Tom Bihn Travel Tray

A lot of us frequent travelers, for business or pleasure, like to have our creature comforts to make travel a bit more bearable. They are like bringing a little piece of home with us, or at least keeping the umbilical cord attached to home base. And we always need something to carry all or keep track of all of that stuff.

One of my creature comforts is the Tom Bihn Travel Tray, which I’ve been using for about four years. Like most other travel trays, it’s collapsible, and you open it up in your destination to use as a collection bucket for all of your everyday carry items, or whatever you want corralled in one place. At the end of the day, I empty my pockets into it, and also add my watch and whatever other small items I might want to find readily during my stay. It goes into a hotel room drawer, or on top of a desk or night table.

The Tom Bihn Travel Tray’s advantage over other travel trays is that it has a drawstring top, much like a backpack with a rain sleeve. This is handy when I leave some small items behind for the day, like earbuds or coins from other countries on a multi-country trip. I pull the drawstring and pop the Travel Tray in to the room’s safe or back into my luggage, out of site. It also makes a nice collection bucket at home on top of a dresser or in a closet or a drawer.

The drawstring feature is also very useful during the actual travel process. While checking in at the airport (check-in kiosks are not found in many countries where I travel), or just after, I take the Travel Tray out of my carry-on, open it, dump in the contents of my pockets—wallet, coins, cell phone, pens—add my watch, pull the drawstring and put the Travel Tray back into my carry-on. Once on the other side of security I put the contents back into my pockets.

I recommend the more brightly colored Travel Trays so they are easy to spot if you forgot to pack them. I have a red Travel Tray so that I can spot it if I left it behind. This strategy has worked all but once, and only a hasty return to the hotel before my flight allowed me to retrieve my Travel Tray. A couple of hotel employees had it, and were trying to figure out what it was for.

You can see a couple of videos of how the Tom Bihn Travel Tray works on the product website. Beware of giving the Travel Tray as a gift. There is a high probability that the recipient will try it as a hat.

There are other Tom Bihn travel products reviews on Cool Tools, notably the Western Flyer and the Brain Bag. Tom Bihn products are a bit pricy, but are well-made in the USA, and backed by a lifetime guarantee. You can check out the forums on the Tom Bihn website to see that there is quite a loyal fan base.


Salux Nylon Wash Cloth/Towel

I was skeptical when my wife purchased one of these cloths off the internet several years ago. One shower later I was ready to bin the loofa and any number of other scrubbing and exfoliating tools.

The cloth is perfect for vigorously exfoliating, but is gentle enough that it does not leave serious abrasions on more delicate skin. It is long enough that I (a large and hefty individual at 6′ and more than 200 lbs) can use it to scrub my back better than a brush on a stick.

It exfoliates in an invigorating fashion, and holds enough lather that I only need to apply soap once in a shower unless I deliberately rinse the cloth. At the same time it dries quickly, making it perfect for travel. It is also apparently machine-washable, but as it is so easy to rinse clean and dries so quickly we rarely ever wash it. Ours has seen more countries around the world than wash cycles — and at less than $10, this is easily the best personal care product for the price.

-- Adam Wunker  

Salux Nylon Wash Cloth/Towel

Available from Amazon

Toro Cordless 24-Inch Hedge Trimmer

I just spent a glorious morn with this very cool tool. The past decade has been spent tackling Leylandii hedges and other native barrier hedging with a hand-powered trimmer. While good exercise, this 68-year-old body can find more pleasant ways toward fitness.

Gas-powered trimmers were out because the noise and fumes drive me more than slightly batty. Plus I hadn’t owned a gas car or all the other paraphernalia needed for years.

So, after a bit of reading reviews, I ordered the Toro cordless from Home Depot. I didn’t shop around, just bought it for about $200 including hefty taxes. There are cheaper cordless trimmers from 12-18V, but the bar length and good reports of battery life convinced me.

I did two long sessions with the Toro this morning. I wore out before the battery did. One-handed operation is fairly easy with the 6.8 lb tool and it easily cuts up to 3/4″ which is bigger than most new growth.

And another big plus was the first battery re-charge was just over 1 hour… far faster than me.

-- SalishSeaSam  

Toro 51496 Cordless 24-Inch 24-Volt Lithium-Ion Hedge Trimmer

Available from Amazon

Digital Height Gauge

This tool is very useful for accurately setting the height of table saw blades or router bits. It also works well for setting the position of a fence relative to the table saw blade or router bit. I’ve been using one for about two years. It lets me setup a table saw or router more accurately than I could by eye. Normally one tries to make all identical cuts at one time on the same setup. However, if you miss a cut, or damage a work piece and need to make a new one, this height gauge will let you match your original setup very closely.

also has an extensive line of other digital height and positioning gauges for a wide variety of woodworking machines.

-- Cornell Wright  

Wixey WR200 Digital Height Gauge with Fractions

Available from Amazon

TeleBouncer Blocker TB1000

For the last several years, one of the most annoying aspects of my life has been the incessant and unstoppable telephone spam — four, five, six calls or more cold calls a day from telemarketers. The do-not call lists are worthless. Telemarketers pay no attention to them.

Most mechanical devices to block such calls are based on caller ID, for which the phone company charges $10 a month. Then you have to keep updating your list of blocked numbers. On top of which, your phone keeps ringing for each new number that you haven’t blocked yet.

Then I discovered TeleBouncer from Demys, a blocker that has nothing to do with caller ID. Rather, it intercepts all incoming calls and tells callers to press 1 (or 2 or 3) to reach you. Only after the caller presses 1 does your phone ring. This immediately shuts out robocallers and all recorded messages.

My outgoing message says, “Hi, this is Lee. If I know you, I’m happy to talk to you. Please press 1 now. If you’re a telemarketer, I’m not buying anything. Please hang up now.”

I’ve had my TeleBouncer for nearly a month, and I haven’t received a single spam call in that time.

The only downside is that after you’ve installed a TeleBouncer, the only phone that does ring (once a caller has pressed 1) is the phone that the device is attached to. Fortunately, I can hear that phone from everywhere in my house.

-- Lee Dembart  

TeleBouncer Blocker TB1000

Available from Amazon


Workflowy, in its most basic form, is an online outliner. It creates bulleted lists so it’s a super-fast way of laying out ideas in a useable fashion (project planning, article outlines, research projects, etc.)

The app is available in your browser, has iOS and Android apps and a Chrome extension.

I’ve used Workflowy now for a couple of years. It has made project planning simple, made it easy to manage (and think creatively about) about 25 consulting projects and all of their online marketing strategies. I’ve used it to keep a permanent packing list for our annual car-camping trip with friends (including what games their kids like), for planning the online courses I teach, for “scripting” my podcasts, for taking notes from conference presentations and even for planning new services for our clients.

The free version is complete and would work for most people. I’ve upgraded to the paid version because I needed to be able to create more than 500 items/month.

Workflowy is one of only a few apps that I keep open all the time and than I have used daily for more than 18 months. I don’t know how to be successful without it!

-- Travis Allison  

Free, up to 500 items per month
$5/month for pro version

Feather Double Edge Safety Razor

Shaving is boring and can get expensive. Around 2005, I received a free Gillette razor with umpteen blades. Schick had discontinued the Diamond FX blade I liked so well and I looked at what was in my future. It went on the shelf unopened, and is still there. I started haunting second hand stores looking for old double edge razors. Probably have several dozen, from “like new” to “trash.” There is a learning curve to this. I did try a straight razor, very briefly. That proved to be more excitement than I can handle. Purchased a Merkel, a beautifully made razor with (in my opinion) horrible balance. I grew up shaving with Bic disposables, which may explain my sense of “razor balance”. Finally settled on and used a very nice old Gillette with an aluminum handle for several years.

Tried a couple made in Pakistan DE razors and they made mincemeat out of my face. Beautiful on the outside, the pins that hold the blade in alignment with the head were undersized allowing the blade to cock in the razor leaving corners hanging out. I’d tried Feather blades and they are one of the best, if not the best – but expensive for a double edged blade. I ran across their Feather razor, currently $15.82 and eligible for free shipping. I gave it a try. For me, it is as near perfection as I could hope for in a razor. Lightweight, and the balance is where I like it. Been using it for about 6 years and it is as good today as when it was new. Handled a couple drops to the floor and sink with no damage.

One of the coolest things about these razors are that the blades are standardized. I have blades from all over the world – Israel, South Korea, Japan, Egypt, Turkey, Russia … the list goes on. All fit and work perfectly in the Feather razor or any other quality double edge razor. Some blades are better than others, some last longer than others. Most are quite inexpensive. I have my favorites, but for a change of pace shuffle the blade deck on occasion and try something different. 100 blades for under $10 (and eligible for free shipping). Both Amazon and eBay are full “exotic” double edge blades. Even the packaging can be pretty cool.

The quality of the shave is equal to that of the Diamond FX I loved. After the initial shave, I splash water on my face and do a quick second pass. I shave daily, and while the life expectancy of the blades varies considerably, even between blades in the same package, a blade normally goes for close to 2 weeks before I replace it.

After learning to be careful when waving the razor around my nostrils, I rarely nick myself. Like, almost never. Every third day I’ll carefully wipe the edges of the blade by pinching it between 2 fingers. The soap scum buildup makes the blade act dull when it actually has quite a bit of life left in it. The Rainbow blade I’m currently using is on its third week. Pretty much everything is recyclable, the paper the blades are wrapped in and even the blades themselves.

-- Norm  

Feather Double Edge Shaving Razor

Available from Amazon


I have used this tool for over a year now. It is the best tool to extract juices from citrus fruits and infuses the water directly into the water bottle. It is superior to others (and I have tried many) for two reasons. Firstly, it extracts the MOST juice than any other tool I have used and secondly, the water tight seal to prevent any leaking has remained intact since first use! This tool has allowed me to increase my water intake by 3 times and the citrus juice has helped in preventing kidney stones, soothe a sore throat, assist with weight loss, and aid in overall vitality.

-- John Bellavia  

Citrus Zinger Juicer

Available from Amazon

Glenn Fleishman, Writer

Glenn Fleishman is a Seattle-based technology journalist, and two-time winner on Jeopardy! He’s a senior contributor at Macworld, regularly writes for The Economist, and pens stories about parking and cryptography for Fast Company.

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Show Notes:

OpenX $5

“This opens plastic clamshell blister packs. It’s got a great gripping handle. There’s a little blade you can push out and it’s got a spring on it so it doesn’t stay up permanently. It also has a deep hole with a razor blade embedded inside it so you can’t reach it and hurt yourself. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Default Folder $35

“Default Folder keeps a long list of folders I’ve recently navigated to. I’ve got folders all over the place. I dream of a day in which Spotlight and other automatic full text search engines actually do what they’re designed to do years ago which is prevent the need to have folders, but I still use folders for a lot of basic organization.”

Fitbit One $88

“I didn’t want a wristband. I’m one of those people who does not like rings or things on my hands or wrists. I am very aware of that so I thought I’d get one that I can clip on or stick in a pocket. It’s a distance activity-tracker and it has a barometer in it, so it can tell you if you’re going up steps.”

TreadDesk $995

“I used a standing desk first and then I got a treadmill after a few months of figuring out that I could stand all day. I’ve had it I think 4 years now and I use it almost everyday and I find my best writing is while I’m walking on it.”


Mini Boom Wireless Bluetooth Speaker

I’ve been using several models of this for the last 2 years — the Mini and a larger version, the UE Boom (no “mini”) that is slightly more unwieldy for packing in your luggage, but also a bit sturdier. (I’ve had one UE Mini Boom die on me.)

I work in music, travel a fair bit & shift between different computers and environments frequently. But having access to decent quality sound is a constant need, and this enables me to have a good baseline level of quality wherever I go, with minimum prep or fuss. You can connect it to most devices (laptops, phones, tablets) via Bluetooth or a 3.5mm jack. Honestly I tend to prefer the jack as Bluetooth connections can be finicky, and the Mini Boom is small enough it can be secreted on any kind of surface pretty easily (at the edge of at towel rack in a hotel bathroom, or a few inches of spare space on a bookshelf).

It’s better than headphones because you don’t have that “voice inside your head” effect and can do other work while listening; it’s better than built-in computer speakers for obvious reasons; and I’d say it may even be better than a full-on stereo system because as we enter the streaming music era, you don’t know where the music will be emanating from (a phone, a tablet, a laptop) and this allows you to switch between sources on the fly much more quickly than a traditional sound system.


-- Alec  

UE Mini Boom Wireless Bluetooth Speaker

Available from Amazon