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Ford 2017 F-150 XL Pickup Truck

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The vehicle that cars want to be in another life, that which laughs at weather capable of leveling whole civilizations, a ride so cool as to shatter penguins – nothing is more fun to drive than a truck. The 2017 F-150 is easily the nicest truck to be had.

While it has a box in the back and a wheel at each corner, almost nothing about the current F-150 is quite what it seems. The body, for example, is aluminum rather than steel, which makes the machine substantially lighter than its iron ancestors, and impervious to rust. Actually, the designers of the current F-150 appear to have invoked every trick and incantation they could think of to reduce its weight, which has rippled through other elements of its construction.

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Samsung SSD 850 EVO Solid State Drive

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The first hard drives were created by IBM in 1956. The 350 Ramac drive was about twice the size of a refrigerator, and could store thousands of times less data than a current SD memory card about the size of a postage stamp.

Later hard drives got much smaller, more reliable and highly adept at parking a lot of gigabytes in a small space. However, modern hard drives work in pretty much the same way as an original 350 Ramac, with electromechanical read and write heads moving over the surface of a spinning disc – or a stack of multiple discs in newer drives. There are upper limits to the speed at which a hard drive mechanism can operate, and as such, how quickly data can by written to and read from one.

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GE Bright Stik LED

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It probably doesn’t matter whether you prefer the light cast by traditional incandescent bulbs, as most governments have outlawed this iconic element of luminescent technology… or are preparing to. Governments love greenwash.

At least where we live, our far-left silly party government has also successfully mismanaged the local electricity grid to the point where power is too expensive to keep using incandescent bulbs.

For a long while, the only viable alternative to incandescent lighting was compact florescent bulbs, which while more efficient than their glowing ancestors, are really quite nasty. Every one of those little monsters comes with its own supply of highly toxic mercury, just waiting to mess with your central nervous system if you manage to drop it. While possessed of theoretically long lives, most of these things are made cheap in China, and their actual working lives are rarely much better than the incandescent lights they replace – despite their costing ten times more.

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Guo Grenaditte C Flute

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The Guo grenaditte flute resembles a traditional silver flute – somewhat – and it plays enough like one that most flautists will be able to make it rock with a learning curve not to exceed thirty seconds. This said, it’s a remarkable instrument and way more fun than may be legal where you live.

Traditional concert flutes are typically made of silver… unless you bought a really cheap ‘n nasty steel flute with silver plating. All other things being equal, flutes sound better as whatever they’re made out of gets denser, hence the preference for metals such as silver, gold or platinum in their construction.

There are several drawbacks to the metallurgy inherent in traditional flutes. They tend to be a bit weighty to hold for protracted periods… oh, and they’re mind-numbingly expensive, which can be an issue.

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Stihl MS 250 Chain Saw

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This could well be the perfect chain saw. I’ll allow that there’s a degree of disconnect in the idea of perfection in a machine that’s so superbly destructive.

In its most rudimentary sense, a small chain saw is an elegantly simple device, and this being the case, you’d wonder how it is that most of them appear to have been designed by lesser primates to be used as rustic coffee-table decorations. Especially if you got one on sale, the majority of the world’s chain saws typically prove nearly impossible to start, genuinely impossible to maintain after their first year in this world and rabidly homicidal toward their owners.

The Stihl MS 250 is remarkable for its being none of the above. Superbly designed, flawlessly manufactured and a joy to use, it does things to wood that lesser saws can only dream of.

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Alcatel Onetouch A392A Cell Phone

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It entailed no mean effort to convince the sales-rodent at Wal-Mart that I really wanted something other than a smart phone. “You understand it can’t run apps,” he reminded me for the fifth time as he reluctantly applied a magnetic key to the security device that locked the packaging for the Alcatel Onetouch. I resisted the urge to reply that my toaster can’t run apps either, but that it succeeds in performing the function for which it was purchased with commendable success just the same.

“It’s just a… y’know… phone,” he said with obvious dismay.

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Dell OptiPlex 3020 Desktop Computer

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Dell makes seriously excellent computers, and were it not for the nettlesome process involved in actually obtaining one, we’d likely own more of them. The previous occasion of our doing so – and thereafter spending several turgid weeks in Dell hell while our order was lost, found, charged, uncharged, lost some more and finally delivered way later than we’d been promised – caused us to vow that Dell hell would freeze before we bought another Dell system.

We recently decided that sufficient time had elapsed to give the dudes of Dell another chance, on the assumption that they must have smartened up as they’d have long since put themselves out of business were it otherwise. We needed a new desktop computer, Dell was having a sale and there was magic in the air.

The exact nature of the magic in question remains a subject of some debate.

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Snark SN-8 Instrument Tuner

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Clamp-on digital tuners have been among us for some time, and most of them work reasonably well. The Snark SN-8 tuner, however, absolutely nails the technology. It’s so quick as to be clairvoyant, flawlessly accurate, impossible to deceive even if it finds itself tuning next to a 787 taking off and easy to read. It also looks cool.

While Snark makes a number of tuners which are ostensibly intended for use with specific instruments – a guitar tuner, a bass tuner, a violin tuner and so on – the SN-8 appears to care little for these distinctions, and happily tunes anything it’s affixed to. It took a bit of head scratching to find a way to clamp one to a fiddle – horizontally across the bottom of the peghead works nicely.

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Mahindra eMax 22 4WD HST Compact Tractor

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This machine is almost too much fun to be legal, and it can do all sorts of really useful things while it’s making itself enjoyable. It’s well built, expertly engineered and, with a rich palette of available implements, it’s capable of becoming just about anything that one could ask of a small tractor.

It also has a name that virtually no one in North America has heard of, and as such, it seems somewhat exotic and sophisticated. I like to think of it as the Jaguar of heavy machinery.

The Mahindra eMax 22 4WD HST is, in fact, a product of The Mahindra Group, which turns out to make more tractors than any other manufacturer on the planet. It’s probably one of the smallest machines they build, but sometimes small is cool.

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Canadian Tire 37-1112-2 Temporary Shelter

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This review is unlikely to be of much interest to readers outside Canada, as it’s only in the land of moose, flat beer and preposterous taxes that is to be found that most ubiquitous of institutions, Canadian Tire. As its name might imply, Canadian Tire is a Canadian retailer that sells tires. However, it also sells just about everything else.

If it bolts together, plugs in, rotates, flashes, disassembles, dries in no time or requires replacement every fifty-thousand miles, it’s available at Canadian Tire. Perhaps more to the point, there seems to be a Canadian Tire store within driving distance of every Canadian south of the arctic circle.

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Generlink MA23-N Generator Interface

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Electric power is only as reliable as the utility providing it, and considering that electric utilities are increasingly the province of politicians rather than engineers, you could probably get better odds for an IPO to develop transparent rhinoceroses. Especially if you live outside town, dependable power isn’t something you really want to depend on.

Only the arrival of your bill is certain.

Our electricity is backed up by a Generac standby generator, and while these things are convenient and usually pretty trustworthy, they can be a bit time-consuming to get parts for when they do decide to start throwing sprockets around. More to the point, backup generators run on propane, and while they’re technically conventional internal combustion engines, they’re decidedly weird ones. Keeping them running under difficult circumstances is something of an art.

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Black Rock Cider Kit

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Few activities are as rewarding as brewing your own drink. We’ve been making wine for years, and occasional batches of beer. Aside from tasting better than most of their commercial cousins, our home-brewed beverages get past some of the most extreme government cash grabs in the western world. Our pols have devised more layers of alcohol taxes than can be easily counted.

Home-brewed hard apple cider is a somewhat more elusive drink than either wine or beer. For some time, we got by with tinned apple juice and wine yeast, and the results were largely drinkable. This said, the process of commercial canning clearly upsets the sugar balance in apple juice, and getting the resulting brew to taste like proper cider was challenging.

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Zwilling 8-Inch Euroline Stainless Damascus Chef’s Knife

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Bob Kramer has a cool day job. He makes knives, and then he makes big bucks selling them through his web page. He’s a master blade smith – not an honorary title – and he’s spent years learning how to make knives that stay sharp.

Making steel from which edged weapons are crafted – or edged kitchen implements, in this case – is an art that dates back several millennia. Discussions of serious knives usually get around to something referred to as Damascus steel… which is more or less what Bob Kramer and other master knife makers create. The “more or less” aspect of Damascus steel arises from few experts on the subject being able to agree exactly what it is, or exactly how it was made.

The original process of creating Damascus steel has been lost in the dust of ages, although a number of contemporary researchers and craftsmen claim to have rediscovered it.

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Moroso 89560 Tire Pressure Gauge

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Keeping the tires of your vehicle correctly inflated will potentially save you some cash at your local gasso, save you still more cash when your tires last longer and possibly even save your life. Incorrectly-inflated tires don’t handle as well as they should, especially in the sorts of extreme conditions that contribute to highway fatality statistics, and they can fail catastrophically.

All this having been said, keeping the tires of your vehicle correctly inflated might prove a bit tricky if you attempt to do so using the inexpensive tire pressure gauges available from big-box retailers. Costing about ten dollars and banged out in their countless thousands in China, low-end pressure gauges are often shockingly inconsistent. Their readings can vary considerably, finding themselves perturbed by temperature, pressure and even the number of times they’ve been used.

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Sangean DAR-101 Digital Audio Recorder

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If a machine this sophisticated had been built back when tape recorders had actually involved tape, it would have weighed about as much as a refrigerator, and been almost as large. Despite it’s diminutive size and unthreatening price, it’s a remarkably capable recording device. However, beyond its laudable technical specifications, it has been designed with an admirable degree of forethought and prescience, to allow it to record all manner of things.

As nearly as I could determine, Sangean spends most of its time building sophisticated radios. The Sangean DAR-101 appears to have been created to record radio transmissions. This is hardly it’s best trick, however.

If it talks, sings, beeps, squawks, barks, plays, enunciates or howls at the moon, this recorder will listen to it, digitize it and store it in flawless, easily-accessed digital audio files. More to the point, it will do so using an intuitive tape recorder-like interface that could be easily mastered by three out of four bricks, and some liberal politicians.

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Bunn MyCafé MCU Single Serve Coffee Brewer

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The technology for brewing coffee seems at times equal to that of placing people on other worlds, or at the very least of letting them pretend to be there… with convincing 3D graphics and surround-sound. A kettle full of hot water and some ground-up beans doesn’t begin to cut it.

Single-serving pod-based coffee makers offer a number of salient advantages to more traditional coffee-tech – bereft of simmering vats of antediluvian brew, they promise a fresh cup every time someone stabs the Start button. They also allow every cup of coffee to be of a unique blend, for those coffee illuminatae who can really taste the difference. Finally, entirely lapsing into somnolence between sessions, they can save a lot of watts by not keeping anything hot while they’re idle.

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Fender Champ X2 Combo Amplifier

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Buying a Fender Champ X2 amplifier feels somewhat like buying a really nice BMW, and subsequently discovering that a hitherto unnoticed button on the dashboard activates a faster-than-light engine and a time-travel device. It’s a fabulous little amp, but you won’t believe what else it knows how to do.

I confess to a degree of nostalgia for Fender Champ amplifiers. Most of the earlier Champs of my experience were bought second-hand – they were held together with duct tape and random wood screws, and they sounded like the ocean. The Fender Champ X2 shares little of the questionable apprehensions of its ancestors.

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Rosewill Six Outlet Individually Switched Power Strip RPS-200

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It’s monumentally difficult to get excited over a power strip. For the most part, they only ever do two things, to wit, provide power to whatever is plugged into them or emit blue smoke and subsequently catch fire if you bought one of the really cheap ones.

The Rosewill RPS-200 power strip is noteworthy in that it addresses a frequently-encountered power management issue… and it actually exists, which was distinctly surprising.

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Korg TMR-50 Tuner Metronome and Recorder

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Very likely the coolest music accessory of the decade, the Korg TMR-50 is a combination digital tuner, digital recorder and a configurable metronome. Perhaps more to the point, it’s a masterwork of convenience, with each of its functions flawlessly executed and intuitively crafted to make the whole works an extension of your fingers.

Nothing the TMR-50 does could be considered new or remarkable, but it does it all so well.

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Garmin Montana 600 GPS

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A great GPS receiver means never having to ask for directions. It also means never having to try to understand directions being provided by an old guy with three teeth, a propensity to lapse into Norwegian and breath that could stun a warthog. A great GPS receiver is worth whatever it costs for these reasons alone.

The definition of “great” in this context can be somewhat elusive. If you shop the sales assiduously enough, a hundred dollars will buy you a GPS receiver that will show you maps, tell you when to turn and locate the nearest gas station, shopping center… and probably a few handy brothels, should you choose a system that originated in one of the more uninhibited countries of Europe.

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