Long Handle Shoe Horn

You can get a long bamboo shoe horn at any Asian market for $3, or the previously reviewed one from IKEA, but I have one I really like that is sturdy and long-lasting and expensive. But it is SO worth it. Because of the spring at the bottom it is more maneuverable than regular long shoe horns, ending a lot of frustration. Over the lifetime of the shoe horn, the price is justified in my book.

-- Olivia M. Brown  

21″ Shoe Horn
$22

Available from Amazon



Schlage Keypad Deadbolt

I have had this lock on my front door for three years. The advantages are numerous: one less key on the key ring, illuminated keypad, never lock myself out, easy to give the code to relatives, friends, dog walkers or anyone needing access to your house without you present. But, most importantly, when my wife has to run back in the house to get one last thing, I don’t have to turn the car off so she can use my key.

When the 9-volt battery start to go the keypad blinks, so you don’t end up getting locked out with a dead battery. (It will also accept a key).

-- Steve Haslet  

Schlage Camelot Keypad Deadbolt
$103

Available from Amazon



Eco Brick

I love heating my house with my fireplace and wood stove. Its carbon neutral, it targets the heat where I want it, and somehow it just feels warmer then forced air heat.

I don’t love dealing with firewood. I don’t like storing it, trying to keep it dry, and I especially don’t like going outside when it is freezing cold to bring an armful inside.

That’s where Eco Bricks come in. They are compressed hardwood sawdust bricks that you burn in a fireplace just like logs. They are kiln dried and bug free, so they can be stored inside. Since they are kiln dried, they always light easily.

BTU wise, the company says that a pallet of Eco Bricks are equivalent to a full cord of hardwood firewood. Where I am, a pallet runs $235, which is roughly the same as a cord of firewood.

Since these things are so dense and dry, some care must be taken not to over-fire your fireplace or stove. I’ve been using them for three winters, and haven’t had any problems yet.

I’ve got about a half pallet in my basement queued up. I’m looking forward to my first fire of the season.

-- Clark Case  

Eco-Brick pressed sawdust fireplace fuel
Find a local retailer here

Sample Excerpts:

[Enjoy this video of a one-hour Eco Brick burn. - Mark]




Wink’s remarkable book picks of the week

Wink is Cool Tools’ website that reviews one remarkable paper book every weekday. We take photos of the covers and the interior pages of the books to show you why we love them.

This week we reviewed books about excellent optical illusions, the events of one day in WW1 told in the form one long continuous pen drawing printed on a fold-out scroll, Ernest Shackleton’s brave yet disastrous attempt to cross the Antarctic continent, hundreds of science-themed tattoos worn by working scientists, the sketchbooks of artists from around the world, and the greatest comic books ever published in a bound slipcase.

Take a look at these books and many others at Wink.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  



Logitech B530 USB Headset

I purchased this on a whim a few months ago to use at my office. To say that it was a great investment would be an understatement. Comfortable and flexible, the headset does its job well by providing an incredible sound quality that is unmatched to any other headset I’ve used. The mic is also surprisingly efficient, capturing the smallest or thinnest sounds and making them audible (often to the detriment or embarrassment of the user). I would highly recommend them.

-- Jacob  

B530 USB Headset
$37

Available from Amazon



Kitebuilder

This is the best site for learning how to build your own kites. Good tutorials, decent forums (quieter since the site’s founder died) and a great encyclopedia of techniques and materials. Their best asset is the stash of plans submitted by users for almost any type of kite.

(Kite making supplies can be found from the previously reviewed Into the Wind.)

-- KK  

Sample Excerpts:

There’s no such thing as kite fabric! Just about any fabric will work… including the fabric grade Ripstop you chose. Was it difficult to sew? It is probably pretty stretchy eh?? The coated Ripstop often used by most builders on this website is coated with a finish that reduces stretch and porosity. It is also pretty light weight, probably about half the weight of the cloth you used. So… your kite will probably require a little more wind for optimum performance… but if balanced and bridled properly, it should still fly.

*

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Pocket Rocket Outside Diameter Rule

I work in a pulp mill and this tool comes in very handy when sizing up pipes in the field. The calipers quickly measure outside diameters of any round object up to 16 inches in diameter. The gauge is marked with actual inch diameter and also standard iron pipe sizes. When opened completely it also doubles 14″ ruler. Folded, the rule easily fits in your pocket. For years I used PI tapes but this is much quicker and easier to use on pipes in hard to reach or tight spots — you only need access to a small section of the pipe to get a read, not wrap the tape all the way around. Simple one handed operation, great when you are on a ladder. They are available in plastic or aluminum, I prefer the durability of the aluminum, it is worth the extra few dollars.

-- David Riecken  

Pocket Rocket Pipe / Diameter Caliper and Ruler Black Anodized Aluminum
$35

Available from Amazon



Rugged Rukus Portable Solar Wireless Sound System

I have owned this rugged, splash-proof speaker for about six months. I purchased it for week-long bicycle tours and camping. It is a combination of solar charger, battery and speakers in one unit. I charge my phone and i-pod when off the grid. The speaker has blue-tooth and auxiliary (wired) input and indicator lights for battery status, etc. I use the two loops to strap the speaker to my bike bag for listening on the road. It sounds great for its size. It even fits in a large pocket of cargo pants.

-- Bob Lewis  

Rugged Rukus All-Terrain Portable Solar Wireless Sound System
$66

Available from Amazon



Diablotek 8800mAh Portable USB Battery

[This is out of stock on Amazon. I can't find another source for this particular battery. If you know where to get them, please post in the comments. -- Mark]

I’ve been a road warrior for years now, and have gone through over a dozen different Portable USB batteries – they have all either broken (Looking at you, fancy LiPoly chargers!), I’ve lost them, or I outgrew their capacity.

Capacity is the name of the game with this little device! While it is heavy, weighing in at 247 grams (Slightly over a half pound), it packs in every feature that a road warrior would need:

* 8800mAH capacity
* 2 standard USB ports, one outputting at 5V-2A
* Charges via a standard micro-USB cable
* Simple On/Off
* A ring of LEDs around the power button show capacity remaining (Both charging and discharging)
* Comes with a handful of different adapters, though they aren’t needed

I picked it up at a local Microcenter for less than $20, thinking it would be trash — but it’s survived dozens of drops, hundreds of charge/discharge cycles, water, mud and more than enough to have me come to depend on this little guy!

The best part is the 5V – 2Amp output – this allows most devices to enter a fast charge state, which is noticeably quicker than with a standard socket.

On a recent 6-hour flight, I kept both my Android phone and my power hungry Nexus 7 plugged into it. I played games, listened to music, or watched movies the entire time on the Nexus and when we landed both devices were at 100% AND the little USB battery was still at 75%.

In fact, I have yet to drain it beyond 50%, and that includes a 12-hour day of Geocaching with my phone’s GPS on and the screen fully awake.

It also holds a charge for a long long time — I’ve left it alone for 6 months, only to come back and see it’s still at almost a full charge.

If I had an gripe with it at all, it’s that it lacks an attachment point, which is corrected with some epoxy and a trip to the hardware store.

-- Jeremy D Pavleck  

Diablotek 8800mAh Portable USB Battery
$33

Available from Amazon



Wink’s remarkable book picks of the week

Wink is Cool Tools’ new website that reviews one remarkable paper book every weekday. We take photos of the covers and the interior pages of the books to show you why we love them.

This week we reviewed books about the greatest comic books ever published, provocative ads that defined the world of fashion, the art and revelations of hand-drawn maps, a an eccentric genius’ explanation of how half-Yeti hybrids have enslaved mankind , Rex Ray’s merging of design and fine art with retro-mod flair, and
spectacular close-up photographs of the elements
.

Take a look at these books and many others at Wink.

-- Mark Frauenfelder