Want to try making a video game? Visit the Sorting Hat

sortinghatIf you have ever read anything I've written about video games, you will have heard me insert notations about the democratization of tools. The business of making games used to necessitate access to bureaucratic, white-guys-only organizations and their social and professional lexicons. But now there are radical tools that anyone can use to make games about anything they want.

That's good in theory, but how do you know where to start? Developer Zoe Quinn has made a simple new online utility designed to help experimental developers and new creators alike see which tools are right for their vision. Sortingh.at makes recommendations depending on your aspirations and existing abilities, and also provides links to resources online you can use to learn how to use those tools.

Lowering traditional barriers to entry and de-mystifying aspects of game creation is a great way to welcome new creators to the table in a space that arguably needs some fresh voices and different perspectives.

Innovation in lockpicks: the "hall pass" and the EOD speed-picking set

The Hall Pass is a stainless steel, credit-card-sized pick designed to be slid between the door and the jamb (saving you from cracking your credit cards); the EOD is an extensive speed-pick set that is nevertheless optimized for portability and compactness.

Read the rest

An Introduction to Hand Saws

Steve Hoefer offers another tutorial in basic skills that everyone should know.

Read the rest

Gerber's money clip/utility knife


I've used a money-clip for years as an alternative to a wallet, and the idea of having a small, sharp blade (Gerber makes great tools!) built into it is immensely appealing, especially given the copious positive reviews for Gerber's $19.26 version (but I worry that I'd forget it and lose it to a TSA checkpoint).

Read the rest

Foolproof tool sharpening

Any chef will tell you, a sharp knife is the most important tool in the kitchen. I have tried many different types of sharpening methods, from stones to steels, electric to manual. Stones are hard to use because you need to maintain a very consistent angle while using it, and other gimmicky sharpening tools are just not good enough to give you a good edge. And very, very few can sharpen a serrated blade. I won’t lie — I can’t use a manual sharpening stone to save my life.

My dad got me the Work Sharp WSKTS Knife and Tool Sharpener and I swear I’ve never seen its equal. It is approximately the size of an electric drill and uses sanding belts of three different grits: 80 for repairing blades, 220 for sharpening, and 6000 for putting on that smooth polish. The sanding belts are very easy to change and last long enough for you to sharpening everything in the house, from your scissors and kitchen knives to axe and lawnmower blades. The head of the tool swivels so you can use it free-hand to sharpen very large items, like shovels.

One of the best features is the guards that attach to the tool that keep the sharpening angle perfectly consistent. The first guard offers a 50° angle for large hunting and butchery knives, and a 40° angle for thinner knives. The second guard allows you to sharpen serrated blades and heavier outdoor blades.

Best of all, this sharpening system only costs around $70 and packs of 6 replacement belts cost around $9. They also offer packs of 2 diamond belts for around $26 for sharpening those pesky ceramic blades. -- Joel Roush Work Sharp WSKTS Knife and Tool Sharpener ($69)

How to stay safe in the workshop

Steve Hoefer still has all his fingers.

Read the rest

Guide To Wire Strippers

Steve Hoefer explains how to use your teeth to… wait, that’s what he says not to do.

Read the rest

Carabiner box-cutter with a ceramic blade


Slice's $19 box-cutter is a clever design -- a combination of carabiner and a knife, with a long-lasting, replaceable ceramic blade. It comes in orange and yellow, and gets myriad positive reviews.

Slice 10400 Box Cutter with Ceramic Blade (via Canopy)

Hand crank extension cord winder

I use several corded power tools around the yard and garden such as a chain saw, leaf vacuum, hedge trimmer, etc. Many’s the time I would put off a chore using them because I would have to uncoil the 100′ of power cord and probably have to untangle/unkink it before using it. After the job was done, it would take another few minutes to coil up the power cord and try not to tangle it in the process.

A couple of types of cord reels I tried didn’t work particularly well. So I bought this weird looking cord winder a few years ago. After installing the wall mount near the power outlet in my garage and winding my cord into the basket, I was quite surprised to discover I could pull out the 100′ of power cord, tangle/kink free in about a minute to the end of my driveway. I would do my chore (usually the leaf vacuum for lawn clippings and leaves) and, in another minute or two I could wind up the cord, detach the cord winder from the wall mount and put it on the shelf. Those chores now get done when needed instead of being put off since the cord unwinding/re-winding takes so little time. -- Jim Service

Wonder Winder Hand Crank Extension Cord Winder: $20

Post It Labeling Tape: Post-It paper by the roll

I found this product over a year ago. It comes in yellow, green, pink, and white, on a dispenser similar to scotch tape. The paper feels like the same paper used for the original Post It notes, and works well with a Sharpie pen for labeling. The back of the paper is fully-covered by the adhesive (unlike Post-It notes, which have a strip of adhesive only along the top).

I can label anything, remove the label and reuse it. I do this frequently with food storage as I shift things around from one container to another. The labels don’t roll up at the edges or fall off after a few months. I first used the tape when I was moving, because I was using a lot of plastic storage boxes, which I couldn’t write on, and the tape (I bought neon green) was so much easier to use than masking tape.

Read the rest

Beautiful circles for makers


Tim sez, "WindFire Designs Circle Tools are made for beautiful circles. Specifically designed for countless uses, they provide elegant and precise utility. Graceful progressions of sizes in curated sets of circles find a balance of scale between the maker, the studio, and the work. Unlike many products these days, they have zero built-in obsolescence. Instead, like a truly great tool, they are archival objects that will get used by today's makers, and, at least in our imagination, they will be passed down through many generations. In response to the most common request, we are releasing a new larger model, the CTØ11. These are tools that we made because we needed them ourselves. They are hand-finished here in our studio in small batches, and made entirely in the USA."

Circles are hot. Stainless steel is cool (Thanks, Tim!)

Massive lockpick set


Michael from Sparrows Lockpicks writes, "Specifically designed to feed your lock picking addiction The MONSTRUM features ten new lock picks and four wrenches. No Doubles, No Garbage. If you are looking for your first lock pick set grab something else. This one's not for you. The MONSTRUM set is a collection of truly exotic lock picks but it does not have the basics that any lock picker no matter what their skill level needs in their arsenal."

These are the nice folks behind the lockpick handcuffs from last year.

Monstrum Lockpicks (Thanks, Michael!)

From the Whole Earth Catalog to Cool Tools

My friend and Cool Tools review website partner, Kevin Kelly, made a cool video about the making of his new book, Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. He says: "The Whole Earth Catalog was a bible for DIYers in the last century. Cool Tools is the same for this century. Here is what you can expect from this huge oversized book."

Craftsman reinforced tool bag - holds lots of tools in a small container

I converted from a toolbox to this Craftsman tool bag last year and I could not be happier. I live in an apartment in Singapore with no tool bench and limited space. Over the years I’ve kept my tools in a series of metal and plastic toolboxes. The boxes always seemed to be too full.

Then I visited a friend in England who had a wonderful canvas tool bag, which held assorted screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, hammers, tape measures and other tools compactly and efficiently. Though I could not locate a canvas bag in the United States, I found this synthetic bag at Sears. I’ve consolidated my tools from my hard toolboxes into the bag and am pleased with the accessibility of my tools and the compactness and portability of the bag.

Read the rest

Nobel Prizes 2013: Computer models that can mimic life

We talk about computer modeling a lot in the context of climate science — powerful algorithms that help scientists get a better idea of how climate systems work, how they spin off into weather, and how the systems and the weather are altered by both nature and humans. But modeling plays a huge role in other sciences, as well. In fact, on the flip side of the climate change coin, modeling is an essential part of designing better solar cells to turn energy from the Sun into useable electricity. If we ever do master the art of artificial photosynthesis, we'll have the three men who just won this year's Nobel Prize for Chemistry to thank.

Back in the 1970s, Martin Karplus of Université de Strasbourg, France and Harvard University, Michael Levitt of Stanford, and Arieh Warshel of USC, were instrumental in constructing the first computer models capable of predicting the effects of chemical reactions — including ones that happen far too quickly to be observed. Today, their work touches the daily lives of chemists all over the world, doing research from solar cell design to drug development.

Read the rest