SkyBrush WhiteBoard Eraser

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I have been using the SkyBrush xE for five months on our whiteboards. I used to think that all board erasers were the same, but not anymore. The SkyBrush xE is hands down the best whiteboard eraser I have ever used. With one simple light swipe the board is clean. No longer do we have to use additional chemicals to clean the board.

-- Danny Youssef  

[Note: Owners of cheaper whiteboards may want to be careful as the glass bristles used in the Skybrush can wear away the surface over time.--OH]

Skybrush xE
$25

Available from and manufactured by Skybrush



Knife Skills Illustrated: A User’s Manual

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I have used this fantastic reference book for about three months and it has greatly improved my time in the kitchen. Cooking consists mainly of three basic skills: heating things, putting things together (mixing) and taking things apart (cutting). This book is focused exclusively on the last set of skills.

Why are good knife skills so important? They allow you to cut food without hurting yourself. Also, as the author explains, “you are able to cut it into evenly sized pieces that will all cook at the same rate.” In many cases, you can reduce waste by using a well-thought out cutting technique. In practice, the book has also improved my efficiency in the kitchen, since I can now dice an onion in about a dozen or so deliberate strokes of the knife, rather than chopping haphazardly until I get it into roughly the shape I want it in. There are also aesthetic advantages–good presentation is easier to achieve with consistently cut pieces of food. Finally, as the author notes: “With good knife skills, cooking becomes fun.” I couldn’t agree more.

The book walks readers through the process of selecting the proper tool for the job and illustrates the pros and cons of various shapes and blade materials for various tasks. After getting familiar with the two basic grips (yes, you have probably been doing it wrong all your life), knife care and cutting boards are covered briefly and then the real fun begins.

The subsequent chapters explain the best way to cut a wide variety of common vegetables, fruits, meats, fish and poultry. Explanations are clear and concise and are accompanied by beautiful hand-drawn illustrations in both right and left-handed versions. In many cases, multiple techniques are covered.

Much of this information can be accessed in Youtube videos or other online resources. However, I find this book to be far superior for several reasons. First, the book clearly spells out each step in the process, together with an illustration from an ideal angle. With online videos, the steps often run together, forcing you to start/stop and rewind the video in order to completely understand the process. Also, videos are often shot facing the chef, who narrates the process along the way, making it difficult to see what is happening. The written explanations also often contain much more detailed explanations than would be possible in a video voice-over. Critically, I can spread the book out in front of me in the kitchen while I attempt the technique that I am learning. It is easy to look forward or back a step and then pick up where I left off. This is potentially workable using videos on an iPad, but in practice the book is much more convenient. All of the information in the book is consistent in terms of presentation and quality. With online resources, you never know what you are going to get.

Last but not least, it’s very satisfying to pull the book down from the shelf and thumb through it during a spare moment, enjoying the artwork and layout. It sometimes inspires me to attempt a new dish that I would not otherwise have thought of. This book is a cool tool that is also a beautiful object in its own right.

-- Adam Clark  

[For those interested, Peter Hertzmann has made a sample chapter covering how to properly chop onions available in PDF-form here.]

Knife Skills Illustrated: A User’s Manual
Peter Hertzmann
2007, 256 pages
$20

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

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Dicing an onion, the traditional method.




Evernew Water Carry Bladder

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The Evernew Water Carry bladder is the equivalent of a Camelbak that you don’t have to drink out of with a hose, and it’s the best solution for carrying water on a day-to-day basis that I’ve found. A few months back I got sick and tired of trying to find a place for my bulky stainless steel water bottle in my day bag, and decided to try out the Evernew bladder after a friend recommended them. They are especially popular amongst the ultra-light crowd given their light weight (mine weighs around an ounce when not filled) and superior packability (they can be rolled up to the size of a hi-lighter). Another bonus is that TSA won’t take it away from you when it’s empty (or at least they didn’t take it away from me on my most recent trip) allowing you to refill it once you get through security.

The beauty of the Evernew bladder is that when it’s empty it takes up absolutely no space, and when it’s full the flexible nature of the polyethylene means that it conforms to whatever space you put it in. At first I was worried that I would quickly tear a hole or somehow spring a leak in what I assumed to be a less-than-robust plastic, but after 6-months of hard use both of mine are still going strong. I’ve dropped them on sharp granite, shoved them to the bottom of my pack filled with rigid objects, stored them rolled up and have yet to find any signs of impending failure. The cap has never come loose, and I have never had one leak. Another benefit is that they can be retrofitted to work just like a Camelbak, all you have to do is buy the hose accessory that screws on.

The bottle I use on a daily basis holds .9 liters which is my sweet spot, but you can also find them in 0.6 and 2L varieties. They are designed so that when full they can stand on a flat surface unlike the bags that come in Camelbaks. Given that Evernew is a finicky Japanese supplier, these bottles can be hard to come by, but are well worth it if you can find them in stock. I do know that Platypus has a similar system out that is equally well-reviewed, but I can’t personally comment on their quality.

Many will rightfully point out that this bladder is made out of plastic. Like many of you I try to avoid plastic products, but in this case the Evernew is hands down better than anything else I’ve tried. Unlike other containers I’ve used it contributes absolutely no plasticky odor or taste to my water. While this may not be an indication of the relative likelihood of contamination I do what I can to minimize any risk (notably, I never fill it with boiling water, or leave it in the sun for too long).

-- Oliver Hulland  

[Note: Evernew is a finicky company, and stock of these water bottles frequently come and go. Several people have recommended these Platypus bottles available from Amazon as equally useful alternatives.--OH]

Evernew Water Carry Bladder
.9 L, 2L
$8, $10

Available from Pro Lite Gear

Manufactured by Evernew



Where There Is No Doctor

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This is the only book in the world that will really help you be your own doctor. It tells you how to suture a wound, heal burns, make your own contraception, diagnose tropical skin diseases, and thousands of other do-it-yourself medical procedures you won’t find elsewhere. Originally written (in Spanish) for para-medicals in the developing world, the medical instructions are clear, methodical, reliable, and helpful. Not all the content is emergency care; a lot is basic hygiene and preventative care.

This book is crammed with essential, life-saving knowledge for anyone living or traveling for long periods in undeveloped areas without doctors close by. It can be found in the packs of transcontinental bicyclists, arctic explorers, missionaries and Peace Corp folks. The book is too heavy to lug around in a tourist backpack, but it is also available as a free PDF. But even with access to modern medical facilities, I’ve found this book gives me an abbreviated medical school education. It offers very realistic first aid treatments (more than just bandages), and very easy-to-understand explanations of what doctors see in injuries. It can help you talk to doctors. Finally, when you are done traveling, leave this book behind with someone who can use it.

There is also a companion book, Where There Is No Dentist, equally good.

-- KK  

Where There Is No Doctor
David Werner, Jane Maxwell, Carol Thuman
1992, 446 pages (revised 2011)
$19

Free PDF
http://hesperian.org/

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Giardia

Giardia is a tiny parasite that lives in the gut and is a common cause of diarrhea, especially in children.

Signs
A lot of gas. This causes a swollen, uncomfortable belly, cramps, nausea, and a lot of farts and burps. The burps have a bad taste, like sulfur or rotten eggs.
Bad-smelling, yellow, and frothy (full of bubbles) diarrhea, without blood or mucus.
There is usually no fever.

It can last for weeks, causing weight loss and weakness.

A mild giardia infection is uncomfortable, but will usually get better on its own within about 6 weeks. Good nutrition helps. A long-lasting case, especially in a child, is best treated with metronidazole. Quinacrine is cheaper and often works well, but causes worse side effects.

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Cuppow

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I have been using Cuppow for a few weeks now. Cuppow is a BPA free plastic lid that enables the user to turn any wide-mouth mason jar into a handy travel mug for hot or cold beverages. To use Cuppow, simply thread the lid-retaining ring of any wide mouth mason jar over the lid and screw tight to secure.

Before using this product, drinking from a mason jar often required the use of a two-piece lid which was cumbersome to remove for drinking. With this product, I can use my mason jar as a to-go mug in the car, at the coffee shop, or as a handy mug at work.

Why a mason jar? Mason jars are easy to come by, and cheap. Furthermore, they are much easier to clean than traditional plastic travel mugs, which are often too narrow to get in to clean. Mason jars come in a variety of sizes/volumes, and can even be found at most second-hand stores for a good deal.

-- Patrick  

Cuppow Mason Jar Lid
$8

Available from and manufactured by Cuppow



Lamy Safari Fountain Pen

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Most fountain pens are appealing for their authoritative weight and the prestige of pushing an antique technology around the page. However, the Lamy Safari pen (designed by Wolfgang Fabian) re-thinks the fountain pen with comfort and accuracy in mind. It comes with a sturdy ergonomic grip similar too, but not as comfy as, the Dr. Grip. The pen is also made out of plastic making the weight (and cost) much less than a traditional fountain pen.

The Lamy weighs in at a meager $30 with ink costing about $2 to $5 dollars a bottle. The Safari is also frugal on ink; it runs a much smaller and tighter line than many pens meaning that the ink dries faster on the page, but do beware using ink from a different pen in the Lamy can clog it. You can see the ink cartridge at all times because a small part of the casing has been hollowed out.

Finally, the refillable cartridge snaps into place in the pen and is refillable through the pen’s stylus hence you don’t have to take everything apart when you want to refill (you do have to unscrew the top of the pen to get to the cart’s screw, but not the bottom) and also eliminating that first air bubble you get when placing traditional carts back in the pen. The plunger is operated by a screw action on the top making it easy to hold the pen in place while you refill it. It is also available as a left handed version.

Lamy also sells other pens with a similar design and grip if you’re looking for a more expensive or stylish pen, but despite the Safari’s minor flaws (I had major problems the first day getting it to write consistently until I watered down my ink) it’s quickly replaced my old Picasso pen for everyday scribbling. I now own two Lamys, using one for correcting tests and the other for everyday writing. The over-sized clip is also a bonus as it’s less likely to get bent out of shape by clinging to pockets, belts, etc.

-- Andrew Jones  

Lamy Safari Fountain Pen
$26
Available from Jet Pens

Lamy Safari Refillable Ink Converter Z24
$6
Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Lamy



Destination Art

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Some of the best art is a destination; you must travel to it. This lavish guide book is chock full of art that can only be experienced in place, beyond four walls. Some of this destination art is monumental, some architectural, some is art rooted in the physical landscape, some is found in open air art parks. There is a refreshing mix of choices from around the world, each of which is worth making a trip to see. Like the previously reviewed Geek Atlas, having a specific unusual destination can enhance ordinary travel.

-- KK  

Destination Art
Amy Dempsey
2010, 272 pages
$29

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

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Spiral Jetty in Great Salt Lake in Utah has been covered with water for most of its existence. It recently re-emerged to reveal its new brilliant, salt-encrusted state, as seen in this photograph, taken in 2004.
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As you approach Le Palai Ideal, near the rural village of Hauterives in France, the stunning moss-covered, highly ornamented and intricately carved palace emerges from the ferns and trees surrounding it.




Don Casey’s Complete Illustrated Sailboat Maintenance Manual

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When I need to repair anything on my sailboat this is the first book I turn to. The illustrations are excellent. The book is actually six books compiled into one, which makes navigation of it a bit difficult but not impossible. The explanations are very clear with detailed information on things such as fiberglassing with resin versus epoxy, electrical wiring, and inboard diesel engines.

As a companion to this I find my subscription to Practical Sailor magazine to have up to date first hand reports on sailing equipment and products from porta potty deodorizers to bottom paints to navigation systems.

-- Monty Zukowski  

Don Casey’s Complete Illustrated Sailboat Maintenance Manual
Don Casey
2005, 896 pages, 1st Edition
$33

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

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Symmetry
From directly forward and astern, the hull should appear symmetrical and the keel perpendicular to the deck. Sighting the hull through the gridwork of a plastic plotter simplifies this determination. Any detectable difference from one side to the other suggests major trouble. (p 11)

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Galvanic Corrosion
A more insidious problem is galvanic corrosion. Connecting the green wire to an underwater fitting completes the circuit between your boat and all other nearby boats with their own green wires grounded. With seawater as the electrolyte, every grounded fitting essentially becomes part of a big battery. (p. 557)

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If your fittings are less noble on the galvanic scale than your neighbor’s, they are anodes and begin to erode. This can be bad news if you have an aluminum outdrive in the water and your neighbor’s underwater fittings are bronze and stainless steel.




Nasty Clamp

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Clamps are an essential tool in any photographer’s toolbox, and it would be difficult to improve on them. Nasty Clamps have done just that by taking flexible arms similar to those found on the previously reviewed Gorillapod and attaching it to, you guessed it, a clamp.

I’ve used mine by clamping it to the chair in front of me and attaching my Olympus audio recorder (via the 1/4″ tripod mount) when I’ve needed to record lectures, choral concerts, and interviews. I’ve also attached external flashes to two clamps and had a quick, lightweight OCF setup. And while it’s not supportive enough to hold up a dSLR, it more than accommodates my Panasonic GF2 as a lightweight alternative to a tripod (or GorillaPod for those who don’t own one). Unlike the GorillaPod the flexible arm is expandable, and you can also pick up a hotshoe adapter that makes it easier to attach OCF flashes (which can be used on an any 1/4″ tripod screw, not just a Nasty Clamp).

While the made-in-USA Nasty Clamps are a bit pricey their utility more than makes up for the cost.

-- Oliver Hulland  

[For those who are looking to save a bit by going DIY here's a nifty guide to make something similar at home.]

Nasty Clamp
$44

Available from and manufactured by Nasty Clamps