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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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Rikon 70-100 Mini Lathe

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This machine could have manufactured parts for the space shuttle. Admittedly, they would have been for the all-wood space shuttle, rather than the more traditional titanium and aluminum space shuttles that got most of the media attention. None the less, the Rikon 70-100 mini lathe is just that cool.

A full-size lathe is a useful and engaging shop tool, as long as you have a full-size shop and a full-size credit limit that you don’t mind maxing out. Big lathes can get well into four figures for a respectable one.

Upon consideration, you might decide that the most notable applications of a full-size lathe – that would be making really big fruit bowls and baseball bats – don’t turn up in your woodworking efforts all that often. For many users of spinning wood technologies, a full-size lathe is overkill… and overspending.

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Ripper Street

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Easily one of the best boxes of television to appear this century, Ripper Street will tear your remote from your fingers, shock your flat-screen clear off your wall and explode your cat. This is the sort of BBC import that PBS wouldn’t touch with a hazmat suit.

Set in the Whitechapel district of London in 1889, Ripper Street follows singularly embittered Detective Inspector Edmund Reid as he deals with the whores, derelicts, madmen, evil venture capitalists, corrupt civil servants… and at least one legendary elusive serial killer… who haunt the east end of London. Dis is da reawy grotty bit o’ the city, wot ‘as bodies everywhere. Y’d fink it were a bleedin’ war zone.

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Böhm Stirling Engine HB11

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Robert Stirling was a nineteenth-century Scottish inventor. In 1816, he created a closed-cycle air-driven engine as a putative replacement for the ubiquitous steam engines of the period. Steam engines, while cool to look at if you’re sufficiently removed from the devices themselves, are large, heavy, dangerous, maintenance-intensive and tricky to keep running.

Stirling’s engine is a masterwork of sneakiness, and you have to wonder how anyone could have imagined that something like this could possibly work. A classic “alpha” Stirling engine has two cylinders. The end of one cylinder is heated, causing the air inside it to expand. The expanding air pushes a piston along the cylinder, which turns a flywheel. The flywheel pushes the piston in the second cylinder to compress the air behind it. The cold air flows into the first cylinder, where it’s heated, and the cycle starts over.

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TP-Link TD-8816 ADSL2+ Modem and TD-8840T ADSL2+ Modem (with Router)

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These things may be the nicest DSL modems in the known universe. Paradoxically, they’re also among the least expensive. Plug one in, connect it to the Internet and within five minutes you’ll have entirely forgotten that it exists. One can ask for little more from a telecommunication device.

As nearly as we’ve been able to tell, the TP-Link TD-8816 DSL modem and the TP-Link TD-8840T DSL modem with router are technically identical, save that the former provides a single RJ45 Ethernet connector to communicate with your computer, and the latter provides four. The built-in router in the TD-8840T to drive the four Ethernet connectors allows it to interface to additional devices without the use of an external Ethernet switch.

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Teksavvy DSL Internet for Ontario

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High speed Internet in Canada is a warped reflection of most of the governments in this country – it’s expensive, oftentimes broken and usually impossible to contact by telephone. That the latter has set up the rules for the former will surprise almost no one.

Residential DSL Internet access employs a conventional telephone line to connect your computer to the ‘net, and it will more or less allow said phone line to be used for conventional voice phone calls while it’s doing so. DSL is always on, and it’s usually quick enough for almost anything you’d like to access over the Internet, including streaming video and interactive games.

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Zotac ZBOXSD-ID12-U

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The device to your right is a desktop computer. No foolin…

Perhaps more to the point, it’s a very nice desktop computer, with some truly unexpected features. It’s also a very small desktop computer. While the photograph here doesn’t provide much of a sense of scale, the Zotac ZBOXSD-ID12-U towers all of eight inches high, and it could easily be mistaken for a game console or an external hard drive.

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Gibson Baritone Les Paul Studio Guitar

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This is one of the coolest guitars I’ve ever played… but if you decide you want one too, you’ll probably have to firewalk an even greater distance over still more incandescent coals than I did.

Several yeas ago, I came upon a Taylor Baritone GS acoustic guitar, which remains a singular instrument. Tuned a fifth below a conventional guitar, it’s dark, powerful and brooding. After playing it for a while, I began to think that an electric counterpart would be a useful voice.

Nothing rocks quite like a Les Paul – elegantly understated, fluid and expressive, the known universe’s first electric guitar remains my decided favorite. I was delighted to learn that a baritone Les Paul did indeed exist. At least, it used to.

In fact, there were two of them.

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Netgear WN3000RP Universal WiFi Range Extender

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As we’ve added more WiFi devices to our in-house wireless network, and their habitat has sprawled beyond the building and occasionally into the forest that surrounds us, the range of our original router… impressive though it was when we bought the beast… has begun to prove inadequate.

Honesty bids me say that our selection of the Netgear WN3000RP WiFi range extender was not the result of our usual exhaustive research – there was a pile of them at the local WalMart one Sunday afternoon, and ours was something of an impulse purchase in the faint hope that it would forestall a lot of serious head-scratching and fishing of Ethernet cables to subdue our increasingly fractious network.

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Line 6 POD Farm UX2

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Several years ago, when the world was a simpler place and the word “crisis” didn’t always immediately follow the word “monetary” in newspaper copy, we bought a Line 6 TonePort UX2 digital guitar interface, and we immediately found it to be the coolest plastic box with a USB interface yet devised. Positioned betwixt an electric guitar and a computer… substitute a microphone or any other instrument with a pickup if you like… it rendered faithful high-quality digital audio to the latter, allowing said computer to become the twenty-first century equivalent of a room full of audio consoles and a big reel-to-reel tape recorder.

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Dewalt DC390B Cordless Circular Saw

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There’s nothing so preposterous as having to transport a fifty pound generator with which to power a five pound electric saw. Trying to operate a traditional corded electric saw at the end of a few hundred feet of extension cord isn’t much of an improvement – power tools draw a significant amount of current, and line loss is rarely their friend.

Despite a laudable degree of civilization and some impressive technology that would have seen our recent ancestors accusing many contemporary tradesmen of witchcraft, sometimes you just need to cut wood in places without plugs.

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Danger Man DVD Box Set

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Without question among the coolest ancient British television series to rise from the mists of antiquity on DVD, Danger Man successfully evinces the stealth, treachery and engaging sneakiness of the cold war by virtue of having been filmed during the height of it. The “big blue box of spies,” as the set has come to be known in these latitudes, is a well-oiled time machine set to 1961.

Danger Man was originally broadcast as Secret Agent in the United States, and as John Drake in other parts of the world.

The terse, shadowy episodes of Danger Man – all but the final two of which are filmed in stark black and white – follow the adventures of John Drake, a secret agent working for the good guys. The nature of his employers shifts somewhat over time – his wages are paid by NATO in the first season, and thereafter by M9, a fictional shade of MI6, the British intelligence agency.

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Ibanez SR505 BM 5-String Bass

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This is easily the sweetest bass I’ve ever played, although it took some time to get that way. It was cool right out of the box, but I needed it to do something other than what it said on the box.

Traditional electric bass guitars are somewhat limited instruments, especially for six-string guitar players, in that they only know how to deal with four strings. In playing bass, I often find myself running out of strings – my fingers clearly anticipate finding two more of them. The bass equivalents of the high B and E strings of a conventional guitar are notably absent on a bass.

A five-string bass addresses the absence of one of these missing strings – or at least, it can – and it expands the range of the instrument. The direction in which it expands said range is a matter of some contention. Most five-string basses are tuned with an extremely low B below the low E. Such a string is just this side of subsonic, and it can probably set off near-by seismographs if you play through a sufficiently powerful amplifier.

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DeWalt DW920 Cordless Screwdriver

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Just about everyone owns a cordless screwdriver… this being a cordless drill with a screwdriver bit clamped in its chuck. While the versatility of an electric drill is not to be underestimated – they can be pressed into service to mix drywall mud, pump water and probably to prepare smoothies if you travel far enough into the bush – driving screws is a task that arguably calls for dedicated hardware.

Battery-powered drills are both too powerful and too heavy to be ideally suited to the task.

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Boardwalk Empire on DVD Season One

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Compelling, nuanced and engagingly lurid, Boardwalk Empire on DVD is a week and a half of the best television ever made – unless you drop into maximum video gluttony and burn through the entire box set in a couple of nights. Rare indeed is the series more likely to tempt its viewers into viewing it all at once.

Boardwalk Empire chronicles the fast life and dangerous times of one Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, a fictionalized shade of politician and gangster Enoch Johnson, who ran Atlantic City, New Jersey during prohibition. Like his real-world doppelganger, Nucky Thompson has risen through the power structure of the east-coast Republican party, and there isn’t a mouse sneezing in Atlantic City he isn’t aware of, taking bets on or shaking down for protection money.

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IPod Nano Generation 6

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The sixth-generation iPod Nano is a brilliant bit of technology, and even more so if you don’t have to pay for it. Our Nanos began their lives as first-generation iPod Nanos, which Apple recently recalled after almost a decade of faithful service due to some concern about their batteries catching fire. The recall promised that these ancient players, once returned to Apple, would be replaced with equally ancient refurbished first-generation Nanos… having decidedly less infernal batteries.

One can only surmise that Apple seriously underestimated the number of first-generation iPod Nanos still lurking in the drawers and glove compartments of the known universe, because by the time our old Nanos trudged through the recall process, the supply of replacement first-generation iPods had clearly been exhausted. We received shiny – and apparently factory-fresh – sixth-generation iPod Nanos instead.

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Motorola Xoom Tablet

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Tablets appear to be just this side of useless until you own one, after which they’re just this side of indispensable. Unquestionably the hot device of the past year, a tablet can become a walking web browser, a personal video player, a game console no one else has to know about, a two-way video communication terminal and the known universe’s least compact MP3 player… pretty much all at once.

In that you can download innumerable applications to a tablet, it can also be a lot of other things I haven’t thought of. You can largely make one into whatever you need it to be.

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Rogers Rocket Hub NetComm 3G10WVR-2

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There are a number of aspects of living in rural Canada that give city people pause. No one delivers pizza out this far. It takes three days of acting lessons and a nine month wait to get a gun to defend yourself against the wrath of coyotes – who don’t need a permit for their teeth. Few of the politicians who make the laws that govern rural inhabitants have ever been here. High speed internet is something everyone else has.

I could abide all these issues, save for the last.

For much of Canada that lies beyond the scope of pizza delivery, Internet access has traditionally been available either through dial-up, which doesn’t bear thinking about, or satellite broadband. The latter, while unquestionably preferable to a modem and a very, very long wait, is still far from affordable, far from reliable and far from quick.

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GE SmartWater Water Softener GXSF30H

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Hard water is something of a nuisance – it can fur your pipes, make you itch, cause your dishwasher to become the frequent recipient of profanity and physical abuse, prompt your faucets and fittings to corrode and increase your consumption of soap. Fortunately, it’s not something you really have to put up with.

While a complete understanding of the insidious nature of hard water would require that we’d all stayed awake during high school chemistry – ya, right – it’s arguably worth noting that its hardness derives from calcium, magnesium and other ions in your water. A water softener exchanges these troublesome little beasts with sodium ions, resulting in a cheerful splash of water from your household plumbing that’s responsible for none of the above. Soft water is a guilty pleasure.

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