Moshi Moshi Manual Cellphone Handset

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In these days of the ubiquitous cellphone, it can be rare to use a “normal” phone, even if you spend most of your days desk bound. As much as I love my iPhone, when I’m sitting in my office I miss using my desk phone with its comfortable handset and easy to dial keypad. Additionally, as someone who likes to listen to music when I work, an incoming call on my iPhone means unplugging it from the cradle, a minor annoyance.

Native Union has solved my problem with a series of handsets that allow you to take calls using a traditional handset attached to your cellphone. I picked up the MM02, a fairly basic corded model featuring a cradle, that I have really come to appreciate (they make a cordless Bluetooth version, but it is significantly more expensive).

The handset connects to the iPhone via the 3.5mm socket on the top of the phone, leaving you free to rest the iPhone in the charging cradle, audio device etc. The handset is reassuringly solid, with a pleasant, matte plastic feel to it, and the well built cradle sits happily on a desk. There is an answering button in the centre of the handset that makes it easy to pick up calls, but one downside is that there is no keypad on the handset, so although you can dial out you need to use the keypad on your mobile handset itself, and that can be a bit fiddly. If you’re flying a desk like me, you may find that you make your outgoing calls on your desk phone anyway.

I’ve had the MM02 handset for around 6-months now and find it a delight to use. At the time of purchase it seemed to be the only accessory of its type. Overall, a very handy piece of kit, especially if you’re a desk-bound cellphone user.

-- Alan Arthur  

[Although the reviewer notes that he used the handset solely in conjunction with his cellphone, this handset can be used with any product containing a 3.5 mm socket including a laptop or iPad thereby making Skype or Google Voice calling a little bit more traditional and comfortable on unwieldy devices. --OH]

Native Union Moshi Moshi 02 Handset
$44
Available from Amazon

Native Union Moshi Moshi 01H Handset (without a cradle)
Available in a variety of colors
$29

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Native Union

Sample Excerpts:

Native Union MM01H ).jpeg
Native Union makes an even simpler retro model, the MM01H, that comes in a variety of colors while being a bit more affordable for those who don’t need a desktop cradle.




Tech Spun Sock System

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The previously reviewed Smartwool socks are great when worn with a lightweight capilene or polypro liner, and they are my standard day-hiking sock. But when I go into the mountains for a couple of days wearing serious mountaineering boots, Smartwool socks don’t cut it. My feet are always too warm and too moist as it is, and this combined with an insulated, solid boot tends to compress the wool socks, which makes the boot fit more loosely, which leads to all sorts of bad foot juju.

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The solution: Techspun Environmental Sock Systems (yeah, right). They use a Coolmax liner and a wool/polypro outer sock. They will not collapse. Period. So no blisters. They also keep my feet drier than any other sock system I’ve tried.

They have two weights, choose the one you need based on temperature and load. Unless you’re humping loads in military conditions or on Denail, you can probably get away with the “All Weather” version.

-- Chris Kantarjiev  

[Note: While the TechSpun website may indicate otherwise, hiking forums indicate that the effect can be, at least in part, imitated by pairing any Coolmax liner (like the previously reviewed Injinji toe socks) and a thick wool sock.-- OH]

TechSpun All Weather Sock System
$25

Available from and manufactured by TechSpun



Dragon Dictate

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I’m using Dragon Dictate to write this on my Mac OS computer. In past years I’ve used speech recognition software and have had terrible results with it. But I heard so many good things about Dragon Dictate that I decided to give it a try. I’m a slow typist, and this really beats typing, at least for me. It is surprisingly accurate, and unlike earlier speech recognition applications that I used you don’t have to wait for 30 seconds to see your text appear.

This is very quick. I use it to do email. I would be embarrassed to use it in an office environment where other people could hear me talking, but since I work at home where no one can hear me, it’s excellent.

Once upon a time DragonDictate only worked on PCs, but I am using DragonDictate on my MacBook Pro and I seem to have no problems with it.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

DragonDictate Version 3
$122

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Nuance Communications, Inc



Hands-Free Phone-Interview Setup

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It’s a serious issue in contemporary journalism: how do you record phone interviews while using a headset?

Radio Shack sells a nice, cheap device (the previously reviewed Mini-Phone Recorder) that interrupts the cord that goes from the handset to the phone, which works well when you’re using the handset. But when I do interviews by phone, I like to type a rough transcript while I talk, and typing while clamping a handset to your ear with your shoulder can quickly get painful.

When I first confronted this problem earlier this year, I spent a lot of time on the internet looking for solutions. The ones I found were pretty unappetizing. The main technology on offer is a microphone that you stick in your ear, which seems both unpleasant and ineffective.

But then I encountered the good people at Sagebrush.com, who invented this elegant and inexpensive solution, which uses about $20 worth of stuff you can get from Radio Shack.

You need three items:

1. the Gold Series Y-Adapter, 3/32″ Stereo Jacks & 3/32″ Plug, which is item # 2264801 and costs $7;

2. a 1/8″ Stereo Jack to 3/32″ Stereo Plug Adapter, which is item # 2160379 and costs $6; and

3. a 12-Inch Shielded Stereo Audio Cable, which is item # 2265306 and costs $6.

The Y-Adapter splits the signal coming out of your phone’s headset jack. One line goes to the headset; the other goes to the recorder.

Arguably, this is more of a hack than a Cool Tool. But it works (as long as your phone has a headset jack). And it’s very portable: you can also use it on the road by plugging into a cell phone.

-- Paul Tough  

Gold Series Y-Adapter, 3/32″ Stereo Jacks & 3/32″ Plug
$7
Available from Radio Shack

1/8″ Stereo Jack to 3/32″ Stereo Plug Adapter
$9
Available from Radio Shack

12-inch Shielded Stereo Audio Cable
$8
Available from Radio Shack



TeleKast

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In a former life I directed and produced television commercials. I quit and then edited news for a while as I tried to figure out how to get the media monkey off my back. Now I teach guitar for a living and while I’m much happier, I still have the urge to produce consumable media once in a while. I also have a great fondness for open source software.

One of the things that helps me satisfy both itches is a program called TeleKast. It’s an open-source teleprompter software. For those of you not familiar with teleprompters, they’re devices used to make TV hosts, newscasters and politicians seem as though they’re looking right at you as they speak, when in reality they’re reading from scripts rolling up on screens, right underneath the camera’s lens.

TeleKast lets me do the same job at a fraction (as in 0%) of the cost of a professional teleprompter package. TeleKast provides a Script Editor window to type in my script. Another window called Segments allows me to organize my script into scenes. While I’m working on a script, I can see it in the upper-right hand Segment Preview window. I can also add cues for camera, audio, video, talent and one for other.

When I’m ready to roll, there’s a pop-up window that scrolls up my text to read while I record my on-camera or voice-over work. I can adjust the text size and scroll speed and the text background and cue colors. I can start and stop scrolling with the space bar. It’s simple, flexible, powerful.

It pretty much keeps me from sounding stupid when I have to do a read of some sort. While reading my lines on my monitor, I can look directly at my webcam and appear to not in fact be reading my lines, just as the transparent screen of a teleprompter allows speakers to look at an audience and appear as though they’re not in fact reading from notes — even though they are. It’s very useful for webcasts. It looks like the software has been in an alpha state for a while, but I’ve been using it for more than a year and like it very much. Works with Windows 95/98/NT/2000/XP/Vista and Linux.

-- Jeff Bragg  

TeleKast
Free and open source

Available from SourceForge

Here's Jeff's illustration of TeleKast in action.



Google Apps Mail

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I don’t mean your personal Gmail account, or an iPhone app for Gmail.

I mean using Google Apps as an invisible email provider for your small business or even large business. For instance, when you send mail to me at kk@kk.org, that mail is processed by Google Apps Mail. Same for mail to anyone else here at kk.org, or Quantified Self, etc. Behind the scenes of my own domain names Google does the mail.

You can think of this as a custom Gmail account. It gives you several advantages.

* Google does a fantastic job of filtering spam. It gets 95%, with no false positives. (I then apply a second Baysian filter with SpamSieve, to give me almost zero spam and zero false spam. For me there is no spam problem. Gone!)

* While I normally read my mail on my “desktop” client, I can access my mail on the road from any computer in the world (with the usual precautions) by logging onto Google Apps (not the Gmail url).

* I have an indefinite backup of my mail on Google’s servers, worry free. I’ve used this backup more than once.

* Yet I still retain my own domain named email without it being a generic Gmail account. You can run yourbigcompany.com through Google Mail Apps.

* I don’t have to run a mail server or keep software and security updated.

* Once I set it up (five minutes) this setup applies to everyone in my office/organization who also gets his/her mail at these domains.

* It’s free.

Before Google starting offering this free “custom Gmail app” as part of their App suite including Google Docs and Google Calendar (which are also fantastic cool tools), I gained some of these similar results by forwarding all my mail through my free ordinary Gmail account and then back to me at my own servers. That hack worked, but this new custom mail app is much easier to setup, maintain and use. I first became aware of it when my wife’s work (Genentech) moved their entire 10,000 employees’ mail to a custom Google Apps system. Now you can too. It is part of the migration onto the “cloud,” especially for small businesses.

Google Apps Standard edition is free. Larger institutions and corporations switching their email over to Google Apps may want the paid Premium Edition ($50 per user per year) with more perks, features, storage and support.

-- KK  

Google Apps Mail, Standard Edition
Free

Available from Google



Artful Sentences

Artful Sentences has increased my understanding as to how syntax creates and conveys meaning. Virginia Tufte guides the reader through more than a thousand sentences she’s culled from some of the best writing of the 20th and 21st centuries. Her commentaries highlight the (easily overlooked) contribution of syntax to the expressive success of a well-crafted sentence.

This book is unlike any other on writing I’ve seen. It is not about basic rules. It is not a standardized style guide to be used as a reference manual. Artful Sentences is divided up into 14 chapters; each chapter covers a different concept related to syntax. Tufte provides her analysis first and then follows with an example. Sometimes she quotes an entire paragraph to demonstrate the impact the chosen sentence has within its original context.

Don’t let dry chapter titles such as “Short Sentences,” “Noun Phrases,” “Prepositions,” etc., deter you; the content is highly academic and at times dense, but it’s a pleasurable read in proper doses. I prefer to explore Artful Sentences in short spurts. The sample sentences often catch my attention first and then I dig in to see what Tufte says about them. (You can also use the index to choose a favorite author and then search out his/her quotes.) I process what I’ve read and return to the book at a later time — opening it up to any one of its 14 chapters and starting again. Reading Tufte’s book gives me the immediate pleasure of saying, “Damn, that’s a good sentence!” often followed by, “Now how do I create one of my own?” The experience is similar to learning about visual art or playing music.

-- Scott Singer  

Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style
Virginia Tufte
2006, 308 pages
$16

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Noun Phrases
Below, a sentence with parallelism best suited to a speech is composed of six kernel clauses, each with a noun phrase in the direct object slot. In five of the clauses, the parallelism and the repetition of the key concept they conserve emphasize the treasures being conserved in those direct objects:

These farmers produce valuable goods, of course; but they also conserve soil, they conserve water, they conserve wildlife, they conserve open space, they conserve scenery.
Wendell Berry, Citizenship Papers, 170

Syntactic Symbolism
Another repetition of prepositional phrases, here artfully doubled, divides a sentence’s spaces into spaces into spaces. This helps to imitate and dramatize an effective simile emphasized by its syntax as a fragment:

Space is all one space and thought is all one thought, but my mind divides its spaces into spaces into spaces and thoughts into thoughts into thoughts. Like a large condominium. Occasionally I think about the one Space and the one Thought, but usually I don’t. Usually I think about my condominium.
Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, 143

Left-Branching Sentences
In many successful left-branching sentences, there is a temporal or logical development of the expressed idea that invites the delayed disclosure of the left-branching arrangement. The material that concludes the sentence makes an almost inevitable point:

The afternoon after the night at the tavern, while O’s were being taken out of books and out of signs, so that the cw jumped over the mn, and the dish ran away with the spn, and the clockshop became a clckshp, the toymaker a tymaker, Black issued new searching orders.
James Thurber, The Wonderful O, 9-10




Twitteree Recommendations Wanted

I signed up for Twitter a year ago. I haven’t used it much. Here is the sad state of things:

I’ve made one post a year ago just to try it out, but now I have 888 followers. I have no idea who these are, because I’ve never made a second twitter. I am sure when I finally do post my second tweet, half will leave because they’ll feel I am twittering too frequently.

The reason I don’t twitter myself is I don’t know what a good twitterer is. Before I started blogging I began reading the best blogs so I could then write what I would like to read. I don’t read great twitters so I am ignorant of what I want to do.

All you active twitters out there can help me, and in turn help others who are on the fence about Twitter. I’d like recommendations for fabulous twitterees to follow. I’ll follow them for a while and then I’ll report back to Cool Tools on any (if any) that seem worthwhile.

There seem to be two kinds of twitterees. 1) People you already know, and are following as friends. The more intimate the better. 2) People not your friends you are following because you think they may be interesting to follow. (I guess that is where my 800 followers come in.)

I am looking for recommendations for the latter. I seek to follow interesting twitterpeople I don’t know — someone a complete stranger like me would find witty, insightful, informative, amazing, useful or entertaining. Someone a stranger like you might like to follow. After all this is how blogs began.

If you follow someone like that and think others would benefit from their stream, please post their twitter name here in the comments (or email me). I know about Twellow and Twitterpak, two web sites that categorize Twitterees by supposed subject of interest, but I didn’t find them helpful at all. Few listed stuck to subjects and the better ones were not highlighted. It’s like reading a phone book. If there are other sites or people who are “reviewing” remarkable twitterees, please let me know.

It may be that this medium is not transportable to perfect strangers. We’ll see. If even one or two folks turn up who fit my criteria I will be amazed and grateful.

Again, who are the masters of Twitter? And is there a guide to them?

My Twitter handle is kevin2kelly in case I decide to make a second twitter.

-- KK  



Nutshell Cases

I did a lot of research into hip cases when trying to find one for my Palm TX five years back. These handmade leather cases not only look good, but they’re incredibly durable. Each one I’ve had has always outlasted each of my phones with very little sign of wear. Handmade from a single piece of leather, the cases are very supple. When empty they lie almost completely flat. When the case is new, the fit is a little snug. And although the case does relax over time, it’s never enough to allow your phone to slip out. I’ve had cases with and without a top flap. Neither my Blackberry nor my Nokia ever fell out of the case despite there being no top flap (note: Blackberry cases also include the “magic magnet” that signals a Blackberry so it knows when it’s in a case).

With my first case I went with a belt loop model because I thought it’d be more secure than the multi-way clip. Since there’s no way to remove the case without removing your belt, I switched to the belt clip with my second case. Turns out the clip is rock solid and incredibly secure. Really keeps the case in much closer to the body so it doesn’t get knocked about as much as other swivel-clip cases. Anything that’s going to get my case off my belt is likely going to have to take a large part of the belt — and possibly a bit of the hip — with it.

A little pricey, but not compared to other high-end, leather cases. From time to time you can also find coupons that’ll knock 10% off. Incredibly well made and worth every penny. I now budget the cost of the case whenever I consider a new cell phone and I even just fired an email to Nutshell asking when they’ll have a G1 case in stock. I should add that I’ve been able to reuse some of the cases with devices of similar size.

Available in various colors, though I always go with black. Made in New Zealand, they typically take less than 10 days to get to me in the U.S.

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-- Chris Dollmont  

Nutshell Cases $50 (Nokia E65 - pic above) Available from Nutshell Other models/devices also available from Nutshell



Wi-Ex ZBoost 510

This cell phone booster will increase your signal strength by one or two bars. If your home or office has dismal cell phone coverage, as mine does, this booster can make a difference. Often a spot outside your building, or on top of your building will have better coverage. This device picks up the signal from a small stick-like antenna and relays it via a cable to a book-size station where you want the signal. Using this in my studio I can now get two bars where before I had none. The zBoost is the least expensive signal repeater I could find.

A few important caveats. This is not a miracle machine; if you have no bars outside, there is no signal to amplify, so you will still have none inside. Also, the antenna and relay station need to be separated by a wall or ceiling or several rooms so that you do not simply create a feedback loop where the antenna is recirculating the stations emissions, creating a useless squelch. Lastly, the radius of boosted signal is small. It can serve a large room, or maybe a few small rooms. In my experience it will not fill a home, or office with a boosted signal. It is best to think of this as providing a boost to a room. To cover a large area you’ll need more than one, but I don’t have any experience in what happens with overlapping coverage.

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I have the dual spectrum variety of EZBooster, which covers most carriers, in part as a service to visitors. I also found that finding the optimal location for the antenna is not obvisous or trivial. Placement makes a huge difference; it’s worth trying all kinds of positions. Sometimes attics and corners of rooms will work, and sometimes near windows are NOT better. There’s a 50-foot interconnecting white coaxil cable which should be long enough, but can be ugly.

For years I’ve tried to get my local cell phone companies to boost the signal in our neighborhood, but with no success. This modest gadget at least gives me coverage in my home office.

-- KK  

Wi-Ex ZBoost YX 510
$290

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Repeater Store