Lucy Phone

Lucy Phone is a tool that has helped me deal with one of the annoyances of modern life: waiting on hold. From LucyPhone’s website you can look up the company or toll-free number you want to dial. LucyPhone acts like a conference call: it calls your phone and connects you to the company you wanted to dial.

At any point in the call when you’re placed on hold, you tap ** (star star) and LucyPhone takes over. You can hang up, and LucyPhone will call you back once an operator has picked up on the other end.

From the call operator’s perspective, once they take your call, they are played a brief message from LucyPhone while your number is being called. As soon as you pick up, you are connected to the operator.

The recently reviewed now integrates LucyPhone into their site so that the process is truly seamless, and you don’t even have to initiate the call.

The service is free for consumers. The only drawback I’ve noticed is that it only works for toll-free numbers, so you still have to do things the old fashioned way with companies with local only numbers.

I find LucyPhone much less stressful and annoying than my previous technique of putting the held call on speakerphone and hoping I didn’t leave the room at just the moment I came out of the hold queue.

-- Nicholas Hanna  

Presentation Zen

By now there is a teachable logic to making a world-class presentation. Once you master the story-telling principles needed for a great slide show as taught in the previously reviewed Beyond Bullet Points, you can focus on perfecting the visual presentation of your ideas. This enhances the cinematic vs the script. Among the many guides offering design advice, this one is the best. Watch some of the most popular TED talks online (including mine) and you’ll see this advice in action. I can vouch that it will raise your impact.

-- KK  

Presentation Zen
Garr Reynolds
2011, 312 pages, 2nd Edition

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

What is my absolutely central point?

Or put it this way: If the audience could remember only one thing (and you’ll be lucky if they do), what do you want it to be?


A traditional slide which duplicates the presenter’s words. More of a reading test than a visual.

This slide serves to enhance the presenter’s spoken words much better. The photo has impact and the point is made clearly. Which slide is more memorable? And since people are not reading, they can actually listen to you. (Photo of shark from


The slide on the left has a busy template which makes the useful area of the slide about 1/3 smaller. The slide on the right uses the image to cover the entire slide. The text is clearly foreground and the image serves both as background and at time foreground, making the overall visual more dynamic and more unified with a cleaner, more dramatic look.


Empty space is not nothing; it is a powerful something. Learn to see and manipulate empty space to give your slide designs greater organization, clarity, and interest.

Use the principle of repetition to repeat selected elements throughout your slides. This can help give your slides unity and organization.

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.

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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