Bag Balm

I’ve suffered from dry skin and eczema since childhood. I tried every over-the-counter and prescription remedy available, and nothing worked until I discovered Bag Balm, which I’ve been using for over a decade now.

Originally developed to soften and heal the chapped and cracked udders of dairy cows, its dead-simple formula – petrolatum lanolin with a touch of 8-hydroxyquinoline sulfate antiseptic – works wonders. It’s slightly thicker than petroleum jelly and goes on a bit stickier at first, but the greasiness quickly dissipates as it softens the skin. Its mildly medicinal smell is off-putting to some, and although I find it pleasant, a few drops of rosemary or spearmint oil blended in definitely gives it a more spa-like aroma.

Bag Balm’s greatest strength is that it works on the skin far longer than even the most robust moisturizers. In addition to soothing work-roughened hands and healing eczema, I also smear a thin layer over my exposed face prior to Northeastern wintertime surf sessions, lessening the icy shock of that first duck dive and keeping my exposed face protected for hours, with none of the post-surf face chap I had in the past.

-- Eric Schmid  

Bag Balm Moisturizing & Softening Ointment
$12 / 10 oz. can

Available from Amazon



Turn a Cheap Smart Phone into a Great MP3 Player

A great way to obtain an excellent MP3 player is to re-purpose an old smart phone. I bought an LG 800 (new in box) off eBay for $10 with free shipping.

Just don’t activate it (unless you need a phone, that is). It will come with a micro USB charging cable. Charge it up, slip in a micro-SD card, put it in airplane mode (longer battery life), and presto you have an excellent Mp3 player. I have used one for over a year now and love it.

I suggest adding a grippy style cover so you can hang onto it. The protective cover will just cost a couple of bucks and you can even install a lanyard to keep the small phone around your neck while working out.

The LG 800 has a full size (3.5 mm) stereo audio jack, so no adapter is needed. Just plug in your favorite set of ear buds or headphones. The music player works great and has a slider, so you can easily jump to different parts of a podcast/audio book. I have had purpose-built MP3 players before that made this nearly impossible; you would have to sit there holding the fast forward button for 5 minutes or so.

After a few seconds, the screen will go blank while playing audio files (to save battery life), and so that you don’t accidentally turn it off or skip forward or back. Just push the center button and another onscreen button to access the music player app. An attractive “now playing” screen shows the cover art with a slider and rewind/FF buttons. Volume adjustment is done with a toggle button on the side of the phone.

Besides being able to play podcasts and songs, you also get a built-in camera, calendar, to do list, memo pad, alarm clock, and many other functions. It does not have wi-fi, but if you want your re-purposed smart phone/MP3 player to be able to be used as a small tablet, just skip the LG 800 and go with an older Android smart phone that you can buy for $30 or so on eBay. But the LG has inherent advantages — better battery life (about 10 hours of continuous listening) and it is small.

To get content onto it, simply connect it to your computer and allow it to go into connect mode — at which time you can drag and drop Mp3 files into it. This will keep an older device out of a landfill and will serve you well as a modern “Walkman.”

-- Justin Lamar  

[Some cheap phones on eBay have "bad ESN" (electronic serial number) in the description. It is a hassle to activate a bad ESN phone with a mobile carrier, but you can still use it as an MP3 player. -- Mark]

Cheap smartphones
$1 and up on eBay



Kaboom Scrub Free Toilet Cleaning System

I have been using the Kaboom Scrub Free Toilet Cleaning System for over 6 years now, since first reading about its predecessor, the NeverScrub Self-Cleaning Toilet System here on Cool Tools. I originally ordered the previous version through a special offer from the manufacturer and, a few months later they sent me a free sample of the newer current version. This is an update of the original article.

Everything in the original article applies. The main difference is a complete redesign of the little plastic tank which allows easier replacement of the disinfectant tablets. With the original design, the screw-top stuck mercilessly, eventually resulting in breakage of the screw threads from repeated forcing of the screw-top to open it.

The unit consists of a little tank which is clipped to the top of the water closet, just inside the lip of the tank cover, with water lines going from the flush valve into the plastic reservoir holding the disinfectant tablets, and out to the overflow tube of the toilet. The plastic reservoir is filled with bleach-like tablets, which slowly dissolve, releasing disinfectant into the toilet bowl whenever the toilet is flushed. Simple and effective. Unlike some other products, which release rubber-corroding chemicals right into the tank itself, and destroy the rubber gaskets, this product only releases the chemical agent into the toilet bowl. I have never had to replace any gaskets due to corrosion as a result of using this product.

As long as you replenish the disinfectant tablets, the product “just works.” It releases a dilute bleach-like solution into the bowl every time you flush. It has a reassuring chlorine-like smell (actually it’s bromine) and it keeps the bowl sparkling clean. Though you still have to do the occasional bowl scrub, it reduces the frequency of this task significantly. Once every 4-6 weeks keeps things nice and clean.

The interval between tablet replenishments, of course, depends on the traffic the particular toilet experiences. I add tablets about once a month. You can tell they need replenishment when the intensity of the bromine smell diminishes noticeably.

A side note on the refill tablets is in order. I made mention of this in a comment in the original article. Though the price of the Kaboom unit itself is modest, a pack of just 2 refills costs as much as the product. So if you replaced the refills once a month, you would end up spending about 6 times the price of the product every year for refills. The old razor blade/camera film profit scheme.

A much cheaper solution is to use Spa Brominating Tablets. One bottle lasts me about 2 years. Interestingly enough, the Amazon listing for the Kaboom product also refers to a listing for Spa Brominating Tablets. Someone must have read my recommendation in my comment in the original article.

-- Larry Albertelli  

Kaboom with OxiClean Scrub Free! System
$11

Available from Amazon



SpiderPro Dual Camera Holster

I am a news photographer that moonlights as a wedding photographer. In my line of work I need to get the image fast and I often don’t have time to change lenses. For years I would carry 3 cameras around my neck with different lenses attached so I could get the image I wanted. Especially on long wedding days, this left my back and neck hurting.

The Spiderpro holster system utilizes a plate with a pin that attaches to your camera base and connects with a slot on your belt to hold your cameras on your hips. This gives your cameras freedom of movement at your hips and allows you to carry them comfortably without having weight on your shoulders for extended periods of time. This also makes crisscrossing straps unnecessary, and is much more streamlined looking as well, for the discerning wedding photographer.

Cameras lock into place each time they’re returned to holster. In the lower position, locks keep cameras secure for longer-term carrying and in upper position, locks disengage for quick and easy access.

The adjustable belt fits most waists, but being more portly, I contacted the company about a larger size, and my request was honored quickly with an extender that works perfectly.

I’ve purchased plates for all of my DSLRs and the belt takes the weight with ease, I never have felt like a camera would drop off. The company makes lighter duty holsters for point-and-shoots as well.

-- Matthew A. Walker  

SpiderHolster SpiderPro Dual Camera System
$235

Available from Amazon



Butterfly Spring Door Closer

This is a simple very powerful spring that closes the door perfectly every time. I have it installed on the door between my house and garage, which is difficult to close completely and easily blown open by wind.

It’s not too fast, nor too slow. If I push the door closed, it gives it enough extra oomph to make sure it closes completely. If I let it close the door, most of the time it closes and latches, worst case, it’s pushed against the door jamb and doesn’t move in the wind.

Most pleasant (and unexpected) of all is that the magnetic “hold-open” catch that I have on the door for those few occasions when I want it held open, still works fine with the spring. It seems to be the absolute perfect tension.

My only caveat would be around small children and a heavy door swinging shut.

Installation is a bit tricky. You need to pull up one of the hinge pins about 3″, then pry the spring open, which takes a bit of strength, then slip the spring over the extended hinge pin and rest the rubber covered arms over the door and the wall. This is tricky because your fingers are on the sides of the arm that go against the door and wall, so you need to open it even further than the 90 degree angle it sits at with the door closed. Once you have it over the hinge pin, you push the hinge pin back most of the way, but the pin will forever stick out about an inch – the length of the spring.

door-spring-installed

-- Chris Hartmann  

Butterfly Spring Door Closer
$6

Available from Amazon



Cycling Eyeglass Mirror

Cycling helmet/eyeglasses mirrors are hardly a new invention, but this model (made in the US) works very well. The mirror is optically correct and it is easy to position on the arm of a pair of glasses/sunglasses, or on a visor.

It is really helpful in answering: What’s behind me right now? This model folds flat, and what sounds like very good warranty/replacement handling by the manufacturer. If damaged they’ll replace it for a fraction of what it cost. (I haven’t used the service, but based on the number of folks I see wearing them out here in the East Bay, they seem reputable and popular.)

It is big, but light, it can be moved with your glasses and won’t bounce around like those mounted on a bike might. It also doesn’t require adhesive so you can get one and use it on whatever helmet/glasses combo you’d like.

-- Dustin Grzesik  

Bike Peddler Take A Look Cycling Eyeglass Mirror
$15

Available from Amazon



Seki Edge Total Control Eyelash Curler

I’ve used the Seki Edge Total Control Eyelash Curler for 15 years now. It’s an especially great tool for those with Asian features since the curve of the metal part that lays against your eye is much flatter than traditional metal eyelash curlers. It also has no side bars that will accidentally catch (or miss) your eyelashes. It’s also useful for those with small (as in a short width) eyes since you can target the edges of your lash line with it very easily.

When using the Seki Edge, the user places it in a position that lays perpendicular to her face, which means that there is no need to smash a metal curler up against your cheeks and upper eye lid. It’s extremely easy to use and to control the amount of curl you need.

One of my greatest annoyances with traditional curlers is their crazy shape and weird angles, which makes them such a pain to store. The Seki Edge conveniently closes relatively flat, which makes it incredibly easy to keep in even a small pocket of your makeup bag. The curler also comes with an extra rubber pad which conveniently stores inside the handle so you’ll never forget about it.

When I first started using makeup as a teenager, I had a lot of trouble using traditional curlers. I stopped in a local Ulta and spotted this curler there and purchased it (along with a ton of other various curling tools), and this one was the clear winner. Unfortunately, I don’t believe this curler is sold at Ulta any longer; I’ve only been able to find it on Amazon.

After almost 8 years of use, my original Seki Edge started pulling apart at the metal joint. I was amazed it even lasted that long, so I had no qualms buying another (although I do believe they come with some kind of lifetime warranty, which I had forgotten about). I dread the day when this curler will no longer be produced, which I’m afraid may come sooner than later. It seems harder and harder to find it. But I do have a couple extra on hand in case that happens!

-- Debra Yoo  

Seki Edge Total Control Eyelash Curler
$17

Available from Amazon



Keyport Slide

I’ve tried using many key consolidation gadgets, including DIY to many indy projects, but most of them involve driving a screw or rod through the hole in the keys, and jamming them together via compression. If your goal is to simply have 10+ keys in your possession in the most compact way possible, that’s great, but I’ve found most of them to be quite unusable, in that it’s difficult for the correct key to be selected due to the lateral compression.

The KeyPort Slide 2.0 is the only product on the market that I know of that does all the following: consolidates your keys in a compact form that saves weight, relies on a locking and sliding action for ease of key retrieval/use, can incorporate your microchipped car key, and actually makes it easier for you to use your keys.

The KeyPort is small and lightweight. Even fully populated, it weighs around 1.5oz, and its size is 2.85″ x 1.27″ x 0.58″, and can fit in your jeans’ front coin pocket. The body is polycarbonate with Ultem 1000 polymer caps, which works out to be OK, as the rigidity of the structure depends on the key blades to some extent, though fans of anodized and brushed metals will be disappointed. Unfortunately, this compact size only allows for up to 6 keys, but again, the concept is around usability, not maximum capacity. (If your budget allows for it, you could buy 2.)

The KeyPort uses custom key “blades” instead of standard keys. This means that the large, heavy area where you hold the key and pass keyrings through is gone, greatly reducing weight. However, this means that you either buy $5 blanks and have them cut locally, or if it’s a custom key, send it in to have it converted. You’ll want to find a locksmith that is OK with handling these custom blades using their locksmith locator.

The KeyPort supports high security keys like Medeco, Assa, and Mul-T-Lock by converting them into blades for you. This is a unique service, and allows you to carry these otherwise gigantic keys in a compact format. The downside is that because high security keys cannot be duplicated, you must send the keys into KeyPort for conversion, which could violate your personal and/or professional security policies.

It’s worth noting that if you don’t want to send in your chipped auto key to be converted, your cost will skyrocket, because chipped auto keys usually cost quite a fortune. Your costs may vary, but the pricing I got was $25 for the blank auto blade, $25 for cutting an auto key, $150 for a new transponder, and $75 for programming it. That’s an additional $200! If you have a car key with a transponder, you can send in your spare, non-keyfob (likely valet) key and have them take it apart and convert it into a blade + transponder holder. (yes, a transponder holder uses up 1 slot). Unfortunately, due to liability reasons, they are unwilling to convert your car key if it is part of a keyfob. This was a bit of a bummer for me, as I actually had 2 keyfobs and 1 valet key, and did not care to give up my valet key, as I have to valet my car once in a while. However, they can send you a blank auto blade and transponder blade, so I had the key cut locally ($35; your costs may vary), and I harvested the transponder out of the the keyfob and superglued it into the transponder blade myself.

My setup includes a car key + car key transponder holder ($25), mini flashlight ($10), and 3 house keys ($5/ea). Such a setup would typically cost around $90, including local key cutting fees. Other options include a bottle opener ($6), 32GB USB drive ($40), and a barcode insert ($4) as well as custom buttons (price varies). My only gripe is that the locking buttons stick out a bit, and don’t require too much pressure to depress, so on occasion, I’ve found my keys unlocked. This is not a huge deal, but will drain your mini flashlight if you choose that option.

I didn’t order the bottle opener, as my pocket knife has one, and in general, I rarely need one. The transponder holder is actually a barcode insert, so I didn’t need another one. The mini flashlight was purchased with the hopes that I wouldn’t have to use another hand to pull out a flashlight, and for the most part, it’s worked out, but I’ve had it unintentionally turn on in my pocket a few times, and the batteries are not user-serviceable — you have to send it in to have it serviced for a nominal fee (~$5), though you could solder them if you know what you’re doing. The 32GB USB flash drive was appealing, but it seemed overpriced, and other reviews lamented over it somewhat slow (~20MB/sec) even for a USB 2.0 flash drive. For the same price, I was able to buy a 128GB USB 3.0 PNY flash drive that does 100MB/sec read/write, so with that big of a difference, I think it’s worth carrying another device.

Having the bundle of keys disappear from my pocket has been great. Surprisingly, being able to access my keys faster has been an even greater feature. Even with the high costs involved, I would do it again in a heartbeat.

A lot of questions about the Keyport are answered on their FAQ.

-- Kaz Mori  

Keyport Slide 2
Price depends on configuration



Forecast.io

Forecast.io is simply the best weather site for everyday use. It presents you with the weather information you need in a simple, elegant, natural way.

If you’re like me, all you want from your forecast is some intelligence for daily decision-making. If I ride my bike to work this morning, will I have to contend with rain on the ride home? If I go out tonight, will I be home before the snow starts? If I dress warmly this morning, will I be sweating by noon?

It’s surprisingly difficult to get answers to these questions on major weather websites. The information is there, but it’s buried under superfluous information, and locked behind location searches – and once you find the actual forecast for your location, you have to parse the raw data into something that helps you plan your day (or your weekend).

Most weather websites seem designed for either weather nerds (the folks interested in barometric pressure trends, and what the sky is doing on the other side of the country), or are attempting to compete with infotainment sites (Top 10 weather pics from the Polar Vortex!). Even on the most advanced sites, you’re several clicks and keystrokes away from finding out how you should dress tomorrow.

Forecast.io is different. After allowing it to access your location, you’ll know the three most valuable pieces of weather information: What it’s doing right now, what’s going to happen in the next hour, and what’s going to happen in the next 24 hours. Scroll down and you’ll get a 10-day forecast.

All of this information is presented in concise, natural language. For example, rather than arcane numbers and figures, Forecast.io says: “Light snow (under 1 inch) until this afternoon”. More detailed information is available in a click, if you want to know exactly *when* the snow will start, or exactly what the temperature is going to be for your walk home.

The Forecast.io desktop site is great, and the mobile version shines as well. There’s a $3.99 IOS app called Dark Sky that will alert you to precipitation, but the mobile site works flawlessly (at least on IOS) for free.

forecast2

-- Greg Park  



DigiKey Electronics

I see that someone recommended Mouser as a source for electronic components. Digikey offered catalog sales (i.e., as a DIY source) long before Mouser and I have used them since the 1970s. Their product offering is fuller, their search engine works better, and they have better customer support. For example, if you order by 8PM CT, the order will ship later that night and thus can arrive the next morning, something Mouser and Newark cannot match. Most electrical engineers (like me) and DIYers I know check Digikey first.

-- Paul Bridges