Friday, July 30, 2010

What is Smear Guard Technology?

Welcome to another exciting episode of "I Speculate on Office Supply Technology, but Mostly I Guess."  A quick blurb just hit my desk about Sharpie's New Smear Guard Technology.  The PR text says that it is a specially designed highlighter ink that is formulated to resist smearing. (Based on consumer surveys. Let ink dry before highlighting.)  The marketing angle here is sound as everybody who has ever used a highlighter has had a time where a specific combination of highlighter and ink has lead to a long unreadable splotch instead of an important piece of text they were attempting to add emphasis to.  Sharpie does offer a large selection markers with Smear Guard in various sizes and colors.

Highlighters that Resist Smearing

Sharpie has stepped in to attempt to remedy the situation with Smear Guard highlighter ink.  The first thing you need to know is that the phrase "Smear Guard" is a registered trademark by the people at Sharpie, so you can't borrow the phrase for yourself, but there does not seem to be a patent on the underlying Smear Guard ink technology so we can safely assume that there isn't anything ground breaking going on.  To start our analysis you must first know that there are primarily two different types of inks; alcohol and water based inks, and they both perform the same basic function of helping a pigment adhere to a surface.  Alcohol based inks give you that  marker smell and are more permanent, while water based inks take a while longer to dry, but tend to be less expensive.

Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol is a very common DIY paint remover, and if a strong alcohol can remove paint there is no reason a weak alcohol would smear ink.  So the first step of designing a highlighter to resist smearing is to only use water-based highlighter ink.  In order to decrease the likelihood of smearing with water-based ink, the water to ink ratio just needs to be decreased to the point where the ink won't gunk up the felt tip.  So here is my final guess as to what the underlying Sharpie's Smear Guard highlighter ink is based on the evidence; it is a water-based highlighter with less water than usual.  Less water isn't as exciting as lots of water, but if it'll help you keep your writing clear it is worth it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fine Addition

Do they still teach kids how to use adding machines? The ones that evolved differently from calculators and had to be keyed in a different order, such as pressing the subtract button after the number you're trying to subtract? Without prior warning, those things can throw you for a loop. Before my schooling days, there were times when I desperately needed to do some subtracting and sat down to an adding machine without being in on the joke. Imagine this young lad's shock when I not only ended up with a negative number, but heard a jolting whir as my shamefully incorrect data was printed out for all to see.

Nowadays, all the kids have calculators on their iPhones and can perform basic subtraction operations to their heart's desire. If I had an iPhone, that's all I'd use it for. But my mistakes as a youth illustrate the significance of one of Victor's latest achievements in calculator/adding machine technology: a Help button.

Victor PL8000 Printing Calculator

What makes the Help button really work is the alpha-numeric display. Messages are clearly shown on the LCD display. You don't even have to turn the calculator upside-down to read it. In fact, you can even customize messages for printing, producing make-shift receipts. You can also calculate loan payments, cost/sell/margin and time units, plus program two tax rates and a currency exchange. Set your rate of choice and go from working with American dollars to Turkish lira at the drop of a fez. With all this, no wonder there's a Help button.

Victor 1310 Big Print Calculator

Victor has several other calculators with nifty features, like this machine that can print in a 17 point font. Most calculators only go up to 11. Given how old I feel from the earlier story and how I spend all my free time doing basic arithmetic, my eyes are going to give out soon and this will help me continue subtracting well into my elder years.

Victor TUFFCALC Calculator

After the flooding we had in town last week, a water-resistant calculator sounds like another great idea. It holds up well in the elements, so you can stand outside in a storm and calculate just how crazy you are. It does not protect you from the elements, however, so please find shelter once your calculations are complete.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Stop Paper Shredder Injuries

I've never really been up to date on shredder technologies because I never put much thought into them.  To me shredders were that plastic box that you put sensitive papers into that have all the silly pictographic warnings about not putting paper clips or your tie into it.  Fortunately, one of my co-workers told me that those warnings aren't just a joke, they can cause serious injuries.  It might be funny to watch a business man get his tie caught in a shredder but most business people have good enough reflexes and are strong enough to stop anything except some minor tie damage.

Most major shredder related injuries come from young children or animals who can't really comprehend what the shredder is for or what damage it can do.  It isn't hard to find reports of various shredder injuries when you browse the web and you can find some pretty harrowing photos if you want (I won't spoil your lunch), but there are few places that offer much for a solution.  Everybody says the only way to keep a shredder safely in your home is keep it unplugged when not in use.  You can turn it off, but if there is a finger, tail, or tongue that can get caught in it, those body parts are connected to others that could find a way to turn the shredder on.

One of many SafeSense Shredders

I can't tell you that buying a new shredder will allow you to safely keep your shredder plugged in while children and pets run amok, but I can tell you that the latest shredders from Fellowes have some impressive safety features that might put your mind at ease. The primary safety feature in these shredders is the patent pending SafeSense override that stops shredding when fingers get close to the shredding input port.  We have a Fellowes PS-79Ci Shredder in our office that has the SafeSense feature.  Even thought I wasn't allowed to get out my tools to find out exactly how it worked I was able to do some testing and it seems as if the chrome trim around the shredder input has a capacitive sensor that shuts off the shredder.  The Fellowes advertising tells you it will shut down your shredder if your fingers get to close which sounds like it might have been a proximity sensor, but at least on our shredder you need to make physical contact with a sensor to trigger the SafeSense feature.

A Jam-Proof Commercial Shredder with SafeSense

The capacitive sensor on the shredder we have works well enough to keep an adults finger out of the shredding mechanism, but if a child had small enough fingers they could slip between the sensors.  Something as large and slobbery as a dog's tongue would easily trip the sensor, but a cat's tail may or may not trigger the sensor (I am not going to test it). I can't say for sure that all SafeSense enabled shredders use only capacitive sensors, but looking at a Commercial Grade Shredder with Fellowes SafeSense I can't see anything that sticks out as a capacitive sensor, so it might have a more sensitive system to keep fingers out.

Unfortunately, even though shredder technology is advancing rapidly, the current crop of shredders isn't going to be a fool-proof accident-proof replacement for your current shredder.  You should still unplug them if they are not in use, and at the very least turn off the auto-on feature to avoid accidents.  If problems arise from Shredder of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fame and not a common office paper shredder, I'm sorry, I can't help there.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Free Water Bottle For Buying Tape

I just found out that Scotch is giving away a free water bottle just for buying the tape every office already needs.  I don't know the specific connection between Scotch brand tape and a Thermos brand bottle, but it is a pretty cool promotion.  Most people these days are trying to "Go Green" and save a little money if possible, and a good water bottle is a great step in that direction.  Fill up the water bottle at any number of easy to locate taps and take it along on day-to-day activities.  When the bottle is empty just refill it and carry on.  Reusing a plastic water bottle is "Greener" than buying and recycling plastic bottles from vending machines, grocery stores or gas stations because there is a good deal of energy needed to recycled that bottle and not all of it (like the cap or label) is truly recyclable.

Thermos Intak Hydration Bottle

The water bottle in question here is a Thermos Intak Hydration Bottle.  Those smart people over at Thermos know an occasional adult beverage might be consumed in this bottle so they call it a "Hydration Bottle" instead of a water bottle.  The promotional material shows a green bottle, but I don't think there is a guarantee of any color that will actually be sent.  The reviews for this bottle are generally positive, and those people had to pay for the bottles.  I'm sure than anybody who received the bottle for free would rate it even higher.  The product page lays out the details of the bottle pretty simply, but it is a BPA-free dishwasher-safe bottle with a water proof lid and a carrying loop.  BPA was in the news non-stop for a year or so as manufacturers removed it from items in their line-up. Some plastics would release BPA when heated and then kids would drink it and be exposed to potentially unsafe levels of estrogen, so manufacturers have mostly moved to BPA-free plastics.  The use of BPA-free plastics makes this bottle kid-safe as well.

Rebate Details Page

Nobody get this bottle completely for free though, some Scotch tape needs to be purchased and a rebate form needs to be filled out.  Buy any combination of two qualifying products; MMM 810K16 (Magic Tape), MMM 600K12 (Transparent Tape), MMM 38506 (Premium Packaging Tape), or MMM 35006 (High Performance Packaging Tape) and mail in the rebate form with the UPCs.  If the goal is to maximize the tape dollar to free water bottle tape ratio the Transparent Tape is the least expensive.  The rebate form allows for 2 rewards per envelope and 6 rewards per unique mailing address so purchasing 12 boxes of the Transparent Tape and mailing 3 rebate forms will generate greatest return.

Monday, July 19, 2010

It's Like a Giant Post-it Note

A fairly common situation has been playing out in board rooms across the globe.  People are sitting down for an important meeting, writing important things on their high-quality whiteboard with their high-quality whiteboard markers when they suddenly find themselves running out of room.  At this point the options are fairly limited, but if they had thought ahead they wouldn't be in this predicament.  If there was some extra cash in the department they could have bought a fancy electronic whiteboard that would allow them to print or email the current contents of the whiteboard, then erase it and continue writing.  If a lower-tech solution is preferred they could just purchase an easel pad that would allow them the ability to write on multiple pages, but force them to flip between pages when referencing previous materials.

MMM559 is Like a Giant Post-it Note

Closer to the easel pad on the technology scale, but using some kind of space-age technology developed by 3M, the Post-it Self-Stick Easel Pad is like the common every day ordinary easel pad, but it each page has an adhesive back allowing it to be removed and affixed to walls, tables, or any other flat surface.  So when the first page of important bullet points is full, tear it off and stick it on the wall and continue writing.  Certain amounts of care should be taken so the adhesive doesn't peel paint off from conference room walls or priceless antiques when the meeting is adjourned, but the product description does say "most walls" won't be damaged during this process.  Universal does sell a more affordable alternative to the Post-it Self-Stick Easel Pad, the Universal Self-Stick Easel Pad.  With the same number of sheets and the same sheet size the only difference is price... and the keen product images.

Self-Stick Easel Pads Make Every Meeting a Party

Just look at those people having a meeting with a Self-Stick Easel Pad, nobody couldn't have a better time.  See how the guy leading the meeting was able to remove the pages for "Agenda" and "Growth Opportunities" and stick them on the wall?  He essentially has an infinite surface area to cover with his ideas and other non-sequitur buzz-words.  The people at the meeting room table are so confident in his presentation skills that they haven't written anything down in their legal pads because they know they can reference those adhesive backed pages at any time.  They probably should have put their coffee cups on coasters of some kind.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I'm Your Biggest Fan

In the midst of yet another hot July we all need to do what we can to help beat the heat. For most of the population scattered across the globe our heat waves aren't the much sought after Tropical Heat Waves but just a series of days that the heat is unbearable, but you still need to go about your day to day operations. If you are lucky enough you can find a place to stay with Air Conditioning and wait for a cooler day to do things outside. There people who don't have access to or can't afford Air Conditioning, and even people who choose to go without air conditioning, but either way they'll tell you that a good fan is the only way to get some air circulating in a house. If you don't want to throw away money on one of those fancy overpriced Dyson fans, here are some more economical alternatives.

Clip-on fans are simple and easy to use. Wherever you want to move some air, just clip it to a shelf, desk, or table and plug it in. Clip-on fans allow you some degree of customization so you can point the fan in any direction you like. Unfortunately, because they can be used anywhere they are small and they don't move a lot of air. If you need the functionality of a clip-on fan but need to move a little more air you can upgrade to an Oscillating Clip-On Fan so you can clip it anywhere and the head will rotate for you.

Tower Fans are still relatively new as far as fans go. They can be comprised of either several circular fans positioned vertically or a system that works more like an inverted centrifugal pump. Either way, they are designed to move as much air as possible without taking up as much room as conventional fans in the same space. You can find Desktop Tower Fans, more economical Standard Tower Fans, and even Remote Controlled Tower Fans. There is even a kind of hybrid clip-on/tower fan that they call a Ultra-Slim Desk Fan.

When you buy a Fan online you get the benefit of not being limited to the number of fans available on the show room floor. You can buy Industrial Grade Heavy Duty Fans.  You can get a Giant All Metal 20 Inch Pedestal Fan as seen above or a Giant All Metal Base Fan.  If you want to go real big, you can pick up a Massive Blower Fan.  I don't know if it'll keep you cool at all, but it'll blow so much air you won't care.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

DIY Getting Things Done Tickler Files

If you are like me, and I can't assume that you are, then you have heard things about this Getting Things Done method (commonly known as GTD). As Wikipedia says (at the time of writing), it is an "..organizational method created by David Allen..." and it has given Mr. Allen a fair amount of praise and a fair amount of money. Of course there are people who will talk about how great he is and there are people who will talk about how he got it all wrong, but I don't fall into either of those categories because I've never read his book. One specific item in his book that was brought to my attention is the Tickler File system. It consists of 1 folder for every month and 1 folder for every possible day in a month, so 12 folders for 12 months and 31 folders for 31 possible days means you have 43 folders. This tends to simplify things for you by only allowing you to file stuff for some day this month, or another month.  The hardest part of this filing system is getting yourself into the habit of using the files regularly, they are easy to build yourself.

43 folders aren't very much when you are visiting the wonderful world of Office Supplies.  You can purchase a box of 100 file folders for cheap and you are almost done with your Tickler File.  The official GTD guideline for a the file says you should have your tabs lined up according the month and date.  That means your monthly folders might have the far right tab while your daily folders could then have the far left tab.  The Universal file folders (here is the link again) come in a box of 100 with tabs on the right, center and left.  That means you'll have 33 right, 33 center, 33 left and 1 extra.  That is enough to create two different Tickler Files and still have a few left over.

If you have good handwriting you don't need to worry about how you are going to label your files, but if you listen to anybody who has had to read my handwriting it is occasionally a necessity.  They are pretty simple.  You type in a word or a number, and it prints out a sticker that you put on your folder and you call it good enough.  Obviously you'll find all kinds of uses for your labeler around the office and around the house so it won't be a single use tool.  If you get a cheap labeler it won't have the same features as an expensive labeler so take a look at a selection of different label makers.

You can go online and look at pricing on David Allen's official GTD Tickler folders, but I'll leave that up to you and Google.  At the end of the day, for the price of one official filing system you can build yourself two filing systems and have a labeler left over to take home and start labeling members of the family.  I have a feeling your kids might mind more than your dog.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Everybody Gets to be Award Winning

Have you ever taken the time to find out which awards something that is "Award Winning" actually won.  I have seen hundreds of indie films at different video stores with a wide array of awards from different film festivals and never taken the time to see what awards they won from what film festivals.  As far as I know they have all won the local indie film equivalent of the Razzie and are proudly proclaiming it.  Most of those wreath style logos are usually just proclaiming that they were selected to be shown at a film festival, and I'm not sure if that counts as an award at all.

Pretty much any award you might give to someone they can claim to be "Award Winning" because they were awarded something once.  I got an award for perfect attendance once when I was in Elementary school, but I think my report cards would show I wouldn't ever be able to claim I was an "Award Winning" student.  Now thanks to a wide selection of framed certificates  I can award myself and others with as many arbitrary awards as I want.

These frames come with a generic unlabeled certificate that can be filled out with just about anything you'd like.  The "Certificate of Achievement" can mark any event (fictional or not) that you'd like to commemorate.  If you want to permanently create a memorial to your high score in Pac-Man or let one of your co-worker know that they have an incredibly dashing haircut for a Monday you can't go wrong.  Theses are the really cheap framed certificates so if you have something serious to award you might want to step up to a higher quality Executive Plaque.

On the other end of the spectrum there are a lot of very affordable certificates for younger people, or just the young at heart.  Since these come in packs of 30 you can buy several packs and award everybody in your office something special.  You can hand out awards for cutest kid photo on a desk, best candy selection, or loudest acid rock.  Everybody can be an Award Winning Employee.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Make Buying Moving Supplies Easy

The housing markets around the country are still in pretty poor shape so it is a great time to move if you can.  You can probably get a lot more bang for your buck if you take the time to look at some new options.  It doesn't matter if you are moving from an apartment to a house, from your house to a more affordable apartment, to a new apartment or a new house, you are going to need more moving supplies.  Boxes, Tape, and Packing material are all necessities.

The most important thing you need when you are moving is boxes, lots and lots of boxes.  You can find tons of different cardboard boxes online and pick as many as you want (even recycled boxes are available).  Boxes are generally sold in bundles of 25, but they are sometimes available in bundles of 15 or 10 as well.  I have moved a few times and helped friends move more often that that, and if there is one lesson I will never learn is that you can never have to many boxes.  You'll probably never need a pack of boxes any smaller than 25 and if you happen to have a few extra boxes, everybody can find something else to keep in boxes.  Remember that bigger boxes don't necessarily mean it'll be easier to move, if you pack two identical boxes, one with books and one with blankets you'll quickly find out they are not the same.

The second most important thing you'll need to purchase is packing materials.  You have a wide variety of selection so you can easily find the one that suits you best.  Bubble wrap is a classic and you can buy it big or small rolls and it does an excellent job of protecting your valuables.  Popping Bubble wrap is fun for kids of all ages, so even if your kids won't help you pack they'll at least be entertained.  Foam wraps are a newer high tech way to make sure your items are securely held in place.  You just open the packing material and press hard on one spot to start a chemical reaction.  As the foam starts to rise you put it in your box with your item and the foam creates a perfect custom fit for your item.  Rolls of paper is the oldest packing method but it is nicer than newspaper since it doesn't have ink on it.  You can buy packing peanuts if you want, but they are always a mess.  I'll never figure out what to do with them.

If you want to be Green while you are moving you should check out the CareMail line of products.  The CareMail line is all environmentally friendly moving supplies so you can still safely pack and move your stuff knowing that your packing materials have made a minimal impact on landfills.  They of course have boxes and paper rolls to substitute the conventional products, but they have an environmentally friendly bubble wrap substitute and biodegradable packing peanuts made from corn and potato starch.

Lastly, you are going to need to make sure that you'll need packing tape to keep the boxes closed and a healthy supply of permanent markers to label the boxes.  Remember to lift with your knees!

Friday, July 2, 2010

What? An Erasable Highlighter?

How many times has this happened to you gentlemen?  As you are reading another Press Release from the Head of the Public Relations department you highlight a word because a common misspelling creates a hilarious double entendre.  As you are walking down the hallway to show it to the guy in Sales who plays on your Softball team you read it again and notice that his misspelling was actually just your misreading.  You don't want to be caught walking around with a Press Release with a random word highlighted and you need to get rid of the evidence fast.  Shredding the paper will take to long since the big shredder is on the second floor.  Wouldn't it be great if you had an Erasable Highlighter?

Now I don't actually expect the previous example to reflect your life (I know I don't play Softball), but there are lots of reasons you might want to erase some highlighter.  Prior to Pilot's line of FriXion pens and markers your options for erasing ink or any kind was extremely limited and usually meant you ended up thinning your paper.  Once your paper was thinned out you might be able to erase once more on that same spot before the paper just started to tear.  This new line of FriXion (yes, with a capital "X") changes all that because the ink is thermo-sensitive.  I was shocked to discover that thermo-sensitive, or thermosensitive, wasn't just a word that Pilot made up, but scientists actually decided that they needed a word that meant temperature sensitive but was four letters shorter.

Thermo-sensitive inks are created so that when they are heated (usually by friction) they chemically change so that yellow highlighter you previously applied to the paper is now clear.  I'm not a chemist, so I can't understand or go into details, but I'll just let you know that they work, and they work well.  Every FriXion pen or marker comes with a little rubber nub on the back side that you can use to easily create some friction on the paper without tearing up the paper fibers.  I would expect most people to want to buy 12 yellow highlighters, but it is possible that you'd only want 2 yellow highlighter, or maybe 3 multi colored highlighters (pink, yellow, and orange).

Don't think Pilot is the only people with a team of chemistry wizards on staff who can make an erasable highlighter.  Those guys over at Crayola came up with their own variety that chemically changes your yellow highlighted ink to a clear ink when another solution is applied from the opposite end of the highlighter.  I think that means the Crayola highlighter ink is chemosensitive rather than thermosensitive.  The scientific shortening of chemosensitive also saves 4 letters from chemical sensitive, and just like thermosensitive it is a legit word that spell checking hates.  While these chemosensitive highlighters are only available in one wonderful shade of yellow, you can buy one on a card, or 12 in a box and of course you'll save money when you buy a dozen instead of buying them individually.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Prevent Your Office's Deepwater Horizon

I can't imagine many offices (if any) around the world have an issue with large holes in the ground that are constantly leaking oil, but every office has a leak or spill of some kind that they need cleaned up.  Whether you splash some shredder oil, dump out some Yoohoo, or accidentally bleed on the floor, somebody will have to clean it up, and there isn't always an easy way to clean up that liquid.

GreenSorb is a product that we had demoed and we were blown away.  The product is a high efficiency absorbent.  Click the bottle above and check out the video for it.  The demonstration is compelling, and even thought they really only show it working on motor oil, it will work on just about any liquid, semi-liquid, or gooey substance you throw at it.  It would do wonders for taking care of those odd liquids that always seem to collect in the back of your fridge, that gunk that sits in the bottom of your trash can, or that weird stuff that leaked in your house off the air conditioner.  GreenSorb is available in 2.4 or 4 pound shaker bottles for smaller jobs, a 20 pound box for larger problems, and a 25 pound bucket for people who are just plain messy.

Unfortunately, the people who supply GreenSorb know that there product, while great for household cleanups and some larger scale operations, isn't a solution for a problem like the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill down in the Gulf of Mexico.  GreenSorb is an equal opportunity absorber, so it will absorb ocean water as well as oil and once it has absorbed water and/or oil it would promptly sink to the bottom of the ocean where it can not be properly disposed of.  Even though you don't need to attempt to pick GreenSorb from the ocean floor, you should take care when disposing of if.  When you use it to absorb any kind of chemical you should still treat the GreenSorb with the same precautions you would with the original chemical.  Your city, state, or county may have special rules for disposing of potentially toxic waste, but most just suggest you wrap it up in two plastic bags and put it in your normal trash.

If you are cleaning up some kind of nasty bodily fluid you'll still want to have a good kit on hand so you have a good supply of rubber gloves and other precautionary measures.  If you are cleaning up some fairly standard oily mess you should be fine just a broom and dustpan.  If you are cleaning up spilled Yoohoo you'll need to be prepared for the emotional distress caused by the waste of even a drop of that delicious, calcium rich, chocolaty drink.