Red Pig 2-Tine Hand Weeding Fork

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The 2-Tine Hand Weeding Fork (also called the Jekyll Weeder after prominent gardener Gertrude Jekyll) is the best tool for hand weeding whether you are getting out dandelions, clover, grass or what have you out of your flower bed (I also use it to remove dandelions from the lawn). It is strong, won’t break the root before your ready, and is aesthetically pleasing (one of my friends considers it art in her home).

I’ve been using one for 4-5 years, and have bought many as gifts. I enjoy the fact that not only is it durable and well-made, but that it’s also handmade in Boring, Oregon. In fact, Red Pigs website points out that they are the only producer of hand forged garden tools in the country. Very cool!

-- Sharon I.  

Red Pig’s 2-Tined Hand Weeding Tool
$31

Available from and manufactured by Red Pig



MigrationWiz

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After graduating college, my school email was going to expire and I wanted to keep all my emails. I spent hours and hours of research on how to automatically forward (or migrate, in industry terms) all my emails to an active email account. There were manual methods that took too long, required too much technical experience, or were simply impossible (in the case of some email systems). Many companies offer email migration services, but most require you to buy their software and install them, or have a minimum mailbox requirement. Why do I need to install software on my computer when my old and new email are accessed from the Internet? Then I came across MigrationWiz in some Microsoft forums.

MigrationWiz operates via the “cloud.” They connect directly to your old email (source) and your new (destination) email in order to transfer all your data. MigrationWiz charges on a low per-mailbox fee (between $10 and $12 depending on how much data you have). If you have one mailbox to migrate, you pay for one. If you have 5,000 mailboxes (they migrate entire companies), you pay for 5,000 (but I think they offer volume discounts). So now I’ve migrated my old school emails and old work emails (after changing jobs) to something I have access to more permanently. I’ve also helped friends use it. I wish I had known about MigrationWiz earlier and not wasted all the time on research.

-- Tim Smith  

MigrationWiz
Free (up to 5 MB), Basic is $10 and includes 10 GB/box, and Premium is $12 with 50GB/box

Available from MigrationWiz



Work Your Way Around the World

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It’s many a graduate’s dream — pay your way as you travel around the world. I lived the dream myself when I was younger, so I know it is possible. Since then I’ve been tracking this subject faithfully, and have read through scores of books and websites offering how-to advice on the dream. They won’t hurt, but this fantastic book — now in its 14th edition! — is really the only one that will give you much help before you leave.

Most of these kind of books are a bunch of hand-waving generalities, or out of date particulars; this one is very specific and very current. It is massively researched, with tons of incoming gossip on where the easily-gotten jobs are this year, and what to do about paperwork and visas in that particular place, and how to land the job, and what you should expect, and letters from those who just did it. It’s all very helpful, practical and inspiring. But don’t get your hopes too high. There are really only two kinds of dependable quick jobs to be found “around the world”: 1) In the service industry in Europe — working at hotels, resorts, bars, camps for other tourists; and 2) teaching English in Asia. For most kids, that’ll be enough. There are hundreds of exceptions to these two, and this book will do its best to point you to them, but they are far fewer, and more dependent on chance. But even that skill — cultivating chance — is tackled with great intelligence in this meaty book, which I can’t recommend too much.

The author Susan Griffith is very prolific and at the center of a number of other related ongoing books, also recommended. Teaching English Abroad, Your Gap Year, and Summer Jobs Worldwide.

-- KK  

Work Your Way Around The World
15th Edition
Susan Griffith
2012, 416 pages
$18

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

It is extremely difficult for anyone whose mother tongue is English to starve in an inhabited place, since there are always people who will pay good money to watch you display a talent as basic as talking.

*

According to many travelers like Emma-Louise Parkes, the Albuferia area is the place to head:

I arrived at Faro Airport in June, and went straight to Albuferia. A job-hunter here will be like a kid in a sweet shop. By 12.15pm I was in the resort, by 12.30pm I had found somewhere to stay and had been offered at least four jobs by the evening, one of which I started at 6pm. All the English workers were really friendly individuals and were a goldmine of information. Jobs-wise, I was offered bar work, touting, waitressing, cleaning, packing ice cubes into bags, karaoke singing, nannying for an English bar owner, timeshare tout, nightclub dancer… I’m sure there were more. Touts can earn £16 a night with all the drink they can stomach while waitresses can expect a little less for working 10am-1pm and 6pm-10pm. Attractive females (like myself!) will be head-hunted by lively bars, whereas British men are seen by the locals as trouble and are usually kept behind bars (serving bars that is) and in cellars.

*
Taiwan

The hiring policy is virtually universal in Taiwan: almost anyone with a BA can land a job. The country remains a magnet for English teachers of all backgrounds. Hundreds of private language institutes or buhsibans continue to teach young children, cram high school students for university entrance examinations and generally service the seemingly insatiable demand for English conversation and English tuition.

Many well-established language schools are prepared to sponsor foreign teachers for a resident visa, provided the teacher is willing to work for at least a year. Only teachers with a university degree are eligible. Many people arrive on spec to look for work. It is usually easy to find a buhsiban willing to hire you but not so easy to find a good one. If possible, try to sit in on one or two classes before signing a contact. (If a school is unwilling to permit this, it doesn’t bode well.) The majority of schools pay NT$500-$600 (roughly $19-$21.50) per hour.




Feather PaRaDa Nail Clipper

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Despite their bizarre capitalized naming scheme, these are the nail clippers you want. They beat cheap drugstore clippers in two important ways. First, they start sharp and stay sharp for a long time. I’ve had my first pair for perhaps 7 years, and they still cut beautifully. Second, they capture all the nail clippings that would normally scatter to the winds. This is a feature that seems trivial until you’ve tried it; in fact, it’s a critical thing in a nail clipper.

The clippers come in three sizes. My wife uses a small for her fingers, while I’m more comfortable with a medium. We both use the medium for toes. The medium is a pretty versatile size, and the large, which I’ve never seen, must be very large indeed. Maybe it’s for horse hooves.

I bought this on a hunch, because I was so frustrated with nail clippers that wore down after a few months. I’ve since given 4 more as presents, a move which raised eyebrows at the time, but in all cases has proven successful in the long term.

-- Ashish Ranpura  

[Given that their website is in Japanese here's a bit of history about Feather the Japanese company that manufactures these clippers (among many other sharp objects).--OH]

Feather Parada Nail Clippers
Small, medium, large
$15-$17

Available from West Coast Shaving

Manufactured by Feather Safety Razor Company



Tear-Aid

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Tear-Aid is watertight and airtight adhesive repair tape marketed for use in repairing outdoor products. I first found it when I was looking at options for repairing a tear in a self-inflating sleeping pad and read a recommendation of Tear-Aid from a former bouncy-castle operator. That real-world endorsement was enough to get me to try it and it has performed well for me.

I didn’t want to experiment with a liquid patch because I couldn’t be sure if the solvents would interfere with the composition of the sleeping pad, so this option was attractive. The instructions are clear and application was simple. After preppng the area with alcohol, I peeled the backing off and pressed the tape over the problem area. The tape is tough but flexible, and is transparent. It sticks very well and the sleeping pad now stays at pressure perfectly.

Tear-Aid Type A is for fabrics and Tear-Aid Type B is for Vinyl only. I have tried Type A, but not Type B. My local sporting goods store stocks the small repair kits for around $10, but the product is also available in rolls or by the foot from some vendors online.
The small repair kit I bought includes a 30 cm length of the 7.5 cm width material, as well as some small patches and a length of monofilament provided to add durability in making edge repairs.

This tape is useful, versatile, and compact, and I plan to keep it on hand for emergencies. You can get it from their website but it is widely available in stores that cater to camping, boating, and other outdoor pursuits.

-- Erik Hoover  

[This PDF instruction manual from Tear-Aid is helpful, and also includes a thorough list of materials that Type A and B work with. --OH]

Tear-Aid Type A (for fabric)
Patch kit, or 3″ x 5′ roll
$4-$35
Available from Amazon

Tear-Aid Type B (for vinyl)
Patch kit, or 3″ x 5′ roll
$9-$28
Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Tear-Aid



Stihl FSE 60 Trimmer

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I have used several borrowed models of both electric and gas powered trimmers. The electric plug-in Stihl FSE 60 is my favorite by far. It is quiet and strong. The only concern is that when used continuously for half an hour or more, it gets very hot. I find that it is better to use it in shorter intervals.

It works better than other models and is easier to clean. While I have to wear earplugs when using it, it is far from the teeth-shaking monstrosities that disturb the neighborhood. I couldn’t see going to a gas powered trimmer unless I were very far away from an electric outlet. It is a bit more expensive than big box electric trimmers, but way better. The only reason to buy something like a Black & Decker or McCullough electric model is if you were only going to do a few light jobs one season and never use the thing again.

I was surprised that this dealer distributed model was so much better than the big-box online-marketed alternatives. In value, it’s one of my best tool purchases ever.

— Bill Owens

I initially bought my Stihl FSE-60 reading a review at Consumer Search. The Stihl FSE-60 is not available at big boxes. They are only available at stores who function as local Stihl dealers. Presumably, this makes customer service a more personal experience and does a positive service to those smaller hardware stores trying to survive the big box onslaught. In any case, I bought mine a year ago in Kearny, NJ.

The balance is a bit weird. In your hands it has a bias to the rear, which is helpful, but necessary because it is powerful. VERY powerful. It uses a two-string configuration, and it’s a bump-feed. I found it to be efficient and effective. I may have only bumped it twice during a day’s use, whereas the Black and Decker it replaced was more bump than trim. It’s heavy, but not so heavy as to make it a terrible chore. It’s solid and quiet for a trimmer. Cleaning is easy after use as well. I suppose in comparison to the old B&D I had it’s superior, but I don’t do enough yard work to say definitively that it’s the best. I like it a lot, and I’m glad I bought it from a local dealer.

— Christopher Wanko

 

Stihl FSE 60 Electric Trimmer
$110 (varies with dealer)

Available from Stihl



Zebra Compact and Telescoping Pens

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I’ve always wanted a small pen to keep with me at all times for quick notes and such. I’ve even considered taking a hacksaw to the venerable Bic ballpoint pen to keep in my wallet. One of the things that kept me from doing that was worrying about it exploding and flooding my pocket with ink.

Fortunately, Zebra has come up with a far more elegant and affordable solution with the Telescopic and F-301 Compact pens. Both feature a metal body made popular in their other pens. The telescopic pen body extends to a regular pen length when full telescoped, and exposes the tip, ready to write. Retracting the pen body for stowage fully retracts the tip safely into the body, like a frightened turtle. It fits neatly in the fold of my tri-fold wallet. I found them at my local OfficeMax for about $5. So far, it’s survived some gnarly crashes during snowboarding trips, and being sat on daily with out a single dent.

–K. Rhainos

zebra compact.jpegThe Zebra Compact closes to a small size and has a clip for shirt pockets. I have used this pen for a couple of years. In the past I’ve used the previously reviewed Fisher Space Pen but they are expensive and easy to lose because they are so smooth. This pen is cheap and even cheaper when you can find them at Walmart. Not only that but the refills are cheap, too!

–Chris Acree

 

Zebra F-301 Compact Pen
$7 for two pack
Available from Amazon

Zebra Telescopic Ballpoint Pen
$5
Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Zebra Pens



How to Find Free and Cheap Ebooks

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Where I live, decent public libraries with connections to the software service Overdrive allow surprisingly easy checkout of “library books” wirelessly to your Kindle. The Overdrive system provides libraries with both audiobook downloads and eBooks. I find, like most, that reading or listening to these books on a computer is untenable, but transferring audiobooks to my Sansa Clip player is as easy as pie.

For the (increasingly) large selection of books with Kindle versions, it’s very easy to get free content to show up via Amazon’s Whispernet. Nothing fiddly about it, no cables either. And for the earlier cool tool of “User Manual First“, Kindles are a pretty good place to keep these PDF files. Either transfer via cable (easy) or use your Kindle’s email address which allow your docs to show up via Whispernet.

Finally, if you sign up for Amazon Prime service, you not only get free shipping on your purchases, you also get access to the “Kindle Owner’s Library” – more books without fees. And if your Kindle is a Fire (or you don’t mind watching on a PC), you also get access to lots of streaming video (my wife is re-enjoying Ally McBeal (and I’m enjoying not being exposed to it, too)).

Anyway, go to your library’s website and look for Overdrive services. Another convergence of several cool tools that merge to form a new level of cool tool.

— Wayne Ruffner

project gutenberg.jpgThe ubiquity of ereaders like the Kindle, Nook and iPad has driven a surge in ebook availability. Retailers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble have the lock on bestsellers and the like, but a flourishing underground market for free and cheap ebooks has become a boon for readers.

The best established source for free ebooks is Project Gutenberg whose archives contain over 36,000 ebooks that represent nearly every out-of-copyright classic piece of literature along with a vast archive of obscure but pleasurable reads. The quality of digitization is excellent, and the site’s vibrant community ensures that any errors are quickly fixed. They also offer the ebooks in a variety of formats (ePub, mobi, html), including some as downloadable audiobooks.

With more and more libraries getting into the game of lending ebooks, the software company Overdrive (that Wayne mentioned) has been leading the way. Libraries contract out their ebook libraries to OverDrive who make them available for a limited loan period (via a proprietary DRM from Adobe) through their software that is available on most operating systems including iOS and Android. Once you have the application, simply add your local or state library system (some are better stocked than others) and Overdrive allows you to browse the ebooks that they have available to check out. Everything’s automated so there are no late fees, and often times you can get best sellers without waiting (or, if they’re “checked out” you can reserve them and when they become available they are automatically downloaded).

ManyBooks.net is the friendliest index of free ebooks of the bunch. It will search Project Gutenberg’s archives, as well as troll through numerous other archives. They also provide recommendations and reviews (which is incredibly useful given the sheer number of available titles).

Outside of strictly free sources, InkMesh is the best search engine I have found for identifying if an author or a book is available in ebook form, whether it is free, where I can download it, and in what format. They have also collated a comprehensive list of free ebooks available for a variety of platforms.

Two more sources for the ebook crazy are the blogs Pixel of Ink and Books on the Knob which highlight attractive deals for the Kindle.

Finally, to manage this inundation of ebooks I heartily recommend the previously reviewed Calibre. If you have other recommended sources for eBooks and the like, feel free to leave a note in the comments and I’ll make sure to update this page.

— Oliver Hulland

 

Overdrive
Free

Amazon Prime
$79/year (or $39/year for students)

Project Gutenberg
Free

ManyBooks.net
Free

InkMesh
Free

Pixel of Ink
Free



Codecademy

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Learning to program has been a goal of mine for years, but it’s one that all too often gets set aside. This is fairly normal given the challenges that accompany trying to learn something as foreign as a new language (with the added complexity of logic problems thrown in). Introductory texts are often stultifying, and I found the dilemma of deciding exactly which language to dive into to be anxiety-inducing.

Luckily, Codecademy has simplified the task of learning to code into a friendly and easy-to-use web interface driven by bite-sized lessons that slowly add up to functional working knowledge. Primarily oriented in Javascript, HTML, and CSS, Codecademy uses discrete tasks and challenges that can be performed in browser to drive learning. They succeed, in part, because they have eliminated the need for books or additional software. All you need is a browser, and a few minutes to practice.

With that being said, Codecademy is definitely not intended as a replacement for most programming texts. Instead, I think of Codecademy lessons as responsible for building a set of skills and familiarity that you can use as a foundation or framework for other languages.

In the past few months, Codecademy has been leading something they call Code Year which introduces a new lesson every week over the course of a year with the end goal being the ability to program an interactive Javascript-driven website. While I haven’t been as consistent in the weekly lessons as I’d like, I find that I’m still motivated to return to the site when I have the time.

Finally, this isn’t the only resource of it’s kind out there, and there are many others that deserve recognition (Udacity is another site that has garnered a lot of attention, but I haven’t had the time to check it out). If you know of any other resources that have helped, feel free to list them in the comments and I’ll add them to the review.

-- Oliver Hulland  

Sample Excerpts:

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This lesson details how to think about and use a “function” in Javascript.




Earth Ponds

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Ponds can be used for swimming, wildlife magnets, irrigation, iceskating, fire protection, water gardening, landscaping, and fishing. You can build your own pond in your backyard, farm, or wherever.

Tim Matson is the established guru of building ponds with an earth-seal, rather than with a plastic or concrete lining. For 30 years he’s been creating, advising, and collecting knowledge about pond-making. His classic Earth Ponds (2nd ed.) is the basic how-to, and comes with a DVD. It supplies the needed lessons in siting a pond, building it, maintaining it, enjoying it, and also restoring old ponds. This is not your average how-to; it’s beautifully written and a joy to read. If you find the basics to your liking and need more, Matson has an updated Sourcebook with plenty of resources, and an illustrated encyclopedia of pond variations and building techniques. Finally, Matson has a helpful website with more videos and sources.

-- KK  

Earth Ponds: The Country Pond Maker’s Guide to Building, Maintenance and Restoration 
Tim Matson
2012 (Third Edition), 152 pages
$17

Available from Amazon

Earth Pond website: http://www.earthponds.com/

Sample Excerpts:

earthpond1.jpegScraping bottom in the pond basin Ray searches for flaws in the earth seal–clusters of pervious stone or gravel that would be the source of potential leaks. He carves out these patches and substitutes watertight soil. A good seal is the best defense against seepage. Pond makers who claim they can waterproof impossible sites with chemical additives and underwater dynamite blasts should run out of town. Like a potter’s bowl, the earth pond is molded with a  blend of materials. In addition to drawing a sufficient supply of water, this site consists of good watertight soil: about 10 to 20 percent clay and an even mix of silt, sand, and gravel. Preliminary test holes in the pond basin are crucial in evaluating the worthiness of a site.

*
earthpond2.jpeg

*

The sand drop is another well-esteemed pond keeper’s trick that takes advantage of the ice deck. It’s an upkeep technique well suited to older ponds in need of restoration, particularly where aquatic vegetation or mud get unruly. To set up a sand drop, the pond keeper spreads a two-to-four inch layer of sand–not salted road sand–over the ice. In spring when the ice thaws, poof! The sand falls in a uniform layer over the basin floor. Sand works like an inorganic mulch, shading out weeds and, like the finings in a beer crock, holding down sediment. In muddy ponds, it’s a good carpet material for the basin floor. One of my neighbors was able to use a sand drop to eliminate the slimy bottom in her family’s pond, along with snakes and leeches. True, the sand drop does fill in the pond to a minute degree, but it’s not often done, and it sure beats herbicides.

*

Trout have a reputation as fussy feeders, picky as spoiled Siamese cats; yet for three years I’ve watched my brook trout gain weight without an ounce of supplemental feed. I see them feast on the bottom as much as in the air: the water is as transparent as an aquarium. I recall my neighbor’s drawdown and follow-up trout stocking: clearly, the fish were pitching in to keep it clean. And I recalled an old Vermont tradition: to keep the farmhouse water clean, a trout was dropped in the well.

*

Fixing low-tide ponds begins with a search for leakage. Ponds with piping often leak around the outside of the pipe or through seams, gaskets, and valves. In most cases, unless a fitting can be easily replaced, pipe repair involves digging up the line to repair joints or to implant anti-seep collars.