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Consumer Reports


Tinkerers of the world unite!

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- CHICAGO (UPI) | From one time use gas masks to fireproof home safes and solar-powered stepping stone outdoor lighting nearly 3,000 exhibitors are doing their best to jumpstart the sluggish economy at the National Hardware Show, which runs through Wednesday at the cavernous McCormick Place Exhibition Center.

For the ultimate couch potato there's a universal remote control that dims the lights, adjusts the speed of a ceiling fan, controls the television, home theater and other consumer electronics and does almost everything except open a cold beer.

For the more active, how about a high-tech hammer? That's right, a hammer. It uses space-age materials to overcome the rebound factor.

The trade-only show is the Super Bowl of hardware -- a $415 billion a year retail industry. Americans spend more than $300 billion on home improvement alone, according to the Commerce Department and Market research International.

For the health conscious worried about strange germs in dirty public restrooms the hot product could be the Toilet-Matic, a lightweight, collapsible, hard plastic 2-inch thick toilet seat cover that attaches over a public toilet seat with replaceable suction cups.

The $24.99 Toilet-Matic even comes with its own carrying bag.

Inventor and company president Orlando Wooten calls the portable toilet seat the "sleeper" hit of the show.

"It's less than a pound, fits any type of toilet seat and gives you home away from home comfort that a sheet-type barrier does not," said Wooten, who has a degree in biology.

Wooten came up with the idea while in college in 1985.

"When I was in college at Jackson State University (in Mississippi), the dormitories were gross. I couldn't take it. So what I did to help support myself through school, I made them out of wood. I cut them in half and put hinges on them.

"There are definite problems with public toilets," said Wooten, a registered nurse. "E.coli, salmonella, hepatitis C and the list goes on and on." He sees women and families with small children as his target market.

The product, made by Wooten Enterprises in Chicago, will be nationally advertised this fall on SuperStation WGN-TV and the Lifetime cable channel. It is available on the Internet at toiletmatic.com.

Solar Lighted Stepping Stones, which are programmed to turn on and off automatically, are made by Alpan Lighting Products of Camarillo, Calif., a leader in solar-powered lighting.

Another item marrying hardware with technology is The Dead Blow Hammer by Nupla Corp. of Sun Valley, Calif. The big mallet definitely is not your father's toolbox hammer.

The Dead Blow has a polyurethane and nylon polymer head and a steel shot-loaded canister inside called "Power Drive" which shifts a load of pellets to the front of the hammer upon impact delivering more power.

"You would think by now after we went beyond the rock tied to a stick that we would go a little bit beyond that," said Bill Hamilton, special markets manager.

"When you strike a surface with the hammer there's no rebound, no bounce, it's all force. The full energy of the strike is transmitted to whatever you're hitting," he said.

An unbreakable fiberglass handle is surrounded by a comfortable ergonomic rubber grip.

The Dead Blow hammer will be available this fall under Sears' Craftsman brand for about $39 for a 2-pounder. Hammer weights begin at 16 ounces and grow to 64 ounces.

Hunter Fan Co., of Memphis, Tenn., offers the latest in fan technology, including the first universal fan/video remote control. The 116-year-old company was the world's original electric ceiling fan maker and next year introduces the innovative "WobbleFree" fan mounting system that eliminates the annoying wobble from virtually any ceiling fan.

"We have two types of fans. We've got fans with integrated remote controls, where the fan comes with that, but any of our fans you can add a remote control to after the fact," said Gary Feder, Hunter Fan Co. director of market planning and communications. "The remote module as an aftermarket accessory is about $50 retail."

Sisco of Seneca Falls, N.Y., offers a complete line of Brinks brand home safes.

"Security has become a heightened awareness since Sept. 11," said Togo DeBellis, national accounts sales manager for Sisco. He said interest home security has been growing for the last decade but really took off after the terror attacks.

"We had a record first quarter," he said. "Anti-theft (safes) resist burglary, fire safes protect from fire ... we're at a 40 percent growth this year over last year."

One model safe uses a thumbprint scanner for instant open and the reader is battery powered so you can stash or collect your valuables quickly even during a power failure.

MSA Safety Works, which has been selling workplace safety equipment for more than 100 years, is bringing to market an industrial grade consumer gas mask hood designed to protect against chemical, biological and nuclear hazards.

The single use plastic mask fits tightly over your head and has been in development since 1998. The $179 retail mask has been ordered by the New York City Fire Department, the State Department and embassies. Israel also has expressed interest in the product.

It provides 60-minute protection against Sarin nerve gas, 40-minute protection against hydrogen cyanide, and eight-hour protection against tear gas.

"It actually does protect from all chemicals, nerve agents like mustard gas," said company spokeswoman Jessica Jackson. "We did do an independent survey to see how many consumers would be interested in buying it and about 25 percent of people said if it were available 'we'd like one.'"

"We hope you never use it," said John Quinn, MSA Safety Works marketing manager, "but it does give you the protection should you need it. This is designed to be simple enough to use and we've set it up with a videotape to instruct them how to use and also how to prepare."

Move over, "Billy Bass," the kitschy singing fish that sold millions a few years ago, here comes "Tommy the Turtle." C & F Industries, a New Jersey importer, is marketing a $19.99 battery-powered 6-inch amphibian that sings. A motion sensor triggers the smiling plastic turtle to stick its head out of its shell, crawl forward and burst into a country and western song.

The lyric goes: "You got to slow down, you're moving too fast. You got to slow down, make the morning last. You're working too hard, you know that it's true. You got to slow down and make time for you."

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