Thermacell Mosquito Repellent Appliance

I’ve used one of these for years while fishing in the Everglades, one of the worst mosquito environments in the world, and it just plain works. I previously used DEET (a known carcinogen), skin-so-soft, dryer sheets, candles, coils, noise generators and other repellents but threw them all away when this showed up. It gives you a 15 foot “bubble” of protection using a butane cartridge to heat a pad of repellent. Riding in the boat does tend to blow out the pilot light in the device but a few clicks of the starter and it’s going again. They have models specifically for hunters (no game alarming scent) and lanterns for your back yard.

-- Jim Mays  

Thermacell Mosquito Repellent Appliance

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Thermacell

FitDesk X1

I used to spend most of my work day sitting at a desk on my computer. Two years ago, that changed when my wife gave me a FitDesk X for my birthday. It is easily my most used birthday gift ever.

The FitDesk X is an upright style stationary bike with a comfortable saddle that also has a padded desk area on which to place your laptop or tablet, allowing you to work (or surf) and get a workout at the same time. The FitDesk utilizes electromagnetic resistance which makes it incredibly quiet so the rider can even be on the phone at the same time (as long you don’t sound winded). The bike is relatively light (about 40 lbs), folds up, and is easy to move. Besides using it during my work day, I pedal while watching my favorite TV show or when reading a book.

When traveling for business, I seek out the hotel’s gym to use their bikes. While I can read a book, watch TV, or use my iPad on these stationary bikes, I really can’t get any work done since there is no platform to hold my laptop. I look forward to getting home and back on my Fitdesk where I can ride for hours. There is an odometer to keep track of total distance traveled.

If you want to get fit (or stay fit) and your time is limited, the Fitdesk is a great solution to work and exercise at the same time. As an added bonus, this USA based company has excellent customer service.

-- Brian Boettger  

FitDesk X1

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by FitDesk


MyFitnessPal is calorie-counting app available for Android, iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, and Windows phones. It has proven EXTREMELY effective for me in large part because it leverages my inner data-nerd. It’s really pure psychology — but this happens to be the psychological strategy that suits me perfectly. I have no idea whether this app will work for anyone else as well as it has worked for me, but it has definitely changed my life in a very positive way. I’ve lost 45 lbs. so far using this app with no change in exercise.

Once set up, your main task with the app is to log what you eat throughout the day. You accesses a massive database of foods (partially from a clean dataset, partially crowd-sourced) that you can either do a text-search on or use a very slick barcode scanner via the phone’s camera. The barcode scanner has proven to be 100% reliable, extremely fast, and amazingly complete — it’s found everything I’ve searched for correctly and essentially instantly.

When I eat something without a barcode (like from a restaurant), I almost always find the exact item I’m looking for. Almost any menu item from any franchise is in there, as is an extensive variation of customized menu options (e.g., 6″ Subway double-meat turkey with provolone no mayo….etc.). If you can’t find a specific item, you can easily enter your own recipes by assembling a set of individual components from items already in the database or that you create yourself. When you select any particular item, you can usually select from a series of different serving sizes, and separately enter any number (including decimal fractions) for a fraction of the selected serving that you actually eat.

There is much more to the app than I’ve described here — including an entire social network component. The website is incredibly robust and easy to use. There is a growing list of partner apps and devices (such as the Fitbit Aria Scale) that seamlessly synch with your MyFitnessPal account. The main problems I have with the app are that it offers extremely limited control over the reports and graphs, and there is no obvious way to get access to my raw data for downloading. As a data-nerd, I find this extremely frustrating. Also the crowd-sourced content may have multiple entries for what seems like the same thing but with very different nutritional profiles.

I still eat most of my favorite foods; just less of them, and I haven’t missed anything or had any cravings. After the first few weeks, I’ve almost never been hungry (certainly much less often hungry than before I started). I’m a scientist so I intentionally wanted to focus strictly on diet first, then I’ll switch to focus on exercise once I reach my target weight — one variable at a time!

-- Richard Pyle  

MyFitnessPal App

Available at

Trauma Shears

Several years ago I needed about half a dozen tools for a series of workshops I was hosting. I needed a hand tool that could safely and easily shape plastic and thin sheet metal, but not break the bank. I found trauma shears at the local hardware store for a couple dollars each and bought every pair they had. Although I had misgivings about the price they worked great. I still have them and they all get constant use and abuse.

Sometimes called EMT or Paramedic scissors, they were originally designed for emergency responders to cut through seat belts, zippers, denim and leather. The rounded tip and bent handle made to safely cut along skin also make them useful for cutting along other surfaces without snags or jabs.

They’re somewhat famous for being shown cutting through a penny, which they’ll do without too much trouble. More practically they’ll cut sheet metal, wire, cable, plastic, cardboard, staples, rubber, foam, branches, and small bolts, to name a few. They’re the scissors I reach for when I don’t want to ruin my good scissors, and you’ll find them scattered throughout my workshop. They’re also great for opening plastic clamshell packages and I’ve tied them into bows on presents to help get into gifts.

-- Steve Hoefer  

Trauma Shears
About $3

Available from Amazon

Exergen Temporal Artery Thermometer

I like the Exergen TemporalScanner because with a gentle stroke of the forehead, I can get a person’s temperatureaccurately and almost instantly — without having to stick something in their ear, mouth, or any other orifice. I can even check a child’s temperature while they sleep. It’s very easy to use — but do read the instructions to get the right swipe motion.

The device takes 1,000 readings per second, selects the most accurate among them, and adjusts for room temperature to give you the temperature of the temporal artery (near the temple) — which is an earlier signal of disease than rectal temperature. This temporal artery thermometer is more accurate than ear thermometers and is less affected by the sources of error that can make oral or underarm temperatures misleading. (However, for many purposes, temperature precision isn’t that important. Just knowing whether there is a fever or not is far more important than knowing the temp within a few tenths of a degree. And often fever is helpful, anyway.) But accurate thermometer readings can bring great peace of mind.

I use one of these at our home and carry one with me everywhere in my pediatrician doctor’s bag.

Exergen Temporal Artery Thermometer

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Exergen

Pocket MedPack Tray

It’s easy to remember to take one pill a day. Two, even. But if you have to take multiple pills a day, especially at different times, it’s impossible to remember what you’ve already taken. When you’re travelling, it’s especially bad!

I tried a regular pill case, the kind with 7-days of pills in a row. But inevitably I’d forget to take my pills in the morning, or get home too late for my 2nd batch. This little pill case is genius, because you can still schedule your medicine for the week, but the little pod can come with you for the day. There are other versions with four divided areas in the case for those who take more pills.

This would be especially useful for elderly folks who have others helping them keep track of medicine. Those long pill cases can be difficult to open with arthritic hands, and if the lids haven’t all been latched down, getting pills out for one day can mean the whole thing spills out. The assistant could simply leave out this pod for the elderly friend, and it’s easier to keep track for everyone.

-- Fiona Barnett  

Pocket MedPack

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Carex

Tick Key

Though I wish  my dog’s tick prevention worked 100% of the time, it just doesn’t. The Tick Key makes the unpleasant task of removing ticks much easier. I purchased the key shaped tool a year ago after noticing it by the cash register at my local outdoor store. All I do is align the larger end of the key’s opening over the tick, draw the tool toward the narrow part of the opening, and the little sucker just pops right out. My favorite canine, who always dreaded our approach with tweezers and made tick extraction an exercise in fortitude and contortionism, is not bothered by this method at all.

-- Amy Reavey  

Tick Key

Available from Amazon

A Handbook for Yogasana Teachers

This book is a tome of body science for yoga teachers weighing in over 1000 pages. I purchased it a few months ago. While I’ve skimmed the entire volume, I’ve spent the most time on the appendix related to balance in yoga postures.

Most yoga instructors can tell you a handful of things that improve balance such as a gazing point, engaged muscles of the standing leg, and mental concentration. Mel Robin has written 80 pages on this subject. He covers gravitational effects on yoga postures; aspects of mechanical metastability; generating counter-torque when falling; balance sensors, and neural repatterning among many, many other topics. This one section alone has changed the way I practice balancing asanas and how I teach them to my students.

With the recent publication of William Broad’s controversial book The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards it’s more important than ever for yoga teachers to understand if and how science backs up claims related to the medical benefits of yoga. Robin’s book does just that. It looks at the science behind the asanas.

I understand that he is working on his newest edition…

-- Michele McGinnis  

A Handbook for Yogasana Teachers
Mel Robins
First Edition, 2009, 1000 pages

Available from Amazon

Feather PaRaDa Nail Clipper

feather parada clippers.jpeg

Despite their bizarre capitalized naming scheme, these are the nail clippers you want. They beat cheap drugstore clippers in two important ways. First, they start sharp and stay sharp for a long time. I’ve had my first pair for perhaps 7 years, and they still cut beautifully. Second, they capture all the nail clippings that would normally scatter to the winds. This is a feature that seems trivial until you’ve tried it; in fact, it’s a critical thing in a nail clipper.

The clippers come in three sizes. My wife uses a small for her fingers, while I’m more comfortable with a medium. We both use the medium for toes. The medium is a pretty versatile size, and the large, which I’ve never seen, must be very large indeed. Maybe it’s for horse hooves.

I bought this on a hunch, because I was so frustrated with nail clippers that wore down after a few months. I’ve since given 4 more as presents, a move which raised eyebrows at the time, but in all cases has proven successful in the long term.

-- Ashish Ranpura  

[Given that their website is in Japanese here's a bit of history about Feather the Japanese company that manufactures these clippers (among many other sharp objects).--OH]

Feather Parada Nail Clippers
Small, medium, large

Available from West Coast Shaving

Manufactured by Feather Safety Razor Company

Air-O-Swiss Travel Ultrasonic Humidifier


On a recent trip to Berlin in the dead of winter with a toddler with a cough, we found ourselves with a dilemma: buy a humidifier when we arrive and then either sell it after a month or abandon it, or purchase the Air Swiss Travel Humidifier, a little pricey at $50, but a very compact unit. I was against buying something so specific as a travel humidifier, but we were so glad we did.

It’s a little bigger than a Macbook Pro power supply, and twice as thick. It has a clever water reservoir, any .5 liter or smaller water bottle snaps into a fitting, and will supply 6-10 hours of vapor, depending on the setting.

Berlin apartments are as dry as a brush fire, so we also ran it all day in the living room, and even in a large room, it made the air so much more pleasant. Then we ran the Air Swiss all night for the baby, and again it performed perfectly. That’s day and night for 30-days non-stop; it’s built solid.

The only drawback is that there is a rather bright blue light that illuminates the vapor when the unit turns on, which changes to a red light when the water bottle is empty. If you’re a light sensitive sleeper, it might be an issue.

As someone that lives out of hotels a month or two a year, I can’t imagine traveling without it. Even without a cold it just makes the stuffy dry air in a central heated building pleasant.

-- Bernie Bernbaum  

Air-O-Swiss Travel Ultrasonic Humidifier

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Air-O-Swiss