Walkstool Comfort

In my work travels, I sometimes find myself in a roomful of equipment – and no furniture. Since using a laptop figures into most of my work, standing usually isn’t an option, and sitting on the floor is okay for a while. Jumping up and down or sitting cross-legged too long comes only when I have no other choices.

So I added a Walkstool Comfort to my kit. It’s a high-quality, collapsible, telescopic-legged camp-style stool built in Sweden. The 45cm/18″ model is low enough to create an ideal lap-based laptop perch. It packs up surprisingly small, and is built for heavy first-worlders – mine’s rated for 200kg.

Sizes range from 45cm/200kg up to 75cm/250kg. The rubber feet are large enough to limit their sinking into turf/sand.

Anyone who attends events where seating may be unavailable, or whose health limits where they go, or whose work is non-Aeron based should consider getting one of these.

At first glance, these things aren’t cheap, but when you use them they’re priceless.

-- Wayne Ruffner  

Walkstool Comfort
$78 – $140

Available from Amazon



Anova Sous Vide Immersion Circulator

After a month of researching sous vide appliances I purchased the Anova Sous Vide Immersion Circulator. I have been cooking with the Anova for three months now and have been very pleased. I have used the Anova to cook everything from poached eggs, steaks, and for Christmas, 25lbs of tri-tip. Each time the food came out perfectly as is the nature with sous vide.

For a brief background, sous vide (French for “under vacuum”) cooking is essentially cooking in a warm water bath for an extended period of time. Much like smoking or traditional barbecue the lower temperatures and longer cook times can produce delicious tender food. Foods do not need to be under vacuum; a re-sealable freezer bag with the air removed (air is a poor heat conductor) works quite well. Since the foods are contained inside the bag, no moisture is lost and all flavors remain in contact with the food. Additionally, some chefs will directly poach in fat, oil, or butter with their immersion circulator. When cooking sous vide the chef will set the final desired temperature while the device will hold the water at that point indefinitely. Over time the food will be cooked to that exact temperature throughout without ever going over. Unlike traditional methods where high heat is used for faster cooking times, the temperature is low and the foods can never over-cook. For more detailed information about sous vide I would recommend visiting this site or anything written by Dave Arnold.

The Anova is a circulating heating element combined with a PID (proportional-integral-derivative) controller. The PID constantly compares the set desired temperature compared to actual measured temperature and adjusts the heating element to account for any discrepancies. This allows the Anova to accurately hold a desired temperature to within ± 0.01°C in a range of 25°C to 99°C. The 1KW heating element is powered through 115-120 & 220-240 VAC. The impeller pump is capable of moving 12L per minute. The device measures 2.5″ wide by 15.5″ tall. It attaches to any vessel using a study rubber-tipped screw.

The device is controlled through a color touch-screen liquid crystal display, LCD. The user interface is simple and intuitive. The user need only set the desired temperature, set an optional timer for shutdown, and select “Start.” The screen will show the current temp, set temp, and run time. Like a crockpot or slow cooker the device is “set and forget.” The Anova has a low water sensor and will shut off automatically. Occasionally on longer and hotter cooks water may need to be added to the vessel to maintain adequate levels.

What separates the Anova from other similar devices is 1) its price, at $200 it is less expensive for the same specifications of its rivals. 2) the heating element guard is stainless steel and easily removable for very easy cleaning. 3) it features a directional nozzle for the impeller. 4) it is made by a medial laboratory device manufacturer with experience in the field.

Unlike the previously reviewed Sous Vide Supreme, an immersion circulator can be used an a variety of vessel sizes. For larger cooks I use a Cambro full-size gastronorm food pan which holds 27 qt. For smaller cooks I use my stock pot. It is also half the price and a fraction of the size. Similar devices are available, most notably from a rival medical equipment company PolyScience. The PolySci circulators are $300 more expensive than the Anova and have plastic heating element guards which must be removed using a screwdriver.

In summary, the Anova is a professional grade device which is simple to use, easy to clean, easy to store, powerful enough for even your largest cooks and reasonable priced (in the world of sous vide).

sous2

-- Reid Bradshaw  

Anova Sous Vide Immersion Circulator
$200

Available from Amazon



Cool Tools 2014 Holiday Gift Guide: Kevin’s Picks

This month we’ve run a series of gift suggestions. In our final installment, Cool Tools founder Kevin Kelly selects his favorite toolish gifts. Happy holidays!

tile
Stick N Stack Magnetic Tiles ($150) 

Magna-tiles are large plastic shapes with super magnets buried along their edges so that they can be linked into solid sculptures. They are an open ended construction system that can make tall and complex buildings very fast. They are a lot of fun for kids who are too small to use Legos. We’ve reviewed them previously on Cool Tools.

To do much with them, though, you need lots of tiles, which can get expensive. But now there are a number of cheaper knock-offs, or alternative systems, that are compatible with Magna-Tiles. Brands include PicassoTile, Connect Tiles and Stick N Stack. These systems work interchangeably with Magna-Tiles — their magnets line up exactly in the same places on the same sized pieces. They seem to be just as durable, but they are cheaper. I have the 150 piece Stick N Stack set and the pieces work perfectly with my MagnaTile pieces, and they come in a few more shapes, such as windows, arches, and frames. With a large set like this, the magnets allow even small kids (and grownups) to rapidly build complicated structures.

rookie

Perplexus Rookie ($20) 

The Perplexus is a 3D maze that requires concentration and dexterity to solve. It’s designed so you keep advancing to levels of greater difficulty, but you need to start over if you die. However starting over is easy. The kinetic manipulation of your hands needed to solve this resemble the twitches of a video game controller, but there are no electronics at all in this game. It’s a lot of fun because it is so physical, but it is not easy to solve. We previously recommended this as a great Cool Tools toy that won’t get old very fast, and will never need batteries.

Still, I never made it to the end (although my teenage kids did). To give beginners more a chance, Perplexus came out with a simpler version called the Rookie. I can actually complete this one, and so can 6-year olds. At the same time they also released two more difficult Perplexus versions for that smarty-pants in your family who found the original Perplexus too easy. The Perplexus Twist ($25) requires some problem solving and the Perplexus Epic ($22) is epically difficult to complete. All three of these (and the original) are beautiful works of art that could also sit in a glass display case with ease.

 

beast

Mini Strandbeest ($19) 

This is a kit for assembling a small working version of Theo Jansen’s famous walking machines called Strandbeests. Jansen’s original contraptions were larger than human machines made of PVC pipes that would walk along the beaches in the Netherlands, powered by the fierce winds. This miniature kit version uses the same geometry. The tiny Strandbeests can be powered by a hair dryer or small fan. This kit is released as a special issue of a Japanese magazine, but it comes with a minimal set of instructions in English. It is not difficult to assemble (most parts are duplicated) needing about 2 hours for someone say 8 or older. To appreciate the genius of its design, be sure to watch any of Jansen’s video of the large-scale machines in action.

There are other knock-offs which I have not built yet.

anatomy

4D Vision Anatomical Models
Human Head Model ($19)
Eyeball Model ($15)
Human Muscle And Skeleton Anatomy Model ($17)

These plastic anatomical models are inexpensive and small. Putting them together from even smaller pieces is a bit of a puzzle, in that the directions are almost non existent. You have to just see how your body parts fit. Younger children will need help, and even adults may be challenged. Yet the models are highly detailed, informative, revealing, and for an anatomical model, incredibly cheap. I have put together the eyeball, the heart, the muscle man, and head. I learned a lot about each by putting them together. In addition to being instructive and useful for health education, they make great displays. — KK

 

scope

Brock Microscope ($156)

Expensive but indestructible. This is the microscope that science museums and public education teachers use. These scopes take a lot of abuse, yet are simple to use. I’ve also seen them used on sailboats because they don’t corrode. It has only one moving part, no electricity, and provides decent magnification. We keep one out on the table at our home, with the philosophy that the best microscope is the one that is open and ready to use. It’s fine for very young kids to use all by themselves, with almost no instruction. It will last several lifetimes. You can easily make micro photographs by holding a camera or phone right against the eye piece.

Want more gift ideas? Take a look at our other 2014 Holiday Gift Guide and 2013 Holiday Gift Guide posts.

-- KK  



Opalpix

Worlds best toothpick!  Has a pleasing, textured surface and the perfect shape to maximize crumb-picking effectiveness from your teeth and gums.  The very small, pocketable plastic case makes it easy to always have a fresh pick at hand (each case holds 32 picks), yet these last for quite a few uses. I enjoy them as a simple, effective pleasure.  A brilliant solution that once you try, you’ll never go back to wood.

-- Dave  

Opalpix 32ct., 6 packs 192 total picks
$11

Available from Amazon



Hole Template

We went with IKEA for our kitchen remodel and saved a lot of money putting it all in ourselves. However, when it came time to install the handles on the cabinets, I tried carefully measuring the first one I did and it did not work very well. Then I found IKEA sells a drill template for just this purpose, it makes it trivial to install handle after handle in the same spot each time, and the handles came out great. The drill template aligns with one side of the cabinet door and you can mark and drill in seconds. I used a Sharpie to circle the holes that I was marking to make it even easier to know which holes in the template I was using.

-- Jeff Lorenzini  

Fixa Drill template
$2

Available from Ikea



 

Ryan Block, Cofounder of Engadget [Cool Tools Show #17]

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

Our guest this week is Ryan Block. He’s the co-founder of gdgt, and the co-founder and former editor of Engadget. These days he is VP of Product at Aol, and is co-host of MVP, a show about technology products. Quality and staying power are the primary criteria in Ryan’s list of essential day-to-day tools. His impeccable taste for the tried-and-true tools is revealed in the invaluable picks and advice offers in this episode.

Amazon Prime ($99/year)

“You have the infinite store shelf of Amazon and it shows up in two days. Access to all of the best products in just about anything you can imagine is insanely powerful if you’re a believer in the Cool Tools philosophy and that’s why, to me, Amazon Prime is the uber-tool on top of everything. It allows you to acquire the best of anything at any time.”

Bruer ($79)

“…Bruer is a home cold brewer that is extremely easy to manage, clean to operate…they did a really nice job with it. It’s got really nice high quality glass. It’s not Pyrex so it will definitely shatter if you drop it. It’s got these pretty good silicon seals on it and it’s just ridiculously easy to operate. It makes about 24 to 25 ounces of cold brew at a time and it’s now my primary means of drinking coffee…”


KitchenAid Stand Mixer ($262)

“When you’ve got a stand mixer you find things to do with it that you might not think of normally doing with it. That’s one of the things that makes a great Cool Tool, when you buy it thinking you’ll use it for one thing and you wind up using it for so many other things.”

Tydlig ($2.99)

“In some ways it’s almost like highly interactive spreadsheet in calculator, but it does do a lot of other advanced graphing functions. All the things you would expect a good calculator app would do, it does.”

 



Pico Folding Armchair

We have been using the Pico Folding Armchair for the past three years on our boat and even at home when we were installing wood floors and our furniture was stored away. The chair, while not light or inexpensive, is far better engineered and more durable than the typical “camping” chair which lasts about a season before something fails. The chair folds and telescopes down to a small package that fits into the accompanying shoulder bag which is about the size of a laptop bag.

The bag has several pockets for storage of the things you are likely to need outside – water or drink bottle, book or magazine, etc. When the chair is is use, the carrying bag slides neatly over the backrest to provide additional storage for a towel, etc.

The chair itself has a comfortable sling-type seat, with armrests that have built in storage for your drink and a couple of zippable pockets for valuables, cellphone, etc.

The chair is perfect for the back yard, your boat, camper, outdoor concerts, and even for extra guests indoors.

-- David Jones  

Compact Folding Pico Telescoping Arm Chair
$105

Available from Amazon



Cool Tools 2014 Holiday Gift Guide: Readers’ Choice!

In the weeks leading up to the holidays, we’ll be presenting a series of gift suggestions. This week, we’ve asked some of our most active commenters to make gift recommendations.

light

Fenix MC11 Flashlight ($61) “As a stagehand for over 30 years I have spent a lot of time in the dark. All of us in this profession have a love of flashlights, as they are a very important tool in our trade. The MC11 flashlight gives me a choice of presetting the mode to blinding high, medium, or low light levels, strobe, and even SOS. It’s powered by a single AA battery so it is small (4″ overall) and a very easy carry. A really aggressive and strong clip means I can clip it to my belt or pocket or even a hat brim. The adjustable 90-degree tilting head is a great help. I can point the beam where I need to see it, and there is an easy-to-find pushbutton power switch on the top.” — Kent Barnes

light2

4Sevens Preon 2 Penlight ($41) “Aging eyes need more light, and this penlight is totally wonderful for men who generally wear a shirt with a pocket. I automatically reach for it in dim-light conditions, and also use it to search for things.” — Michael Ham

“My top recommendation for the holidays is the Kindle of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing ($10). A one-time Shinto shrine maiden, Kondo bases her “KonMari” method on the assumption that one’s house and all the objects in it have consciousness but, boy howdy, even if you’re a die-hard materialist, follow her method and you’ll zoom to a wiggy new oxygen-rich level of tidy.” — C.M. Mayo

The Flavor Bible ($26) “This book contains hundreds of charts listing ingredients and flavors that taste great together. It’s perfect for anyone who loves to experiment and create new recipes.” — Troy Packrat

“I’ve tried a couple of fancy honey dispensers, but the best one I’ve found is free. (That is, after paying for the honey it comes with.) It’s a 16-ounce plastic bottle of Safeway’s O-Organics honey. (Don’t get the larger sizes — they won’t work.) It dispenses honey only when the bottle is squeezed. When the pressure is released, a clever valve in the spout shuts off any further flow, so there are no dribbles. (Perhaps — in fact, probably — other sources have a similar bottle. It’s surprising that more don’t.)” — Roger Knights

Want more gift ideas? Take a look at our other 2014 Holiday Gift Guide and 2013 Holiday Gift Guide posts.

 



Metal Radiator Humidifier

Those of you who heat your house via a steam or hot water radiator system know the advantages: no noise, even heat, lots of warmth even once the system turns off, and more. We’ve lived in a radiator boiler driven home for 30 years and radiators are a wonderful source of heat.

But one huge problem is how to add humidity to the air. One traditional way was to set pots on top of shelves that fit on the top of the radiator but many radiators did not have such fitted shelves. Another was just to have pots or containers of water (or lots of plants) around the house. All OK, but not ideal in terms of efficiency. And, there are all kinds of radiator humidifiers, most of which hang off the front of the radiator, just itching to be bumped into and have the water spill.

Killian Hardware sells what they call an “old fashioned” radiator humidifier that fits in the opening of the radiator formed by the various fins of the radiator. It is a 16” long and about 4” high galvanized sheet metal container that has an opening on the end that you just keep filled with water. During the cold winter months ours (and we have two per radiator throughout the house) need to be filled about once every two days. Since they are galvanized, they won’t rust, but don’t try and clean it with CRB or some other mineral dissolving liquid because once you do that, it will rust (I have the data for that one!). The edges of these can be sharp so should be taped if there are little kids around. And, you need to order them during the summer months when they are not in demand, because the hardware store is almost always out of stock during the winter months.

radiator2

-- Neil J. Salkind  

Stainless Steel Radiator Humidifier
$20

Manufactured by William A Kilian Hardware.



Trek Light Gear Bindle Backpack

I love bags. I have backpacks, briefcases, messenger bags, hip packs, go bags, bust out bags – you name it, I have it. My wife and I have inadvertently started collection of eco-friendly grocery tote bags much like the Envirosax (reviewed on Cool Tools). Seems like every event or street fair we go to is selling them for cheap. But then I came across the Bindle Pack from Trek Light Gear.

The benefit of this bag over ANY grocery tote bag is three-fold. Firstly, it zips closed. I hate that when I put down the other eco totes, any items in it will spill out. Secondly, it is a fully-enabled backpack, so it is much more comfortable to carry your things. Thirdly, the Bindle Pack has TWO additional pockets, a very handy interior pouch to hold smaller items like your keys or phone and a zippered side pocket – I always wondered why the makers of those eco totes never added an additional small pocket for sundries.

The Bindle Pack is made of parachute nylon material. Accordingly it is very light and very strong. Although rated to carry 40 lbs. I have loaded mine up with up to 60 lbs. with no problems. Each Bindle Pack has a zippered main compartment, a handy interior pouch and an additional zippered side pocket to keep all your items organized and easily accessible. The Bindle Pack will fold up to an incredibly small 3″W x 3″H x 2.25″D when folded and expand to a sizeable backpack 10″W x 15″H x 6″D when in use (just under 15 liters or about 4 gallons by volume). Unbelievably, it only weighs 3 oz. True its not as big as an IKEA bag (reviewed on Cool Tools), but it is a LOT more portable.

I plan on buying multiple packs, leaving one in each of our cars, and hooking them at the doorknob of each door to remind us to take them. Lastly, TrekLightGear has partnered up with Be The Change Volunteers and for every backpack sold, they will deliver school supplies to one student/child around the world.

 

-- Alastair Ong  

Trek Light Gear Bindle Backpack
$33

Available from Amazon