CamelCamelCamel

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This site allows you to track price history and has price drop and price watch alerts. Ever since I discovered it a few weeks ago, I’ve looked at it before I bought anything on Amazon just to make sure I was at or near a historical low. The price charts are intuitive, and allow you to see highs and lows for the past year, 6 months, 3 months, 1 month. You can set your tracker to include just Amazon.com, 3rd party sellers, or Used. The best part? It’s absolutely free.

If you need something immediately, there’s not a whole lot this can do for you. But, for example, I’ve had my eye on the MEElectronics M9P headphones. It’s currently $15. Hopping on CamelCamelCamel, I can see that historically, it has run at about $23 until early December, took a dive to $15, a dip all the way down to $10 earlier this month, then popped back up to $15. I don’t want to pay 50% more than what it was a few weeks ago, so I’ll set up the Tracker to notify me by e-mail when it gets back down to $10.

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While I’ve found some bugs, such as hours-behind updating, and while I wish it incorporated shipping costs, it’s still allowed me to save cash. More than that, I learned a long time ago I get a great deal of satisfaction from knowing I got a great deal.

CamelCamelCamel give me the data I need. If used car salesmen could hand you data-rich, neutral third-party charts like this every time they told you you were getting a steal, it’d go a long way to negating that sleazy image.

Alas, we can only dream, as it only covers Amazon.com and Newegg, BestBuy, BackCountry and Zzounds.com through sister-sites.

-- Doug Wong  



Bobble

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The Bobble is a personal water bottle that holds 18.5 ounces of tapwater and filters out chlorine and other contaminants as you drink. I love fresh clean water and have gotten tired of the expense and inconvenience of taking bottled water with me when I’m out and about. Recently, the Bobble came to my attention and when the company offered a two-for-one special for Earth Day, I broke down and ordered six for my family. Well, we’ve had them for just over a week and I must say that these do a fine job of providing great tasting filtered water. I’ve used the Brita system for years, but still drank bottled water. The Bobble has changed that. The water coming out is fresh, clean with no plasticky taste at all. I take mine with me wherever I go.

At the business end is a carbon based filter that does all the work. All you do is fill the bottle with water and squeeze.The filter lasts for 300 bottles and needs to be replaced roughly every two months. The filters are available separately. The bottle itself is BPA free and the plastic is thick and quite squeezable . My guess is it should last quite a while. While it isn’t dishwasher safe, some mildly soapy water and a little agitation and thorough rinse should do the trick.

The Bobble is also a good idea environmentally speaking. As the Bobble website notes, 1.5 million barrels of oil are used annually to make plastic water bottles, most of which are then casually discarded. We had been buying bottled water. Looks like now we’ll be drinking from our Bobbles.

-- Jeff Bragg  

Water Bobble
$20 (set of two)

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Water Bobble

Check out Jeff's video review:



Sears Tool Catalog

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On a recent trip to Sears, I was happily surprised to see a thick catalog near the checkout. I hadn’t realized the Sears Tool Catalog is still in print, still available for free, and just about as big as the old Radio Shack catalogs I used to get.

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It’s not just Craftsman tools in here. They have all of your professional brands inside, and some wicked tools you can’t find at a brick-and-mortar Sears. Woodworking tools are well-represented. Mechanics tools are, too, as you’d expect, including SK tools and some small specialty brands; also shop equipment, even some boots and clothing. Sears has also recently made major upgrades to what it’s calling its interactive catalog.

-- Christopher Wanko  

Sears Tool Catalog
Print
Online



Storus Smart Money Clip

I’ve been using Storus’ simple wallet/money clip for four years now, and highly recommend it. It’s just enough wallet to qualify as one, but no more: light, simple, minimalist. The money clip is great, and the other side can hold five credit cards. The cards are wedged in there — the channel gets narrower as the card slides in. I carry my ID facing out, plus four credit cards. It’s a bit tight like that, but it works. As few as one or two cards still works fine, though, and they won’t slide out.

– Luke Kanies

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I have used the smart money clip for six years. No more wallet, just the five cards I use all the time, and a little bit of cash if someone doesn’t want to take my MasterCard. It keeps my pockets free, and I have never seen anything else like it.

– Jeremy Sluyters

 

Storus Smart Money Clip
Polished Stainless Steel
$20

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Storus



Free

Free is tricky. Free is great for consumers but difficult for business and creators. It is becoming a serious economic force (thanks to digital technologies and automation) but no one is really sure how to use free to, well, make money. Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired, offers the best utilitarian knowledge about the economics of the free I’ve seen yet. I believe this book will clear up many misunderstandings about this “radical price” and assist creators (that’s us these days) in pricing our offerings in a world of “freeconomics.”

The hardcover book costs $27, but of course if Anderson is serious about what he is saying the book should be free somehow. And it is, in many versions. You can get free versions on the Kindle, you can get a free unabridged audio version on iTunes or Audible (but note the shorter abridged edition is not free. Time is money!). There are free ebooks on Google, and on Scribd. You can get a free paperback version in the UK. Some of these offers are time limited (that is called a “freemium”, free first pay later), others are indefinite. New free versions will be announced on the author’s blog at The Long Tail.

You need to take the free seriously. Pay attention to this book, and to Anderson’s experiments in practicing what it preaches.

-- KK  

Free: The Future of a Radical Price
Chris Anderson
2009, 288 pages
$27

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:
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In Denmark, a gym offers a membership program where you pay nothing as long as you show up at least once a week. But miss a week and you have to pay full price for the month. The psychology is brilliant. When you go every week, you feel great about yourself and the gym. But eventually you’ll get busy and miss a week. You’ll pay, but you’ll blame yourself alone. Unlike the usual situation where you pay for a gym you’re not going to, your instinct is not to cancel your membership; instead it’s to redouble your commitment.

*

Commodity information (everybody gets the same version) wants to be free. Customized information (you get something unique and meaningful to you) wants to be expensive.

*

As Lee puts it, “This large audience acts as a powerful motivator for continued contribution to the site. People like to contribute to an encyclopedia with a large readership; indeed, the enormous number of ‘free riders’–aka users–is one of the most appealing things about being a Wikipedia editor.”

*

Piracy accounts for an estimated 95 percent of music consumption in China, which has forced record companies to completely rethink what business they’re in. Since they can’t make money from selling music on plastic disks, they package it in other ways. They ask artists to record singles for radio play instead of albums for consumers. They serve as a personal talent agency for the singers, getting a cut of their fees for making commercials and radio spots. And even concerts are paid for by advertisers brokered by the labels, which pack as many of their artists on stage as they can to maximize the revenues from sponsors. The main problem is that the singers complain that the endless touring, which provides their only income, is tough on their vocal cords.




Mint

This web-based dashboard gives me an elegant overview of all my financial accounts in one screen. I’ve been using Mint for the past 6 months and it is marvelous. It is super friendly, quick, and illuminating. It makes me smart.

Mint will aggregate any money or spending account with online access — which is basically all financial accounts by now. In ten minutes or less I added our bank, credit cards, mortgage, cars, 401k, credit union, checking, and Etrade accounts to Mint. That’s the last input I ever had to do. From then on Mint automatically updates all the accounts, sucking in their data with the correct passwords, and integrates this diverse information into a single unified realtime snapshot of our finances. At once glance I can see where we are spending too much, or how we actually allot our income. I no longer have to hunt for my password and numbers for different accounts, say checking our bank balance, or a credit card purchase. It is much much easier, and far more pleasant, to simply log into Mint, where I can see everything. There, in clear presentation far superior to most banks, are all my accounts informing each other. One window to watch them all!

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Mint is a read-only interface. There is no way to move money, or reconcile accounts, or pay bills, or calculate taxes (for now). That is also why it is safe. In fact it is probably safer than most banks because fancy algorithms at Mint similar to credit card fraud detection software will alert you when your finances show an unusual pattern. This is one of its cool features. It will gently inform you (at your choice) that say, based on your past months’ expenditures, you’ve overspent your grocery budget this month. It also makes a fairly good guess at categorizing your expenses on its own. It can then make comparisons of how your budget stacks up to other aggregate users in your area, and offer budget suggestions (which we have not followed). We rarely use cash for anything so Mint gives us a very complete picture.

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Some people will not be convinced by any reasoning or proof that having a single window into your entire financial situation is safe. If you are of that type, don’t use Mint. But for the rest, who long ago realized that using credit cards online is far safer than using one in a store, Mint is a fabulous cool tool. And it is free. Available anywhere the web lives.

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There are a couple of similar sites, such as Wesabe and Geezeo, which emphasize sharing budgets, sort of like a Weight Watchers for finances, but I find their interfaces far less elegant. However this niche is evolving fast, and features expand. Mint has a good head start, a winning design (I love the pie charts!), and a sizable user base, so I think it will be around for a while. (If it did disappear, no loss because it does not store any unique data.)

-- KK  

Mint
Free



Optical4less * Goggles4U

With a copy of your eyeglass prescription in hand you can order inexpensive glasses online. For about $40 you can get a decent pair mailed to your house in 3 weeks. The optics are fine; they even do progressives. The frame styles are limited. The quality of construction is decent. Of my many friends who have purchased glasses this way, only one had any fitting issues. The rest, like me, love them. I got a solid pair of prescription sunglasses (above image) from Optical4less, and for the first time my daughters called me cool.

The way I figure it, compared to the $400 glasses often cost, it is worth the small risk of these cheap glasses not working out because you don’t get to try them on first. Even compared to the inexpensive options at Costco, they are half the price. But so far, they are as good as anything 10 times the price. (Of course, you can make online ones more expensive by upgrading lenses, etc.)

Enough folks are comfortable buying glasses remotely that there are dozens of vendors. The website Glassy Eyes reviews different online eyeglass vendors and favors Goggles4U (based in California). I’ve had good luck with Optical4less based in Hong Kong and these are the outfit most often recommended by others to me.

One note: to order online you need your PD, or pupil distance, or how wide apart your eyes are. Some mainstream optical offices, like LensCrafters, don’t surrender this information easily. It’s not hard to measure it yourself.

-- KK  



Crazedlist

Crazedlist is a simple, free site that lets you search — and get RSS feeds for — multiple cities, regions and categories on Craigslist. I’ve been using it the last three years to find used sports gear, tools, etc. Recently, when I read about the previously-reviewed Bike Friday, I checked on Craigslist to see if there were any in San Diego. Nothing. Then I went to Crazedlist, where I was able to search the entire West Coast in about the same length of time and came up with at least half a dozen used Fridays for sale. (I still don’t have the money, but Crazedlist can’t fix that problem).

One of my best finds was an inflatable kayak that I purchased and had shipped from Washington a couple years ago. Craigslist is much more of an imperfect market than eBay, but good if you think you are smarter than the other guy. Like any search tool, Crazedlist’s effectiveness all depends on the effort you put into it on the front end. It could probably be very useful searching for a specific job description for someone willing to relocate. I also suppose you could use it to search the personals for a particular quirk or trait, but I haven’t tried that; my wife would probably take a dim view of this.

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-- Peter Valleau  



Ben Meadows Catalog

If you measure value in decades and don’t care about appearances then industrial supplies are always the way to go. The previously-reviewed McMaster-Carr Online Catalog is the granddaddy of all industrially-minded geeks, but their focus is on tooling and indoor industrial items. If I’m considering anything for the outdoors, Ben Meadows is the first catalog I pick up and the only other paper catalog on my shelf I use regularly.

Its categories span the spectrum of possible industries: loggers, farmers, ecosystem scientists, surveyors, animal control & management, spelunkers, cable locators, miners, hydrologists, oilfield workers — and dozens of other areas. It’s a weird and wonderful combination of both rugged equipment for burly log-throwing types as well as instruments, equipment, and books that the more scientific-minded person would be interested in. This is the place where pros (or their purchasing departments) come to find the best gear, and I suspect much of it is worth the cost and slight delay even for an amateur.

The inventory of the Ben Meadows catalog is impressive: Six pages of pH meters! Seven pages of measuring tapes! Five pages of arborist ropes! Portable lightning detectors, safety equipment of all types, windsocks, night vision gear, throw nets, waders, fire jumper supplies, forestry cruising equipment — there is no way I could do justice to the huge variety. I’ve been getting the catalog for 10 years, and every year find a new person who has never seen it and been just as excited with all the stuff they have never known where to get (“So THIS is where I can get bright green non-toxic water dyes!”). Keeping this catalog handy is a dangerous thing. You’ll almost certainly find that tool that makes you think: “If only I knew this existed last summer when I needed it!” And then you’ll go order whatever it is so next summer’s job is much easier.

The descriptions of certain tools give quick insight into how things are done by the professionals. It’s like seeing a shadowy, partial image of an instruction set of how to perform certain tasks. For instance, there is a “Plant Tissues Color Chart” book which allows comparative color examinations of certain plant leaves to determine soil nutrient or toxicity makeup. Well, there’s something I didn’t know you could do, and now I know how to get more information. Looking through the field test kits, I was surprised to see how many possible test elements there are for groundwater; maybe now I’ll test the spring in my backyard to see what kinds of mineral content it has. I would be very surprised if you couldn’t find a significant portion of previously-reviewed Cool Tools in this catalog.

-- John Todd  

Ben Meadows Catalog Print eCatalog



Cash Can

The Cash Can is a small brass tube just big enough for a rolled-up bill. The tube can’t be opened unless you remove it from your key ring. It’s as easy to remove from the keyring as your keys are. It’s also unobtrusive — the whole thing is shorter than most of my keys. Even though I live in a city with an ATM on every block, I’m big on always having a spare $20 bill at hand. I’ve usually got one stashed in my car and another in my gear bag, and a third tucked into my wallet. The advantages of the Cash Can are its workmanship and stealthiness — unless they read this review, few people are going to know what’s inside the brass tube. It just looks like a key fob. Plus, if I lose my wallet, at least I’ve got the cash attached to my keys.

-- Mike Everett-Lane  

Cash Can
$30
Available from Sunshine Products