Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Your Mileage May Vary

I recently got an RCA 1450 amplified digital antenna for a friend's use on a TV. The idea of getting over-the-air TV programming without  any cable bills was sweet. Just as a test, I hooked the antenna up to a TV in my house. The TV could detect no channels, zero channels, no matter how I positioned the antenna. I tried it without the amplifier, too, as recommended. Still zilch.

So is the product no good and should I write an indignant, negative review?

I took the antenna to the place where my friend is staying and hooked it up. Now, even though the TV is 60 miles from the TV aerials of the TV stations, the antenna pulled in more than 70 channels. A few were sketchy but most were clear and colorful.

So is the product excellent and deserving an award?

Negative reviews of products, with claims "it doesn't work," when found among reviews with five star ratings, makes me think that owner error is more likely than product defect or low quality.

How and when and where you use an item can make a difference in your judgment of the item's quality and functionality.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Repair Tip: Holding a Washer with a Magnet

I was repairing an electric wood chipper (from Harbor Freight) recently, and I needed to put in a small bolt with a washer inside the chopping chamber. The bolt went in vertically, and the tightness of access to the chipping chamber made it impossible to put the washer on the bolt and then screw the nut on the bolt--with one hand that barely fit inside the chamber.

I put a magnet on the back of the bolt (outside the chamber) and then slid on the washer, which held from the magnet. I was then able to leisurely screw on the nut without worrying about the washer coming off.

Tightened up, painted the threads and nut with a little fingernail polish to prevent the nut from loosening from the vibration of the chipper, and we're back in business.

To reach inside the chipper with the nail polish brush, I used a 12-inch stainless steel locking clamp (also from Harbor Freight). This type of clamp is used by surgeons, but it's also a really handy tool for the home DIY person. I use it to clean hair and junk from sink and shower drains, from garbage disposals (ever get a piece of plastic or aluminum in your disposer?), and to get into hard-to-reach places. I once used one of these to grab a bolt off an automobile engine where it had fallen. I couldn't reach it with my hands and didn't have my extension  magnet handy.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Hand Soap or Lotion Plunger that Won't Pop Up

If you buy a bottle of hand soap, lotion, or other pump dispenser item, sometimes the plunger dispenser is locked down so it won't accidentally squirt while being transported.

To unlock the plunger, hold the bottle and twist the plunger counterclockwise until it pops up.

Occasionally, the plunger will rotate but not pop up. To remedy this, unscrew the plunger from the bottle and remove it. Wipe the soap or lotion off the stem. Grasp the stem in one hand and the plunger in the other hand and twist it counterclockwise.

This remedy is a bit messy, but it's simple.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Pulse Oximeter Review for CMS50DL

Whether  you exercise a lot, a little, or just pedal a desk, it's a good idea to check your pulse occasionally. For exercisers, you want to know if you have reached your target heart rate. For desk jockeys, you might want to know when it's time to start exercising. And wouldn't it be great if you could also check your blood oxygen level, too?

Enter the CMS50DL Pulse Oximeter by Crucial Medical Systems. This small, handy device works quickly, displays pulse and oxygen percentage on one display panel, and turns off automatically when you remove your finger. It features a low battery warning also.

And it's only about $18 from

CMS 50-DL Pulse Oximeter with Neck/Wrist cord

This unit has performed very well for me. If you read the reviews, a few people have tested its accuracy against professional models and found it to be quite accurate.

Some people have complained that it takes too long to read the pulse or doesn't work at all. Here are the reasons for delayed or no reading:

  • Movement. You need to hold still while the unit is reading. It won't read while you're bouncing on the treadmill.
  • Fingernail polish. The instrument shines a light through your finger. If you are wearing nail polish, the reading will either take longer or fail.
  • Long fingernails. The instrument is designed for your nails to be of ordinary, trimmed length. Long nails will prevent your finger from going far enough into the instrument to work correctly.
  • Not pushing the white ON button after the finger has been inserted.
In my experiments, the meter works when the finger is inserted nail up (the intended way), and it also works when the finger is upside down.

  • Low cost
  • Accurate
  • Compact and portable
  • The display is oriented to be read by someone putting it on your finger, making the reading upside down when you use it yourself.
This is a great little adjunct to your family medical supply kit.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Coleman CT-70F LED Flashlight Review

I discussed the Coleman CT-70F LED flashlight in my other blog (, in the context of an experience that finally broke down my resistance to spending $40 (!) on a flashlight. The bottom line is that, yes, good LED flashlights cost more--sometimes a lot more--than the old style, but you get more too, such as very long run times, lifetime bulbs, and sturdy construction (because of the need for head sinking the LED, which generates a lot of heat).

See my previous posting for a recommended everyday around the house flashlight (120 lumens for $15). The puppy under discussion  here is for campers or people with big property (cattle ranchers, farmers, dirt bikers). Oh, and for urban dwellers like me who like to feely manly and tote a big, powerful flashlight.

There are brighter LED flashlights up to and beyond 1000 lumens, but for price versus performance, I like and recommend the Coleman CT-70F.

What I like:

  • Unlike some multifunction flashlights that make you cycle through all the settings to get to the one you want (bright-dim-strobe-off), the CT-70F switch is brilliant. Click on, Bright. Click off, Off. Click and hold, Bright to dim. Let up at any point to hold that level of intensity. Quick double click, Strobe. It's beautiful. You never have to go through a feature you don't want.
  • The bezel rotates to change the focus from spot to flood, giving you flexibility of lighting. 
  • The light is made of aircraft grade aluminum and sports a good heft. It feels like quality.
  • It uses 6 AA batteries, easy to get, not some weird battery that costs $20 by itself.
What I don't like:
  • If you shake the flashlight, the batteries rattle inside. That detracts from the high-quality message the rest of the light conveys.
  • It was a challenge to find out how to install the batteries. There are two warnings, on the package and on the instructions, not to put the batteries in backwards. But nothing about how to put them in. I finally had to use my 120 lumen Rayovac, shining down the battery tubes, to see a little tiny diagram. So if you get one of these, here are the instructions: Be sure to install the batteries with the positive + end toward the front (bulb) end of the flashlight.
Since a lot of men might be hesitant to drop $40 plus tax on a flashlight, but since most men would be thrilled to own one of these, it would make a great father's day, birthday, Christmas, or anytime gift. Make your man feel manly and get him one of these.

LED Flashlight Review and Recommendations

Those old-fashioned, incandescent-bulb flashlights are just so five minutes ago, their creaking technology now superseded by the LED flashlight. It's not just the yellow light from the old school types; the new LED lights are just so much brighter.

1. First, an inexpensive way to go LED is to buy an LED replacement bulb for your current incandescent bulb flashlight. What difference will that make? A standard, 2 D-cell flashlight puts out about 9 lumens of light. Changing to an LED bulb at the cheap end ($2-$5) will give you 30 lumens of light, more than triple the output.

I've used the Rayovac 3VLED-1T bulb, rated 3 volts, 0.16 amps and 0.5 watt. The color is slightly lavender, common among the low end LED bulbs.

I also put this bulb in my 3 D-cell Mag-Lite, and so far it works okay. Caution, though. If you try this, remember that you'll be running 4.5 volts through a 3 volt piece of electronics, generating more heat and so forth. So if you leave the light on too long, the LED may fail.

2. The next step up is to get a new LED flashlight. Not one of those "9 LED" things you can get for a dollar, but a good one. How do you tell what is a good one? Here's the quick test:

  • Be sure the flashlight contains an official FL-1 rating. Most new flashlights do, even the old, incandescent ones.
  • Choose the amount of brightness you need. Recommendation: For your car, bedside table, walks around the neighborhood, checking in the basement during a power failure, 120 lumens is a good choice. See the recommendation below.  For wilderness camping, when you want to see the coyotes (or timber wolves or mountain lions) down the hill or across the valley, you might want to check out another recommendation (see below) a 700-lumen light.
  • Check the color. As noted above, some LED bulbs produce a slightly lavender beam, while others are bright white.
  • If you want extra features, like an adjustable focus (from spot light to flood light) or high and low settings or strobe, be sure to check the specs.
  • Check the spot light quality for size and roundness and the spill size (the much less bright lighted area around the spot) to be sure it meets your needs.
Yes, LED flashlights are a lot more expensive than yesterday's technology, partly because the first generation lights were sold to police and firefighters at huge prices (even hundreds of dollars), and the market is still adjusting downward from there. (I remember when the first VCR cost $1295.00.) So, what's a good deal in these pricier lights? 

I really like the Rayovac Indestructible 120-Lumen flashlight, model OT3AAA-B or BA. The body is made of aluminum-titanium alloy and it has high 120 lumen and low 19 lumen modes and will run for 5 hours on high and 40 hours on low. There are videos on YouTube showing people hitting it with a hammer, dropping in it water, and so on. And I like the angled edge that prevents it from rolling. The light output is white and the spot and fill areas are very good, both quite round and even. About $15. Got mine at Walmart.

I'm going to take my own recommendation and get some more of these for family and friends.

An alternative is the Ozark Trail 150 lumen flashlight. It's a great choice to have  handy in your car's glove box, since it is only about 4.5 inches long. Since it is a Walmart house brand, you know where to get it. About $11.

Which to choose? The Rayovac is worth the extra $4 to me. Even though it has a lower lumen rating, the light is whiter (the Ozark Trail has just a hint of lavender cast), the shape of both the spot and the spill are better to my eyes, and the two-modes (high and low) provides flexibility. And, I admit, the Rayovac has a much more manly design.