Excelta Tweezers

Today I used an old reliable tweezer and realized that most people probably had little idea of what a good tweezer can be. Nor where to find such a thing.

Of the several I’ve acquired, my favorite is the Excelta 00-SA-ET. It’s stainless, it’s got a special, formed-on foam padding (makes it not only comfortable, but very easy to maneuver), and it’s sturdy enough to get things done at a small scale.

Most good fine tweezers can be easily distorted and, once out of whack, almost impossible to align properly again. Once you start checking into good tweezers, you’ll see there are lots & lots of them, most specific to their task. Many are very delicate.

If you’d like a superb set that’s robust enough for almost anything normal people would use them for, try the Excelta 00-SA-ET. Or check Excelta’s whole line at their website.

-- Wayne Ruffner  

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Exelta


It is complicated to explain the benefits of Wellnessfx, so this is long.

All kinds of things show up in our blood long before they are visible elsewhere. From our blood we can detect early stages of illness, maximize athletic performance, determine when and where we acquire environmental toxins, and see what’s truly normal for us. Someday we’ll monitor our body’s full biochemistry 24/7 and that will change medicine forever. But today only a few of us have a our biochemistry tested once a year, if that, for only a few factors. And all we get is some numbers.

Wellnessfx is a tool for monitoring 60-100 biochemical factors in your body, as often as possible, and in a super understandable dashboard. They make your biochemistry actionable — illuminating trends in your body and offering ways to nudge the trend in the right direction. Frequent measurements add data points allowing you to manage your health in a much more scientific way.

In the past year I’ve been using Wellnessfx to track my body’s chemistry. After signing up for an account I made an appointment through them with a local blood testing labs with a request generated by Wellnessfx. The local lab extracted my needed blood and sent the results to Wellnessfx. A few days later I logged into my account and saw my results of 60-120 different markers graphed, annotated and intelligently dissected. I chose a doctor from Wellenssfx’s staff and together on the phone we’ll went over the data, item-by-item, for 40 minutes. Repeat 6 months to a year later.

The quality and personalization of this consult is unlike any doctor visit I’ve ever had. For patients like me who want to understand my body as much as possible, each consult is a short course in human biochemistry — my biochemistry. On my account’s website I can dig deeper into my numbers and the linked technical literature as far as I care to go. All the doctor’s notes and recommendations are archived for me to review any time. In fact the consults are recorded so you can review them any time.

The more often I am tested the more valuable my data becomes, because as Wellnessfx emphasizes, the actual numbers are often less important than the trends. Imagine you weighed yourself once a year; that is not as actionable as weighing yourself more frequently, say every day. The same goes for your biochemistry.

In addition to testing blood biochemistry, Wellnessfx also extracts genetic markers. That is, they sequence some genes that relate to biochemical factors. So in my case their test noticed I that my ApoE genetoype indicates I would benefit if I drank alcohol, such as a glass of red wine per day.

My trends are managed via lifestyle choices (diet and fitness), supplements, and medicines — the usual medical interventions. What’s new is two-fold: 1) the resolution of this cycle; because you keep monitoring, you can finely tune the leverage, making modifications in small steps; and 2) its application to healthy states. Constant monitoring with fine tuned remedies is standard procedure for illness. The unique approach of Wellnessfx is to apply this intense monitoring/response to all your measurables, including those that seem healthy.

Your normal is not my normal and my normal can only be established by constant monitoring. Intense monitoring also alerts me to drifts away from that norm, long before other symptoms may show up, at a point where it may be a lot easier to modify and control it. A negative trend is much easier to treat in this pre-disease still “healthy” stage. It’s like paying attention to your check-engine light instead of waiting for smoke to shoot out of the hood.

The number of chemicals, hormones and genes that Wellnessfx tracks is variable because they don’t do any of the actual testing. Rather they piggyback on existing blood and gene tests. As these drop in price, or increase in possible markers, so does Wellnessfx’s report. Right now scientists are developing much better tests, by less invasive captures, for much cheaper, eventually for use at home. As these are released they’ll be incorporated into Wellnessfx’s interface.

But today you need to have vials of blood extracted at a lab. And that is not cheap. Each round of testing and doctor’s consult costs $150 for a basic set, or $530 for a full “performance” level set. In theory, your own doctor could order these tests and go over the results in the same depth as Wellnessfx. And maybe your doctor does. But in my experience this quality and detail rarely happen.

Wellnessfx is private medicine. It is part of the quantified self movement, encouraged by enthusiasts who want to use the best tools available to track themselves, including their genes and blood, to maximize health, among other good things. Wellnessfx is professional state-of-the-art biochemical/ genetic marker testing, available to anyone.

I’ve learned so much from tracking my blood over a year, to a degree my doctors have no interest in doing, that the high price has been worth it. For long-term good health, it’s cheap.

At the moment, Wellnessfx has an e-check up, which will test 25 biomarkers for $29. including having your blood drawn at a local LabCorp (not available in all states). Of course, they hope you’ll continue for the next round to see if you’ve made progress.



-- KK  

Invisible Glove

I am horrifically allergic to poison oak. I am also an avid mountain biker in northern California. This not a good combination. I have tried all the soaps and wipes, but none of them really help, especially if you are out all day and can’t get to a shower soon after exposure.

I have found only one reasonable way to stop the oils from getting into my skin: Invisible Glove, a skin protectant used by mechanics so they can wash their hands clean after working on cars. There are similar products sold specifically for poison oak, but they cost vastly more, and work the same.

I find that if I rub my legs and arms down with Invisible Glove and shower with a soap like Dawn or Tecnu right after riding, I either don’t get any rash, or it’s much more limited and tolerable. It is still worth being as careful as possible, and making sure that clothes get right into the washer (to prevent poison oak oils from getting all over the house), but Invisible Glove seems to be the best preventative for weeks of awful rash that I have found.

-- Alexander Rose  

Invisible Glove Protective Hand Coating

Available from Amazon

Emu Oil

As a pharmacist, when my manager informed me 10 years ago that we would be stocking emu oil, I was a bit skeptical — would snake oil be far behind? But emu oil really is one of the best multi-purpose non-prescription anti-inflammatories I’ve ever come across. It’s the best treatment I’ve ever used for sunburn — much better than fresh aloe—rapidly tames the pain and helps heal sun damage. When I over-strain my muscles, if I give them a good rub with emu oil before bedtime, that dreaded “second-day soreness” never arrives. It’s good for bug bites (reduces itching), scars (helps heal and minimize them), arthritis, tendonitis, and miscellaneous aches and pains; it helps calm and heal any kind of skin inflammation or irritation, and is reputed to reduce the incidence of wrinkles if used on a regular basis.

Emu oil can also be used in conjunction with other anti-inflammatories (hydrocortisone, or salicylate creams such as BenGay), anti-histamines (Benadryl), or other healing agents or emollients (such as aloe) if necessary. It’s a skin penetration enhancer, so it helps the other meds work more effectively.

It’s a particularly handy item in my travel kit: since it has so many different uses, it reduces the number of items I need to pack. It gets used on every trip, one way or another.

Buy a smaller bottle than you think you might need; a little goes a long way, and it can eventually go rancid (it still works at that point, but it will smell a bit funky). One or two ounces is plenty for most people. Health food stores often stock it, and Amazon, of course.

-- Barbara Dace  

Emu Oil
$22 / 4-ounces

Available from Amazon

How to Win a Fight

This book could be titled “How and Why You Should Do Everything Possible to Avoid Getting Into a Fight.” The authors (both martial artists who’ve been around the block a few times and have the scars to show it) spend a good number of pages explaining why fighting is always terrible idea — even if you manage to win, you end up losing (your attacker’s relatives could sue you or seek revenge, you could go to prison, and for the rest of your life you could carry the knowledge of having crippled or maimed another person).

The authors also go into detail explaining how to recognize the first signs of a situation that could escalate into a fight and what to do. Only after they’ve convinced you to avoid a fight do they get to the section about effective ways of defending yourself.

The final third of the book deals with the often unconsidered aftermath of a fight: administering first aid and what to do to stay out of jail.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

How to Win a Fight
Lawrence Kane and Kris Wilder
2011, 208 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Escape and survival are admirable goals. Self-defense really isn’t about fighting like most people think. Self-defense is about not being there when the other guy wants to fight. Fighting is a participatory event, which means you were part of the problem. Even if you think you are only “defending” yourself, if your actions contributed to the creation, escalation, and execution of violence the you were fighting. And fighting is illegal and a really bad idea.


It is illuminating to watch a crowd at a mall, nightclub, or other public area with a predator mindset. Read people’s body language as they pass by you. Who looks like a victim and who does not? Oblivious people stand out from the crowd once you know how to look for them.


Four techniques you can use in a fight

1. Don’t let him get close enough to touch you. The farther away the other guy is, the tougher it is for him to hit you. Further, you have a much better chance to escape to safety or dash toward some source of cover that can protect you.

2. Throw debris to distract or injure him. Throwing debris is really an extension of distance. It is not a standalone technique, but rather a facilitator that can keep the other guy back and help you escape. You can kick dust, throw rocks, hurl trash, swing garbage cans, or otherwise chuck stuff at the other guy to distract or potentially injure him.

3. Attack his eyes. When you have an opportunity to attack the eyes during a fight, the chance will be only there for an instant. If you are going to go for the shot, you’ve got to take advantage of that moment of opportunity.

4. Strike with impetus. No matter how skilled you are (or are not), strikes work best when you catch your opponent by surprise, control distance and direction of your blow, relax until the moment of contact, and strike ferociously and repeatedly until the conflict is over.


All things being equal, the guy who attacks with the most ferocity wins. Even if the other guy is a bit stronger or more skilled than you are, he’s likely to disengage if he realizes he’s bitten off more than he can chew. If you have no other choice but to fight, do so wholeheartedly. Your adversary should feel like he’s run across a rabid wolverine wielding an industrial buzz saw. Strike fast, hard, and repeatedly until it’s over and you can escape to safety. Throwing a single blow or short combination and dancing aside to see if it had any effect may work well in the tournament ring, but it’s woefully inadequate on the street. Give it everything you’re worth and don’t stop until it’s over.

O’Keeffe’s Working Hands Cream

For years, I’ve been plagued with skin cracks or fissures on my fingertips, especially in winter. After a weekend of cooking, chores, or gardening, my hands were a painful mess. No lotions, oils, or creams helped much, and it’s impractical to keep fingertips bandaged all the time. I picked up a jar of O’Keeffe’s Working Hands at my grocery store and have been using it for two weeks. It has completely changed and improved the texture of my skin. No more ragged cuticles either, and even my fingernails are stronger. It is completely odorless and not greasy. Their advertising says it’s the high concentration of glycerin that does it. Whatever it is, it feels like a miracle to me.

-- JM Findley  

O’Keeffe’s Working Hands Cream

Available from Amazon

Examine.com’s Guide to Supplements

Examine.com makes it easy to look up what actual scientific studies say on various supplements. From popular supplements like vitamin D and fish oil, to more esoteric ones like berberine and spirulina, this website has it covered (and over 17000 citations).

The site became really useful when it released what it calls “The Human Effect Matrix.” It summarizes clinical human trials and lets you immediately know what effect each supplement has (and how strong that effect is).

As someone into weight lifting, it’s helped me realize what junk supplements like glutamine and tribulus terrestris are.

-- Martin Wong  


I ordered and received my Bug-a-salt gun late last fall, pretty late in the fly season to really get to put it to serious use. Well, early spring in Western Washington and they are coming back. Over the years I became very proficient with rubber bands, hunting flies and yellow jackets – this takes it to a whole new level.

The Bug-a-salt doesn’t “cream” the flies, leaves them pretty well intact, but it is quite effective. Non-toxic, environmentally friendly, it is spring powered and doesn’t eat batteries. Just table salt.

The gun has sights, but due to the shot pattern and the height of the sights above the bore for me it is a “point and shoot” proposition. A sheet of aluminum foil taped to the wall works well to pattern the shot, like a patterning board for a shotgun. It lets you see the spread of the salt, and calculate your effective range. I am definitely getting better. It is possible to shoot flies out of the air. There is nothing else like it.

The invention and marketing of this product are a story unto itself. I ordered mine early, when they were setting up for manufacture and was able to follow the trials and tribulations of getting this to market. The exportation to some of the countries they had orders from were amazingly complicated.

This year I switched to Morton Kosher salt and find it works better on flies than the table salt. Last year’s tests on yellow jackets were exciting, but not effective. Maybe with the kosher salt…

-- Norm Bolser  


Available from Amazon

Slotted Spaghetti Spoon

I discovered the tool shortly after my wife and I were first married almost 10 years ago. It is a fantastic tool – perfect for scratching your back. Some people may gag at the thought of a kitchen implement being used in this manner – let me console you that it days in the kitchen ended with my discovery.

The metal slotted spaghetti spoon is rigid enough and the pronged edges of the spoon are sharp enough that it can provide an extremely staisfactory back scratching. The ruberized grip allows for a firm grip. The one callout I would make is for you to find a spoon that is long enough to reach all the right places.

This implement is guaranteed to be better than any other backscratcher you can find and, given its humble state as a cheap kitchen utensil, it will most likely be substantially cheaper than any upscale back scratcher you may find on the market today. You will never have the need of calling out for help as your back tingles with itchiness. All other back scratching tools I have tried have failed in comparison. Little did my wife know what joy and delight she would bring into my life in the form of a slotted metal spaghetti spoon.

-- James Bingham  

Slotted Spaghetti Spoon
Prices and styles vary

Available from Amazon

Kanger evod Electronic Cigarette

I began smoking in the 6th grade. In the 25 years since I’ve quit more times than I can count — sometimes for a couple of years at a time — always to eventually return to the habit. I’ve tried nicotine gum (tastes terrible), nicotine patches (itched and gave me bizarre dreams), and quitting ‘cold turkey’ (generally unpleasant — especially for those around you!). While all of these approaches deal with the underlying nicotine addiction, none of them address the loss of the social, psychological and habitual aspects of smoking.

Several months ago I tried my first electronic cigarette, and I haven’t smoked a real one since. In fact, I no longer have any desire to, and don’t anticipate ever really smoking again. Electronic cigarettes satisfy both the nicotine cravings as well as the smoking habit — I actually don’t feel like I’ve given up anything, but rather gained something new.

The technology behind electronic cigarettes is surprisingly simple. A wire coil heats up when it is connected to a battery (much like the filament in a light bulb). A wick runs through the coil and draws fluid to it; the heat from the coil turns the liquid into a vapor which you inhale — it’s essentially the same technology used in fog machines, but on a much smaller scale. Because the output is water vapor, users call this “vaping” and themselves “vapers” to distinguish from “smoking” and “smokers.”

The liquid starts with a base of either propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine, or a blend of the two (this is what produces the visible vapor). Nicotine is added to this in a variety of concentrations ranging from 2.4% to 0.6%, roughly corresponding to the range available from filterles down to ultra-light cigarettes. Finally, flavoring is added — the variety of available flavors is mind-boggling, with everything from traditional tobacco and menthol flavors to fruits, coffees, and dessert flavors.

The advantages of electronic cigarettes over traditional ones are numerous. There is no combustion, hence no smoke, no carbon monoxide, no tar or other carcinogens, and no risk of fire. There is no second-hand smoke, and no unpleasant smell. They can also be significantly less expensive on an ongoing basis than cigarettes — I’m currently spending about 1/3 of what I did on cigarettes.

The primary health concern of e-cigarettes would be the continued use of nicotine. Nicotine’s health effects are paradoxical and are similar to caffeine in that respect — regular consumption can have both positive and negative effects depending on the individual.

One of the key benefits of electronic cigarettes though is the ability to easily regulate the amount of nicotine consumed. The various concentrations offered in liquids provide an easy way to gradually step down one’s dosage if one desires. Additionally, most liquids are available in 0% nicotine concentrations, so that it is possible to entirely wean oneself from the nicotine without having to give up usage of e-cig devices.

While the underlying technology is simple, there is an incredibly wide range of hardware and types of electronic cigarettes, and it can be confusing to the first-timer trying to figure out where to start.

Like many people I started with a small “cig-alike” device which is similar in size and appearance to a traditional cigarette. The most popular brand of these is Blu, likely due to their mainstream celebrity advertising. While these work, they have several practical drawbacks. The batteries are small and need to be recharged frequently. The disposable cartridges don’t last very long, can have inconsistent flavor, are relatively expensive, and limit the choice of liquids and flavors. While they are a great starting point, most users who stick with electronic cigarettes will outgrow them relatively quickly.

The next step up tends to be the Joyetech “Ego” system. These are the size of a small cigar and consist of a battery plus a refillable tank. Due to their popularity these have essentially become an industry standard, with a variety of manufacturers making compatible hardware. After trying several combinations of products from different manufacturers I’ve settled on the Kanger EVOD system as the best for everyday use, and it’s the system I recommend to most new users.

The EVOD is relatively new and addresses several problems with earlier systems. The heating coil in the tank is at the bottom rather than the top, so that the short wicks are always immersed in fluid. This prevents the wicks from going dry and prematurely burning out the heating coil — this also makes them more compatible with thicker brands/flavors of liquids. All coils will eventually burn out though, so the EVOD has an easily replaceable and inexpensive coil unit (older systems generally require you to replace the entire tank). The EVODs are also very well made and use several o-rings to ensure that the tank won’t leak.

EVOD tanks are compatible with all Ego-style batteries, so you can certainly buy the tanks ($6-10) and batteries (~$20) separately, but Kanger has just released a starter kit which includes 2 batteries, 2 tanks, 5 replacement coils and a charger for about $50 – this is a great deal if you’re just starting out, and the easiest way to get into a vaping system that you’re not likely to outgrow right away.

A big part of the attraction of vaping is the ability to try many flavors to find the ones that are perfect for you. In that respect it’s more akin to the world of cigars or pipes than cigarettes, where it can become a bit of a hobby rather than just a habit. There are a lot of small liquid producers and importers, but it’s a largely unregulated field and it can be difficult to determine the quality and source of their liquids — many of them come from China and there have been questions raised about the quality control and safety of the ingredients used.

Personally I feel it’s best to stay with domestic brands who provide information on their ingredients and are committed to a high-quality product made with pharmaceutical-grade ingredients under laboratory conditions. The largest of these is Johnson Creek, and their “smoke juice” is highly regarded as one of the highest quality on the market. I’ve tried several of their flavors and have been very happy with them.

One of the best resources I’ve found for reviews of hardware, liquids and general information is Spinfuel Magazine. Unfortunately their site is a little busy and can be difficult to navigate, but their content is unbeatable; they’re dedicated to being a beginner-friendly resource as well as providing useful information to more experienced vapors. They also have fairly strict guidelines about the liquid suppliers they’ll review which makes it much easier to identify quality manufacturers and stay away from liquids from questionable sources.

The e-cigarette world is young and has largely been the domain of early adopters, but has grown rapidly in the past few years and looks poised to explode into mainstream awareness soon. The manufacturers and retailers have been careful not to market their products as smoking cessation devices in order to avoid being regulated as medical devices (although the FDA is due to report findings in April of this year and will likely begin to regulate the market). Nonetheless, based on my experience and the anecdotal experience of many other users online, I feel they provide the first truly effective alternative to smoking — whether you just want a healthier alternative or are looking to quit nicotine all together. Even given concerns over continued use of nicotine they provide a significant level of harm-reduction to smokers, and I think anyone who smokes owes it to themselves and their loved ones to give them a try.

-- Evan Donn  

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