A hit in the making

Steve Baum has invented a wood composite bat that is being well received among baseball people, especially those who hate aluminum bats. Baum’s bat has a plastic core surrounded by fabric reinforced resin with a white ash wood outer shell. They hardly ever break.

Steve Baum set out to fashion a baseball bat that had a heart of plastic and a soul of wood.

He may wind up helping to save the soul of baseball, not to mention a lot of timber.

Baum’s wood composite bat, a shell of white ash wrapped around a core of foam plastic, preserves the genuine crack of bat meeting ball. But it almost never cracks. Or chips. Or breaks.

It sounds like wood, hefts like wood and, most importantly, reacts with the same dynamics as wood, punishing the batter with a sharp sting if he doesn’t meet the ball on the sweet spot.

The bat is the first non-wood bat to win over traditionalists in professional baseball. No one, least of all Baum, wants to see it replace Adirondacks or Louisville Sluggers in major league games. However, as a cost-saving alternative in the minors, the bat has been a smashing success.

With the approval of farm-system directors, several thousand players in Rookie, Rookie Advanced and Dominican summer leagues used the bats in games last season. Many teams also made the bat available to minor-leaguers for practice. The experiment will continue in the upcoming season, and if the universal raves continue, the bat could ascend the ladder into Class-A games in 1995.

“I’m a firm believer in woods bats, but of all the gimmicks and gadgets that have come along, this one works pretty well,” says Ken Higdon, major league equipment manager for the California Angels. “I didn’t hear any negatives all.”

Roy Krasik, supervisor of baseball operations for Major League Baseball, says Higdon’s opinion is widely shared. “All the reports from our farm directors came back very favorable,” he says. “Eventually we’d like to see the bat used in all of amateur baseball: high schools, Little League, all the way through, so those players would have an easier transition to wood bats.”

Baum, 54, an inventor from Traverse City, Mich., is pleased at the bat’s reception on the professional level. But, like Krasik, his most fervent wish is to see it replace aluminum in the college and high school ranks, where a handful of programs now train with wood composite bats and use them in exhibition games.

“An aluminum bat is a terrible tool to use to learn to hit a baseball,” Baum says. “It eliminates the problem of breakage, but it also eliminates the sting. Kids pick up bad habits, and then major league baseball can’t evaluate them. The scouts are going crazy.”

Former major-leaguer Don Leppert, director of Florida operations for the Twins, concurs. “Hitting with a wood bat is the single biggest transition a high school or college player has to make when he gets into our organization,” he says. “The game with an aluminum bat is just as different as if you asked the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame to use a round football.”

Baum, who coaches two American Legion teams, says his mission extends beyond pro prospeccts.

“Kids are not getting the benefits of baseball as they should,” he says. “Their hearts are hung out this far over baseball, and they can’t make it because of bad habits. And aluminum bats are the biggest monkey of all. My bat gives them a controlled instrument they can get used to.”

Hitting gurus agree that because aluminum bats are more forgiving, yielding hits all the way from the fists to the end of the barrel, young players don’t learn to extend their arms fully.

The effects of aluminum swings ripple outward. Pitchers don’t learn to throw inside, because doing so brings no special rewards. Fielders don’t learn to read the ball off the bat as accurately. But hitters are the ones really being led down the primrose basepath.

“Players can get by with poor hitting technique and not only be successful, but be stars,” Leppert says. “They’ll hold their hands up by their ears and swing with a short, chopping motion. With aluminum, you’ll get a hit that way, whereas with wood, it would be a fourhopper to the second baseman.”

Hal Smeltzly, athletic director at Florida Southern College and outgoing chairman of the NCAA Rules Committee, says he has seen many experimental bats, but this one stands out. “The Baum bat, in my view, is ahead of the others in terms of its ability to maintain the integrity of the game.

“Some kids will catch fire and have a 30-home-run season, and then they can’t do the same thing with a wood bat even after trying for a year or two. The talent shouldn’t be so moved by the equipment that it distorts the game.”

However, Baum’s bats will have a much harder time getting a toe-hold in college baseball, though they meet all standards set by the NCAA. College coaches and players alike have grown accustomed to the ping! of aluminum, which was legalized in 1974. Bloops and dinks off the mens asa softball bats of marginal players win games. And many coaches now are under contract to one of two giant aluminum-bat manufacturers: Easton and Louisville Slugger.

Baum never though he would be elbowing his way into that market five years ago, when his son, Chasen, then a skinny 11-year-old, made a request born of struggles at the plate.

“He said, ‘Dad, can you make a bat that would be light enough so I could handle these mammoth pitchers?'” Baum says.

Baum, who holds 50-odd patents in composite technology, started tinkering with prototypes. As he went along, he became more and more intent on making the bat “as wood-like as possible.” He developed a molded foam-plastic core, which can be made to any weight specifications. Over it he slipped a cloth tube, woven from the same fibers that are used to reinforce jet-fighter wings. He painted the creation with epoxy resin and fitted around it a wooden shell, formed in two equal halves, a fraction of an inch thick. Last, he glued the knob and the end (both plastic) and left it to dry in a mold for three weeks.

Baum assembled several Rube Goldberg-like contraptions to test the bat’s flexibility and strength. Finally, he arrived at the right formula.

Baum’s primary product is the AAA Pro Model. It’s a standard 2/1/2 inches in diameter and comes in lengths from 32 to 35 inches. Its weight varies from a reed-like 29 ounces to a Howitzer-sized 55 ounces.

Last year, Baum began to produce a bat called “The Rocket” for collegiate programs. Several schools have picked it up, along with an accompanying training video. Its barrel is a quarter-inch bigger than a wood bat, and it again ranges from 32 to 35 inches long, with weight set at 5 ounces under length. The light, powerful bat is designed to help increase bat speed and get batters to hone in on the elusive sweet spot.

Baum and his crew of five have turned out about 3,000 bats — a maximum of 50 a day–operating out of a 4,000-square-foot warehouse in Traverse City. Each bat is stamped with serial number so it can be tracked. One bat that has taken on mythical status is reported to have survived 25,000 swings (as in, swings making contact) in the Athletics’ system.

“It started in out instructional league and then we sent it down to our team in the Dominican Republic,” says Ted Polakowski, A’s administrative assistant for player development. “We kept track with a hand-held counter, but after 25,000, we decided to stop.”

Major League Baseball insisted that the bat break under certain conditions, to continue to reward pitchers for well-placed heat: the high inside pitch that comes in just above the fists and the low outside fastball that catches the end of the bat. Baum obliged them and built in the physics. But if, say, Bo Jackson tried to snap it over its knee, “He’d need another operation,” Baum says.

Wood bats, compared with Baum’s bats, break at a ratio of between 50-100 to 1, Baum says. The pros’ experience appears to bear him out. “On any given day in spring training, we probably break a minimum of three dozen wood bats,” says Jim Hickman, an outfielder for four National Leagueteams who is now a minor league hitting instructor for the Reds. “We didn’t break any of these.”

The Twins now use Baum’s bats not only in Rookie League play, but also up through Triple-A. “In the cages, in B.P., every opportunity the rules allow,” Leppert says. “This summer alone, it probably saved us $10,000 in bats.”

So, the advantage for the pros is clear: economics. Wood bats even discounted for the pros, cost somewhere between $12 and $24 apiece; Baum’s bats are about $80, which is competitive with aluminum.

It’s a harder sell to colleges. Baum tells coaches their players will profit by learning to hit with his wood-like bat, then transferring those skills to aluminum in game situations. Plus, the few who are drafted into pro organizations won’t have as much culture shock when they’re handed their first Louisville Slugger.

Andy Baylock, a 30-year head coach at the University of Connecticut, was among Baum’s early converts. He began using the bat in the fall of 1992, and attributes the Huskies’ success – a 29-19 finish, good for second in the Big East and a trip to the NCAA regionals — to the bat.

“Mentally, we were better,” he says. “I had one guy hit .431, which is only the second time I’ve had a .400 hitter in 25 years.”

Chris Pedretti, coach at Merced College, a junior college near Sacramento, had his players using the Baum bat in exhibition games this fall despite the potential competitive disadvantage. “It took awhile for the kids to get used to it, because they’re heavier than aluminum bats,” Pedretti says. “But we’ve really started learning how to get the bat head to the ball. We’ll know for sure in the spring, I guess.”

Ball State University Coach Pat Quinn says training with a woodlike bat “has benefited all aspects of our game.”

“Our pitchers get more of an idea about pitching inside,” Quinn says. “Our outfielders and infielders read the ball into the strike zone and react. And hitters learn to use their hands. Guys basically muscle the ball with the aluminum bat because it’s so light.

“I wish our conference would use it in league play, but I know I’m fighting odds.”

Baum’s bat is already used in summer college leagues, such as the Cape Cod League, which are supported by the pros. But Smeltzly predicts it’ll be a long time, if ever, before it’s widely used in NCAA games. “Coaches and players are always going to want to use the liveliest bats they can,” he says.

The NCAA rules committee has been considering, for some time, a change in bat specifications. It currently dictates that bats may weigh up to 5 ounces less than their length; in other words, a 34-inch bat can be as light as 29 ounces. That made sense in the early days of non-wood bats, Smeltzly says, but with today’s thin-walled, big-barreled bats, the ball is traveling at a dangerous velocity when it leaves the bat. Forget about inflated statistics — Smeltzly’s worried a pitcher is going to be injured…or worse.

“I’d like to see the (length-weight) differential reduced to three and the barrel size regulated,” Smeltzly says. “Once the committee says that, everyone’s going to have to do what the Baum bat does. And the market will take over.”

For now, however, Smeltzly says it’s difficult even getting enough coaches to serve on the committee who don’t have a conflict of interest because of bat contracts.

Though Baum says he feels the keen stares of his competitors, they profess not to be worried. “I think it’s premature to call this a threat,” says Bill Williams, vice president of advertising and public relations for Hillerich & Bradsby Co., the parent firm of Louisville Slugger, batmakers since 1884. “We’ve seen a lot of things come and go. But it takes someone with new ideas to keep the game going, and if it’s good for the game, great.”

Baum has a few projects to occupy him this winter. He is adding several new models. He has the rough tooling completed for a softball bat. Down the line, he holds patents for a golf driver and a hockey stick with similar technology.

The sky, he says, is literally the limit on bat design: “We could make them in team colors if they want.”

That may sound a tad Charlie Finley-esque, but Baum says he draws his inspiration from the game’s basic blueprint.

“I’m using technology to make the game the same, not to improve it,” he says. “I want to make it the same as Abner Doubleday.”

Invicta watches review of the beautiful Angel collection 0489 and 0488

A woman expects every piece of accessory she wears to be exquisite and beautiful. Not only does she want to flaunt elegance and style, it has to look rich after spending all that money. In today’s modern era, the wrist watches are no longer just a time keeping machine. They are a huge part of trends just like your shoes and makeup. Whether you are going to the office or a party or a date or out on an adventurous sport, you will need to complete that outfit with a wrist watch. Check out this Invicta watches review that perfectly details a few of the best women’s watches from the Invicta watch group.

  • Women’s 0489 Angel collection

This is just too chic with a pop of hip. It will go great with any casual wear. It won’t look too big in your wrist and suits very well, even for those people who have tiny wrists. The band is black polyurethane. The case is made up of 18k gold plated stainless steel. The dial is very unique with the mother of pearl look. Twelve cubic Zirconia stones are positioned at the hour markers. A beautiful rose shape is made on the dial using dozens cubic Zirconia stones. This exquisite dial is protected by mineral crystal. A date display window is also featured at the 3’ o clock position.

The traditional buckle clasp is used. A unidirectional rotating bezel is fitted atop the case. The watch runs on the Swiss quartz movement. It is water resistant up to 100 meters in depth. The display is analog. The case is 39 millimeter in diameter and thickness is 12 millimeter. The case is round in shape. The color of the dial is the unique mother of pearl. The hands and the hour marks are luminous.

You will find that most of the customers who bought this product rewarded all stars in the Invicta watches review column.

  • Women’s 0488 Angel collection

This watch stands true to its name. It really does have the look of an angel. The wrist band is white polyurethane with an 18k gold plated casing. A unidirectional bezel is placed perfectly on top of the case with minute markings. The dial color is mother of pearl with cubic Zirconia stones studded at the hour markings. There is also a beautiful gold plated rose pattern on the dial with smaller cubic Zirconia stones decorating it all the way. A date display window is at the three o’clock marking.

The stunning dial is protected by a mineral crystal. The clasp is of the traditional buckle style. The watch runs on the Swiss quartz movement. Since it is water resistant up to 330 feet in the water, you can use it while swimming and snorkeling. The case is 39 millimeter in diameter and 12 millimeter in thickness. The band width is 20 millimeter. The total of this item is 7.2 ounces. So, it is very comfortable to wear.

How to fix the five most common reading group problems

1. What can we do about members who don’t read the book?

First, make it clear to all applicants that your club is for readers only. But if someone doesn’t find time to finish a given selection–every book dubber with a life will get caught short once in a while–she shouldn’t be read the riot act. Instead, encourage members to come clean, remain silent while others talk, and ultimately answer this question: Did the discussion you just heard make you want to read (or skip) the book (and why)? Repeat non-reading offenders are a bigger problem. If you keep the conversation focused on the material, the non-readers will eventually get bored and leave on their own.

2. How do we keep people from hijacking the conversation?

Appoint a moderator for each discussion to make sure every member gets her say. This leadership task can fall on the host or on the person who chose the book–it doesn’t matter, as long as she takes her role seriously. One measure of a good group is how well it brings participants into the discussion.

3. How do we stop arguing over which books to read?

Groups must go through a honeymoon period, because this problem usually doesn’t arise until the novelty is gone and differences emerge. Build consensus early about the kind of books your group plans to read. Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction, or both? Classics or contemporary works? Books that don’t exceed 400 pages? Majority rules! Set aside one meeting to create a list or at least a theme for the coming year. Advocates for a particular book should do some research to support the choice and come prepared to make a sales pitch.

4. How do we avoid talking about our own problems?

Maybe you don’t. Fellowship is part of what makes a club thrive. Just make sure you organize your meeting so that nonbook business happens either at the front end as members arrive or after the book discussion. If someone starts sending things off the rails on a regular basis, don’t wait until eyes start to roll. Be gentle: Interrupt, saying “I think we’re getting off track here.”

5. How do we maintain a lively discussion but prevent hurt feelings?

There’s no insurance policy against the unintended offense, especially if the topic is religion or politics. But you can agree to disagree without getting personal. The member who advocated reading a particular book should not be so invested that she gets hurt if her choice is criticized. At the same time, someone who says “I hated this book” should be prepared to explain why. Sometimes that’s a lazy way of saying “I don’t get what this is about.” The best book dubs aren’t about handing down judgments–thumbs-up or thumbs-down. It’s the exchange of ideas that makes them vital.

Love your wooden furniture? How to treat it right

The first thing you need to know: Most wooden furniture comes treated in one of these three ways.

  • Clear lacquer

The most popular finish, it shows off the beauty of the wood’s grain, offers good protection against scratches and spills, and is easy to maintain. How to tell whether a piece is lacquered? Look for a thick coating on top of the wood. Underneath, there will usually be an obvious line where the coating stops. Still not sure? Call the manufacturer.

  • Oil

Usually found on teak and walnut furniture, oil is rubbed or soaked into the wood to give it a soft luster–which looks natural and beautiful but provides little scratch protection.

  • Opaque

Paints on Oriental and antiqued furniture are good examples of this easy-care finish, which hides the wood’s grain but provides a tough barrier.

The fine points of polish

You can and should polish any piece of wooden furniture, regardless of its finish, to remove dust, keep it conditioned, and add shine. For most pieces, once a week is best.

  • Read the label.

Before buying a polish, you need to know whether its base is oil or wax. If your furniture has an oil finish, you should always use an oil-based polish. If the finish is lacquer or opaque, either kind of polish is fine, but stick with the same type switching back and forth will make furniture look cloudy.

  • Apply polish properly.

To avoid smearing and polish buildup, first add the product to a clean cloth and then wipe the furniture. Buff with another clean cloth. Always work in the direction of the wood’s grain.

Try this great new shortcut–a furniture wipe.

These premoistened cloths have oils and cleansers built in, so they zap dust and fingerprints while leaving some shine behind.

Surface marred? What to do.

  • White rings and water marks

Apply clear ammonia to a dampened cloth and gently rub the stained lacquer. Dry with a clean cloth, then polish. For any remaining stain, use the following treatment: Make a thin paste of boiled linseed oil and a soft abrasive like rotten stone (both available at hardware stores). Lightly work the paste into the mark with your finger. Wipe with a soft cloth and polish.

And don’t forget …

  • NEVER DUST WITH A DRY CLOTH. Tiny dirt particles are abrasive and will scratch the finish.
  • TREAT SURFACES GENTLY. Wood is easily marked by plastic mats or appliances with rubber feet, so avoid putting these on wood. Hot or wet serving dishes can also cause trouble, so always place a trivet on top of a cloth or a fabric place mat.
  • CLOSE THE BLINDS. Direct sunlight can bleach the wood or cause fine cracks in the finish.

How to create a home office with streamlined style

For a work area that’s efficient and elegant, keep these simple design ideas in mind.

  • Carve out space. No need to dedicate a whole room in your house to office work-just convert a closet or corner instead. Or let a seldom-used room such as a spare bedroom or a dining room perform double duty.
  • Be a master of disguise. Hide office clutter by stashing electronics in a closed cabinet, files in a stylish cube, and paper clips and other small items in cloth-covered boxes.
  • Tuck away tech gear. It’s easy to get tangled up in cables and accessories for computers and digital cameras. Take control of cords with a Cable Turtle (a bright rubber disk that hides excess wires), and stow CDs in attractive albums (Case Logic’s Home Collection and Allsop.com offer a great range of storage styles).
  • Soften the impact. To prevent your home office from looking like a sterile, fluorescent-lit cubicle, let in lots of sunlight and make the space inviting with fabric accents, fresh flowers, and soothing colors that suit your decor.
  • Get a good seat. Consider the ergonomics when picking a perch. Opt for a soft-edged chair that provides back support; keeps your hips, shoulders, and ears in vertical alignment; and holds your arms bent at the elbows at 90 degrees.

Keeping it neat

Find a home for your papers, bills, and more with these tips from organizing coach Mary Sigmann.

  • Move out anything not office related. Maximize space by hanging family photos on a wall instead of setting them on your desk.
  • Use a three-file system. Sort all documents as active (working on now), research (need to access), or archival (need to hold on to).
  • Organize often. Always take ten minutes after you’re done working to put away papers so the desk area will never become an eyesore.

Danger at the petting zoo

Last spring, petting zoos made headlines when 26 people–most of them children–fell ill during an E. coli outbreak in Florida. The bacteria was traced to farm animals. Experts suspect the animals’ fur or enclosures may have been contaminated with manure, a source or E. coli bacteria.

The children were the hardest hit, many of them suffering days of horrible stomach cramps and bloody diarrhea. Some endured more serious complications: One five-year-old girl developed a life-threatening kidney infection from the bacteria. (As of early April, she was still in critical condition.)

This petting zoo incident is not isolated: Over the past four years, zoo-related E. coli outbreaks have affected some 300 children in Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, and Pennsylvania. Such zoos now “pose a threat to public health,” says Jeff Bender, an assistant professor of veterinary public health at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul.

Simply touching the animals isn’t the problem, Bender explains, because the bacteria does not enter through the skin. Instead, it makes its way into a child’s mouth when he sucks his thumb or bites his fingernails afterward. That’s why hygiene is so essential–and why you have to keep a close eye on your kids.

You don’t have to avoid petting zoos, adds Cody Messner, M.D., chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Tufts–New England Medical Center in Boston, if you follow these safety rules:

* Be aware that even the cleanest-looking animal and pen can harbor E. coli.

It’s impossible to keep animal enclosures completely free of manure. And remember that other potentially serious pathogens, such as salmonella, ringworm, and giardia, can also be transmitted from animals in a petting zoo to humans.

* Don’t allow kids to put their fingers in their mouths after touching the animals.

If your child is too young to understand this, then it’s best to carry the child or to have him avoid physical contact with the animals by staying outside the enclosure.

* Keep food, toys, bottles, and pacifiers away from kids while they’re in the zoo.

According to one study, children who drink from a sippy cup or use a pacifier while visiting an animal’s enclosure are at a higher risk of getting sick. That’s because kids touch these objects after petting the animals, then put the objects in their mouths. Your child’s hands should be empty before coming in contact with animals and should stay empty until she has exited the animal area and washed her hands.

* Always make sure your children wash their hands properly.

After your kids wet their hands with running water, place a generous amount of soap in their palms. Have them rub their hands together to make a big, foamy lather and scrub vigorously for 20 seconds. Rinse, then dry kids’ hands with a disposable paper towel. Don’t let children wipe their hands on their shirt or pants–their clothes may have brushed up against the animals. If possible, turn off the faucet using a disposable towel.

If running water is not available, the best substitute is one of the alcohol-based instant-sanitizing gels on the market. Be generous with these products: Saturate fronts and backs of hands and wrists, and make sure to clean under fingernails.

* Watch for symptoms.

If your child becomes ill–with bloody diarrhea, vomiting, and/or stomach cramps–consult your doctor immediately. Experts also recommend avoiding antidiarrheal medicines and antibiotics because they may make an E. coli infection worse.

Are your kids spending too much time watching TV or playing computer games?

I have a confession: My children, ages seven and four, are screen addicts. Every day; they keep one eye on the clock, eagerly awaiting the moment when their designated hour of TV watching can begin. They also crave time with their video games and my computer.

Like a lot of morns, I worry that their brains are turning to mush. Just how much is too much?

How much time do kids spend in front of the TV, video games, or a computer?

An average of five hours and 42 minutes a day? And that doesn’t include time spent using a computer for homework, according to a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Kids younger than six spend about two hours each day in front of the screen, another Kaiser survey reports-nearly triple the time they spend reading or being read to.

Is there any proof that all this is bad for them?

Yes, and it’s very convincing. Heavy TV viewing and video game playing have been linked to obesity, attention-deficit problems, aggressive behavior, and poor performance in school. What’s more, these habits in children and adolescents can lead to poor fitness and raised cholesterol levels in adulthood, according to a study published last year in the medical journal Lancet.

Many educators are wary of using the computer as a teaching tool, particularly for young children, though the hazards have yet to be thoroughly studied. Educational software may help your school-age child with phonics or math, says Jane M. Healy, Ph.D., an educational psychologist and the author of Your Child’s Growing Mind: A Practical Guide to Brain Development and Learning. But it doesn’t encourage imagination or creative problem solving–skills that are the foundation of learning.

Online time also does nothing to enhance another key part of growing up: learning how to relate to others and build relationships, according to Michael Rich, M.D., M.P.H., a pediatrician and director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston.

So how much screen time is OK for young kids?

TVs and computers are not considered useful learning tools for kids under two, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Realistically, young kids will probably be in the room when others are watching but parents should try to limit their toddlers’ screen time as much as possible.

What about older kids?

The AAP recommends limiting recreational screen time to one to two hours per day for all kids over two. Of course, three-year-olds and 14-year-olds are entirely different. There will be days when your tween or teen will want to watch a two-hour DVD and still spend some time surfing the Net. That’s fine, says Donald Shifrin, M.D., a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine. What’s important is to keep these splurges from turning into a daily routine.

And what about doing homework on the computer? Does that count?

Time spent using the Internet to do research for assignments shouldn’t count toward recreational screen time. And if your child is pursuing a special interest on the Web, you should be flexible, say most experts.

How can I keep track of my kids’ screen time?

Put TV sets and computers (or at least those with an Internet connection) in common rooms, suggests Dr. Shifrin. That way, you can keep an eye on exactly what your youngster is up to. In addition, when an older child is watching or surfing with younger siblings, you can make sure the content is appropriate for all ages. If you have a baby-sitter, be sure she knows about any screen-time rules you’ve set so that she can enforce them too.

How can I get my kids to cut back on their own?

Try following these three steps:

  • Offer alternatives. Encourage your children to read, go outside, play board games, draw, bake, or do anything that cultivates creativity. TV and video games are almost addictive for kids; but fun, engaging substitutes can help them kick the habit.
  • Set up routines. Make sure after-school time and weekends are structured with lessons, sports, and chores, so kids don’t aimlessly reach for the remote. But do take into account what specifically works for your child, says Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Ph.D., codirector of the National Center for Children and Families at Teachers College, Columbia University. If your ten-year-old son needs to decompress after school with a video game or two before he tackles homework, then let him. Or if your 12-year-old daughter likes to get her assignments out of the way and reward herself with a favorite TV show, that’s fine too.
  • Pick specific TV shows ahead of time.

Have your child look over the listings and mark the shows she wants to watch. You’ll be surprised how much extraneous viewing you’ll cut out this way.

Reading is a challenge

Mary Wehr-Anderson’s mom suffer from macular degeneration, one of the most common causes of vision problems in older adults. “She can’t drive anymore,” says Wehr-Anderson, 47, of South Bend, Indiana. “And she used to love to read, but now even the newspaper is a challenge.

Her mom can still get around the house fine, though Wehr-Anderson drives her to doctors’ appointments, balances her checkbook, brings dinner, and helps in any way she can think of. Luckily, she lives just six miles away. “My mom has had to give up things she used to enjoy,” says Wehr-Anderson. “But she’s still home, and she loves that.”

If your parent’s vision is faltering, make sure he or she sees an ophthalmologist, who may recommend treatment or magnifying devices that can make household reading easier. But also try these changes:

  • Raise the wattage. One of the first things Wehr-Anderson did was to make sure the lighting fixtures in the house were fitted with the highest-watt bulbs recommended by the manufacturer. Most lamps have a sticker that gives this information. Or, consider replacing fixtures to accommodate a higher wattage.
  • Install night-lights in hallways, especially between the bedroom and the bathroom. For extra convenience, try the Leviton Motion Activated Light Control, which will automatically turn on a light when your parent moves into a room and then turn it off again up to 15 minutes later.
  • Look for products that have large, easy-to-read displays. In our tests, seniors liked Ameriphone’s Amplified Photo Phone P300. The numbers on this corded model are twice as big as those on a regular phone. It also has nine speed-dial pads with photo displays. You can program each pad so that when your parent touches the button, the phone will dial the person in the photograph. For a parent who prefers a cordless phone, GH Institute engineers recommend the Clarity C430; it also has oversize buttons. Both these models have a light that goes on when there’s an incoming call.
  • Get an oversize remote for the TV. Have you noticed that your mom hardly ever changes the channel? It could be because those buttons on the remote control are so tiny. Our elderly testers said the Tek Partner Universal Remote Control solved that problem. It weighs just under a pound, and the keypad lights up when you push any button.

5 stompboxes reviewed

Analog Alien Rumble Seat

This snazzy stompbox which combines overdrive, delay, and reverb was designed with rockabilly players in mind, but it can take you from there to just this side of metal with stops in classic, psychedelic, and hard rock along the way. The overdrive sounds fantastic and is very versatile. There’s tons of output on tap, Tone sweeps from super-dark to ultra-crispy with a luscious sweet spot in the middle, and Gain goes from subtle amp-like breakup to smoothly saturated sustain. The sounds are tight, clear, fat, dynamic, and there’s relatively little noise. The Delay has an old-school echo vibe (and hash to match on longer settings) with delay times from 25ms to 650ms. The Reverb was designed to emulate the tube-driven spring reverb in blackface Fender amps, and while that is a challenging standard, it does capture some of that flavor, and sounds wonderful in any case. The Rumble Seat comes with a VisualSound One Spot power adapter and a bright orange cooler bag carrying case, analogalien.com

Coldcraft EchoVerberator Parallel Ambience Machine

Running reverb and echo in parallel avoids muddiness by not repeating the reverb tails or reverberating the echo repeats–and that’s just what the EchoVerberator does. The seriously springy reverb sounds most realistic when used subtly, but also creates wild spaces when cranked. The echo generates fab slap-backs, as well as warm-sounding longer repeats of up to nearly a second in length. Independent Reverb and Echo level controls let you dial in whatever blend suits your fancy, and an internal switch engages Reverb Always On Mode for additional flexibility. A second internal switch adds slight modulation to the repeats, and Momentary Mode triggers the effects (or only echo when in Reverb Always On Mode) only while the footswitch is held down. Rockabilly heaven, coldcrafteffects.net

Catalinbread Topanga Spring Reverb

Based on the legendary Fender 6G15 outboard spring reverb, this pedal sports the original’s Dwell knob, which here controls how hard the guitar signal hits the virtual springs. A Tone knob darkens just the reverb to get it out of the way of your original signal. A Volume knob adds clean boost if you want it. Internal switching either keeps the buffer on in bypass, retaining the decay and boost when you shut the effect off, or kicks the level up only when you turn the effect on and kills the decay when turned off. This might be the best reverb guitar pedal, sounded gorgeous in every setting. Warm, subtle spring ambience was one option, as was splashy, realistic springiness. The Topanga twangs so well you may want to use it instead of your internal spring reverb, catalinbread.com

Diamond Blaze

The blazing-red Blaze is a germanium-based fuzz that visually resembles its silicon-based cousin the Fireburst. It features active Baxandall Bass and Treble controls and a high-end op amp in addition to other fancy components, as well as true-bypass switching. An Alternative footswitch activates a bass boost (the Fireburst has a mid boost), providing two de facto presets. Basically an atypically stout old-school-sounding fuzz, the Blaze does its Job really well, dishing up everything from convincing Jimi sounds to very dark and very bright sculpted tones–all with amazingly little noise, even when maxed out. The bass boost is voiced perfectly, adding just the right amount of oomph, and there’s plenty of sustain with the Gain turned up. Nice, diamondpedals.com

Diamond Quantum Leap

Concealed within this modest-looking “short-delay toolbox” are five distinct and powerful effects: flanger, chorus, filter, tap-delay, and pitch-ramp-delay. Engineered to emulate vintage analog BBD devices (with up to 600ms of delay time), the Leap’s analog-digital-hybrid technology results in luscious-sounding repeats and modulation sweeps. A small switch cycles through the five effects types, and the Speed, Width, and Regeneration controls change function on each setting, as does the Tap/Fx footswitch. But navigate these and the pedal’s other complexities, and you are rewarded with a huge range of fantastic sounds. The Flange and Chorus are thick and clear, the dual/toggling Filter is effective (oscillating like a Theramin on extreme settings), and the delays are to die for. Besides oozing vibe on standard settings, in Harmonic Mode they approach Eventide Crystal coolness, the pitch-ramp sounds are seriously sick, and the ambient washes and runaway regeneration effects are superb, diamondpedals.com

Boutique distortion pedal roundup

Few pieces of gear arouse greater curiosity in guitarists than boutique effects pedals. Often Objects d’Art, these mysterious little boxes embody the promise of adding unusual–and possibly even unique new–colors to our tonal palates. Sure they can cost considerably more than mass-produced pedals, but what price do you put on art? And how do you measure the worth of a tool that might be critical to achieving your own individual musical voice?

We can’t know your tastes, of course, but we can tell you that the six of best guitar distortion pedals reviewed here are all packed with personality, and each offers its own distinct approach to creating “good” distortion. I auditioned each pedal using a late ‘80s American Standard Srat, a ’68 Les Paul Custom, a PRS Custom 24, and a Dean Evo Premium. Amps included a Rivera Thirty-Twelve, a Bogner Metropolis, and a mid-’60s Fender Twin. The latter provided the highest hurdle as it is super-clean and very unforgiving.

It is obvious that the manufacturers took great care when creating these pedals. They are all housed in ruggedly constructed casings, and I found no wobbly jacks, knobs, or switches. Though there are significant external aesthetic differences, only the finest components have been used, and the wiring is clean and nicely detailed. With the exception of the Pete Cornish P-2 Fuzz, all of the pedals feature true-bypass switching, and all but the Analog Man Sun Face have sockets for external AC adapters.

Analog Man Sun Face

The Sun Face replicates the germanium transistor circuitry used in the classic Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face. The review pedal contained the optional NOS ’60s NKT-275 transistors. The Sun Face has no LED and operates only on a 9V battery–two factors the manufacturer feels are necessary to achieve the original Fuzz Face sound. Besides the volume and fuzz knobs on the outside, there are also internal pots labeled Trimmer and Bias. The former cleans up the fuzziness in the same way that dialing your guitar’s volume control back would, and the latter adjusts the operating voltage, allowing you to fine-tune it for optimal performance (or cause the pedal to cough, spit, sputter, and make other rude noises).

The Sun Face makes basically one very good sound. True to the original, the Sun Face doesn’t have gobs of sustain, but it also lacks the characteristic raspiness found in some vintage Fuzz Face pedals. There’s lots of gain, it responds extremely well to playing dynamics, and the sound cleans up dramatically when your guitar’s volume is pulled back. The Sun Face sounds as good or better than the vintage Fuzz Faces I’ve heard, and it costs a lot less.

Barber Electronics Direct Drive

Don’t let the price fool you–the Direct Drive is hand-built in the U.S. using the finest components, and it easily outperforms units costing several times as much. Though it has only three knobs, pulling out the push/pull tone control really fattens up the harmonics, and changing the operating voltage (9-18V) yields additional tonal possibilities.

I was able to get a wide variety of very musical sounds out of the Direct Drive–from crunchy blackface blues tones to spongy vintage Hi-Watt-like overdrive to supersaturated tube distortion–and it sounded great with every combination of guitars and amps. This pedal would be a bargain at twice the price.

Brotech Electronics Fatpipe Pro

The versatile Fatpipe Pro offers both distortion and clean boost, and the two modes can be used together or independently. The distortion section includes a three-band act/ye equalizer–meaning you can cut and boost frequencies–that provides a great deal of tonal flexibility.

The Fatpipe Pro produces a very tube-like distortion that’s somewhat reminiscent of a vintage Ibanez TS-9. The EQ is nicely voiced and generally quite useful, though the bottom-end can get a little wobbly. The clean boost is very rich and full, and it combines nicely with the distortion section, allowing you to add just the right amounts of edgy crunch and sustain.

J. Everman Fuzz Drive

The Fuzz Drive combines both fuzz and overdrive circuits. The pedal’s four exterior controls are fairly straightforward, but there are also six DIP switches located on the inside of the unit that provide nearly endless tweaking options. The Bias knob and the first three DIP switches determine how the pedal responds to your guitar’s particular pickups, and the Fuzz and Drive knobs interact with each other–and the other three DIP switches–to alter the gain structure in various ways. Do the math–there are lots of possibilities.

The Fuzz Drive provides a warm and punchy clean boost, full and throaty overdrive, and wonderfully complex distortion tones–and it’s capable of pumping out huge amounts of gain. Furthermore, harmonically elaborate chords retain their individual note articulation–even on heavily distorted settings. This capability distinguishes the Fuzz Drive from most of its peers.

Jacques Fuse Blower II

The Fuse Blower II packs lots of tonal flexibility into a tiny package. Billed as three distortions in one, it features three Blow knobs for dialing-in high, mid, and low-frequency distortion, as well as having an overall tone control. The three distortion circuits function more-or-less like a 3-band EQ, but with most of the action happening in the high end. The pedal is relatively quiet, even when set to maximum distortion.

Although the Fuse Blower makes some great sounds–and provides a plethora of sonic options–I found its tone to be a little thin, with a tendency to get raspy when the highs are cranked. Pumping up the lows and severely rolling back the highs helps, but leaves little headroom for further adjustments–which significantly decreases the usefulness of the EQ. Naturally, guitars with humbuckers required less compensation than those with single-coils.

Pete Cornish P-2 Fuzz

For more than three decades, the venerable Pete Cornish has been building custom pedal-boards and effects-switching systems for superstars such as Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Sting, and David Gilmour. He has also created a line of hand-built effects boxes, of which the P-2 Fuzz is the latest addition. The P-2 measures an appreciable 4.25″x7″x2.5″, and sports internal shielding that contributes to its ultra-quiet operation. Cornish eschews true-bypass switching, and you find out why by reading “The Case Against True Bypass” on his Web site. (It has to do with gain staging, and how multiple-pedal setups and cable runs affect tone and volume.)

The P-2 delivers extremely fat, smooth, and harmonically rich distortion tones, ranging from a relatively mellow crunch to searing high-gain sustain. The pedal is also extraordinarily responsive to playing dynamics, deans up nicely with even slight guitar volume adjustments, and it provides uncanny single-note definition within chords. Finally, it can crank out insane amounts of gain. If you are a serious tone nut, and fuzz is a major part of your sound, you owe it to yourself to check this thing out. Astonishing!