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

Sock Pro

sockpro-sm.jpg

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.



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

Picnik Photo Editor

I’ve seen many quick and dirty photo editing programs via web browser, but this Flash-based editor definitely takes the cake. Hands down, the ease of use is the best part. As you work, little windows pop up with explanations, but I’ve never needed them because of the usability. For a professional photographer or someone looking to get into the nitty gritty of what’s outlined in the Pro Digital Photographer’s Handbook, the program would be mostly unpractical for regular use, but it’s certainly beneficial as an emergency tool (getting stuck at someone else’s computer, etc.) or doing stuff on the fly. It’s obviously not a replacement for Photoshop, but if you’re a consumer who can’t afford Photoshop or you just want to fool around, this is a great, really intuitive option.

It has the standard rotate, crop and resize functions, as well as exposure control and color settings. The color settings are basic. You can adjust hue, saturation and contrast in a variety of ways. Although the adjustment is somewhat crude — and it’s unlikely you’ll be able to use this interface to ‘save’ a bad photo the way you might be able to in Photoshop — you’ll definitely be able to make a good photo “pop.”

What amazes me about Picnik is the exposure control. It has brightness and contrast settings, but I wasn’t impressed until I saw the “advanced” option, which displays a histogram. What’s most impressive is that you can set the shadow (black point) and highlights (white point) separately! In Photoshop this is called “Levels” (often considered the most popular exposure adjustment tool). There are a few drawbacks with Picnik’s exposure control. The histogram isn’t all that accurate, and it’s a little rough when setting your white and black points. All-in-all, it’s probably not that practical as a visual guide, but just the ability to set white and black points at all is what impresses me as a photographer.

Picnik also has a bunch of “creative tools” (essentially “filters” in Photoshop). What’s great is the ability to adjust most of these effects. Most online programs allow you only to simply set a photo to B&W or Sepia tone. This program allows for adjustments so that you can gradually set a color hue, or go crazy. You can determine the amount of the effect to add, and have more control over the look of your photo. Some of these filters add some really glamorous effects, everything from vignette to soften (reminiscent of high school glamour shots in the 80s). And the “coming soon” buttons obviously suggest additional filters are on the way.

One of the biggest selling points is how it integrates Picasa and Flickr. You can search and download photos from any public Flickr account seamlessly, and Picnik also allows you to email photos to sites like Photobucket, TypePad and even Walmart (Walmart’s own online photo editing software is nothing compared to Picnik). Moreover, close Picnik and come back the next day: your image is cached. Picnik sends a cookie to your browser, so when you return, you can pick up right where you left off. And the best, albeit most basic, function to me is the ability simply to save the image to your computer. In an age of proprietary everything, having the option to upload a photo, edit it, then just save it to your computer is golden.

The main cons here are that it seems you can only upload one photo at a time (which may just be part of the beta), and there’s no selection “lasso” tool (as in Photoshop). If a particular area of the photo is out of wack, maybe the left side is too dark, there is no way to select just that side for editing. Another feature Picnik could add would be a method for viewing thumbnails or maybe running a slideshow and allowing you to tag images.

Overall, though, for a free service that’s quite new, this is really impressive and a lot of fun.

– Jeremy Rue

Picnik Photo Editor
Free!
Available from Picnik, Inc.

 



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

Cordinator

This neat little box hides all those computer and phone cords and doubles as a power outlet. Inside are 10 outlets and the box comes with a clever method for keeping things very organized: metal ties that are affixed to the inside. You just coil each cord, wrap a tie around it (twisting the end like you would with a sandwich bag), and stack each cord on top of one another. Unplugging is a cinch: simply find the cord you want, undo the ties and pull out the plug. I own two — one at home and one at the office. You can keep it under your desk or on top (I have my monitor on it), and the front accessibility means you can plug/unplug items (i.e. cell phone) quickly and easily without having a mess of wires on your desk. With everything plugged in I’ve never had any trouble closing the lid. I once tried making something like this out of laminated wood (to match my desk). It cost about $200, didn’t look as nice and wasn’t nearly as convenient.

-- Vic Habersmith  

Cordinator
$55
Manufactured by Herrington



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

SmudgeGuard

[ This may be a worthy product, but we have removed the review for this product because we belatedly learned the reviewer is married to the inventor. The reviewer wrote to us later that he didn't think it would look good if he mentioned that his wife made the product so he misled us on where he got the product. We now find it hard to trust him on the rest of the review. An impartial review (negative or positive) is wanted. -- KK]

SmudgeGuard
(sizes xxs – l)
$5
Available from and manufactured by SmudgeGuard

 



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

Walk-EZ Revolutions

These ski boot clip-ons are much easier to walk in than your average solid, rigid plastic ski boot base. Each one weighs a pound, and they have a thick, semi-flexible layer of rubber that gives you traction much like a pair of hiking boots (they actually grip on snow and ice much better than my Sorrels). The sole also cushions your foot as you step down, and another bonus is that they protect your ski boots from wear.

They are a bit tricky to put on. You flip a lever to attach and remove them to your ski boots. I find the lever works fine for removal, but when it comes to attaching I can’t always get it right. It’s not a huge deal, but something to know. I considered wearing sneakers and stashing them somewhere or putting them in a pack, but the Walk-EZ are a better solution: they come with a neat wire combination lock. When I get to the slopes, I just fold ‘em up, lock ‘em to the ski racks at the resort and pick ‘em up at the end of the day. Now that I’ve used these, I wouldn’t walk up to the ski lift without them. I looked high and low for something I could use to walk the half mile from my house to the ski run and struck out until my local outdoor shop gave these to me to try out. They make it a much more comfortable journey, and I will absolutely buy a pair of my own when I give them back to my local store.

-- Carl Myhill  

[This product is no longer being manufactured and is in limited supply. If you have used or know of any product that is similar, please let us know in the comments below or via the submit page. -- SL]

Walk-EZ Revolutions
$50
Designed by RKS Design

Available from Amazon

Try eBay



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

Stainless Steel Can Colander

For years I wondered why no one had built or designed a way to drain out all of the liquid out of a can of tuna. Then, lo and behold, I found one. This stainless steel can colander is relatively inexpensive and built with a high grade of stainless steel, so it is practically bullet proof and almost impossible to bend. This colander also works on any normal-sized can, but its real magic is its ability to completely drain the liquid out of a can to prevent wet and soggy tuna. Progressive also makes a plastic colander but I wouldn’t recommend it. The stainless steel model isn’t much more expensive and it will last you your lifetime.

– Dennis Emge

You can flip the colander over and use it on regular cans of things like corn or beans or whatever to drain off the liquid. Its cool.

– Johanna Bocian

 

[Although this strainers works as advertised, a more versatile option is the more recently-reviewed OXO Strainer.]

Stainless Steel Can Colander
$8

Manufactured by Progressive

Available from Amazon



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

LapDawg

This portable laptop desk is the most comfortable way I’ve found to use a laptop in bed. It’s a bit pricey compared to the homemade stuff you can find online, but less expensive than similar products like the LapGenie and Laidback, which can go for up to $150. The LapDawg, which is lighter than the Laidback, is also made of wood, which makes it human friendly and gives it a warm touch. It’s very simple to put together and fits my 17″ notebook perfectly.

The InsTand Laptop Stand is a great travel desk but can’t do what the LapDawg does best: allow you to recline. Interacting with your laptop at a comfortable typing angle, right in front of you without feeling the weight and heat you would otherwise feel on your lap is very refreshing. The LapDawg is not the perfect travel solution, but if you have a big enough bag, it doesn’t take up too much space and it weighs less than two pounds. Being able to lie flat on my back and use a laptop comfortably is worth making room.

-- Tanneth  

[The wood version reviewed here is no longer available. -- SL]

LapDawg $90 Available from LapDawg



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

Sno-Seal

Sno Seal waterproofs leather products. The beeswax formula is long lasting, doesn’t harm or weaken leather like animal fat waterproofing products do, and still allows the leather to breath. Easily applied by heating your leather boots with a hair dryer and simply rubbing Sno-Seal into the leather.

I haven’t seen or used another product as good. I’ve been using it for the last tens years on the four pairs of prospector Gortex/leather boots that I’ve owned. Because of the Sno-Seal I wear out the soles (multiple times) before the leather shows any kind of deterioration.

A 3 1/2 oz. (100g) tub of the stuff will last me two years for one pair of boots, reapplying every three to four months, depending on use.

-- Dave Babcock  

[Please see the more recently-reviewed Nikwax Aqueous Wax.]

Sno-Seal
$5
Manufactured by Atsko

Available from Amazon



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

Olympus Stylus 720 SW

I’m delighted with this relatively inexpensive underwater digital camera. Good for submarining 10 feet deep, it’s perfect for snorkeling, kayaking, canoeing, and water sports. If you are serious about underwater photography at scuba depths, this is not for you. This camera is more comparable to those one-time plastic-housed underwater film cameras we’ve used in the past. But being digital it has many advantages over those. First, you can see what you got (or missed) immediately. Second, you can fit several hundreds of shots in a session instead of film’s 27 frames. Thirdly, you can quickly upload, share, manipulate, or print what you capture.

It’s important to maintain low expectations when you photograph underwater. The light is dim, everything is in constant motion, including you, and it’s hard to see the camera with a mask on. All the more reason you need to take lots of shots. The teeny-tiny flash on this camera is not enough to overcome some of those limitations. But as you can see from these photos I took on a recent trip to the Mayan Coast in Mexico, this $300 camera does a serviceable job.

The camera is quiet small and slim; it fits into a shirt pocket. Its unobtrusive waterproof seals seemed to work fine, much to my amazement. One downside is the non-standard Olympus memory card it uses; I’d rather recycle the many standard SD cards I already have. Since it has a very impressive 7.1 megapixels and a 3x optical zoom (very nice) this camera could, in theory, be used as your all-around digital camera on dry land (and it is sold that way), but I found its very sluggish refresh rate (perhaps due to the large memory card I was using) and very tiny controls to be annoying. But deep in the wet realm these annoyances are tolerable in exchange for an easy and reliable way to take underwater pictures, and as a camera I don’t mind taking on a kayak or surfboard, or a dunk in the lake.

You can buy sophisticated and bulky underwater housing for some popular digital cameras like the Canon Powershots and Nikon Coolpix, but these cases — while allowing you to go deeper — can cost nearly as much as the Olympus 720. (Pentax makes the Optio W20, a similar camera, rated at only 5 feet deep, but using SD cards, which I have not tried, but others like.) For me this tiny clam is the cheapest way to digitally photograph underwater at shallow depths.

-- KK  

Olympus Stylus 720 SW
$200 (used)

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:



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

OneSuite

I’ve had my OneSuite phone account for a few years and I use it to call friends in China (2.2 cents a minute) and Europe, quite conveniently. Onesuite is a prepaid “phone card” without the card. You get a PIN based on your phone number so it’s easy to remember. You add funds to your account via the website. I like the feature that allows you to add “frequently called from” phone numbers to your account so you don’t have to enter your PIN when calling.

There are several advantages OneSuite has over Internet calling systems such as Skype. With OneSuite you can use a regular phone, including a payphone — you don’t have to be connected to a computer. In all the times I’ve used OneSuite I’ve never experienced the distracting delays during the conversation which I have experienced with Skype and some other calling services (where you don’t hear the what the other person says until 1-2 seconds after they’ve said it. OneSuite claims it does not use Internet telephony so I guess that’s why.

Just as important, some, though not all, of OneSuite rates are often cheaper. I haven’t checked all of them but the two I looked at — China-Beijing and India-Hyderabad — are cheaper with OneSuite. Italy is cheaper to mobile phones but slightly more to land lines.

There’s no per-call surcharge and the per-minute rates are generally quite low. Your account “expires” after six months of non-use (where use includes adding funds). But you actually don’t lose your funds when it expires–you just need to add $10 and you’ll have your previous funds reactivated. (There’s no excuse to let it expire, though, as you can make domestic long-distance calls with the service too–2.5 cents/minute.)

It’s best calling from the U.S. to other countries, but they’re starting to add additional countries you can call from. They also offer voicemail and other services which I haven’t tried, but just the long-distance service is worth it for me. Basically, the prices are comparable and often cheaper than Skype, and you don’t have the worry about the reliability of Internet telephony (and don’t need a computer on the calling end).

-- Maria Blees