Author Archives: Jim Nash

Feng Shui for the Home with Your iPhone

Feng Shui DIY

Feng Shui DIY (Home)

Someone once asked me to describe feng shui. I said it was like believing your meal tasted bad, because the food was placed in the wrong positions on your plate.

That kind of environmental sensitivity can only lead to heartache in a chaotic universe such as ours. But people can believe what they like, including that the direction their front door faces and the placement of their furnishings can bring good or bad luck.

For these timorous souls, I point to Feng Shui DIY (Home), a free iPhone app. It’s a pretty limited affair, but the $10 full version promises much more guidance.

The free version introduces you to the concept of feng shui, which involves a deeper set of beliefs than many people realize. This app is based on Eight Mansion Feng Shui.

As with all varieties of feng shui, this one contends that you need to maximize the “qi”, or life energy, of a room or building. The more productive the energy the better your health, and the more success and harmony you will experience.

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All-Weather Scribbling: Rite in the Rain

Rite in the Rain All-Weather Notebooks

Rite in the Rain All-Weather Notebooks

Tech is great, but a lot of times tech can’t cut it, especially mobile technology. Thus, a fool and his smartphone are soon parted on anything but a calm, dry summer day.

In foul weather, go back to basics. Rite in Rain all-weather writing paper and pens, by J.L. Darling Corp, won’t enable you to place phone calls. But the goods work exactly as described—in the rain and the shower, even in the tub. If I can get The New York Times crossword puzzle printed on Darling paper, I might not leave the bathroom for a very long time!

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RoboReel: Next Generation Cord Winder

RoboReel Great Stuff

RoboReel Power Cord System by Great Stuff

Coming from a Navy family as I do, I take pride in my ability to neatly loop and stow anything rope-like, including extension cords.

Yet there are days when I just don’t want to do it—especially windy, frigid days that turn cords into stiff and rebellious monsters. I’m familiar with manual and spring-operated cord winders, but I’ve never been moved to buy one. Call me a masochist.

I’m moved now, though. A company named Great Stuff has created RoboReel Power, a traffic-cone orange, basketball-sized (and -shaped) cord winder powered by electricity.

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UV Filtration Water Bottle from Camelbak

Camelbak UV Filtration Water Bottle

Photo: Camelbak

There are many reasons you might be working on a project house without running water, but there are fewer reasons to go thirsty, even if the only water available is unfiltered.

Camelbak makes the All Clear, a personal ultraviolet (UV) water treatment plant in the form of a water bottle. UV light damages the microbes in untreated water, making it impossible for the bacteria to reproduce. NASA actually douses the craft it sends to Mars in UV in order to protect that planet from our germs. New York City, meanwhile, is working on the world’s largest UV-treatment plant.

And now the All Clear. It’s a fantastically sophisticated advance on Daniel Boone’s canteen, and can be too easily dismissed as overkill until you need safe water. Here’s how it works:

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App Review: DIY Kids

DIY App for Kids

Social media doesn’t have to be an inactive activity. is a good example of social media that works best when participants actually move away from the computer and do something—in this case, build projects.

Aimed at children as young as six years old, the website presents its members with a very large collection of building challenges, many of which would even keep an adult interested. You build projects and share the results (as photos or videos) with other community members.

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Stay Charged with Mophie’s Juice Pack PRO

mophie juice pack PRO

mophie juice pack PRO

How much would a serious upgrade to your iPhone 4′s operating time be worth to you? If your project house is without electricity for any length of time and your iPhone dies, you can plug it into your car, or you can get a personal solar panel and hope for sun. Or… well, that’s about it.

Today, the most practical answer to this problem is carrying a second battery, and a company called mophie has one for you in the form of its juice pack PRO. Part power pack, part protective case, the product adds 150% to 200% operating time to your phone while protecting it from sand and dust and moisture.

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Capturing Your DIY in TimeLapse



It’s a ritual that dates back to cave times—DIYers showing off their proud achievements.

‘Before and after’ shots are OK, but if you really want to chronicle start-to-finish project progress, you need timelapse photography. For an elegant, soup-to-nuts approach to that kind of recording, consider the TimelapseCam 8.0 from Wingscapes.

Half the size of a loaf of bread, the $110 TimelapseCam is almost as easy to use as an average digital camera. In fact, the two share many features and functions in common, though the TimelapseCam boasts the added benefit of being rainproof and is far sturdier than a conventional point-and-shoot.

You can attach the TimelapseCam to a tripod, strap it to a tree, or mount it to an upright. Once situated, the device will take photos (or ten-second videos) at 11 different intervals ranging from 10 seconds to 24 hours.


Photo: Wingscapes

The TimelapseCam comes with a measuring tape for gauging the distance to a photo subject. You set the lens to the distance using a knobby dial. Everything beyond eight feet is “infinity” to the lens, which suggests that it should be pretty good at capturing closer scenes. There’s a viewfinder, but you do have to manually focus the camera.

Surprisingly, there are only six controls (seven, if you count the power button) used to set shooting schedules, date and time, photo or video, image quality and everything else. A 16-character, two-line display recalls certain nightmares from the early days of computing, but hey, it works.



A victim of excess access to computers, I was a little intimidated to open the camera and take test shots. I need a keyboard the way children need the calming presence of a pacifier. Even still, I was able to go from setup to having five finely detailed photos on my laptop within 15 minutes.

If only neanderthals Koorek and Zom had had a TimelapseCam, we’d know what their cave looked like as they painted it. Surely, an opportunity missed.

For more on the TimelapseCam 8.0, visit WingScapes. For related content, consider:

Blog Stars: In the Workshop
How To: Refinish a Wood Table
Bob Vila Nation: Before & Afters

App Review: PaintSwatches

PaintSwatches iPhone

PaintSwatches app from Aquariform Designs. Photo:

There’s a special place in my heart for apps that help match paint colors. PaintSwatches (from Aquariform Designs) allows you to do so with a minimum of fuss.

This $1.99 iPhone app is elegant and flexible—high praise for any bit of software—and it’s relatively simple to navigate and use. In contrast with other similar tools, PaintSwatches isn’t weighed down with unnecessary functions; it’s light and quick and useful.

Most of the mandatory bases are covered, and I’ll get to those features in a minute. What I particularly like is the ability to import a photo and create a color scheme based on it. If I were so inclined, I could use this tool to create a room of colors inspired by the view I snapped at the top of a ski run in the Rockies, or by a shot of my daughters plowing through autumn leaves in the front yard.

The app enables you to pick colors from several paint makers, including C2, Sherwin-Williams, and Glidden. You can scroll through swatches, type a tint’s name and/or number, or search paint names for words like “silver”, “frost”, or “pepper”.

Chosen swatches are collected in a bar at the top of the screen, and you can pull each one down to see how they play together. You can create notes about the project or send all of the paint info (though not the swatches themselves) via email to your family, contractor, or neighbors (to tweak their noses).

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Locate Air Leaks with Black & Decker’s Thermal Heat Detector

Black & Decker-Thermal-Leak-Detector-Product-Shot

It was 99 degrees last night in Chicago and everyone, everyone, was wondering when the power grid would succumb to the demands of so many chillers, air conditioners, heat exchangers and fans.

That moment could be forestalled—and many residences could be that much more efficiently cooled—if everyone used a leak finder like Black & Decker’s $50 Thermal Heat Detector.

A Star Trek engineer might mistake this handheld and battery-powered device for an interdimensional three-core phase disrupter. It’s sleek, points like a triggerless weapon, has tiny controls and shines a colored light at targets. If only there were sounds….

The Thermal Heat Detector isn’t much different from similar devices used to gauge meat temperature on the grill. Point either at your target and it will remotely measure the surface infrared heat of that point.

You could buy a detector and run around documenting temperature deviations of every joint, jamb, and joist in your home (driving yourself nuts in the process). Or you could get Black & Decker’s tool, which is specially designed to find temperature differences along household surfaces.

Thermal Leak Detector


While it does display actual temperatures, the Thermal Heat Detector’s real utility hinges on how its colored beam changes based on how much one area differs in temperature from another point you’ve chosen as a basis of comparison. Everything reading the same temperature as the reference spot is green, cooler is blue, and warmer is red.

And you can choose the detector’s sensitivity, too. Choose one-degree differences and you’ll find where the family dog was just sleeping. But setting the tool for five- or 10-degree deviation is more than a little helpful in finding leaks.

The goal in the summer, as in the winter, is to find air leaks that are costing you money. Of course, How you go about plugging those leaks is another, more complex, matter.

Purchase the Black & Decker Thermal Leak Detector, $31.54


Quenching Thirst on the Job Site



Working on a job site through a scorching, dusty summer day requires pacing and hydration, and now, perhaps for the first time, you can get help with both from a package hanging off one of your biceps. Kenmark Sports has created an arm-slung holder for both a 16-ounce aluminum water bottle and a smart phone/MP3 player the size of an iPhone.

It’s common enough to see joggers and cyclists listening to a smart phone that’s strapped to a bicep. And hikers often have a water bladder strung between their shoulder blades. Kenmark’s $30 Armband Water Bottle could be the first cross-over between the two ideas.

Made of black neoprene and held in place by two wide, elastic straps, the Armband has two pockets; one for the bottle and one (covered with clear plastic) for your portable media player of choice.


Kenmark Sports' Armband Water Bottle with iPhone/iPod holder

The bottle is given a satin finish of fire-engine red, navy blue, or black, and is capped with the standard finger-loop screw-in top (with a lanyard hole). A flap can be stretched over the bottle top to prevent it from slipping out, but even hanging on my spindly arm, the bottle wouldn’t budge no matter how I tried to shake it loose.


The second pouch holds a smart phone (also snugly) and is Velcro’d to the water-bottle pocket. You’d be hard pressed to use any controls through the plastic window, but it’s easy enough to just rip the pouch free and squeeze out your player to take a call, switch podcasts, or take a picture.

The Armband is as secure as billed, but I won’t lie to you, it’s bulky. Phones might one day be thin as tattoos, but 16 ounces of water is always going to be 16 ounces of water.

That’s unlikely to matter to you when you’re crouched on an asphalt-shingle roof debating a climb down for a little drink of water. And what’s it worth not having something else in your pockets?

I’d drink to that alone.

For more information on the Armband Water Bottle, visit Kenmark Sports.

For more cool products and gadgets, consider:

Nest Learning Thermostat: Digital-Age Home Temperature Controls
How Many Tools Does a Good Multi-Tool Need?
6 Home Improvement iPhone Apps to Know