Grip Tape iPhone Backing

RF Laswerowrks.jpeg

I got my first grip tape backing for my iPhone from RF Laserworks in early 2011. I’d still be using that one if I hadn’t decided I wanted a new one with custom laser-cut text that featured my website name. Grip tape, if you’re not familiar, is the stuff skateboarders use to coat their boards so as to increase their traction. Each custom lasercut backing costs $8 while the uncut models sell for $5. Even though I’ve had to buy two, it’s still way less than any other case I’ve bought.

The big advantage of the grip tape backing is that it’s always with me, as opposed to something like the previously reviewed HandStands sticky pad. I can simply set my phone on my leg when driving and it’s not going anywhere. The tape is so non-slip I can even put it on my chest, near vertical, and it doesn’t fall off.

It’s got its downsides. I can’t use any case other than one of the bumpers; I like those better but not everyone does. It also means I can’t slide it into a form-fitting iPhone armband when I go to the gym. But that’s the same problem I’d have with any case, and I solved it by buying an armband for a larger droid-style phone.

To get custom text or graphics, all you need to do is send them a stencil and choose the location and they do the rest. I opted for red for maximum visibility.

-- Don Whiteside  

RFLaserworks Grip Tape Backing
$5, or $8 with custom lasercut text

Available from RFLaserworks


Chased By the Light

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Chased by the Light

This project is a zen masterpiece. It is also a behavior-modifiying challenge for all digital photographers: Look instead of click.

In the 1990s veteran magazine photographer Jim Brandenbrug gave himself an impossible assignment: “For 90 days between the autumn equinox and winter solstice I would make only one photograph a day. There would be no second exposure, no second chance.” A single exposure, a single click per day! He was using film, and he was photographing wildlife, including elusive animals in the north woods in upper Minnesota. Film is unforgiving. For amateur and professional alike getting even an acceptable photo in these conditions with one shot requires relying on the Force. Yet Brandenburg found, or made, one beauty after another. Most mortals would need a hundred shots to get one like these. The 90 images stand strong each on their own, but the complete symphony is one of the most impressive acts of mindfulness I’ve seen.

(The full set of images were also published in a smaller format in the November 1997 issue of National Geographic.)

Besides the book, there is now an iPad app.

— KK

Chased by the Light
Jim Brandenburg
1998, 104 pages

Available from Amazon

Screen Shot 2012 02 09 at 4 14 13 PM

App $10


Sample Excerpts:

Wolf chasing ravens by jimbrandenburg

I sensed there would be lessons learned. There were, but not always those I had imagined. Some were merely lessons remembered, recapturing things I had forgotten, such as remaining open to chance, and that, in nature, not all beauty is giant in scale. One such lesson occurred on October 15th, the twenty-third day. It was late and I despaired of capturing anything of value. The day was dark and gloomy; my mood reflected the weather. I wandered through the dripping forest all day long. Tired, hungry , and wet, I was near tears. I was mentally beating myself for having passed up several deer portraits and the chance to photograph a playful otter. None of those scenes spoke to me at the time.

But perhaps because I was patient, and perhaps because, as natives do on a vision quest, I had reached my physical limits, I became open to the possibility revealed by a single red maple leaf floating on a dark-water pond. My spirits rose the instant I saw it, and although the day was very late and what little light there had been was fleeing rapidly, I studied the scene from every angle. Finally, unsure of my choice, I made the shot anyway, thankful at least that the long day had ended. Once more I was surprised by the result. The image seems to have a lyrical quality, with a rhythm in the long grass.



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.

P txt


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.