The Remington Shortcut is a clipper designed for self-administered haircuts. A curved clipper head makes it almost impossible to over-cut small or large regions, and the clipper’s unconventional hairbrush-like shape makes it easy to reach the most awkward spots on your head. Before getting the Shortcut, I’d tried cutting my own hair several times and always had disasters. On my first attempt with the Shortcut, I got about the same results I’m used to from a pro, which rather astounded me. It seems almost impossible to mess up. Using the Shortcut takes me five to ten minutes, which I usually fit in just before showering for obvious reasons. The cutter can be set from “skinhead” to “George Clooney” and you can easily mix lengths on the sides and top for effect. Once you get used to five minute haircuts on-demand they’re rather addictive. Going to the barber for a typical male haircut now seems as silly — and time wasting — as traveling across town for a shave. Every time I use the Shortcut I save about $20 and at least an hour and a half of my time — a good return on my initial investment.
I always thought lap desks were for the bed-bound, until the Levenger Surf desk arrived on my doorstep, an early birthday gift from Levenger’s founder, Steve Leveen. The Surf Desk is a super-light desk made of the same materials used in surfboards, and as hip-looking as something one might see in Malibu. I’ll admit I was a bit puzzled by the thing at first and I never imagined a lap-desk would be a useful tool, but I now use the darn thing every day! It’s perfect for working with a laptop and my notes while slouching on a couch, or relaxing outside on a deck chair. In my office, I often set it atop an open file drawer as an impromptu credenza to hold paper sprawls during big projects. When I am not using it, the Surf Desk parks conveniently in a corner or propped up in my closet (though I use it so much it is hardly ever there). The folks at Levenger joke about “alternative desking,” but I think the term gets at what makes the Surf Desk so interesting: it gives vastly more flexibility in choosing how — and where — to work. I haven’t taken mine away from home yet, but the Surf Desk is so light and convenient (and presumably water proof), I’d think anyone who wanted a travel desk in their SUV, van or the like would enjoy this one. And solo surfers take note: pull out a surf desk at your local espresso bar and you are sure to draw a crowd, especially if you are close to the beach!
This fleece sleeping bag liner looks like a really long hooded sweatshirt, except it has a drawstring base. You can tuck your feet in and close it up, but then wear it to get out of your bag at night to go pee or whatever. I got mine to combine with my Bivanorak bivvy bag to make a lightweight sleeping system, but it also does double duty as a garment that’s very nice for sitting around and just keeping warm around camp. I’ve used it up in the mountains at about 8,500 feet with the temp down to about 38 F. It’s light and packs up very small (mine is 9×15 and maybe 2 lbs), and is available with a stuff sack.
Most importantly, they will custom make one for you if, say, you are very tall (I’m 6’10” and 260 lbs). You can also choose from a few fabric thicknesses and add a pocket pouch. I opted for the thickest weight fabric with the pocket pouch, which has a zippered mesh compartment. Great service, too. The maker got my special order to me in 4 days.
[This product is not currently available. -- SL]
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.
[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]
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
— 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
[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]
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.
[A less toxic, more recently-reviewed alternative is Bon Ami]
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!
[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]
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.
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.
[Fiskars no longer produces this axe - it's been replaced by the Splitting Axe -- OH]
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.
[Unfortunately Patagonia is no longer manufacturing this beanie. If you find a comparable beanie from another manufacturer, please let us know -- SL]