Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Electric Trimmers and Edgers: Best Online Resources

Best Electric String Trimmers and Lawn Edgers Review Part 17: Online Resources

Online reference sources and stores: there are few authoritative sources in issues that regard electric trimmers, lawn edgers, and related accessories. As usual, the best resources are forums and sources of user-generated content. Good expert reviews are few and far between, and, as is normal for the part, include little of the reliability information that would be critical for homeowners getting ready for a purchase.

Online Sources

The best of the user-generated sources is gardenweb, with several active forums in the subject. The best of  these forums is the  Lawn Mower's Forum, but interesting information can also be found in the Lawn Care Forum and the Garden Tractors Forum. An example of such direct testimonies is this Worx thread - although, because of the nature of the topic, this thread includes little information about long term reliability. Another example is this electric vs gas trimmer thread.  The equivalent site for commercial operators - rather than homeowners- is the Lawn Site, with a wealth of information regarding professional equipment, which, unfortunately, rarely scales well to home use due to different requirements. Another forum primarily focused on commercial operators is the Lawn Service Forum. The Lawn Mower Forum is a good source of information for powered mowers primarily, as is the section of My Tractor Forum focused on lawn tractors. While there are many other lawn-related forums, we have not found them either to have enough traffic or to focus sufficiently on lawn tools to be useful.

Good numbers of valuable user reviews for electric trimmers and edgers can be found at Amazon, Lowe's, Home Depot, Sears, Walmart, and Mowers Direct. Other retailers also carry reviews, but in smaller numbers, and therefore are less useful. Unusually, Troy-Bilt also offers customer reviews - a laudable feature that we would like to see on all manufacturers' sites.

As usual, expert reviews are less useful - they typically fail to assess reliability, and often usability, in a manner that allows them to appropriately map to users' concerns. Consumer Guide has reviewed several string trimmers and lawn edgers, and the reviews appear to have been written by people who actually used the item. Consumer Search published a general string trimmers review, which includes specific selections for electric trimmers. Their background discussion is good, although some of their selections suffer from lack of in-depth analysis. Consumer Unlimited offers a weak summary review of string trimmers. Galttech, while short of providing a thorough analysis, offers a quick selection of some good models for lawn edgers string trimmers. This Old House has a brief and incomplete discussion  of cordless electric trimmers and of multi-head string trimmers. Lowe's  recently dropped its string trimmers buying guide, and only has brief buying guide for hedge trimmers and edgers buying guide. Garden Guides has a short discussion on grass edgers.

Online stores

Beyond Amazon and the large superstores, we found few specialized retailers with a good selection of power garden tools. The best places to find electric string trimmers and edgers online are Amazon, Home Depot, Lowe's, Sears, and Mowers Direct.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Best Bike Bungie Cargo Net: Cool Gear

Bike Bungie Cargo Net: It is well and good to have a bike rack, but how do you store something voluminous - anything without a hard case- on it? What about keeping content inside bike baskets? The best way to do it without adding significant extra weight is a bike bungie cargo net. But any cargo net is not enough: it actually has to work too.

The $10 Sunlite Bicycle Bungie Cargo Net  is a sturdy bike cargo net that actually works on most bike racks, and which can also help make sure that contents remain inside bike baskets. It is a 13" X 13" net made of 1/4" bungie netting, with 4 hooks that attach to to the rack. It provides enough tension and stability to allow the rider to set a grocery bag or two on top of the rack and make it reliably fast to the bake without tipping: " I used it to return from the grocery store about 2 miles away carrying one large doubled (one inside the other) paper grocery sack that was filled right to the top with very heavy items [...] 25 lbs worth of food [...] The net went over it easily without crushing anything, but held it securely upright over every bump", "use this little, well-made 'netty thing'to secure the stuff inside the front or rear basket/rack", "peace of mind and a feeling of security that nothing is going to fall out on your journey", "very strong, I've tried to secure a 3-5KG load using this net. No issues at all", "even when my bike fell over at one point, the dutch oven stayed on the back of my bike because of this net", "must-have for anyone who does a lot of shopping with their bikes. Much easier to use and better than multiple bungee cords."

While the Sunlite Bungie Cargo Net is a well engineered and sturdy item, it does not guarantee that free standing loads will remain in  place on your rack: "sometimes, a grocery bag will tip. The net will hold it in place, so nothing will fall out, but be prepared to stop and remount the thing. It seems to happen about one out of twenty uses." But it will make sure that no content spills. The only negative review complains of quick gear failure.

The Sunlite Bungie Cargo Net gets excellent reviews, with  97% positive ratings (38/39 on Amazon) and a likely error under 6%. In fact, it gets better reviews than any other bike net that we could find. We believe that it is an excellent bike net, which does the job, and is as good if not better than any other bike net on the web today.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Light, Healthy Belgian Waffles: Recipe

Wouldn't it be great if we cook prepare the dishes we like best, yet make them so healthy that they can be a mainstream feature of our diet? In this rare instance, we share a new recipe from our test kitchen: a truly delicious Belgian waffle recipe, that is light, airy, and sweet, yet uses exclusively whole grains, with no refined flour, sugar, or butter. This recipe makes 6 large waffles or 8 waffle boats.

Recipe rating: Easy

Total recipe time: 25 minutes

15 minutes prep (mostly beating egg whites)
10  minutes cooking (making the waffles)


8 ounces regular whole wheat flour (we use Gold Medal in our test kitchen, but other brands would work as well)
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1 bag Stevia or Splenda (may be replaced by one teaspoon of sugar)
1/2 teaspoon of salt
3 eggs
1.5 cups of milk
2 tablespoons of canola oil
Fresh berries and fruits, frozen yogurt, or, if you are ready to go a little more processed, sugar-free syrup (for instance Hungry Jack sugar-free syrup, with sugar alcohols), sugar-free jam (for instance Smucker's sugar-free jams), or any other topping you like.


Mixing bowls: 1 small, 1 medium (the test kitchen uses stainless steel bowls)
Small cup (to temporarily store egg whites)
Measuring spoons and cups
Eggwhite whip (to mix all, and to beat egg whites up)
Baking spatula(to fold the egg whites into the rest of the batter)
Brush (to brush the waffle maker with oil)
Ladle (to pour batter into the waffle maker)
Very thin fish spatula (to take out the waffles from the maker)
Waffle maker, stovetop or electric

  • 0"    Measure and mix whole wheat flour, baking powder, salt in medium bowl.
  •        Measure and mix milk, canola oil.
  • 2"    Crack and separate eggs, drop yokes into wet (small) bowl, drop whites into small cup.
  •        Pour wet bowl contents into medium bowl, mix with whip.
  •  4"   Beat egg whites up until they are stiff with the whip (of course, you can also use a mixer).
  •  10" Start heating the waffle maker.
  •  Fold stiff egg whites into the medium bowl with the baking spatula. You might need to complete the mixing carefully with the whip afterwards, but be careful not to destroy the stiff egg whites, or you will lose the airy, lose texture of the batter.
  •  15" End of prep.
  • 15" Oil the waffle maker with the brush. 
  •        Pour the first set of waffles with the ladle, pouring until the batter reaches just a tad below the top of the waffle mold. If you are using electric waffle maker, because of the texture of the mix we suggest, as a start, using approximately 75% heat, and leaving the waffles approximately 30 seconds after the beep. You can adjust as needed after the first batch. 
  •        If you have trouble taking out the waffles (we tried first with some tongs), trying inserting the thin fish spatula (we use a Sweden-made Gastromax) on the side of the waffle and filling it out: it will come out with no tearing. 
  •        Oil the waffle maker between batches before refilling it with batter.
  •  25" End of cooking.
Spoon some fresh, clean berries on the waffles, and add some Cool Whip Lite, or drip some sugar-free syrup or jam, and enjoy the delicious, light, airy yet healthy results:-)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Freeze Those Warts!

A recent randomized trial showed cryotherapy to be more effective to treat common warts than salicylic acid applications.

The study, published this month in the Canadian Medical Association Journal by Dutch researchers from Leiden University, attempted to factually establish the efficiency of the most common treatments for warts. The two most common treatments, both offered over the counter, are freezing (liquid nitrogen applied through a special applicator), and the regular application of salicylic acid on the wart. Evidence prior to the study was limited and controversial, slightly favoring salicylic acid. The Dutch researched launched a double blind study for almost 250 patients, with three options: freezing every two weeks, acid daily, and wait-and-see (they sometimes go away on their own). Nurses visited patients after 13 and 26 weeks to measure the efficacy of treatment.

The 13-week results are out, and freezing is winning. The study showed that for all warts, 39% of cryotherapy patients were cured, against 24% for salicylic acid patients, and 16% for do-nothing patients. Common warts (anywhere but on the feet) showed better results, with 49% cure rate for cryotherapy vs. 15% for salicylic acid and 8% for wait-and see. Plantar warts had the worst outlook, and showed no significant differences between approaches, although cure rates were much higher for children (50%) than adolescents (5%). Cure rates were also much lower for patients who had had warts for more than 6 months. The 26-week results confirmed the better efficiency of active vs. passive treatments.

Patients were also much more satisfied with cryotherapy (69% approval) than with salicylic acid (24%) or wait-and-see (22%). Trying to explain the difference between plantar and common warts, the researchers wrote: "These findings suggest that the effect of active treatments on plantar warts is delayed or that more aggressive treatment is needed because of the callosity overlying the warts."

Want to read more about it? Try Medpage, CBC, or Health Day

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Omega-3 Margarine No Better for Heart

Margarine enriched with low doses of Omega-3 fatty acids does not appear to decrease the recurrence of cardiac events for older heart attack survivors.

A new study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine laid out the results of the Alpha-Omega randomized trials in the Netherlands. The study gathered almost 5,000 subjects, all heart attack survivors aged 60 to 80, divided in four groups, all of which were provided with margarine. Margarine for Group A was enriched with 400 mg of fish-oil based DHA and EPA ((1/2 the AMA recommended dose), Group B had 2,000 mg of ALA from soybean oil and walnuts, Group C had all three fatty acids, while Group D received placebo margarine only. Each group participant was supposed to lather his margarine portion daily on 3 to 4 slices of bread.

The outcome was disappointing. Dr. Daan Kromhout, of Wageningen University, one of the authors of the study, reported that none of the margarines had any effect on the rate of major cardiovascular events for the general population (although diabetic patients, much more vulnerable to heart attacks, should a 50% reduced risk of negative outcomes). This conclusion appears to go against the results of numerous previous studies. Dr. Alfred Bove, of Temple University was surprised by the findings "because most of the data on omega-3 fatty acids come from epidemiologic studies and those were positive."

Several possible explanations were being proposed. Dr. Kromhout suggested that one explanation may be that, because the patients already received excellent cardiovascular treatments (most patients taking daily medicines to control cholesterol and blood pressure), the enriched margarines may not have been able to improve their health any further. Dr. Scott Wright, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., suggested that the enrichment vehicle might have been wrong, since margarine requires patients to eat more bread, meaning possible weight gain and additional sodium intake. Some commentators, such Dr. Gregg C. Fonarow, of UCLA, mentioned the possibility that the doses simply needed to be higher: "the dosing here may have been just too low." Finally, alluding to the fact that treatment is most important immediately after the occurrence of the first cardiac event, others, such as Dr. Stephen Kopecky, of the Mayo Clinic, suggested that patients were enrolled too late after their initial heart attack: "If you wait too long, sometimes you miss that window to benefit them."

Recently, hormone therapy for post menopausal women, generally recommended to reduce cardiovascular risk, was shown by a large randomized controlled trial to actually increase that risk. The obvious concern is that Omega-3 fatty acids, one of the most popular supplements, could be facing the same situation: their efficiency so far has been primarily suggested by epidemiologic studies (i.e. post facto analysis of data, rather than randomized control trials which are the only way to truly prove causality).

Want to read more about it? Try WebMD, Medpage, AP, US News, Time, Cardiovascular Business, Business Week, Money Times, Food Consumer, Economic Times, Healthy Living, ABC News, and PhysOrg.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Medical Imaging: Too Much Radiation

Radiation exposure from medical imaging has increased seven-fold between 1980 and 2006, and now constitutes almost 50% of the lifetime dose of radiation received by the average American.  In fact, sophisticated new breast imaging technologies expose the patient to almost 30 times more radiation than a regular mammogram, thereby sharply raising the cancer risk caused by the imaging procedure itself.
Increased radiation exposure to the public from medical imaging is the focus of two recent studies by radiologists published last week in the journal Radiology. The first one, led by Dr. William Hendee, of the Medical College of Wisconsin,summarizes the conclusions of the August 2009 Medical Imaging Summit called by the American Board of Radiology Foundation. The study concludes that medical imaging is being overused.  This overuse creates the potential for higher radiation exposure for patients along with increased cancer risks. The study sees the problems created by the increased use of costly radiation-generating imaging technologies as a systemic issue which must be addressed globally within the health system. It holds the existing fee-for-service model, where physicians get paid more when they order more procedures, as one of the causes for the overuse of medical imaging.

The second study, led by Dr. Edward Hendrick, of the University Colorado-Denver School of Medicine, focuses on specific new imaging technologies using ionization radiation. The conclusion of the study is that some of these technologies, such as breast-specific gamma imaging (B.S.G.I.) and positron emission mammography (P.E.M.), results in radiation exposures 20 to 30 times high than a regular mammogram. It should be noted that these imaging technologies are not used for routine screening, like mammograms, but for very specific requirements, where the prescribing physician needs to do a risk/ benefit analysis of the use of the imaging technology vs. its risk.

Unfortunately, according to Dr. Hendrick, knowledge of radiation levels and risk is not well spread: “I would go to the international breast meeting and the big radiology meetings, and nobody had a clue what the doses and risks were. They are treating all the tests as if they have the same radiation dose and risk as mammography, and the truth is they have a much, much higher risk." Other specialists confirm the lack of knowledge of many practicing physicians: “this is something that isn’t well understood, not just by the public -  but by physicians who order the tests,” says Dr. Rhodes of the Mayo Clinic.

In a different but relevant story, the FDA is now looking into increasing oversight of several forms of medical radiation (also discussed in Business Week), following reports last year of patients being exposed to excessive doses of radiation in at least four hospitals across the nation, to the degree that many of them had lost their hair at the location of irradiation.

How does this affect you? You could end up being exposed to excessive radiation and subject to higher cancer risk, without even knowing about it. We cannot assume that the doctor knows best.

A few simple measures can reduce the dangers that and your family can be exposed to. Whenever a physician orders an imaging test for you or your family:
  • ask if the procedure is really necessary
  • discuss whether the data might not already be existing with another physician who could have ordered a similar test in the recent past (test duplication is a frequent cause of overexposure)
  • ask how much radiation you will be exposed to, and do not be satisfied with generalities (comparisons to a low-danger mammogram are a good way of understanding the risk)
  • if the physician cannot really give you an answer (quite likely), ask him about talking directly to the radiologist who will be administering the procedure, BEFORE you are set up to undergo the procedure
  • do not hesitate in asking for alternative providers for this procedure if you do not feel comfortable with the answers you are getting
  • discuss options for other imaging technologies that might expose you to less radiation
There is a silver lining to these stories. Radiologists themselves are raising critical issues and concerns that  are relevant to us - their patients. It is a good sign to see the practitioners themselves aware of the dangers that they created, and working to alleviate them.

Want to read more about it? Try the New York Times, Medical News Today, MedPage, Cardiovascular Business, DotMed Story1, RedOrbit, DotMed Story2, CBS News, UPI, Health Imaging, Modern Medicine, ACSH, or FoxNews.

Friday, September 3, 2010

More Evidence Links ADHD and Pesticides

On the heels of a major study documenting a link between ADHD and organophosphate pesticides (we reviewed the results here), a second study now documents a link between prenatal exposure to organophosphates and increased risk of ADHD.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, and led by researchers from the University of California-Berkeley School of Public Health, tracked prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides for over 300 children of agricultural workers in Salinas, CA, and correlated it with ADHD diagnostic tests at age 3.5 and age 5. The researchers found that a 1,000% increase in measured prenatal exposure to organophosphates was associated with a 500% increased risk of ADHD diagnosis at age 5, the association being stronger for boys. The correlation was not significant at age 3.5, a finding explained by the study authors because ADHD is harder to diagnose at a very young age.

The study authors measured the presence of 6 organophosphate metabolites in the mothers' urine before birth, then in the children's urine between birth and age 5. At age 3.5 and age 5, the children were evaluated using mothers' reports and standardized psychological tests  (respectively NEPSY-II visual attention subtest, Conners' Kiddie Continuous Performance Test [K-CPT]).

Organophosphate pesticides work by disrupting acetylcholine and other neurotransmitters. The study authors stated that young children are more vulnerable to organophosphate exposure than adults because of lower levels of acetylcholinesterase, which detoxifies these pesticides. Says lead study author Amy Marks:  
"Given that these compounds are designed to attack the nervous system of organisms, there is reason to be cautious, especially in situations where exposure may coincide with critical periods of fetal and child development."

The American Council on Science and Health, a NGO partially funded by industry organizations, criticized  Environmental Health Perspectives, which published this study,  for publishing too many studies which link exposure to manufactured chemicals with health risks. It also disagreed with the logic of the suggestion made by the study authors to wash produce to be given to children, stating that the link between ADHD and organophosphates had not been proven for lower exposures than those of the agricultural workers' children.

While we agree that causality is not yet proven between lower exposure levels to organophosphates and increased risk of ADHD, the Berkeley study, when added to the conclusions of the previous Harvard study last May, shows a worrisome pattern of evidence that organophosphates may have strong negative effects on cognitive development. We believe that great caution is warranted for parents monitoring their children's exposure to organophosphates.

What can you do to minimize your children's exposure to organophosphates? We list generally accepted recommendations here

Want to read more about it? Try Medscape, WebMD, Discovery NewsFood Consumer, International federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, or eMaxHealth.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Statins: No Link With Cancer

A major international study gathering 25 different randomized controlled trials has concluded that statins do not cause or prevent cancer.

This meta-analysis of the 5-year running international Cholesterol Treatment Trialists' Collaboration was presented this month at the annual congress of the European Society of Cardiology. It covers data from 25 trials across 166,000 participants, and is the largest study of its kind. In 20 of the 25 trials, statins were compared to a placebo. In the other 5 trials, different doses were compared. Each trial lasted at least 5 years. The conclusion? The use of statins had no effect either way on the incidence of cancers of any kind over the 5-year horizon of the study.  "Randomization to statin therapy for at least five years had no effect on the incidence of cancer or of cancer mortality in any group of individuals," says Dr. Jonathan Emberson, of Oxford University, one of the authors and presenters of the study.

Statins are a broad class of cholesterol-lowering drugs, in general well tolerated, and widely prescribed to prevent recursion of heart attacks, as well as to prevent them. To a degree, they appear as the miracle drug of the decade: they have seen their use greatly broadened in the past 10 years, significantly beyond the treatment and prevention of heart disease, continuously expanding into multiple new applications every year. Some previous studies had raised flags with regards to possible links between the use of statins and incidence of specific cancers. This broad and powerful analysis, based on randomized trials, brings proof of causality to the table, and should go a long way towards dispelling them.

There is some controversy about the enlarging role of statins, and some commentators, such as Kent Holtorf or Mark Hyman, have expressed concerns about possible side effects of statins, including cancer.

Want to read more about it? Try Medpage, Business Week, Irish Health, or PhysOrg.