Tests and comparisons with pictures of over 100 different products to determine which work the best


(Click on main site to browse 70 other topics ranging from exotic kaleidoscope designs to the strange world of lucid dreaming.)

Topic List: Please use the bookmarks every tenth article to skip down close to the article you want. (Note: These articles are listed with the most recent at the top. Products near the bottom of the list may no longer be available.)


NEW!!! Kenmore Washing Machine Review!!!
NEW!!! Copic Pen Paper Review!!!
Hypnograph Drawing Machine Review
Bella Cotton Candy Machine Review
Canon 10x42 L IS WP Binocular Review
Flat Black Spray Paint Comparison
Best Gold Leafing Pen
Atari vs Sega Retro Consoles
Ultra High Float Helium Balloon Treatment
LED Flame Effect Bulb Comparison
Uncle Milton's Force Trainer II
Glow Stick Test!
Color Changing LED Votive Candle Comparison
American Educational's 15 Piece Fluorescent Long Wave Mineral Collection
Intext LED Pool Lights
Magic Track glowing track toy
Fiskars Duck Scissors Test VIDEO!
Eleven Frisbees tested to see which is best for the backyard VIDEO!
Three Water Balloon Kits Compared VIDEO!
Dusting Sprays Review VIDEO!
Kitchen Bag Fragrance Comparison VIDEO!
Bug-A-Salt Fly-killing Shotgun VIDEO!
Majik Slide Electronic Bowling Game VIDEO!
RoboFish VIDEO!
Louisville Slugger Pitching Machine VIDEO!
16 Chrome Spray Paints Tested VIDEO!
Kyocera Ceramic Kitchen Knives
Ceramic Brake Pads
Krylon Mirror Like Spray Paint
Debbie Meyer Green Bags
Laser Pointers!
PRODUCT WARNING!!! Gardener and Bloom brand potting soil
Infra-red thermometer!
King Arthur white whole wheat flour!
The Crayola Electric Cutter
Stringin' It toy
Anti-barking device tested
Bug Vacuum
Four Gold leafing systems compared
Sony CD-RW disc test
Colored-flame birthday candles
5 anti-itch medications tested
The new TV Guide!
eMachines computer
VHS tape to DVD conversion
Norton 2004 versus Norton 2005 antivirus software
Florescent vs incandescent lighting
Pinesol's new Never Mop with Dirty Water Again cleaner
NasalCrom nasal spray
Four spray furniture polishes compared!
Mach 3 versus Sensor Excel razor comparison!
Soap scum cleaners!
5 gear-drive sprinklers compared!
Exercise bikes!
Finally... a leaky hose that works!
3 tire cleaners compared!
Leaky hose update!
Three glass cutters compared!
Two terrible toys!
Dot drip emitters!
Baby toys
Light effect show!
Diaper update
Kleenixs for cleaning glasses!
White sugars
Microwave egg poacher tested
The best radio contolled toy I've ever used
Prizm comparison
How to take the sting out of bee stings
My grandson, Joshua, tests five brands of diapers
GE Reveal bulbs versus regular soft white bulbs!
Estes "Dude" inflatable rocket
Hikari Micro-pelleted fish food
Corian kitchen counters
Furniture polish
Betta food pellets
Mead glossy printer paper
Spray protectant for glossy color printer outputs
Wilton Even-Bake Strips
Teflon rolling pins
An anti-dog-barking device
Stacking pie pans
A Great Salad Spinner
Aquarium Bubblers
Sea Monkeys
CLR Test
Glossy Photo Print Paper For Inkjet Printers
Leaky Hoses
Stick Blenders
Non-allergetic band aids
Burp guns
Ping pong balls
Ping pong paddles
Tennis strings
CD Burner
Scan Pans frypans
Electric razors
A smoke machine
Parchement paper
Electronic big ear toys
Foam mounting tape
Plastic cling wrap
Liquid Vinyl protectors
Kleenix vs cloth for cleaning eye glasses
Grain mills
MSN vs Earthlink for Internet service

NEW!!! Kenmore Washing Machine Review!!!

The Kenmore 22352 washing machine will get the job done, but its automatic water level sensor system repeatedly sets water levels so low that clothes are almost certain to be damaged. Only the Bulky/Bedding and High Fill settings are safe to use.

NEW!!! Copic Pen Paper Review!!!

After comparing many different papers, the one that produced the brightest, most vibrant colors was Staples Ultra Premium Photo Paper Matte.



The Hypnograph Drawing Machine by, ($30 in December, 2018 from is the best hand-cranked, gear-driven drawing machine I have ever used. While higher end machines, like Joe Freedman's Cycloid Drawing Machine,
have more gears and create slightly larger images, the Hypnograph is one-tenth the cost, much easier to use, and its all-plastic construction eliminates any chance of warping, a serious problem on all wooden geared machines. I've used the Hypnograph many hours and have only scratched the surface of its capabilities.



Bella Cotton Candy Machine Review

At only $28.00 on, the Bella cotton candy machine is one of the cheapest yet highest rated small cotton candy makers available. Better still, Walmart sells them for as little as $18.00. This little machine produces good sized gathers of cotton candy from very little sugar, is easy to use and easy to clean. For the best cotton candy, load the spinner with four lifesavers. The resulting cotton floss looks and tastes better than any other flavored sugar. Cherry is the best.


Canon 10x42 L IS WP Binocular Review

Canon's 10x42 L IS WP Binoculars are the highest rated image stabilized binoculars in this size class. With "L" or professional quality optics, they provide painfully sharp images across a wide field of view. When coupled with superb image stabilization they create an entirely new viewing experience. But, they aren't fault freee and their $1300.00 price tag may give many potential purchasers pause. I found the images the best I've ever experienced but that they struck me as overpriced. One of Canon's non-L IS binoculars might provide 90% of what these offer at half the price.

Flat Black Spray Paint Comparison

After comparing 14 different flat black spray paints, I found the $1 Project Source brand from Home Depot to be the darkest with Rustoleum's Flat Black Protective Enamel a close second. However, not even these produced a velvety black finish. At best I'd rate them as dark gray.

Gold Leafing Pen Comparison

Of the eight gold leafing pens tested in the video above, the best was the Decocolor Gold pen with the Decocolor Gold Leaf and Krylon 18 kt Gold Leafing pens close seconds.



Atari vs Sega Retro Consoles

I tested all 105 games on the Atari console ($39.99) and found that 2 completely failed to work, 7 more were impossible to play, 43 played but with problems and 33 played but had such poor graphics and the games were so boring that they were a complete waste of time. Seven more were okay to play once in a while leaving 10 that were thoroughly enjoyable.

All of the games on the Sega Genesis console ($39.99) played, but 27 were violent fight games some parents may not want their children to play and most of the the rest weren't very entertaining. In the end I only found three games worth repeat plays.

So, my preference is for the Atari console. Not only did it have more games worth playing, they encompassed a wider range of game types and weren't as violent.

Ultra High Float Helium Balloon Treatment

Squirt a little Ultra High Float ($13.00 for 14 ounces) into a balloon, fill it with helium and instead of it floating for only 11 hours you can count on it lasting a full 7 days. This stuff is great!

LED Flame Effect Bulb Comparison

I compared the Abedoe, Lightone, Junolux, LEDTek, Texsens and LIFU brands of LED flame effect bulbs and the most realistic bulb was the LEDTek with the Texsens and close second.



There are two problems with this Star Wars toy: the images aren't holograms as promised by the advertising and the training orb isn't controlled by your brain's beta wave activity. The video above presents two tests that verify this. The orb's motion is controlled by a random function in the software so each training session follows a different pattern, but no matter what you do the training session will complete itself without any help from the player. The randomness is convincing enough to fool children but it's only an illusion.


Glow Stick Test!

After comparing SnapLight to LumiStick glow sticks, I found that while the SnapLights last 10% longer and are very slightly brighter, since they cost over twice as much as the Lumisticks they aren't worth the exptra expense.

Color Changing LED Votive Candle Comparison!

InstaPark color changing LED votive candles lasted twice as long as APG votives and only cost a few dollars more. But, the APG's taller body shows off the light better and still last a good six hours so unless you need a votive that lasts over 8 hours I recommend the APGs.


American Educational's 15 Piece Fluorescent Long Wave Mineral Collection

Costing $26.76 in October of 2016, I found that only four of the 15 samples glowed with enough brightness to be interesting. A few others fluoresced with shades of white that made them look like drab old rocks. The rest glowed so dimly they were hard to see. I can not recommend this fluorescent rock sample kit.

The following is a more detailed Youtube review:


Intext LED Pool Lights

This light is designed for soft sided above ground pools. No holes are needed because the light that's inside the pool is held in place to the outside power unit with magnets. Coils in both units allow power to be transferred safely through the pool wall without wires having to go through it or up and over the pool's rim. One of these lights is sufficient for a 12 to 15-foot pool, but around 18 feet in diameter, you might want to use two. My 26 foot pool has two and while it looks pretty good, one or two more would provide much more uniform illumination. Please click on the following link to see the lights in action:


Magic Track glowing track toy

While the flexible track is interesting and the flashing lights on the car of this toy are entertaining to very young children, I have to report that the track does not glow brightly enough to be seen even in the best of conditions. The following video demonstrates this:


Fiskars Duck Scissors Test

Cutting duck tape with scissors is an exercise in frustration because the blades quickly clog with adhesive. Fiskars has come to the resue with scissors specifically designed with non-stick blades that prevent clogs. I'm happy to report that they work better than expected. Regular scirrors started clogging after just two cuts. The Fiskars Duck Edition scissors made dozens of cuts without clogging even once. If you work with duck tape, these scissors will be a useful tool to has.


Eleven Frisbees tested to see which is best for the backyard

Of the eleven Frisbees tested, the ones that flew the straightest, longest and were the easiest to throw were the 10 and 12 inch Aerobee Superdisks.


 Three Water Balloon Kits Compared!

Bunch-O-Balloons produced the greatest number of water ballons with the fewest leaks and was also the cheapest. To view the live action testing of these three water balloon kits, please click on the following video:


Dusting Sprays Review

Of the six six dusting polishes compared, Pledge Lemon Clean repelled the most dust the longest. The video above provides live action validation for this result.


Kitchen Bag Fragrance Comparison

Eight kitchen bags were compared to see which had the strongest and best fragrance. The winner was Glad's Hawaiian Aloha


Bug-A-Salt Fly-killing Shotgun

The Bug-A_Salt gun is a pump action shotgun that uses regular table salt to blast flies into oblivion. As silly as that may sound, the gun is a sturdy tool that kills flies and gives the user a lot of fun doing it. The $70 to $100 price take may seem like a lot, but the high quality of construction lets you know that it isn't over priced.


Majik Slide Electronic Bowling Game

Our six grandchildren, ages 6 to 13, all enjoyed this arcade game with a sliding puck for a ball and red pin lights for pins. In early 2015 it was only $29.99 in Walmart. However, I've seen it priced for as high as $149.95 so it pays to shop around. The two main problems is that the LCD indicator is too small and dim under most lighting conditions to read the scores clearly and the Vinyl lane was too uneven for any sort of control. The second was solved by gluing it to a sheet of plywood. Also. shimming up the pin end helps the puck to slide all the way back to the player. For $30 I'd rate this as a good investment. (Follow-up comment: After four times playing with it, the grandchildren pretty much got bored with it.)



Battery powered robotic aquarium fish were a big hit early in 2015. The following two videos show what the best of the three available looks like.



Louisville Slugger Pitching Machine

This spring-loaded pitching machine very consistently throws 40-45 MPH baseballs into the strike zone of little league-sized players. It's easy to assemble and ruggedly made, but it's almost worthless for throwing grounders and while it can throw high drives, can't do high pop fly balls. For the entire review please watch the following video:


16 Chrome Spray Paints Tested!

The paint that produced the brightest, mirror-like chrome finish was Spaz Stix Mirror Chrome. VHT Plate Finish and Alclad II Chrome Lacquer tied for second. All three of these paints benefited from buffing with a microfiber cloth after they were completely dry.



In November of 2013 I purchased six rolls of "Holiday Time Glitter Gift Wrap" from Walmart, item number WM68269. This wrapping paper is absolutely the worst I've ever handled in 50 years of wrapping presents. The base material has an odd feel to it that's somewhere in between paper and plastic. It reminds me of Tyvek. What makes this wrapping paper so bad is that none of the half-dozen types of tapes I tried on it would stick to either the glitter side or the back side. Closer inspection of the label disclosed the paper can only be sealed on the back side using special double-faced foam mounting tape. A dozen or so small pieces are included inside the cardboard tube on which the paper was rolled, but these weren't nearly enough and they were extremely awkward to use. It can't be placed near any edges, which left loose seams. It was impossible to close the ends of the wrapping because there is no way to do so without trying to get the tape to stick to the glitter side, which it won't do. But, the biggest problem is that the fine glitter on the show side was so poorly adhered to the base material that it fell off by the thousands with the slightest rubbing. These fine, sharp particles tended to stick to fingers where there are easily transferred into eyes when rubbed. This could lead to serious injury to children and adults alike.


Kyocera Ceramic Kitchen Knives

The attraction of ceramic kitchen knives is that because the ceramic is much harder than metal it holds a sharper edge ten times longer than even the best steel kitchen knives. I found this claim to be true for the most part, but other issues reduce the cutting power of these knives.

My Kyocera ceramic blade felt as if it was only slightly sharper than a freshly honed Hinkles. I can't testify to it's holding its edge ten times as long because after owning and using it side by side with the Hinkles I can only say that it's outlasted the steel blade by at least a factor of two. In other words I've only had to rehone the metal blade once to keep up with the ceramic blade's sharpness. But it turns out sharpness isn't everything.

The ceramic knife weighs almost nothing compared to the metal blade. This means that you have to push down on it much harder to achieve the same cutting action. It turns out the weight of a steel blade provides significant help in driving its edge through food. The ceramic's lighter weight and having to push down on it throws the balance of the blade off. I may be prejudiced, but I prefer the feel of steel.

Another issue is blade drag as it cuts through foods, particularly meats. The steel blade slides through with silky smoothness. The ceramic blade has a very fine gritty feel. The blade looks as polished as the metal blade but the difference is noticeable. It doesn't have any more drag, it just feels a little rougher.

Because the ceramic blade is so much harder it has the potential to be sharpened much finer than a metal blade. But, being ceramic (spell that glass) it's also very brittle. Over sharpening would result in a super thin cutting edge that would chip very easily. This is also why the blade doesn't have a sharp point, a feature I find particularly wanting. Having to grab a second blade with a tip to punch through the plastic wrapping on a piece of steak is a hassle. This brittleness raised a red flag to me. The intructions that came with the knike stated that it was normal for tiny, almost microscopic, pieces of the edge will break off but that the knife will continue to cut very well. My question is: Where are those tiny pieces of rasor sharp ceramic blade going? The answer is that some of them will unavoidably end up in the food. I don't know if the human body can deal with something like this, but for myself for the time being I prefer to avoid the possibility.

My final judgement is that a ceramic blade is fun to have as a conversation piece and to play with, but for myself I greatly prefer cold steel. It certainly isn't worth the $80 price tag for a blade that's only 6-inches long with no tip and the safety issue of eating bits of ceramic makes me feel uncomfortable.

UPDATE!!! After a year's use I noticed the blade getting dull. I could not find a local knife sharpener who could fix the problem so I purchased a special electric sharpener made specifically for it by Kyocera. The results were not favorable. No matter how I tried I could not get the blade back to its original sharpness.

Ceramic Brake Pads

For decades I've put up with the black soot given off by standard break pads. This stuff quickly makes hub caps filthy and is messy to wash off. So, when I heard about ceramic break pads I thought they might give off less soot and would be worth a try. I needed to have the existing pads changed anyway so the extra $200 was worth the gamble.

It was.

Immediately after they were installed I thoroughly washed all the soot off the hubcaps. Normally they would have a obvious coating of new soot in a few days and a thick layer after two weeks. Three months after the installation of the ceramic pads the hubcaps are as clean of soot as the day they were washed. Any dirt on them is only from the road.

I can't comment of how well ceramic pads work as far as stopping the car except to say that they seem to do the job as well as the old pads. I also can't comment on how they affect rotor wear. But I can state that they produce absolutely none of the soot that used to plague my hubcaps. For that reason alone they're worth the extra expense.


Krylon Mirror Like Spray Paint

I followed the instructions carefully but the resulting mirror-like effect wasn't as good as I got using a plain silver paint that cost 1/4 as much. This doesn't produce a reflection even close to a real mirror.



These plastic bags are impregnated with a substance that absorbs the ethylene gas given off by fruit as it ripens and in so doing is supposed to slow the ripening process. To test this I selected two bananas that were the same size and at the same stage of ripeness.

The banana on the left was placed in a Debbie Meyer green bag and the other wasn't. They were both kept in the same location for ten days then compared.

The banana stored in Debbie Meyer's Green Bag on the left appeared to have ripened
much less than the one on the right that was simply exposed to the air. If the banana
on the right appears smaller, it's because evaporation caused the skin to shrivel and
become thinner. I suspect the flesh inside lost moister as well, making it smaller too.

It appeared that the bag worked as advertised. But, upon peeling the banana I discovered that the increased humidity inside the bag had rendered the skin so soft it almost fell to pieces when peeling the banana. Worse still, although the bagged banana looked much fresher, in fact when eaten the banana inside had ripened just as much as the one exposed to the air. My conclusion: Debbie Meyer Green Bags preserve the appearance of fruit, but at least in the case of bananas don't slow the ripening process.

Laser Pointers!

Red laser pointers have dominated presentation venues for years. Then around 2007 green laser pointers became available at increasingly low prices.

Green pointers' brighter spots and novel color are making them the rage.

Because they come in high-power versions there's a slight one-upsmanship competition going on between presenters to determine who can impress audiences more. The question this article addresses is: What power level is optimum? Too little and in brightly lit presentation halls the spot may be lost or appear weak, reflecting poorly on the presenter. To much power and the area immediately surrounding the spot can be washed out. To examine these issues I purchased 5mw, 20 mw and 50 mw pointers and compared them.

From bottom to top:
5 mw Radio Shack pointer, $50
20 mw MPO pointer from HDE through, $23
50 mw MPO pointer from HDE through, $55

Prices vary enormously for any particular power level. Five miliwatt pointers, the most common, can be found for as little as $7 or as much as $99. Making things even more confusing price-wise is that they fluctuate significantly with time. Two weeks after I purchased the 50 mw pointer from Amazon its price dropped from $55 to $42. Over the same period the 20 mw unit increased from $23 to $27.

Left to right: 5mw, 20mw and 50mw spots

The spot sizes above are from beams projecting on a screen 40 feet away. While the 50 mw spot is the largest, to audiences all of the pointers produce spots that are so small as to appear as points. However, the brilliance of the spots varies much more than the photograph above portrays. The 50 mw pointer is so bright that it's almost painful to look at.

I found that the 5 mw pointer is bright enough for almost any presentation venue. The only time it will be challenged is outside with direct sunlight shining on the presentation surface. The 20 mw unit provides more "pop" and shows up well under even those conditions. The 50 mw unit is too bright for indoor use. The spot overpowers the area immediately around it and in small rooms will leave viewers wincing from its brilliance. Worse still, the beam is bright enough to be seen traveling through the air. This light-saber effect may be entertaining and useful at star parties for pointing out objects in the night sky, but in a presentation room it can be distracting.

One final issue with high power pointers is reliability. I was fortunate to exchange several emails and a telephone call with Mr. David Rifkin, President and CEO of MPO, a major laser pointer source. He explained that many of the cheap, high power pointers on the market are actually lower power units being overdriven to produce brighter beams. The downside of this is that the laser lifetime is reduced from thousands of hours to perhaps as few as hundreds. Additionally, many such units exhibit erratic power fluctuations and sudden breakdowns.

My experiences with the 20 and 50 mw pointers confirms Mr. Rifkin's comments. The 20 mw pointer exhibits a half-second delay in its brightness. It comes on initially at 5 mw then snaps on to full power. The 50 mw pointer needs to be thoroughly warmed up before it puts out full power. This can take up to four minutes from room temperature.

Erratic behavior isn't limited to high-power pointers. I purchased a second 5 mw unit and discovered that it started off very bright, then within seconds began flickering and dimming until after four minutes it was barely half as bright as the Radio Shack pointer.

My recommendation is to stick with 5 mw pointers purchased from a store where you can test it before purchasing. Hold it on for several minutes to make sure the beam output remains constant. Store-bought pointers will be more expensive than bargains on the Internet but in exchange you know you are getting something that works.


Gardener and Bloom brand potting soil

In Spring of 2007 I purchased four bags of Gardener and Bloome's Rose Potting soil and used it to plant 77 pots with zinnia, tomato, melon, Canterbury bell and salvia seeds. The results were a complete disaster. Although I followed my regular routine for growing seedlings, a routine that's worked flawlessly for over 20 years, the plants that came up grew poorly, exhibited many disease symptoms and 30-percent died. Upon testing the soil I discovered that in spite of the package advertisements stating that the soil contained a wide spectrum of organic amendments such as bat guano, worm castings, kelp meal, alfalfa meal and so forth, the soil was completely lacking in nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous. Even after adding extra fertilizer the plants grew poorly. I've used many potting mixes over the years and this is clearly the worst. Perhaps I got a bad few bags out of what may otherwise have been a a good production run, but for myself I will never use this product again.

Infra-red thermometer!

I found this infra-red thermometer by Mastercool to be a very useful and easy-to-use kitchen tool. To use it you point it at any surface and press the trigger. It measures the infra-red heat coming off the object in question and instantly converts this into a temperature reading. It works equally well regardless of the object's temperature: from dry ice to sizzling hot pans.

I found it particularly useful in determining the optimum temperature to start cooking eggs (325-degrees F) and many other pan-cooked foods. It's also useful in determining when certain foods are cooked. For example, I found I like the yokes of my fried eggs cooked until they read 145-degrees F.

The instruments are available in most cooking stores and can even be found in Pep Boys auto parts stores near the cash register. They cost between $20 and $60.

King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour

The people at King Arthur flour found a variety of wheat that has a white, or at least much lighter than normal, bran layer. When milled as whole wheat flour what you get is a whole grain product that doesn't look speckled like regular whole wheat flour.

Left to right: regular whole wheat flour, all
purpose flour and white whole wheat flour.

The color is a rich golden amber. Looking very close shows the bran flakes as a slightly darker gold. In baking, the resulting products have a pleasant buttery flavor and seem smoother than normal whole wheat flour. I like it, though I have to wonder if the nutrient level of the lighter bran is as high as in normal wheat.


The Crayola Electric Cutter!

The electric Crayola Paper Cutter is a pen-shaped device that uses a tiny pulsating blade in its tip to cut through paper. It runs on two C batteries. The blade moves in and out so fast it's hard to see. In principle it works like a tattoo pen. When it's moved from left to right across paper it makes a very clean cut. Moving up or down it creates a series of very closely spaced perforations, which pull apart easily but leave a slightly rough edge. The key to using this cutter is to move slowly so that the perforations on vertical or slanted lines are close enough to come apart easily and provide a smooth edge.

The pen has to be used on a soft underlaying surface, like the special cutting board provided, that supports the paper yet has enough give to allow the cutter to penetrate it.

The cutter works well on all types of paper and even cardstock. The advantage this cutter has over scissors and even Exacto knives is that it can quickly and easily cut tiny, complicated shapes, such as the following dinosaur:

Besides the cutter and cutting surface, it comes with an extra cutting tip, many sheets of art paper, plastic stencils, and a wide variety of craft projects. For $17 I found it interesting and a lot of fun.

Caution, although the sharp tip retracts when not in use and only protrudes 1/8th-inch when turned on, it can still puncture skin when in use so children should use it only with adult supervision.


Stringin' It toy

The Stringin' It toy has two motors at the end of a pair of arms that spin a length of string in loops of various shapes. A set of colored flashing LEDs illuminate the string and through a stroboscopic effect freeze the motion of the sting in a variety of interesting patterns. By controlling the speed of the motors and/or the speed of the flashing lights the motion of the string can be brought to a complete stand still or allowed to drift slowly in circles. Additional controls allow the user to vary the length of the light flashes so that only part of the loop is illuminated:

or all of it is.

If you enjoy using kaleidoscopes then this toy should appeal to you. It should also be interesting to mechanical engineers because it takes them back to their college days when they studied stop-motion mechanical analysis using stroboscopes. This would be a useful toy for parents to use as a science experiment with their children.

I found this in Wal-mart in April of 2006. It's marketed by the "Can You Imagine" company,



Anti-Barking Device

My neighbors have a dog they let bark all day long. Desperate for a little piece and quiet I researched the Internet for anti-barking training devices that use silent ultrasound to encourage dogs to bark less. Of the half-dozen models I found, the one with the greatest range and power was the Dog Silencer Pro for $89.95 ($106.99 after shipping and handling.) It was supposed to have a more sensitive detector than any other unit that could automatically trigger the device when the barking dog was as much as 75-feet away. Most other detectors only claimed 25 to 35-feet.

I purchased a Dog Silencer Pro and after testing it on the neighbor's dog immediately returned it for a refund. Contrary to its claims, the unit I got would fire less than once out of every ten barks even when the dog was directly facing the detector and only 15 feet away. At 25-feet it didn't fire a single time, even with a brand new battery and nothing between the dog and the device.

I'm not saying that the Dog Silencer Pro doesn't work, only that the unit I got did not have anything close to the sensitivity claimed.

Further research suggests that all of these devices may be of questionable effectiveness. They are all rated at 120-130 decibels (a measure of loudness about equal to a fire engine racing by without its siren on.) But, that's measured 1-foot from the ultrasonic transducer. As the sound travels outward in a hemispherical wavefront it spreads itself out reducing its loudness and also loses power because of atmospheric attenuation. Using equations obtained from and verified by several different webpages I was able to estimate that the total attenuation over a distance of 50-feet would be 40 decibels, reducing the signal heard by the dog in the middle of an average yard, assuming you mounted the device on your property line as close as possible to your neighbor's fence, to 80 decibels. I doubt this is loud enough to influence a barking dog because the loudness of his bark is several times greater. It's like trying to get someone screaming in your face to stop screaming by whispering at him. He's making so much noise he's probably not even going to hear you.


Bug Vacuum

I purchased this toy gun from a Toys-R-Us store and found that as long as the batteries were fresh and the end could be brought to within 1/2-inch of the bug to be collected it worked quite well. I used it to snatch spiders off walls, ants off concrete and many flies. The pivoting magnifying lens traps the bugs and the design of the gun allows them to be released unharmed. I found it particularly useful for catching flies to feed to my Venus Flytrap Plants.


Four Gold leafing systems compared!

I tried four gold leaving systems to see to see which produced the most realistic metallic shine: Krylon's 18 kt Gold Leafing Pen, Mona Lisa Products Gold Leaf, Anita's Foil Leafing, and Plaid Liquid Leaf. The picture below shows the results with the picture taken at the angle at which all four test squares reflected the most amount of light and looked at their best:

First on the left is the Krylon pen. It was the easiest to use and produced a graining-looking gold finish that reflected light more metallically that suggested by the image, but still far short of what most people think of as metallic gold. Using many coats and trying it on both porous and nonporous surfaces produced similar results.

Next on the left was Plaid's Liquid Leaf. It exhibited a noticeable reddish tint but in all other ways was similar to the Krylon pen.

Second from the right was Anita's Gold Leafing. With this system you paint a thin layer of adhesive (called sizing in the gold leaf lexicon), let it dry until tacky and then apply a plastic sheet with a thin film of simulated gold on it underside, rub it on, then pull the plastic away. The simulated gold remains stuck to the sizing. This product was the only one of the four that produced a shiny, smooth, metallic finish that looked like polished gold. The problem with this system is that the plastic used as the backing for the gold isn't stretchy so getting the gold into tight corners or onto textured surfaces will be difficult or impossible.

On the far right is Mona Lisa Gold Leaf. It works similar to Anita's system except the simulated gold leaf isn't mounted on the back of a sheet of plastic. The metal leaf is all by itself and somewhat tricky to use. While it produced a very solid layer of gold-like color; its shine, while better than the two paint-on produces, fell far short of the polished sheen of Anita's Foil Leafing. Like the two paint-on products, the Mona Lisa product had a slight graininess to its shine that made it look like gold that had been rubbed with fine steel wool: shiny but not polished.

Both foil products showed any brush marks in the sizing so using an application technique that creates a streak-free coating should be used.

All of these products are simulated gold and may oxidize over time and need to be overcoated for long-term protection.

I hope to repeat this test using real gold leaf once I find a source that sells small quantities of it.

Sony CD-RW disc test!

One day I needed some CDs to make music disks. The only ones available were Sony CD-RWs for $5 a 5-pack box. Two out of 8 disks ended up recording songs with audible "blips" in the soundtrack. The remaining 6 were clean. It seems to me that a 25-percent failure rate is too high for reliable storage so I doubt I will ever use this product again.


Colored-flame birthday candles!

Walmart sells a set of 5 colored candles for $2.68 that produce flames that match the color of the candle's bodies. I tried them and found that they do indeed work as advertised, though the colors aren't as bright or pure as indicated on the box. Blue, red and orange are good, purple and green are weak. (Note: be sure to unscrew the plastic caps and light the cotton wicks under them rather than the long pointed sticks at the other end that just look like wicks. They are for pushing into the cake.)

6 anti-itch medications tested!

When I had an allergic reaction that created a rash over my arms and legs, I realized that it was a unique opportunity to compare anti-itch medications. what I found was that 1-percent hydrocortisone cream, 20-percent benzocaine creams, corn starch with zinc oxide powders, and zanfel (specifically designed for poison oak, sumac, and ivy) did little to relieve the itching. Two-percent diphenhydramine Hydrochloride with 0.1-percent zinc acetate and Gold Bond cream (1-percent menthol with 1-percent Pramoxine hydrochloride) worked much better.

It's important to note that each person and rash is unique and a medication that works for one person with a particular type of rash may not work for another. Also: I am not of doctor and am in no way associated with the medical profession. Nothing I say should be taken as medical advice.

The new TV Guide!

I sympathize with the writers and editors of TV Guide. The huge number of channels and the frequency with which cable companies change channels and stations change shows make creating a usable guide a nightmare. Still, the TV Guide people have been doing this for half a century so I expected them to do a better job when they revamped the magazine's format in Fall of 2005.

While the larger size and new format for the daily listings are an improvement over the older version, they failed as far as completeness is concerned. First, the new TV Guide provides absolutely no programming information from 2:00 AM to 12:00 PM Monday through Friday. Second, grouping the daytime (12:00 PM to 7:30 PM) schedule altogether in one index means that there is no specific information about what is on a particular show. For example, if a certain time slot has a different movie every day, TV Guide only says "movie" without saying which movie is playing on each day of the week. Third, the late night schedule is truncated to 1/4 of the channels carried in the rest of the guide. Fourth, late night movies on only 6 of the major movie channels are clumped together on the last page. It would have been better for the list to be more complete and integrated with the rest of the schedule. Finally, there wasn't any program information at all for daytime on Saturday and Sunday, at least not in the first two issues I purchased and I looked for it three times in each.

In total I estimate that the new TV Guide magazine provides program information for only 60 percent of the week, and much of that is so minimal in scope as to be almost worthless. What the writers have increased is the number of articles about shows and TV personalities. It seems to me it would be more accurate to call it TV Magazine rather than TV Guide.

What I would have preferred, and what would be a true guide to TV programming, would have been a program guide of the same detail and in the same format as provided for prime time but done for each day from 12:00 AM one morning to 12:00 AM of the next. That could be done without changing the magazine's page count by reducing the number of articles.


eMachines Computer

Computers come and go so quickly there seems to be little point in writing critiques on one particular model, but in the chance someone's planning to purchase an eMachine model T2984 there are a few things they should know about it.

I've been using one for five months now and have to state that it is the most unstable system I have ever used. I always fire the monster up in the same way yet one out of every ten times I try to get on the Internet it locks up and I have to wait five minutes before it'll display the log-on box. About just as often, when I turn it on the desktop will change from full screen to reduced size for no particular reason. Once out of every 20 times when I double click on the Internet icon instead of sending me to the log-on box, it displays a small note saying that the page I requested is not available off-line and asks me if I want to get on-line to view it. There are several other glitches that appear from time to time like WORD not starting the same way or the computer not even starting up Windows, rather all I get is a flashing cursor.

Another annoyance is that all the software that came with the computer is strictly class-B. For example, the Outlook Express provided doesn't even have a spell checker. Also, although I've repeatedly told the computer I want it to remember my Outlook Express password, it refuses to do so.

I've worked with a dozen computers over the last 20 years and this is by far the worst. But... it's also the cheapest, relatively speaking. After all the rebates came, in the computer, monitor and printer only cost me $350.00 in 2005.


VHS tape to DVD conversion

When my brother-in-law purchased a DVD/VHS player-recorder, I decided to test the image quality of a DVD made from a VHS tape. The original tape was in excellent condition: recorded at standard speed and very clear. The resulting DVD copied from it was grainy and not very good to watch. It provided an image that was about what you'd get from making a SLP (super long play) VHS tape by copying a standard speed VHS tape. Although the DVD has the advantage of being less prone to degradation over time, the resulting picture quality is so poor that I doubt it's worth watching.

Norton 2004 versus Norton 2005 antiviral software!

In September of 2005 my computer got nailed with a harmless but annoying infection. Somehow something got into the system and took over my homepage as well as loading the system down with spyware, or at least something that generated countless spyware warning popups. Every time I logged onto the Internet I was sent to an advertising page with the URL About:Blank. Nothing I could do would get rid of it. Because the computer couldn't support some new software I wanted to install, I decided to get a new one.

The new computer came with an Microsoft firewall and Norton 2004 antivirus. After making sure that both were enabled and after updating Norton 2004 with all the latest updates I revisited the sites of which one was suspected of being the source of the "capture homepage" problem. In spite of the MS firewall and Norton software, the same bug stole my homepage and installed the spyware popups.

I reformatted the hard drive and, after turning off the MS firewall and unistalling Norton 2004, installed Norton 2005 Internet Security system. After downloading all the latest updates I again visited the suspected sites. This time nothing happened.

I assume from this that Norton 2005 Internet Security is superior to Norton 2004 antivirus. This may seem like a no-brainer, but without tests like this we can't know for certain if a new product really is better than an older version.


Florescent vs incandescent lighting

I recently switched from incandescent to florescent bulbs over my pool table. The incandescents had been 150 watts each so I used two 150-watt equivalent florescent bulbs. I was surprised that the room was much darker.

The photo on the left is with two 150-watt incandescent bulbs. The one on the right is with two 150-watt equivalent (32-watt actual) florescent bulbs. All camera setting and processing steps were identical in both photos. (The apparent change in color in the florescent photo is the result of the picture being underexposed.) It's obvious that in spite of claims on the packaging, the 32-watt fluorescent do not produce as much light as 150-watt incandescents. The photos accurately show the difference in lighting when viewed in person. The difference isn't a photographic artifact.

The curious thing about this comparison is that both bulbs are rated at 2100 lumens. I can think of two factors that might reduce the useful light output of the florescent bulbs. First, they are made with spiral tubing. Light emitted on the sides of the tubing facing inward is going to be blocked from reaching the outside where it can illuminate the room. Although some of this light might be reflected off tubing on the other side of the bulb and eventually make its way out, there will be losses from this and the actual output reduced. Second, the human eye may be more receptive to the light from incandescent bulbs than it is from florescent, making the incandescents appear brighter. (This would not explain why the camera still recorded the florescents as being so much dimmer. Even when I tried another photo with the camera set on the "florescent compensation" setting, the picture still came out much dimmer than the incandescent.)

I'd estimate that for florescent to match the light output of the incandescents they would have to be 200 or 225-watt equivalent bulbs: around 37 to 40 actual watts.

Pinesol's new "Never mop with
dirty water again" cleaner!

It's not often that a commercial comes along for something that appears truly innovative. Consequently, I was surprised to see an add for a new Pinesol cleaner that was supposed to make the dirt released in a mop bucket immediately fall to the bottom of the bucket instead of dissolving in the water and floating around. As the following two photos from the commercial taken a few seconds apart supposedly demonstrate, the reaction is immediate:

It appeared to be too good to be true so I decided to get some and see if it really worked. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it does.

I filled two glasses with water and added the recommended amount of the new Pinesol to one of them. Then I added two teaspoons of dirt taken from my garden to each glass and stirred them up. The following four pictures were taken, from left to right, five seconds after mixing, fifteen seconds after mixing, thirty seconds after mixing and two minutes after mixing:

The settling of the dirt in the commercial was faster than my experiment, but not by much. The reason may simply be that the type of dirt used in the commercial worked better than the very fine soil in my back yard. Another nice surprise was that this new cleaner doesn't cost anymore than the old Pinesol.

How does it work? I've heard of chemicals that cause particulate matter in water to clump together so that they fall to the bottom of the container. The most common version are chemicals added to swimming pools to make the water sparkling clear. They make microscopic dirt particles stick together so that the filter can remove them. I suspect that Pinesol has added some of this chemical to their new cleaner.


NEW!!! NasalCrom

When I got into my forties, I noticed I began having sinus attacks. These lasted several days during which time I was constantly sneezing and had so much sinus pressure that I was all but completely incapacitated. Since they only happened once a year I didn't worry about them. By the time I turned fifty they started hitting my two and three times a year. Two years later they where attacking me every month and sometimes twice in the same month. Something had to be done.

After some Internet searching for solutions, the one solution I thought had the best support and most positive write ups and the least number of side effects was NasalCrom (cromolyn sodium nasal spray.) This is a spray you apply to each nostril four times a day. It doesn't cure sinus attacks, it prevents them from happening. It can take a week to be effective. I tried it and all my sinus attacks stopped. Three times I've run out and almost immediately the attacks resumed. When I went back on it they stopped. I've been using it constantly for the last year and haven't had a single attack. I have not noticed any side effects what so ever.

I found that after two weeks of treating myself four times a day, I could cut back to a single treatment in the morning and one at night and it continued to provide complete protection from whatever was giving me the attacks.

Note: I am not a doctor or in any way associated with the medical profession. The article above only relates to my personal experiences and should not be regarded as a recommendation to take this or any other medication.


NEW!!! Four spray furniture polishes compared!

Favor and Pledge are packaged in identical containers and made by the same company. The only difference is the labeling. They both had the highest amount of wax in them that produced a deep, glossy finish.

Olde English polish did an acceptable job of putting a shine on tables but only had half the wax as the first two products.

Kleen Guard Had no visible wax in it at all. It cleaned the table about as well as a damp towel and only left a dim shine on the surface. It was the least acceptable of the four polishes tested.

Try the Hand Rubbed Polishing Technique for a glassy surface I have an old cherrywood dining table that has a dull surface. Normal spraying and wiping, even with the best spray polishes, only brightens the surface slightly. But, by using the following technique I can quickly put a shine on it that looks like table's covered in a sheet of polished glass:

1. Spray a medium heavy layer of Favor or Pledge over the table. Use your hand to rub the polish lightly into the surface. What this does is brings the water carrier to the top and forces the wax down onto the table. This gets messy because the wax builds up between your fingers. Once the water is gone this wax will be picked up by the table.

2. Keep rubbing very lightly and continue until all the water evaporates. Once this happens you'll begin to see brilliantly glossy areas appear on the surface. Continue rubbing out any dull spots. After a few minutes the entire table will have a glossy finish that looks wet to the touch. (The last rubbing strokes should follow the direction of the wood grain.) The wax at this point is so thick and soft that of you lightly drag a finger over it, a streak will form that slowly fades away as the wax flows under it's own weight.

3. Don't buff this surface with a cloth. That will only cause the cloth to soak up the wax, resulting in a duller finish. Instead, when the finish gets streaked, simply give it another light rubbing with your hand. This will smooth the wax out and return the gloss.


..............Before.............After a Hand-Rubbed Polish

These two pictures don't even come close to showing the dramatic improvement in the shine a hand-rubbed polish job provides. Hand rubbing produces a glass that's at least several times as brght and thick. These pictures were taken of the same section of the table before and after polishing. The reflection is from an overhead lamp.


NEW!!! Mach 3 versus Sensor Excel razor comparison!

The Mach 3 Turbo razor, left, uses a unique head design that enables the head to hinge up and down rather that pivot as most razors do like the Sensor Excel, right. The problem with the Mach 3 is that it swings up and down so easily that it's difficult to get it to hit the bottom of hollow areas. It's also harder to get a sharp clear line on sideburns and you can't get as close to your nose. I usually have to touch up these areas with an electric razor. None of these shortcomings exist with the Sensor Excel, which is my preferred choice.


NEW!!! Soap scum cleaners!

I got tired scrubbing soap scum off the sides of the bath tub so I decided to see which soap scum remover worked best.

Brands Tested:

Test Results:

(This area was solid white with soap scum before the test. The change in color on the left was the result of lighting, not tub color or cleaner effects. In each case the cleaner was squirted in a vertical line over the scum, left to sit one minute, and rinsed off with water without scrubbing.)

From left to right:

De-Solv-It: An all organic cleaner that hardly touched the soap scum.

Tilex: The best! It cleaned off the most scum and left the tub surface shiny. A little drained away down the bottom of the tub and even that area glistened clean.

Scrub Free: Second best. Worked excellently and left a shine.

Shower Power: Got the scum off but the surface wasn't left as shiny as with Tilex.

Lysol: Got the scum off but the surface wasn't left as shiny as with Tilex.


Five gear-drive sprinklers compared!

All of the sprinklers tested pop up four inches in use. From left to right:

NAAN Stealth: (Shown next to its box.) $16.99, comes with five nozzles to tailor the discharge, good instructions, riser was difficult to open and the side to side adjustment very awkward.

Water distribution measured from the sprinkler with a #9 nozzle at 45 psi:

10' = 1" of water
20' = 3/4"
30" = 1/2"
40' = 3/8"
44' = 1/8"

Optima: $9.99, no additional nozzles provided, almost no instructions and the little that were provided were vague to the point of being worthless, very difficult to make adjustments, in operation it gave off a loud clicking sound that was almost as loud as an impulse sprinkler, oscillates very fast.

Water distribution measured from the sprinkler at 45 psi:

10' = 3/4" of water
20' = 3/4"
30" = 1/2"
40' = 0"
44' = 0"

Rainbird: $11.99, easy to understand instructions, simple to adjustment, gives off a lot of very fine spray, only comes with one nozzle, dumps a lot of water in the first eight feet.

Water distribution measured from the sprinkler at 45 psi:

10' = 1" of water
20' = 3/4"
30" = 1/2"
40' = 0"
44' = 0"

K Rain: $9.99, good instructions, very easy and simple to adjust, comes with adjusting tool, no optional nozzles, produces an enormous amount of fine mist, barely reached 30' at 45 psi.

Water distribution measured from the sprinkler with at 45 psi:

10' = 1" of water
20' = 1"
30" = 1/8"
40' = 0"
44' = 0"

(BEST CHOICE!) Orbit WaterMaster Voyager II: $11.96 (at Wal-Mart), the best instructions of the five sprinklers tested, the easiest to adjust, longest range (52' at 45 psi with a #12 nozzle), comes with 12 optional nozzles and a very user-friendly adjustment tool. Many of the nozzles produce large drops which are less effected by wind than any of the other sprinklers but if you want fine mist there are several nozzles that can provide it.

Water distribution measured from the sprinkler with a #8 nozzle at 45 psi:

10' = 1 1/4" of water
20' = 3/4"
30" = 5/8"
40' = 1/2"
44' = 1/8"

Water distribution measured from the sprinkler with a #9 nozzle at 45 psi:

10' = 3/4" of water
20' = 5/8"
30" = 1/2"
40' = 1/2"
44' = 3/8"

(This was almost perfect for the 44' x 58' grassed-in area of my backyard. One sprinkler at each of the four corners provide a very even water distribution over the entire area.)

Water distribution measured from the sprinkler with a #10 nozzle at 45 psi:

10' = 1" of water
20' = 5/8"
30" = 3/4"
40' = 3/4"
44' = 5/8"


Exercise bikes!

Exercise bikes come in two basic types: upright (like a real bicycle) and recumbent, where you sit down in a chair-like seat with your feet thrust forward. After trying several of both types, it was obvious that the recumbent type were more comfortable and easier to watch TV from as you work out.

My wife and I tested the following five recumbent exercise bikes and recorded the following results:

Nordic Track Recumbent Cycle: ($499 at Sears) slight wobble in the foot pedals, average display, easy to make changes to drag settings, comfort level was okay, battery powered magnetic drag system was smooth.

Westco Recumbent Cycle: ($199 at Sears) pedals wobbled a lot making pedaling very uncomfortable, mechanical drag was difficult to adjust and the adjustment would change as friction heated the unit up, seat uncomfortable.

VR Recumbent Cycle: ($229 at Sports Chalet) very comfortable seat but the drag adjustment knob was wedged between the readout and the handlebars making it extremely difficult to adjust.

ProForm Cross Trainer: moderately comfortable, handlebars were awkwardly positioned, seat adjustment very difficult, excellent display, the largest of the bikes tested.

Our Top Pick! Schwinn SRB 1500: ($349 at Costco) the most comfortable seat, the easiest seat to adjust, extremely clear display. This is the one we bought.

As good as the Schwinn is, it's not without its faults. The calorie meter on our bike consistently reads over five times higher than it should. An average rider burns 300 calories per hour while pedaling. This bike tries to tell me that I burn 1800 calories an hour. The maximum drag is just barely enough to get my heart rate up into the 120-130 aerobic range. While I run a leisurely five miles a day at five mph, I am far from being in top condition. If you are, this cycle may not have enough drag for you. Finally, after an hour on the cycle, I noticed that the rpm, speed and watt indicators became erratic, sometimes dropping to zero.

In spite of these issues I'm happy with the unit.


Finally... a leaky hose that works!

Further down this page there are three reports on leaky hoses that claim to distribute water evenly over their entire lengths. I found that all but one grossly failed to live up to that claim. The one that did, by Swan, was so inconsistent in flow rates from hose to hose that using it in a large system was impossible. Finally, I'm happy to report that I've found a leaky hose that works: the model ST100R drip soaker by DIG ($7.99 per 100' at H&E stores.) It has 0.85 gph drip emitters every foot along a 16 mil black tube that's 1/2" in diameter. I measured the flow rate from the first emitter in the line and the 100th (100' away) and they both produced exactly the same amount of water.


Three tire cleaners compared

ArmourAll Detailer's Advantage Tire Foam: Foam comes out a little loose. Some side spray is unavoidable. Gave the second shiniest finish.

(BEST CHOICE!) Black Magic Tire Wet Foam: Foam comes out in a tight stream. Easy to control. Provided the brightest shine.

Prestone 3 rainstorm protection tire shine: Hand pump spray is easy to control. Cheapest of the three per ounce. Provided the least amount of shine.


Leaky Hoses

  As attractive as these hoses appear, I have found that they universally, with one exception, do not distribute water uniformly along there length. The worse offenders are the high-pressure hoses with two of three channels that feed a series of holes or slits down their length. The first five feet of a fifty-foot long hose will spray out four times as much water as the last five feet. The popular black, porous hose made out of old tires isn't much better. 5/8-inch diameter hoses leak 2-3 times as much water out of the beginning as the end. There is one hose that does a very good job. It's a porous hose called The Ultra Earth Quencher and is made by Swan, that's like the tire hose but it's more gray in color and the pores are much finer, so fine that they claim it can be buried and plant roots won't clog it. When I tested it, the first five feet of a fifty foot length delivered only 34 percent more water than the last five feet. Reducing the pressure to a trickle made the delivery rates almost equal at both ends. The only bad thing about this hose is that it costs $14.00 for a fifty-foot length and I've only seen it in Alberton's grocery stores.

 NEW!!! Swan hose update!

Several years after writing the above article, I decided to use a large number of Swan hoses to make an underground watering system. Although these hoses had worked excellently by themselves, I found out that using many of them in parallel doesn't work. The problem is that while the porosity is uniform along the length of each hose, from hose to hose it can vary by as much as a factor of twenty. Some of the hoses in my system barely got damp on the outside. Others poured out a flood of water. (Playing with various constrictors in an effort to balance the system provided the twenty to one ratio.)


NEW!!! Three glass cutters compared!

From left to right: a cheap $2 cutter, a very good $16 cutter, and an $18 cutter that applies an almost microscopic trace of oil to the cutting wheel. The picture above the cutters shows the cut lines for each of them. The first two cut almost the same and the breaks were equally hard to break. The oil filled cutter produced almost no glass shards and the line broke with half the force required to break the others. There is so little oil deposited on the glass that I doubt you could see it if you tried. The oil's water soluble and cleans up easily. For my money, the oil-filled cutter is the one for me and the one I'll use for making my kaleidoscopes.



NEW!!! Two terrible toys!

These you-assemble-them battlebot toys by Jakks Pacific are terrible. Many of the parts are so small that they require a child's tiny hand, yet the complexity of construction requires an adult. Even with the aid or needle-nosed pliers and a set of jeweler's screwdrivers, I found these difficult to assemble... and I like and am good at this sort of thing. The assembly instructions are minimal and require a lot of trial and error to get the things together.

Worst of all, if you look over the box and instructions, it doesn't tell you anywhere what these toys do. Once I got them together I found it it wasn't much. The blade-bot simply raises and lowers its blade, the wheels aren't motorized. The Ronin bot only spins a disc and it's treads are so tight that it's almost impossible to get them to turn.

These are the sort of rip-off toys that look interesting and instructional, but don't really do enough to justify the time to assemble (two-hours for Ronin) and are so difficult most children will give up and throw them away.


Dot drip emitters

I purchased a dozen Dot brand 1/2-gallon per hour automatically pressure regulated drip emitters and tested them on a 5/8-inch diameter hose. The package stated that they provided the same amount of flow regardless of pressure (limited to 60 psi.)

I found that the emitters varied their output by a factor of three as the pressure changed from 10 psi to 40 psi. Additionally, the output rate varied from emitter to emitter: some barely dripped, others had water streaming from them.

I'd rate these as poor self-regulating emitters


Baby toys

  I'm using my 5-month old grandson (Joshua), with his parent's permission of course, to test all sorts of things. In this case which toy creates the brightest reaction. The first one on the left bounces around and giggles when turned on. He eyed it warily and didn't smile. I interpret this as a "no" vote. The lady bug crawls and opens its wings, the pig walks and oinks, and the hippy walks and opens its mouth making a growling sound. They all got smiles, were grabbed, and quickly thrust into his mouth had we let him. BUT, when he saw the dog do its backflip he broke out in delighted laughter. So, electric, back-flipping dogs are the baby-toy winner as far as making him laugh is concerned.

  But, The toy that got the most interesting reaction was when I showed him the nebula ball discussed below. His eyes popped open wide and his face took on a look of intense curiosity that nothing else has come close to inspire. He placed his hands on the sphere and for the first time did not attempt to put it in his mouth. His attention was focused on studying it. It was amazing to witness.


Best Light Effect Show!

  The last five years have seen many innovations in specialty lights for entertainment. In mu opinion the best is the original Nebular Sphere (sold under many names). The graceful dance of the electric tendrils is mesmerizing. Although more complex shapes have been developed and some writhe faster, this classic is the best. It's also cheap. When these devices first came out they cost $1500.00 a copy. Now you can get one for $40 and Wal-Mart.



  Further down this page is an article comparing several different brands of diapers. The winner was Pampers. However, in Newborn, size 1 and size 2, Pampers comes in two types: Swaddlers and Premiums. Testing both on my grandson, the Swaddlers had a higher back and were less likely to leak. The premiums tended to give him a rash.


Kleenexs for cleaning glasses!

  Repeated testing has proven to me that contrary to what most eyeglass providers recommend, Kleenex tissues cause fewer scratches than cloth towels. But, by Kleenex I mean that specific brand. All other;s that I'd tried cause scratches.

  In case you were wondering why cloth isn't as good as Kleenex, it's that while perfectly clean cloth is the best, perfectly clean cloth is almost impossible to get. Cloth can pick of microscopic sand particles in the washer that remain imbedded in its fibers. Even if you could get them all out, the next time you lay the cloth out to fold it after washing, it could pick up new dust and grit from the table. Over the long haul, I've consistently gotten the fewest scratches using Kleenex (Note: this assumes the glasses have been thoroughly flushed with water first to make sure they are clean of grit.)


White sugars!

White sugar is about as common a thing as you can imagine and one would assume, therefore, that they are all much the same. While this is true as far as taste is concerned, I found one brand that was markedly different as regards texture.

C&H, Spreckles, several store-brands, and Holly white sugars were compared and the only difference was that Holly, unlike the others, was extremely large grained. Its grains were so large that it didn't mix well with dry ingredients and was noticeably slower to dissolve in liquids. Here's a picture so you can see for yourself, C&H is on the left and Holly is on the right:


Microwave egg poacher tested!

I tested a Nordic Ware microwave egg poacher and was very disappointed. The whites came out tough and the yokes cooked dry in spite of carefully following the instructions. The problem is that egg yokes cook faster than whites so it's impossible to keep them soft while using a cooking technique, microwaving, that cooks the entire volume of what's being cooked at once. I was able to beat this by making two changes: first I separated the egg and cooked the white by itself for half the time, then added the yoke and finished cooking; second I reduced the power and increased the time from max-and-30-seconds to 20-percent-and-4-minutes. Still, the whites weren't right. The simple fact is that the special texture of poached eggs can only be achieved by cooking them in water. At best, microwaving can only achieve something closer to fried eggs.


The best radio contolled toy I've ever used!

Over the years, I've tried just about every type of radio controlled toy imaginable and even built a few of my own. But the one that is the best and most fun is the four-foot long indoor flying blimp pictured above. It's marketed by Mobile Airships, 20 Ryan Place, Brantford, Ontario, Canada, N3S, 7S1 ( I ordered one over the phone and it arrived within ten days. Assembly was quick and easy: about ten minutes and that included the time to inflate the balloon using a helium tank purchased from Wal-Mart. I purchased the smallest, cheapest version ($59.99) from a wide selection of sizes, colors and shapes.

The blimp has three motors that enable the user to make it fly up, down, turn left or right, and move forward or backward. It hovers and best of all, can be made to drift dead slow. Most RC toys move so fast that the user can't really savor the charm of their motion. That's not the case with these blimps. The only hitch is that they have to be used inside where there aren't any air currents to knock the blimp around. Oh yes, two blimps can be ordered with different RC frequencies so that they can be used at the same time. I strongly endorse these blimps as one of the most fun toys you can get your children... or yourself.

For those of you with very large living rooms, I believe Mobile Airships sells large versions up to 300 feet long.


Prizm comparison!

I wanted a prism to make rainbows with and discovered three different types. First was an acrylic equilateral prism (all three angles make at 60 degrees). It worked very poorly because there were such deep surface ripples on all the faces that the rainbow was distorted beyond recognition. Next, I tried a glass equilateral prism. It worked better because the faces were flatter but it still didn't produce a strong spectrum or rainbow. Finally I tried an acrylic prism with one 90-degree and two 45-degree angles. This was a winner! In spite of some surface rippling, the spectrum was bright, clear, and very long. So, the 90-degree prism is the best to purchase. (I wonder how a glass one would work?)


NEW!!! How to take the sting out of bee stings!

I recently got stung by a wasp for the first time in thirty years. I had forgotten how badly such stings burned. I ran around the house looking for something to ease the pain and the only thing I found was a toothache numbing jell named Benzocain. I out a dab on the sting and instantly the burning was gone. The only sensation with a very slight itch that I had to concentrate on to notice at all. This product worked so well I was suspicious that the pain had coincidentally died of it own at the moment I applied the jell. So, I wiped the jell off and within a minute the burning returned. A second application, again, eliminated it. I experimented with it and found that slightly dampening the sting with water before applying the jell seemed to make it more effective.


NEW!!! My grandson, Joshua, tests five brands of diapers!

On 15 May, 2002, my son and lovely daughter-in-law, Jessica, became the proud parents of Joshua. Since I'm always looking for new products to test, I talked Joshua's mother into testing five newborn diapers. Here are the results:

Pampers: (The Best by far!) Easy to use, no leaking, no dampness.

Huggies: Smell of ammonia when wet, front of diapers become moist.

Luvs: Not snug enough around thighs, leaks.

White Cloud: Same problems as Luvs.

Dri Bottoms: Back not high enough, leaks.


The same results held when Joshua moved up from newborn to number 1 sized diapers.


GE Reveal bulbs versus regular soft white bulbs

I found that a tomato viewed under a soft white bulb looked orange, under the new GE Reveal bulb it looked solid red. In sunshine the actual color was halfway in between. Blue denim looked slightly darker and richer under Reveal lighting. A picture of flowers had richer colors and more detail under Reveals. The real difference comes in lighting people. Faces in Reveal lighting looks more natural and attractive. In comparison, soft white lighting makes people looked jaundiced. All in all I found them worth the slightly higher price.


Estes "Dude" Inflatable Rocket

  This rocket uses a D12-6 engine ($3.67 each) to launch a seven-foot tall, five-inch diameter rocket whose body consists of a silver mylar tube inflated by blowing into a straw. The rocket assembles very easily, the instructions are clear, and in operation the rocket is truly impressive. Although its maximum altitude is only 100 feet, the rocket's huge size makes for an enjoyable experience.

  Don't laugh at the laughably-small parachute that comes with the rocket. Its job isn't to slow the rocket's decent but rather to make sure that it lands on its side.

  My one complaint is that the instructions tell you to assemble the plastic pieces with "plastic cement." The problem is that most plastic cements are formulated for polystyrene and therefore have no effect at all on the polypropylene components of this rocket. I went to a hobby store and asked their advice and was sold a tube of high-end (at least by the price) super glue. That didn't work either. The good news is that the plastic parts are so constructed that they snap together with sufficient force that glue really isn't required.


Hikari Micro-pelleted fish food

  This product by world-famous Hikari Fish Products is advertised as being semi-floating. It isn't. The only floating that takes place results from surface tension. As soon as a fish disturbs the surface of the water, these pellets drop like rocks. They are also advertised as being good for middle-feeders, the implication being that they fall slowly. Again, this is not the case. They fall from the top to the bottom of a ten-gallon tank in two seconds... hardly sufficient time for fish to eat most of the pellets.


Corian Kitchen Counters

  My wife and I recently had our kitchen completely rebuilt. Because we were tired of the hassle of scrubbing the grout between tiles, we elected to install Corian counters. These counters are made from an extremely tough, temperature resistant plastic and are one of the greatest things we've every come across. The counters clean easier than tile or stone, the seams are absolutely invisible, the buff finish hides any scratches, and best of all the cove edge (a smooth curve instead of a sharp edge) between the counter and splash board eliminates dirt build up in this hardest-to-clean area. I highly recommend these counters to anyone... with one reservation: they are horribly expensive. The counters for our kitchen cost $6,000 or about $100 per square foot. Don't get me wrong, we love them and would do it again but it seems to me that someone is getting awfully rich from this product.


Furniture Polish

  I have an old cherry wood dining table that shows the wear of many years of use. It's scratched, marred, and the finish is dull. I used it to test several furniture waxes (pastes, liquids, and sprays) and was surprised to discover that the spray Favor produced the best shine... when used correctly. The trick is to spray a heavy coat, use your hand to lightly rub it (this separates the water from the wax), let the water droplets evaporate, then hand-rub the remaining white wax into a glistening-wet shine. The effect is incredible. The table looks shinier than when we first purchased it. Over the next two weeks simply hand rub any streaks out. After a month, the wax will need to be replaced with a new spray and hand rubbing but it's well worth the effort.


Betta Food Pellets

  Bettas prefer live foods like worms and brine shrimp above everything. But, while I was developing an automated feeder, I had to switch my fish over to a floating pelleted food. Three types are available: Betta Bites, Betta Bits, and Betta Bio-Gold. Betta Bites didn't reliably float and the fish wouldn't eat them even when starving. Betta Bits were grudgingly accepted but were too large for small bettas. Betta Bio-Gold was the one most readily accepted by all the fish and is small enough for small fish to manage.


Mead Glossy Printer Paper

  Like the HP glossy paper mentioned below, the ink tended to remain soft and smudgy on this paper for a very long time.


Spray Protectant for Glossy Printer Outputs

  Even with the best paper and ink, glossy prints from color printers are prone to fingerprinting, smudging, and water damage. An excellent way to protect prints is to give them a light spray of Sureguard pro-tecta-cote by McDonald. It's available in camera stores. I've used it on many glossy prints from my HP 932c color printer and it works great. The coating dries in five minutes and makes the print almost waterproof. It even seems to make some colors, particulary black, look deeper and richer.


Wilton Bake-Even Cake Strips

  When you bake a cake, the sides cook so quickly that they don't completely raise. Wilton bake strips are lengths of 1-inch wide folded cloth with a reflecting layer on the ouside. You soak them in water then wrap them around a cake pan to keep the outer edge of the cake batter cool enough long enough to allow it to raise. A cake layer made without a strip usually mound or crowns 3/4-inch higher in the middle than at the edge. With one of these strips, this difference is reduced to 1/4-inch... not perfect, but a significant and worth-while improvement.


Teflon Rolling Pins

  They sound like a good idea, but I noticed that bread and many pasty doughs still stick to mine. The oddity is that the Teflon coating doesn't hold flour as well as a wood rolling pin so that in some instances the Teflon sticks more than the wood. Go figure!


Anti-dog-barking Device

  My neighbor's huge Labrador Retriever has a bark that can be heard a mile away. Needless to say, this has led to problems when the dog decided to flex his barking muscles at two in the morning. I conducted an Internet search for anti-dog-barking devices and found that a Company named 1st and Foremost carried the most powerful instrument. It's supposed to generate a 130 decibel (as loud as standing next to a jet engine) ultrasonic blast guaranteed to send any barking dog cowering and whimpering. I dislike causing pain to any animal but I was desperate so I ordered one. The hand-held unit, called Dog-Off, arrived in good condition with a battery tapped to the outside of the packaging. I immediately attached the battery and tested it on my cats. They perked their ears up, indicating that something was happening, but otherwise gave no sign that they were in discomfort. But then again, cats aren't dogs. As luck would have it, I noticed dust being shaken out of my acoustic ceiling, indicating that my neighbor's dog was at it again. (I've heard that they've had complaints from the seismograph operators 60 miles away at Cal Tech. The dog's barking keeps overloading the earthquake detectors.) I went outside, leaned over the fence and looked into the gapping jaws of death. The Reteiver was venting his fury at me with deadly earnestness. I aimed my Dog-Off unit at his head, a mere 3 feet away - the unit is advertised as being effect at distances of up to 50 feet - and pressed the trigger. The dog paused briefly, cocking his head to one side in a moment of bemused curiosity, and then leaped at me with renewed, and even more violent, barking. If anything, the device seemed to enrage the beast even more. I pity anyone counting on one of these units for protection. I tried the test again with a fresh battery and got the same results.

  To the company's credit. They offer the unit with a 30-day money back guarantee, which I promptly used.


Stacking Pie Pans

  I received a gift of a pair of stacking pie pans for blind baking pie shells (baking without a filling). The bottom pan is a regular pan with a smaller, perforated pan that stacks inside it. The purpose of this inner pan is to hold the pie shell in place and prevent bubbling while the pie shell bakes. It works great but the pie dough tends to expand through the holes in the inner shell making it extremely difficult to remove the inner pan without breaking the shell. I don"t think I can recommend it.



  My wife got a juicer as a door prize. It worked very well but ended up being a waste because it was difficult to clean and, worst of all, it discarded the nutritious pulp. It's much healthier to eat a whole carrot that only drinking its sap. We ended up giving it to the Salvation Army.


A Great Salad Spinner

  The "OXO" company makes and excellent multi-purpose salad spinner. Spinners are useful for getting rid of water on the surface of greens that have just been wasted. Leaving this water on can promote the growth of molds and bacteria that can cut the shelf life of greens in half. This model creates a spinning action as a large shaft is pressed downward... like the large spinning tops children pump up to ridiculous speeds. This type of mechanism is much easier to use than the conventional crank type spinners. The outer bowl is transparent so it's easy to see when water stops coming off the greens. This bowl also doubles as a great serving bowl for salads or chips. The inner strainer that holds the greens is also an excellent colander. You couldn't ask for a better product.



  I do the cooking in our family and over the last twenty years have worn out half-a-dozen hand mixers. Usually what happens is that I'll try mixing something too thick and the gears will strip out. That all stopped when I bought a Braun, 220 watt hand mixer. This compact mixer has been going strong for five years and shows no signs of weakening. My only complain is that the manufacturer gave the wire beaters a weird twist that supposed to make them mix better. That may be try but they also cause them to throw batter out of the bowl. Still, this is the best hand mixer I've ever found.



I compared post-its from a dollar store and Savon's brand against the originals by 3M. The dollar store post-its had very weak stick-um that gave way very quickly. Savon's glue was good but the thinner paper used curled the top of the post-it so that it tended to pull away from whatever I stuck it to. The 3M brand was the best: good adhesive and no curling.


Aquarium Bubblers

  I needed a bubbler that produced the smallest bubbles. I tried several cheap stones, they looked like colored sand stuck together in the shape of a cylinder, and they all worked the same: big ugly bubbles. Then a I bought what was billed as a premium, fine bubble stone titled "Mist Air" by Kordon. The sand was finer but the bubbles weren't any smaller. Next came a Rena Micro-bubbler tube... still no significant difference. Worse still, it leaked huge bubbles from a poor seal around one end. Then I tried a 2-inch long diffuser that looked like a tube made out of fine foam plastic. The tube was only about the diameter of a standard plastic air hose. It didn't do any better than any of the earlier products. I tried an un-named wood block diffuser and it showed promise so I stepped up to the premium wooden air diffuser by Lee's. They drill a hole in a piece of lime wood and let the air leak out of the pores in the wood. This diffuser produced bubbles that were by far much smaller than anything else I'd tried.


Sea Monkees

I got one of those kits with brine shrimp eggs to see how they work. The box advertises that many of the eggs have been pretreated so that some of the shrimp should come immediately, within two minutes, to live. Although a carefully followed all the instructions, that didn't happen for me. Twenty-four hours later I did see about twenty tiny brine shrimp swimming around but that hardly qualifies as "instant life" as advertised. Also, they all died within two weeks, far short of the guaranteed life of two years. As check to see if something was wrong with the water, I bought brine shrimp from a pet store and put them in it. They swam around happily for over three weeks. They would have lasted longer but I decided to feed them to my tropical fish. All in all, the Sea Monkeys kit was a major disappointment. I can't recommend it for children or adults.

CLR Test

CLR is a product advertised to remove calcium stains on tubs and glass shower doors. I tried it and it didn't have any effect on our calcium build up.


Glossy Photo Print Paper For Inkjet Printers

I bought a HP Desk Jet 932C photo quality color inkjet printer and tried using the premium HP glossy paper they sent with it. The ink never seemed to dry. Even after 24 hours, it smudged very easy. I got some cheap Jet Pro glossy paper from Walmart and found that it worked much better. Within a few minutes the ink was dry and could withstand handling without damage.

As good as Jet Pro was, prolonged contact with the moisture in fingers can still smudge the ink. I found that most large photographic supply stores carry sprays for protecting photographs. I tried one named Sureguard and it worked great. It didn't dissolve the ink, made the printed page almost waterproof, completely eliminated all smudging problems, and somehow managed to even out some of the streaking all inkjets exhibit. Sureguard comes in several textures from glossy to matte. I prefer the one called Lustre; it's half way between glossy and matte.


Stick Blenders

  These are great tools for the kitchen but several that I bought fell apart after only a month's use. The problem was always in the bearing, they fell apart. Then I got a Braun and It's worked great for over a year. Yet, I can't recommend it. The reason is that it came with a defect (the two-power-level button only worked on high power) and more importantly, the designed blew the design of the cup that goes around the blades. They designed the side holes so that the blended liquid comes fly out so fast it splashes out of the bowl and, usually, all over me.

Non-Allergenic Band Aids

  My wife has very sensitive skin that turns red, like a heat rash, from the adhesive used in most band aid strips. After tested many brands and types of hypo-allergenic strips, the only one that didn't cause her to break out was the Band Aid brand of non-allergenic strip.


Burp Guns

  The original Burp Gun was a hand-pumped gun that held fifteen plastic balls and made a unique "burping" sound when fired, hence the name. Recently, Nerf has released an updated version. While the new model looks jazzier, it only hold six balls, doesn't shoot them as far, and worst of all, doesn't make a pronounced "burp" with each discharge. For my money I'll stick with the original, which can be purchased from several sites on the Internet. Just do a search under "burp guns."

Ping Pong Balls

  At the low end of ping pong players, where the bulk of us reside, the equipment we're likely to use is poor. The question I asked myself was: What are the differences in the low-end of the equipment quality spectrum, specifically, for ping pong balls? The cheapest I could find were in a 99-cent store. For one dollar I got two paddles and a ball in a case that stated it was a "Deluxe" set, made in China, and had no manufacturer's name on it. The ball had a rough seam which, surprisingly, never caused any odd bounces in several hundred volleys. The ball rebounded the least of the four balls tested and always sounded like it was about to shatter. It also has a very shiny, slippery surface... not good for English. Playing with it wasn't very much fun. Next came a set consisting of two paddles and three balls by the "Ping Pong" company, $10.00 at Sears. The seams were smooth and the surface matted for better grip on the paddle, but they played flat, much like the first balls. At least they didn't sound as if they were about to self-destruct. Next up was "Sportcraft" brand balls, $4.00 for six from a Rite Aid drug store. They had a smooth seam, good matt finish, and bounced noticeably higher than the first two. These were beginning to sound and play like a ping pong ball should... at least to a novice player. Finally, I tried "Stiga" brand balls, $5.00 for six balls from Big 5 Sporting Goods. I'd seen this name in a professional rating of balls so I assumed they would be the best. The were, but only by a small margin above the Sportcraft, at least to my level of week-end pluncking skill. My recommendation? Probably any brand that packages it's balls by themselves will be good enough for non-competitive play between friends. For professional quality, do an Internet search for ping pong balls and you'll find several sites which, after a little browsing, should yield helpful comparison tests. For the rest of us rank amateurs, avoid dollar stores and you should be all right.


Ping Pong Paddles

  The cheapest "Deluxe" paddles from the set mentioned above were so light-weight that I could hardly notice I was holding anything. They only had a thin layer of rubber with the pips, or bumps, facing outward. They played okay but weren't comfortable to hold. Rite Aid sold me a sandpaper-covered paddle by Sportcraft for $5.00. It was pleasantly heavier than the "Deluxe" paddles but balls rebounded from it in a cold, sharp way that felt jarring. It wasn't enjoyable to play with. The two paddles that came in the Sear kit looked exactly like the "Deluxe" paddles but where heavier, more comfortable to hold, and played very pleasantly. They had rubber only, no foam underlayment, with pips facing out. I think they would do fine for the average non-competitive player. Finally, I tried a Halex Tournament paddle with both foam underlayment and rubber. It cost $7.00 at Big 5 Sporting goods. The quality of construction of this paddle is clearly superior to the others. However, the foam backing that allows for in increase in the amount of ball area in contact with the paddle and therefore increased spin and control, also robs the rebound of a lot on energy. To a hacked like myself, it felt like I was playing with a wet rag wrapped around my paddle. I believe that higher-end paddles like this will only be valuable to advanced players who hit the ball hard enough so that they loss of a little energy is a far trade for increased spin. My recommendation: look around for the cheapest paddle that's comfortable to hold and only has rubber facings.


Tennis Strings

  This information is almost certainly dated but I'm passing it on just in case the tennis string I'm going to recommend is still available.

  Until I blew out a rotator cup, I was a tennis addict. I had several top rackets, hundreds of practice balls, my own ball machine, and a court only 100 feet from my back door. I enjoyed nothing better than spending eight hours on the court in a single day hitting against the machine or anyone who happened along. It was nothing for me to average thirty hours a week playing. I wasn't any good... but I loved the game. Hitting so many balls got to be expensive because a racket stringing only lasted a week. I got the idea that since I spent so much time working against a ball machine that allowed me to make accurate counts of how any strokes each stringing lasted, I could measure which string was the most durable. While I can't remember the names of all the strings I tested, I do recall that I tried all of the top brands in different thicknesses. All, except one, lasted 3,000-4,000 strokes. One, Aramide Fiber by Toagosin (spelling?), averaged over 9,000 strokes. If this string is still available and you have a problem with strings breaking, I strongly recommend you give it a try.


Iomega Zip CD 650

  This is the only CD burner I've used so I can't provide any comparison information on it. However, I used it to made 25 music CDs and it seems to work all right. One nice thing about it is that it is the best CD player, for listening to music, that I've ever used. The sound quality is noticeably clearer to the point where it's possible to pick up new sounds that can't be heard in other CD players. There are a couple of bad things about it. First, it has no "off" switch. This is crazy because when you turn your computer off the CD burner starts clicking. Worse, if it stays on all night, it acts up the next day. Twice it got so scrambled I had to turn it off for several hours before it would work again. Of course, this won't be a problem if you plug it into a power strip that you turn off after shutting down your computer. The second problem is that the unit's pickup is so sensitive the dust or fine scratches will cause it to skip songs you're trying to copy, cut them in half, or start in the middle of a song instead of the beginning.


Scan Pan Frypans

  Consumer Reports raved about these expensive titanium oxide coated pans so I got one. What a waste. they are supposed to be non-stick but mine worked no better than stainless steel. At $40.00 for a small 8-inch pan, these are a real rip-off. A recent Consumer Reports commented that they had gotten so many similar complaints that they re-tested Scan Pans and wrote a retraction to their first recommendation. They now rate this brand as poor. My question is: why didn't they catch this the first time? After all, that's what Consumer Reports is supposed to do best.


Electric Razors

  The best of the half-dozen electric razors I've used over the years is a new one I just purchased from Walmart for $40. It's the Remmington DA 307 rechargeable. It shaves fifty percent faster than any other razor I've used and is more comfortable to hold. I get six full shaves out of a single charge. Best of all is the sideburn trimmer, which has been built to flip far out from the side of the razor so that it's easy to see what you're trimming.



  Like every kid my age who grew up watching "B" horror movies where half the scenes involved billowing clouds of smoke, I always wanted one of the machines that generate smoke. I finally broke down and bought one to satisfy this life-long, and admittedly silly, wish. It was great. And it was disappointing.

  The machine I got was an American DJ Shadow II Portable Smoke Machine ($130 from a party supply store). You plug it in, wait fifteen minutes for it to heat up, and press a button. Wham! Instant clouds of dense smoke. The only problem was that this unit works by squirting a small amount of water-based, non-toxic smoke juice into a heated element, which vaporizes the liquid turning it into smoke. This process cools the hot element so quickly that the unit only produces smoke for one minute before it cools so much an automatic circuit turns if off. Wait another fifteen minutes and you can have another 60 seconds of smoke. While it works, it's great. The smoke is dense, non-toxic, has a not-unpleasant chemical tang to it, and is cool to the touch. My complaint with this machine is that it needs enough power to run continuously. The same company makes a larger unit ($180) that puts out twice as much smoke but the literature says nothing about how long it will do it so I'm not willing to invest in one. My advice is to buy ten pounds of dry ice and drop it into a ten-gallon bucket of hot water.


Parchement Paper

  This paper is used to keep cookies from sticking on cookie sheets. While the two brands I've tried are essentially the same, I'm giving thumbs up to the Reynold's brand. It comes in an eighteen-inch width (the same as most cookie sheets) and it comes in a box with an excellent cutter that always gives a straight edge. The other brand, Cook's Club, is only twelve inches wide (very awkward... nothing in my kitchen is that wide) and never tears right and always has to be trimmed by hand.


Electronic Big Ear Toys

  These are those hand-held toys with a set of earphones that connect to a pistol grip fitted with a microphone and a parabolic reflector. The one I got from a Natural Wonders stores worked poorly. The amplification was small and the noise introduced by the electronics almost drowned out the signal. I took it apart and found out that the parabolic reflector was all show, the microphone was mounted pointing outward, away from the reflector. Even if it had been mounted facing the reflector it wouldn't have worked because it wasn't located at the focal point. By correcting these two problems, with the aid of some wire, a coat hanger, and some of man's best friend (duct tape), the unit worked fifty percent better (a louder signal relative to the noise) but still wasn't very effective. Still, kids might have fun with it imagining that it helps them hear better.


Foam Mounting Tape

  This is that sticky-on-two-sides foam tape that is so sticky that it'll pull the plaster off your walls before it's adhesive gives up. As sticky as it, not all are equal in their ability to hold on to things. I found Scotch brand to be the least sticky. The strongest is the Bulldog brand... used to be available in Thrifty and Rite Aid Drug stores. Seven years ago I used a few square inches of Bulldog to secure a six-pound telescope mirror to the base of a telescope. After all these years the mirror's still solidly in place.



  We tried four different plastic wraps on paper, glass, and metal bowls. The only one that provided some clinging to all three surfaces was Reynolds Plastic Wrap. It's box also had the best cutting edge of the four. The remaining three only clung to glass. The Saran Classic was the thickest of the four wraps tried. The other two types tested were Saran with Cling Plus (the second best clinger) and Glad Cling Wrap, a wrinkle-textured wrap that had the weakest holding power of all four varieties.


Armoral vs Turtlewax Formula 2001 Vinyl Protectors

  I find that Armoral used on outside car vinyl surfaces washes off after just one washing. The Turtlewax protector stays for two and sometimes three washings.


Kleenex vs Lint-Free Cloth for Cleaning Eyeglasses

  All my life, every time I get a new pair of glasses, the suppliers have admonished me to use lint-free cloth and never, ever use paper tissues to clean them. They said the paper would scratch the glasses whereas cloth wouldn't. I'd use cloth and a year later my glasses would be too scratched to see through. So, I decided to compare the two. Last time I got a new pair of glasses I purchased the same type of towels that my eyeglass supplier uses. I kept them clean and only used them for my glasses. Eight months later the glasses were scratched enough to require replacement. With the new pair, I only used a high-grade paper tissues to clean them. After six months of using paper, then new glasses are essentially scratch-free. The difference is incredible. The old pair look like I'd been cleaning them with sandpaper in comparison. I'm going to give the paper two more months so that both tests cover the same amount of time and then go back to my supplier and see what they say about the test results. I'll post their comments here.


Grain Mills

  I've tried three grain mills and have been disappointed with all of them. The best was a Retsel with stone wheels but even it's flour had to be sifted to remove larger grains to prevent bread made from it from being too heavy. It took fifteen minutes of hard work the grind enough flour for a loaf of bread. Even at its best, this mill produced flour that made heavy, poor-quality loafs of bread. I talked to the Retsel company and they said the flour this mill produces is as fine as that produced by their electric versions. The Regal Kitchen Pro is a noisy little thing that only makes a cup of coarse flour at a time. The flour had to be sifted through a fine mesh and anything that didn't go through had to be reground. This mill doesn't really grind flour but shatters it by flinging the grains against a metal collar... it's sort of like an air-type popcorn popper on steroids. The last one I tried was called a grist mill. It was a hand-cranked machine with metal grinding plates that produced a very coarse, almost worthless as far as making bread is concerned, flour.


MSN versus Earthlink's Internet Service

In February, 2000, I signed up with MSN to provide my Internet service. Two weeks later I cancelled. The connection was free, thanks to a promotion program, yet I feel it was overpriced. Here's why: (All these comments are limited to the quality of service provided in February, 2000. Times change and service quality now may be better or worse than it was then.)

1. Poor connection success: Using Earthlink I fail to get a first-time connection about once a week. Using MSN the rate, for the same usage frequency and times of the day, is eleven.

2. Disconnects too quickly: During a typical 20-minute session on the Internet MSN will disconnect me four times. It is common to be cut off within one minute after the initial connection. Once it disconnected in the middle of sending an email with the result that the message was lost. For the same time of day and activity Earthlink won't disconnect me a single time.

3. Nighttime connections difficult: Over half of all attempts to connect at night fail. With Earthlink the failure rate is less than five percent.

4. Repeated queries to close connection: Six times, in two weeks of use, I got a dialog box that pops up and asks if I want to stay connected. I click on the "yes" button and within one minute the same question flashes at me. Two times this cycle repeated three times before it would leave me alone.

5. Failure to close connection: Three times I was involuntarily disconnected and thrown into a loop where it would repeatedly attempt to dial onto the Internet, fail at the connection, tell me I was about to be disconnected, and start dialing again. Neither the "cancel" button nor the "close" box would stop this cycle.

6. "Could not display page" notice while page was displayed: Seven times I would get a successful connection, the MSN homepage would be displayed, and then the entire page would be blanked by a message saying the page could not be displayed (when it obviously was being displayed). Hitting "back" put me back on the page that wasn't supposed to be able to be displayed.

7. Erratic MSN dialog box: Approximately half of the time I connect to the net a dialog box pops up in the lower right quarter of the screen ordering me to click on its icon to pull up a menu for various Internet services, services that are already available on the left side of the screen. The only way to get rid of the box is to click on it then click outside of the menu. This is annoying. The fact that it doesn't happen every time I connect indicates an inconsistency on the part of MSN's software.

8. Erratic connection: Three times I successfully connected only to have the dial-up function continue to redial as if I was disconnected.

9. Web page wizard is poor: I can't get into the custom page construction wizard. When I try it sends me into the simple wizard. There is no way to switch from simple to custom modes. There is no way to delete the page and start over.

10. Repeatedly fails to display websites: With Earthlink I typically fail to connect to a website twice a week. For the same amount of use, at the same times of the day and for the same websites MSN fails to connect twenty times.

11. Too quickly times out the web page wizard: Four times I logged onto the webpage wizard only to be timed out after less than one minute had passed.


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