Cool Tools Show 007: Lloyd Kahn, Editor-in-Chief of Shelter Publications

On the latest episode of the Ask Cool Tools Show, Kevin Kelly and I interviewed Lloyd Kahn, editor-in-chief of Shelter Publications. He shared with us many useful tips, ranging from how to get the most out of your camera lenses, to alternative activities for the senior surfer. Lloyd has spent much of his life researching the best possible tools and products for any purpose and doesn’t disappoint with this lineup of excellent picks.

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Show Notes :

Shelter Publications Website

Surfmatters Website

Some of Lloyd’s books:

The Septic System Owner’s Manual

Shelter

Tiny Homes on the Move

Here are Lloyd’s tool picks, with quotes from the show:

Olympus OMD EM-1 Mirrorless Camera $1299

“It got me to put away my Canon cameras which weighed five pounds. This one is just so much smaller and it’s one of the mirror-less cameras…The mirrorless part is what, I think, saves on the weight…When you look at it, if you’re a Canon or a Nikon guy, it’s going to look just like a miniature of one of those cameras.”

 

Fourth Gear Flyer Surf Mat: $139-$199

“It’s inflatable. So instead of lugging this surfboard around and worrying about getting it smashed up on the airplane or paying a hundred bucks to have it shipped, you just fold up this surf mat in your backpack…and when you get there blow up your surf mat and go surfing.”

DaFINS $62-$66

“I have fins called DaFINS…that are made in Hawaii. They’re smaller than the normal fins you see and more flexible and they’re touted as being preferred by world class body surfers.”


10mm Twin-Wall Poly-carbonate 4′ x 12′ sheet $140

“It’s expensive, but it’s double walled so you get some insulation and it’s clear like glass. It has a ten year guarantee and I bought four by twelve sheets…we tore off the fiberglass and put that on the greenhouse so everything in the greenhouse is much happier now. I’ve washed it once since we installed it. I just take a soft brush and a hose and wash the dust off the roof.”

Makita 18 volt Lithium-Ion Cordless Variable Speed Impact Wrench $206

“It weighs less than the typical drill that you see. There are really no controls on it other than a trigger, like you can’t set it for different speeds or different torque. What it does is it backs up a little bit. Each time it goes forward it goes back a little bit, so it kind of chatters. It’s just really great for grabbers and screws.”

 



Ubiquiti NanoStation and Picostation

I wanted to add Internet to the building my kids’ ski race team operates out of, but the nearest point to the building we could get service was a good 400 yards away. It was not feasible to use cable.

We tried using consumer-grade product to set up a wireless bridge, with very poor results. Someone gave us a pair of Ubiquity M5 Nanos, and I can’t believe how good they performan. Once I found the tutorials, they took less than 10 minutes to set up, and about a half hour to mount (most of that time setting up my ladder). They use Power Over Ethernet (POE), so the only cable running to the device is the ethernet cable. The best part is that they are very inexpensive – $60 each from Amazon. We are only bridging 400 yards, but these devices are reported to work very well up to several kilometers, as long as you have line of sight. Speed tests showed absolutely no noticeable degradation in speed.

Since we were so happy with the first setup, I also used a PicoStation access point to broadcast wifi at the building. The range is easily 3-4 times what you will get out of a consumer grade wifi router. It takes a few minutes to set up, but the performance is so worth it.

Since then we have added bridges to two other buildings 600 meters away, and set up several outside access points to provide wifi on our training venue and to provide live timing of races.

The best part – they just work.

nano

-- David Thickens  

Available from Amazon



Boarding Area

There’s a small cottage industry of avid travelers exploiting loyalty and frequent flier programs to earn maximum free “miles.” The best moderated forum I’ve found for their tricks, tips, and hacks on how best to fly free, or almost free, is a group of bloggers called Boarding Area. They all share great stuff but I am particularly fond of Gary Leff’s blog, View from the Wing. He specializes in maximizing miles for free trips.

-- KK  

Sample Excerpts:

Here’s what I believe to be the current 10 best credit card signup bonuses on offer: 1 Chase Sapphire Preferred offers no fee the first year, 40,000 points after $3000 in spend within 3 months, no foreign currency conversion fees, double points on travel and dining, points transfers to United, Hyatt, Southwest, Amtrak, British Airways, Korean Airlines, Marriott Priority Club, and Ritz-Carlton. Probably the best all-around credit card, and with a great signup bonus. There was for a few days a similar offer with just $2000 rather than $3000 as the required spending, but that was pulled rather quickly.

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Six tips for folks just getting started with miles and points. The basics are:

  • Start with a goal, that motivates you and also helps your choice of program. Nothing worse than finding out you want to go to French Polynesia, but United miles only let you get there flying to New Zealand first.
  • Never pass up miles, always sign up for frequent flyer programs even when it’s not your primary program. The miles add up eventually. Lots of programs become easily manageable at a site likeAwardWallet.com.



Panda Ultra Wifi 150Mbps Wireless N 2.4Ghz Adapter

Why would you need a WiFi adapter for your laptop, when one is built in? Well, the built in one might be broken, or only support an older standard.

But this tool is really cool when not used as an adapter — but when used as an access-point.

Hotels (and the more expensive ones do this more frequently than inexpensive hotels) nickel-and-dime you on Wifi connectivity. One of the ways they do this is by selling you connectivity to ONE device.

ONE?! I’d bet most hotel guests have at least a smart-phone, in addition to their laptop, and possibly tablets, e-readers, wifi-equipped cameras, etc.

Enter this little tool.

You install it in your laptop (I use it in a Windows 7/64 bit laptop, but other Windows versions, as well as Mac and many Linux versions are supported) and it takes the incoming wifi from the hotel and re-transmits it as an access point, to which you (and your family or buddies) can connect.

It is small enough to simply throw in your kit and carry all the time (though so small you may easily lose it in your gear pack) and cheap enough to be a no-brainer purchase for any frequent traveler.

-- Michael Orr  

Available from Amazon



What’s in my bag? – Laura Welcher

By training, I’m a linguist. I’m fascinated by systems, especially complex yet economical ones — like human language — that elegantly solve problems. To feed my inner geek, I look for tricky aspects of daily life that can be improved by the development of such systems, and then put the system together with just what is needed to make it all work just right. And then let it run, with minimal input, like clockwork.

Several years ago I was faced with such an problem by the introduction an extremely annoying 3-hour-a-day commute. Liking my job a lot, but hating being sedentary and stuck in traffic for hours at a time, I decided to ditch the car and become a bike commuter.

However, my particular commute (in the San Francisco Bay Area) presents several challenges. Part of my ride involves either riding BART or taking a bus across the Bay Bridge. This means quickly donning and doffing a bike bag in order to be able to carry the bike up and down BART stairs, through fare gates, being able to maneuver on trains without rolling over packages, paws, or feet, and being able to load the bike on and off the rack on the outside front of the Transbay Bus. Fellow public transit takers are not appreciative of cyclists who are slow or clumsy at doing any of this.

After trying out many commuter bags, some too big and some too small, I think I have found one that is just right. The Ballard Market Pannier ($80) by Detours converts in a flash from a pannier to a backpack, so that you can quickly secure it on your back and carry your bike. It also converts to a long-handled tote bag so you can travel as an incognito bike commuter as needed. The pack is rugged, the base is waterproof, there are internal straps and clips to secure a laptop and keys, and there is a cover you can whip out in wet weather to keep everything inside clean and dry. It fits on both my standard hybrid commute bike, as well as my folding Dahon Vitesse bike ($530-$750) shown here.

[Click images to embiggen]

And now for what is inside. One basic challenge that most bike commuters have is the need to be able to transition from casual bike commuter wear (which San Francisco workplaces are generally tolerant of), to “event-wear” for special activities or meetings at work, where one attempts to banish the sweat and bike helmet-hair for a look that is a bit more polished and put-together. I am no exception to this.

Besides carrying a change of clothing, my secret weapon is this small mesh bag with all of the essential elements to produce the transformation. They allow it to be accomplished anywhere from a seat in the back of the bus, to a work desktop, to the least equipped of public bathrooms. Also stashed in this bag are a variety of necessities including basic tools, toiletries, and first aid to handle most minor commute and workday emergencies.

This bag also includes a small Altoids tin that neatly packs in the smallest (and somewhat sensitive) health and beauty items. I keep it closed with a hair elastic.

Another challenge that I have to deal with is the need to take a shot. I’m supposed to take it every day, ideally at the same time each day. The only time I can manage to be consistent about it is around 10 am, so I usually carry the shot bag with me. Afterwards the shot site can hurt like heck so it is really better to do after the bike ride when it can be iced for a bit. I wanted to show this picture because I figure a lot of people have to deal with something like it, and to show that it can be dealt with. (My shot is for M.S. but it is more common challenge for diabetics.) Not fun and not fair, but having to take a shot doesn’t need to keep you off your bike if that’s what you want to do. And, managing it well within my larger bike commute system adds a touch of elegance to my solution, imho.

  • BD Safe-Clip ($3) needle-nipper. A fantastic and inexpensive device — it safely removes and stores hundreds of needles as biohazard waste; the rest of the syringe materials can go into regular recycling. Disposing of used syringes was a huge pain until I figured this out.
  • Copaxone — a treatment for M.S. and quite possibly the reason I can still bike (and work and walk and run) today. I usually keep several syringes in the bag so I don’t have to restock every day.
  • Autoject ($34) — mechanical injection tool that hides the needle (a big help for the needle-phobic) and for those hard-to-reach injection sites.
  • Prescription and doctor contact info, 1-800 number for advice.
  • Individual alcohol prep pads ($5/200) — turns out these are also incredibly useful for cleaning all kinds of things, but especially grungy mobile phones and computer keyboards.

The next system of gear I carry in my bag is part fun, part communications experiment (nerdy linguist fun), and part civic service in a location where a major earthquake could happen at any moment. This set of stuff is my portable amateur radio gear. Using this radio, I can talk point-to-point with other radio users, hop on one of the several local volunteer-maintained repeaters, and in an emergency (when cell networks often go down), join or run an alternate communications network and pass emergency messages using established and well-known protocols. I often practice on Tuesdays with a radio net that convenes on a local repeater after the San Francisco emergency sirens are tested.

  • Yaesu VX-8DR HT Radio ($492)
  • AC charger, earphone mic, charged extra LI-ON battery. Another good practice is to carry an alkaline battery case and spare batteries and / or a cigarette lighter plug ($28). These aren’t in my current kit but probably should be, because they extend use of the radio in an emergency. Without recharging, I can currently get about 8 continuous hours of use in receive mode, but considerably less if I need to a lot of transmitting.
  • Nifty Mini-Manual — laminated quick guide to the VX-8DR for reading on the BART / bus or looking up a function (this particular radio has lots of functions, and many involve multiple key-push combinations).
  • Diamond SRH519 ($23) flexible antenna which so far has held up to a lot of abuse in my bag and allows the radio to be comfortably carried, either clipped on the bag or on the belt / waistline. I’ve also used the Diamond SRHF40 flexible antenna with good results.

A more recent gear / bag challenge I had involved maintaining a training schedule this past spring to complete my first marathon. On an event day at work, this could mean biking to work in the morning, working a regular day, heading out from work to complete a 5 – 8 mile run, returning to work to get ready for an event (and cleaning up sans shower), working the event, getting back into commute gear, and then biking home. Now that the marathon is done, I want to keep up my endurance and training level to run more of them. So, the stuff I carry with me needs to support days like this.

The workday essentials (ok, I admit the wallet and key ring need a bit of editing)…

And last, but not least — the gear to support the commute itself. I keep the SF Bike map because of its paper charm, also because I like to look at it while riding BART or the bus (such a pretty system!). It folds down to wallet size. I show the various cards here (some are normally in my wallet) because they demonstrate whole other systems of infrastructure that operate in the background to efficiently maintain my ability to bike commute — Clipper Card to quickly pay transit fares, Commuter Check card to quickly restock the Clipper Card with pre-tax dollars, BikeLink card to lock my bike in safe locker storage at most transit stations, and a ZipCar membership to rent a ride share during the workday if need be (for example, to pick someone up or haul stuff). And of course, my card to show I’m a proud member of the San Francisco Bike Coalition!

Btw, this is my summer bike kit; the winter kit is much more involved because of the rain gear. I consider one of the greatest and most delightful challenges to my system to be the ability to maintain comfort, safety and visibility as well as dryness for self and gear during a San Francisco downpour!

 



Kuhn Rikon Auto Safety Master Opener

kuhn rikon.jpg

I’ve used this tool for the last few months, and it far surpasses any other standard can opener I’ve tried. This style of opener, where the lid is removed from the side of the can rather than from the top, was first evangelized via fast-talking TV ads (“but wait, there’s more”), but is now commonly available.

The benefits to this particular model make it best-of-breed compared to its lookalikes. In their attempt to make the device the Swiss Army Knife of openers, they’ve incorporated a beer bottle opener and a few pry-levers into the casing. More importantly, the side of the opener has a tiny set of pliers. These solve the problem that most people have with these style of can-openers. While the lid is separated from the can, it is not totally severed. Manually removing the lid could make a mess, since squeezing the can creates ooze. The pliers make it really easy to pry the lid off without spilling a drop of the can’s contents. The opener doesn’t even get dirty, since it never contacts the contents of the can.

After working through a number of traditional openers, this is the one that I’m going to have forever. Where the legacy technology wears as it rusts and dulls, I’m confident that the Kuhn Rikon will never wear down.

-- James Roche  

[Note: This is an updated review of the previously reviewed Kuhn Rikon can opener. -- Oliver]

Kuhn Rikon Auto Safety Master Opener
$16

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Kuhn Rikon



The Handmade Marketplace

handmade marketplace.jpeg

The giant crafts website Etsy makes it easy list homemade stuff to a potential audience of millions. But the hard part is getting anyone to pay attention and it actually buy it. That requires some basic business and online marketing skills, which are reviewed here, with the home crafter in mind.

-- KK  

The Handmade Marketplace
Kari Chapin
2010, 224 pages
$11

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

What best advice would you offer a crafter who is looking to gain national attention for their work?

Invest in great product photography. Great work sells itself, so you need to do everything possible to make sure the beauty of your work comes through in a way that’s apparent to people reading about you online or in print because most people won’t see your work in person.

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Unsatisfied Customers

In a perfect world, everyone would be happy with you and your products all the time. You would always be paid promptly and always get rave reviews. Sometimes, though, things just don’t work out. In this case you should:

Try to remain upbeat. Use positive-sounding words when communicating with customers.

Say, “What can I do to resolve this for you?” rather than “What do you want from me?”

Try to find value in what your unhappy customer is saying to you. It could be that their complaint has some truth to it, which you may find helpful in the long run.

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Are you getting some really great feedback about something in particular that you’ve made? Consider posting these compliments in the description of your item.

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Keep these customer service practices in mind at all times:

  • The customers may not always be right, but they do deserve your full attention and respect regarding the matter at hand.
  • Apologize first. What if you didn’t do anything wrong? you may ask. Well, while that may be the case, that’s not really the point. You can, in fact, regret that your customer is upset in any regard. Simply recognizing that your buyer has a problem and has had to take the time out of a busy day to alert you to it is reason enough to apologize.
  • Ask what will make the situation right. If what the customer wants is reasonable and you can do it, you should consider it.
  • Taking a hit on a sale is a small price to pay when it comes to your overall reputation and the trust you are trying to build with your market.



 

Square Register

This is an unevaluated tool because no one has used it yet. It was just released today. It is an iPad app with a Square credit card reader and it has the potential to simplify retail stores Point-of-Sales, and eliminate “cash registers.” A store owner would get to customize the touch screen to their store, making it dead simple to operate. Restaurants might even put one on each table allowing customers to order their own food. It’s a ingenious and elegant hack. I’d love to hear from anyone who actually uses one.

– KK

Square Register

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