Mind Metrics

One of the self-tracking projects that I always wanted to do was to determine the impact of sleep, diet and exercise regimen on my mental and cognitive abilities. I needed an app to measure my cognitive or mental skills/abilities — rather than training or improving them. I also wanted measurement methods to be as close to scientific as possible. And of course the tests should take as little time as possible (preferably under 5 min), and run off portable devices. I settled on Mind Metrics — it’s an awesome phone app that lets me measure alertness, higher cognitive abilities such as attention and memory, and their combination.

For instance, in the alertness test you are asked to tap the sun as soon as it appears in the same part of the screen randomly every few seconds. You can control the number of trials and timing for both tests. After completing a preset number of trials, you get both average reaction time and average attention/memory score. You can see all your current and previous scores on the screen, and also e-mail them to yourself in comma separated format.

I’ve been using Mind Metrics to measure mental alertness in a couple of experiments, including finding the optimal time to go to bed (my finding was that going to bed between 11 and 11:15 leads to higher alertness next morning and better sleep), and validating orthostatic heart rate test (difference between standing and resting heart rate right after waking up reasonably well predicts mental and physical performance later in the day). I am currently using Mind Metrics to track my cognitive well-being on a daily basis.


Found this tool at the local computer store. I used to apply small pieces of Post-It Notes over the LEDs on equipment in my home office. I replaced them with the original strength LightDims to cover several irritatingly bright LEDs and they work really well. I haven’t found anything else quite like it. I can still read the status of the LEDs, but they no longer light up my office like a Christmas tree.

-- Chris Knight  

DimIt light-dimming stickers
$6 – $14

Available from Amazon

Camelbak Eddy Bottle

At night I wake up with a dry throat and reach blindly for water. I used to knock over glasses and cups until I found this two years ago. It’s basically a sippy cup for adults. It has rubber mouthpiece that doesn’t open until you squeeze slightly with your lips, so no dribbling, and it has a straw so you don’t even need to tip it. Plus it’s dish-washable. I love my sippy cup.

-- Ross Reynolds  

Available from Amazon

Treadmill Desk Set-Up

Walking while working on a computer became a necessary and life-changing experience for me in 2010 after a nasty sciatic injury prevented me from sitting in a chair. I got lucky with the purchase of the electric adjustable desk frame from GeekDesk. (Reviewed here.) It cost $549 plus shipping. I saved a fair bit of cash by making a custom top out of a nice piece of birch plywood.

Finding a proper treadmill to fit under the desk was a challenge back then. The first one from Sears, bought on sale, was adequate but noisy. I bought quieter, second-hand machine and blew the motor after a few months. I got lucky on my third purchase with the LifeSpan TR1200 treadmill, specifically designed for walking while working. A small control panel replaces the upright arms and large display on standard treadmills.

Over the past three years, a great variety of treadmills and complete treadmill desks have become available and the technologies have greatly improved. Since you’re buying a tool that will get daily use, spend as much as you can afford. I ended up spending about $1,600 on the desk and treadmill (if you don’t count my two duds).

But think of it as an investment. Slowly walking an average of 4-5 miles per day while typing, talking on the phone, designing pages or cruising the news has provided many benefits. In the wintertime, I turn on a SAD lamp hanging from the ceiling for light and perceived well-being.

-- SalishSeaSam  

LifeSpan TR1200-DT3 Standing Desk Treadmill

GeekDesk v3 Frame

Available from Amazon

UpLift Electric Sit-Stand Desk Base

I’ve used this for a few weeks now in my home office and will never look back. A knowledge worker for 20+ years, I’ve spent my work life sitting. The increasingly virtual work culture means I now work from home most days, which supports even more sitting (I may work the extra hour I save commuting, and even the trip from my home office to the restroom is only a few steps, in contrast to the 100 yard trek required for the same purpose in my office.) And now research corroborates what my body has been whispering to me for a while: sitting is bad for your health.

I was able to easily attach this desk base to my existing desk top, which not only saved me some money but also allowed me to keep my existing office layout exactly as it has been. I stand for most of the day now, usually taking a short sitting break once in the morning or afternoon. I can even raise the desk to a height that allows me to stand on my rebounder (a mini-trampoline) and gently bounce while I work. The real benefit is the ability, with the touch of a button, to adjust the height of the desktop at any time, without disturbing any of my peripherals – the extra monitor, the external keyboard and mouse, the speakers – even in the middle of a meeting.

The flexibility of this desk helped me endure and shorten a back-pain episode that popped up recently. I tend to be a frugal person and the sticker price seemed hefty at first — but the product’s high quality and the likelihood that it will save me visits to the chiropractor justify the price… not to mention that just feeling a little less pain and stiffness is priceless.

-- Emily May  

UpLift 900 Sit-Stand Ergonomic Desk Base

Dr Tung’s Tongue Cleaner

Just a simple tongue scraper but the only one I can find made with stainless steel. I’ve had same one for 8 years, as it refuses to break. Easy to clean and gets all debris off my tongue in a couple of quick sweeps.

-- Greg Schellenberg  

[I have not used this particular tongue cleaner, but I am a tongue scraper convert. They improve the bad taste I have in the morning, especially after eating onions the night before. -- Mark]

Dr. Tung’s Tongue Cleaner

Available from Amazon

Worx Hand Cleaner

Over the past 10 years I have worked in a garage, machine shop and most recently an automotive research lab. I have never found a better hand cleaner than Worx.

It is a dry powder type of soap, not a sandy paste. Worx is incredible. It gets the hard-to-clean dirt and great from under and around fingernails. It even cleans in fingerprint ridges with little or no scrubbing. It cleans oily grease and dry dirt/grit equally well. It removes the smell of gasoline, cutting oil and ethylene glycol from skin. It is not harsh on skin. Unlike Gojo you never need to wash your hands twice. Usually the towel I use to dry up even has enough leftover residue to tackle the dirt that gets on my forearms up to my elbows.

I keep a small pouch in my glove box and bicycle bag for dry/semi-dry clean-up after chain or tire repairs.

The manufacturer says the product is organic, biodegradable and all natural. It smells fine, better than many hand cleaners at local part stores. It is not widely distributed in the U.S. but Grainger has it in many locations, and even some Wal-Mart stores. I brought some back to my lab from Canada and my co-workers line up to use it.

-- Kevin Cedrone  

Worx All Natural Hand Cleaner

Available from Amazon

Kresto Hand Cleaner

This is the best hand soap for getting the grease and grime off your skin.

Nitrile gloves work great, but they are expensive, not very environmentally friendly, and you lose dexterity with them. Plus, with heavy use they tend to rip, causing you to have to clean your hands where the gloves didn’t protect.

Kresto uses walnut shells for abrasive. It looks a bit like light-colored mud when you squirt a bit of it into your hand. Along with some water, and maybe a small scrubbing cloth, Kresto will clean even the deepest ground-in dirt in no time. You’ll be surprised at how much faster and better it works than the orange pumice hand cleaner you buy at the auto parts store. It’s more expensive than the cheap stuff, but you’ll use less, because it works better.

The only downside is that you have to rinse the walnut shells off the sink when you are finished with it. The manufacturer claims it is biodegradable and won’t clog pipes.

Kresto is sold mostly for industrial use, but is available on Amazon and other retailers. It comes in wall mount dispensers that use 2 liter softpacks, or in 1/2 gallon pump jugs or in tubes for occasional use.

-- E. Redifer  

Kresto Hand Cleaner 1/2 Gallon Pump Top

Available from Amazon

Ecosmart Wasp & Hornet Spray

I recently bought an old barn that was full of paper wasp and mud wasp nests. Because I am going to be bringing animals into the barn for food production I wanted to limit the amount of poison I spray around (particularly in aerosol form). I saw this at Walmart for about $4 and thought I would try it, worst case scenario I could go back for something more toxic.

This is not a typical aerosol spray, more of a stream, and a reasonably powerful one. This allows you to be farther away (I tried about 12 feet) from the nests as the wasps leave. The spray works quickly but not instantaneously — the wasps move around for 1-2 minutes before they completely stop. They do not fly very well, or very far, if they were on the nest when sprayed. I did follow one and it flew several feet away, landed on a wall and then succumbed to the pesticide.

On top of the effectiveness is its alleged safety for children and pets. One of the ingredients is peppermint oil, which gives the barn that post-toothbrushing scent that is pleasant without being overpowering.

The company also makes a wide range of sprays for other specific pests. I have also used the flying insect aerosol, it was similarly effective.

-- Nathan Bruce  

EcoSMART Organic Wasp and Hornet Killer
$9 for a 14-oz bottle

Available from Amazon

Waterpik Water Flosser

The best way to appreciate the Waterpik Water Flosser is to understand the material that this tool is designed to work on. That’s not exactly your teeth – it’s the bacterial biofilm that perpetually forms on the surface of teeth and that never quite gets cleaned away by toothbrushes, dental floss, and various gum-recess cleaning gizmos.

A Waterpik is not really any kind of “flosser” – that’s just market-speak to hook people who don’t like to use floss. It-s really a needle-jet pressure-washer that does a brilliant job of demolishing the dental biofilm that harbors you mouth’s complete bacterial ecosystem, including the bad guys that produce tooth decay and bad breath. This micro-bacterial-mat adheres with micro-tenaciousness to the surfaces of teeth, especially to the otherwise-hard-to-clean surfaces between teeth and under gum lines.

I’m not sure why it took 60 years before I found a dentist or dental hygienist who could clearly articulate what’s really going on on the surface of teeth, but the use of this tool for less than 6 months has vastly lowered plaque and tartar build-up on my teeth and cured a chronic case of bad breath that was annoying, perplexing and persistent.

I’ve always been a decent tooth-brusher and my teeth and gums are in reasonably good shape for a 65-year-old, but they’re in so much better shape after a few months of daily cleaning with a Waterpik that I wish I had started to use one ten years earlier. There are other brands of this type of tool that I haven’t tried yet, that may be as good. The key is adequate water pressure delivered through the small, needle-like plastic tip that you direct around the inside of your mouth, like a miniature fire-hose, aiming at every gum line and inter-tooth space.

After 90-seconds of this your mouth feels like its been to a very clean water park where they’ve added a bit of hydrogen peroxide, sodium bicarbonate or some mint-oil (your choice) to the water. Those additives are not essential but add (according to my hygienist) a bit more anti-bacterial punch to the high-pressure stream the does the real work.

If you’re in a hurry to get your teeth brushing out of the way then this may not be for you – it does add about 2 minutes to the ritual. But if you’re more interested in taking care of yourself I believe that thing will pay for itself many times.

-- Craig Umanoff  

Waterpik Ultra Water Flosser

Available from Amazon