Outlets To Go Power Strip

Monster’s Outlets To Go power strip is the most useful many-purpose accessory I’ve ever thrown into a bag and plugged into a wall. Or a floor. It’s a light and compact four-outlet power strip with a short cord that wraps around it and plugs into one of the four outlets. It’s smaller than most remote controls and weighs remarkably little. And, while I believe it’s rated only for 110-volt outlets, I’ve used it with 220-volt ones in Europe and elsewhere.

I’m writing about it now because my last one, after many years of heavy use, finally failed. Monster still makes the things. The list price is about $20, but I’ve seen it for half of that. I also see that Fry’s has a 3-outlet version for about $20 on its website. But get the four-outlet one.


-- Doc Searls  

[The orange adapter above is my cheapskate alternative to the power-strip. It's $3 on Amazon as an add-on item - Mark ]

Monster To Go 4 Outlet Travel Power Strip

Available from Amazon

What’s in My Bag? – Christopher Michel

Full kit
Flight ETE 5 hours, 45 minutes.  You’ve been there – the BOS to SF flight that never ends.

In the past 10 years, I’ve been on a really long flight about once a week.

Probably like you, I’ve had my fair share of air travel nightmares — usually involving an assault on one of my senses that goes on and on… and on.

From screaming children to lost passports to Montezuma’s revenge, I’ve experienced it all. I’ve also had incredibly productive, serene and, even fun, flights.

With all this time at 30,000 feet, it can’t be a surprise that I’m on the constant lookout for any tool to help me make the most of my time at altitude. I’ve tried, rejected, and optimized a huge number of gadgets and systems over the years.

Although a work in progress, I’m happy to share those things that work for me — so here’s the “What’s In My Bag — Inflight Edition.” Let me first say what this isn’t.  This isn’t my full carry-on bag, which might have clothing, a dopp kit, camera gear, etc. This is the small bag that joins me as I squeeze into seat 23F. It’s also not the same every time (e.g. the journal is often the item most left behind on short business trips or a MacBook Air is brought along).

My constraints are that the bag has to be small enough to fit in the seat pocket or next to the armrest. It’s also limited to what the TSA allows, so, unfortunately, no pocketknives or clever multi-tools. So a small bag.

I found the optimal bag accidentally. The bag was waiting for me on my seat on an upgraded American Airlines flight to Europe. It’s their amenity kit. It’s a neoprene iPad classic case repurposed it to hold all those small items that I previously carried-on individually. Before the bag, my pockets were often stuffed with stuff — and I was always fearful that I’d forget something on the plane, which I often did.

The most important tool in my bag are headphones. Getting rest on a plane is absolutely essential. I used to watch with dread and guilt as families with babies squeezed down the aisle toward my row. Babies cry on planes — and some don’t just cry, they wail! I can’t blame them — flying is hard. But, it doesn’t make it any easier for the rest of us. The only defense in these situations is good headphones. You might as well leave your Apple earbuds at home — they don’t even come close to helping.

Bose QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones: $279

So, like most frequent travelers, I upgraded to noise canceling headphones. The Bose Quiet Comfort were my first foray into noise canceling. They did a good job, but were bulky and only somewhat effective. A nearby unhappy child or talkative passenger would frequently overwhelm the technology.

After some time, I discovered the benefits of in-ear headphones, like those made by Shure technologies. Small, expensive and effective at blocking sound — they don’t use active noise canceling; instead, they simply seal the ear canal. I used them for years, but they would irritate my ears after 5+ hours. After some research, I upgraded the Shure’s to the slim-fit Klipsch X11i Earbuds. They work, and I still recommend them.

About a year ago, a friend suggested I try Bose’s newish in-ear noise canceling earbuds.  Not being able to resist a new piece of tech, I bought a pair and became an immediate convert. They are the quietest, most comfortable headphones I’ve ever worn.

The only downside is that you’re likely to miss service (or “brace for impact” order) as you float unaware in your bubble of bliss. Unlike Shure or Klipsch, these headphones require that you charge the battery pack (with the MicroUSB cable). A charge lasts about 16 hours. They also have some neat in-chord features like noise canceling pause and volume controls.

eye mask
Dream Essentials Escape Luxury Sleep Mask: $20

Yes, I look like an idiot wearing an eye mask during the day, but I don’t care! They feel great and cut out all light. The crucial thing to look for in a sleep mask are eye pockets — standard eye masks press uncomfortably against the eyes. My two favorites are both by Dream Essentials — the Escape Luxury mask or their Contoured Sleep Mask.

Han Kjøbenhavn Sunglasses: $145

Rolex GMT Master Date: $5,000 and up

Fisher Space Bullet Space Pen (Matte Black): $16

Uni-Ball Jetstream Pen: 3 for $8.49
 (Reviewed on Cool Tools here)
Bellroy’s Very Small Wallet: $60

Before boarding, I empty out my pockets and put everything away. Wallet, keys, sunglasses, pens, etc all get safety stowed in “the bag.” I really like small wallets and am partial to the Bellroy Very Small Wallet. It holds a stack of credit cards, business cards (Moo photo cards), and cash — and zips up into a tiny package. The Han Kjøbenhavn Sunglasses sunglasses also get stashed. They are stylish and functional, sporting Zeiss glass.

Although almost everything goes in the bag, one thing comes out, my watch — which I set for the time zone of my destination. This 1970’s Rolex GMT simply works — and the second time zone hand helps me easily keep track of the time back home. A less expensive but really great timepiece alternative is the $318 Casio ProTrek PRW-3000B.

Being without a pen on a flight is a problem. There is always something to write, fill-out, etc. I actually pack 3. Two are everyday pens, the uni-ball Jetstream and the bullet space pen. The uni-ball is inexpensive and works as well as pens costing much more.

Journal & Pen
Pilot Capless Fermo Fountain Pen: $184
Cavallini Roma Lussa Journals: $87

The plane is a fabulous place to get caught up on journaling. I really like the Cavallini Roma Lussa leather journal. It pairs perfectly with the Pilot Fermo retractable fountain pen. The Fermo writes with breathtaking beauty and is such a joy to use.

Global Entry Program: $100

Well, you might be saying, “Why a passport?” Well, it’s not an ordinary passport.  It’s been enrolled in the U.S. Customs Global Entry program. Global Entry not only allows fast access through U.S. custom lines, it also works to supercharge enrollment in the TSA Pre-Check program. Pre-Check enables fast lane access (and no shoe or computer removal) in domestic security lines. The combination of these two benefits has saved me countless hours of waiting in line.

Emergency Meds

Once on a flight back from Peru, I awoke to either 1) stomach flu or 2) food poisoning.  Let’s just say it was an explosive situation, and I couldn’t have felt worse. It was absolutely horrible. I wasn’t prepared with in-flight meds to deal with it and vowed never be caught again with my pants down, so to speak. Don’t give me that look — it’s happened to almost everyone! Be prepared or don’t risk the fish entrée.

So, that little container of “Airborne” actually contains no Airborne. It holds packets of Immodium, Advil, and Cipro. I also carry Melatonin, Purell, Visine, and lip balm.  Depending on the length of the flight, I might also include a toothbrush, toothpaste, and hand lotion.

anker power
Anker Astro E5 15000mAh Dual USB Portable Charger: $50

Kensington International All-in-One Travel Plug Adapter: $13

I carry an Ipad Mini. Although I prefer to read on the Kindle, the iPad is more versatile — movies, books, work, etc. Power for my iPhone & iPad can be an issue, so I bring along the Anker Astro E5 USB charging device and cables (Apple charging cable, USB plug, and MicroUSB for camera & headphone charging). For international  travel, I’ll also pack the Kensington travel plug adapter.

Sony DSC-RX100M II Cyber-shot: $698
MegaGear “Ever Ready” Protective Case:$30

As a photographer, I feel naked without a camera. So, I generally keep the Sony’s RX100 II in my bag. I’ve captured some pretty incredible aerial pictures with it. The RX100 III was recently announced and includes a retractable electronic viewfinder  The leather case by MegaGear is really beautiful and shockingly inexpensive.

Petzl Tikka 2 Plus Headlamp: $40

Finally, I travel with a Petzl headlamp. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used it in-flight. I remember landing in Myanmar and not being able to find my passport – that’s a special kind of stress. I looked everywhere and embarrassingly asked the flight attendant for help (it was obviously with me when I boarded). No luck. In desperation, I pulled out the headlamp and looked into the seat mechanism. Sure enough, it was stuck deep inside the seat. I would never have found it without the light. I’ve also thought it might not be a bad thing to have in the event of a more serious emergency.

The American Airlines iPad Amenity Kit (full): Similar Cases

You can almost get all of this in that little bag — it’s probably the journal or the camera. If it’s real travel, the camera goes in the overhead with the other stuff. Everything else fits.

Bag in hand, I’m ready to sit back and enjoy the flight. As the Buddha said, “It’s better to travel well than to arrive.” Good thing, as we’ve only got another 5 hours to go…

Christopher Michel is a photographer, writer, and entrepreneur. He’s photographed some of the world’s most unusual places and people, from the South Pole to the edge of space aboard a U-2 Spy Plane. His photographs can be found online at www.ChristopherMichel.com or at @chrismichel.

-- Christopher Michel  

[OK, now it's your turn. Send photos of the things in your bag (and of the bag itself, if you love it), along with a description of the items and why they are useful. Make sure the photos are large (1200 pixels wide, at least) and clear. Use a free file sharing service like Bitcasa to upload the photos, and email the text to editor@cool-tools.org. -- Mark Frauenfelder]

What’s in My Bag? – Mark Frauenfelder


What do you bring along when you leave your house? What do you bring when you fly? What do you take with you on hikes?

I’m always curious about the things people bring with them when they travel, whether they are going out for an afternoon or leaving the country for months. I suspect Cool Tools readers have more interesting things than other people do. We’d like you to share your photos and stories about the things in your bag. To get the ball rolling, I’ll start with the stuff I take with me when I fly. (Click any image to zoom in.)


Personal items: an Altoids mint gum tin filled with Zyrtec, Sudafed, Motrin, and a cough drop (blue tape is to keep it closed). Chapstick (my lips get dry when I travel, every time). Nailclipper (hangnails drive me berserk). Styptic pencil (because for some reason I cut myself shaving much more frequently when I’m away from home).


Amazon Basics Electronics Travel Case: $14. Reviewed on Cool Tools here. This small case holds everything in the photo except my laptop, umbrella, and ChicoBag.


Super Talent 16 GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive: $14. I got a 4GB version a few years ago and since then the price has dropped to the point where the 16GB is less than what I paid for mine. This holds my Keynote presentations in every file format imaginable. It’s tiny, and I keep in it one of the little zipper compartments of the Amazon case.


Compact umbrella and ChicoBag: I was in Paris last year and it started raining while we were waiting in line for a museum to open. A man with a cardboard box filled with small umbrella materialized, and sold them all for five euros each. I still have the one I bought. (I actually  keep it in my carry on luggage, but I wanted to include it in this list because I bring it with me on every trip I take.) I can almost hide the nylon ChicoBag ($17.50 for a four pack) in my fist, but it opens to 18×14.5 inches. Great for groceries, carrying my computer, or the beach.


USB Charger and USB cables: The PowerGen White Dual USB Wall Charger ($11) has a 2.4 Amp outlet that charges phones and tablets fast. The BlueLounge Kii ($20) is a keychain USB charger for iPhones and iPads.


Playing cards and card manipulation book: It’s ridiculous that this miniature edition of S.W. Erdnase’s classic book on card manipulation is selling for $200 on Amazon. You can buy the (admittedly uglier) Dover edition for $9. This book, along with a deck of cards, will keep me busy for hours on a flight as I practice different kinds of cuts, shuffles, and double lifts.


Snacks: I don’t like airplane food. I’ll either fast or bring along a bag of macadamia nuts (lots of omega-3 oil) and a few Epic Gluten Free Grass Fed Bison Bacon and Cranberry Bars ($40 for 12).


11.6-inch MacBook Air: Some people manage to get by with a tablet when they are on the road, but I need a real computer. The 11.6-inch MacBook Air ($860) has everything I need. I keep it in a STM neoprene Glove ($30). I also bring a USB Ethernet adapter (for hotel Internet because WiFi in hotel rooms is usually slow) and a VGA adapter (I put my email address on it so I can get it back if I forget it). The charger cable is shielded with split loom tubing ($12 for 100 feet) so my cats won’t bite it. See the Cool Tools review here.


Mophie Juice Pack Powerstation: This 6000mAh USB charging unit  ($88) keeps my devices running for days without having access to an AC outlet. In the comments of my Cool Tools review, many readers suggested less expensive and more capacious chargers. Try them and report back!


iPhone 5s and Mophie Space Pack: This case ($160) is a combination battery pack, protective case, and 32GB storage device. You can load it with movies and leave plenty of room to take photos and shoot video.reading

Reading material: A small paperback book, a Kindle Paperwhite ($119 for the version that displays offers from Amazon when you are not using it — and the offers are often good). I picked up the reading glasses in Little Tokyo (Los Angeles) for a few bucks.

OK, now it’s your turn. Send photos of the things in your bag (and of the bag itself, if you love it), along with a description of the items and why they are useful. Make sure the photos are large (1200 pixels wide, at least) and clear. Use a free file sharing service like Bitcasa to upload the photos, and email the text to editor@cool-tools.org.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Diablotek 8800mAh Portable USB Battery

[This is out of stock on Amazon. I can’t find another source for this particular battery. If you know where to get them, please post in the comments. — Mark]

I’ve been a road warrior for years now, and have gone through over a dozen different Portable USB batteries – they have all either broken (Looking at you, fancy LiPoly chargers!), I’ve lost them, or I outgrew their capacity.

Capacity is the name of the game with this little device! While it is heavy, weighing in at 247 grams (Slightly over a half pound), it packs in every feature that a road warrior would need:

* 8800mAH capacity
* 2 standard USB ports, one outputting at 5V-2A
* Charges via a standard micro-USB cable
* Simple On/Off
* A ring of LEDs around the power button show capacity remaining (Both charging and discharging)
* Comes with a handful of different adapters, though they aren’t needed

I picked it up at a local Microcenter for less than $20, thinking it would be trash — but it’s survived dozens of drops, hundreds of charge/discharge cycles, water, mud and more than enough to have me come to depend on this little guy!

The best part is the 5V – 2Amp output – this allows most devices to enter a fast charge state, which is noticeably quicker than with a standard socket.

On a recent 6-hour flight, I kept both my Android phone and my power hungry Nexus 7 plugged into it. I played games, listened to music, or watched movies the entire time on the Nexus and when we landed both devices were at 100% AND the little USB battery was still at 75%.

In fact, I have yet to drain it beyond 50%, and that includes a 12-hour day of Geocaching with my phone’s GPS on and the screen fully awake.

It also holds a charge for a long long time — I’ve left it alone for 6 months, only to come back and see it’s still at almost a full charge.

If I had an gripe with it at all, it’s that it lacks an attachment point, which is corrected with some epoxy and a trip to the hardware store.

-- Jeremy D Pavleck  

Diablotek 8800mAh Portable USB Battery

Available from Amazon

Calslock Portable Door Lock

I have owned this tool for approximately two years. It manually locks an inward opening door. Ideal for travelling, students or anywhere that you would want privacy and security and there is likely to be multiple copies of the door key in circulation. I am on the road most weeks and have been walked in on in several hotel rooms by people with duplicate keys. I did some research and came across portable door locks.
It will not stop a determined attacker, but that is not what it is made for. It stops someone sneaking into your room using a duplicate key or bypassing the lock. A lot of hotel rooms have security chains, but there are videos on the web showing how these can easily be defeated. It also works on doors with no locks, aslong as there is a recess in the door jam where the door catch fits you can use it.

I originally had a similar one to this that I lost. When I went to replace it they had stopped production. I tried having tried several other designs but was never happy, then came across the Calslock one. At the time I purchased they only appeared to be sold on eBay, which worried me, but having purchased one there was very good service and it is an excellent product. (Still on eBay and cheaper than their home page!)

What makes this a cool tool compared to other portable door locks is a combination of things:

– It is a very good design, slim enough to fit doors that have a very tight fit.
– Easy to operate quickly if you need to get out in an emergency.
– Very adjustable from the thinnest cheapest door to thick heavy fire doors, I have yet to come across a door that is outside it’s adjustment range.
– It is very simple, only two large parts so no small fiddly bits to lose or to go wrong.
– Finally it is cheap, only $9.95, including free postage in USA on eBay or $12.95 direct.
I have no affiliation with Calslock, but whole heartedly recommend their product.

-- Graham Simpson  

Calslock Portable Door Lock

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Calslock

Totes Compact Umbrella

When I got back from a trip to Europe, the one thing I felt I needed more than anything, was a good sturdy umbrella. After much research I found this small Totes umbrella. In my past experience, most small collapsible umbrellas were utter garbage. This is simply not the case here. I have had this thing for about 2 years now. I bring it with me any time there is rain in the forecast.

It’s slightly larger than most collapsible umbrellas (about 14 inches long when collapsed). The handle feels strong and sturdy in hand. It’s comfortable to hold for long periods of time. The auto open and close button works brilliantly and opens with strong force. When open, it is a full “golf size” umbrella, able to easily fit two people underneath. In the wind, there is a magical springiness to it that keeps it from being unwieldy. I’ve had absolutely no issues in heavy wind.

-- Sam Rosenblum  

Totes Golf-Size Auto Open Auto Close Compact Umbrella

Available from Amazon

Vapur Collapsible Water Bottle

One of the problems with water bottles is their bulkiness, especially when empty. The Vapur water bottle collapses and rolls up into a tiny package about the size of a change purse. It’s BPA free and dishwasher-safe. It weighs about 1 oz, you can fill it with water and freeze it. There’s a carabiner on it so you can attach it to stuff to carry it. Capacities range from 0.4 liter to 1 liter-sized bottles. The manufacturer sells replacement caps and carabiners, and a new kind of bottle with whose flip-top cap has a built-in carabiner (I do not have personal experience with, but looks like an improvement on the older style). There’s even a variety with a built-in filter for outdoor use. I’ve had a couple of these for about a year and it’s become my gym bottle of choice.

-- Amy Thomson  

Vapur half-liter water bottle

Available from Amazon

Mono EFX Producer Bag

Having tried many other “messenger” style bags over the years, none of them seemed to find the balance between sturdy construction, flexible space, and affordable price. Discovering Mono bags about 3 years ago was a godsend. Geared towards those in the music industry, Mono has created bags, instrument cases, and other portable storage solutions that have unparalleled design, build quality, and comfort standards. Built with military specs, Mono bags feature a waterproof shell, anti-skip zippers, solid rubber sole, and rugged stitching.

I have used their Producer bag for the last 2 years with minimal wear and tear. I can throw a laptop, power cords, cables, hard drives, and sheet music in there, with plenty of room to spare. The main compartment can be reconfigured with 2 removable padded dividers.

If the Producer is too much bag for you, they have plenty of other sizes and styles of bags to choose from, all with the same high-quality construction. Guitar and bass players should also check out their new Vertigo gig bags. I own an older M80 model for my 5-string bass, and it’s been so sturdy, I’ll never use another brand for my instruments. Unbelievable quality for a great price.

-- Greg Mazunik  

Mono Case EFX Producer Bag

Available from Amazon

Ulmon Offline Mobile Maps

When I travel to another city in the US, I use my iPhone’s Maps app to guide me, especially when I’m on foot. It’s great knowing I won’t get lost as I wander through the streets.

Using online maps when I travel outside the US is too expensive, though, because they consume data, which costs a lot of money. Fortunately, I learned about Ulmon Mobile City Guides. These are free, well-designed offline maps that work with your phone’s GPS to show you where you are and your desired location, without needing a data connection. Just make sure you install the city guide you need before leaving for your trip.

Ulmon maps also include interactive subway maps, Wikipedia articles attached to points of interest, restaurant guides, and other useful travel features, such as the ability to drop pins and add notes to the places you want to visit. I’ve had excellent results using these guides in London, Paris, and Rome (Tokyo, New York, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Vienna, Venice, and 18 other cities are available).

The one thing they won’t do that online maps will do is draw a route from point A to point B, but that has not been a problem for me, since I haven’t driven a car in the countries where I’ve used the maps.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Sample Excerpts:


Uber Car Service

Uber is a car service that’s much better than a taxi in almost every instance. I’ve used Uber for seven months in different cities in the US and have never had to wait more than five minutes for a car to arrive.

Download the Uber app on your iPhone or Android. The app displays a map and you are in the center. You can see nearby Uber cars waiting to pick up customers. Click the “request” button and the nearest driver is dispatched to your location. It feels like a video game.

Why is Uber superior to taxis? Here’s a list of reasons:

1. The app sends your GPS coordinates to the driver so you don’t need to know your address or intersection.

2. You can see the driver (represented by a symbol) on the map as he comes to get you. I dislike wondering whether or not a taxi really was dispatched when I need to go the airport.

3. The app shows you a photo of the driver and the make, model, and license plate of the car so you can be sure the right driver is picking you up (and not a so-called “gypsy cab.”)

4. You can communicate with your assigned driver by phone or text before he gets to you, in case you have special pick-up instructions. (“I’m wearing a blue jacket.”)

5. When your driver reaches you, you get a text that he is waiting for you (I say “he” because I’ve not had a woman driver yet). This is good if you want to wait in a restaurant or hotel lobby.

6. You can enter your drop-off location and get a fare quote before you request a car. The price of an Uber ride is usually as much as a taxi ride. Sometimes it’s a bit less.

7. Payment is automatically charged to the credit card you registered with. There’s no cash involved and no tipping. When you reach your drop-off point all you have to do is say good bye to the driver and get out. Your receipt is emailed to you.

8. The Uber website saves your trip history, complete with fare payment and maps.

When is a taxi better? When you are standing on a curb and want to get somewhere nearby and there are plenty of available cabs driving by. Then it is easier to whistle.

Check here to find out where Uber is available (the taxicab lobby has delayed Uber deployment in certain cities).


-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Free app, price for rides depends on distance and location