12 enormously useful products for the DIY-ITer [Gift Guide 2012]

12 enormously useful products for the DIY-ITer [Gift Guide 2012]

Summary: In honor of 2012, we've selected some of the most interesting, helpful, and unexpected products for geek DIYers.


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  • Bosch DLR130K Digital Distance Measurer

    I've recommended what I call my "magic measuring machine" before, and I'm doing it again. This thing is a huge help whenever I'm trying to size an area in the house or workshop. This thing is different from sonic-based measuring devices, which shine a light beam just to give you an idea where you're pointing. This uses a refracted laser to measure and, over the past few years, where I've measured things down to the quarter of an inch, it hasn't missed once.

    An essential tool for the homeowner and DIY-ITer, especially if you're trying to setup a workspace.

    What I like: It works.

    What I'd like to see: Easier way to record measurements, perhaps the ability to send them to my phone. Can you imagine this with Siri? Hey, one can dream, right?

    Find it here at about $90.


  • ProPrompter HDi Pro2

    When I set out to build the the Skype Studio, I knew I wanted a way to look straight into the camera (and not below it, like on a webcam). I also knew that, once in a while, I'd also need to read text Obama-like, right off a teleprompter.

    But I wanted something relatively small and light, yet capable. What I hit on was the Bodelin and ProPrompter HDi Pro2, which allows me to use an iPad as the screen. This is enormously powerful, because I use a VNC client on the iPad to reach out onto my network and feed anything I want into the prompter, usually the image of the person I'm talking to on Skype.

    One very neat feature of the ProPrompter is there's iPhone and iPad software that talk to each other. I had to do a scripted bit for The Economist last summer and I was able to control the pacing of the prompting on the iPad by tapping my iPhone, which sat on my lap.

    What I like: Lots of flexibility.

    What I'd like to see: A little bit easier way to insert and remove the iPad without accidentally moving the camera setup by a tiny bit.

    Find it here at starting at about $1,200.

  • X-keys XK-24 Programmable Keypad

    Now, this thing is just neat. It's a USB keypad, but you can completely customize the buttons. The image above shows buttons that are all square, but you can have wide buttons or tall buttons, you can have buttons that display in different colors, and send different signals.

    So, why would you want to do this? In my case, this creates a customized control console for video production, and pressing a single button allows a scene change. For gamers, it allows you to map keys to specific functions (i.e., in World of Warcraft, making key labels that match the various spells and abilities). And, of course, there are tons of uses for customized industrial control and other custom projects.

    What I like: Great way to customize keyboard interface to special-purpose projects.

    What I'd like to see: Wireless. And, oh, wireless. Did I mention wireless? Yeah, wireless.

    Find it here a $129.95.

Topics: After Hours, Tech Industry


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Unique and Thoughtful

    Unusual selection of DIY products not seen elsewhere. Good scoop.
  • if you want customizable keys...

    Go with the Razer Anansi. It currently doesn't have drivers for windows 8 (it works fine for Windows 7), but for $25 more, you get an entire keyboard where every key is customizable, including 10 extra keys specifically for custom macros.
  • 32GB RAM

    re:"I looked everywhere for a notebook that could handle 32GB of RAM"
    Dell Precision M6700 Mobile Workstation can have 32GB RAM
    • Also 32GB RAM

      As can the HP Elitebook 8560w, also.
  • SyncBack Pro

    Using it for over 5 years to back up our servers and workstations. Very simple and reliable.
    Tomas M.
  • Another article I will not read . . .

    . . . because it uses ZDNet's World War II surplus slide show viewer that flashes and jumps all other the place. Seriously, I watched a slide show on my phone this morning on a Microsoft site that was smooth as silk. Why is the ZDNet web site so pathetic?
  • running a VM on the Zotac box?

    Perhaps that's why it didn't have enough horsepower for your needs. The Hypervisor you're using may consume too many resources to show the true potential of the Zotac box.
  • Oh, so THAT'S what you were doing with your hand in your lap!

    Was wondering.
  • SSD

    I'm very surprise that you didn't include SSD! It is THE single most effective item that a DIY person can add to their machine.
  • SATA/IDE HDD Docking Station

    StarTech also has a cable with power supply that has a multi connector with SATA, HD IDE, and Floppy IDE to use bare drives directly from a USB port. I am a tech and use that thing regularly. Works surprisingly well for as cheap as it is.
    I would recommend that over that box thing.
  • It's about looks

    They both do exactly the same thing, except one is a wire and the other is a wire within a case. Some techs prefer a Mad Scientist bench, with wires and parts on display, while others want a neater looking workspace and all wires hidden. Where I work, we have both personalities. As it turns out, the "Mac" guy (neat and ordered) wants the box. The "PC" guy (rather cluttered) uses the cable (whenever he can find who borrowed it last).