18 October 2017
Weekly roundup of the best maker tools and projects of the week
This week on Maker Update, Blade Runner binoculars, setbacks at Glowforge, custom zipper pulls, JOY pads, and colorized laser engraving. This week’s Cool Tool is the Canary Corrugated Cardboard Cutter.10/18/17
18 October 2017
Speakerphone for Skype and other VoIP calls
I’ve been using the Jabra Speak 410 USB speakerphone for about 16 months. It has a number of benefits over using the built-in microphone on your laptop computer. The biggest benefit for me is the omni-directional microphones inside. You can throw this speakerphone in the middle of a medium-sized conference table or kitchen table and everyone’s voice is picked up clearly. Because this device can be moved away from my laptop I can take type without everyone hearing my tapping on the keys. The sound quality coming from the speakers is also quite good. The device isn’t a very large (approx 6″ wide by 1″ tall) but the sound is moderately loud and crisp. The device has tappable volume and mute controls so anyone speaking into the device can easily adjust the volume or mute the call.
I haven’t used any other USB speakerphones but it is has been a superior replacement for my mobile phone and laptop mic as conferencing tools. I have not used this speakerphone in a noisy environment so I’m not sure how well it cancels out background sounds.
Note: This microphone only works over USB so it can’t be connected to your mobile phone but Skype calls and other web-based conferencing systems such as UberConference or GoToMeeting work great. Jabra has is a newer model called the Speak 510. The 510 has bluetooth capabilities and has a built in battery. I have not tried this device. It costs $12 more but could be worth it if you’d like to use a device like this with your mobile phone.10/18/17
17 October 2017
Scan and save your printed photos using your phone’s camera
I’ve been using this smartphone app called PhotoScan since it was first released about a year ago. It does just one thing: lets you take a photograph of a printed photo, and straightens out the edges and removes glare. The result usually looks like you actually scanned the photograph — i.e., it’s nice and flat and square — rather than like you simply snapped a photo of it. It’s also useful in art museums — if I can back up enough, I can “scan” four-foot-by-six-foot paintings, photos, etc. It takes about ten seconds, and lets you crop in case it hasn’t correctly guessed where the margins should be. Now after each trip, I have a little “art collection” of my own, which I can read about at my leisure.10/17/17
17 October 2017
Mini torch with soldering tip attachment
The Bernz-O-Matic Micro Flame Torch kit sells for $34, which isn’t cheap for a butane torch, but let me tell you why this one is special.
This torch comes with a nice knurled grip, a safety switch, a latch to keep it lit continuously, and a flame adjustment on the side. You also get an adjustment up top that adjusts the air mix for a less forceful flame.
But what really comes in handy is the attachment that comes included. By attaching this to the tip you can turn it into a heat gun, useful for heat shrink — which is mostly what I use this torch for. But there’s also a soldering iron tip that screws in that lets you use this as a cordless soldering iron.
It’s a neat option for off the grid soldering and the butane refills are cheap and easy to get at any hardware store. This doesn’t come pre-filled, though, so you will need to grab some butane and fill it up in order to use it.10/17/17
([Cool Tools has a YouTube channel with many more tool reviews] — editors)
16 October 2017
Multi-purpose scuff and stain removers
A 2007 Cool Tools review of Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser raved about its ability to remove smudge marks from walls that other cleaners couldn’t touch. The price then for a 4-pack was $6, or $1.50 apiece. The current cost of a Magic Eraser 4-pack on Amazon is $3.57 (the in-store cost is about $1 higher). That’s about $0.89 apiece.
For Prime members, Mr. Clean sells a textured, extra-durable (“50% Stronger to Last Longer”) 4-pack for $5.34, or $1.34 apiece. Mr. Clean also sells a 2-pack of bathroom-scrubber pads for $2.97, or $1.48 apiece. It contains a soap/scum -dissolving chemical. There are now sellers of similar products in various quantities (“packs”) for much lower prices, such as 50₵ apiece, or 40₵ each for a 100-pack. To see them, search Amazon for “melamine sponge.”
Slightly more expensive (64₵ apiece in a $15.95 25-pack), but a better value, is an “extra durable” version with a stable, blue-colored middle layer that deters softening and crumbling. It also has a conjured (S-shaped) grip and a textured surface. It is sold by a couple of vendors, the one I prefer being “Oh My Clean,” which is rated highest by Amazon reviewers at 4.6 stars.
If you’re doubtful about paying $16 for so many of an unknown item, pick up a 4-pack of the Mr. Clean brand and test how often you find a use for them. Also, check out the uses described in numerous enthusiastic YouTube videos (and in comments on Amazon product pages). They can be found by searching for “melamine sponges erasers.” Such uses include this (from a vendor): “Dirty old sneakers are white again. Scuffed up baseboards look like new. The coffee stain inside your favorite mug is gone.” And this (from a user): “clean your car’s interior, Door Panel, Dash, Console, Leather or Leather like Material, and Outside black trim to remove those stubborn wax marks around black trimming.”
Caution #1: I suspect these melamine sponges — or at least the Mr. Clean alternatives — are subject to occasional glitches in production that lead to bad batches. For instance, one customer who complained about fragile sponges was sent a replacement package and reported that it worked fine.
Caution #2: P&G warns: “Test a small area with light pressure before use. Not recommended for the following surfaces: high gloss, polished, dark, brushed, satin, faux, bare/polished wood, copper, stainless steel, non-stick coating, or vehicle body.” Some cosmetic damage will follow. However, it may be less noticeable or damaging (except in the case of an auto body) than the smudge the product removes. That’s been my experience.
Caution #3: P&G also warns: “Rinse required for surfaces in direct contact with food.”10/16/17
16 October 2017
Portable household current
You plug this solid-state inverter into your car’s lighter socket and power whatever 110 volt AC appliance you want, 75 watts max. No need for special DC gadgets. It’s made for recharging cell phones and other batteries, but I’ve used it for my scanner and my printer while on the road. Also, I’ve run a small black-and-white TV set, and more important, my baby’s bottle heater (I admit is a small one). You can power almost anything that doesn’t use large resistance like hair dryers, waffle makers, bread toasters, small ovens. I haven’t tried a coffee maker yet.
The same company offers an assorted line of automobile inverters with more output power (200 watts on up). This is the smallest one.10/16/17
(This Cool Tools Favorite from 2004 is no longer available, but this Bestek inverter is a highly-rated substitute. — editors)
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bluetooth tracker for keys, wallet etc
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COOL TOOLS SHOW PODCAST
WHAT'S IN MY BAG?
23 February 2017
An avid cyclist shares his road gear
This appears to be a shill review. Many thanks to Cool Tools reader Matthew Connor for looking into this. He wrote:
Meaghan Hollywood works for CargoRAXX. Meaghan Hollywood put a review up quasi-anonymously on Amazon. A similarly worded review is now anonymously on KK.org.
On Amazon there are two reviews for the product (https://www.amazon.com/CargoRAXX-S1A-Interior-Management-System/dp/B01A6X4MBS). Neither is attributed by name but the one from January 18th, 2016 refers to “my Tahoe” and read similar to the KK.org review. Let us suppose the author is, in fact, the same person.
Clicking on the name for the review – merely “Amazon Customer” brings up their profile (https://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A1CF94IIWSAE00/ref=cm_cr_dp_pdp). This profile contains one Wish List on the left side. Clicking on it revels – the name of “Amazon Customer” – it is Meaghan Hollywood.
Ok. I believe at this point the author of the KK review and the author of at least one of the two reviews on Amazon are in fact the same person and that person’s name is Meaghan Hollywood.
Here’s the kicker, CargoRAXX has a website with a blog feature – their blogger’s name is Meaghan Hollywood. (http://cargoraxx.com/5-reasons-re-organize-suv/)
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