Like a comfortable pair of old shoes or that favorite old robe you just will not give up, there are certain products for the home that have qualified for the honor of  “Can’t do without it” around Gadget Central.

They’re not necessarily new, but they are the best, as far as I am concerned, and I use these things all the time.  They are the products you might feel the same about.  I’ve done the research, so you can feel confident that if they perform well over time here, they’ll also do the job for you.

Here are some thoughts on a few of my favorites:

DSL – Why NOT have high speed Internet access?  If you are eligible to receive this service either from your local phone company or from a third party supplier, and if you use your computer for more than just occasional puttering around, DSL is a time saver and, like me, you’ll wonder how you ever did without it.  With deals as low as $27 per month in many areas of the country, you can either upgrade existing Internet access of dump your current provider.  As your phone provider or other provider in your area.  Ask your friends in the neighborhood about their service and which one they use and like.

Wireless Router – Connected to your DSL (or cable modem), this little device allows sharing of a single high speed Internet connection among all the computers, Macs and PCs, within your home or small office WITHOUT WIRES.  Put the desktop computers wherever you want and roam with your laptops, inside and outside. Get one that has the 802.11g standard, not 802.11b, for greater flexibility.  Today, almost 20 years after the original date of this article, I use Linksys Velop Tri-Band mesh routers.  I did not have luck with Microsoft or U.S. Robotics 802.11g wireless routers I tried.  If they don’t also work with my Macs, then I am not interested!  These, however, did not even want to work with my Windows PCs.  My new rule is that I don’t want to take my time to find the problem when there are other brands that work instantly right out of the box.  Linksys is also a very good brand I have used successfully and without problems.  I look for products that work well with Macs AND Microsoft Windows PCs, which all of them now do.

TiVo – What can I say?  I’m hooked.  My family loves it and we juts would not be without our TiVo DVR (Digital Video Recorder).  There are three in our family.  Once you get one, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without one and ask yourself why you waited so long to get it. Just wait until you see all that this little marvel can do!  Watch live TV and pause it when you want.  Play, fast forward and rewind recorded shows and much more.  Visit www.tivo.com for more info. Despite the cable boxes that perform similar duties today. I am still a fan and prefer my TiVo to any cable company DVR. Sure, TiVo costs more initially, but over time, TiVo costs less if you choose their lifetime programming option instead of the monthly plan.

DIRECTV – another must-have in my own family.  We have been subscribers since shortly after the service began.  WAAAAAAY better than cable, which I hate, and which I still have and pay for each month just to have it around for connecting to TVs for testing purposes. I particularly dislike the misleading cable TV ads that slam satellite services with their misinformation.  The best way to enjoy DIRECTV was with one of the combination DIRECTV with TiVo boxes.  What a pair!  Easy to use and fun for the family.  This box has two tuners to record two different programs on two different channels at the same time, and even watch a pre-recorded show all at the same time.  Local channels are available in many markets.  Information is at www.directv.com. Sadly, the marriage of these two companies is no more and TiVo with DirecTV boxes are no longer available. It sure was good while it lasted.

Philips Halogena and Compact Fluorescent lightbulbs – Wherever possible, use the compact fluorescent bulbs to save lots of energy.  DON’T buy those cheap Korean-made FEIT-brand bulbs.  I have always had poor experiences with them.  They do not last.  Choose Philips Marathon Super Long Life Compact Fluorescent bulbs (guaranteed FIVE years!).  For indoor and outdoor use, even a dimmable model.

However, where you want and need more light, and lots of it, with the pleasing look of bright, white light, choose Philips Halogena as I have done for years and years.  The GE-brand halogen bulbs are bigger and heavy, and do not last as long, in my experience, as Philips. They also are hotter to the touch, so much so that I have burned my fingers many times on them.  Philips Halogena bulbs are smaller than standard bulbs they replace.  Each bulb is guaranteed for two years!  I have found that inside our frosted fixtures I can use 60W clear Halogenas and get almost as much light as from the previous 100W frosted incandescent bulbs I used to use.  In my recessed cans, I use 75W instead of standard 100W bulbs, etc.  I also use Halogena specialty bulbs in my chandelier and outdoor coach lamps.  In fact, I can’t think of a single lamp, except for a few of the four-foot fluorescent tubes here at Gadget Central, that is not a Philips Compact Fluorescent, four-foot fluorescent or Halogena lamp, and it has been that way for many years.  I need to change bulbs very infrequently.  Visit https://www.lighting.philips.com/main/home for more information.

Every home and office needs a household lubricant.  Whether it’s to quiet a squeaky hinge, to make a door glide operate more smoothly, to lube a bike chain, put a drop on the car’s electric antenna, prevent rust or for any of the myriad things for which you would use such a lubricant, I use and recommend T-9 and the other products from a company called Boeshield at http://www.boeshield.com/ and priced from about $3.  It may not seem like much, but these products can make a difference in your life by doing the job better than you ever imagined. In doing so, you will think of other things to try this magic joice on.  Even Mrs. Gadget agrees this stuff is great!  Sure, WD40 smells good and it’s fairly cheap, but it does not do the job and last the way T-9 does the job and keeps working for very long time before the need to reapply.  Most of us do not know any better.  Now you do, so there is no excuse.  It is the ONLY household lubricant I use and recommend.  Use it once and you’ll be hooked. Hard to find at retailers, but worth the effort, or, just order direct as I do.  A little goes a long way.  I order as gifts to get my friends hooked.  Trust me on this!

Here’s the lowdown on cordless phones. The best, longest-range cordless phones are 900MHz Digital Spread Spectrum.  I have tested my own no-longer-produced Sanyo, Uniden and VTech models at distances up to several blocks away.  It’s incredible.  Unfortunately, you will be hard pressed to find this type of phone today.  The market has shifted.  It started with 2.4GHz models having truly crappy range but offering the ability to have multiple handsets placed throughout the house, each with its own charger base.  They had unmatched convenience.  Unfortunately, most would not work when taken outside AND 2.4GHz phones can interfere with wireless 802.11b/g routers, which also operate on 2.4GHz frequencies!  The newest cordless phones use 5.8GHz. These have enough range to get you out of the typical house and maybe to your nextdoor neighbor’s and some offer multiple handsets and two-line capability.  I use both Uniden and VTech 5.8GHz phones with excellent results.  For best results, get the ones that specify Digital Spread Spectrum.  On the other hand, if you just want a plain old cordless phone without much in the way of extras, look for 900MHz cordless models, either digital or analog.  Range will be good, clarity should be fine, but you might end up sharing frequencies with nearby neighbors if those neighbors also have one of these simple cordless models.  Prices on the 900MHz basic phones start at under $20.  Dual-handset 5.8 GHz models with answering machine start at about $150.  Without the answering machine, prices start at about $130

Computers are another staple of the High Tech home. I know I have detractors on this topic, but I don’t care.  My happiest times at the computer are spent with my Macintosh desktop or laptops.  I know, I show lots of Windows PCs on TV and I tell people how great they are. Well, many of them are really fine machines . . . for those who want a Windows PC.  BUT . . . I know what works best, and what works BEST is Apple’s Macintosh.  I have far fewer problems with any Mac than with any Windows PC.  I can’t tell you how many times I have had to call tech support for my Windows PCs versus my Macs.  I can’t tell you how many times I have called tech support for the Windows PCs only to have been told that I will have to re-install Windows, or, worse yet, have to reformat the hard drive (which loses ALL data) and then re-install Windows.  I have better things to do with my time than to do that.  On the other hand, on my recent vintage Macs, which all now run Mac OS X Panther, they just keep on working, day in, day out, rarely getting restarted.  The operating system is solid, and unlike Windows, it just runs and runs without any serious issues.  The world would be a better place if more people uses Macs, and it would take us all less time to maintain our computers if more of us used a Mac, not to mention all the money that would be saved because Macs need less care. I forced myself to stay away from my Macs for a few months just to be sure I was up to par on the Windows side.  It proved my point.  Even today, with all the new Windows PCs I get to test, I have had to send several back that just did not work, and they had to be replaced.  Not so with my Macs.  I still use Windows PCs every day, but if there is a choice, for most of you, please, buy a Mac.  It’s just a better machine and a better operating system, and don’t listen to those who tell you otherwise.  What really sets my hair on end is listening to those so-called “experts” on the radio and on TV, who answer the question of which computer to buy with a statement that includes not one word about the Mac as a choice.  These people do not deserve to be on the air.  They are providing erroneous information to the masses, and the masses believe them!  Their answer should be based upon usage.  Some people want a recommendation for a Windows PC.  However, when asked for a recommendation without a pre-stated preference, the appropriate thing to do is to ask about its usage, and then make a suggestion whether it is appropriately for a Mac or a Windows PC.  The truth is that most people would be better off with a Mac.  For all the things we do on our computers every day, with Apple’s operating system and all the software made for the Mac, it’s more fun and rewarding and far less crazy-making using a Mac.  Just ask me if there are more questions, and I will be happy to respond.  Existing Mac users, if your hardware is up to it, switch to Panther, the newest operating system, and also get the new $50 iLife suite, which is a steal at twice the price.

Another favorite in my High Tech Home is my portable CC Radio from my friends at the C. Crane Company, easily the very best catalog retailer.  I think every home should have one.  It is, quite simply, the best for the money.  If there were a better one, I’d tell you.  Everything they (and I) say about it is true, and it is well worth the price of $164.95, including shipping in the US. www.ccradio.com or call 1-800-522-8863.  My bedside clock radio is a CCRadio Plus, and I also have one for use around the house and when I travel by car.  I take it with me into my hotel room or to relatives homes I visit because I know I will receive stations other radios simply will not get.  It’s also the perfect emergency radio.  Normally plugged in, it will also operate up to an amazing 250 hours on one set of batteries!  It receives outstanding AM, FM, TV audio (channels 2-13), Weather bands and it features Weather Alert, which automatically alerts you to pending weather emergencies in your area.  It’s just the best!

Another item no High Tech home should be without is a high-quality, idiot-proof knife sharpener that will protect your knives and not destroy them.  I have a lot of money invested in quality knives as well as some really cheap ones.  I want all of them to be as sharp as possible so I can use them effectively and effortlessly.  A sharp knife is a safe knife.  The brand I have relied upon for more than 25 years is Chef’sChoice.  The sharpener I use and recommend to everyone is the Chef’s Choice model 15.  There is nothing else like it.  You can’t make a mistake and you can’t ruin the knife’s blade.  Buy it, use it and you will have it for many, many years.  Few kitchen items are as important as this.  Once you become accustomed to the sharpness of your cutlery, you will wonder how you ever did without the Model 15.  Available at many fine cooking stores in malls, and also online.   While visiting their Website, check out their line of fine cutlery and other products, each is best-in-class.

Are you tired of playing the game of remote control roulette?  You know, you‘ve got a remote control for the TV, VCR, DVD player, satellite receiver with TiVo, audio receiver, and maybe more, and you wish you could use just ONE remote control to do all that you need that is powerful AND easy to use.  Well, you can!  Are you afraid to even try and turn on all that fancy equipment that is supposed to provide a spectacular home theater experience because it’s all too confusing?  Stop all the fighting over remotes and what does what with what equipment.  Have I hit a chord???  Have I made my point???  The product, the BEST there is, bar none, is called the Harmony Remote, which I first saw just about three years ago when they first came to the market.  I have been a fan ever since, and now they are even better than ever through dedication to continuous improvement and development.  There are other solutions for more money, nothing much for less, but none, in my opinion, are as simple, easy to set up and easy to use.  First, you select the model that does the job you need.  Then, after receiving your Harmony Remote (mine is the SST-768, because it controls all my stuff, including DIRECTV with TiVo), the fun begins.  Load software for either Mac or PC, then all the setup is accomplished over the Internet by direct hookup from the Remote to the computer using the supplied USB cable.  After setting up a free member account, you tell Harmony about your products, the makes and models of your equipment, and how you use each piece in combination with the other, as well as where you get your programming (satellite cable, antenna), Harmony sends all the info back through the computer to your remote and programs it for you.  It’s easy to update from then on, just by plugging in your remote to the computer and logging onto your Harmony user account.  Ingenious!  Disconnect from the computer and it’s ready to go.  Your Harmony remote does all the work and all the switching for you in a way no other remote can.  End the clutter and confusion and get one for yourself and encourage your friends to end their remote clutter and confusion with their own Harmony remote.  When it’s time to watch a DDV, simply scroll to the icon that says watch DVD, press the scroll wheel and watch the magic as all the equipment turns on with all the proper settings as if by magic.  Do the same for all the other system functionality.  Harmony remotes are $199 and $299, depending upon the model you need. More info is at www.harmonyremote.com. They’re very nice and responsive people, too, passionate about the continued excellence of their products.

Instead of just a kitchen faucet or even one of those fancy and higher-priced pull-out spouts for rinsing, Dishmaster Model 2000 has a high spout, a single handle water control and a pull-out wand with a sturdy brush which delivers clear water for rinsing or dishwashing suds at the push of a button from a reservoir under the sink.  Dishmaster can be used to wash your dishes or for pre-wash and rinse before loading them into the automatic dishwasher.  My family loves our Dishmaster 2000!

While we are on the subject of home theater . . . Many TVs come equipped with some sort of premium sound, but it is not the same as having your own dedicated home theater system.  It is not nearly as expensive as it used to be to get something that sounds quite good.  Sure, you can get mega-thousand dollar systems, but you may be surprised to learn just how inexpensive it is to get kickin’ sound that will make your movie and even regular TV programming experience extremely satisfying.  Once you decide upon the display you want, as large as is practical for your space and budget, sound is next.  There are many manufacturers from which to choose.  The ones I have relied upon for many, many years are Kenwood and Pioneer.  I have some older Pioneer audio/video receivers that still perform beautifully, as well a pretty new Kenwood.  For example, you can get a new Kenwood receiver, model VR7060, with all the toys and the surround decoders I like, such as the latest Dolby and DTS sound, for as little as a list price of $400.  From Pioneer I like the $365 list price VSX-D814-K/S

It’s all in there for whatever most of us could possibly need.  Speakers?  You’re on your own.  Get what sounds good to YOU and don’t let someone sell you something you have not listened to. Here, again, you do not need to spend a fortune. If you can’t hear the difference, don’t spend the money.  If you can, then, more expensive speakers may sound better to you, so spend more.  There are on-wall solutions and in-wall solutions as well as free-standing speakers.  Do what works for you.  Whatever you do, get one or more subwoofers to handle those low, feel-it-in-your-gut sounds.  You will want at least one front center channel and two front speakers.  You will also want two rear channel speakers.  For better sound and even more of it, more realistically, get one or to side speakers for the left and the right and then you will be able to immerse and envelop yourself in the glorious sounds of your favorite DVD movies and concerts as well as from many TV shows and movies on TV.  Read and learn just a little about the differences between 5.1, 6.1 and 7.1 surround sound.  Be sure to get a receiver capable of the sound you expect.  As a rule, most of the receivers in this price class feature the full complement of DTS and Dolby surround modes, both of which I encourage you to explore and sample. DO NOT just leave the settings as they come out of the box. There IS a difference and most of you will have a preference of one or more, depending upon the source material.  If you don’t experiment, you will be depriving yourself and your family of truly remarkable experiences.  A word about the other brands . . . I am sure there are wonderful products from many, many other brands, but it is not possible for me to gain experience with them all. I suggest you look at the specifications and capabilities of the brands and models mentioned here, above and below these prices, and use that info to compare to other brands of interest.  Don’t forget, many video games are also encoded with incredible surround sound.  I know whatever you get, you are in for an experience you will not soon forget and you will discover new-found exciting audio and video entertainment at home!  By the way, both DTS and Dolby surround sound systems are available in many new cars!

Did you know that you can improve the efficiency of your heating and air conditioning system with the use of Vornado room fans?  I’ve used them for many, many years.  Vornado is the brand I recommend.  If you want to move air, do what I do and use Vornado.  Their unique design creates a vortex of air like no other.  Quieter than others, too.  Well made and well guaranteed, from five years to lifetime, depending upon the model.  Priced from about $40.

This is the keep-your-cool on the job $100 3-speed Vornado Air Maxx™ Heavy Duty Shop Fan that works as an “air exchange” unit.  It delivers a distinctive, high-velocity air bean for cooling, exhausting, air pumping and power drying – perfect for any kind of workshop or hobby area, or even when you’re painting, stripping furniture, or scrapbooking with glues, etc.  Packaged compactly, and dressed in cool industrial gray and yellow, it can be mounted on-wall or placed on a bench, on the floor or out-of-the-way.  Has a carrying handle and 10 ft. grounded cord. Features a nearly indestructible polypropylene body and durable steel base. Inside, it’s loaded with its own custom (self-manufacturer) ball bearing motor that never needs oiling and is dust resistant.  I find it so easy to pick up and carry around that I use this one quite often just to keep the room where I am a little cooler by bringing in fresh, cooler air in the afternoon and early evening when it’s cooler outside but still warm from the daytime sun inside.  Lifetime warranty.  It is found best-priced at Amazon.

 

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