5-Port USB Rapid Charger

On a recent vacation, my family brought along three mobile phones, an iPad, and two Kindles. Normally, we’d have plugged multiple chargers into all the available outlets in the hotel room. But this time I set up my Photive 25 Watt 5-Port USB Desktop Rapid Charger on the desk and it served as our central charging station. It’s convenient because the charging unit (attached to a 5 ft power cord) sits on a desk or table, so you can easily plug USB cables into it.

Each of the five ports is “intelligent,” which means it delivers the right amount of current to the device connected to it. All ports are rated at 2.1A.

It doesn’t have an LED to indicate that it is on, which I consider a feature, because I don’t like LEDs when I sleep.

When I’m not traveling, I use this as my desktop device charger.

The only reason I’d stop using it would be if I replaced it with the 50 Watt 6-Port USB Desktop Rapid Charger ($27).

photive-back

photive-ports

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Photive 25 Watt 5 Port USB Desktop Rapid Charger
$16

Available from Amazon



Nite Ize Gear Tie

I saw these in a trekking shop in Kathmandu last March, then found the 6″ version here in Japan when I returned. I’ve tried any number of rubber bands, cheap twist ties, and clamps in an attempt to organize all the cords and cables for the electronics gear I travel with and nothing has come close to the convenience and heavy-duty feel of these rubberized gear ties. I immediately ordered an assortment pack of 3″, 6″, and 12″ ties in various colors. Since they hold their shape so well they can be used as makeshift phone and tablet stands, as well.

-- Steve Shucart  

Nite Ize Gear Tie – Assorted 16 Pack
$30

Available from Amazon



Pick Pocket Proof Pants

Pants? A Cool Tools pants review? What could be so cool or notable about pants?

Nothing. Unless they are Pick Pocket Proof Pants by Clothing Arts.

The headline of these is that if you travel and are worried about pickpockets… these will protect you. A zipper and a button closure over the zipper on all the pockets. Things in your pockets just stay inside, so your phone won’t edge up and be left in a cab. Doing a handstand? Your change stays in.

But beyond that they are just brilliant pants. Truly well made, well constructed, comfortable can be moved in easily. And furthermore they laced with Teflon so you can’t stain them… even if you are a slob.

These pants will be your go to lower body covering garment of choice. Enjoy them and keep what should be in your pockets… in your pockets.

-- Matthew Stillman  

Manufactured by Clothing Arts



Zojirushi Stainless Steel Mug

I bought my first Zojirushi stainless steel mug as a Christmas gift for my wife. She likes to take a lot of coffee with her to work for the day, typically filling both a travel mug and a thermos. I was looking for something that would keep a couple of servings of coffee hot for a long time, but would be easier to drink from than a traditional thermos. I came across this product, with extremely good reviews, and decided to get one for her to try.

After several months of daily use, my wife adores this travel mug. The finish is very durable; my wife’s mug looks like new after months of use. The lid both seals and locks into place when closed, and, when engaged, a secondary locking mechanism prevents the lid from being opened. This is ideal, allowing the user to put the mug into a bag without worrying it will pop open on its own. The lid can be disassembled into component pieces for easy cleaning. The only time the mug leaked was after a complete disassembly, cleaning, and reassembly. After re-orienting an incorrectly installed gasket, the integrity of the seal was restored.

Recently, when my wife was on spring break, I borrowed her Zojirushi to take to work. I was astounded with the performance of this mug and, frankly, jealous. The Zojirushi mug kept my coffee piping hot for over eight hours. I was so impressed, a bought a second mug for myself, which I now use daily.

A variety of colors are available, from the basic black and stainless finishes to blue, pink, and gold. This mug is available in two sizes, 12 and 16 ounces. The diameter of the mug is the same, so the sizes share the same lid, but the 16oz size is taller. The Zojirushi mug is on the expensive side, but I believe the quality more than justifies the price.

-- Ryan Gwaltney  

Zojirushi SM-KHE48AG Stainless Steel Mug, 16-Ounce
$27

Available from Amazon



Kikkerland Universal Travel Adapter

I live on one side of the planet and work on the other. When I go on or come off work, I’m a couple of days in transit, meaning that 1) I need to charge my gadgets and 2) I need to be able to use a variety of outlets when I do it.

I’ve gone through a bunch of international adapters over the last few years. The cheap ones break or quit working. The pricier ones are clunky, and invariably get lost or stolen (everybody needs one, not everybody has one, and if you leave yours somewhere for two seconds somebody will walk off with it, guaranteed). All of them take up too much space in the bag.

I haven’t been using the Kikkerland UL03-A long — only a couple of months now, and I love it. I’m not alone: two of my co-workers saw it and immediately demanded to know what it was and where I got it. It doesn’t take three-prong plugs, only two-prong, but its design is pure genius. It’s not a wall wart. It’s surprisingly flat, and long. You pull it into two pieces and use its various bits to make an adaptor that will fit your socket. It works well and frees up tons of space in your bag. Great if you like to travel light.

Another in this design seems to be the Road Warrior, imported from Japan. I haven’t used one, but it does the same thing.

-- David Hines  

Kikkerland UL03-A Universal Travel Adapter
$10

Available from Amazon



Nite Ize S-Biner MicroLock

I, too, owned a Nite Ize S-Biner, and found it convenient to put my keys, keyfobs, thumbdrives, etc, on — except the spring was too loose, and things would pop off all the time.

Then I found the locking S-Biner. The larger #2 and #4 locking S-Biner had a piece of rubber on the spring that you could slide in order to lock. While this worked well to lock it in place, I found the operation to not be smooth at all, and difficult to apply leverage to such a small piece.

Ironically, I then found the S-Biner MicroLock, which conceptually does the same thing, in that it locks the springs, but does so with a single, rotating knob in the middle. This knob allows for considerably smoother operation and application of torque than the tiny rubber pieces on the #2 and #4 S-biners.

As such, this is now my favorite inter-link for my keys, keyfobs, etc. It works surprisingly well, the locking mechanism is quite secure, and easily the fastest when it comes to swapping things in and out.

The little secret extra value here is that while you can buy 2 MicoLocks for about $5, you can buy the Nite Ize Key Rack Locker, which comes with 6 of these MicroLocks for $10.

I now have these all over the place, and enjoy the convenience of attaching and detaching things with ease, yet knowing that it will absolutely not randomly detach. The biggest impact this has had is on my backpack, which happens to be a hybrid city/camping backpack, which has lots of service loops. I can finally make use of the loops without worrying about the hassle of using keyrings, or the fear of losing things when using a non-locking S-Biner or velcro.

-- Kaz Mori  



Walkstool Comfort

In my work travels, I sometimes find myself in a roomful of equipment – and no furniture. Since using a laptop figures into most of my work, standing usually isn’t an option, and sitting on the floor is okay for a while. Jumping up and down or sitting cross-legged too long comes only when I have no other choices.

So I added a Walkstool Comfort to my kit. It’s a high-quality, collapsible, telescopic-legged camp-style stool built in Sweden. The 45cm/18″ model is low enough to create an ideal lap-based laptop perch. It packs up surprisingly small, and is built for heavy first-worlders – mine’s rated for 200kg.

Sizes range from 45cm/200kg up to 75cm/250kg. The rubber feet are large enough to limit their sinking into turf/sand.

Anyone who attends events where seating may be unavailable, or whose health limits where they go, or whose work is non-Aeron based should consider getting one of these.

At first glance, these things aren’t cheap, but when you use them they’re priceless.

-- Wayne Ruffner  

Walkstool Comfort
$78 – $140

Available from Amazon



 

What’s in My Bag? – John Baichtal

John Baichtal writes and edits books for MAKE, No Starch Press, and Que Publishing. His most recent books include Robot Builder, a book of basic robot-building techniques, and Maker Pro, a book of essays about making a living by making. John’s secret project for the past few years has been his first novel, The Locksmith’s Apprentice available on Amazon.

I do a lot of writing involving the stuff of workshops: tools, parts, materials. Consequently I use a lot of tools in my work. I’ve divided my gear into three categories—what I carry all of the time, my writing stuff, and my tool stuff.

wimb1

All the Time
This is what you’ll find in my pockets pretty much anytime I’m out of the house.

SOG Tools Model 61 Multitool ($57). This thing has everything I need for most day-to-day uses. It really is a case where I find myself needing it nearly every time I forget it at home.

My ring includes 8 GB Metal Key USB 2.0 Flash Drive ($7). I also have the RFID fob for my hackerspace, the Hack Factory.

Wallet: Kids gave it to me for Father’s Day one year.

Phone: iPhone 5s. I do lots of stuff on the phone including conducting interviews, taking pictures, and returning emails.

wimb2
Writing Stuff

MacBook Pro, way too old. I photoshopped the Voltron skin myself. When I’m in the coffee shop I get a large contingent of the under-five set who come up to talk about it.

Idea journal: Just a composition notebook. It takes me about 6-9 months to work through each one. Basically, I try to record every idea I come up with, with the date at the top, a topic, and a line separating it from the next topic.

The Nerdpack: A Magic the Gathering knapsack with Adafruit Patches, MAKE buttons, a solar phone charger, a mini tape measure, as well as a SparkFun LilyTwinkle sewn into the nylon with conductive thread.

Pelican ProGear Vault iPad Mini Case ($75): This absurdly armored case feels strong enough to deflect the charge of a rhino. The case’s bezel screws down over the tablet, making it impossible to fall out, and the screen cover can be removed if you don’t need it.

Anker Astro Portable Phone Charger ($46) 12,800 mAh, using standard USB everything. Its curving sides are completely featureless except for a cool LED ring that displays its current charge.

Lip balm. I’m not brand-loyal; Chap-Aid is just fine.

Index cards: I use these to organize my day. I jot down everything I’m supposed to get done. It often works.

Hitcase Phone Camera Mount ($15) is the kind of smartphone mount that you put on your ATV to record yourself driving through raging mountain streams. It consists of a very robust protective case, which locks into a variety of bases including a bike mount, a rollbar rig, a chest harness, and more. One base has an adhesive star at the bottom, which I applied to a MDF gear I lasered out at the space. In other words, it’s a really small tripod that I can put on a shelf, on top of piles of books, and so on.

My trusty Iomega eGo BlackBelt Portable External Hard Drive ($230 for 1.5 TB model) has saved my skin more than once. I plug it in and my laptop automatically backs up to it.

Crossfade M-100 Over-Ear Noise-Isolating Metal Headphone ($270): Sometimes you gotta put on your ‘phones to get anything done.

wimb3

Tools

Pelican 1460 Toolbox ($240): This sucker weighs 13 pounds empty, but it’s indestructible and huge enough to carry everything I need.

Extech 470 Multimeter ($116): A very handy and full-featured meter, the Extech 470 has all the usual features plus also packs an infrared thermometer. Also pictured is a K-type thermocouple, a temperature sensor that plugs into the meter. My favorite multimeter leads are banana-to-alligator, which is also one of the funniest adjectives I’ve ever heard.

Tape measure: I use mine all the time.

Nerdy safety goggles: I like these because they fit over my regular glasses and remind me of being a nerdy kid with a chemistry set.

USB cable: A nice short one like this one on Adafruit ($3). So much handier than those 4’ monstrosities I see draped across folks’ Arduinos.

BlackFire Flashlight ($20): This LED flashlight has a clever base that clamps onto poles and shelf-edges, but also can be stood up like a little tripod. I use this guy for normal flashlight purposes but also to illuminate close-up videos I’m shooting in low light.

Wall Wart ($12): Switchable from 5-12v and it comes with an octopus of different barrel diameters.

I designed and laser-cut my own proto board. It consists of an Arduino (or clone, in the photo) with a half-sized solderless breadboard stuck on the board next to it. I also included a bunch of mounting holes to add breakout boards to your circuit. The holes are Lego Technic-compatible so you can prototype your next Bricktronics project right on the robot. The killer feature is the large hole in one corner that lets you hang the board on a wall hook so your circuit won’t get messed up. When sitting down, rubber feet keep your board from scratching up the dining room table.

Soldering iron ($22) : Adafruit’s recommended pen-style iron.

Workforce Stubby: This no-name (OK, it’s “Workforce”) ratcheting screwdriver was bought at the Home Depot for $4 several years ago. It holds six bits in the handle and ratchets as nice as you could ask for. I’ve used several ratcheting screwdrivers, including some expensive gear, but this one is the best of all of them. [Here’s one by Stanley for $4.]

Pelican 1920 Flashlight ($25): This flashlight’s barrel is machined out of anodized aluminum but might very well have been pounded out of meteoric iron by Odin himself for all the beatings this thing can take.

Vise-Grip Wire Strippers ($16): I must admit to being disappointed with several Vise-Grip products recently. However, these strippers are great. They’re fairly typical in their configuration, but they just work.

No-Name Heavy Clippers: Don’t be fooled by the faux-Hakko color scheme… these guys are totally generic. That said, they’re good for hacking through wires too thick for my multitool or diagonal clippers.

Solder Sucker: If you solder without one of these, it is you who are the sucker. Or at least get some desoldering braid.

Hakko 2002 Pliers ($11) and CHP-170 Diagonal Cutters ($4): I love these clever Finnish ‘tronics tools.

Digital Caliper: You can get calipers dirt cheap these days.

-- John Baichtal  

[Cool Tools Readers! We will pay you $100 if we run your "What's in My Bag" story. 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. See all of our What's in my Bag? posts. -- Mark Frauenfelder]



Flip-Pac Camper Shell

I’ve had my Flip-Pac six or eight years. The pictures on their web site will pretty much show you what it is and how it works. It is very convenient, extremely comfortable, sets up and folds downs quickly and easily.

It allows us to quickly and easily camp out anywhere we can find a reasonably level spot to park our 4WD truck. We sleep off the ground on a comfortable built-in mattress (about Queen size) with plenty of screened windows for ventilation and stargazing if the weather is nice, and – with the rain fly – absolutely dry under the wettest conditions. A couple small interior lights run off the truck battery.

When we are not camping: we still have full use of the carrying capacity of the truck bed same as we would if we had a conventional camper shell. The mattress and tent live under a headliner and take up only about six inches of space under the roof of the shell.

Compared to other pop-up campers: it is light weight (less than 300lbs, important if you have a small truck), cheaper, sturdy enough to carry stuff on the roof [I had a friend make racks for kayaks and boating gear]. I can use all the camping equipment I already had – stove, coolers, folding chairs and table. etc – without the cost or inconvenience of built-ins, which would compromise the usefulness of the truck for hauling stuff around. In pleasant weather we’d sit, cook, and eat outside; in foul weather, this can be done inside, but in a small truck bed it’s not what one would call “roomy.”

It’s very hard to find these used, people who have them will find another truck they can be used on when the first truck wears out.

Possible negatives: they are made to order in Riverside, Ca. (only). When I got mine – years ago – I had to put 50% down, wait maybe a month and a half, then arrange a date when I showed up at the shop where they make them and had mine installed. Back then, they installed one in the morning and another in the afternoon: so they are a small shop and not a big assembly-line operation. I’m sure today the price is higher and the wait longer…

I could have had it delivered to a dealer in Phoenix, who would have installed it, but then I would have had to pay AZ sales tax; I elected to drive to Riverside instead, about the same cost – and no sales tax!

While this has never been a problem for me… some people complain (on the Internet) that it is inconvenient (or impossible) to put up the rainfly without folding up the Flip-Pac; in other words, you need to install the rain fly when you first set it up, you can’t easily change your mind in the middle of the night. Where we camp – the desert SouthWest – this is no problem; but it seems that in the Pacific NorthWest it is.

The tent is made of a vinyl type fabric that resists a light rain or sprinkle well, but for a real rain you want the rain fly [an option available at additional cost.] But with the rainfly installed, there is no way you can get wet or have any water get inside, it is very well designed and functions perfectly – although it eliminates the views out the windows. In the morning after a downpour, you and all your gear are dry – even if the truck is in the middle of a large puddle.

For cold weather camping, we use a small “Mr. Heater” propane heater to keep it warm inside before we crawl in bed, or when we get up in the morning. It sleeps two adults comfortably on the bed [over the cab and hood of the truck] and can also sleep a small adult [or child] on a shelf over the truck bed. Or the shelf can be used to store gear…or folded out of the way altogether. When the Flip-Pac is erected, there is plenty of room for a tall person to stand up in the truck bed.

 

-- Drifter Smith  

[People love their Flip-Pacs. Check out this forum with plenty of photos.]

Flip-Pac
$6,000 and up

Manufactured by Flip-Pac



Timbuk2 Classic Messenger Bag

This bag has been my indefatigable mobile office for the past 2 years. I am a train commuter navigating from Boston’s suburbs into Kendall Square (MIT), Cambridge five days a week. Productivity is important to me during my commuting time and the bag offers outstanding organization and comfort to allow me to work anywhere.

This bag is loaded with organizational features, durably crafted and stylistically elegant (and customizable!). Few bags excel in all three of those critical elements. I use the large size, and while it can be roomy for lighter daily travel, having the extra space accommodates the occasional overnight trip or the large object that I need to tote into my work-space.

-- Nathan Chesley  

Timbuk2 Classic Messenger Bag 2014
Large: $109

Available from Amazon