iMagnet Phone Mount

You don’t want to mess with your phone much while driving, period. But because we depend on our phones for driving directions, music, calendar appointments, etc… and, oh yeah, talking on the phone, this car mount provides the most straightforward way to keep your phone accessible in an environment where you really don’t want to pay much attention to your phone (mount).

It holds your phone, securely, where you can see it – and without fuss and fidgeting to get it in our out of the mount. Hold it up to the magnetic surface and it grabs and holds firmly (I’ve been down some pretty bumpy dirt roads without a single slip).

Need to remove your phone quickly? Just lift it off – no clamps or clips to mess with. The mount face swivels and tilts easily for view adjustment and the sticky-cup suction has stayed firm on my dashboard for nearly a year (and still going). The only downside for me, is that my phone case now has a thin, rectangular metal plate stuck to the back of its case for the magnet to contact. This plate hasn’t caused any phone usage issues – it still slips in my pocket fine – it’s just not as aesthetically pleasing. Another option is to try to place the thin metal plate between your phone and its case, and if the case is thin enough the mount face can grab it. The package includes two of the rectangular stick-on plates and another smaller round plate for the under-case option.

-- Janna Kryscynski  

iMagnet Phone Mount
$25

Available from Amazon



 

What’s in My Bag? – Heron

I work in the subalpine regions of Washington state studying high elevation amphibians.  My work schedule is usually 5 days on in the backcountry, 2 days off in town to resupply and catch up on email.

On any given work trip into the backcountry I’ll walk up to 20 miles per day, visit up to 50 wetlands, and carry 10 extra pounds of research gear.  Over the past several years the amount of research gear that I’m required to carry has increased, driving down the weight and number of other things in my backpack.

Here’s what’s in my bag:

heron
Bag/Backpack:
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Porter Pack, $310 - It fits me well and its weight is reasonable at 33 oz. It’s waterproof and white so you can see the down inside.

Sleeping items:
A homemade down quilt, comparable to Nunatak Arc Specialist, $479.
A homemade shelter, comparable to Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp, $120 and Serenity Shelter, $145.
Thermarest Neo-Air Small, $110 - I have had a few small holes in it over four years, but they were patched easily with Gorilla Tape.
MSR Groundhog Stakes, $16 for 6

Cooking items:
Evernew 1.3 L Titanium pot, $60 - I’ve met folks who have used this pot for 20 years. Just be sure to get the version which is NOT non-stick. The plain titanium will last much longer.
Vargo Titanium Spork, $12 - Short enough tines to not loose all your liquid when used as a spoon.
Super Cat Stove, Free or $2 - The lightest stove on earth. Make your own at home in five minutes.
Denatured alcohol for the stove in an old soda bottle.
Stuffsack for food, $10
LiteTrail NyloBarrier Odor Proof Bag, $5 for 3 - Food goes in here, then in the stuff sack, which prevents rodents and bears from being too interested in my pack.
Aquamira Bottle, $20 with Sawyer Mini filter, $17 - The most convenient way I’ve found to filter water in the backcountry. Get the Sawyer filter though, the one that comes with the bottle is awful.

Clothing items:
Arc’teryx Phase SL T-shirt, $46 - Not all polyfiber shirts are created equal. This is one of the only ones I’ve ever used which actually moves sweat away from my skin.
Gramicci Men’s Rocket Dry G Pants, $36 - Simple, light, quick-drying pants. No gimmicks.
Darn Tough Socks 1/4 Ultralight, $13 - This company will replace your socks when you wear holes in them.
Ibex Hooded Indie Wool Shirt, $80
Patagonia Capilene 3 Long Undies, $55
Feathered Friends Daybreak Jacket, $240
Arc’teryx Squamish Hoody, $150 - This windbreaker is my favorite clothing item.  I wear it for sun and bug protection.  When working with amphibians, we do not use sunscreen or bug repellent and instead must cover up our skin.  I wear this, long pants, and a head-net for bug and sun protection.
Headnet, $15 - You can probably find this cheaper off-line.

Small items
Leica 10×25 BCA Binoculars, $500 - The lightest, quality binoculars I have found.
Suunto Core Watch, $233 - Combine this with a topo map for dead simple navigation.
Belomo Triplet Loupe, $35 - The best-quality cheap loupe.
Rite-in-Rain Notebook, $8 - We use larger versions of these for work. Personal notes go in this one.
Zebralight 52W Headlamp, $64
Platypus 2L Soft Bottle, $10 - I try to never carry more than .75 L of water, but when I need to, I use this.
Aquamira Chlorine Dioxide Drops, $13 - A backup to my water filter, repackaged in smaller drip bottles.
Whistle, $1
Suunto  M-3 Compass, $25 - Adjustable declination is my guilty pleasure.
Bic Lighter $1
Leatherman Squirt PS4, $30
Kiss My Face Sunscreen, $7 - Used occasionally on my nose.
Canon S100 Camera, $400 - I have had three of these. It’s my favorite camera.  The most current version is the S120.
Skilcraft Pencil, $27 for 6 - My favorite pencil. It’s very hard to find though.  The steel lead sleeve fully retracts into pencil body to avoid breaking the tip or punching holes in your clothes/pack/body.
Skilcraft Ballpoint Pen, $13 for 12
Maps printed from CalTopo.com, Free - A free alternative to topo map software. No account necessary. The advanced features are there if you need them but don’t get in the way.

-- Heron  

[Cool Tools Readers! We will pay you $100 if we run your "What's in My Bag" story. Send photos of the things in your bag (and of the bag itself, if you love it), along with a description of the items and why they are useful. Make sure the photos are large (1200 pixels wide, at least) and clear. Use a free file sharing service to upload the photos, and email the text to editor@cool-tools.org. -- Mark Frauenfelder]



New in Ask Cool Tools

In Ask Cool Tools, Sylvar has asked about the best way to digitize several shoeboxes full of photos:

I’ve got several shoeboxes full of photos, mostly 4×6 size, and would like to get them scanned so I can upload them into Flickr and discard the originals. Is there a reason why I should buy a bulk-feeding scanner and spend my time supervising the scanbot, or should I just ship them all off to some service and let them handle it?

Answer this question here.

If you have a question of your own, please ask!

-- Mark Frauenfelder  



Humistat #3 Musical Instrument Case Humidfier

Unlike many guitar or case humidifiers that use a sponge or other absorbent material to hold water, this clear plastic disk is filled with water but uses a special material that swells up to regulate the rate at which moisture leaves the device. You can see at a glance when it needs refilling, it refills in seconds, and to a degree you can regulate the amount of moisture in the case. Very cool. They recommend the use of distilled water which you can buy at the grocery store and keep in a corner — I guess a gallon will last nearly forever.

-- Jeff Williams  



Bombas Socks

When’s the last time you got excited about your socks? When’s the last time you messaged your friends to tell them about your socks? In addition to recently doing both of these, this is also the first time I’ve ever written about my socks.

The evangelism-inducing socks in question are called Bombas, a line of athletic socks that were launched last year after a successful crowdfunding campaign. Project creators David Heath and Randy Goldberg asked for $15,000 and ended up getting over $142,000.

The idea behind the Bombas sock project was two-fold: design an amazing pair of socks from the ground up and use the sales of said socks to subsidize the giving away of free socks to the homeless and other needy humans. Dave and Randy got the idea for the project after reading that socks are the number one item requested at homeless shelters. So now, for every pair of Bombas you buy ($9/pair), a pair is donated to a shelter or other suitable charity.

The do-gooder aspects are admirable enough, but what about the socks themselves? The first thing you need to know about me personally is that I have a painful history with socks. I have severe arthritis and resulting poor circulation. As a result, I have a devil of a time finding socks that don’t make my ankles swell. With probably 75% of the socks I buy, by the end of the day, I have a painful and unsightly sausaging effect above the top band of the socks. Sometimes this gets so bad that I develop painful blisters along the top band. The result of this is that I end up with a few pairs of socks that are comfortable enough and I wear those over and over again until they fall apart. And the trouble with these comfortable-enough socks is that, because they’re loose in the ankle, they tend to fall down. No fun, either. Bombas socks alleviate all these issues and are, hands down, the most comfortable, supportive, and physically-kind socks I’ve ever worn.

During the development process, the Bombas design team re-examined every aspect of the sock. They tested hundreds of tension levels around the ankle and came up with a stitching approach they dubbed “stay up technology.” They figured out how to create a toe that has no uncomfortable seams and a heel that forms a natural cup around the back of your foot. They also came up with a honeycomb stitching pattern for the midfoot that sort of gives your foot a comforting squeeze as you wear them. The soles of the socks are also slightly padded, which feels really good, especially to my always-aching dogs.

I was first introduced to Bombas in the fall of 2013 when I gave a talk at the Long Now Foundation in San Francisco. I was on a book tour, promoting my recent book, Borg Like Me. Some friends of mine had given me a collection of touring socks and challenged me to create some sort of “Socks on Tour” performance piece around them. So, I started introducing my socks before my readings and asking audience members to come up after the reading and have a photo taken, sock-to-sock. After the Long Now reading, a guy came up, took off his shoes, and began evangelizing about his Bombas socks (he’s been a backer of their Indiegogo campaign). I thought it was a little odd, but hey, I like odd. I went home, looked up the socks, ordered a pair, and about 20 minutes after wearing that first pair, I went back online and ordered a bunch more. I soon plan to replace all of the unwearable socks in my drawer.

My Stance-brand “Socks on Tour” meeting a pair of Bombas

My Stance-brand “Socks on Tour” meeting a pair of Bombas

As much as I love my Bombas, I have a few criticisms. I’m not really thrilled by the overly vibrant, busy design. I hope that, given the success of the socks (they’ve been having trouble keeping them in stock), they’ll offer other designs. This doesn’t bother me too much – whoever sees your socks? – but I’d prefer less over-the-top design. The other, more significant drawback, is that while the padded sole is really comfortable, the extra material (pima cotton, BTW) makes my feet sweat more than usual. But honestly, given everything else that I love about these socks, I can deal with a little damp-foot. When you’re really in love, you’re willing to turn a blind eye to a few faults. I’m in love.

-- Gareth Branwyn  

Bombas
$9 and up



The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World

This is hands-down, the best vacation guide to Walt Disney World. The authors visit the parks several times a year to keep their information up-to-date. The guide utilizes survey data from park attendees as well as loads of first-hand information.

The best parts of the guide are the planned routes in the back of the book. They have several different routes for seeing each park depending on what your priorities are. Each route gets you to the attractions you want to see with a bare minimum of waiting on line. The book will pay for itself many times over in saved vacation time!

The guide also contains a wealth of best-practices for a Disney World vacation that will help you get the most out of your trip.

-- Mike Saccoccia  

The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2015
by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa
$14

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

disney-world2

disney-world3

disney-world1




 

Mibro Door Lock Installation Kit

Installing a door knob is a tricky job, and having to install a new lockset on my daughter’s bedroom door was proving head-poundingly frustrating until the guy at the hardware store sold me this nifty template. Basically, this template idiot-proofs the installation of a door knob.

You screw it to the door where you want the knob, use the included hole saws to cut the holes for the knob and latch and it’s done! This kit costs only a little more than the hole saws you’d have to buy to do the job anyway, and it’s lots cheaper than buying a whole new door if you mess up the job. The two tricky bits are remembering to screw the template to the door, and making sure that the hole saws are tightly screwed to the arbor of the drill. There are more expensive kits with higher quality materials, if you’re planning to install a lot of doorknobs, but this one will probably last me a lifetime.

As your basic all-thumbs carpenter, I really need a device like this!

-- Amy Thomson  

Mibro Ultimate Door Lock and Hinge Installation Kit for Wood Doors
$18

Available from Amazon



DAP Plastic Wood Cellulose Fibre Filler

For years, I was frustrated by stripped screw holes, particularly with wooden doors. To get a screw to stay in the stripped hole, I stuffed wood pieces, plastic anchors, basically anything I could find that would fit in the hole. Usually the fix failed, and I was again searching for a MacGyver fix.

A friend suggested plastic wood, which can easily be found at your local hardware store. Simply squeeze a thin layer into the into the stripped hole, let it dry, then repeat until the area is sufficiently closed up. It’s easy to use and quick drying, and is sandable and paintable. Usage isn’t limited to screw holes, it can be used on any finished or unfinished wood. Highly recommended.

-- Tony Bieda  

DAP Plastic Wood Cellulose Fibre Filler
$6

Available from Amazon



Power Pull Bungey Cords

I camp a lot and picked up six of these last year. I thought the pull ring was a good idea after having more than a few regular bungees slip from my hands while stretching. The ring makes these easy to secure. Even better, the ring provides an additional tie down location. This works out great when latching locations are limited. My wife really loves them, a huge plus. A simple, very useful, innovation.

-- Patrick Leary  

Power Pull Bungey (Pack of 6)
$26

Available from Amazon



 

What’s in my bag? – Colin Marshall

Colin Marshall hosts and produces the world-traveling, in-depth interview podcast Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. His forthcoming book is called A Los Angeles Primer: Mastering the Stateless City.

I go around Los Angeles/the world writing essays and recording interviews about cities. In this endeavor, I carry always and everywhere the same two things that everyone else does. By “everyone” I, of course, mean “every bike-riding thirty-year-old with no traditionally identifiable job,” and by “the two items” I mean a Chrome Citizen Messenger Bag and a 13.3-inch MacBook Air. If you live in San Francisco, home of Chrome headquarters, you spot these bags all too often. In Los Angeles, however, mine, especially the strap’s griffin-emblazoned seat belt-style buckle, still draws compliments. (“Hey, I like your Ferrari thing,” said one rich-looking, out-of-it-seeming middle-aged lady.) The MacBook, not so much; the girl at the Apple Store where I picked it up (refurbished, natch) just said, “You’re a writer, right?”

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The bag has proven impressively durable over the past four or five years, especially since my previous messengers all tended to disintegrate within two or three. In the unlikely event that it does fall apart, I’ll replace it not with another black-on-black one, having almost fully phased that unworkable color out of my wardrobe, but maybe with the gray Motor Citizen — better to match the MacBook. That particular piece of technology looks a bit more distinctive when I bring it out in its Harris Tweed sleeve, an anniversary gift from my girlfriend. If you, too, live the sort of life which involves a constant search for Harris Tweeds, for your laptop or otherwise, make sure you keep an eye out for that distinctive orb and cross — the emblem of at least probable authenticity.

 colin-bag-2

Whatever they sheathe it in, if everyone else does indeed use this same MacBook, they use it for good reason. Its the-future-is-now battery life frees me from even having to carry its (admittedly, pretty unwieldy) power cord during the day, no matter how many coffee shops I plan to park myself in. It also allows me to produce my entire podcast on the go — a valuable capability, since the show’s very premise has me traveling around looking for interviewees. I’ve recorded the interviews themselves with a handheld Zoom H4n Handy Recorder since day one. That third-party fluffy windscreen next to it — known, in the business, as a “dead kitty” — has proven essential, but I didn’t actually get around to buying it until the day I found, to my horror, that I’d neglected to pack the H4n’s (inadequate) included one.

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I got the new windscreen in Copenhagen — or “CPH,” as that bike-seat protector next to the recorder calls it. They have more rain there than we do in Los Angeles (not to mention a considerably larger cycling population) so such an item makes sense there, but also in the various other countries in which I find myself. Hence the passport, which, according to one school of thought, I probably shouldn’t carry around all the time. But I do so as a precautionary measure against my odds of, given the increasing frequency of my international flights, turning up at the airport without it. (I’ll spare you my standard incredulous lament about the fact that, in 2014, we still need a paper booklet in order to go from place to place.)

Some reassurance does come from the rest of What’s in My Bag crowd’s apparent tendency to remain passported at all times. But it also reminds me that well-stamped travel documents no longer confer bragging rights; hence the need hang on to all the subway payment cards I collect, proof of not just one’s worldliness but one’s transit-riding acumen. Pictured here, we have Los Angeles’ TAP, London’s Oyster, Seattle’s ORCA, and Seoul’s T-Money (which actually works in South Korea’s other major cities too, one of those foreign conveniences that makes you wonder what happened to America). It does make practical sense, I would argue, to keep on hand and thus never have to re-purchase all the cards of cities with which you have ongoing relationships — especially Seattle’s, which costs a criminal five dollars.

colin-bag-4

Despite riding a bicycle (a folding Dahon Speed D7, which I reviewed elsewhere on Cool Tools) as my primary means of transportation, I perhaps foolishly don’t carry quite as much gear as some: a Kryptonite U-Lock, a spare key to it, a small bottle of Tri-Flow, a handheld tire pump, and, for the occasional tightening here and there, a wrench I bought from my local Daiso. (I can’t tell you how many TSA screenings that wrench made it through before an agent pulled me aside and rooted through my bag for it.) That bicycle-patterned tenugui towel also came as a present from my girlfriend, who picked it up at a Japanese store in Venice, though it always seems too nice to use in any normally towel-y capacity.

Though they’ve taken more than their fare share of scratches at this point, my sunglasses, Randolph Engineering Sportsman (Sportsmen?), have over all these years miraculously escaped loss or breakage. They do require professional bending back into shape every once in a while, but on the whole they provide further to support that reliable maxim about men’s clothing and accessories: the more you pay up front, the less you pay in the long run.

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Given everything else about my life, I suspect I’d get some sort of fine if I failed to pack at least one Moleskine notebook, of which my stock, initially built up in the mid-2000s, has lasted to this day. File them under the “useful at weird times” category; I don’t write in them habitually, but I do find them awfully useful when, for instance, I lose GPS access in a foreign country and have to hand-draw maps to find my way. The pens to do that, all cheap, I stick into pockets apparently designed into the bag for just that purpose. (The pin near them comes from Seoul’s Owl Arts and Crafts Museum, a visit to which I couldn’t recommend more highly.) The same goes for the USB drives; you’d think our Dropbox age had eliminated the need for them, but they solve more than enough problems to compensate for their negligible bulk.

colin-bag-6

Then again, you wouldn’t call me an early adopter. I’ve also got a circa-2008 iPod, still going strong, that I use to listen to language podcasts (favorites include Talk to Me in Korean, Notes in Spanish, and NHK Japanese) whenever I happen to have working earbuds, which never seem to last me more than a few months. And speaking of second, third, and fourth languages, if you want to carry books, I recommend carrying around ones written in your non-native tongue. (Pictured: I Yeong-jun’s Nervous City, about Seoul, and J.M. Servin’s D.F. Confidencial, about Mexico City.) They last longer, and if you feel like slacking off some other project and reading, you can always call it “studying.”

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Allow me to express my gratitude for this opportunity not just to think about what I carry, and not just to clean out and re-organize the contents of my bag, but to consider what items aren’t in my bag that I now realize I need: a second type of bike lock, Excedrin, a spare phone charger, contact-lens supplies, extra collar stays, deodorant, something niftier (possibly tweedier) to put that passport in. Ask yourself what, until now, I didn’t ask myself: can your bag do without these things?

 

[Cool Tools Readers! We will pay you $100 if we run your "What's in My Bag" story. Send photos of the things in your bag (and of the bag itself, if you love it), along with a description of the items and why they are useful. Make sure the photos are large (1200 pixels wide, at least) and clear. Use a free file sharing service to upload the photos, and email the text to editor@cool-tools.org. -- Mark Frauenfelder]