Christmas Tree Genie Stand

I have had this Christmas tree stand for more than 7 years. My father-in-law purchased it for my wife and me when we celebrated our first Christmas in our new home.

A little back-story. As you may discern from my surname, I did not grow up in a house that celebrated Christmas. When my wife and I first started dating, her parents would help her decorate her apartment, including putting up a tree with some crazy 8-screw stand. The first time putting up the tree became my responsibility, I experienced endless frustration. The next season my father-in-law gave me this stand, which has been our own little Christmas miracle.

The operation is unbelievably simple… You place the trunk of the tree in the middle of the stand and pump the foot pedal until the five teeth bite the trunk securely. The teeth are tightened in unison through a steel cable that operates with a cam attached to the pedal. Once it’s tight, you lock the pedal in place and voila! you have a secure tree. Total installation time? 5 minutes, maximum. When it comes time to take the tree to the curb, the cam is disengaged and the teeth spring open.

This stand has held up to people bumping into the tree, sliding it out of the way to access fallen ornaments behind the tree, and one unfortunate incident when my toddler tried to hug the tree and fell into it. I can’t recommend it enough.

-- Sam Horowitz  

Krinner Christmas Tree Genie Christmas Tree Stand
$74



Boska Holland Toastabags

I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for a good kitchen novelty, and it was certainly that affliction that initially drew me to the Boska Holland Toastabags, but it turns out they’re both practical and really useful too.

These “toasting bags” are synthetic envelopes that create a near-perfect grilled cheese sandwich using just your regular toaster. You can even add little a ham, or perhaps use a pita with some veggies instead. I was skeptical of these claims, as found on the product’s packaging, but they’re true.

You simply assemble your sandwich as usual, but sans butter, then slip it into a Toastabag. Insert the whole shebang in your toaster and drop the lever. After one medium-darkness cycle, your sandwich will be hot and the bread toasted — complete with little grill marks.

The secret is the envelopes, of course, which are made from some sort of conductive material that amplifies the heat from the toaster’s elements. (Apparently woven fiberglass coasted in PTFE, AKA Teflon.)

The bags work best with a wide-slot toaster, and slim bread, but I’ve managed to stuff even thicker slices in the bag with just a little effort. Be sure to monitor the “grilling” process, at least at first, as it happens a lot faster than you’ll expect. The bag is hot when it emerges; probably too hot for some children.

The manufacturer claims that the bags are free of any mess, and they certainly don’t muck up your toaster, but they do such a good job of melting the cheese that some will ooze out inside. No problem, just let the bag cool and turn it inside-out to clean the non-stick surface.

The video at the product’s website presents a fair and honest depiction of both the process and results. You get a pack of 3 or more bags in a set, each of which are reusable. I have yet to wear out my first one; they are said to be good for at least 50 cycles.

-- Gordon Meyer  

Boska Holland Toastabags, Set of 3
$9

Available from Amazon



Husqvarna Helmet

I’ve been using chainsaws for many years. Over the decades I have
probably owned 5 or 6 different ones. In the 1960s and ’70s I used
chainsaws extensively, cutting up redwood (from the beaches or
windfallen trees in the woods) into bolts, and which I then split into
shakes for roofs and siding. These days I use a Stihl Woodboss MS270,
24″ bar for firewood. Every year I find wind-felled oak on country
roads, haul it home, cut it into stove-size lengths, then rent a
splitter for a day and stockpile a year’s or more worth of firewood.
Point is, I’ve had a lot of chainsaw experience.

The other day I was sawing through a piece of wood on the woodpile and
as I finished the cut, the blade hit a log below it and snapped back
towards my face. It sent a chill of adrenaline that I somehow felt in my
ears. Very scary.

BUT I was wearing my Husqvarna helmet, which combines skull protection,
ear guards, and a metal mesh facemask. I’ve only been using the helmet
the last few years, prompted by a log rolling down the hill and knocking
me down. I felt then I should have had one of these helmets all along.
Good thing. This time the blade didn’t reach my face, but if it had, the
mask would have blocked it from carving up my flesh.

I urge you chainsaw users: get one of these. $40 or so. Play it safe,
please. The more hours you’ve operated chainsaws, the more the chance of
a freak accident. Experience doesn’t make you invulnerable.

-- Lloyd Kahn  

Husqvarna ProForest Chain Saw Helmet System
$37

Available from Amazon



Delli Aldo Shoes

Delli Aldo and Ferro Aldo shoes are dirt cheap vegan shoes made of fake leather. However, they look exactly like leather shoes costing hundreds of dollars while a pair of Delli/Ferro Aldo shoes cost about $30 on Amazon. What’s more, in my experience, they require no polishing whatsoever, and are very rain resistant. They come in a ton of colors and sizes and styles.

There are 2 downsides: 1) they run large. My normal shoe size is a 10. In Delli/Ferro Aldo, this works out to 8 and a half. So do heed theAamazon warnings to order at least one size down. 2) They smell awful, like plastic, right out of the box. The smell goes away in a few days.

-- Ed Brown  

[Cool Tools reader Michael Rostagno-Lasky points out, "Going to the link provided to Amazon, the lining is described as 'leather,' so these are not vegan."]

Delli Aldo Shoes
$28-$35

Available from Amazon



Fogless Shower Mirror

Shaving in the shower this morning I was trying to think of a tool that is really useful as I’ve appreciated all the tips others have provided.

Then I looked at the fogless mirror I’ve been using for nearly two years now. (Never ran across the smaller Shave Well shaving mirror recommended here back in August. Shave Well is 6×4″ as opposed to 7×5″ for this product.)

This fogless mirror, with the unfortunate company name of Toilet Tree, is the best we’ve found for this task.

Nothing fancy, just a mirror filled with hot water in a container. But it works. Even the silicone glue has been working great in adhering to the shower tile.

Simple and utilitarian, it the “#1 Selling and Ranked” product in its category by customers on Amazon.

-- Ira Altschiller  

Fogless Shower Mirror with Squeegee
$30

Available from Amazon



Mind Metrics

One of the self-tracking projects that I always wanted to do was to determine the impact of sleep, diet and exercise regimen on my mental and cognitive abilities. I needed an app to measure my cognitive or mental skills/abilities — rather than training or improving them. I also wanted measurement methods to be as close to scientific as possible. And of course the tests should take as little time as possible (preferably under 5 min), and run off portable devices. I settled on Mind Metrics — it’s an awesome phone app that lets me measure alertness, higher cognitive abilities such as attention and memory, and their combination.

For instance, in the alertness test you are asked to tap the sun as soon as it appears in the same part of the screen randomly every few seconds. You can control the number of trials and timing for both tests. After completing a preset number of trials, you get both average reaction time and average attention/memory score. You can see all your current and previous scores on the screen, and also e-mail them to yourself in comma separated format.

I’ve been using Mind Metrics to measure mental alertness in a couple of experiments, including finding the optimal time to go to bed (my finding was that going to bed between 11 and 11:15 leads to higher alertness next morning and better sleep), and validating orthostatic heart rate test (difference between standing and resting heart rate right after waking up reasonably well predicts mental and physical performance later in the day). I am currently using Mind Metrics to track my cognitive well-being on a daily basis.



Rubber Finger Tip

I have been using a rubber finger tip for about 4 months, 5 times a week, 2-3 times/day for approximately 5 minutes a session. It enables me to flip through a large stack of pages quickly.

If you want to flip through a large stack of matte paper, your finger just won’t do. The oils on your finger are not enough to grip letter paper and licking your finger to improve grip gets tiring, is messy, and leaves you… parched. This tool leaves no mess, is cheap, and highly consistent in its usefulness. Different sizes available.

-- Josh Miller  

Rubber Finger Tips
$2/Doz.

Available from Amazon



 

Bestselling Author and Journalist, AJ Jacobs [Cool Tools Show #009]

Subscribe to the Cool Tools Podcast on iTunes | RSS | Transcript |Download MP3

This week AJ Jacobs, bestselling author and journalist, shows us how he rids himself of life’s common nuisances and hazards like an untied shoe, a noisy environment, or a half hour wasted in traffic so he can focus on larger pursuits, like bringing the world together in one great big family reunion. AJ reminds us that we are all cousins and encourages all of us to explore just how we are related by hitting up some of his favorite genealogy resources. Oh, and we’re all officially invited to The Global Family Reunion on June 6th, 2015. Don’t forget the potato salad!

Show Notes:

AJ’s Website

The Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs

Drop Dead Healthy by AJ Jacobs

AJ’s recent project, The Global Family Reunion

Here are AJ’s tool picks, with quotes from the show:

Lock Laces $8

“…they are as tight as your regular shoe laces and they cost about ten bucks. I haven’t tied my shoelaces in about a year…”

Surefire EP4 Sonic Defender Ear Protection $9-$46

“They’re great because they reduce noise a lot and they are molded to your ear so they kind of look like a seashell and they stick into the folds of your ear so it’s hard to lose them, which I found was a problem with a lot of earplugs.”

Geni Free or $100/yr subscription

“It’s a lot easier to search how people are related. So if I put in the name Albert Einstein and it’ll search and tell me ‘Albert Einstein is my fourth cousin’s aunt’s uncle’s brother’s sister’s fourth niece.’ It’ll show you the exact track of how you’re related to everyone in the world.”

WikiTree Free

“It’s very much the Wikipedia model, so you can get someone who says Jimi Hendrix is Paul Revere’s son, but the idea is that the community will then correct it. Instead of having one set of eyes on it you’ve got thousands of sets of eyes trying to correct these things and add documentation and I do think it’s getting more and more accurate. There are some branches that require serious leaps of faith and are not documented, but I do think it’s getting better.”

FamilySearch Free

“I always thought genealogy was this staid and dusty pursuit but now it’s gone through this fascinating revolution and actually we are going to have a family tree of the entire world, all seven billion people probably in like five years, maybe ten.”

Waze Free

“I did an experiment a couple of weeks ago where I was in a car with Waze and my friend was in another car and this friend had Waze but refused to believe that Waze had the best directions, so she ignored them and she paid the price! She was about fifteen minutes behind us.”

 



Car2Go

Our small family has gotten by for years with only one car. We are fortunate that I enjoy bicycling, and that we live in a city with enough density, and with a good enough public transportation system, to make this possible. It’s been a challenge, but it got a whole lot easier this year when we joined car2go. This is a car-sharing service that rents Smart cars by the minute. You pick up a car where ever a previous user left it, drive it to your destination, park it on the street and you’re done. You use a smart phone app to find a car, and you can reserve one 30 minutes in advance. Reserving a car costs nothing, and there’s no penalty for canceling a reservation (or for just letting the time rut out on a reservation). Driving the car costs about 40 cents per minute, but you never have to pay for parking. This can often make it cheaper than driving your own car. It can also be more convenient; even in crowded downtown streets there are always little parking spaces that only a Smart car could fit into.

The service has some drawbacks. There are times when you want a car and none is available nearby. Smart cars’ limit of two people, and their limited cargo space, may make some trips impossible. While parking is usually easy, there are some restrictions. You have to park in a space that allows at least 2-hour parking, and it can’t be one that will become a no-parking zone within 24 hours. (Please note that these parking rules may vary by city.) Lastly, though you can drive the car anywhere, you can only leave it within the local car2go service area. If you run an errand in a neighborhood on the edge of city, you may have to continue to pay for the rental while the car is parked, until you can drive it back into the service area.

As I mentioned above, the per-minute cost is about 40 cents. They limit the per-hour cost to $15, and the per-day cost to $85. Drive it over 150 miles in one trip and they tack on 45 cents per additional mile.

The alternative car-sharing service, ZipCar, is cheaper and provides larger cars. However, it doesn’t have the flexibility of car2go. Each ZipCar has its own parking spot to which it must be returned, so you can’t make one-way trips. Also, you may have to reserve, and pay for, more time in a ZipCar than you really need, just to make sure you don’t return it late.

I’ve found that a small folding bike (with 20-inch wheels), car2go, and the local bus system are the perfect combination. I use the bike as my primary vehicle, extend its range with the bus, and combine both with car2go to make trips that require more flexibility. The bike also greatly increases the radius in which I can find an available car.

-- Tom Sackett  



Trenching tool

We use these for trenching in dripline in difficult conditions, and for other trenching work. The wood handles last a long time, unless you are careless with them. Lee Valley sells spare handles and I keep a couple on hand. I have not replaced any for several years now. They work best if sharp, of course. Sharpen them with a large chainsaw (round) file on the inner curve of the tool and clean up the outer edge a bit with a flat file if
needed.

Trenching depth: typically about 6″ to 8″, any deeper than 12″ and it is a bit awkward.

I also find them handy for general excavation (e.g. digging out a bit of extra soil for
a valve box) and one of the people who works for me uses one in his garden a fair bit.

-- Ian Ralston  

Trench Digger
$45