Big Bandwidth

To get the most bandwidth these days use cable.

For my home/home office we switched from the fastest internet we could get over the telephone lines to best internet broadband we could afford on a cable modem. This was a big switch for us because we did not have cable. So we had cable hooked up to our house just for the internet. We signed up for Comcast’s “Extreme” level of broadband since there can be 5 – 9 people using the line at any one time. The improvement was dramatic.

We now get about 60 Mb/s download and 17 Mb/s upload. This gives me and my assistant in the office and my family of five, plus the relatives downstairs, plus the Netflix and X-Box live connections, plenty of bandwidth to share. We pay about $120 per month for the connection.

It’s been running at this level for about a year and we’ve had very little problems. Someone in the family can be streaming a movie on Netflix while my son plays Battlefield live on the XBox, while I download a software update, while my daughter watches YouTube — all at the same time with no noticeable delay.

Not having to wait for downloads and being able to zip around on even image-dense web pages is pure joy. Since I spend so much time online, the monthly fee is well-worth it to me, the family, and our little office.

To test the speed of your internet connect use this free website, Speedtest. Here is our snapshot today.

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Obi100 VoIP Telephone Adapter


I was looking for a device that will enable to me receive telephone calls on my Google Voice number without having to forward it to another (fixed or cellular) voice line. I have found that the best solution for this is the Obi100 and Obi110 products from Obihai.

Obi110 is a VIP telephone adapter that supports dialing and receiving calls over a broadband Ethernet connection. This is a standalone voice bridge device that can be connected to a standard telephone and it does not require a PC. In addition to the broadband connection, Obi110 also supports connection to a regular phone line and it can route call types of your choice (e.g. 911 or local calls) to that line.

One of the best features of the Obi110 is that it can be configured to be used with Google Voice. You can both dial and receive calls on a telephone connected to the OBi device. It is very easy to setup and even easier to use. It does have many other interesting features and the ability to work with other VoIP services (including Obihai’s own Obitalk network) but my guess is that most people in US and Canada will be using it with Google Voice.

Obi100 is the smaller version of the same product without landline support.

-- Allen  

[Note: Check out this guide for more info on how to set up Google Voice with an Obi110 VoiP adapter.]

Obi110 Voice Service Bridge and VoIP Telephone Adapter

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by ObiHai

Wilson Electronics Cell Phone Signal Booster

Wilson Electronics 815226 Sleek Cell Phone Signal Cradle Booster for All Cell Phones with Mini Magnet Mount Antenna  - For Single User.jpeg

I have an online editing job, and like to travel by car when I can around North America. Over the last 12 years I’ve hit all but two or three of the continental U.S. states, and worked at least a bit (from my car) in most of them as I passed through. In 2000, Internet cafes were rare outside big cities; when I was on one of my drive-abouts and needed to get online, I’d rush to find a hotel with free local calls and dial-up my ISP. Things got easier with the advent of coffee shops adding WiFi as a perk. And even easier when I could buy cheap wireless online time at truckstop chains like Flying J. Now, in any major population center or along major highways, I can instead get 3G service via my MiFi at reasonable rates (faster than dialup, at least), but only when in the covered footprint. As any cellphone user knows, that footprint doesn’t always match the published, disclaimer-laden maps, and isn’t always consistent.

Enter the Wilson Sleek signal amplifier. I looked at many such extenders hoping they’d match my peripatetic lifestyle, but this model of Wilson (they make others, too, which I can’t vouch for) is the first one that rang all the right bells. It’s small, inexpensive, fairly unobtrusive, and sized for the devices I wanted it for (MiFi, smart phone). Importantly, it also comes with a 12v plug, rather than requiring a 120v outlet, as do some home-centric signal boosters. Note: this device is sized to amplify the signal to only one device at a time, but through creative rubber banding, I had no trouble attaching both of my MiFis, even though I was only using one at a time.

I have not done any formal signal-strength testing, but in the year I’ve had it, I’ve found the Wilson device works well. Just like the too-good-to-be-true testimonials I was skeptical of before buying it, I’ve seen one bar of reception go to four or five, and sometimes zero bars go to one or two. (Which is to say, a *true* lack of reception can’t be fixed by a fancy antenna, and this won’t fix problems that exist between the bigger Internet and the nearest cell tower, but if you’re simply on the iffy fringes, this can put you back in business.) Though I bought the device for the purpose of working while stopped, I anticipate that I’ll now use it as well with the Android tablet I recently bought, which uses Google Maps to navigate. Since those maps are online rather than off, this amplifier extends the tablet’s usefulness as a big-screen, always updated GPS.

When I spent a few months in Puerto Rico earlier this year, the marginal reception I experienced from the Virgin (Sprint) network via MiFi was made considerably more tolerable by this device, once I found a working place for the sold-separately suction cup antenna mount.

There are a few caveats I’d point out, too. First,the amplifier, being powered, steals either a DC outlet in the car or, in my case, an outlet on my invertor. You need to plan ahead, especially if you find (as I do) that it’s easy to grow a Rube Goldberg nest of electronics. Second, the tiny “feet” which hold in place the bottom edge of the device being held both broke for me in the first week of serious use. Yes, I dropped it — twice! — but from such a low height that I was actually amused that each fall broke a different foot. Wilson should make those feet from metal. No worries: a borrowed hairband, though ugly, works just as well.

-- Timothy Lord  

Wilson Sleek Cell Phone Signal Cradle Booster

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Wilson Electronics

Moshi Moshi Manual Cellphone Handset

Native Union MM02.jpeg

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
Available from Amazon

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

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


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.


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

Available from and manufactured by TechSpun

Dragon Dictate


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

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Nuance Communications, Inc

Hands-Free Phone-Interview Setup


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, 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
Available from Radio Shack

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

12-inch Shielded Stereo Audio Cable
Available from Radio Shack



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  

Free and open source

Available from SourceForge

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

Google Apps Mail


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, that mail is processed by Google Apps Mail. Same for mail to anyone else here at, 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 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

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

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