Tips 22

When a couple of the little rubber feet (LRF) came off the bottom of my laptop, I tried without success to re-attach the small bits of rubber with “super glue”, rubber cement, and a hot-glue gun. After the last attempt, I realized that the rubbery material used with the hot-glue gun could by itself serve as an LRF replacement. This worked so well I ended up ripping out the still-attached LRFs. By now the hot-glue replacements have served longer than the original LRFs.

— Preston L. Bannister


I had a white board with old old writing on it – I tried Windex, alcohol, etc, to little avail, then my girlfriend suggested using a whiteboard marker – they are full of the correct solvent! Just color over what you want to erase and wipe it away. Doh!

— David Spargur


Eighth inch shock cord is wonderful stuff. However, it can be hard to keep knots in shock cord. I use cable ties to fasten loops in shock cord, and I have never had a cable-tied loop slip. Shock cord loops have body, so it is easy to clip things into them and easy to throw a shock cord loop over a hook, they absorb shock, and it does not hurt if you fall on them. I first saw this trick being used to attach rescue whistles to life preservers; since the shock cord stretches, the whistle does not dangle too much (a long length of cord might wrap around your throat) but the whistle can be pulled up to the mouth. Since then, I have found that cable-tied shock cord loops are great for key rings, to use to hang things on wall hooks, as lanyards, and to elastically attach valuables, such as cameras, to belt loops to discourage theft while keeping the camera ready to use. And of course, you can cable-tie loops to the ends of a length of shock cord and use it as a clothesline.

— Jock Chung


I rub my nose with my finger and put the tip of my finger in a soda or beer that has too much foam. The oil from my nose does a remarkable job of getting rid of the foam quickly so I can drink sooner.

— Penley McQueen


Sure you can buy special plastic “chip-clips” to keep your snack bags closed, but they’re expensive. Or you can use clothespins, but they’re bulky and don’t always stay put. Binder clips, those little spring steel clamps available at any office supply store, are perfect for resealing opened bags of dried snacks or or frozen food. The versatile little jaws are strong enough you can even use them on cardboard containers. I fold my bags at the corners and roll them down to keep things really airtight. The clips also come in a variety of different sizes.

— Tom Lundin


When your container of shaving oil is empty, try filling it with olive oil from the kitchen instead of spending $15 on a new stuff. I discovered that when I ran out a few years ago & I haven’t looked back since. Olive oil does just as good a job and costs almost nothing per shave. People have been shaving with olive oil for thousands of years, there’s no reason not to continue doing so.

— Mark James


When I need to solder a connection to a leaky pipe, I just stick a piece of bread into the pipe to sop up the drips while I fire up the blowtorch.

— RW



Tips 21

To track whether the dishes in your washer are clean, use a wet erase marker to write “Dirty” or make a fancy “D” on the inside door of your dishwasher when loading dirty dishes. When you run the dishwasher the mark washes away, so you’ll know they are clean.

— Carl DeCesare


Don’t pay for a anti-fogging bathroom mirror! The mirror fogs because the glass temperature is colder than the air causing the moisture dissolved in the air to condense. Just wipe the off the excess condensation and lightly blowdry the mirror and it will stay fog-free. Don’t overdo it with the blow-dryer — you don’t want the mirror to crack from uneven expansion.

— David Spargur


I’ve moved many many times, and this hint has saved my sanity. Whether you’re using professional movers or relying on your (good) friends, you can use this hint.

In your new place, pick a space that is out of the way, such as a spare bedroom, the basement or garage, and put every box there. I mean every. single. box. If it says kitchen, put it there. Bedroom? Put it there. Bathroom? Put it there. If you can manage it, you can loosely group the boxes there by room. But do not let a single box infiltrate the rest of your living space.

Without those boxes in the way, you can slide your furniture around until you have it situated the way you like without boxes getting in the way, and voila, your space is instantly livable.

Then you start emptying boxes one by one. As a box is emptied, break it down and toss it, recycle it or store it. You’ll find you’re fully moved in in very short order, and if you’re not, nobody can tell but you!

— Katherine B


Wintergreen oil (methyl salicylate) is the most penetrating of all penetrating oils. It is available at most drugstores at minimal cost. If you work on old machinery that is anywhere near saltwater (or salted highways) it’s an essential weapon in tackling otherwise hopelessly rusted/frozen threads. It smells good, and though toxic and not to be kept within reach of children, is intended for topical application to human skin.

— George Dyson


Here is a much simpler way to keep paintbrushes soft, especially between coats: Don’t clean them, put them in a plastic bag, and put them in the freezer. You can start painting with them right away, and when you are done, just put them in again. Eventually, you want to clean them (if you are changing colors, for instance) but I have had paintbrushes in the freezer for months and they are just fine when you take them out again.

— Espen Andersen


High-End Gifts

Here’s a question I don’t get asked every day. A friend of mine is an executive assistant for a guy who runs an investment firm.

She says, “Every year, my boss has me buy a Christmas present for each of his employees in this one investment group. Last year I got them all high end iPod Nanos which had just come out and were quite difficult to get. But there doesn’t seem to be one standout techie type gift for this year. My husband says it’s the Playstation 3s but I am on all kinds of wait lists. Do you have any other suggestions? We mostly prefer to give each of them the same thing. The employees are: Male, average age 25. Unmarried. Very ambitious, hard working. Travel a lot. Kind of cool, trendy guys who like gadgets. Price range is between $200 to $450; that range would be preferable though we’re not too sensitive on this point and can go higher for a cool gift. Any suggestions?”

OK, did you get that? Not too sensitive on the price point! So I asked a few friends of mine if they had any recommendations to ease my assistant friend out of her dilemma. Their suggestions follow below.

And BTW, what would YOU like for your ultimate gift this year? Let’s not be cheap. It just has to be COOL.

— KK

Lego Mindstorms NXT Robotics System
(For big little boys)
Available from Amazon

Nixie Tube Clock Kit
(Get the 6-tube version, so you can see the seconds flick along)
Available from TubeClock

Titanium Brompton Folding Bike
(Throw it in your trunk, take it on the train, store it in your closet.)
Available from NyceWheels

Buffalo Terastation
(One whole omygod terabyte of fail-safe RAID storage for your digital EVERYTHING!)
Available from TechOnWeb

The Dragon Flyer V Ti with EyeCam and Thermal Stabilization
(It’s the only RC chopper that any idiot can fly)
Available from DraganFly Innovations

Butterfly Livingroom Flyer
(Tiniest, slow flying RC airplane for flying in your living room)
Available from PlantracoHobbies

Sony Cybershot DSC-T50 Digital Camera
(It’s got 3x optical zoom, 7 megapixels and fits in your shirt pocket)
Available from Amazon



Tips 19

I have worked with postal employees and highway workers for several years now, and the dog repellent they recommend is to obtain a 3% or less solution of ammonia from your local drug store (chemists). If you sniff test the solution and it’s still too strong dilute it 50/50 with water. Load the solution into a squirt bottle or a small toy squirt gun. This repels the animal without harm – especially if you aim for the nose.

A dog’s sense of smell is so important to it that when the ammonia overwhelms his olfactory nerves, he will rapidly change his mind about attacking, and take his nose elsewhere. He will usually recover fully in 1/2 to 1 hour. I have not tested this on animals, am just passing on what my fellow road workers claim works.

— Robert Chamberlin


I have a small wet/dry vac that I use as a substitute for renting a rug cleaner to spot clean my rugs and furniture. Use soap and water in a spray bottle or just pour it out of a glass on the spot. Rub it in with a brush or your fingers and then suck it up with the wet/dry vac. Rinse the spot with plain water two or three times the same way. It works great. I’ve done this to get juice off of my car seats as well.

— Stephen Foss


Wooden, spring loaded clothes pins are one of the handiest gadgets in the kitchen. They are very cheap and long lasting. I have a couple dozen in use at any one time fastening the open tops of almost any kind of food that comes in a bag. This can be a bag of chips, bread in a bag, the cereal package inside the box, bags of half used frozen foods. Clothes pins are way better than twist ties, rubber bands, and the standard bread bag clip. They can also be used to hang up damp dish clothes, towels, and pot scrubbers. I have a wire rack over my sink that holds many sink related tools, as well as items hung by clothes pins to dry. (This all begs the issue of using them with a clothes line to serve as one of the most basic of solar power appliances to dry damp, washed clothes – a sorely under utilized way to save energy and money, as well as impart a natural fragrance that can’t be beat with any chemical scent.)

— Michael Kuhn


A helpful idea for extending the life of expensive shop-vac filters is to put a layer of (used but clean) pantyhose over the filter when installing it. This will catch most of the large particles and prevent them from lodging deep in the crevices.

— Peter Lovell



Tips 19

That CarChip E/X thing is definitely a cool tool. I thought you might be interested in a similar option that costs $0. All Shucks/Checkers stores (as well as most Autozones and probably every other car store chain of similar type) will read the fault codes out of your car for free. You just pull up and ask them to come out with their code reader and they’ll do it. I’ve done this many times with my two cars and it’s saved me the ridiculous $75 charge every time.

— Neil Enns


A useful source of strong wire that is universally available in every closet is a coat hanger. Keep one in the car and one in the toolbox. Uses include tieing things, creating temporary supports, unblocking drains, opening cars, fishing for lost items that are out of reach, replacement aerials, weird 12v lighting tracks, and fabricating special tools and jigs. I’ve even seen them used to make Christmas decorations. Probably as useful and universal as duct tape, only cheaper. It even functions well as a clothes hanger provided you don’t overload it. Available for free from dry cleaners when you get your clothes back though once you get two together in a closet they do seem to breed.

— Steve Burrows


One area where WD-40 has shortcomings is in any area where it will dissolve the original lubricant such as on the rods of foosball tables. Where this falls short, the solution of solutions is Pledge spray furniture polish. Works like a charm and lets you pull those really mean nasty shots that scare your opponents’ children.

— Zav


Eighth inch shock cord, the elastic stuff that holds tent poles together, is fifty cents a foot and works great for a portable backpack-able clothes line. An overhand knot on a bight at either end and you are good to go — double the line over to stick your garments through if it is windy. Half the price of the travel clothesline reviewed earlier and multipurpose — in a pinch you can replace shoelaces with it, lash stuff to your bag, repair tent poles, etc. You can buy shock cord from lots of vendors.

— Jason Morningstar



Tips 18

A neurologist says that if he can get to a stroke victim quickly he can totally reverse the effects of a stroke. He said the trick was getting a stroke recognized, diagnosed and getting to the patient within 3 hours, which is tough. Sometimes symptoms of a stroke are difficult to identify. But doctors say a bystander can recognize a stroke by asking three simple questions:

1. Ask the individual to SMILE.
2. Ask him or her to RAISE BOTH ARMS.
3. Ask the person to SPEAK A SIMPLE SENTENCE (Coherently, ie: It is sunny out today)

If he or she has trouble with any of these tasks, call 9-1-1 immediately and describe the symptoms to the dispatcher.

— Passed along by Michael Hawley


For small, point & shoot digital cameras, there is always the problem of holding it steady in low light situations. I happened upon something — the “Chain Pod” — that was used back when the first 35mm cameras appeared. To make one is easy — just buy a 1/4″ #20 thumb screw from Home Depot and a 6′ length of small chain. Drill a hole in the thumb part of the screw and attach the chain. After attaching it into the tripod mount hole, just step on the chain and pull the camera upwards until taut. I was thrilled by how light it is (and portable — in your pocket!) and how well it works.

— Bryan Quattlebaum


I must confess I owe Martha Stewart for this one: All my power cords, other computer cables, phone cables, power-strips, and even the DSL modem and the wireless router are contained in a wire basket (from Hold Everything or Pottery Barn or Ikea or something) which is hung from the bottom of the desk by four screw hooks. Leaves plenty of room to stretch my legs without the fear of yanking out a cord or kicking a power switch with my feet.

— Charles Kiblinger


Clear silicone rubber makes an excellent fabric glue, especially for hard-to-sew fabric like T-shirts. Small holes can be easily sealed nearly invisibly in three steps or small pieces of fabric can be used as patches, visible or invisible. There are no problems with laundry–it goes through the washer and dryer just fine without losing adhesion or being damaged by the heat of the dryer.

I’ve been doing this for years with EXCELLENT results.

— Michael Rudas



Tips 17

I am no painter but I do normal household paint jobs and furniture work sometimes. The last reasonably nice paint brush I bought was $25. I turned it into a useless stiff paddle within a few days by not cleaning it enough (it’s hard for a non-professional to tell when all the clear polyurethane sealant is really rinsed out of a brush). Instead of throwing it away, I soaked it in lacquer thinner (not just mineral spirits) for a few minutes and then used a “painter’s comb.” The stainless-steel comb side pushes the bristles apart, lets more solvent into the middle of the bristles, and reshapes the brush, and the wire-brush side pushes dried gunk out. It worked so well I kept going and resuscitated three other “ruined” brushes I had thought were goners. Took about 5 minutes each. Cheaper than buying new brushes all the time. No doubt old hat to the professional painters out there….Readily available at home centers and paint supply stores.

— Charles Kiblinger


I cook a lot and like to use garlic. One downside of properly cleaning and chopping and slicing garlic is the smell permeates your skin. Years ago, I heard on NPR that if you rubbed your hands under cold water with something made of stainless steel, the smell would be eliminated. I didn’t believe it, but it works. You can buy “fancy” soap-shaped or garlic-shaped stainless steel objects to do this with, but no need. Go into your drawer and get out a butter knife or spoon instead. This really works!

— Michael Raab


This is a straightforward application of a standard telephone company service — but I find it extremely useful. It’s a way to have only one phone number.

I have a cellphone, but I don’t give out the number! When I am going to be away and it is desirable to monitor calls to my home line, I simply switch on its forwarding service. (I record the code in my home phone’s “dial” memory. It can also be set, remotely, from the cellphone.) I may do it for just a few hours when I am expecting an important call — or for many days; my wife and I routinely use it when we travel.

Having just one phone number simplifies life for both me and the people who want to talk to me.

— Bob Spinrad


I needed a frisbee once….only had a paper bag. Well, I found that a paper bag rolled inward from top to bottom, spiraling as you roll, then making it round when you get to get to the bottom makes a wonderful, colorable, recyclable, dog-eatable, adjustable-sized, FREE frisbee. They fly lumpy if you weight them irregularly. A ribbon can be put in a central hole for pretty effect or short range retrieval throws, stopping it inches from its target. Can also be used as a mask, paper plate, quiet drum, paper taco, beret, kite, yoyo…etc. and can be restored to bag function easily

I discovered this 30 years ago and have made uncountable numbers since.

— Terry Hill



Tips 16

My last two digital cameras have “interval” shooting capability. Since starting to use it, I have found a myriad of everyday uses. Here, in no particular order, are some. (1) made a 100 shot slide show of 800 miles from Tucson to Los Angeles by building a little headrest rig for the camera, (2) set up the camera for a friend, so she could review her new dog’s settling in her house (great fun!!), and (3) recorded voltage levels over an extended period by photographing a multimeter readout, looking for spikes.

— AK


A dental pick has a strong, very thin, sharp wire on a comfortable handle which is great for reaching inside places where nothing else can enter. It can be used for removing dust bunnies, retrieving nuts and bolts dropped inside the mechanism, removing the insides of nature specimens, ca…a…a…refully removing a paint spot in the wrong place.

— Alfred


A dental pick has a strong, very thin, sharp wire on a comfortable handle which is great for reaching inside places where nothing else can enter. It can be used for removing dust bunnies, retrieving nuts and bolts dropped inside the mechanism, removing the insides of nature specimens, ca…a…a…refully removing a paint spot in the wrong place.

— Alfred


Other ways to stabilize a bike so that it is less likely to fall over are to tie the front wheel and the downtube together. It can be a piece of string, a shoelace, a strip of “velcro”, a large rubber band (with the ends hooked over the “bosses” on the downtube). The effect is twofold, first, to keep the front wheel inline so that the fork and front wheel don’t pivot and let the bike fall over, and secondly, just to keep the bike from rolling forward or backward.

— John Fears


As a sea kayak guide, I need to be able to illustrate ideas to people and point things out. But I often work in the high arctic, there are no trees and even no sticks or driftwood. I use my extra light tent pole section as a pointer and general sand diagram maker. The other guides I work with think I am looney bringing this thing with me up north, especially with the very strict weight limits on a twin otter. Still, I use the thing all the time and have even started to bring it on trips that I do where there are trees!

— Charlie van Straubenzee



Surgeon’s knot

I was shown this knot earlier this summer as a way to secure my boot laces, which were constantly coming untied. My boss, who taught me it, called it the “super knot.” How to make it: (if you tie your shoes with one loop then wrap another loop around it) – pass the loop through a second time. (bunny ears method) – pass one ear though a second time.

I’ve tested this knot for 8 weeks of hiking around in the forests of New Hampshire and it has never come untied. I noticed that Ian’s Shoelace Site has some other recommendations for knots, but I cannot vouch for their security. I know that the Surgeon’s Shoelace Knot works for me.

— Sam Johnson

See Ian’s Shoelace Site for pictures and a clear explanation.