Homemade Softbox Light Made from Shower Cap

I recently had a very good experience shooting this short explanatory video with two standing professional softbox lights.

The experience got me thinking whether I could shoot a fairly good looking video with a home made DIY softbox light. This wonderful YouTube video showed me the way.

Here is the video I shot this evening using a homemade softbox light, covered with a white shower cap.

I didn’t use any fancy camcorder, either. The camcorder I used is a consumer Canon Vixia HF R300 camcorder — the lowest priced of the excellent Vixia line of camcorders from Canon

I’m pleased with result. Good skin tone colors. Here are some tips that might be helpful to you:

I mounted the clasp light on a stand that was about six feet from my head and about two feet higher than my head, pointing slightly down. I sat about three feet in front of the background to minimize shadows. (The farther away you are from your background, the less distinct the shadows.) To reduce the glare on my glasses, my friend John Pitt lowered the height of the camcorder until it was slightly lower than my eye level. Originally, glare on my glasses was a problem, but that technique minimized the problem.

John did some slight color correction in Final Cut Pro 7 to adjust the brightness of the lighting in this video.

If you’ll be shooting videos of this kind yourself, make sure your backdrop is sufficiently wide that it completely fills in the 16 x 9 aspect ratio of your camcorder. We had some problems with that in this video shoot, but John Pitt remedied that by using Final Cut Pro 7 to zoom into the video — which removed the unsightly left and right edges of the video field where the backdrop didn’t reach. It’s useful to also note that the camcorder we used to shoot this video shoots at 24 Mbps, which is a very nice data rate for a consumer camcorder. The higher the data rate the greater the detail you’ll see in your videos. To view this video in its best quality, choose the HD video screen quality choice from the bottom right of the YouTube video. You might also try casting this video to your television using a Chromecast.

Pretty good lighting for a DIY project, eh?


-- Phil Shapiro  

Chiffon Bath Mate White Shower Cap

Available from Amazon

Foot Log

I’ve used this product for about three months and have found it very helpful in easing discomfort related to plantar fasciitis (heel pain). Thanks to the Foot Log and stretches and exercises I learned from the previously reviewed Fixing Your Feet, I’m back to running after a two-month hiatus.

While the previously reviewed Surefoot Foot Rubz is a good product, the Foot Log is superior. It has more surface area and a variety of surfaces, and the edges are particularly helpful in working out my sore feet. The Surefoot Foot Rubz (or a lacrosse ball) is only better for travel, since it’s so much smaller.

-- Elon Schoenholz  

Foot Log

Available from Amazon

Twist Tie Roll with Cutter

About 5 years ago, I bought a box of 25 of these white twist-tie spools with cutters. Each spool contains a 60 feet long twist-tie. I find a reason to reach for one just about every other day, and I’ve dispersed them in drawers throughout my house. They’re much easier to use than the paper, poor-quality, often-too-short twist ties that come with many products (like garbage bags) that come in small squares and are perforated on the sides. They also work better than Scotch tape or twine for many light binding purposes, such as holding unwieldy wire hangers together for a trip back to the cleaners.

The ability to pull out and cut 10 or 20 inches instead of just a short segment, and have a strong binding means you can progressively tighten (and retighten) around something bulky and springy — such as thick, coiled coaxial or other electric cables — is highly handy and a sanity saver.

While twist-tie spools abound in automotive and hobby shops, they can drive you crazy if they aren’t packaged in a center-fed spool or lack a built-in cutter. Having several circles of the wire jump out and go everywhere, and realizing you don’t have scissors or needle-nose pliers at hand when you’ve got something under tension and can’t easily move, are two annoyances that these particular spools eliminate.

I prefer white over green and back, for both aesthetic and find-in-dim-spots purposes.

-- Ron Geraci  

Twist Tie Roll with Cutter (60-Feet)

Available from Amazon


I have used the UN-SKRU under-cabinet jar opener since 1979. It allows you to use two hands to open jars and bottles and it works very well.

The lid is jammed between a knurled steel post and a logarithmic spiral step which in effect automatically adjusts for different size lids. My wife really appreciates the ability to grip a large jar with two hands when opening it.

-- Larry Pajakowski  


Available from Amazon

Lazarus Form Recovery

I was reading a Cool Tools comment that said something to the effect of, “I wrote up this big reply and the computer ate it” and it reminded me why I love having the Lazarus Form Recovery add-on (Chrome, Firefox) in the background.

Any time you fill out a text box, it starts saving a backup. Then, if your laptop runs out of battery, you accidentally refresh the page, the website times out, or your browser crashes, you can just right-click on the irritatingly empty text field and select “Recover Form” – voila, your masterpiece is back!

-- Taylor Bryant  

Lazarus Form Recovery

Wearable Magnifying Glasses

I can’t count the number of times I have found myself needing to use both hands on a very small project. Fixing a pair of glasses, pulling a splinter, soldering small electronics, the list goes on. One solution previously reviewed on this site is the third hand. It works pretty well, but it doesn’t move and I find it difficult to get a clear view of more than a small area of what I’m working on using a magnifying glass.

I looked online for the magnifying glasses that dentists use. Good quality ones are in the hundreds of dollars, and the cheap ones all got bad reviews, except for one with a really funny name. The “Housweety Professional Jeweler’s Lighted Magnifier Visor” at amazon is currently around $8 (yes, that’s eight dollars), and since I got it it about six months ago it has become my go-to tool for anything requiring high magnification.

It makes it very easy to work on very small things with both hands. I like it better than a mounted magnifying glass because it has a separate lens for each eye which makes the focus clearer and since it moves with your head you aren’t limited to working on a bench. It flips up out of the way when you don’t need it. It has five different power lenses (1x, 1.5x, 2x, 2.5x, 3.5x). It also has a little light on it. I just used the glasses to remove a really small splinter from my dog’s paw and the light worked out very well. It was bright enough to see what I was doing.

I think it’s a cool tool because it allows me to easily do things that were difficult or impossible before, it’s inexpensive, and I use it a lot more than I expected I would.

-- Gary Klaus  

Illuminated Interchangeable Magnification Head Magnifier

Available from Amazon

DoohicKey Keychain Multitool

Got it over 6 months ago and it has been attached to my keyring ever since. It is almost invisible and barely noticeable, until you need it. The wide screwdriver tip, the bottle opener and the box cutter are perfect additions to my Leatherman Style PS Multitool, which also comes with me everywhere, including planes, as they are both TSA clean. The DoohicKey also comes with a wrench and a ruler.

-- Jesus Climent  

Nite Ize KMT-01-R3 DoohicKey Keychain Multi-Tool

Available from Amazon

Who Will Care When You’re Not There?

Who will care for your animals after your death? If you are fortunate, family or friends will do so. The specifics should be part of your estate planning; you should not take anything for granted. People may not be able or willing to take on the responsibility for your pets.

After the death of an owner, beloved pets may be dumped at a shelter or tossed out of the house or even euthanized. Old cats that have only known one home and one owner, end up sitting in a cage, bewildered and depressed. When someone comes to the shelter looking for a pet, they are going to adopt the young, outgoing cat, not the depressed animal sitting in the back of her cage. If it is not a no-kill shelter, the feline survivor will soon be euthanized.

To avoid this, you need to plan. If you are lucky, you’ll just need to discuss your animals’ care with your family and friends. You probably should include a provision in your will. If you don’t have people that you can depend on to take care of your animals, you may need to set up a trust or make other complicated arrangements. Most states have specific statues for establishing a Pet Trust.

You cannot just leave money (or anything else) to your pets. Animals are not ‘persons’ legally. Only humans or corporations can inherit directly. And no matter how much money your cats have, they’ll need people to spend it for them.

If you leave money to a dog, you will be considered crazy (or eccentric, if you were rich enough). Anyone who challenges your wishes in court will succeed. On the other hand, if you leave a reasonable amount of money to a person or to a trust to care for your animals, you will be considered a responsible individual and your wishes will most likely be upheld.

This book is somewhat pricey for a paperback, but cheap for legal advice. The first part reviews the options open to pet owners. The appendices are the most useful part of the book, once you have figured out what to do. References to the appropriate state statutes, checklists for planning, and pet information sheet guidelines are included. There are no sample forms: the law varies from state to state and the complexity of tax and other considerations will probably require a local attorney to set up a trust.

The importance of making arrangements for the care of your pets if you are temporarily incapacitated are also discussed. Who takes care of your animals if you are in an accident and don’t make it home tonight? The authors suggest a Durable Power of Attorney and also provide a wallet card so people know you have pets and who to call.

Besides your companion animals, don’t forget other animals that depend on you: livestock and any other farm or domestic animals. If you have stray cats that you feed, try to find someone to help you who will continue when you are gone. The same goes for birds who need your feeders to get through the winter.

Your death should not cause unnecessary suffering to animals that depend on you. A little planning can probably prevent that from happening.

-- Walter Noiseux  

Who Will Care When You’re Not There?: Estate Planning for Pet Owners.
By Robert E. Kass and Elizabeth A. Carrie
2011, 130 pages

Available from Amazon

Transition and Seat Wrap

I am big into outdoor activities, one of them mainly being mountain biking. While biking I tend to get dirty, I mean downright filthy. With puddles and rivers and dirt, etc. You get the point.

What do I do when I get to my car, with cloth seats, and I am covered in mud? I have tried towels, and chamois but still I track dirt into my car seat.

Enter, the Orange Mud Transition & Seat Wrap. Okay, looks like a towel with a belt, right. Well yes that is exactly what it is, but it’s awesome. The towel stays secure to my hips as I adjust in the car, and I keeps the dirt and mud off my seats.

Pretty simple, yeah, but supper useful. This thing beats the pants off a towel, just folded around my waist. Sure, it might not be your thing. But for me it is all about the utility.

See you on the open trails.

-- Alex Pollock  

Orange Mud Transition & Seat Wrap

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Orange Mud

Stain Devils

I’ve used Stain Devils for at least two decades now, mostly the formula made to remove fats and oils. The number of times I’ve washed clothes with a Chapstick left in a pocket is high, and this stain remover has saved many favorite items.

Stain Devil makes nine different stain removers:

  • Ink, marker and crayon
  • Grass, dirt and makeup
  • Chocolate, ketchup and mustard
  • Fat and cooking oil
  • Coffee, tea and juice
  • Blood, dairy and ice cream
  • Motor oil, tar and lubricant
  • Rust, perspiration
  • Nail polish, glue and gum

I’ve used all but a few in my regular life, and tested out the rest for this review (except the formula for nail polish, glue and gum – I wasn’t able to find this one).

The results are very good. I tested them on 100% woven cotton (white), and let the stains sit an hour before trying to remove them. And while the directions call for dabbing the stain remover onto the fabric and repeatedly pressing it into the fabric, I found that it’s far more effective to scrub the fabric between my fingers while thoroughly saturated with the stain remover. After this step, I washed the fabric, per the instructions.

I was able to try each of the stains, with the exception of tar and perspiration. All stains were removed either 100%, or about 95% with one wash. The remaining spots (grass, chocolate, coffee, bike chain grease, and rust) which weren’t completely removed the first time where totally cleared up with a second application and wash. The Stain Devil formulation for makeup had virtually no effect on the makeup stain (Nars oil-free foundation). I was especially impressed with the complete removal of Bic pen ink with just one wash. However, Sharpie ink cannot be removed with Stain Devils – but they don’t claim it can be.

The bottles are small, but don’t let this fool you. They are also cheap and last for a couple years, depending on how often ketchup and oil jump onto your shirt. Bottles are $3.99 on the Stain Devil website, but only $2.12 at Walmart.

-- Wendy Shefte  

Stain Devils
$5 – $7 per bottle

Available from Amazon