Point It

It’s just a bunch of tiny little color pictures so if you can’t communicate with somebody you whip this out and point at a picture. There’s so many pictures in it that you always get the idea across.

-- Tim Jenison  

[[This is from the Cool Tools Show podcast with Tim Jenison. See all of Tim's picks here. – Mark Frauenfelder]]

Point it: Traveller’s Language Kit

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:











Google Drive Camera Scanning

This is a specific function of the Google Drive application for Android. There is a “scan” button that lets you take a photograph of a document and uploads it to your Drive folder (formerly Google Docs).

I have used this for the past year, mainly to scan in business cards. When I put the card against a contrasting color surface, the app automatically detects the edges and crops the image to just the card. If the crop is inaccurate, I can fine tune the selection by hand (there is a very satisfying feeling as you drag the edge and it snaps to detected edges in the image). Best of all, Drive’s OCR lets me search these images by text content, such as name, email address, company, etc.

This has enabled me to go paperless with respect to business contacts. I can access these cards from my phone or any computer with internet access. I can toss cards soon after receiving them with peace of mind.

I prefer this tool over specialized business card scanners, which cost money and take up space. CamScanner is a nice alternative with more image processing tools; the trade-off for this is an extra step in getting those scans up into the cloud. Drive’s scanner is a great fire-and-forget, no-cost, no-file-handling way to scan in a bunch of business cards from any location.

-- David Lee  


I’m on a lot of mailing lists that I did not subscribe to. And every day I get added to a half dozen or more unwanted lists. These spamlike subscriptions are usually from PR flaks who want me to write about their clients. It’s almost always for things I don’t care about (like an insurance company announcing the appointment of a new regional vice president). It’s annoying to sort through this garbage in order to find email I care about.

Then I discovered Unroll.me, a free mailing list management service that works with Gmail, Google Apps, and Yahoo Mail. It does a great (but not perfect) job of finding the mailing lists you are subscribed to and presenting them as a list, allowing you to instantly unsubscribe to them by clicking with your mouse. As of today, I have used Unroll.me to unsubscribe to 1,601 mailing lists. It’s a dream come true.

What about the mailing lists that I actually signed up for and like? Unroll.me is great for dealing with those, too. Instead of receiving the newsletters one-at-a-time in my inbox, I’ve added my 114 mailing list subscriptions to a “Rollup.” This is a daily digest prepared by Unroll.me that contains email from the subscriptions I care about (my bank, my health insurance provider, Audible.com, my kids’ school, James Altucher’s essays, etc.) You can click on any of the items in the Rollup email to see the full email.

Here’s what the Rollup looks like:


Unroll.me is something I would happily pay money for. It is free, but you need to pay with a tweet or a Facebook like.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  


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

Available from Amazon

Ram Mount Mobile Phone Mount

I’ve used this for the last six months and it’s been a rock-solid mount for using my phone as a GPS.

I prefer to use the Waze app on my phone to the GPS in my car, and this allows me to safely and easily mount my phone to my car. I like Lexus and BMW’s implementation of their navigation system, which puts the screen further forward and up than mounting it in the console where the climate control and stereo typically go. This way, you don’t have to look as far down to read the navigation, and can keep better visibility on the road. The windshield mount puts the display in a similar position that I think is ultimately safer.

The suction assembly is excellent — it uses a twist lock to add additional suction and has so far been flawless. The X-grip flexibly accommodates many different phones, in or out of cases.

-- Mark Xue  

Ram Mount Twist Lock Suction Cup Mount with Universal X-Grip Cell/iPhone Holder

Available from Amazon

Sony Pocket AM/FM Radio

It doesn’t have stereo reception or digital tuning or even a darn clock, but my little Sony Pocket Radio has been going strong for a decade. A pair of AA batteries supplies me with months of music, news, and sports broadcasts. Its reception is strong and steady, the volume is more than adequate, I’ve dropped it a few times without harming it, and it’s about the price of a sandwich. Sure, I wish it came it cute colors. Yes, it tends to tip over on occasion. And it’s so easy to carry from place to place that my biggest complaint is that I sometimes don’t know where I left it. But in the age of HD and wireless and internet media, this pocket radio proves that stuff doesn’t have to fancy in order to be great.

-- Jeremy Jackson  

Sony ICF-S10MK2 Pocket AM/FM Radio

Available from Amazon

ASUS RT-N16 Wireless Router

The ASUS RT-N16 is an excellent high performance router that has all the features you would expect from a router in its category. But the feature that stands out is an embedded torrent client that can download and upload torrents to and from an external hard drive plugged into the router’s USB port. I’ve been using it for more than 2 years now, and I can’t count the time and electricity it saved me so far.

The point in having a torrent client in your router is that:

1) To download torrents it’s necessary for someone share it in the first place, and depending on the availability of sources (seeds) this can take some time.

2) The torrent protocol, as any other P2P protocol, depends on people sharing what they have downloaded in order to continue working; so it’s recommended that you upload at least two times what you have downloaded in order to keep the network alive.

All of this requires you to leave your computer on and connected for a long time, and doing this for the sole purpose of downloading and uploading torrents is a waste of electricity and at times just inconvenient. As most people just leave their wireless router on and connected all the time at home, it’s quite interesting to have this task performed by it.

Although many people associate torrents with piracy, it’s just a peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing protocol and it can be used to download lots of legal content, mainly media and software. [Here are 30 sites for legal torrents — Mark]

To use this embedded torrent client you need to connect an external hard drive to one of the router’s USB ports. Then, using the router configuration page through a web browser, just press a button to install the client in this HD. After that you will be able to access the client from your browser through an IP address (just like you do to access the configuration page of any router). The client is updated regularly by ASUS through new versions of the router’s firmware, which can be easily updated through the router’s configuration page.

Beware, however, that this client is much more limited than traditional torrent applications, like uTorrent. Limitations include a limit to the number of torrents you can download at the same time, and not being able to select files to download within a torrent.

-- Alessandro Mattos  

ASUS RT-N16 Wireless Router

Available from Amazon

Ubiquiti NanoStation and Picostation

I wanted to add Internet to the building my kids’ ski race team operates out of, but the nearest point to the building we could get service was a good 400 yards away. It was not feasible to use cable.

We tried using consumer-grade product to set up a wireless bridge, with very poor results. Someone gave us a pair of Ubiquity M5 Nanos, and I can’t believe how good they performan. Once I found the tutorials, they took less than 10 minutes to set up, and about a half hour to mount (most of that time setting up my ladder). They use Power Over Ethernet (POE), so the only cable running to the device is the ethernet cable. The best part is that they are very inexpensive – $60 each from Amazon. We are only bridging 400 yards, but these devices are reported to work very well up to several kilometers, as long as you have line of sight. Speed tests showed absolutely no noticeable degradation in speed.

Since we were so happy with the first setup, I also used a PicoStation access point to broadcast wifi at the building. The range is easily 3-4 times what you will get out of a consumer grade wifi router. It takes a few minutes to set up, but the performance is so worth it.

Since then we have added bridges to two other buildings 600 meters away, and set up several outside access points to provide wifi on our training venue and to provide live timing of races.

The best part – they just work.


-- David Thickens  

Available from Amazon

YouTube: An Insider’s Guide

By internet years, this is an ancient book (2008); Still, it’s the best one I’ve found for exploiting the new medium of YouTube. The millennial generation are not reading books, or newspapers; they are not watching TV, either, and in fact they aren’t really watching many movies. None of these are their cultural center. As far as I can tell their entire discretionary time is spent watching YouTube clips. It’s the source of entertainment and instruction. If you want to reach the young, do it on YouTube.

How? Well this guide is trying to help. YouTube is the newest broadcast/publishing/social medium with new rules and new stars. It will eventually be as important as books and TV combined. What makes a good YouTube station, how do you gets visits, or sell ads? This book is only the first word on those challenges. Since YouTube now offers the option of selling paid subscriptions to niche channels — a development not covered in this book — this is sure to ignite even more newbies to move in. Start with this basic how-to. Let us know when a better handbook comes along.

-- KK  

YouTube: An Insider’s Guide to Climbing the Charts
Alan Lastufka, Michael W. Dean
2008, 304 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Sample excerpts:

Low numbers can be frustrating for new bloggers and video makers. It’s difficult to invest hours into making a video, only to upload it and find a day later that only some 10 or 12 people have watched it. Trust me when I say this, though — we have all been there. If your content is interesting or funny and your shot isn’t completely out of focus, you will gain more views over time. Faking your views will get you called out very quickly, and the majority of YouTubers will lose all respect for you.


The majority of views on your videos will be lurkers. Lurkers are people without accounts who watch and then move on. Lurkers don’t rate, don’t comment, and definitely don’t make videos of their own. Lurkers are good for views, but not much else. This is why the average video views to comments ratio on YouTube is about 5 percent. Meaning, if you have 100 views, you should probably have about 5 comments; 1,000 views, 50 comments; and so on.

You want users watching your videos. You want people who will get to know, and support, you. The more invested a user feels in your channel, meaning, the more time and energy they’ve put in to watching and commenting and interacting with you, the more likely they are to pass your link around. Your subscribers, the regular watchers, are the ones who will rate your video every time, even if you’re trying a new style of editing or writing. Your subscribers are the ones who will drop you sweet little private messages when you’ve been gone for more than a few days to make sure you’re okay. This is where the heart of YouTube is and where you find your sense of community.


Most users get turned down because they simply don’t have enough views or subscribers to qualify for partnership. The good news is, users without enough views or subscribers can continue uploading and may apply again at a later date. In addition to this “popularity” qualification, users with a history of violating YouTube’s terms of use will not be accepted as Partners. Such violations could include uploading content that you don’t own, uploading obscene content, spamming or harassing other users, and attempting to “cheat the system” for more views or subscribers.


YouTube ads are all paid for on a per-impression basis. Ad rates seem to vary from campaign to campaign, because earnings per view vary each and every month. AdSense ads display next to videos uploaded by Partners. You’ll need to keep your AdSense account in good standing to remain in the Partner Program. This means you should not try to fraud the system by auto refreshing your videos. You should also not click over and over on your own ads; this gives the impression to advertisers that your videos are more popular than they actually are and breaks the contract you sign with YouTube when you become a Partner. (Both YouTube and AdSense have really smart software to detect all fraud techniques, and you will get caught.)


First, people will unsubscribe if they feel they’re being overtly “marketed to.” YouTube is an alternative to TV. If you make your channel too much like TV, people will go look at another channel.

Second, you’re not going to make tons of money, just some money, so you may as well still have fun doing it, rather than making video production an unpleasant day job. There’s no point in working toward quitting your day job if you simply replace it with another job that doesn’t make you happy (and doesn’t offer health insurance!).



Samsung Galaxy Centura Prepaid Phone

Tracfone (a prepaid wireless phone provider) used to be strictly low-tech, throw-away, prepaid burner phone territory, but they’ve recently introduced an Android smart phone to their line-up. It currently costs about $80, and you get triple minutes for the life of the phone. It operates Wifi when it’s available, and then you get a meg of data for every minute you buy on one of their cards. I end up using about 20 minutes a month strictly on data, but I could probably shave that down if I limited some of the apps I run to Wifi only. (30 minutes cost $10 at Tracfone.com)

The phone (Samsung Galaxy Centura) isn’t top of the line, by any means, and runs Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), but I haven’t found an app I couldn’t load (though browsing the Web on it can be a little daunting, and when I tried to run Fruit Ninja, the program lagged to the point that it was sort of unplayable).

It’s got an adequate rear-facing 3meg camera, and supports Bluetooth, and you get a little more than 2.5 gig of non-upgradable storage. I suppose that if I were downgrading from a more expensive smartphone, I might be a little frustrated with it, and not just because the screen size is much smaller than other phones I’ve seen. But when you consider a more conventional smartphone with data plan would probably cost you upwards of $50 a month, minimum, this is a real bargain.

Tracfone availability map.

-- Dave Faris  

Samsung Galaxy Centura Android Prepaid Phone

Available from Amazon