Voltage Valet Travel Alarm Clock

As a frequent international travelers know, you cannot count on having a clock in hotels outside the US. Travel clocks are a dime-a-dozen, but the 2TS has one feature that makes it indispensable in my travels.

When I am time-shifted and my sleep patters are thrown, its important to be able to glance at a clock. The simple act of reaching to activate a backlight is enough to bring me to full consciousness, making it harder to get back to sleep. Reaching for my phone is worse; I’m likely to be distracted by messages that have piled up on the lock screen.

That’s where the T2S comes in. When you set the alarm, the LCD display remains constantly illuminated. With this unit, all I have to do is glance at it. If it’s still nighttime, I can easily drift back into slumber.

The light is just bright enough to make it readable, and dim enough that you can sleep facing it. It is powered by 3 AAA batteries, which the manufacturer says should last for 6 months of daily use. I use it far less than that, and replace the batteries once a year as a precaution.

I never leave the US without this clock!

-- Chris Adamson  

Voltage Valet 2TS LCD Travel Alarm Clock
$20

Available from Amazon



Andrew Mayne, Author and Magician

Our guest this week is Andrew Mayne. He is a magician, maker, and the author of five bestselling mystery and thriller novels. He’s the star of A&E’s magic reality show Don’t Trust Andrew Mayne, and he’s worked for David Copperfield, Penn & Teller, and David Blaine. His latest book is a thriller titled Name of the Devil

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Show Notes:

 Google Forms Free

“If I’m anywhere and I have an idea, I just press the button… It pops open the form that’s fitted for mobile and I can either type or say whatever I need and click “send.” It’s saved to a database that later on I can go back to and go look through.”

Daedelus Touch $1

“They actually have another app called Ulysses, but Daedalus is a really nice distraction free environment for writing. I’ve written a lot of stuff using that.”

Boogie Board Sync $94

“This electronic note taking device is lightweight. You don’t really worry about it as far as what happens to it. It’s nice because you can erase something but it saves everything you erased to an erase folder. If you hit the button wrong, it’s okay. It’s still there.”

tinker

Tinkercad Free

“What I love about Tinkercad 3D modeling software that the model is simpler. You use primitives — circles, squares, triangles and stuff — to build things up…”

 



3-Outlet AC Adapter

I travel for work with some combination of laptop, video camera, phone, tablet, audio recorder. For all their improvements, one thing that remains true when traveling with electronics is that they need power, whether constantly or occasionally in the form of a battery charge. Hotels or hostels (or, for that matter, a guest room at your cousin’s house or AirB&B host) don’t always have handy outlets for you to hook up a computer, a phone, a tablet, and a camera battery charger. Combining functions (for instance, using a smart phone as camera, computer and book reader) is admirable, good, and increasingly practical — but doesn’t work in every context for every person.

That’s why I used to often travel with a regular household multi-tap outlet, and then a cute wrap-around miniature one, which I thought and think is a great invention. However, I’ve recently upgraded — some would say down- or side-graded — to a smaller, lighter, cheaper multi-tap. It costs $8 (with free add-on-item shipping from Amazon), and weighs 90g vs. 165g for the four-outlet one it supplants for one-bag travel. Orange may be ugly, but it’s harder to forget. And with a multi-tap, no matter what kind, you can be a minor hero at a crowded airport by letting a few others charge up *their* laptops or phones when the too-few AC outlets are full: I’ve never been turned down when asking politely to share the wall, nor turned down someone who wants to use one of the outlets.

At coffee shops and other places with long-abused outlets, too, I find the sturdy 3-prong connection gives me a connection less likely to slip out of the wall. I also bring along a 3-to-2 prong “cheater,” for the increasingly rare times that only 2-prongs are available. With that, and a spare AC USB charger attached, I can avoid most minor charging hassles.

Two small caveats: 1) This doesn’t get you much *away* from the wall, so there’s only one spot for a fat wall wart; 2) compared to my wrap-around one, I now have 3 outlets rather than 4, but I find I can live with this just fine.

-- Timothy Lord  

3-Outlet Heavy-Duty Grounding Adapter
$8

Available from Amazon



Check out the fun items at Wink Fun

Wink Fun is the new site that Kevin Kelly, Carla Sinclair, and I started earlier this year. Every weekday we recommend a new game, toy, puzzle, or other fun item. In recent days we’ve looked at Bocce balls, a terrific wireless kid’s headphone set, a 3D car puzzle, a superior slingshot, a game that pits Tesla against Edison, magic tricks, microscopes, high power squirt guns, and more. Check it out and let us know what you think. And if you have an idea for a fun thing to review, email us!

-- Mark Frauenfelder  



The Elements of Pop-Up

I’ve had this book on Pop-up book design for two years. I have other books on paper engineering but this is the one that I come back to regularly. My copy has been heavily notated with my experiences with each example. Because the book contains miniature pop-up’s demonstrating each element and also because there is some room on the page for notes next to each example, this book has become my go-to for paper engineering.

-- Joel Shepherd  

Elements of Pop Up
By James Diaz and David A. Carter
1999, 18 pages
$28

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

pop-3

pop-2

pop-1




OXO Pepper Mill

This pepper mill is fantastic.

The good:

  • It is very fast. The crank arm means you can grind lots of pepper quickly. This is great if you have to cook a lot of food, but also great for people with reduced hand or arm strength.
  • It is easy to hold. The body looks a bit awkward but it fits in your hand easily. The crank knob isn’t huge, but it is also easy to grab.
  • It is also lightweight, and won’t crush a toe if you drop it, unlike those solid brass or stainless steel ones.
  • It is durable. I have used mine daily for something like nine years, with no wear at all. The grinding mechanism is ceramic and will not rust or wear out. The body is plastic, tough enough to survive any number of falls (though I haven’t tried it on a tile or stone floor.)
  • It is easy to refill. There is a clear plastic hopper door on the side that you just tilt out to pour in peppercorns. It is quite easy. No unscrewing of mechanisms or handles. A few reviews on Amazon complain that the door is too easy to open, but I haven’t had that problem.
  • It is stable sitting upright, so you can quickly set it down without it falling over. Tall, narrow grinders cannot be set down on their ends easily.
  • It comes with a snap-on lid that catches stray grounds. If reversed, it makes a handy base to set on your countertop.
  • The grind is easy to adjust. There is a large, clearly labeled wingnut on the bottom that you turn to adjust the grind. The coarseness range is also good, ranging from fine to medium-large, with big enough pieces that you can crack them between your teeth.
  • It costs TWELVE DOLLARS!

The bad

  • It is not extraordinarily beautiful, though It was recently revised to be a little more sleek. It looks simple and modern, and that’s about it. So it might not go with certain table settings (and some dinner guests might not be prepared for how much pepper it puts out.)
  • Being plastic, I suppose it is possible to break it or melt it in a fire. But nothing short of abuse would do that.

So. This grinder is amazing for people with weaker hands and wrists, and for people who need to produce lots of ground pepper quickly. It is terrific for everybody else unless you don’t like how it looks on your dinner table.

-- Karl Chwe  

OXO Good Grips Pepper Mill
$12

Available from Amazon



Uni Jet Stream Prime High Grade Multicolor Ballpoint Pen

I have been using Uni-ball Jetstream pens ever since they came out several years ago. As a left-hander, the fast-drying ink appealed to me right away and I have not been disappointed.

I did break ranks and buy a Cool Tools recommended Parker Jotter ballpoint pen and had trouble with the ink flow almost from the get-go. I contacted Parker and they sent me two new refills, but the problem persisted, so I gave up on Parkers and went back to my standby Jetstream pen.

Then, fairly recently Uni-ball came out with their Jet Stream Prime multicolor pens. The Prime pens are more upscale then their single color brethren, but look much nicer (and, of course, cost more).

I rarely lose pens (just don’t ask to borrow mine), so, without hesitation, I opted for a black three-color pen from the Prime series. These little guys are close to $30 from Amazon, but even at that price I find them a good deal. Most multicolor pens have a less than sleek cross-section and the mechanisms tend to be clunky. Neither of those descriptions apply to the Prime pens. The little sliders for the three colors are barely noticeable and the mechanism is crisp and operates smoothly. I’m a mathematician and I often need to highlight some parts of a derivation, which used to mean circling the parts. No more. Now I just switch from black to red or blue to mark important equations.

I am not sure what the barrel is made of, but even though it’s not textured or soft-coated it is easy to grip and does not slide in my hand. Also, the pen takes standard Uni-ball refills. The Prime pens come in several color combinations and there are even models that include a pencil, but I haven’t tried the pen-pencil combination. If you hang on to your pens for a long time and have need for more than a single color (or even a pencil), I’d highly recommend the Prime pens from Uni-ball.

One caveat I discovered only after using the pen for a while, and it holds for almost all multi-pens: In order to fit all the refills into the pen, they need to either make the barrel very fat, which this one is not, or skimp on ink, which is the case with this pen. It’s not a big deal, but something to think about. I ordered refills later, but I wish I had ordered them with the pen. See photo below for comparison:

pen-size

-- Jim Shapiro  

Uni Jet Stream Prime High Grade Multicolor Ballpoint Pen
$27

Available from Amazon



Velo Orange Porteur Bike Rack

I have been using the Velo Orange Porteur Rack for three years. As a lifelong bicycle commuter I’ve never used a more useful rack. This rack lets me throw my messenger bag or backpack on the rack keeping my back from getting all sweaty, and on the way home I can stop by the store and put groceries on the rack and my backpack. It holds a twelve pack of beer wonderfully. The rail keeps things from sliding off the rack, you don’t need to strap them down. I found a cardboard box that fits perfectly on the rack so I just throw my bag or what ever in the box and go. I have used rear racks and panniers, but I always found them cumbersome and I never knew what to do with the panniers when I locked up my bike and went into a store. The Velo Orange Porteur Rack will turn any bike into a custom utility bike that can carry lots of stuff.

-- Presley Martin  

Velo Orange Porteur Front Rack
$160

Available from Amazon



Ben Krasnow – Maker and YouTube Star

Our guest this week is Ben Krasnow. Ben works at Google[x], Google’s semi-secret technology development facility, where he creates advanced prototypes. Ben previously developed virtual reality hardware at Valve. After work, he spends time on various projects that usually involve circuit design, machining, and chemistry. You can follow Ben’s projects on his youtube channel, Applied Science.

Subscribe to the Cool Tools Podcast on iTunes | RSS | Transcript | Download MP3 | See all the Cool Tools Show posts on a single page

Show Notes:

Digital Inclinometer $31

“It’s a small box about the size of a pack of gum, maybe, or a little bit bigger. It has a magnetic base on the bottom of it and a digital readout. What you do is you stick it down with the magnets to something, like a table saw, and zero it. Then, you pick it up and stick it onto the side of the saw blade and it will tell you the angle between those two surfaces.”

Fiberglass scratch brush $8

“It’s the size of a large ballpoint pen. Instead of a pen coming out the end, it has about a quarter-inch diameter cluster like bundle of fiberglass fibers. The glass fibers are very abrasive. What you do is you push the brush down onto something that you want to clean and swirl it around. The tips of the glass fibers actually scratch away at the surface of the thing that you want to clean. The glass is really hard, so it will clean metal parts. It will erode away plastic parts if you brush them long enough. Then, as you use it, the glass bristles break off and exposes fresh, sharp fibers.”

microscope

Stereo Microscope $140

“This one is used a lot by electronics folks. If you have one sitting on your desk that you use for surface mount electronics part assembly, you will start using it for, basically, everything else. Then you realize that it’s just completely indispensable and you really can’t set up a desk without one.”

Devcon Plastic Welder $20

“There’s other brands that sell Plastic Welder, but it’s actually not the same stuff as Devcon. You’ve got to get the actual Devcon stuff. It’s basically a two-part adhesive. It looks like epoxy. It comes in one of those twin syringe packs, but it’s actually not an epoxy. I believe it’s an acrylic glue. It smells really strong, so you know it’s going to be really good.”

Nitto Tape $27

“It’s a craft paper tape with, I think, an acrylic adhesive on both sides and it’s extremely strong.”

Kapton Tape $13

“It’s not quite as strong as the Permacel we were talking about, but Kapton is a really good electrical insulator. If you want to stick something down to your circuit board, Kapton Tape is really good because it keeps your circuit isolated, and if it’s double stick, then you can put a little bit of Kapton down on the board and then stick something to that and still have pretty good electrical isolation.”

 



National Walking Sprinkler Model B-3

I have used it every summer for 7 years. It has a few signs of weathering (I accidentally left it outside all winter in the snow one year), but it works the same as the day it arrived. I have it hooked up to 125 ft. of hose, and it pulls that entire length with no problem including up a short hill. It has 2 speeds, and puts down about 1″ of water as it travels on the slower speed. It soaks the lawn nicely to encourage deep root growth. It cost me more than double what the Nelson Rain Train costs, but I’ve heard horror stories of the Rain Train stripping the plastic drivetrain in one year. The National Walking Sprinkler shows no signs of slowing down!

Once, the hose got caught on a retaining wall and stalled the sprinkler. Instead of stripping/destroying the drivetrain, it dug 2 trenches under the wheels until the body of the sprinkler bottomed out. It was sitting in place spinning the wheels until I found it and rescued it. My wife was not happy about the muddy ruts in the lawn… I was happy I didn’t wreck my sprinkler!

If something happened or the sprinkler was lost/stolen, I would replace it in a heartbeat.

sprinkler-2

-- Chris Dykhouse  

National Walking Sprinkler Model B-3
$179 from Lee Valley

Available from Amazon