy since we got it, and I expect it will do so many times in the future.

It's got a very high-speed motor -- up to 35,000 rpm, which is impressive when you're holding it -- because it's effectiveness isn't about applying force; in most cases, you don't have to exert much at all, you just let the speed do the work.

  • Grinds, sands, cuts almost anything.
  • Cordless, which removes what often becomes an impediment to using a tool; dealing with the cord! Also, I reasoned that I might need to use it where stringing a cord would be difficult.
  • Battery level indicator.

Cordless Screwdriver

Black & Decker 3.6V Rechargeable 3- Position Screwdriver (Model: 9078) - 2003

Black & Decker 3.6V Rechargeable 3- Position Screwdriver

Another basic must-have tool, a cordless screwdriver takes the tedium out of most routine household tasks. There's still definitely room for a standard non-powered screwdriver, but this is usually the one I reach for first, and this Black & Decker does its job well and retains its charge a remarkably long time.

  • Handle can be adjusted from straight to pistol grip; useful for smaller spaces and applying force.
  • Adjustable torque, with decent maximum.
  • Forward/reverse switch is well-positioned and easy to operate.
  • Really good battery life and exceptional charge retention!

Outdoor/Garden/Other Tools


Werner Multi-Master 16-Foot Articulated Ladder++ (Model: M1-8-16) - 2004

Werner Multi-Master Articulated Ladder

As a homeowner, I've come to understand that it's conceivable to actually need more than one ladder. This one is configurable, so it can serve many purposes, and we've used it in several of it's 18 possible configurations. If you're going to get a ladder, this is a great one to start with; you may not need another. It even worked great while painting on our curved staircase!

  • Configurable to 18 positions, including step, stand-off, straight, and scaffold.
  • Lightweight aluminum.
  • 16 feet tall, but foldable and fits in a car trunk!
  • Includes a bolt-on stability-enhancing base.


Fiskars 21-1/2" PowerGear® Bypass Lopper (Model: 9127-6935) - Dec 2005

Fiskars 21-1/2 inch PowerGear Bypass Lopper

If you have a yard, chances are, you're going to need a lopper to do minor pruning of trees and bushes. This one has an ingenious gear that doubles your cutting power. We have yet to find a branch that can challenge this lopper; it slices through most with minimal effort, even when we ask it to bite off a bit more than it can chew.

  • Force amplifying gear.
  • Super strong handles - I hate worrying about breaking tools, so I really appreciate when they're built to take a lot of force.
  • Replacable blade - I wish more tools were built with this kind of thinking!

Saw: Branch Cutting

Corona 13" Curved Razor Tooth Saw (Model: RS 7120) - Dec 2005

Corona 13 inch Curved Razor Tooth Saw

It's clear that as homeowners, we're going to need more than one saw, but this was our first, and it's impressive! A branch fell off a tree in the backyard, and it took no time to cut it up using this saw. It's long, curved blade and 3-sided teeth (which facilitate cutting in both directions) make this a very efficient cutting tool.

  • Long, very sharp, curved blade makes it easy to cut effectively when pulling as well as pushing.
  • Very comfortable, secure, pistol grip, and good overall ergonomic design.
  • Replaceable the blade, handle, and connecting nuts & bolts.
  • Did I mention that it's extremely sharp?

Cordless Hedge Trimmer

Black & Decker Hedgehog 18-Volt 22" Cordless Hedge Trimmer (Model: NHT518) - Sep 2005

Black & Decker Hedgehog 18-Volt 22 inch Cordless Hedge Trimmer

I do have one of those orange, heavy-duty extension cords, and I almost never use it. When I was younger & doing yardwork with my dad, I always dreaded getting it out, unrolling it, managing it during use, and rolling it back up. All I have to do to use this trimmer is pick it up. It's got decent power, good reach, and a comfortable holding position.

  • Cordless; no extra effort required before (or after) use.
  • Secure, two-handed grip with hand guard.
  • 50 minute run time.
  • Interchangeable battery, so you can swap in a fresh one.

October 20, 2006

Windows Tip: Put Task Manager in widget mode


Microsoft Windows logo

Collapse Windows Task Manager into a desktop widget that's between full size and the minimized system tray icon.

In two clicks, you can put Task Manager in "widget mode" and see useful information at-a-glance, without taking up a lot of room.


Widget mode is much smaller than normal, but still large enough to display different kinds of useful information.

Windows Task Manager is a great way to see what your computer is doing, but sometimes it takes up too much space. Minimizing it to the system tray moves it nicely out of the way, but it

  • displays only the current processor load,
  • doesn't show processor load history, and
  • doesn't display any other information.


Double-click on the inner border of any Task Manager tab to put it in "widget mode". Double-click again to restore Task Manager to its normal state.

SCREENSHOT: Windows task manager collapse to widget

Tips & Tricks

  • Click and hold on the border to drag the widget around your desktop.
  • This works for any tab in Task Manager, so you can use it to keep an eye on all kinds of information, like network utilization, your process list (to see what's hogging all the memory or processor), etc.
  • Find a creative way to use Task Manager in widget mode; look in the View menu in each tab to choose optional information to display. Some things (e.g. I/O reads & writes, network throughput, etc.) might be really useful to see at-a-glance, depending on what you're doing.

Disclaimer: I stumbled on this by accident. In fact, I'll come clean and admit that I did this months ago on one of my computers, and figured there was just something wrong with Task Manager. :) It wasn't until I accidentally did it again today and started to experiment with resizing it that I realized it might be a display mode!

Update: I didn't think by any means that I was the first to "discover" this; I mainly wrote it up because I'd been too lazy to look into the "problem" before, and thought I'd share it with others who may have done the same. My wife encouraged me to search for more information; it turns out this is called Tiny Footprint mode. (I think "widget mode" is cooler!)

October 04, 2006

Put Google gadgets on your Windows desktop


Google logo

Put individual, "standalone" Google gadgets directly on your Windows desktop using built-in Active Desktop. No web server required.

Google just opened up their inventory of gadgets that were previously available only on your Google Personalized Homepage. Now you can put Google gadgets on any web page, which makes it possible to use them in a wider variety of places and ways than before. One example is to put Google gadgets right on your Windows desktop. This is easy to do using Windows' built-in Active Desktop feature.

SCREENSHOT: Google gadget on Windows desktop

Google said they made the gadgets available for "webpage owners everywhere to browse and select gadgets for their own pages". That's great, but in fact, you don't have to be a webpage owner; you can use gadgets on your Windows desktop without a web server.


This is an easy way to use gadgets in "standalone" mode, without hosting them on a web server, browsing to a web page, or installing additional software.

The concept of gadgets/widgets on the desktop isn't new, but this variation allows you to:

  • Use gadgets without a web server. You can store the code for a gadget right on your computer.
  • Use gadgets without manually opening a browser and visiting a web page. Technically, you are using a web browser -- Internet Explorer -- when you use Active Desktop, but it's embedded in the desktop, and always visible.
  • Have a consistent set of gadgets. Now you can use the same gadgets on your desktop as you use on your Google homepage. (NOTE: Not all gadgets available for Google Homepage are available for webpage use.)
  • Use gadgets without installing any additional software. Other widget/gadget frameworks that use an installed "engine" -- such as Yahoo Widgets/Konfabulator -- might provide richer functionality and look & feel in some cases, but there's a certain appeal to avoiding yet another piece of software to install and update.


Add Google gadgets to your Windows Active Desktop just like any other webpage.

  1. Find a gadget in the directory of Google gadgets for your webpage and click the "Add to your webpage" button to configure it.
  2. Click the "Get the Code" button, and copy the HTML.
  3. Create a new HTML document (e.g. "gadget-name.html") on your computer or web server, paste in the code for the gadget, and save it.
  4. Right-click on your Windows desktop and select Properties.
  5. Click on the Desktop tab, and the Customize Desktop button.
  6. Click on the Web tab, and the New button.
  7. Click the Browse button, and find & select the HTML document you created to hold your gadget code. If you saved it on a web server, enter its URL in the Location field.
  8. Click OK 3 times, and you should see the gadget on your Desktop!

Tips & Tricks

  • Repeat the steps above to add more gadgets to your desktop.
  • Finishing touch: By default, there's a white background surrounding the gadget (even larger than in the screenshot above). You can add
    <body bgcolor="your_desktop_background_color">
    above your gadget code to make it blend seamlessly with your desktop background color.

Beyond Windows?

Does this work on other platforms? If so, blog it, and link to this article!

I haven't looked at Linux or MacOS in a long time, so I'm not sure if either (or any other platform) has an equivalent to Windows' Active Desktop. If you get this to work on something other than Windows, please blog about it and link to this article. I've disabled comments due to spam, but one of the search engines will pick up the link, and I'll see it & link back.