Yeti Microphone

A podcast with poor acoustics is exhausting to listen to. As a podcast listener, I’ve dropped several otherwise excellent podcasts because they sound like recordings made with two tin cans and a string.

As a podcast producer, I strive to produce shows with good sound quality. Many things affect sound quality: room acoustics, audio editing methods, Internet speed (when you have guests joining you over Skype, for instance), and recording equipment. The easiest variable to lock down is the microphone. After years of trying different sub-$100 USB microphones, I’ve finally found one that does almost everything I want: the Yeti, by Blue. This retro-looking desktop microphone has several features that make it vastly superior to the one I used to use — the slightly less expensive Snowball (also by Blue).

The best thing about the Yeti is the built-in headphone amp, which allows me to monitor my voice in real time. Now that I can hear what I sound like, my delivery style has changed from near-shouting to a more laid-back, Ira Glass way of speaking. (One listener tweeted that I sounded much calmer on my podcasts and wondered why.) The headphone monitor also has its own volume control.

The Yeti has a microphone gain knob, which makes it easy to quickly adjust the sensitivity without having to fiddle with the recording software’s sound preferences. The mute button is nice addition that I use when a guest is talking and airplanes are passing over my house or I need to clear my throat. The recording pattern knob has symbols to indicate stereo, omni, cardioid, and bi-directional modes (the Snowball’s three-way switch unhelpfully reads 1, 2, and 3!).

Two things prevent the the Yeti from being perfect: 1) Two of the controls are on the front of the mic and two are on the back, forcing me to crane my neck to adjust the gain or change the recording pattern. 2) Vibrations from my computer’s keyboard, fan, and hard drive pass through the foam rubber lining on the base of the microphone stand, causing a rumble sound. My workaround is to set the microphone on a rubber iPhone case, which does a great job of damping the noise. (I might end up cutting the iPhone case to fit the Yeti’s base and glue it on.)

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Yeti USB Microphone

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Blue Microphones


When your home library swells to 3,000 volumes (as ours has), finding a book can be a problem.  In fact it can be a problem with only a few hundred books.

We use Bookpedia, by, to index our library.  Bookpedia runs on a Mac and keeps a database that’s easy to share across your machines, or export in various ways (e.g., put all of your library’s book covers on browsable web pages). A companion iPhone app, Pocketpedia, syncs with the database so you can keep your whole library catalog handy. There are two methods of input: you can scan a book’s ISBN barcode with the iPhone running Pocketpedia; or, you can search for the book (any bit of author/title/ISBN/description), and then resolve the right result. Both will get you the book’s cover image and catalog information.

To build the catalog, we scan a shelf at a time, and add a “Location” field to note which physical shelf it is (e.g., “Upstairs 1-4 is bookcase 1, shelf 4″). This is easier than it sounds. If your books are new, just scan the ISBN barcodes with the iPhone, zipping through as fast as you can wrangle the books. But most of my books are older. So, I use my iPhone (running iOS 6+) to take a panoramic photo of each shelf, swiping it slowly across so that all the book spines can be read. And then I can go through a shelf and add each book by looking up title/author bits.

Hey, wouldn’t it be great if you could capture your whole library the way Jeff Martin did with the Strahov Monastery, by shooting a gigapixel image and then using a bit of smart image analysis code to grok all the book spines, index the room, and be able to zoom into each book in the image, click on it, and read a digitized copy on the web?

Well, until that bit of imaging/AI/webwork is implemented, it’s easy enough to peck in the titles myself.  Bruji searches through a list of international databases (from Amazon to the Library of Congress and other z39.50 servers), and with a little extra help from Bing or Google image search you can usually find the best cover image and resolve the cataloging bits in a minute or two per book.

It doesn’t really matter how the books are organized, because I can query Bookpedia, go to that shelf, and find it fast enough.

Because we live in a loft, we built a whole wall system, about 18 feet high, in which the books are grouped by color (which does help me: I remember the color of most of my books pretty well), and we push the books to the back so that knickknacks can be piled in front. The whole shelving system is a grid, and Bruji tells me that Eric Valli’s stunning photo book, HIMALAYA, is on shelf 3-4 — meaning, column 3 from the left, row 4 from the bottom.  (And Michael Palin’s HIMALAYA is in the Office on 6-6).

Bookpedia has some shortcomings. All cataloging programs do. But it does work, and the integrated iOS and MacOS apps and web exporting make it handy to use on all our devices.



Produced by Bruji

Sample Excerpts:

Logitech Harmony Universal Remote Control


[See our 2014 review of the Logitech Harmony Ultimate Remote Control — Mark]

I have tried several ‘universal’ remotes over the years and the Harmony Remotes by Logitech are the best I have used. The basic idea of a universal remote is to free you from having to use a separate remote for every device you need to control. I can say that except for the occasional special need, like accessing a setup menu, I can use the Harmony remote to control my shelves of equipment while leaving their individual remotes stored in a coffee table drawer. This is no mean feat since I use two displays (projector and TV) several sources and also control my lights. The cost of all this convenience is a few minutes (maybe an hour or more initially) setting up the remote and then occasional tweaks when you change equipment or need another feature. Required accessories are a computer and Internet access.

The Harmony remotes improve on the typical universal remote in two ways: 1) The remote commands for all your equipment are stored in an online database 2) The controller is ‘activity-based’.

The online database is very extensive and seems to have most makes and models. Once you find your device in the database, almost all remote commands are available for loading into the Harmony remote. For those commands or devices that fall through the cracks, the remote has a learning function that can record any command you like so long as you have the original controller. Once you have all the commands you need, you then use the online software to setup activities, such as ‘Watch TV’, “Listen to Music”, “Watch a Movie”, and so on. You then assign the various commands to the predefined buttons on the remote or to one of the softkeys that are user-defined. For me, “Watch TV” is a simple activity that turns on the TV and converts the buttons and softkeys on the controller to mimic my TV remote. “Watch a Movie” has to turn on the projector, DVD player, and AV receiver. The softkeys allow me to dim the lights or control the projector aspect ratio. The predefined controller buttons allow complete control of the sound (via the AV receiver) and DVD transport. All this with the press of one button.


It will take some training for casual users to get used to this remote. For one thing, it may take up to 15 seconds for all the commands to be sent and the remote needs to remain pointed at the devices during this time. The other adjustment comes in getting used to activity-based commands. Most people just want to pick up the control and look for the ON button. It is daunting to hold a remote with over 40 buttons on it and locate the correct one. Once you get used to it, the correct buttons are easily found however.

One weakness of any remote control system is that the controller does not know what state the equipment is in. This is a problem since many remote commands are not absolute. For instance, for many devices, “power on” and “power off” are the same command. Also many devices that have input switching use a simple ‘go to next input’ command rather than “go to input 5″. The Harmony handles this in a fairly straightforward way. If any of the equipment gets out of sync with where the remote thinks it is, you simply press the Help button. This starts a question/answer process that continues until you respond that the problem is solved. Of course, it is up to you whether it is simpler to merely get off the couch and go press a button.

I will finish by listing one caveat. My experience is based on use of an older model that is no longer available. I have looked at the current models and I cannot see any big difference except that Logitech is apparently limiting the number of devices you can control with the simpler remotes. Read the features and capabilities carefully before choosing your model. Whether the remote will work well for you will depend on the number of devices you need to control, the number and type of predefined buttons you will need (such as channel, volume, menu control, etc.) and the number of activities you use. Also, although they offer a model with no LCD screen, I would not recommend getting this unless you have a very simple setup that only needs the predefined buttons. The LCD screen allows you to define softkeys. This not only allows you to define activity-dependent buttons, but label them so you know what they do – very helpful for the rest of the family that did not participate in programming the remote!

-- Stan Cossette  

[Note: Logitech frequently offers rebates, so make sure to double check before making your purchase, and make sure to check out Wirecutter's guide to universal remotes which keeps track of any updates in the market. --OH]

Logitech Harmony 700
No longer available

Note: Logitech has replaced the Harmony 700 with the Harmony Touch 915

Logitech Harmony Touch 915

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Logitech

Olympus TP-7 Telephone Recording Device

Olympus TP-7 .jpeg
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

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Olympus

Calibre + Instapaper


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*

2. Register at the previously reviewed 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


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!


-- Stephanie Misono  

Freesia Book Stand
19.6 in x 11.8 in

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


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.
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  

instapaper summary.jpg iPhone version: iphoneinstapaper.png


createspace.gif 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  



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 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 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, 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


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.


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.


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  

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

Manufactured by and available from Coudal Partners