X-Stand Portable Notebook Cooling Stand

I’ve used this laptop stand for six years after discovering it branded and sold by Targus (where it can no longer be found). After losing mine, I found it again branded under “Hercules XStand Portable Notebook Cooling Stand” and “Opteka X-Stand Ergonomic Portable Airflow Cooling Stand.”

The stand is beautifully built, light (all-aluminum structure), and well-designed. It’s for 15″ – 17″ laptops, and easily folds down to something you could slip into a pocket. The stand tilts the keyboard a few degrees, which is nice, but its primary use is to allow plenty of airflow under the computer for cooling; I find it substantially reduces the temperature, which is not only nice for me, it certainly helps lengthen the life of my laptops. It has to be used on a flat surface – not your lap. I use it everywhere.

The stand is far-and-away the smallest and lightest laptop stand I’ve ever seen, and retails online for anywhere from $15 to $23.

-- Barry Schwartz  

X-Stand Portable Notebook Cooling Stand
$23

Available from Amazon



CRC Electronic Contact Cleaner 2000

I first ran into a can of this wonderful stuff when I started my first job, and have found it invaluable since, to the point where I have a can at work, home, and even leave one at my parents’ house.

What this is, is a can of non-flammable, liquid, electronic cleaner that can be pin-point sprayed onto various powered-down electronic contacts which are often unreachable or time-consuming to repair/replace.

Smartphone power button not responding? DSLR knob not switching modes? Static in the line jack? EQ slider no longer smooth? Try some of this spray, and if it’s an electronic contact issue, it might just magically fix it.

Even after you’ve given them ample warning, the look of horror on the faces of your friends and family as you spray a stream of liquid onto their non-waterproof electronics is priceless. Even better is the look of delight when they realize there is no evidence of the liquid, and you’ve fixed their gadget.

Because it evaporates nearly instantaneously, you won’t end up with liquid damage to components or surroundings, is plastic-friendly in that it doesn’t discolor or crack it, and is safe to use liberally.

My personal favorite is the CRC Contact Cleaner 2000, since that’s what I first used, and I also chuckle a little when I use any product with the “futuristic” number “2000″ in it.

There are many fine products from competitors such as Permatex, B’Laster, and WD-40, as well, with varying claims of higher cleansing performance. Perhaps in really tough environments, this may be important, but for my typical home/office use, the CRC Contact Cleaner 2000 has worked just fine. Regardless of what cleaner you purchase, make sure you’re purchasing a version that is explicitly listed as non-flammable and compliant with all 50 states on low VOC (volatile organic compounds).

-- Kaz Mori  

CRC Contact 2000 VC Precision Cleaner, 16 oz
$36

Available from Amazon



Copilot

I’m the CTO of a company that employs a whole group of computer repair technicians. At one time, we would remotely diagnose computer problems by connecting to a user’s network using a VPN, then have the user install VNC, and then tell us their IP address. Sometimes there wasn’t a VPN or we had to go through setting up one for the user on their router. (To make things more problematic, most Telus connections started disallowing VPNs.) Each and every one of those steps was very difficult for the average user.

Now we use Copilot.com. We just ask users to open a Web page, read off the 12-digit number they see, and click a link, which downloads a small program that they can run to create the connection; then the connection will work through any firewall they have.

Using this I can connect to almost any remote PC. It works with users in UAE on a slow IDSN line. It works with users in northern Canada with a cell phone Internet connection. Of course, it works a lot better with high speed internet connections.

Other tools require a user to view an email (which may not be working) or provide information about their PC, which they usually have no idea about. This tool works as long as you can get the user on the phone and looking at the Web site.

The only difficulty? Some users are so illiterate that when you say “go to www.copilot.com” they will instead enter “copilot” into Google. You’d be very surprised how often this happens.

There are other services that do this, however we find this one works on the worst of connections. And of course, the farther away someone is, the worse their connection is, and the more help they need!

I have used Copilot for about 3 years. I pay the monthly subscription fee of $20, but you can also pay $5 to use it for 24 hours, on demand.

-- Perry Doell  

Copilot
Price plans vary
Free on weekends



Tournez Clamp Mount for iPad

I have used this articulating clamp/arm/iPad mount for nearly a year. I am often bed-bound due to health, and holding my iPad becomes tiring and painful. This arm allows me to surf for hours and maintain my connection to the outside world. It does exactly what it promises. It is elegant, adaptable, and worth every penny of the price.

-- Catherine Williams  

The Joy Factory Tournez C-Clamp Mount
$103

Available from Amazon



Amped ACA1 Wi-Fi USB Adapter

When the PCI Wi-Fi card in my desktop system died last month, I decided to get something that had an external antenna I could move away from the case and closer to the door of my room, since the wireless router was on the other side of the house. When I saw the ACA1 it seemed to fit the bill, with a few extras: It comes with a clip to attach to a laptop LCD monitor, in case I needed a better connection. It supports the dual band 2.4GHz and 5.0Ghz standards. It also supports the new 802.11AC protocol, in addition to the a/b/g/n protocols that have been in use for years.

What I didn’t expect is the flat-out SPEED this adapter delivers. Yes, it’s USB 3.0, but I didn’t expect that to affect my Wi-Fi usage. From day one, it has registered 48.0 MBps, while the PCI card never got over 5.0 MBps. Also, I see SIDs from neighbors which never registered with the older card.

Setup was easy: Run the Setup CD; Connect the USB 3.0 cable (it’s included) plug it into an available USB port; Select your SID and enter your wi-fi security key.

This was the best $90 network upgrade I’ve ever spent, and with the new AC protocol being supported I look forward to many years of happy net-surfing to come.

-- Opher Banarie  

[This may not work for Mac computers. See the Amazon comments. - Mark]

Amped Wireless High Power 500mW Dual Band AC Wi-Fi USB Adapter
$85

Available from Amazon



Logitech Anywhere MX Mouse

Okay, okay, I know. A mouse is a mouse is a mouse, right? It’s true — once it points and clicks, anything else is luxury. Which is where the Logitech Anywhere Mouse MX comes in.

I’ve been using the Logitech Anywhere Mouse MX now for about two years and I couldn’t be happier. The Anywhere MX is designed to work on almost any surface, making it prime for use with laptops, though I use one as my primary desktop mouse as well. It has a good, solid weight and an extremely responsive wheel that spins with what I can only describe as a perfect momentum. In one mode, its movement is unfettered and it spins smoothly, undamped, with a single stroke — useful for flying through large documents and lists. By pressing the wheel in, you can switch to a stepped motion for more precise scrolling.

As a left hander, I have had difficulty with contoured mice. The MX is mostly symmetric, but includes two buttons presumably designed to be operated with the thumb of the right hand. I find that side of my left ring finger works just as well. The included software allows you to easily remap any of the buttons, which I use for fast switching music and windows. It conforms to the excellent Logitech Unifying standard, meaning that only one tiny USB receiver is needed to connect up to six mice or keyboards.

This is a mouse anyone can pick up and feel immediately comfortable using. I have large hands and haven’t felt any of the cramping I’ve previously experienced with other wireless mice, which often tend to be on the small side. It takes two AA batteries, and power on/off is controlled by a well-machined sliding switch that covers the laser lens in the off position.

My biggest complaint is that it makes using other mice frustrating.

-- Alexander Parkinson  

[We reviewed this a couple of years ago, but I wanted to run Alexander's review, because he's left-handed and has figured out a way to use it. -- Mark]

Logitech Anywhere MX Mouse
$45

Available from Amazon



Index Card Holder for Internet Passwords

When the Web was new (I climbed on board in 1995) like everyone else, I started accumulating passwords. Slowly at first, but with two websites to manage and a fondness for on-line shopping, by 1999, I was pinning scraps of paper to my bulletin board, jotting in notebooks, tucking them into my wallet, in various files in the filing cabinet, and, oh heck, just sticking Post-Its to my computer monitor. And more times than I’d like to admit, I forgot to write them down at all. I knew some people who kept their passwords straight by using the same one for everything, but that seemed to me an invitation to hackers.

About ten years ago, I started noting each password on its own 4 x 6 inch index card, then filing it alphabetically by service (e.g., Amazon.com under “A”) in a little box that looks just like my grandmother’s cookie recipe box.

Call it the Grandma’s Recipe Box Solution to Password Management.

On each index card I note:

Name of Service (e.g., Amazon.com)
My password
My username
My email address for this account
Any other relevant information

Now that I’m still on-line in 2014 and managing a plethora of websites, a batch of blogs, two YouTube channels, Vimeo, three Twitter accounts, and do my banking on-line, use PayPal, and have not set foot in a shopping mall in more time than I can remember, I have accumulated a prodigious stack of index cards. But my little plastic index card holder, with its alphabetical tabs, is still right here by my desk, doing the job.

I have found that there are several advantages to this method:

1. I can keep all my passwords at my fingertips (so when it’s time to check my bank balance or tweet or shop on-line, if I cannot recall the one I need password, I just pluck it out);

2. Filing the cards alphabetically allows me to plunk one back in quickly (and find it again just as
quickly);

3. I can use longer and more varied passwords without having to remember them nor go through the hoops of waiting for it to be resent to my email, and then having to click on some link to confirm;

4. If I need to change a password, I just pluck out the card, note the change, and put it back;

5. When I had to cancel one of my email accounts, I was able to whip through the stack of index cards to see which accounts needed updating;

6. It’s cheap and after 10 years the plastic index card holder still looks like new;

7. Its small enough to stash in a locked drawer;

8. Finally, should anything happen to me, my family knows where to retrieve all my passwords to put my affairs in order. That’s a gruesome thought, but a realistic one. Last I checked, no one gets off this planet alive (except astronauts, and only temporarily).

-- C.M. Mayo  



Magic Cable Trio

The good news: the world has standardized on mini- and micro-USB. The bad news: the cables are too long for your day bag. This minimalist 3-in-1 connector combines a mini-USB, micro-USB, and an iPhone 30-pin adapter in a single gadget. As simple as possible, but no simpler, this is the cable Einstein would have carried. I’ve had mine for a year and use it every day.

-- Meng Wong  

Innergie Magic Cable Trio
$15

Available from Amazon



Magic Wand Portable Scanner

I’ve been using this hand-held scanner for a little over 2 years. I don’t use it daily, more like several times a month, but for my purposes the name is appropriate… MAGIC.

I’m a CAD sub-contractor, and am often asked to create high resolution, photo-realistic images of (among other things) furniture or cabinet designs. In order for these images to be as accurate as possible, I need to use the finish sample (such as a wooden panel) selected for the project.

In the past, I took a digital photo with the best lighting I could find, and manipulated the image in software to attempt to even out the lighting, correct the perspective, crop out the background, etc., creating a “texture” that my CAD program used to render the object. This was always time-consuming and usually resulted in less than stellar results.

Now, I can run this scanner across a 8-inch x 8-inch sample, or even an 8-foot-long sample, and get a full-size, good resolution, consistently lighted image of the board, or other material. Often the only reason I will edit the scanned image in a photo manipulation program is to reduce the resolution. (Recently, a production manager commented that images from one of my CAD models that had been rendered with a scan of a stained burl veneer sample looked better than the finished piece of furniture.)

This scanner will not scan (easily) without a little distortion somewhere. It is relying on you to push it along, after all. The more consistently you move the scanner, the less distortion you’ll get. That said, I’m usually surprised at how little distortion there is. (But I would not count on it to give me a perfect scan of an important picture of grandma.)

It uses 2 AA batteries – and they last a long time if left out of the unit when not in use. It produces Jpeg images, which it stores on a microSD card – not included. It uses a common USB connection and includes a cable to transfer images to a computer. There is no special software required to access the images on the scanner in Windows (Vista thru 8). I’m not sure about WinXP or Mac, but any SD card reader ought to be able to read the Jpeg files on the microSD card.

I highly recommend the VP Solutions carrying case ($15) as well. It has plenty of room for the scanner, battery storage cable, etc. It is compact and very solid.

-- Sean Frey  

Magic Wand Portable Scanner
PDS ST415 (replaces the PDS-ST410)
$80

Available from Amazon



Logitech Wireless Rechargeable Touchpad T650

I began suffering symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome earlier this year, and in my search for alternatives to my computer mouse, a friend recommended the Logitech Wireless Rechargeable Touchpad T650.

I was skeptical, because I’ve used laptop touchpads for years and always found them to be second-rate in terms of real usability — you know, good enough when you’re traveling, but not a real mouse replacement. I have also used trackballs and, even though they help relieved the pain in my arm, they are notoriously inaccurate as pointing devices and are pretty much useless (for me, anyway) when doing mouse-heavy graphic work like Photoshop.

But after three months of daily use, I am happy to report that the Logitech Touchpad has solved my carpal tunnel problem without decreasing my computer proficiency. It took only a short time to acclimate myself, and the 2- and 3-finger multi-touch capabilities are terrific, even with Windows 7. It is much more sensitive than the touchpads I’ve used on laptops, and more reliably so. It has a pleasant surface feel and provides easy cursor control. Plus it is much larger than a mouse trackpad, so one can be more accurate with it.

In addition to surface tap functions for right and left click, the front footpads of the device contain switches which act as left and right mouse buttons if you press down on the bottom left or bottom right corners of the pad.

I use my Touchpad T650 in combination with a laptop touchpad — I find that using my left hand for the left-click button on the laptop touchpad and dragging with my right index finger on the touchpad is faster and more accurate than using the Logitech touchpad alone and makes it as effective as a mouse when working in Photoshop and other GUI software. With a bit of patience and practice it has become a solid replacement for my mouse…and my arm feels much better.

The Touchpad T650 is wireless with a built-in rechargeable battery. I get a week to ten days of daily use before having to plug it into a USB port to recharge it.

Oh, and there’s a side benefit: when I carry the Logitech Touchpad with me, it is flat, as opposed to egg-shaped like a mouse, so it’s a lot easier to pack.

-- Curtis Long  

Rechargeable Touchpad T650
$48

Available from Amazon