Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Limited Chocolate Intake Lowers Heart Disease Risk

More good news about chocolate: one to two servings of dark chocolate per week may lower your risk of heart disease by up to 32%, according to a recent Harvard study.

The study, published this month in Circulation: Heart Failure, a journal published by the American Heart Association, by researchers form the Beth Israel Medical Center at Harvard and from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, focused on studying links between chocolate intake and heart disease. It surveyed data gathered over a 9-year period from almost 32,000 Swedish women between the ages of 48 and 83, and concluded that subjects with an intake of one to two weekly servings of between 19 and 30 grams saw a reduction of 32% in the risk of heart failure, while those with one o three monthly servings of the same size saw a 26% reduction.

At the same time, larger amounts seemed counterproductive: subjects who had 3 to 6 servings per week saw an increase of 9% in heart failure risk, while subjects with at least a daily serving saw a 23% higher risk of heart failure. Dr. Murray Mittleman, lead researcher of the study, hypothesizes that the lack of a protective effect among women eating chocolate every day is probably due to the additional calories gained from eating chocolate instead of more nutritious foods.

Dr. Linda Van Horn, spokesperson for the American Heart Association, cautions that Swedish chocolate contains, on average, a higher percentage of cocoa than American chocolate (30% for Swedish dark chocolate vs. 15% for US dark chocolate, according to Elizabeth Mostofsky, the paper’s first author).  Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum,  also an AHA spokesperson, recommends that patients look for higher cocoa content -- 70% or greater -- when choosing chocolate.

Multiple studies in the past 15 years have shown heart benefits associated with chocolate intake, in particular for dark chocolate. We published here the results of a particularly interesting one, which concluded that daily servings averaging 7.5 grams per day was shown to be associated  with a 27% decrease in the risk of heart failure and a 48% decrease in stroke risk.

Our conclusion - chocolate may be good for you - but only in moderation...

Want to read more about it? Try the study abstract, the New York Times, MedPage Today, or The Local (Swedish news in English).

The study

Thursday, August 26, 2010

ConsumerPla.net Upcoming Review Program

Some of you have contacted us mentioning that we have been posting less frequently over the past couple of weeks. This is absolutely true - but we have a good reason. We are in the midst of preparing some major reviews, with very significant data analysis, which we hope you will all enjoy and share. Some of them will be quantitative reviews that have never been done before. We expect that will truly allow you to make critical equipment picks, with a good certainty as to the reliability of the equipment, to a degree that is not possible today.

While we don't want to tell all right away, we can tell you that in the next few weeks you will see some interesting data and reviews in home computing equipment, home health equipment, computer set-ups, ergonomics, and outdoors. So come back soon!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Best Quick Release Front Handlebar Bike Basket

Quick Release Front Handlebar Bike Basket: Wouldn't it be great to be able to jump on your bike, ride to the supermarket, do a few quick errands, hang the shopping bag on the handlebar, and ride back? This is exactly for the quick release front handlebar bike basket allows you to do.

The quick release handlebar bike basket is fastened to a permanently mounted, but very light, bracket on your handlebar.  When you need to go for a quick shopping trip, you mount the basket on your handlebar mount and ride to the store. You typically disengage the quick release basket by pulling on the handle, then do your shopping with your basket, reengage the basket on the handlebar, and bingo - you are riding back home with your groceries.

Where a quick release basket does not fit: these baskets do not work with road racing handlebars, which leave too narrow a space in the middle for the baskets to fit. They may not work either if your handlebar is too low on the fork, because they need a minimum of depth. Finally, they will not fit kids' bicycles.

What makes for the right quick release handlebar bike basket

The mount fits your bike. You want to make sure of that first... Be sure to check the paragraph above to validate that your bike fits the general case. make sure to read the basket and mount dimensions prior to purchase. It might be a god idea to buy this item at a bike shop where you can make sure that it will fit your bike.

Secure mount. The basket needs to stay on its mount through bumps and potholes without jumping off.

Easy release. The basket should release and remount easily on the bike.

Weight. The mounting hardware should be very light (since it remains on your bike at all times). The basket itself should not be too heavy.

Sturdiness. The basket must be bale to take heavy contents without bending or breaking

Reliability. The basket and its mounting hardware need to last multiple years without breaking or corroding

Rattling. The basket should make minimal noise while you are riding on irregular terrain.

Installation Issues

All equipment that needs to be mounted on a bike may create installation problems, because bike frames have different geometries and sizes, and because mounted components are all different. It is quite possible that the basket model you pick can be mounted very easily - in fact, it is likely. But there is still a possibility that the way your bike is put together requires some adjustments or extra parts. If you have any doubt, your best bet is to buy the basket you want from a local bike store, and/or ask for the equipment to be mounted for you. It will only cost you a few dollars and make the process very easy. Use your local bike store!

These models did not make the grade

The Pyramid Pyramid Lift Off Front Basket has good reviews, but too many users complain that the basket easily falls off on the bumps when empty. The Bell Quick Release Handlebar Basket is good looking and made of fine mesh, but the mounting hardware is plastic and will not withstand enough stress. The Biria Quick Release basket falls easily, and the plastic bracket also lacks structural strength. The Sunlite Stainless Steel Quick Release has no reviews, and, we feel, is inferior to the mesh bottom basket version by Sunlite. The MTS Quick Release has few reviews, one of which experienced early gear breakage. The Eleven81 looks good, but has few reviews, and but the mounting hardware appears to let the basket jump off easily. The Schwinn Quick Release has no reviews and appears to have a fragile mount. The Topeak Front Basket, also quick release, has a good number of pans in its reviews due to its poor mounting system. The Sunlite Liftoff Basket has fairly good reviews but does not appear to be fully secure on its mount while riding. The Wald 133 has good reviews, but the Wald 3133 uses the same basket and a better mounting bracket.

The Best Quick Release Front Handlebar Bike Baskets

#3 Sunlite Mesh Bottom Bicycle Basket. The $16 Sunlite Mesh Bottom Bicycle Basket  has a solid 1,165 in3of capacity, with 13 1/2" x 9 7/8" x 9.5" dimensions. It is made of powder-coated steel wire, with a mesh bottom.

It is easy to install and fits most bicycles: "installs very quickly", "easy to install", "comes with foam pads in place to protect the handle bars (and make it more secure) as well as a Velcro strap with some padding to hold it against the steering column","easy to mount." While most users were able to mount it easily, one user was not able to make it fit: "just does not fit the handlebars of my bike." It remains reasonably secure while riding, but sometimes comes off the mount: "stay put even over bumps", "can pop loose when going over a bump and it's empty."

The basket is sturdy, and the fit and finish and general quality are good: "very sturdy & well-constructed", "rugged and easily handle 10 lbs or more", "a lot more durable and sturdy compared to some of the other baskets I've researched and the vinyl finish will certainly keep the scratches away." The mesh bottom is quite useful to put items directly into the basket: "mesh bottom keeps things from falling through." The basket is spacious and fits a regular size grocery bag: "two 1/2 gallons of milk, on top of other miscellaneous items", " it was also important that my 5 pound Pomeranian fit in the basket", "will hold the standard paper grocery bag with room to spare."

The Sunlite Basket gets 89% positive reviews but, with only 19 reviews (across several listings on Amazon), likely error may be as high as 14%. Because of the small number of reviews available, we are recommending the Sunlite basket with reservations.

#2 Wald 3133 Q-R Bolt-on. The $25 Wald 3133 Q-R Bolt-On front handlebar bike basket has 1,240 in3 of total capacity and 14.5" x 9.5" x 9" dimensions. It is made, in the USA, of powder-coated steel wire. There is a shallower compact model of the same type, the Wald 114, with 845 in3of capacity and 11.75" x 8" x 9" dimensions. The quick-release mechanism is all metal.

Reviewers find the basket and mount sturdy and well built: "sturdy and practical", "all metal basket, all metal mount", "can (and has) taken some abuse", "very sturdy", "heavy duty", "well made, sturdy." The basket cannot fall easily: "only way that basket is coming off is if the handle is up and the basket is lifted off the hooks." Capacity is good: "3 quarts of milk/juice and a few other things", "capable of holding 1 full grocery bag." A user suggests wrapping the handle in cloth to make it more comfortable to shop with. Another user notes that, if you are going to take it in the store, two handles would be better, a criticism that applies to all quick release baskets.

A small number of reviewers complain that the mount does not stop the basket from falling, and that it can be hard to release as well: "could not get it to stop falling on the wheel", "frequently falls onto my wheel", "basket will not stay on unless you go to extraordinary lengths",  "incredibly difficult for me to pull the basket out of the carrier."  As usual with bike equipment, while most users had no problems with installation, a number of positive  reviews mention some difficulties in installing the hardware: "Installation was very easy", "installed it in about 10 seconds", "mounted with only a little difficulty", "hard time getting it on the bike."

The Wald 3133 gets excellent reviews, with 90% positive ratings (46/51 on Amazon and REI) and a likely error under 9%. We really like the sturdy frame and good mount, and the good number of reviews. We would prefer some metal mesh on the basket so as to allow the user to put some items directly into the basket. In fact, Wald actually sells liners to fit into the 3133 basket. The Wald 3133 basket is an excellent basket and we are recommending it.

#1 Wald 933 Front Mesh Quick release. The $27 Wald 933 Front Mesh Quick Release Bicycle Basket has 1,140 in3 of capacity, and 13" x 9.75" x 9" dimensions. It is made of mesh mounted on powder-coated steel wire: "nice tight diamond mesh and has a tough black vinyl coating." The quick-release mechanism is all metal. While the basket itself is made in China, the rest is US made.

Users like how sturdy the basket is: "very strong", "frame and basket are very sturdy", "amazingly (but not surprisingly) very sturdy", "parts are well made and high quality", "Well constructed", "sturdy basket." The mounting mechanism (the same as for the Wald 3133) gets kudos: "comes with a mounting bracket that attaches to the handle bars by 2 split clamps. It has an angled brace on the bottom that rests on the handle bar tube to prevent the clamps from slipping and tipping the basket out of position", "removal/locking method is quick and dependable", "simple yet elegant mount."

The basket locks in place when the handle is down.  The system worked well for most users, although a few reported some problems with bumps: "basket does not come off when I ride my mountain bike over curbs or rough terrain", "when I hit a big bump, the handle jumps and dismounts the basket. [...] So I put a thin rubber band around the handle through the mesh and locked it down with a carabiner", "basket is held securely in place, no jostling loose", "basket easily attaches securely to the mounting and seems very secure while I am riding", , "the handy would pop up every now and then causing it to almost fall off. An easy solution to that is to bring a twist-tie with you and tie down the handy to the basket while it is empty. ",

The basket releases easily: "easy to release", "basket mounts and dismounts seamlessly", "[most important] issue for me is ease of use because of the arthritis: I have absolutely no problems releasing, reattaching or using it", "When you lift the arm, the arm disengages. My 6-yr old knows how to operate it." One user report rattles: "it rattled when empty. A zip tie solved this easily." The capacity is good: " good size", "I have loaded several pounds worth of groceries -- and the ride is smooth", "fairly large", "big enough to carry all that I want." The mesh sides and bottom really help: "You can put the smallest things in it and they won't fall out. It doesn't need any liners compared to other larger wired basket",

As usual for bikes, some people find it easier to install than others, although the overall feedback is that installation is in general easy: "easy to install on my bike", "it was very easy to mount the bracket to the handle bars","very easy to put on.", "instructions were relatively easy", "it wasn't that difficult to install on my bicycle", "mounting system was quick and easy to install (after pushing aside the brake cables)", "easily installed onto my wife's bicycle", "may work on some bikes, but not all. I solved this problem by using heavy duty zip ties to attach the piece and it works great", " I have an old bike so I needed to make a few adjustments", "I needed to be creative in my assembly because my bike had several cables that prohibited normal installation."

The Wald 933 gets excellent reviews, with 91% positive ratings, and a likely error under 10% (32/35 on Amazon). It is a basket of excellent quality and very good functionality. Because of the mesh sides and bottom, we are giving it #1 rating over the Wald 3133. Recommended.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Best Front Handlebar Bike Baskets

Front Handlebar Bike Baskets: do you regularly need to carry rather heavy gear on your bike, on a bike route or where quick handling of the contents is important? Then you need handlebar bike baskets. If you only need to use them from time to time, and if what you carry is reasonably light, say, 10 lbs or less, then get a quick release basket: we already reviewed them here. If, on the other hand, you really need to use them often and you are carrying significant weight, then you need permanently mounted baskets.

What makes for the right front handlebar bike baskets

Fit. The mount must fit your bike - that is the first thing to establish:-) There are broad categories of bikes which will not work with front baskets: baskets do not work with road racing handlebars, which leave too narrow a space in the middle for the baskets to fit. They may not work either if your handlebar is too low on the fork, because they need a minimum of depth. Finally, they will not fit kids' bicycles. If your bike appears to be of a type that will fit baskets, there still are two primary possible problems. Your handlebar must fit the handlebar mount, and the geometry of your bike must be appropriate for the length of the struts that support the front basket. Make sure to check the basket and mount dimensions prior to purchase. It might be a god idea to buy this item at a bike shop where you can make sure that it will fit your bike.

Sturdiness. The basket must be bale to take heavy contents without bending or breaking.

Reliability. The basket and its mounting hardware need to last multiple years without breaking or corroding.

Weight. The basket and mounting hardware should be reasonably light, since they remains on your bike at all times.

Installation Issues

All equipment that needs to be mounted on a bike may create installation problems, because bike frames have different geometries and sizes, and because mounted components are all different. Permanently mounted front baskets can actually be tricky to mount for some bike models. If you have any doubt, your best bet is to buy the basket you want from a local bike store, and/or ask for the equipment to be mounted for you. It will only cost you a few dollars and make the process very easy. Use your local bike store!

Danger: Bike Balance

Because of increased weight high and in front (when carrying gear in your basket), your bike will balance differently. Ride slowly until you have been able to experiential with the new balance - the bike will behave differently, and it is easy to crash. Your bike will also tumble more easily when self standing.

The models did not make the grade

The Sunlite Standard Deep Bicycle Basket has few reviews. The Avenir Adjustable Front Basket has none. The Cycle Force front Bicycle Basket has few reviews, an unusually complex mounting system, and no installation instructions. The Avenir Wicker Bicyle Basket is cute, but its velcro attachment system lacks versatility and limits the number of models that it can attach to - too bad! The Nirve Wire Basket has few reviews and a doubtful mounting system.

The best front bike baskets

It turns out that the models that qualified are all Wald baskets. Wald is a US company which does most of its manufacturing in the US, and has a long track record manufacturing quality components for the biking industry. Wald baskets are made of powder-coated wire with squares of approximately 1.5" x 1.5". All models are very similar, with same basket construction and mounting brackets, with the exception of the largest model, the 157, which has different mounting brackets.

All baskets are reviewed as sturdy and well built: "Wald baskets are the best I've seen, and I've seen lots of good baskets", "welds are solid and [...] smooth", "great quality all around", "product is very well made", "quality materials mean it will last forever", "good quality, strong and durable", "very sturdy." The weight is moderate: "surprised how light the box was when I picked it up", "light enough to not make too big a difference when unloaded."

As for all bike gear, some users have easier installation  than others, but installation is in general easy: "easy to mount", "installation was straightforward", "bike had a different type front wheel that made it tricky to get on",  "easy to install but not all the hardware is included", "did not fit my bicycle", "took me like 15 minutes to install it", "Installation was a snap [...] The only thing remotely difficult was trying to find the best routing for the shifter and brake cables." However, there are some possible incompatibilities. Struts can sometimes be too short: "it won't fit most bikes unless you make extensions of around 6 to 8 inches." Handlebar fit also can be a problem: "Most handlebars these days have a larger diameter where mounted to the stem and then tapper off towards the ends. This does not work with this basket [bracket]." Finally, the brackets do not work with quick release wheels: "legs that came with it can't be used with quick release front tires, which wasn't mentioned in the product description, and if it was, it's pretty hidden! you can buy special attachments at your local bike shop." All these issues can be resolved by your bike shop - but it will be easier if you talk to them prior to buying the basket.

The Wald permanent front basket product line, as a whole, carries excellent reviews, with 92% positive ratings, and a likely error under 6% (73/79 on Amazon).  However, several reviews specifically identify customer support issues with one of the suppliers on Amazon, Niagara Cycles. On that basis, it would be best to deal with other suppliers.

Rather than rank all Wald models separately, we will describe their differences, as their construction is so similar.

The $20 Wald 137 is the smallest of the lot, with a capacity of 675 in3, and 15" x 10" x 4.75" dimensions. Be sure to check the dimensions carefully, as this basket is shallow and small. The handlebar mounting brackets may not work with large diameter, tapered handlebars. There is a small risk that the struts may be too small to fit your bike.

The $15 Wald 135 is the next largest, and carries the exact same size as the popular quick release 3133 model, i.e. 1,240 in3 capacity and 14.5" x 9.5" x 9" dimensions. The handlebar mounting brackets may not work with large diameter, tapered handlebars. There is a small risk that the struts may be too small to fit your bike.

The $27 Wald 139  is the next size up, with a capacity of 1,404 in3, and 18" x 13" x 6" dimensions. The handlebar mounting brackets may not work with large diameter, tapered handlebars. There is a small risk that the struts may be too small to fit your bike.

Finally, the $40 Wald 157 is the giant model, with a capacity of 2,205 in3, and 21" x 15" x 7" dimensions. The Wald 157 is the traditional newspaper road basket:-) It has a very large capacity and sturdiness to boot. The 157 has special handlebar mounting brackets which may be more adaptable than the other brackets.

The Wald permanently mounted front handlebar bike baskets are solid and sturdy gear with a long track record. There are some possible incompatibilities due to bike geometry and options. On that basis, they are recommended with reservations. If in doubt, get your local bike store to order and mount the equipment - it will save you both time and aggravation, and will only cost you a few dollars.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Wald 482 Rear Bike Baskets Review: Cool Gear

The $33 Wald 582 Folding Rear Bicycle Grocery Baskets are some of those unique items which fill a need that nobody knew existed until they arrived on the market. These unusual rear baskets fold down when not in use to get rid of the most of the superfluous bulk, a feature which is particularly valuable as you put the bike away: "folding option comes in real handy when parking the bike in the garage." The only competition is represented by the Sunlite Rear Folding Baskets, which have also gathered some good reviews, albeit in very few numbers so far, and which may have reliability problems with the hinge components.

The Wald 582 rear baskets, like other rear baskets, need an existing bike rack. The capacity for the pair is 1,570 in3, and the dimensions are 12.75" x 7.25" x 8.5" for each basket. They are made of powder-coated (if colored) steel wire, in squares of approximately 1.5" x 1.5". The weight, for the pair, is 5.5 lbs: "they're quite heavy", "heavy", "they're quite heavy", "nice but heavy", "I wish it was lighter. It weighs more then a the plastic milk crate I was using before." They can be used with heavy amounts of content without unbalancing the bike: "I keep expecting to have problems with balance and the strain of lugging 40lbs of food, but, so far my trips have been pure JOY", "even with bags of flour and canned goods I have not felt like I was overloading them on weight", "you can carry quite a heavy load in the basket and it is still stable."

Users feel that they are versatile, in particular for the bike commuter: "I can choose to fold one out if it gets too hot to wear my jacket or stop by the store on the way home." Each basket is sized to receive a full grocery paper bag: "will hold two full size grocery bags or one bag & 1/2 dozen bottles of wine", "easily take a large paper grocery bag each", "grocery bags fit nicely","each basket holds a full shopping bag of groceries", "each basket will hold 1 paper sack or 1 "green" bag."

Reviewers are pleased with the sturdiness: "used them for years and have given them as gifts", "very sturdy/strong", "strong and functional", "baskets are sturdy and provide ample space for your belongings", "baskets are certainly durable and should last the life of the bike", "quite sturdy", "feel sturdy." The looks do not get unanimity: "serviceable but not elegant. I would recommend the black ones. The silver ones are pretty garish and ugly looking","black baskets definitely look nicer."

As usual for bike gear, installation is easier for some than others: "took about 10 minutes to install on the bike, but about 1 hour of tinkering to get it perfect so I wouldn't hit my feet on the baskets","a little bit difficult to secure to the back rack","in order to attach the baskets [...] I had to purchase longer bolts to properly secure the braces", "mounted easily", "easy to assemble", "took some ingenuity to install, and quite a bit of time. The clips provided for attaching it to the bike rack were not quite the right size and I ended up bending and twisting them to make them work", "had to add longer screws though, as the ones they supply were not long enough to secure it to my rear rack", " installation in general is a fiddly affair calling for thin, nimble fingers. tools with long handles and magnetic tips would also help, not impossible for a regular person to do, but you may be in for about half an hour of cussing at it", "I am a VERY Mechanical person and could not install these baskets", "took less than ten minutes to install both baskets", "easy to install", "installing was not too hard, but for my rack the screws were a little short so I simply bought longer ones from the hardware store ($0.15 each)."

Many users mention needing to mount the baskets further back on the rack to clear your heels: "must mount towards the back of rack for pedaling clearance ", "you have to mount these off center or you kick them with your feet when you pedal", "don't install them centered but back about 2 inches on your rack." No locking hardware is provided, which is a mistake for a bike: " included mounting hardware uses regular nuts instead of nylocs or lock washers. Check them often or get some nylocs at the hardware store, because this is not a vibration friendly setup", "really should include lock nuts or washers", "hardware isn't locking hardware so I will have to get a new set."

Some users complain about rattling: "I use zip ties to attach the Wald baskets to my bike, because with the included hardware they tend to rattle", "they do rattle a bit, but that's the result of them being a collapsible metal basket", "when in use they make sounds not unlike the clatter of a shopping cart." Users recommend the use of bungee cord of netting to make sure not to lose any of the content: "I would make sure you have bungee cords or nets available to hold things in that risk bouncing out during rides over uneven pavement or brick/cobblestone surfaces"

The open and close easily for most, but a few have problems: "once they're on, they're super easy to open and collapse", "I have a difficult time unlocking the hook to open the basket", "the little clip that holds the basket shut just didn't want to move at all. I had to wiggle it back and forth with pliers, then worked a bit of lubricant into it to get it to move freely enough that I could snap the thing open and shut comfortably." Reviewers feel that the baskets create less theft potential than panniers:" they don't scream 'steal me' the way a set of panniers would", "you don't have to worry about them being stolen like with regular panniers."

The Wald 582 gathers excellent reviews, with 94% positive ratings and a likely error of up to 4% (125/133 on Amazon). Users are very pleased about the unusual capabilities, and gush about the functionality. The baskets are sturdy, long lasting and well sized, but heavy. They can be used with heavy content without trouble. There are some installation issues for some owners, which could be easily solved by the local bike store - if you have any doubt, ask them to install the baskets for you. W have no problem strongly recommending these Wald 582 baskets for anyone for whom weight is not a critical issue.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Guided Ergonomic Chair/ Keyboard Choice

Picking Ergonomic Equipment Easily

Ergonomic office chairs, ergonomic desks, ergonomic keyboard and mice - is there a way to pick them easily and without having to do much research?

In May, we published an exhaustive series reviewing ergonomic online stores. The winners were outstanding stores for ergonomic furniture and ergonomic accessories, with a great amount of choice in their inventory, and a very large amount of product and information data, allowing the customer to make an informed choice. There were, however, some stores who focused on offering a very easy picking process to customers, rather than giving them an abundance of research information. Where do you go then, when you want to solve an ergonomic problem quickly without doing extensive research? We found three stores which provide you with a quick and guided process to pick ergonomic equipment.

#3 Ergo4me (chairs only). Ergo4me is the direct marketing arm of the manufacturing company for Bodybilt, ErgoGenesis, already reviewed here. By selecting a "Build my chair" button in many places on the front page or on many other pages, you are led to two builders, a basic builder, which takes about one minute and proposes a chair, or an advanced builder which takes about 5 minutes and builds a custom chair. With the description of that custom chair, you can call ErgoGenesis, and ask for a quote along with options. Bodybilt makes good ergonomic chairs, and the average price of these custom chairs, according to Ergo4me, is approximately $850 - although the ones we built were higher. Perfect Back Chair is another site operated by ErgoGenesis in the same manner - there are several such sites.

#2 The Human Solution. The Human Solution, reviewed here, was already #2 in our ergonomic furniture store review, and #1 in our ergonomic accessories store review. It scores high again in this category, by providing two thorough self assessment evaluations, one for chairs, and one for keyboard trays. Both of them are PDF documents, that are to be downloaded, filled (it takes approximately 10 minutes), then sent back to the store. They are then evaluated by the store's ergonomic advisers (i..e ergonomics trained sales people), who come back to you with a proposal and discuss your choices. It is possible to get instant advice through chat (or phone) as well, rather than waiting for the result of these assessments. Because these sales people are agnostic with respect to brand, and because the store carries a very broad choice of brands, we like this process a lot, and feel that you get, at once, the benefit of professional advice with the brad range of products from a solid retailer. The sales people you talk to can also dispense advice on other issues such as footrest, keyboard, pointing devices etc., although the self assessments are focused on chairs and keyboard trays.

#1 Ergonomics Simplified. Ergonomics Simplified, already reviewed here, opens up as a clean site with a simple interface. It provides you with three primary guided self-evaluation. The most significant is the interactive evaluation, available from the upper right hand corner of the screen, which takes you through a 10 minute questionnaire and ergonomic guide, which also dispenses good advice on the way, and ends with a diagnostic of all your ergonomic problems, along with equipment proposals to alleviate them, goling from chairs to keyboard trays, keyboard, tracking devices, and footrest - very broad. You also have access to simple chair and keyboard choosers, which, based on a much simpler set of facts about you, validate which chairs or keyboards might be best for you. We really like the site and the evaluation, because the diagnosis and proposals are automated on line, and therefore instantaneous, and because the advice provided goes beyond chairs and keyboard trays, across all accessories that the assessment is programmed to cover, which is a broad range. We also like the fact that the store will put you in touch with local ergonomic consultants to evaluate your set-up in situ as needed - a nice touch, beyond what other stores provide. We have two significant concerns, however. The chair choices, and the range of options for some accessories, are limited, though - are they really broad enough to encompass all your needs? And - Ergonomics Simplified is the only store where you cannot reach the store on the phone, which we find inadequate - it would be better to raise prices and allow for a more complete range of interactions. Yet, despite these significant weaknesses, we find the broad range of automated diagnostics a compelling choice with great usability and immediate satisfaction online.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Topeak Explorer Bike Rack Review: Cool Gear

Best Bike Luggage Rack: Cool Gear 

What is the best bike rack? For those of us who can commute and ride their bikes at the same time, there is nothing like the freedom and the exercise that this combines! The same is true when you can go shopping on your bike. And - a couple of days camping while touring on your bike can be a great week-end:-) But, in all cases, unless you are willing to carry a large backpack, you need a good bike rack.

What makes for the right bike rack

Universal mount. The rack needs to be able to mount on your bike, reagardless of the model - it should be as universal possible, given the wide variability in bike frames.

Sturdiness. The rack must be sturdy enough to carry large weights through difficult road surfaces, bad trails and potholes.

Reliability. It must be reliable enough to last many years without damage.

Weight. It should be as light as possible, without shortchanging either sturdiness or reliability.

Light and reflector mount. The rack should allow for mounting a red light and/or reflector.

Compatible with panniers.  It should be easy to mount panniers (carrying baskets for bikes) with the rack.

Good reviews. The rack should show good reviews from its present, and, if possible, long term users.

Installation Issues

All equipment that needs to be mounted on a bike may create installation problems, because bike frames have different geometries and sizes, and because mounted components are all different. It is quite possible that the rack model you pick can be mounted very easily - in fact, it is likely. But there is still a possibility that the way your bike is put together requires some adjustments or extra parts. If you have any doubt, your best bet is to buy the rack you want from a local bike store, and/or ask for the equipment to be mounted for you. It will only cost you a few dollars and make the process very easy. Use your local bike store!

The Best Bike Rack

The $28 Topeak Explorer Bike Rack is a perfect illustration of the right bike rack. It gets the best reviews we could find for a bike rack, with 88% positive ratings (110/125 at Amazon and REI) and a likely error below 6%. Users like the sturdiness: "strong product", "very well made", "feels super sturdy", "very solid and look good too", "very satisfied with the quality, it was very well built","very solid." The weight, at 1.38 lb (625 g), is not negligible, but acceptable: "much lighter than it looks", "a little on the heavy side."  The rack has mounting points for a red light/ reflector.  Numerous reviewers mention mounting panniers on it with success. In particular, many users mention its fit to the Topeak MTX pannier system as a big plus. A similar model with a spring loaded top is available, although some users complain that it rattles more. Reviewers are pleased with the fit of the mounted product: "like a glove."

While the rack can clearly mount onto almost any model of bike, it is not always a perfectly straightforward operation, and the few negative reviews all have to do with installation. The rack can be mounted directly on a bike with threaded seat stay bosses, but, if yours does not have them, a simple adaptor such as this rack mount post clamp will allow an easy mount. Be careful if you have disc brakes: you need the exact same model, but with disc brake mounts. Even positive reviews mention some installation issues: "I did have to bend the little rods on the front of the rack down quite a bit to get them to reach", "with a little bit of ingenuity and time I was able to make it fit","I had to purchase tools to try to fit this on a bike","you can get a seat post collar/adapter to connect the rack with." Given the wide variability of frame geometries, we consider that some installations should be expected to be harder than others, and have not found any other rack model with easier installation reviews.

What if you want alternatives to the Explorer? The Explorer is the clear review winner across the web - everything else is second best. Other possibilities could be the Delta SuperSherpa,  the  Blackburn MTN (-1 at 1.2 lb or -2 at 1.3 lb, depending upon the tire size) for a mountain bike, or the 1.5 lb BlackBurn EX-1 for a 700cc road or cross bike. The Delta model gets good (but fewer) reviews, and the Blackburn racks have a long track record of 20+ years.

 The Topeak Explorer Bike Rack is an excellent bike rack, sturdy and reliable, and adjustable to most frames. We believe that it is the best universal bike rack available today, and have no hesitation in recommending it heartily.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Google Turns On Multiple Accounts Logins

Google just enabled multiple simultaneous account sign-ins. This should greatly facilitate its use for those many of us who maintain more than one Google account, for instance with a corporate and a personal account. There are, however, significant limitations at this time, which may cause you to decide that you should wait.

First let us see how to use it - you have to turn it on first. Go to www.google.com/accounts and select the Edit link under Multiple Accounts.  You will then have to check several boxes, to show that you understand the limitations of the feature, before turning it on.

At this stage, the feature's scope is VERY limited. It works for your general accounts, for Gmail, Reader, Calendar, Voice, Code and Sites. It does not work if you use most other Google services (including Blogger), or if you use Offline features. Even with Gmail, there is a risk that you will lose unsent mail. And - it does not work for mobile use. Whatever account you log into first in the day becomes your primary account, and it is this account into which you will be logged in for ancillary services that do not support multiple accounts yet.

Clearly, Google is planning to progressively generalize this capability to the rest of its infrastructure. We can't wait! Until then, be sure to clearly understand its limitations before turning it on. For heavy users of non-supported services, it may be best to wait further.

Want to read more about it? Try lifehacker, CNETmashable, geek, SF Chronicle, Information Week, Google Operating System blog (unofficial), or the Washington Post.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lawn Edger How-to Advice For First Time Users

Best Electric String Trimmers and Lawn Edgers Review Part 16: Advice to First Time Edgers

Lawn edgers: Using them for the first time can be intimidating, as their use can change your landscape in semi-permanent ways. We have found, among the many reviews we read, many useful and often ignored pieces of truly valuable advice that I wished we had known prior to using our first edger.

Large gauge extension cords. Electric lawn edgers consume large amounts of current and require a specific voltage to run properly. If the extension cord you use is too thin (i.e. the gauge number is too high) you may burn up the motor. The longer the extension cord, the thicker (the smaller number) the gauge. Unless you run really short extension cords, you should be looking at 12 gauge extension cords.

First time use is harder. After purchase, the first use is typically harder, as it is when you re-define you edges - afterwards, later passes are much easier:  "we had not edged for a while [...] It took awhile to initially edge since we were cutting so much grass but it was well worth it","yard was a mess. The first time using it took a while, but that was because I was trenching the lines[...] Since then I've had clean lines and works easily", "I have also found the first edge of the season, or the first time you use it if you haven't ever edged your lawn, can be challenging for you and the edger - but after that this edger can help you maintain your clean edge with ease."

Do not use when grass is wet. Advice: "not to use it when the grass is remotely wet. When the grass is wet the part that you are edging the grass and dirt get caught between the blade and the cover", "Only use it when it is bone dry outside. If you try and use it after watering your lawn or after a rain mud will clump inside the edger and clog it up, resulting in you having to pull out large mud clumps from inside the edger every few feet."

Careful with rocks. A user writes: "Note to new edgers: Watch for rocks - if the blade sparks, you may be hitting a rock. DIG IT UP FIRST. [...] I got some goggles out, and whenever I hit a rock, I used a small garden shovel at that very moment to dig the rocks out from the immediate area in front of me and kept moving. I can't wait to edge it up again, it was enjoyable. Another note - edge shallow the first time, then go deeper later as you never know what's under your lawn edges."

Replacement blades. Do not forget to have them ready: "I recommend buying extra blades when you purchase one, you will soon need them."

Edging frequency. Do not go too long without edging: "You should try and edge like every third cut to make it an easy task."

Precision edging. Putting more weight on the front wheel makes it easier for precision turns, although not quite as stable on the straightaways: "I had a little trouble getting precision edge-lines [...] [A] three-wheel model works great on straight-away edges, but is harder to use on curves. I discovered that if you tilt the edger slightly forward onto the single front wheel, you can get much better control, and the tight curves are much easier."

Thick clumps/ Southern grass technique. Be ready to take a couple of steps backs when dealing with thick clumps: "When edging, try moving the edger forward about a foot or two, then pull it back, and then forward again about 2-3'. Repeat as you work. This gives smoother, sharper cut on the grass edge", " [St Augustine:] Some escape the first slice, but backing over them usually wins the battle."

Next we review good online information sources for electric trimmers and edgers... So come back soon!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Best Electric Lawn Edger Review

Best Electric String Trimmers and Lawn Edgers Review Part 15: Best Electric Lawn Edger

The  Black and Decker LE750 Edge Hog  is without a doubt the best electric edger on the market today - and an excellent model it is, even though the competition is weak. It is a 7.5", 11A edger trencher, with a light weight of 12.4 lbs. Motor power is 2.25 HP.  There are three cutting positions in trench mode for depths varying between 1" and 1.5". The Edge Hog can be used to install outdoor lighting or invisible dog fences. The shaft is telescopic, and an auxiliary handle allows more flexibility in holding and handling.

Users rave about how easy it is to handle and how well it does regular edging jobs: "easy to use and get the work done fast", "easily cuts the edge around your curbed lawn and with little noise or fuss", "very easy to use and works great on edging the flower beds", " plenty of power, and adjustments for depth and angle are good", "very easy to operate, heavy enough to hold it on track, but not so heavy I couldn't handle it", "my husband was skeptical, but after I tried it, he decided to try it and now is telling the neighborhood how well it works", "easy to use, has plenty of power and does a nice job", "very powerful edger, easy to set up out of the box, with good settings for depth, and does a very good job in my yard and gardens", "adjustable height lets you edge nice and deep", "very light weight and easy to manage. Blade cuts well and is easy to maneuver", "well powered", "little edger is a work horse. Easy to handle -Cuts like a gem- actually fired the lawn man this make it so easy", "powerful, does a good job on edging with option to do flower beds."

The edger can take challenges that appear more difficult than the average home owner's task: "this thing was slicing through 3-4 inches of THICK dirt and grass (4 years) growth like it was soft butter. I had to stop every 2 feet just to pick up the huge scraps and discard them", "I have been noting less than rough with it (careful, it will chip your sidewalk/driveway into little pieces), surprising amount of power. If you want to add that perfect finishing touch to your yard too, buy this edger, you will not regret it", "very satisfied with the product. I use it about 8-10 times a year. I live in Florida and have St. Augustine grass which is a southern species very similar to crabgrass in the northern states. It is tough. Many of the roots grow horizontally on the surface of the soil and creep over pavement edges. Trimming them is a challenge that the B&D edger handles quite well", "I had several years of thick over growth around my driveway, and this thing just tore through it [...]Edge Hog was able to cut through both the grass and the soil and still made that little trench along the edge of the pavement. My edges now look very clean and manicured."

While this edger clearly does a very good job for most people with average needs, it is not a professional unit with unlimited power: "it does clog with mud quickly when the soil is wet, and (probably unavoidably)wears blades fairly quickly", "quiet, powerful, lightweight and easy to use. Does a fantastic job with regular edging; landscape edging is good but not great."

Immediately after purchase, the first use of the edger is typically more difficult, as it is when you re-define you edges. Afterwards, later passes are much easier:  "we had not edged for a while [...] It took awhile to initially edge since we were cutting so much grass but it was well worth it", "yard was a mess. The first time using it took a while, but that was because I was trenching the lines[...] Since then I've had clean lines and works easily." The tools is easy to put together: "easy assembly", "easy to assemble and sturdy enough to do the job." The unit locks the extension cord in: "simple and effective cord retainer." Like most edgers, blades need to be replaced roughly once per year (or per season in long growing seasons states): "the blades easily last a season (I can usually get them to last a season and a half), "used it for over 2 years replacing the blade only one time", "in three years of use, I've only had to replace the blade once."

Many users come to this unit from gas edgers and find it a good replacement: "much lighter than the gas powered weed eater", "good replacement for gas: [...] gives my lawn that crisp finished look I want, it's easy to use and it is consistent", "amazed how well this little machine can cut through the toughest overgrowth (6") on my driveway. I had no problem handling it. I was looking at gas edgers, and am so glad I bought this model", " great value. Edger works great. I got tired of buying gas edgers and having them break down. Plenty of power, works just like the product description." Longevity is good: "have had this product for over four years and it has worked great", "I'm on my 3rd year with this edger", "highly recommend this edger. I purchased my electric B&D Edge Hog in 2005 and decided to finally write a review on it."

The trenching function works well: "quiet and more versatile - being able to trench and cut on a bevel", "lightweight, strong & even digs a trench for your edging or planting", "also used it to dig small trenches when I wanted to install some low pressure plastic pipe for watering a flower garden. The edger dug out a nice little trench that I could push the pipe into and then re-cover with soil and let the grass grow over it." At the same time, like the edging function, it is not as strong a trencher as a commercial unit: "bought this mainly for its bedding trencher feature. Making a defined border around our many garden beds is hard manual work. The trencher feature on the Edge Hog merely cuts an edge rather than a wider cut I wanted for the beds to keep the grass from encroaching.It does work nicely though as an edger."

While there are very few negative reviews, those that are found center around two primary areas. A few users have seen early failure in their units: " used this edger for exactly 20 minutes and the motor burned out", "
worked fantastic for about an hour, then just up and quit", "unit = smoking garbage after [2.25] hr." Some of these failures are undoubtedly standard early failure mode, while some may be due to inadequate extension cords, as too small a gauge will heat up and burn up a motor. Although the bulk of the reviews are satisfied with unit power, few complain about lack of power: "this edger only cuts about 60% of the grass and the rest it pushes away"," (Florida) grass was over the driveway about three inches in places [...] I made five passes going slow back and forth and it only cut about 50% of the grass that needed edging. Not a good purchase if you have St. Augustine grass", "It won't cut the grass, it just crush .. you won't get a fine cut .. it doesn't have enough power", " (Jamaica) it does edge but I don't think it does that well with my kinda grass and my edges have some stones. You definitely need a soft grass and absolutely no stones." Many of these reviews appear to apply to Southern grasses, known to be more difficult to deal with - although several satisfied users mentioned their use of the edger with Southern grasses or in the South.

The LE750 Edge Hog gets an excellent 85% positive reviews with likely error below 5% (231/272 from Amazon, Sears, Home Depot and Lowe's). These reviews are spread over an amazing 10 year track record. The Edge Hog is an outstanding edger for most home owners with an average size yard and we have no hesitation in recommending it.

Next we dish out advice (often found in the user reviews themselves) to first time edger users... So come back soon!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Comparing Electric Lawn Edgers

Best Electric String Trimmers and Lawn Edgers Review Part 14: Comparing Electric Lawn Edgers

Electric lawn edgers: lawn edgers are what you use when you want a truly nice vertical edge alongside your lawn. Trimmers and trimmer/ edgers, however good they are, cannot match the clean edge of a true edger. The good news about electric lawn edgers is that choosing electric as a mean of power does not require you to make agonizing choices:  the best electric edger reviews better than all gas edgers, when rated by home owners.

These models did not make the cut

The American Gardener ReadyEdger YE8  by Outdoor Power is a 7.5", 12A, 15 lb edger, which has recently been obsoleted by the newer 30243 model. It is practically the same machine as the Craftsman 79650 (made by Outdoor Power as well), which, in turn, is visually indistinguishable from the Craftsman 79653, which is currently being sold by Sears. The YE8 has a very long track record, extending back to at least 2002, although its reviews are not very good: it gets 40% positive reviews (10/25 between Amazon,  shopping.com and Sears). Users are in general satisfied with its power, but complain about the length of the shaft (too short) , and find the edger awkward and too hard to maneuver. The most significant complaint, which occurs often, is early failure, after a few uses (common), or after the first or second season. Purchasers of the YE8 (as opposed to the Craftsman) had some trouble with Outdoor Power customer support, which not not always efficient or helpful. While the YE8 is not available any more, the Craftsman 79653 is, and is not recommended because of its low reliability.

The $80 American Gardener 30243  by Original Power , is the successor to the ReadyEdger. Feature-wise, it appears indistinguishable from the YE8, although the motor housing is different. The telescopic shaft pivots for more convenient storage. An accessory handle allows the user flexibility in holding and handling. Cutting depth is adjustable. The 12A motor should give it reasonable power for most home owners' tasks. The 30243 doe snot have any reviews yet. Users of the previous models had some complaints about Outdoor Power customer support. Users of the American Gardener YS24 cordless trimmer also expressed disappointment with customer support, although, for most of them, it was due to the fact that batteries with early failure were not covered by the warranty. We were able to get a hold of customer support on the phone easily, and received polite support when we called. Nonetheless, the issue of customer support for Outdoor Power remains open. Because of the poor reliability of the previous YE8 model, and due to the lack of existing reviews, we cannot recommend the 30243 at this time, but will periodically update this review as needed.

The $90 Craftsman 79653 7.5", 12A Edger appears to be visually identical to the 79650, which was largely similar to the American Gardener YE8 model. The Craftsman 79653 gets poor reviews with 35% positive ratings (7/20 at Sears) - feedback is detailed under our review of the American Gardener YE8. The bulk of the complaints have to do with early failure of the equipment. Based on its poor reviews it cannot be recommended.

The Greenworks 27032 edger is a 7.5", 12A edger with a fairly light weight of 13.25 lbs. While it is already displayed on the company site, it does not appear to be available quite yet. Greenworks is a new brand, dedicated to lowering carbon footprint for outdoor tools, and outsourced manufacturing to China. We reviewed and were very impressed by their cordless trimmer edger, but their manual reel mowers left us underwhelmed. It is hard to say what to expect from the 27032 without reviews at this stage.

The $70 Power Glide Electric Grass Edger is a 7.5", 11A edger with an accessory handle and a telescopic shaft. The Power Glide appears to be made for Ace Hardware stores only, and is not easy to find online, which is a concern when looking for spare blades. When researching the model, we were able to find it with a large discount for $40 only, which might indicate that it is being obsoleted. We only found two reviews for it, one positive and one negative. The negative reviewer indicated that he was not allowed to order spare blades from the manufacturer and the local Ace hardware stores did not carry spare blades...  Not recommended at this time.

The $90 Worx WG895 is a 7.5", 12A edger trencher. The weight is moderate at 14.2 lbs. A two-position "ergonomic" handle appears very awkward. The shaft is telescopic. In trench mode, it carries three positions for blade depth, from 1" to 1.5". While we were able to find the WG895 for sale with several online retailers, and found evidence of earlier infomercials for it in mid-2009, we are puzzled not to be able to find this product on the company web site, and are somewhat concerned that it might be in the process of being obsoleted. There were no online reviews that we could find for this model, which could indicate that it is a brand new model instead...

The $350 Mantis 7250-05-02  is an interesting electric tiller edger, with excellent reviews, which combines light electric tilling (3" and 9" deep) with edging. Many users use it as a trencher with good success (although you still have to use a shovel once you have tilled). While the model specs indicate that edging should be effective with this model, we were only able to find one user across all the reviews for the model and its attachments discussing edging -the user simply mentioned it worked well. Many users mention that it really should be bought with the weed reducers (to stop weeds from wrapping around tines) and the tine detangler (a basic maintenance tool), and that Mantis should really include these tools in the package. The warranty for Mantis tools is excellent, with a 5 -year general warranty, and a lifetime warranty on the tines. Reviews are extremely positive about the function of the tool, and very few users complain about early breakage. However, the few which have had to deal with customer support are extremely critical of both the support operators and the support policy: they are left with the impression that the company does not stand behind its products.

The 7250-05-02 gets outstanding 88% positive reviews (incidentally, the electric model gets better reviews that the gas models), with a likely error up to 6% (84/95 on Amazon and Sears). It is an expensive tool, with very poor customer support from Mantis, great success as a tiller, good success as a trencher aid, and little data as to how well is edges. On that basis, we cannot recommend it for edging due to lack of data - but we intend to review this tool in the future as a tiller edger, and will report in more detail what we find out then.

Next we review the best electric lawn edger... So come back soon!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Car Door Edge Guards: Cool Gear

Edge guards for car doors: who has never opened a car door a little too fast or too far? For my 5-year old boy, I should invert the question: when has he NOT opened his door too fast or too far? Too many times, this results in damage to the door edge, or, worse, damage to the car next door:(

For some reason it is extraordinarily difficult to find decent door guards at the local hardware store. These Car Door Edge Guards with reflectors are inexpensive ($2 + 9$ shipping for two pairs), easy to mount, and effective. If your doors are too curved to mount them in the standard manner, cut them in half and install each half about a quarter inch up or down from the maximum curve location. As the item itself is so inexpensive, you might want to buy several batches at once, to have a couple in reserve and save on shipping :-) At ConsumerPla.net we made a large group buy, and several of us have been using these edge guards as inexpensive but useful gifts.

ConsumerPla.net Statistical Ratings Explained

ConsumerPla.net relies heavily on massive statistical analysis of user reviews to rate and compare products and services. How does this work exactly?

Looking for user reviews

For each product we evaluate, we look for major sites with large amounts of user reviews. The key is to find a large enough sample of reviews that we can reliably rate a product and detail its pros and cons, in particular as regards to quality and reliability. We love to find sites with many reviews of the products we analyze! But we don't stop there - we will keep on searching, looking for even single reviews in retail and review sites, in order to aggregate as many reviews as we can, so as come up with the most statistically valid rating we can get.

Using multiple sources for user reviews
We like finding reviews from many different sites, because single sites always introduce a bias concern about the self selection of its users. For instance, Newegg is frequently used by IT professionals, and has an excellent user review system. But is the nature of its audience skewing the results in a way that does not automatically apply to the general public? On the other hand, Staples is mostly used by home and small business users with less technical expertise, and also has a user review system with large amounts of data. Will the nature of its users skew the results of their evaluation? Whenever we can - i.e. when the user reviews can be found - we incorporate as many sources for user reviews as we can, so as to remove, as much as possible, sources of review bias.

Combining reviews from multiple sources 
The user review systems for the many web sites on which they are found vary widely in their definitions. Some use secondary criteria that they ask users to use, and which may skew the numerical results of the final user rating for the user. Some use 5-star ratings, while others are binary "recommend/do not recommend" systems, or combined both aspects. Some sources may use non-numerical ratings, such as icons ("Thumbs up/ Thumbs down"), or simply text, while others do not have global ratings but only ratings of multiple criteria. We want the broadest range of sources for our user reviews. To make it possible for us to use all possible sources of reviews, we classify each review as a positive or a negative review, and use this binary criterion as the fundamental unit of data for our statistical analysis.

Converting to positive/ negative reviews
Our purpose when evaluating a product is to come up with the most valid evaluation of the product's quality. For that purpose, we classify every review as a positive of negative review, and enter it in our statistical analysis for the product. For instance, for sites with a 5 star review system, we will take 5- and 4-star reviews, and classify them as positive reviews. All others will be entered as negative reviews. If, as often happens, the rating system for a site defaults to a rating which many reviewers accidentally forget to change (typically a 3-star rating), if the review is clearly a recommendation of the product, and if the rating is clearly a user error, we will correct the rating to make it a positive review. Whenever the source review does not clearly indicate a positive recommendation of the product, we classify the review as negative. Our rating system is therefore slightly biased towards negative reviews. A good ConsumperPla.net review score makes it all the more likely that the product experience is statistically likely to be positive.

Statistical analysis
The size of the sample of user reviews (how many opinions we collected) has a major impact on the statistical validity of its average rating. When quoting the value of an average rating, we systematically quote the measure of how likely the measure is to be true to reality, measured in the form of a margin of error with a confidence level. Unless otherwise specified, we use a 95% confidence level as a basis.

Statistical margin of error and confidence level explained
Let's say that we have obtained 59 user reviews, of which 96% were positive. When we use statistical software to analyze these numbers, we find out that, if it was possible for us to collect feedback from every single product user, there is a 95% chance that the "true" rating across all users is within 5% of the average we measured across the 59 reviews. So, for this example, the margin of error is 5% at a 95% confidence level. If we decrease the confidence level to 90%, then the margin of error decreases to 4%. The smaller the margin of error, the more likely its is for the average rating to be close to the truth.

Impact of larger sample size on margin of error
Everything else being equal, the more reviews we gather, the narrower the margin of error. For instance, in the previous example, if we had gotten the same 96% positive average rating from only 15 users, the margin of error would be 10%. If we had the same average rating from 164 users, the margin of error would be 3%.

Impact of average rating on margin of error
Surprisingly, the average rating makes a big difference to the margin of error, everything else being equal. The more users agree on their rating of quality for a product, whether it is a negative or a positive rating, the less reviews we need to get to a specific level for the margin of error. We like a margin of error of 5% with a 95% certainty. If the average rating is 99% (or 1%), we only need 16 reviews to get to a margin of error of 5%. If the average rating is 75% (or 25%), we need 288 reviews for the same margin of error!

ConsumerPla.net predictive quality rating
For many of us, it is difficult to combine the concept of margin of error with that of average rating. What do we do if the average rating is the same between two products but the margin of error? The answer is easy: we should pick the one with the lesser margin of error. But what if the choice is between two products where the higher rated product has a larger margin of error? In order to facilitate consumer choices between different options, ConsumerPla.net has developed an exclusive statistical predictive quality rating, that we use in cases then statistical validity for the result in particularly important. We lower the average rating of a product until its negative margin of error (i.e. the lower bounder of the margin of error) is within 5% of the resulting number.

Predictive quality rating impact on the rating value
The predictive quality rating is always lower than the true average rating, in order to compensate for a lower than ideal sample size. For instance, if we have a product whose average rating is 89% with a 7% margin of error, the predictive quality rating for this product is actually 87%, meaning that it is 95% likely that the "true" rating for the product is no more than 5% lower than the predictive rating. As a result, ConsumerPla.net predictive quality rating gives a worst case picture of what the rating "truly" is. But, if you need to make a purchase decision that you want to be sure not to regret, wouldn't you rather be sure that the downside is the same for all your options?

Custom predictive quality ratings
In cases where specific failure modes are dramatically impacting the user far beyond the value of the product, we may create a custom predictive quality rating adapted to a specific product, which will downgrade the rating further in relation to the appearance of such failure modes. Examples might be where the product endangers life or health, or may cause significant consequences to the user's lifestyle, such as compromising banking data or losing personal data. For instance, if we rate banking services, and find that one failure mode involves compromised banking data resulting in financial losses, for every 1% in reviews reporting compromised data we might lower the global rating by 5%, because the failure mode's impact to the user is so high.

Statistical validity rating
We occasionally display a rating of statistical validity to compare the numbers of reviews we gathered and compare how valid the ratings we produced are. We want to measure statistical validity on a scale of 0-100%, 100% being best. We use what we feel is the best measurement of quality for the product under evaluation as our expectation of what the response distribution should be. We plug this quality measurement in our statistical packages as the response distribution (i.e. the uncorrected average rating for us), then calculate what the statistical margin of error will be based on the actual number of reviews we get. As discussed above, for ratings over 50%, the higher the rating, the higher the statistical validity will be for the same number of reviews. The ConsumerPla.net statistical validity rating is equal to 100% minus the statistical margin of error. It will be 99% in the optimal case when our best measurement of quality matches the response distribution of the user reviews, and when we have enough user reviews that the margin of error is 1% or less. It will be less than that in any other case. The higher the statistical validity rating, the "truer" the quality ratings, the more statistically valid the user reviews are.