Photon Microlight II

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This is a very handy little light that is small enough to carry around in your pocket on a keychain. It weighs only 4.8-grams and the LED “bulb” is very bright for its size, more than adequate for finding your way around in a dark spot, reading a map, finding key holes, etc, with a simple thumb press on the button. It has a small switch that will lock the light in the “on” position for those times when you need some extended light.

I highly recommend this Micro Light II model over the more expensive Micro Light III. While the Micro III has more features they aren’t that useful and mine used up the batteries in just a few weeks. So I bought a Micro II and have been very happy with it, and the current battery has lasted several months so far.

– Paul Dubuc

As one keen-eyed reader noticed, the review of this item which CT published originally appeared on Amazon but under a different user. The premise of Cool Tools is that reviews are written by users who have used the product and are genuinely enthusiastic about the product. We do our best to filter out shills for companies, or reviewers being paid to recommend something.

Were we being gamed here? We take our credibility seriously so we wrote to the person who had submitted the tool to find out what was going on. As best as we can figure here is what happened. The Cool Tool reviewer Brad Reynolds wrote back:

I have for years been a fan of kk.org and the Cool Tools email and would look forward to and enjoyed receiving it every week. Last year I  was somehow (I am sure inadvertently) taken off the Cool Tools email list and I wanted back in. I took the path of least resistance, by submitting an Amazon review of a tool I really use. I had no idea the Proton Micro Light II review would be published, with 23 comments!

I am sorry.

Can I amend in my own words the review I should have submitted?

This flashlight has served me, my friends and family flawlessly for several years. Proton Micro Light II has, for its size, a very bright LED bulb, and includes two long lasting, easily replaceable lithium batteries which the company says the battery life is about 10 hours.

This handy, durable, light weight and powerful little flashlight is always attached to my keychain and is close at hand when needed. I have owned and given several Proton Micro Light II as gifts and have recommended it highly to other people.

-- Brad Reynolds  

[Though other keychain LED lights may appear similar in size/shape/design, in my experience Photon Microlights have been significantly brighter, and sturdier. --OH ]

Photon Microlight II
$8

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Photon Light

This is a genuine recommendation of the tool, but in the meantime we wrote to the author of the original Amazon review to let him know what happened and asked him if it was okay if we kept his review. So his name now appears on the original review and we've added Brad's review below it.



MULA Stack and Nest Cups

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Priced at under $3, the play and reuse value of these simple plastic stacking cups is just astonishing. Originally bought as a throwaway present, our set is onto their second baby and have become a staple of daily bath-time for all kids.

They stack into a tall tower, they fit together in pairs, some hold water, some have holes, some have a lot of holes, they float, some sink after a while and they fit into a compact package for storage. Each one is unique and serves a different purpose and there’s just enough of them to be challenging for the under-ones to keep track of them all.

We’ve given sets to every family we know and will continue the tradition for as long as they are available. So simple, yet endlessly fun.

-- Robin Green  

MULA Stack and Nest Cups
$3

Available from and manufactured by IKEA

Sample Excerpts:

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Oil Filter Socket Set

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Sometimes, a tool comes along that makes you wonder how you ever got along without it, even if it’s a sole-purpose tool. This Oil Filter Socket Set is one of those tools.

Instead of trying to remove filters with oil-covered hands or those silly floppy metal band wrenches in terrible positions, these cup wrench sockets make changing oil filters a snap. If there’s enough space around it for your hand to reach it, you can reach it with one of these, and they allow you to apply leverage with a 3/8″ socket wrench, a regular crescent wrench, or even a thumbwheel ratchet so even the most stubborn filter will come off easily. They have little grippy bits inside somewhat like a nut remover socket so they grip really well.

This $5.99 set of wrenches has fit every round filter I’ve tried them with. Sure, they’re cheap, but oil filters aren’t an application where strength and precision are required – all that’s needed is “good enough” and that’s what these are.

-- Jon Braun  

Oil Filter Socket Set
$6

Available from Harbor Freight



Tiny Diner Portable Placemat

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I am a grandmother who enjoys taking her grandchildren out to eat. Many times I’ve wanted to push the booster seat or high chair (without the tray) up to the table, cut the food up, and serve it to my grandchildren on the table with me. This tiny diner placemat covers the table and provides a clean eating surface that also catches spilled food, and has been my favorite take along tool.

It rolls up and fits in my purse, washes off easily, and helps me control the cleanliness of my grandchildren’s eating surfaces. I have seen disposable models, however they do not have the trough for spilled food, and are not re-useable and therefore more expensive. I have used this mat for 2 years, and take it with me anywhere I take my grandkids.

-- Constance Smith  

[This mat is made out of a material called Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) and is a non-latex, non-PVC, non-phthalate, non-BPA material. --OH]

Tiny Diner Portable Placemat
$11

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Summer Infant



Rescue Tape

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Rescue tape is a brand name for silicone tape. I’ve been using it (and other brands) on and off for a decade now and if there’s one thing I had to have and couldn’t live without, it’s this. I have a roll in my car, in my laptop bag, and virtually every else. I’ve repaired dozens of pipe leaks with it and have even used it when I badly cut my arm clearing brush miles from a hospital.

Supposedly it can even be used as an emergency fan belt. I’ve never had to try it, but I can say it will patch a radiator hose and it even worked (for a little while) on the high pressure side of my car’s air conditioner! There are lots of day-to-day uses for it as well. For my electronics work I use it to insulate the underside of the boards I’m soldering so they don’t short out, and it has no problem dealing with 750 F high temp soldering either.

The best part is that it’s cheap enough that I even use it like shrink wrap, especially helpful if I manage to buy something that has a lot of long unruly pieces that need to be bound together.

-- Jeremy Pavleck  

Rescue Silicone Repair Tape
$10

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Rescue Tape



Withings WiFi Body Scale

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I’ve been using my Withings WiFi-enabled scale since 5 Dec 2009, at which point I weighed 246.9 lbs. Today, I weigh 183.5 lbs, and this scale helped me reach my goal. It shows weight, percentage or lbs of body fat, and BMI. Because it’s WiFi-enabled, the readings are picked up and displayed graphically on my Web page (password protected) at their site with the option to share it with other web-based weight loss sites. Moreover, I can use the data locally by downloading the readings in a format suitable for a spreadsheet.

I weigh daily, and the graph has greatly helped in my weight-loss efforts. Now I can easily see the trend, which helps manage it. I’ve had a series of scales that measure both weight and percentage body fat, including a couple by Tanita. As part of my weight loss effort, I did have some professionally administered body-fat measurements, and the Withings readings were consistent with that, within the limits of accuracy with respect to one’s daily weight fluctuations. If you have multiple people using the scale, it’s easy to set up multiple accounts (it has a maximum of 8 users).
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One warning: I got a Roku, and in trying to get it set up with my router, I changed from G to N format, and for a few weeks lost readings from the scale because I wasn’t checking so regularly at that time. I used their support forum to diagnose the problem and reconnect my scale to my router. I would rate their support as excellent: they monitor the forum and respond immediately with answers.

The Withings was the first WiFi-enabled scale I found, and other than my own error in changing the router without thinking how it would affect my bathroom scale (you can understand that oversight, I hope), my experience with it has been uniformly positive. Highly recommended.

-- Michael Ham  

[Note: Withings recently released the WiScale application for iOS and Android that allows for remote viewing of data.--OH]

Withings WiFi Body Scale
$150

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Withings



Ikea Sunnan Lamp

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Last year I was walking through IKEA when I saw this strange little solar-powered goosenecked lamp in the lighting section. Intrigued, I bought it and took it home to try out.

I love it. The bulb is nice and bright, perfect as a reading lamp. And the battery/solar panel unit pops out, so you can leave it by a window or on your car’s dashboard, and it will fully charge while you’re at work. Since then, I’ve gone back and bought a second one. I always have a battery pack charging on a windowsill, and I always have light for my latest book.

Oh, and we brought one of the lamps on a camping trip. It was really handy there too. I left it on one night as a sort of night light for our daughter, and in the morning, it was still shining, just not as brightly. This is one of the few solar-powered gadgets I’ve encountered that actually works as promised. A nice additional bonus, for every lamp sold, IKEA donates one to a child in a country with unreliable electricity.

-- Katherine Falk  

Ikea Sunnan Lamp
$19

Available from and manufactured by Ikea



Snark SN-2

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I’ve tried several clip-on guitar and banjo tuners over the years, and I finally found the best one: Snark SN-2. It’s fast, easy to use, and very accurate. Best of all, it’s cheap: $13. It’s optimized for all instruments. If you only need it for guitar, get the $10 Snark SN-1.

The build quality seems better than the previously reviewed Intellitouch, and the display is much nicer (glasses not required). And it’s really fast and responsive. Plus, it has a “tap tempo” thing so you can tap the button along with the tune and it will tell you the beats per minute.

I’ve been reading about it on various forums, and I haven’t found any negative comments — except for the colors. For a little bit extra you can get a black model.

-- John Walkenbach  

Snark SN-2 Tuner
Available in red and black
$12-20

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Snark Tuners



How To Sanitize A Hard Drive

For non-Solid State Drives (SSDs) I would use a tool like the open source TrueCrypt full-disk encryption. Using the software you want to encrypt the entire disk, including all system partitions, and then change the key to a very long random string. Then format the drive.

If you put sensitive data on a non-encrypted SSD then a good way to physically decommission the drive is to heat it with a propane torch until the PCB catches fire. At that point the magnetic domains aren’t magnetic anymore.

-- Willy Yam  

[This question got some great answers, and in addition provided some interesting insight into the differences between traditional hard drives and SSDs, and why SSDs are harder to rid of data. Check out the full question for more info.-- OH]



Bobby Pins

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Oh my goodness! Do my eyes deceive me, or have bobby pins not yet been recognized for their incredible utility?

Apart from the obvious use of keeping your hair up or out of your eyes (which they’re really good at), some of the helpful uses I’ve found include:

As an emergency stylus, either as is or straightened out. As a pointy thing to push a recessed button, such as a hard reset button. As a lockpicking tool. (I’ve only picked things like bedroom door locks, but I have read–no doubt in scholarly journals–that they can also be used for more serious lockpicking tasks too.) As a paperclip, bookmark, or other weak clip to hold something like a bag closed. As a replacement for a broken zipper pull. To fashion a very crude hook or pokey stick thing for any number of purposes, from getting something out of a drain to deflating a ball.

A bobby pin is just a small metal stick with two rubber ends, which can easily be removed with your teeth if you need a metal end or a finer point, which makes it unusually versatile. The best part is that they’re dirt cheap and super portable. You can just carry them around in your hair!

-- Lisa Pea  

Bobby Pins
48 ct
$3.49

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Scunci