This tool has been UNRECOMMENDED and is now in the DEAD TOOLS category. See the FAQ for more info.

Roku SoundBridge

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After extensive comparisons of the surprisingly small number of inexpensive, quality options for listening to my digitized music on my hi-fi audio system, I went with Roku’s very reasonably-priced SoundBridge M1001 network music player. The latest SoundBridge model uses wired Ethernet or Wi-Fi (including WEP or WPA security) to stream music from my hard drive to my stereo. While my stereo set-up is far from audiophile, it still sounds a lot better than my laptop or plug-in speakers.

Following months of ripping the thousands of CDs in my collection, I now have more gigabytes of music on my laptop than even the largest iPod can hold, so plugging an mp3 player into my stereo wasn’t an option. I also find it too much trouble to tote the computer from my desk to the other room where my stereo sits to connect it with an audio cable. Plus, then I can’t use the computer while it sits tethered up on the shelf next to the receiver.

As a universal jukebox, the SoundBridge gives me convenient access to all my digitized music. It also offers built in search for the countless Internet radio stations out there, which expands my music choices nearly infinitely. The device itself is small and very attractive, and installation was mostly easy. SoundBridge found my home wireless network and connected instantly as soon as I entered the password. The manual is clearly written, and I was able to learn the device’s menus and functions pretty quickly. I refuse to use iTunes because it is a system hog on my Windows machine. I rely on WinAmp instead, but the Firefly Media Server (offered by Roku as a free download) works fine, as will the media server built into Windows Media Player. Both server options (and the others detailed on Roku’s site) quickly read the tags on my audio files and provide a seamless browsing and searching opportunity, with support for all the playlists I have created, too. Just to be clear, the SoundBridge does NOT connect to a computer’s soundcard, so it can’t be used to stream the sound from a DVD being played, for example.

All of the set-up and navigation is done with a small infrared remote control that comes with the SoundBridge device. While shaped nicely for my hand, the remote is actually the least impressive element of the system. I find it a bit flimsy and the squishy buttons give little tactile (or aural) feedback, so I may eventually replace it with a universal remote. That said, I am immensely happy with the system, and I’m free to listen to music but still use my laptop wherever and whenever I want.

-- Ted Weinstein  

[As of March 2010 the Roku SoundBridge is no longer available. If you can recommend a similar product, please do so in the comments or through our submit form.--es]

Roku SoundBridge
$133 (discontinued)

Manufactured by Roku

Available from Amazon



This tool has been UNRECOMMENDED and is now in the DEAD TOOLS category. See the FAQ for more info.

Grand Central

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Referring to the Mini Phone Recorder and the request for web-based recording solutions, I’ve been using Grand Central and Free Conference Call to record calls for a few months now. Both are free services, with Free Conference Call giving you the option to record calls between many many callers (up to 96 callers at the same time!). It works great, like FreeConference.com, and registration is open to all. However, I really prefer Grand Central (owned by Google). The service’s main benefit is that you can route multiple numbers through one line. But it’s rather easy to record calls; you simply press 4, either from the moment you pick up or at specific times for parts. The call archives to your Grand Central Inbox, and you have the option of forwarding it on via email and also downloading it as an mp3. I prefer Grand Central because they provide you with an actual number people can call you at, and allow calls to that number to be forwarded to any other phones you have. This is especially useful in business situations or when you need to give out a number online. I mostly give the number to friends and family so that when they need to find me they just call that number and it will ring the places where I mostly am (home, cell phone, etc.), but I also use it when dealing with merchants who ask for a phone number so as to not give away a personal number. The added appeal of Grand Central is that you get email and/or SMS notifications whenever you have voicemail messages in the unlikely event that you miss the call. There’s also a “webcall” feature that allows you to initiate a call from the Grand Central web site and display that number (instead of your home/cell/work line) as caller ID to the person you are calling. The only downside is Grand Central is in beta and invite only last time I checked, but you can go online and request a number, and they’ll usually get you one in a few days.

– Ed Fonseca

When I requested a number from Grand Central, I received one the very next day. Once you’re in, you can invite 10 friends. I sent it to a few writer/journalist colleagues. Documenting interviews via cell phone on the fly is a truly remarkable development for any reporter, especially those used to being tethered to a desk with an old-fashioned phone tap. From the interviewee’s perspective, you always know when you’re being recorded because a voice prompt interrupts the call each time the interviewer presses 4. Grand Central has plenty of jazzy features — centralizing all your numbers alone is the main selling point — but eliminating the gray area of what’s on and off the record ranks high on my list. Also, just a reminder, the laws about recording on the phone vary by state in the US.

– Steven Leckart

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RadioTime

 

[In 2009, Grand Central was discontinued and rolled into Google Voice. The features are different enough to warrant a new review. Please give us your feedback via the submit page. -- SL]



This tool has been UNRECOMMENDED and is now in the DEAD TOOLS category. See the FAQ for more info.

Bar Keeper’s Friend

We started investing in fancy, mirror-polished All-Clad cookware a few years ago, but keeping them “stainless” was impossible — until a sample of this powder came bundled with a sauce pan we bought last year. Where regular dish soap and newfangled all-purpose sprays like 409 had virtually no effect on de-greasing our gunked up gear, this old-fashioned cleanser consistently works miracles, especially on the teapot that’s always in the line of fire during splatter-heavy stove-top sessions. You just sprinkle a couple of tablespoons onto a wet pan/pot, add a little water and make a slurry with a soft wet rag. With minimal elbow grease, we restored an unsightly jelly roll sheet pan to near original condition. A couple other advertised uses I’ve yet to try: chrome bathroom fixtures, tile grouting, porcelain and stainless steel sinks, and removing rust and discoloration from car bumpers. It’s available at most grocery stores. It’s inexpensive and, thankfully, doesn’t smell harsh. It contains oxalic acid, though, so you definitely want to wash up thoroughly afterwards.

-- Steven Leckart  

[A less toxic, more recently-reviewed alternative is Bon Ami]

Bar Keeper’s Friend
$3
Manufactured by SerVaas Laboratories

Available from Amazon



This tool has been UNRECOMMENDED and is now in the DEAD TOOLS category. See the FAQ for more info.

Gossamer Whisper Uberlight Pack

Going with an ultralight pack like this is the easiest way to start reducing weight. This simple nylon sack pack weighs 4 ounces. There is no frame. You make a frame by first loading your tent in the bottom. You place your folded sleeping pad so it rests against your back and that gives structure to the pack. If you use folding tent poles, they are inserted inside the folds of the pad to give more structure. On top of the tent goes your sleeping bag. Then you add a couple of zip lock bags on top of that for your food and other belongings. I put my water containers in the outside flap. Then you simply roll the top a few turns and fix it with the velcro straps. There are no zippers, no heavy belts or straps, no compartments, pouches or other extras.

Most people are hooked on features. But, do you really need a separate compartment for your compass and a special web pocket for your water and a map case and three main compartments? I only need one compartment in my pack. Place your things in a few plastic bags. When you want something, pull out the bag you need. It is a relief, actually, to give up on all those compartments, pockets, zippers, thick padded straps, carbon frame and pounds of extras.

When you go the ultralight route your total pack weight will be less than 10 pounds and at that weight, you don’t need hiking boots either. They were designed for the olden days when packs were 40 plus pounds. Ultralight trail running shoes are a pleasure to wear.

Take a look at some of the features of some of the best selling, traditional weekend packs: carbon fiber frame, 4 pockets plus main compartment, dual-density padded shoulder straps, load lifter straps, cranial cavity (to make room for your head!), front bungee, tool loops, twin side water bottle pockets, removable lid doubles as a lumbar pack, interchangeable hip belt with fit zone, adjustable sternum strap with integrated whistle. Total weight: 6 pounds 9 ounces. That is 7 ounces less than my pack when it is fully loaded for a two-day trip!

-- John Aebi-Magee  

[This product remains out of stock, indefinitely. If/when that changes, we will reinstate our recommendation for this solid pack. In the meantime, for longer trips requiring more pack room, check out the G4, also by Gossamer; and see this book for a primer on how to Lighten Up! -- SL]

Whisper Uberlight Pack
$60
Available from Gossamer Gear



This tool has been UNRECOMMENDED and is now in the DEAD TOOLS category. See the FAQ for more info.

Just For Copper Solderless Bonding

Just for Copper is a solderless bonding agent that permits the bonding of copper-to-copper and copper-to-brass without the use of solder or heat. This comes in especially handy when you have a joint located where you are not comfortable using a torch. Dry-fit your pipes, mark the joints, sand inside & out, apply a proper amount of compound, press together, twist, and you are finished. Works like a charm, even on those joints you couldn’t get to hold solder.

I was surprised by this product. I’ve plumbed several houses, a volunteer crew leader with Habitat for Humanity, and so on. You name it, I’ve done a little of everything. My nephew and I were running new copper for his second bath and there was a joint that wouldn’t take solder. He went to the local True Value for a compression fitting and the clerk suggested he try this bond. He brought it back and it worked. We then put in a new outdoor faucet for my mother. We were concerned with using a torch in an area that was cramped and had electric lines running through it. Using this bond took care of that concern and it worked great. Of course, the product isn’t fool proof (i.e. human error), so here are some tips on how to use it.

-- Al Finnical  

Just For Copper Bonding Epoxy
$15
Manufactured by Jackson Industries, Inc.

Available from Amazon



This tool has been UNRECOMMENDED and is now in the DEAD TOOLS category. See the FAQ for more info.

Fiskars Pro Chopping Axe

Fiskars makes the best axes for the money — light, sharp and virtually unbreakable. The handle is a fiberglass reinforced composite that is amazingly strong. A couple years ago I was carving a dugout canoe with my 28″ Pro Chopping axe. The handle held up through a 30″ diameter tree before breaking while I was working on the canoe (a quaking aspen log — not the best for a canoe, but all I could get at the time). Still, the axe was returned to Lowe’s and replaced for free. I have used similar-priced axes in the $30 range and the wooden handles either break in no time or the blade is dull or both. I have used my axe for around three years now and went quite a while without sharpening it. Eventually, I bought the Fiskars companion sharpener for $10 and with a few passes through it, the axe is ready to go.

-- Benjamin Thompson  

[Fiskars no longer produces this axe - it's been replaced by the Splitting Axe -- OH]

Fiskars Pro Chopping Axe
$32

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Fiskars Brands, Inc.



This tool has been UNRECOMMENDED and is now in the DEAD TOOLS category. See the FAQ for more info.

Patagonia Travel Beanie

I travel a lot and often forget to pack my eye mask because it’s so flimsy. The back section of this snug, warm beanie is split so that you can turn it around and use it as an eye shield that provides greater eye coverage without the fuss of uncomfortable elastic bands at the back. There is a small pocket in the rim for stashing things, like a couple of sleeping pills for a long flight. And there is also a drawcord in the rim that you can pull tight to make the beanie into a small bag.

I suppose you could modify a beanie with a (nose)slit, but I am not the most adept seamster. Arguably, if I could find a tight knit beanie I would be willing to try and mod it, but this one has been the best find in my opinion, because of its fit as much as its additional features.

I can be quite persnickety about beanies. I have two other beanies — one is Polarfleece(r) that I only use for camping because it has a fold-over brim that isn’t exactly fashion-forward. The other is a surf-brand beanie I bought easily 10 years ago, which features a tight knit and snug fit. I ardently looked for a replacement for at least three years before I found this very comfortable Patagonia beanie. The Patagonia beanie fulfills both roles I need a beanie for: camping (Iwore it recently at a mountain biking race in the Vermont backwoods), as well as urban wear (I wore it last week in cool weather in downtown San Diego).

I really like the tight-knit fabric and can nap/sleep fitfully while traveling. I have used it flying from California to Carolina and then again up to NYC and Vermont, but I fly trans-Atlantically at least once a year and am really looking forward to using this beanie on one of my longer 16-hour trips.

-- Chris La Rose  

[Unfortunately Patagonia is no longer manufacturing this beanie. If you find a comparable beanie from another manufacturer, please let us know -- SL]

Patagonia Travel Beanie
$34
Previously manufactured by Patagonia



This tool has been UNRECOMMENDED and is now in the DEAD TOOLS category. See the FAQ for more info.

Glidden Ceiling Paint

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Ceilings are notoriously tough to paint evenly – it’s difficult to get every last little bit covered and easy to miss spots because you can only see it when the light catches it just right. This paint insures you get it right the first time: it goes on pink, but dries white. As long as the ceiling’s solid pink when you’re done, you know you’ve done a great job!

We had an old, dirty ceiling, which my wife attempted to paint using a mini-roller. It didn’t look right, and I figured it was messed up anyway, so I tried to touch it up and even out the texture. I was left with a ceiling that was technically white, but looked like military camouflage when morning light would hit it at an angle. So, with numerous assurances from the Home Depot paint guy, I bought a gallon of Glidden’s paint for our 180 square foot ceiling.

Though my dining room ceiling initially looked like it was soaked in Pepto-Bismol, it dried a glorious, flat, even white overnight. It goes on like any paint (I was using a very deep-nap roller, as I had to go over that heavy texture) and it covers nice, just like regular latex paint. The most difficult aspect of using this paint is overcoming the feeling in the back of your mind that the folks at the Glidden factory have duped you into painting your home pink.

-- Doug Barnard  

[I contacted Glidden to find out how the paint's "EZ Trackā„¢ Technology" works. Here's their response: "It is a temporary dye. Unfortunately, we are not allowed legally to discuss specific technology." Many readers suggested the color-changing "magic" may be due to a similar mechanism as these disappearing colored bubbles. -- SL]

Glidden Ceiling Paint
$32
(1.85 gallon “Quick Roll” container)

Manufactured by ICI Paints

Available from Amazon



This tool has been UNRECOMMENDED and is now in the DEAD TOOLS category. See the FAQ for more info.

Oster Grooming Rake

This grooming rake is excellent for removing dead undercoat from dogs. It’s basically a series of curved metal “fingers” with blades on the inside. The fingers gather the hair as you pull the rake through the dog’s fur. The blades allow it to cut through matted hair and they’re rounded to keep the dog from being cut. This model has 18 fingers or teeth, making it especially good for larger breeds.

My wife discovered it at a local grooming shop. They used the brush on our dog for six months before we finally decided to purchase one. We have a 110 lb Golden Retriever and our floors are usually covered in a generous layer of dog hair. We’ve tried other grooming brushes, but this rake easily removed 10 times as much hair.

Bonus: it’s fun to use and the dog seems to enjoy it, although he’s not picky about which brush we use.

-- Eric Weary  

[A metal rake could conceivably outlive a plastic rake or brush. Regardless, the more-recently reviewed FURminator is so darn effective, we suggest you look there. -- SL]

Oster Grooming Rake
$23
Manufactured by Oster Professional Products

Available from Amazon



This tool has been UNRECOMMENDED and is now in the DEAD TOOLS category. See the FAQ for more info.

Sock Pro

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The Sock Pro is a little rubber disc perforated in the center to allow the toes of a pair of socks to be slipped through its center. The perforations hold the socks together through laundry and drying, and they keep socks paired in the dresser drawer. I’ve been using these thingies about a year and half and they really save me time and annoyance at the laundromat. For those with families, you can buy them in different colors and assign one color to each family member. It takes some effort to drag heavier socks through the hoops, but I have been able to use them with Thor-Lo maximum padding running socks and they work fine.

-- Rhea Jacobs  

Sock Pro
$5
(20 discs in one color)
Available from SOCKPro, Inc.