The Wirecutter

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Like Cool Tools, The Wirecutter is a website that only points to stuff worth knowing about. Specifically, consumer electronics in most every major category: laptops, cameras, TVs, tablets, smartphones, etc. Unlike Cool Tools, they don’t post reviews based on experience. Instead, they’re written by knowledgable gadget writers who have surveyed the field, read all the review and comment threads, and talked to experts to make an educated judgement call. There’s no jargony hairsplitting. No biased fanboyism. No product bashing. Only: “Here’s the one you want.”

All reviews feature labels like “What I’d get,” “Good Enough” or “The Wi-Fi Router You Want.” The reviews themselves are succinct and clear enough for a layperson — which brings me to how I use the site… 

Being labeled a “gadget guy” is both a blessing and a curse. It’s an ego boost to receive emails from friends and family asking for my input before any purchases. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: I don’t know everything about everything. Of course, I do know how to read between the lines (and hype) and search for a solid recommendation. That’s exactly what The Wirecutter does. Hence, it’s now the first site I turn to before recommending anything to anyone, including myself.

This week, I bought a portable bluetooth speaker for our kitchen. l settled on the Jawbone JAMBOX, which I actually reviewed for Wired one year ago. I do know that space pretty well, but hadn’t been following it closely. So I assumed something better had come along. I was wrong. Go figure.

[Disclosure: The Wirecutter was founded by Brian Lam, formerly the editor of Gizmodo. I mention this for two reasons: 1) He knows his stuff. 2) He's a friend of mine. That said, I'd recommend the site regardless. The conceit is so simple and pure and useful, it's a wonder no one (ahem, Consumer Reports) did this until now.--SL]

[An illustration of what separates the Wirecutter from the rest can be seen in their recommendation of external Hitachi G-Drives. They not only aggregated all the pertinent reviews but also interviewed network storage professionals and data recovery experts to identify the drives with the lowest failure rates. I heartily second Steven's recommendation of the site.-- OH]

Sample Excerpts:

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With headlines like “A Fast And Reliable Hard Drive” the Wirecutter avoids the pitfalls of other gear review sites, and manage to provide useful, straightforward recommendations.




OXO Angled Measuring Cups

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I have used these cups for about two years and they are far better than other measuring cups because you can measure the amount from the top while filling. You don’t need to stop and look from the side. This is achieved via a patented angled surface with clearly marked volume indicators. It is a simple, unique, improvement to something I use all the time!

-- Paul Hanna  

[As several commenters have pointed out, Pyrex recently released a borosilicate tempered glass measuring cup similar to the OXO one above available at Amazon for $19 that may be better suited for the microwave. ]

OXO Good Grips Angled Measuring Cups
Set of 3
$20

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by OXO



Brodin Ghost Net

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I first started fly fishing when I was 4 or 5. I am not a very productive fishermen. And that has never really been my ultimate goal. Instead, I find fly-fishing to be an activity closer to meditation. I relax in the river, in the repetitive motions, and the necessary focus and concentration.

Part of finding my “zen” in fly fishing has been simplifying the stuff I fish with.

One of my best discoveries has been the Brodin Ghost Net. Unlike traditional mesh nets, the Ghost Net is made of clear thermoplastic rubber webbing. It might seem strange to replace lightweight mesh with something slightly heavier, but the advantages become clear the second you walk along a stream.

Fine mesh nets are fragile. They catch on branches and thorns, and they have a tendency to tear. Not only that, but small hooks, especially nymphs, tend to catch and snag in the mesh. The Brodin Ghost Net resolves this with it’s rubber webbing. The tough clear webbing is robust in the face of snags, doesn’t get caught on thorns, and I have never had a fly get snagged or snarled. What this means is that I can spend less time hassling with my net, and more time fishing. I have also read elsewhere that the clear webbing is less visible underwater and less likely to spook the fish (I haven’t been able to confirm this personally, but it makes sense).
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Out of water, the Brodin Ghost Net is a handsome and robust teak net. Produced in Costa Rica, the wood is sustainably sourced, and the care and craft in production shines. With that being said, there are plenty of companies that make beautiful wooden nets. What sets Brodin apart is the Ghost net webbing. Luckily, for those who are less inclined to spend $100 for a new wooden net, Brodin sells the thermoplastic rubber webbing independently, providing instructions on how to affix it to existing wooden nets, or as demonstrated by other DIY-fishermen online, tennis racket frames. This also makes it easy to fix or replace in case something goes wrong.

-- Oliver Hulland  

Gallatin Ghost Net
$100

Available from Amazon

Brodin Ghost Netting Various circumferences $23-$28 Available from and manufactured by Brodin Landing Nets



Ceramic Sculpting Tools

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I bought one of these large sculpting tools (used in ceramics for ribboning, fleshing, etc.) years ago and it hasn’t left my kitchen. I found mine at one of the big box craft stores, but you can find one at Kemper as well. The ovoid blade is fantastic for deseeding and deveining peppers (like jalapeños), hollowing out eggplant and cucumbers. And it’s become my go-to tool for pumpkin carving.

– Benjamin Ellison

I had forgotten just how useful my box full of ceramics tools has proven over the years, with some of the most useful and kitchen-friendly including the following:
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Wire clay cutter that is great for cutting large cakes.
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Cleanup tool that works better than most potato peelers at getting eyes out of potatoes.
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Finishing rubber which I use to clean up flour-cemented surfaces and is similar to the previously reviewed Norpro Deluxe Scraper.

– Oliver Hulland

 

Manufactured by Kemper Tools



Ninite.com

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I use Ninite.com to install packages of software whenever I need to set up a new computer, or reinstall a Windows/Linux OS. I have found that ninite.com is the best way to install or update software if you are either buying or building a new PC.

You go to the website, click on the software you need to download or update, and it downloads a custom installer program that will install ALL of the software in a couple of clicks. This is far easier than having to visit each individual website, clicking around till you find the right software to download, and waiting for each individual file to download. An added bonus is that it will always install the most up-to-date software, and will update any software already installed.

There is nothing else available on the market that I have found that provides a service like this with similar efficiency.

-- Douglas Harry  

[Not only does ninite make it easy to install packages of software, but the list of installs they offer is a great way to find free, useful, programs.--OH]

Sample Excerpts:

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Ninite offers a simple interface to combine a comprehensive array of free software into a single installation package.




Nylon Oil Filter Wrench

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This is the only oil filter wrench anybody will ever need. I’ve used one similar to the one available at Amazon since a mechanic friend suggested it to me over 20 years ago. There’s no adjustment necessary. It doesn’t slip. The tighter you turn it with a ratchet, the tighter it grips. And you don’t need to keep several sizes of socket around, unlike the previously reviewed Oil Filter Sockets. Best of all, it’s cheap and it will last practically forever.

-- Michael Farris  

Nylon Flotool Oil Filter Wrench
$8

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Hopkins



Spyder Scraper

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Last year I removed some old vinyl tile from our dining room. Even with the help of a friend and a a heavy duty floor scraper, it took all afternoon. Some tiles popped up fine, but most stuck tenaciously and had to be pried up with a thin blade. Miserable.

The kitchen had the same tiles, and yesterday I cleared them all out by myself in about 30 minutes without breaking a sweat. The difference? A Spyder Scraper, which fits into any brand reciprocating saw.

It’s not a complete solution alone, because it’s hard to get the saw itself underneath the tiles as they peel up. Use the Spyder to loosen the edges, and then a long handled manual scraper to scoop up the tiles. When the manual scraper hits another tough edge, hit it with the Spyder again. Two people working together in this fashion should be able to clear 300 sq-ft in well under an hour.

I used the 4″ blade; they also come in 2″ and 6″ for different purposes including removing tiles adhered with thinset. I wish I’d had one a couple of years ago whenI redid the bathroom!

-- Scott Noyes  

[Note: Whatever tool you use, do what we used to do: buy a block of dry ice and put it briefly on each tile before removal (put it on the next tile while you work on the current one). The tiles shatter easily, the glue is rendered brittle, and removal is fast. --John Jorsett]

4″ Spyder Scraper
$10

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Spyder

Sample Excerpts:

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The Spyder Scraper attaches to any brand reciprocating saw.




Soap Nuts

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Soap nuts are a dried fruit with laundry-cleaning properties. Skeptical? Don’t be, because these work great and have freed us from commercial detergents and softeners.

We purchased Laundry Tree’s starter package for $14.95. In the package you receive a bag of soap nuts, some cotton drawstring bags, a small bottle of essential oil to provide a scent, and a small cotton drawstring bag already filled with six soap nuts.

All you need to do is place the bag directly in your washing machine with your laundry. The first time I used this product, my dirty clothes contained some white socks I had worn outside while digging a trench, so they were covered in soil. And in previous washings using commercial detergent, the dirt in the socks had become ingrained to the point where they looked like an old pair of fading, black socks.

One cycle in the wash with the soap nuts and they were white again. Two caveats: the company says to put 3-to-5 soap nuts into the drawstring bag. Make that 5-to-7 if you want really clean clothes. Second, while the the nuts are reusable, don’t expect to get more than 2 or 3 loads of laundry before replacing the soap nuts. Other than that I have no reservations about recommending this wonderful product.

The Laundry Tree starter comes wrapped in a small basket so you can proffer it as a housewarming present for your more ecologically-minded friends.

-- Tom Bundrick  

[Genus Sapindus has useful cleaning properties due to its production of a natural surfactant. For more of the science behind the Soap Nut check out this article.--OH]

Laundry Tree Soap Nuts Starter Package
$15

Manufactured by and available from Laundry Tree

Soap Nuts
4 lbs
$35

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Naturoli



P-38 Can Opener

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I have carried a P-38 since I first encountered one about 40 years ago in my introduction to US Army combat rations during Basic Training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina.  Each case of combat rations had a dozen or so P-38s or more officially “OPENER, CAN, HAND, FOLDING, TYPE I”.  The older P-38s were made of steel and the later ones of aluminum.  In either case the P-38 folds flat and attaches easily to a key ring.  In addition to opening a can, I personally have used it many times over the years as a screwdriver, lever, and knife.

– Steven Cochran

I have always carried a pocket knife. The current one is a slim Schrade two-blade model, small enough not to wear holes in my pocket. And I have a Leatherman tool in a belt case for days when I have multiple chores.

But my other every-day carry item is an Army surplus P-38 can opener. It opens cans, of course, since the old C-rations and K-rations used cans, while the more recent Meals-Ready-to-Eat rations do not.

It scribes lines. It opens envelopes, after a fashion. It cleans fingernails and serves as a small scraper. And it has tightened hundreds of loose screws.

The P-38 can opener: a mark of competency since 1940 or thereabouts.

– Chas Clifton

I was issued my P-38 in the summer of 1960, and it has always been on whatever keychain I had in pocket since then.  It seems as if I have had the occasion to use this simple device at least twice a week. Breaking through the sometimes impenetrable packaging that seems to cover everything we buy these days, to an ideal fingernail cleaner, and, occasionally a great can opener.  There is nothing out there that is as light, inexpensive, durable, and useful as my trusty p-38.

– Casey Goeller

 

[We've reviewed the P-38 in the past, but it's a tool review we get sent so often and with such enthusiasm that it seemed overdue for an update. Here's an article (or two) for those interested in the story behind the P-38. --OH ]

GI P-38 Can Opener
$2

Available from Amazon