Olympus TP-7 Telephone Recording Device

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Interviewing someone over the phone is never easy, and it is a task that has been made a bit more difficult since the switch to mobile phones. Where as with a landline you could use something like the previously reviewed Mini Phone Recorder, there are no simple bypasses for cellphones.

I was originally hopeful when a previous reviewer devised a way to record cell phone interviews while wearing a hands free headset using parts found at Radioshack. But I wanted something simpler.

With a little bit of research I discovered the Olympus TP-7; a miniature microphone that slips into your ear and plugs into your recording device (or computer) and enables easy recording of phone calls. At $11 it seemed like a low risk move to try one out.

Given its low cost, I didn’t have any expectations in terms of audio quality, but was surprised to find that it was crystal clear (or as clear as a cell phone conversation normally is, clipping and all). While it’s true my questions were louder than their answers the difference didn’t hamper playback and transcription. Furthermore, the TP-7 is comfortable enough in-ear that I practically forgot it was there (just remember if you ever switch your phone to the other ear you have to move the microphone as well). The TP-7 comes with a bevy of plug adaptors, as well as different sized ear plugs for a comfortable fit.

I have, in the past, tried Google Voice’s recording services that only work on incoming calls to your Google Voice activated line (and also announce that the telephone call is being recorded due to varying state requirements). The recording quality is significantly worse compared to what my Olympus TP-7 and Olympus LS-10 produced, and the transcription (another feature offered by Google Voice) was laughable.

Also, unlike the previously reviewed hands-free setup, the TP-7 has the added advantage of being a single piece of equipment that requires no extra cables or accessories, and is small enough to be carried around in my bag all day just in case I have to record a call on the road. If you ever have a need to record phone calls or interviews over the phone (mind you, legally) I can wholeheartedly recommend this tiny, lightweight but high quality in-ear microphone.

-- Oliver Hulland  

Olympus TP-7 Telephone Recording Device
$39

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Olympus



Calibre + Instapaper

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I put together a collection of tools to get just what I wanted out of the previously reviewed Kindle; a customized daily design, innovation, and anthropology newspaper combined with a collection of all the internet reads that I didn’t get through during the day.

Calibre is the last piece of the Kindle puzzle for me. It works great and leverages the capabilities and value of my Kindle far beyond a simple e-reader. Not only does it help organize content, but it seamlessly exports it all in a plethora of different formats making it easy to use numerous devices and file types.

Here is the process I used to easily curate content for my Kindle:

1. Buy a Kindle, or download free kindle emulators for other devices via Amazon. Register it through Amazon (look for manage your kindle) and take note of your Kindle email address; remember to prepend it with “free.” to avoid 3G transmission charges. It should look like *user*@free.kindle.com

2. Register at the previously reviewed Instapaper.com. Instapaper lets you capture stories on the internet that you don’t have time to read with their Read Later browser button. Set it up and start using it. This growing collection of articles that you want to read later will be jumping to your kindle when we’re through. Take note of your Instapaper “feed for this folder” link. Look around while you’re there, you will soon discover that you love Instapaper’s tool set.

3. Download and install the Calibre eBook Manager. You want to associate the eBook manager with your Kindle and provide your email from part 1; don’t forget free in the email address. Now create a customized news source using your feed from Instapaper, schedule how often you want “news” to download (I’m using daily) and confirm that you have “autosend” checked in the sharing preferences. If you want the Kindle to replace your RSS aggregator add all of your feeds as Custom News Sources. Take a bit of care on how you organize them into “recipes” as these will be treated as separate magazines on your Kindle.

This collection of tools could also be used as a simple digital publishing model for serialized eBook content. Instead of following a Twitter feed of links to article someone likes I could just read the articles in a daily newsletter on my Kindle. Everyone’s blog, RSS feed, and Google Reader shares can become a curated content zine for Kindle users.

-- Paul Cline  

Calibre Free Available from Calibre Instapaper Free Available from Instapaper



Freesia Book Stand

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This is a simple but well-designed book stand that does exactly what it sets out to do. It is sturdy enough to hold big, heavy textbooks, but looks nice. It is impressively adjustable, allowing for nearly any reading angle . Amazingly, despite the ability to hold heavy books, the stand itself is relatively light (around 3 lbs). The stand has an anti-skid coating on the bottoms so that it stays where I put it.

I have had it for several weeks now and have been using it daily. I now wish I had gotten it years ago. It is already decreasing my neck strain while encouraging better posture. I have not directly compared this product to others, as the other stands I looked at didn’t have the same features, including the adjustable angle, wide stand for a place to rest my hand when highlighting, all while being very light-weight. I am not into “uni-taskers,” but this stand is a definite exception!

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-- Stephanie Misono  

Freesia Book Stand
19.6 in x 11.8 in
$33

Available from and manufactured by Best Book Stand

[Note: Other sizes are available for those interested in something a bit smaller. They also have a different model made of clear acrylic. Also, per their FAQ: You must first register an account on their website and then log in. After you log in, you will be able to add the item to your shopping cart. --OH]



 

Long Form * Instapaper

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Longer than a newspaper item but shorter than a book, a magazine article is the ideal length for my attention span. I’d rather spend an hour with a great magazine article rather than read a book any day. Ditto for hopscotching through shallow blogs and newspaper bits. But there are fewer print publications running long form journalism. Ironically, a new website, called Long Form, points to the best long form articles appearing anywhere in print, and also collects the great magazine articles from the past. Long Form fits perfectly into a small ecosystem whereby you can read these great pieces of writing on a Kindle, iPad, or phone. I’ve found the easy-reading portable screens of these tablet devices fit a 1 to 2-hour window perfectly.

Here is how this system works. The Long Form website lists great magazine articles just published as well as past hits from the archives. You mark the articles you want to read, which are then downloaded to your tablet via Instapaper, another website, which has an iPad app and Kindle connection. You can then read the articles, without ads, at your leisure on your gadget. The whole migration is seamless and unconscious.
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I mentioned this was an ecosystem. You can also select pieces to read on your tablet or phone directly at Instapaper, which does not specialize in long forms but also includes short pieces. Instapaper’s sister site, The Feature, like Long Form, makes reader selections of the best magazine articles. On both sites you hit a button “Read Later” to move it to your reading device. In fact you can mark any web page to be “read later” from an Instapaper button on your menu bar and it will move it to your tablet, phone, or even RSS feed. And you can send to Instapaper (and therefore to your reading device) any item from your Twitter stream or social apps like Delicious or Digg, Reddit, etc. to be read later on your Kindle or iPad (or computer screen).

However, I prefer to read long form factuals, and so I keep returning to Long Form to find the gems. I particularly enjoy classic great magazine pieces that I missed over the years. In fact, I realized that I’ve never seen a list of the best magazine articles ever, but see no reason not to make one now. If you have a nomination for one of the top 100 magazine articles of all time, please send it to me (with a link if possible). I’ll share what I accumulate on this page here.

-- KK  

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CreateSpace

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CreateSpace.com is the self-publishing arm of Amazon, providing a service that makes it easy for an individual to self-publish books, CDs, and DVDs. I’ve used CreateSpace for books and highly recommend it.

In the past when I had a book project ready for press, I’d submit the specs to a free bidding service run by the Printing Industry of America that would distribute my project specifications to all its participating members. I’d soon receive quotes from all over the world, even for small print jobs. While I felt confident this enabled me to select the printer with the best price, it meant I needed to develop new relationships with every new project. I also encountered some hard-to-resolve quality issues with long-distance vendors.

CreateSpace produces good quality at good price, backed by decent service, but so do other self-publishing sites like the previously reviewed Lulu and Blurb. What CreateSpace has that the others can’t touch, however, is the direct link with Amazon. Products published through CreateSpace are automatically, and instantly, given displays on Amazon. More importantly, orders through Amazon are fulfilled directly, without my ever having to handle inventory. They simply pay me a royalty.

It’s the logistics of small-scale publishing that are killers. If you order a book from Blurb and sell it on Amazon, you can kiss any profits goodbye. Amazon doesn’t discount books published by or through CreateSpace. They do help themselves to a generous 55% of the retail sale, but the 45% remaining for the publisher (me) is unencumbered by shipping or other deductions. It’s pure gross profit.

I’m an author and a conventional publisher, and recently started by own micro-publishing venture called The Public Press. I’ve gone down many nano-publishing paths, making many mistakes along the way, and CreateSpace is the best option I’ve found for making small-scale book publishing profitable. Moreover, this is one aspect of Amazon’s business that does not come at the expense of independent booksellers and actually creates an environment that makes it possible for the self-publisher and booksellers to work together compatibly and profitably.

-- Stephen Morris  



Evernote

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I teach a lot of courses, and collecting information to keep them relevant takes time. If I’m on the Internet, I might come across something good. The old way: I’d save it to my desktop, drag it to the relevant folder, and hope to remember the file (and what’s inside it) when the time comes to teach the course again. This process requires that I’m at the same computer every time–otherwise those files get lost. It took too much time, and required that I use my brain. I hate that.

Now, when I come across something, I copy it into Evernote.com. I’ve been using Evernote for about six months. It lets me manage research files and web clippings — something that sounds easy but isn’t. If I’m at a school or library computer, no problem. I go to Evernote.com and paste it there. The note gets copied to my account and synched to all the computers I use. Evernote keeps track of where and when I got it, makes it searchable, and keeps it organized. It even presents clips nicely using a notebook (or scrapbook) metaphor.

Evernote is a like great digital filing cabinet or scrapbook–and it’s easy to use, cheap and powerful. It acts like a good archive should, too: It organizes the information, preserves sources and presents it well.

Fabulously, Evernote reaches off the computer and into the paper world. If you upload a picture or scan a piece of paper, Evernote will process the file to extract the text and make whatever text it finds readable.

If I have my own ideas or something not on the web, I go to the desktop application. I can enter text, pictures, video and even audio there. The desktop app is a junior word processor. I can also drag and drop files from other applications, such as Word. These too get searched and synched between all of my computers.

I tried Google Notebook (not flexible and now defunct), DevonThink (not easy to use, not everywhere), and Zotero (not flexible). Evernote is head and shoulders above these others.

I don’t have an iPhone, but I do have an iPod Touch. Evernote works really well on it. It only lacks an easy way to input handwriting, but that’s easily worked around with a third-party scribbling program. I understand that an iPhone works even better: you can upload snapshots easily.

If, like me, you have to manage many files on many projects, you may find that Evernote does a lot without requiring much. It’s cheap, too. There’s a free version, a $5 a month subscription, and a $45 a year subscription.

– Adam Norman

My favorite way to keep track of recipes is with Evernote. When I’m on a webpage that features a recipe I like, my first click is the Evernote button in my tool bar and then typically my second click, “Done,” is my last. This file will then be searchable by every word on the page, and the source URL is also automatically attached. Default presets can be chosen for virtually every option for saving and tagging the file with keywords for easy retrieval. Also, if there are multiple recipes on a page, I can select just the portion of that page that I want saved to Evernote, or the entire page.

Some of the many ways I’m able to save recipes to Evernote: I can take a picture with my Blackberry of a dish I’d like to recreate in the future, and among the toolbar’s save options is “Add to Evernote.” From my Blackberry, I can also upload a file or audio note (sudden salad dressing idea I had while driving) and add to Evernote. I can also use email or a DM note in Twitter to add text to my Evernote notebook.

When the time comes to look up a recipe, Evernote is very fast at searching, and if there’s some identifying characteristic about a recipe, I’ll note it with keywords when I initially save it, for example: “healthy,” “freezes well,” “vegan,” “dessert,” “try with tofu,” or “pressure cooker.”

Evernote’s outstanding for acquiring and filing recipes, but it can be used for everything, and that’s how I use it. For example, I researched a tire purchase and into Evernote went the Consumer Reports ratings and info, the data sheets from the manufacturer of the tires I was considering, the pages about these tires from Costco.com, the special offer information ($70 off 4 tires), a picture of my tire sidewall showing the tire size and finally, the purchase receipt after I ordered the tires from Costco. I am sure you can see how much time and hassle this saved me and how when I shopped, instead of a stack of papers, I just used my Blackberry.

– Kim Price

 

Evernote Premium $5/month; $45/year



Jewelboxing

A simple disc drive makes us all publishers and producers. Off-the-shelf packaging, however, belies the illusion. When I first began delivering photography to my clients on discs, I sent the CDs in nondescript, store-bought plastic cases. It looked awful. Then my search for a customizable wrapper that would project a business image, rather than one of a guy with a camera, led me to Jewelboxing.

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Designers, filmmakers, musicians, photographers and DIY DJs can all use this system to make their discs look less homemade, more slick. The idea is simple: You purchase a bulk quantity (anywhere from 20 to 150) of Music Sized (standards) CD cases or Movie Sized (kings) DVD cases, and download precise templates in whichever major design software is your preference; design your case, booklet and even a label to adhere directly to the disc; print the designs out; tear along perforations; assemble. There you have it.

The rounded-corner cases look and feel substantial, and you can even insert ball bearings, small wooden dowels (see Impactist photo) or other decorative objects into the hollow spine. Playlists, credits and notes all find their home in a neat, customizable folding booklet that slides in underneath the cover. Jewelboxes are a lot more expensive than standard cases, but they go a long way toward making a small business or project appear bigger, undeniably professional.

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Field Notes fans should already be familiar with Coudal Partners, the creative brains behind Jewelboxing. You can seek design inspiration from others’ Jewelboxing designs here.

-- Elon Schoenholz  

Jewelboxing
$98 (60-pack) Standards
$220 (100-pack) Kings

Manufactured by and available from Coudal Partners



Xoopit

For Firefox users, Xoopit adds a lot of functionality to Gmail, including better searching, organizing of all your attachments, disambiguation of emails etc. I have been using it for a while. Makes Gmail the thing I always wanted it to be…

– Alexander Rose

I recently installed Xoopit and couldn’t be more jazzed. Working between multiple computers and offices, I live mostly in the cloud these days. Aside from sending the Cool Tools newsletter via Thunderbird, much of what I do for this blog is via webmail. Searching Gmail, ironically, isn’t terribly efficient. This plug-in not only lets you call up photos, videos and files independently, but let’s you search logically — with thumbnails even! — and then re-organize by date, size, sender, subject and file type and name. Each week you get an email summarizing the files, photos and videos you received that week, along with a randomly-selected image from a year ago. An elegant reminder that all my bits belong to me.

– Steven Leckart

 

[Xoopit was purchased by Yahoo! and is no longer available to Gmail users. --es]

Sample Excerpts:
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Zamzar

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The web-based file conversion service Zamzar has saved my bacon on a number of occasions. I’m a college English professor who teaches composition, and in the Before Times, I was endlessly frustrated by students submitting their essays in every odd format imaginable (.docx, .wps, .wpf, etc.) — this despite my pleas that they be saved in the more platform/version friendly Rich Text Format. Consequently, I spent an awful lot of my time running from my office Mac to the PC lab and back to handle time-consuming conversions. Needless to say, it was a major timesink.

Zamzar changes all that by offering a robust, quick, and excellent conversion service: you upload the file you’d like it to convert, select the output format and your email, and you’re off. In the span of an hour (sometimes quicker), you’ll get an email with a unique link taking you to a page where you can download the converted file, which remains active for a day. You can also upload multiple files in a batch, which comes in handy when you’re looking at half a dozen different student file formats and would like them
all similarly converted. I even got a successful .doc conversion made from a colleague’s Publisher file (who uses that?).

I’ve used Zamzar only for about 3 months now, but usually once or twice a week, and it’s never failed me except for a .pub to .doc conversion, which had some minor layout issues (things weren’t where they were supposed to be). Although I’ve only used it primarily for word-processing documents, Zamzar also converts to and from a variety of image, audio, and video file formats ranging from the common to the exotic. You don’t even need an account to get Zamzar to convert files, although having one ensures that you’ll get a converted file faster, have more online storage, an individual file capacity of up to 1GB (as opposed to the free 100MB), and no banner ads. Because I deal primarily with smallish text files, the free service is still plenty fine with me (I get emails linking to my converted file usually within half an hour of submitting it). And I’m happy to weather the relatively unobtrusive ad assault for a free, quick, and idiot-proof way of converting files on the fly.

-- Professor Ben McCorkle  



ClickBook

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ClickBook is a super simple to use, reasonably-priced program that lets you create simple booklets, and more, with a regular, non-duplexing printer. I found it via PaperDirect more than 10 years ago, before ClickBook was bought by Blue Squirrel. I was looking for some fancier templates for personal business cards and other small projects, like tri-fold brochures. When I got it (I use the Windows version), I discovered it could do a whole lot more than just brochures. It was a lifesaver when I was in charge of my Masonic Lodge and had to do a monthly newsletter and all the mailings for Lodge events. I was able to churn out tri-fold mailers quickly and easily, and I even used ClickBook to make the programs for several public events. I don’t regularly create booklets these days, but I still use it to make personal reference mini-books and role-playing game handouts.

The program install runs you through a short setup procedure which configures the software for your printer. When finished, the software has installed and configured a virtual printer which can be used to generate pamphlets and booklets from regular word-processing files. All you have to do is open your document, then print it to the ClickBook virtual printer, choosing a final output format. There’s no need to worry about measuring margins or fitting documents to a page. The program then sends your job to your printer, complete with instructions for re-inserting the paper to print the back side of the sheets, allowing for automatic aligning of pages in the final booklet. It is one of the most helpful little programs I’ve ever used, perfect for the budding pamphleteer. I’ve never found a free version or anything comparable, though I have to admit, since getting the software, I haven’t really felt the need to look. This is simple, easy to use, and works every time.

– Jim Hoffman

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ClickBook
$50
(Mac)
Available from Blue Squirrel Software

(Windows)
Also from Blue Squirrel Software

Or 15-day free trial
(Windows only)

Additional info available at ClickBook.com

Related items previously reviewed on Cool Tools:

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Vistaprint

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PS Print

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Dymo Labelwriter Turbo