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
$13

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
$78

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.

nano

-- 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
$20

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!).

*

youtube-insiders-guide-sm




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
$80

Available from Amazon



CallCentric VOIP Service

Voice Over IP (VOIP) is phone service that runs over your Internet connection rather than dedicated copper wires that go to the phone company. Its main advantages are that it is software-only, is done by small companies with less regulation, and that it is intensely competitive. This means it can be cheap and innovative.

Last spring, I became disenchanted with my VOIP provider because my $15 phone plan had become a $32 plan with taxes and fees included (no longer cheap) and because my provider hadn’t added any new features (lack of innovation). After looking around I decided to go with CallCentric.

To cut to the chase, this is what I get after the switch:

• Two phone numbers, including my ported home phone number and a free New York telephone number that CallCentric makes available.

• Inbound fax service, where CallCentric receives my faxes and then emails them to me as PDFs, as well as making them available online.

• A personal phone book, whose primary purpose for me is to add the phone numbers of spam callers

• Voice mail, including text message notification and email recordings

• Call treatments, the best feature, which allows me to: send calls to the New York number to the fax service, block users in my list of spammers, and send unknown and anonymous users to voice mail. Call treatments are quite flexible and I can generally find a rule to solve any problem by sitting and thinking about it.

• A bunch of features that I don’t use – extensions, multi-way calling, call hunting, network down forwarding, speed dial, call waiting, multiple mailboxes, multiple channels (concurrent calls), softphone, etc. Most of these seem to be free.

The price? Each month I pay $1.95 to receive calls at my ported home phone number and $1.50 for 911 service on my outgoing line – a total of $3.45 in fixed costs with no additional taxes or fees. In addition, I pay 1.5 cents/minute for calls I receive and 1.98 cents/minute for calls I make. In the last month I’ve spent $2.55 on 149 minutes of phone calls. So my phone bill has dropped from $32/month to $6/month while I’ve gained a second number, inbound faxes, and call treatments.

Of course, I don’t do a lot of calling. For those who do, there are 500- and 1000- minute plans available as well as unlimited minute plans.

CallCentric requires a bit more planning than some other providers. For one thing, incoming and outgoing phone plans are independent, and we’re trained to think of inbound- and outbound- calls being part of a unified phone service. You can get two or three inbound numbers if you wish, but only have a single outgoing plan. You could have only an outgoing line with no incoming number. You could buy more than one device and have different callers to the same phone number ringing different devices in different states. With great flexibility comes a bit of thinking.

The other way that CallCentric makes you do more work is that it is a “bring your own device” provider. VOIP modems are readily available online – I bought a Grandstream GS-HT701 at Amazon.com (http://goo.gl/pUZkmj) for around $30. Modem setup is about the same level of difficulty as an internet router, which means it’s not bad but not for everybody. CallCentric has instructions for setting up a number of different modems, and I found that after I messed up my configuration, CallCentric’s online-only tech support was able to direct me to a correct solution.

The domination of the landline may be over, but it still has the advantage over the cell phone in audio quality and ergonomics. CallCentric has turned my $32/month phone bill to a $6/month phone bill will reducing the number of telemarketing and political calls to near zero.

-- James Blasius  

[If you want to make calls using a regular phone instead of using your computer, you need a telephone adapter, such as the Grandstream SS-HT701 shown above. - Mark]



Feedly RSS reader

I read a lot of blogs and news websites and I use an RSS reader to quickly browse through all the posts and articles without having to go to each website.

What is RSS? It’s a data file format containing a website’s posts or articles. A website’s RSS file is automatically updated every time the website publishes new content. RSS files aren’t meant to be read by human eyes. You need an RSS reader, which will format the data into articles that you can read. RSS readers also let you subscribe to RSS files,  sort the posts by date or by source, search your entire blog feed, and more.

There are many different RSS readers available. Some are standalone apps, others are web-based. My favorite RSS reader was Google Reader, but Google killed it last year. I switched to a web-based RSS reader called Feedly and for the past year I’ve been using it to read my 300 or so RSS subscriptions. I now like it more than Google Reader. It loads images quickly, and like Google Reader, I can plow through post after post by tapping the “j” key.

Feedly is free, but they offer a premium version for $5 a month that lets you quickly save posts to Evernote or Pocket, and do a few other things. I’m happy with the freemium version.

How to subscribe to a website’s RSS file: Most sites have an RSS link. It usually says “subscribe to this blog” or it’s an icon that looks like radio waves (Cool Tools’ feed icon is on the left column next to the word FEEDS.) In Feedly, you can just enter a website’s URL into the “search or add feed” field and it will find the RSS file for you.

 

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Feedly
Free



Boomerang for Gmail

I have been using Boomerang for Gmail on both my personal and business email accounts for close to two years, and at this point I find it indispensable.

It may have more features, but I use Boomerang mainly as a tool that helps me follow-up on critical email conversations. It makes it easy to both use emails as “to do” style reminders, but more important, creates an integrated system to make sure that you do not lose sight of an important correspondence.

Here is how this piece works:
1. You write or reply to an email.
2. Instead of just hitting send and hoping for the best, you have two options at the bottom of your screen — “Send Later” and “Boomerang this…” (this one has a checkbox). I will discuss “Send Later” below.
3. “Boomerang this” means that you are scheduling the email to RETURN TO YOUR INBOX (the awesome part) without any further action on your behalf.
4. You choose exactly when you want the email to return (there are some built-in times–1 hour, 1 day, etc. — but you are able to schedule the exact time down to the minute).
5. You also — and this is a sweet add-on — get to choose whether you want the message to Boomerang as a function of whether your email receives a reply, is not clicked, is not opened, or regardless. So if you you choose to only Boomerang in 1 week if there is no reply because you want to make sure your email is attended to, and then the recipient replies in 2 days, your email will not come back to you in 1 week.

I do use the “Send Later” feature regularly (oops, cat out of bag). You can accuse me of over-thinking my correspondence, but I often have a finished email that I do not want to ship at the moment it is finished. Perhaps it is because I am sure the email will elicit an immediate phone call that I do not want at that time or perhaps I do not want the recipients to know that I am currently dealing with their correspondence. The Send Later feature is perfect here (again, it comes with some pre-fab times but you can also choose exactly when you want the email to send). Some times I am pretty sure I want it to send the next morning but want the night to think it over, acknowledging to myself that if nothing comes to mind before 9:37 am the email can ship automatically. If I do need to make a change I can log in to the back-end and edit the email and re-schedule it. (There is one issue that occasionally shows up with Send Later: You schedule an email to be sent out requesting a piece of info for, let’s say, 7 am tomorrow. At 6 pm today you receive the info, but you either haven’t checked email or forgot about your scheduled message. So then at 7 am your email goes out and, well, you don’t look like the sharpest tool.)

It’s worth noting that you can “Boomerang” and “Send Later” on the same email.

I started with the free version but quickly found 10 messages per month too limiting for my needs. The $4.99/month is reasonable for personal use. The Google Apps version at $14.99/month might seem pricey at first. All I can say is that if you begin to leverage this for your business interactions–unless you truly have a steel trap memory or are an elephant–you will quickly see that it is worth far more.

Customer service has been fine, though it has been over a year since I have contacted them about any issue. They did recently release a mobile version, but I have not yet used it.

-- Aaron Pastor  

Boomerang for Gmail
$5 – $15 / month, depending on plan



Motorola Two-Way Radio

For a consumer level walkie-talkie, I recommend the Motorola MH230R ($47), or for slightly longer range, the MR350R ($54). I lived for several years in the Eastern Sierra where we used these for hiking. Usually they were good for 2-3 miles over mountainous terrain, and of course much further if users were in line of sight. I know from personal experience they are good for at least 11 miles as I used them to talk with my wife via a direct line-of-sight. But while they are rated for 23 and 35 miles respectively, for practical purposes, I’ve never relied on them unless we were within a few miles of each other, with no major obstructions. You can also use them for NOAA weather. They’re light & cheap enough to be practical, require AA batteries (rechargeables work fine) and are durable. On some hikes we’d have 5 or 6 deployed, carried by hikers of varying speeds, so we could keep tabs on where everyone was, and for that purpose they worked rather well — not perfect, but mostly good enough. If you’re within a few hundred yards of another radio, they always worked, even around large obstacles.

-- Kevin Rooney  

[These replace the Motorola model we previously reviewed. -- KK]

Motorola MH230R 23-Mile Range 22-Channel FRS/GMRS Two-Way Radio (Pair)
$47

Available from Amazon



Cellphone Credit Card Pocket

I’ve recently been doing a lot of traveling to places like Kathmandu and Capetown, which are pretty well known hotspots for pickpockets. When you’re in a place where pickpocketing can be an issue, standard policy for men’s wallets is to remove them from your back pocket into your front pocket.

I’ve discovered that between my wallet, my phone, keys, and my everyday carry Skeletool, I just have too much stuff to keep in my front two pockets. It becomes bulky enough to attract attention, which defeats the purpose of the whole exercise.

I thought I’d found a solution in the Card Ninja, but the price is a bit much — it’s just a pocket that adheres to the back of your phone that you stuff only your wallet necessities into. It shouldn’t be $20.

So I went searching and found this on Amazon at $6.99 for 3 (share with your friends, or keep a spare for when you trade in your cellphone, I guess!).

Most cellphone wallets are clamshell cases that you have to open whenever you want to access your phone or your wallet; with a pocket on the back of your phone, you have access to both without having to open anything.

The pocket is snug enough that cards don’t fall out but I can also easily jam 12 cards and some cash in there if I have to (the slim design really encourages you to carry only what you need, which is a feature rather than a downside in my opinion).

If you’re interested in minimizing your everyday carry weight, you really can’t do better than eliminating your wallet for one of these. I’ve also stripped down my keys and have only one ring that I keep in my Skeletool’s carabiner, so I have only two objects to remember when I leave in the morning — my keys and my phone. Everything else takes care of itself.

-- Jonny Dover  

Cellphone Credit Card Pocket Pouch
$7 / 3-pack

Available from Amazon