Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500

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I once left a box of important files out in the rain and wasted a lot of time reviving them. Ever since then I have been digitizing all paper in my life and then tossing the paper. This nirvana is possible using the auto-feed Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500.

I used to scan documents on my HP scanner-printer-copier, which is mind-numbingly slow and had a buggy driver that crashes my computer, forcing a reboot about 25% of the time I use it. Now with the Fujitsu ScanSnap I set a stack of up to 50 two-sided documents into the sheet feeder and it whips through all 100 pages in two and a half minutes. I was honestly surprised that my laptop was capable of accepting data at
such a fast pace. This scanner doesn’t hog a lot of precious desktop real estate, either. It’s surprisingly small — about 11.5 inches wide and 5 inches deep, with the feeder and output flaps folded in.

I configured my SnapScan to send scanned documents as PDF files to my Evernote account, although this is not required. (If you don’t know about the previously reviewed Evernote, it’s an outstanding online service that accepts images, sound files, notes, scans of documents, and just about anything else you want to throw in it. It saves these files on your computer and on Evernote’s servers so you don’t have to worry about losing your data. It also runs a character recognition routine on your documents so you can search for them later.) This first few times I scanned to Evernote, I carefully checked to make sure that both sides of each page had been scanned correctly. The SnapScan software discards the sides that are blank and has a sensor that detects when two pages go through the feeder at the same time (which rarely
happens).

Evernote’s character recognition is almost flawless. That means my documents can be found by entering keywords into Evernote’s search field from my Evernote phone app. The other day I had to search for a mortgage document from my files while I was away from home and I pulled it up on my phone in less than a minute. It is so easy to scan
stuff, and its “transcription” of text is so good, that I now scan business cards, menus, any paper document I might want to look at again. Then I throw the paper out.

Since I got the ScanSnap, I’ve been processing about 100 pages of documents per day. The software straightens out the images and orients them right-side up. The only time it jammed was when I tried to stack too many of the water-damaged documents through it. The downside, if you can call it that, is the high price tag: it’s $419 on Amazon. But when I think about the hours and hours of time wasted waiting for my HP flatbed scanner to creak across a document, the price seems very low.

I am finally on my way to a fully paperless office.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500
$532
Available from Amazon

Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500M (for Mac OSX)
$460
Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Fujitsu



Pocket Chain Saw

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This little saw is excellent, fast cutting, light weight ( at 3 oz without the case), and folds up small making it highly portable. It can quickly saw branches and trees up to about 4-6 inches in diameter with its 28 inch long chain.

To use it, wrap the chain around whatever you want to cut and then grab the handles and pull back and forth. This flexibility means that it can take on logs and branches too thick for smaller camp saws. I’ve used it in the back country as well as around the yard.

When one of the metal loops that attaches the saw to the handles came apart at the weld point the company very quickly responded by sending me a new set of loops. It’s an excellent product supported by a conscientious and responsive company.

-- Jaime Cobb  

[Note: An even lighter weight military model can be purchased here.--OH]

Supreme Products Pocket Chain Saw
$23

Available from Amazon



 

Omega Paw Self-Cleaning Litter Box

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Ever since I’ve had my cat, I have found the litter task quite unbearable. I’ve read a lot of reviews for various automatic litter box cleaners and most of them are too expensive, too error prone, and usually a combination of both.

Eventually I found the Omega litter box and I’ve never been happier. It is similar to the previously reviewed The Litter Robot, but it is cheaper and is NOT automatic which means a reduced likelihood of it breaking.

I’ve been using this litter box for almost 2 years now and the process is simple as ever: roll the litter box to the right, then roll it back. Get the shelf with the litter out and throw it in the garbage. DONE. No mechanical issues, no special sand, no electricity usage and NO SCOOPING. I love it.

-- Vitaly Belman  

[If you have trouble with the clips coming undone, one commenter suggests drilling holes and using stove bolts with locknuts. This prevents gaps and litter spilling when tipping back and forth. --OH]

Omega Paw Self-Cleaning Litter Box
$35

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Omega Paw



Timbermate

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I have used this wood filler for about a year year and I make a point of having it with me in my tool bag at all times as I am a renovation contractor.

What I like about it is that it doesn’t shrink. It comes in white and is easily tintable with anything (including oil or latex). If it dries out, you just put some warm water in it and it comes right back. You can dilute it down to a light paste for filling minute flaws in painted surfaces. You can thin it even further and use it as a grain filler or a spot primer. It dries quick. And it is eminently sandable and workable.

It comes in several different wood-toned colors, too. Overall, this is definitely a superior filler that has an unlimited shelf life.

-- Rock Kyndl  

Timbermate Wood Filler
$7

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by TimberMate



OXO Splatter Screen

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Unlike other splatter screens made of mesh or metal, the OXO is made of perforated stainless steel. This renders it nearly indestructible, even when teenagers are involved.

Two concentric rings center and secure the screen so it stays put on all our pans. Steam easily escapes through the perforations, avoiding sogginess. The sturdy handle folds for dishwashing and easy storage.

Before we found the OXO, a typical mesh splatter screen would last about nine months before inevitably getting damaged. What tends to happen is the mesh comes loose from the frame, either in use or during cleaning. I’ve used the OXO screen on a near-daily basis for the past year. The OXO splatter screen is so superior, it reinvents the tool.

-- Chris Hecht  

OXO Splatter Screen
$20

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by OXO



Original Swedish Goggles

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Among competitive swimmers that wear goggles four hours a day for weeks on end, the widely accepted gold standard is a type of goggles invented in the 1970s by the Swedish company Malmsten AB and widely copied thereafter. They will hold up to years and years of exposure to chlorine, replacement parts are easy to find, they are infinitely customizable to their user’s face, are very comfortable when dialed in, and yet cost only $4 a pair where others can cost $30. They’re called “Swedish” goggles.

The first thing you’ll notice about them is that unlike every other goggle on the market, they have no soft rubber/foam seal around each eyepiece. The sealing surface is hard plastic. What would seem to be a shocking design oversight actually makes a lot of sense. They were originally designed this way to accommodate people that might have a skin allergy to rubber or foam. Because the seal is hard plastic, it is impervious to chlorine and UV, and seals exactly the same way each time. Individual eyepieces will last forever and still seal the same long after soft seals have rotted away from the chlorine. They come in about eight million colors, but I recommend not getting the metallic eyepieces as the coating eventually wears off but they do look cool. There is an anti-fog variant, but I just spit and swish in mine and that works well enough. I suppose you could also buy an anti-fog cream.

The nose piece is another thing you’ll notice, in that it appears to just be a cheap piece of string in a rubber tube. Again, this design is very smart, as it is infinitely adjustable where other goggles have to use interchangeable nose pieces or some other part that will force the purchase of a new pair if it ever gets lost or broken, the Swedish goggles’ nose piece can be replaced with any bit of string you can find and a piece of clear tubing from the hardware store. Many swimmers like Michael Phelps also use a section of the head strap as a nose piece. I personally use a twist of wire.

The head strap is like the nose piece; instead of a proprietary strap like other goggles, it uses a simple piece of flat rubber strap that can be found anywhere. The strap can be configured to have different upper and lower lengths in order to sit perfectly.

Fitting them, of course, is more involved due to their customizability. There are detailed directions included with each pair, and it takes about 15 minutes. Just like any goggle, some people will fit them and some won’t. I have heard of a few swimmers shaping the sealing surface with sandpaper in order to make them fit, but they really do fit the vast majority of people. However, they won’t fit a lot of kids because kids’ smaller eye orbitals will interfere with the sealing.

I have had my pair of goggles for about ten years, and have gone through about five head straps and three nose pieces in that time while pool and ocean swimming 10 hours a week during college and 2 hours a week thereafter. My eyepieces are still going strong.

-- Jon Braun  

Original Swedish Goggles
$4

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Richey Industries



Dillon Precision RL-550B Progressive Reloading Machine

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In the early ‘70’s I started shooting more frequently and decided to reload my own ammo. I purchased an RCBS reloading press and a powder measure and a scale and a lot of other stuff that was needed to reload my .45ACP ammo. The major fallback was that each and every round had to be resized and de-primed (using the first of three dies); then they all had to be re-primed (installing new primers); then, after adjusting the powder measure to the correct charge of powder, I had to dump the powder into each individual cartridge. After that, I would take a new bullet and put it on each cartridge and using the press with the third die installed, I would seat the bullet and crimp the case. It took about 3 hours to reload 100 rounds. But, that was the way it was done.

In the early ‘80’s I became aware of a device called a “progressive reloading machine”. There were a few on the market, but with a little research, I found that one was being manufactured by Dillon Precision in Scottsdale, AZ. At that time I lived in Phoenix, so I went over to see this device. As I walked in to the showroom, I must say that I was very impressed both by the overall view and by the attention that I received from the salesperson. I was showed how easy that reloading COULD be, and the saving of major amounts of labor hours. Naturally, I became an owner of a brand new RL-550 Progressive reloading press.

They tell me that a guy can reload 500 rounds an hour with this machine. I have only done about 350 per hour but never broke out into a sweat! The fascinating thing about this reloading press is that once you get started, you drop a loaded round with every pull of the handle. Not 5 pulls and two die changes for every round as before.

After a few years of trouble-free operation, I had a problem with the automatic primer feed. I took the machine over to Scottsdale, and they told me that they had seen this problem before and that there was an upgrade that could be done to my machine. At that point I asked how much it would cost to upgrade to the “next level” (RL-550B). I was told that they [Dillon Precision] have a “NO B.S. Lifetime Warranty” and it would cost me nothing to upgrade my machine to the RL-550B Specs. Mind you, I had been using this press for over 13 years!

You just do not find that kind of commitment from very many companies these days.
I moved to Texas in 2005 and eventually got my shop set up so it was time to do some reloading. When I was changing calibers to reload 9mm, I discovered that I did not have the correct primer feed tube. I e-mailed Dillon Precision and got a phone call from one of their techs. Long story short, they sent me what I needed at no charge!

Dillon Precision has a whole line of terrific products and they have the absolute best warranty in the business. I recommend them to everyone!

-- Matt Davis  

Dillon Precision RL-550B Progressive Reloading Machine
$265

Available from and manufactured by Dillon Precision



Starting Strength

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A barbell is the best training tool an athlete can use. The weight can vary from 10 lbs to over 1000 lbs in increments as small as 1/2 lb, and the set of available exercises is limited only by the lifter’s imagination. This makes training with a barbell suitable for pretty much anyone, regardless of age, sex, or experience.

Studies detailing injury rates show weight training to be as much as orders of magnitude less likely to cause injury than sports like running, cycling, football, and especially the most dangerous sport in America: soccer.

It can help prevent injuries by strengthening joints and bones, and creating more resilient tissues. With judicious use it can speed recovery from injuries that do occur. And it has even been shown to be effective in treating nagging ailments like back pain and certain kinds of arthritis. Being stronger also makes ordinary tasks much easier to accomplish. Everything from bringing in the groceries to playing with your kids to getting out of bed in the morning becomes easier as you get stronger. All of which means weight training may even be safer than not training at all.

That’s all great, but there’s a catch. Training with barbells has a skill component. To get the maximum benefit with minimum risk it’s best to understand and use good technique. But even before the invention of machine-based “health clubs” in the ’70s, instruction in the barbell lifts was best described as questionable, and most exercise instruction from luminaries like Bill Star and Mel Siff assumes proficiency with the barbell and works to create programs to allow people to continue to get stronger, or simply pushes people toward the “easy to use” but mostly useless machines.

With their book Starting Strength, Mark Rippetoe, a strength coach with almost 30 years experience in teaching novice lifters and a former competitive powerlifter himself, and Lon Kilgore, a competitive weightlifter and associate professor of kinesiology at Midwestern State University, are working to provide that missing information.

They cover five basic lifts — squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, and power clean — in amazing, well-illustrated, and readable detail. The chapter on the squat spans over 60 pages and covers not only technique but why to squat and how to identify and fix problems as they come up. The other exercises are covered in no less impressive detail, including some stellar and original thinking on the deadlift, and an effective basic training program to put everything together.

The authors even deal with such fictions as “squats hurt your knees” and “lifting weighs will make you bulky.” The simple answers to those objections are that if your knees hurt when you squat, you’re squatting wrong (or you have an existing injury), and that getting “hyooge” takes years of hard training, big eating, and, for many men and nearly all women, anabolic supplementation — i.e. steroids.

The now-out-of-print first edition was geared toward coaches, but because of the book’s cult popularity the second has shifted focus to self-instruction. Much of the book was rewritten to this end. It also includes an additional 100 or so pages on supplementary lifts and updates to the introductory weight training program.

I bought the first edition in the spring of 2006 and after a couple years using it, and now the expanded edition, to teach myself and friends and family to lift, I’ve found I don’t agree with the authors on some technical details of certain lifts. But without this book I wouldn’t have gained the knowledge to make those kinds of judgments.

As a budding Olympic-style weightlifter and former competitive cyclist, it’s the best $30 I’ve ever spent toward my training. And from Amazon to specialty weight training sites like EliteFTS, the reviews of this book are universally positive.

Save whatever you were going to spend on sports drinks over the next few weeks and buy this instead. It’s one of those books that belongs in everyone’s library.

-- Chris Roth  

Starting Strength
Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore
2011, 3rd Edition, 347 pages
$30

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

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The back angle during the drive up form the bottom [of the squat] is critical to the correct use of the hips. The correct angle is produced when the bar is just below the spine of the scapula and directly vertical to the middle of the foot, the back is held tight in lumbar and thoracic extension, the knees are parallel to the correctly-placed feet, and the correction depth is reached, as discussed later.

*

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Incorrect (left) and correct (right) use of the hands and arms. Elbows should be elevated to the rear with the hands on top, not placed directly under the bar where they intercept part of the weight.

*

The vast majority of people will prefer to grip the bar with the thumbs-around grip. At lighter weights, this is fine since the load presents no problems to keep in place. But when heavier weights are being used — and, theoretically, they eventually should be — the thumbs can create problems.

The thumb should be placed on top of the bar, so that the wrist can be held in a straight line with the forearm. Most people have a mental picture of the hands holding up the weight, and this usually ends up being what happens. The bar sits in the grip with the thumbs around the bar, the elbows end up directly below the weight, and nothing really prevents the bar from sliding down the back from this position. People that do this will have sore elbows, a horrible, headache-like soreness in the inside of the elbow that makes them think the injury occurred doing curls. If the elbows are underneath the weight, the force of the weight is straight down (the nature of gravity is sometimes inconvenient), then the wrists and elbows will intercept some of the weight. With heavy weights, the loading is quite high, and these structures are not nearly as capable of supporting 500 lbs, as the back is. If the thumb is on top of the bar, the hand can assume a position that is straight in line with the forearm, wrist, and hand, and all of the weight is on the back. A correct grip can prevent these problems before they start. If you learn to carry all of the weight of the bar on the back before your strength improves to the point where the weight becomes a problem, you’ll have no problem at all.




Dowelmax

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The Dowelmax is a tool that allows you to make incredibly strong wood joints quickly and accurately. I’ve been using the Dowelmax for about 3 years now and find new ways of using it most times it comes out of the case.

The joy of this tool is its simplicity. It is fabricated with such accuracy that it allows even beginners to create the strongest of joints in furniture making. Doweling is far superior to biscuit joining allowing almost total dry-fitting of a project before gluing, greater accuracy of surface matching, and a joint that is stronger than even a mortise and tenon in a fraction of the time. As the vast majority of connections a woodworker makes are invisible, this tool saves an immense amount of time over traditional joinery techniques and results in a joint as strong or stronger than any of them.

The tool is adjustable to suit any thickness of wood and, using the included spacers and register pins, one can dowel any length of board with pin point accuracy. The tool can be taken apart and re-assembled in different geometries for various kinds of joints and you can also, as I often do, build your own jigs to use the Dowelmax in ways that probably were not intended.

This is a tool you’ll quickly learn to love. I make my living as a woodworker and I don’t own another tool that gives me greater satisfaction to use. At about $300 for the kit one might think its only for the professional however I’ve had friends using it after only a ten minute lesson who were putting together joints as well as they can be made! Check out the website which shows quite clearly what it can do.

-- Colin Farrell  

Dowelmax
$310

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Dowelmax



SolLight LightShip

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This solar-powered LED light comes with suction cups and is incredibly handy. I keep one in the car on the back window, so it’s always charged in case of a breakdown. It also features a red LED to preserve night vision is, as well as the auto-shut-off with the light sensor. It is weather sealed and it stood up brilliantly to the elements while living in Fiji- sun, salt and sea.

I used this device, along with the brilliant LightCap. This latest version of the Sollight classic LightShip is fantastic as ever. Great for hands free light, camping, and emergencies.

-- Kaz Brecher  

SolLight Lightship
$25

Available from and manufactured by SolLight