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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

Isle Royale 2019

Some photos from my backpacking trip to Isle Royale National Park for 2019.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Sierra Club Outings

For the last year and a half I’ve been training to become a Sierra Club Outings leader. This coming September I’ll be putting in my assistant training time at Isle Royale with one of my mentors/leaders Robin Green. And this past weekend I went to our bi-yearly leadership meeting with my wife Sarah, who’s also training to become a leader.

What a great group of folks and a great organization to be a part of. If you’re interested in attending one of the trips we’ve got in the works, you know where to reach out to me.

In the meantime, here are a few pictures from our training trip in Estes Park.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Modifying Nature for Electronics

Geoff Manaugh over at BLDGBLOG on the potential implications of looking at nature as a potential partner with technology.

What interests me here is the possibility that we might someday begin landscaping our suburbs, our corporate campuses, our urban business parks, according to which species of vegetation are less likely to block WiFi.

This reminds me, in some ways, of Schroeder’s ideas of “rewilding” that I wrote about a while back.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Starved Rock January ’19


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

New Years Resolution 1: The Grand Circle Road Trip

It’s important to our family that our kids grow up exposed to nature in all its forms, and this coming season is no different. Since we recently received a National Parks pass for the year, we decided to hit the road and check out some of the places we haven’t visited yet.

As it turns out, there’s plenty of parks out there along designated cross-country driving trails that we can partake in. The best, and most recommended, one that we’ve found is the Grand Circle Road Trip that travels through Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Grand Canyon National Park, and Capitol Reef National Park.

Giving kids the opportunity to see different natural places, and the communities that surround them, helps grow a sense of community that’s greater than the place they live. It’s also important to give them an appreciation from the natural world, which we’re increasingly becoming detached from.

As we put together our travel plans, particularly renting and/or buying an RV and taking our family on the road, I’ll keep everyone updated.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus