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5 Favorite Tools and Gear of 2019

For the people who know me, it goes without saying that I’m a tools-and-gear-thing person. Physical, digital, even digital-physical things… there’s something about having the right object that can help you take stuff apart, make quick repairs, make new things, make life easier, or just help manage resources.

Given that I spend so much time thinking about these kinds of things, I thought it’d be useful to share with you the five pieces of gear I picked up in 2019 that have made a huge difference. Here they are.

1. Sawstop
This wasn’t a personal purchase, but instead, something we bought at the Idea Realization Lab. When I give tours of the space, I often say that safety is about respect — not fear. I also tell folks that the table saw is likely the most dangerous thing inside the space.

When we owned our old job site table saw, I used to spend sleepless nights worrying about what might happen if it were used improperly. The Sawstop, with its ability to stop the blade on a dime if it feels skin touching it, helps me go to bed a lot easier. And while having a piece of equipment like the Sawstop doesn’t mean that everything is *fine and perfectly safe*, it does make the space a lot safer.

2. MSR Hubba NX 1-Person Tent
We own an MSR Hubba Hubba two person tent for when Sarah and I go out backpacking together, but seeing as how we have three (going on four) children at home now, getting out to backpack together has become difficult. I brought along our two person tent to a few backpacking trips last year, and felt like I could reduce the weight I was carrying and footprint I took up at campsites.

The Hubba NX was a perfect piece of gear to achieve those ends. In a recent trip to Isle Royale, I was able to cut precious pounds off my pack weight while also fitting into tighter spots at campsites. Also noteworthy: on the second day of the Isle Royale trip it poured buckets — to the point where I felt like I was swimming in my own clothes. When we got to the campsite, I was a little worried that the tent wouldn’t withstand the rain. To my delight, the Hubba NX kept dry and set up so fast that it barely got wet inside before I could get the rain fly on.

3. Full Focus Planner
Based on a recommendation from a friend earlier this year, I bought a book by Michael Hyatt a while back called Free to Focus. I’m not a consistent self-help book reader, but F2F really connected with me, and helped me get out of a treadmill-like funk that I’d been in.

So, after finishing the book, I went right out and bought a Full Focus Planner (also by Hyatt) — it’s made a huge difference in my long-term strategic thinking. The planner takes a bit of time to set up, but that’s because it’s asking you to think about things like your quarterly professional/personal goals, your roadmap to achieving those goals, and the reasons you want to achieve them. It then has you revisit those goals weekly and daily to plan out your schedule — something I’d been missing in the past. While that might seem like a lot of planning, I’ve always subscribed to the Eisenhower principle that while plans are useless, planning is indispensable.

4. Jabra Elite Active wireless earbuds
Yard work is more or less my duty around the house, and that’s fine because I really enjoy it. One of the things I started doing a few years ago was listening to podcasts while I mowed the lawn — it seemed like a productive thing to be doing while taking care of an otherwise singular activity. But, dumb-dumb that I am, I was blasting the podcasts on my cheap headphones and, eventually, it occurred to me that this was bad for my hearing. And really, in general, even the noise of a traditional lawnmower is bad for hearing.

So after some careful research, I landed on these wireless earbuds that would cancel lawnmower noise and also be good for things like jogging, filtering out noise on the train, and other similar situations. I have not been disappointed. These headphones have a cool feature that allows you to turn on/off outside noise so you can hear what’s going on, take phone calls using their built-in microphone, and switch seamlessly between two devices simultaneously over Bluetooth. Best headphones I’ve owned.

5. Pilot FriXion Clicker
A good pen is invaluable, and for me, this is now my device of choice. I am a big (as Willy Wonka would say) “strike that, reverse it” kind of thinker, and that thinking is often reflected in my writing. What that typically means is a lot of scratch-outs and write-overs.

Call me a newb, but I had no idea that there was such a thing as an erasable pen. But this last year I learned (through the same aforementioned Hyatt book) that such things existed and, in fact, were quite useful. I buy these pens on a quarterly basis now because I find myself giving them to folks to try out, and burning through them with my constant note taking.


That’s the end of my list! I hope you enjoyed it. If you have any things that you’ve found have helped you in some way, feel free to drop them in the comments/replies.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

True North

When facing tough challenges, I often ask “what is my true north?” What are my core values and how can I stay true to them?

But values can move — they aren’t static things.

The north pole, on the surface, remains in the same place. But the magnetic north pole is constantly shifting and moving consistently.

Similarly, on the surface we may remain the same thing, but underneath our values can shift. These changes may not be drastic, but fundamentally, are enough to represent drastic differences.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

This Should Work – Maya Bird-Murphy Interview

I found out about Maya’s work by happenstance, and am really glad that I did. Maya is a really interesting person who’s been working on a mobile makerspace program for kids in Chicago, and she has a unique vision on making that a reality through her background as an architect. This is a really special one. Check out the episode.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

This Should Work – Paul Valente Interview

Paul is a former teacher, now administrator at Chicago Public Schools, and he has been a friend of mine for a while now. I love talking with Paul because he gives me perspective on my thinking that I would have never gained on my own. He’s a really clever guy like that, and I hope you find the insights in this podcast as interesting as I do.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

This Should Work – Joe Spanier Interview

I interviewed Joe Spanier for my podcast a while back, and had a blast doing so. If you’re interested in listening (and I recommend you do), check it out.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Step Away

Learn to step away. Figure out where the delusion is.

We’re often convincing ourselves of something that isn’t there. You can’t see it when you’re on the inside because the buy-in is the delusion.

Unmasking the delusion means understanding the story we’re all subscribing to. How do we think about ourselves?

The story creates fictions. Once you see the fictitious parts, you can change them. I’ve never found a situation I can control until I understand the story we’re all participating in.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Margalus #4

A long time ago Sarah and I decided we wanted a big family — a family that, when the going got rough, could support and sustain itself. We are very lucky to have three beautiful children, and are ready to bring another into our group. Meet the newest addition to our clan — due late January.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Lockport Makers Park

Here’s a fun thing! I’m working with the city of Lockport on a feasibility study to develop a Maker’s Park. If you’re in the Chicago south suburban area, are part of a group into craft/making, and interested in talking about it, hit me up!


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

IRL and IRL2 Student Employees

Our student employee pool is growing. We’re now at 16 employees trained in digital fabrication, Internet of Things, first aid, CPR, and so much more. Very proud of these students, their capacity for learning, and the continued growth of the Idea Realization Labs.

Hire these students if you have the opportunity!


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Spacelab has a new home!

Here’s a video of the new space we just moved into at Lockport, IL.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus