Cool Tools 2014 Holiday Gift Guide: Gifts for $10 or less

In the weeks leading up to the holidays, we’ll be presenting a series of gift suggestions selected from the pages of Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities (which itself makes a great gift). This week: great gifts for under $10.


Giottos Rocket Blaster ($10)
“This rubber rocket doesn’t provide as much pressure as Dust-Off, but it exhales a forceful-enough blast for dusting photo/electronic gear, and standing upright on its base sidelines as playful desk dressing/stress-relief toy.”


Coghlan’s 12-in-1 Scissors ($8)
“A silly looking and cheap tool that is surprisingly useful. It will cut fairly heavy material, has a bottle opener, screwdriver, and will come apart so you can use it as an awl or hole punch in an emergency.

Photon Microlight II.jpeg
Photon Microlight II ($9)
 ”This is a very handy little light that is small enough to carry around in your pocket on a keychain. It weighs only 4.8-grams and the LED “bulb” is very bright for its size, more than adequate for finding your way around in a dark spot, reading a map, finding key holes, etc, with a simple thumb press on the button”


Fantastic Ice Scraper ($4)
 ”It’s been my go-to ice removal device. I now keep one in the kitchen for cleaning counter tops, glass tables, stove tops and any other hard surface that needs an occasional scrape down. I also keep one in the garage for general scraping and cleaning.”

Snark.jpeg
Snark Clip-On Tuner for Guitar, Bass and Violin ($10)
 ”I’ve tried several clip-on guitar and banjo tuners over the years, and I finally found the best one: Snark SN-2. It’s fast, easy to use, and very accurate.”

Want more $10 gift ideas? Take a look at our 2013 Low Cost Gift Guide

 



 

Co-founder of Quantified Self, Gary Wolf [Cool Tools Show #15]

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In this week’s episode of the Cool Tools Show, Gary Wolf, Co-founder of Quantified Self, shows us how his favorite Quantified Self inspired apps help him stay consistent, motivated and aware about his most important daily routines. If you’re struggling to keep your healthy habits in check, this week’s episode may help you diagnose where those dips in motivation are coming from.

Quantified Self

Gary’s Twitter

Show Notes:

Equanimity: Meditation Timer & Tracker by Robin Barooah $5

“It keeps a record of your meditation sessions, when you stop, when you start. It gives you a field to take notes and gives you the ability to reflect on the patterns in your practice, including CSV export of all your meditation data in a table. A few years into using it I ran a little analysis of what my practice really looked like and I learned so much from doing that. For instance, I learned that I had an average time without a break between days of about nine days.”

750 words by Buster Benson Free

“It’s premised on the theory that doing some free writing in the morning is very good for you, for your creativity. It can reduce stress by keeping you in touch with the random thoughts and random voices that are in your head and discharging some of the internal narrative and it’s also really relaxing. In a sense it resembles a meditation practice — it releases creativity and reduces stress.”

Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora $30

“It’s unlike any other guide I’ve ever encountered. On almost on every page it contains a story of a personal encounter with the mushroom in question, so it’s as close as you can get to walking through the woods with your own great expert.”

Ball Jars with Wide Funnel ~$20 (For 1 funnel & 1 case Ball Jars.)

“We went to the hardware store and got three cases of Ball jars and a nice big aluminum funnel and took every single item that was in a bag or an open box (including everything from tiny little pieces of pasta to crackers) and we put it in the appropriate size jar and my daughter made sticky labels and drawings for it and we filled up the pantry with this collection. It wasn’t very expensive. It didn’t take all that long. Now everything looks great and every time we open the closet we have a laugh.”

 



What’s in My Bag, Stephanie Moore

I work part-time at the local community college tutoring math and science. I have also been known to suit-up and play paintball (usually the lone female and oldest player on the field), so my bag contains a rather odd variety of things.

duluth

I recently had to upgrade from my dearly loved Maxpedition FR-1 pouch simply because it lacked the storage space I needed. After months of research and debating with myself, about a month ago I purchased a Duluth Trading Company Firehose & Leather Field Bag ($90).

Looking at it from the outside, the bag has 3 large zippered compartments and the 2 outer sides have a smaller flat zippered compartment and one that is open with a loop of leather and snap to keep it semi-closed.

So what do I carry?

The open outer compartment carries my iPhone 4s and sometimes a USB to iPhone cable so I can recharge off a computer or in the car.

kleenexThe zippered outer compartment carries my wallet and a small pack of Kleenex because in my family there is a Kleenex box or two in every room!

baginnards

The full-size zip compartment next to the open outer compartment is gusseted – an extremely nice feature that allows both easy access and cramming a lot of things in! The inside of this compartment has 2 graduated open storage slots, a flat zippered storage slot, and a pen/pencil etc holder on one side and the other side has a large open storage area. Counting the main storage area, that makes 6 places to divide up things! I recently discovered a way to “fix” the divider being too flexible. I simply put in a small notepad (like a 6×9 Moleskine, only a cheap version) and voila! I have writing paper *and* a stiffer divider!

ruler

In the pen/pencil area I carry a 6-inch yellow see-through ruler marked in both centimeters and inches (yellow because it makes print easier to read for students with nystagmus, and marking the line being read helps students with dyslexia and/or ADHD), 2 different colors each of highlighters, Sharpie markers and ballpoint pens and 2 or more Papermate clearpoint elite mechanical pencils ($10 for 2) (the “elite” part nets you the metal clip which you can hang on a spiral notebook without having it break mid-term). These particular pencils have been my favorite for years now because the side-advance means you don’t advance the lead every time you erase and because the erasers are so long they last forever even when you make a lot of mistakes. Although they are sold in solid colors, my son took the pencils apart and mixed the barrel colors for me so my students (many of whom use the same pencils due to my influence) never inadvertently leave with *my* pencils.

tape

In one open slot I carry a roll of tape (useful for sticking reminder notes in places without marker boards), a small metal tape measure (extremely useful when out shopping for furnishings), and a small note pad.

tins

In one of the larger open slots I carry 3 Altoids tins in green, red and teal. The teal one is empty while I am figuring out what might need to go in it, but the other day I was shopping and had to take some medicine so I used the clean empty tin as an emergency drinking cup. I believe it will stay empty now!

redtin

The red tin is my “first aid/survival” tin. It contains my Leatherman Squirt PS4 ($28) (with pliers/wire cutters, essential for emergency string changes on my electric bass), 2 bandaids, a couple rubber bands and paper clips (unbent paperclips can be very handy for unlocking doors), Uncle Bill’s Sliver Gripper tweezers ($7), a nail clipper and file and a lighter (I don’t smoke, but it’s been great for lighting candles, sealing the ends of cut paracord etc), two small screen cleaning cloths and a couple of foreign coins I found while geo-caching.

greentin

The green tin is more school stuff, various page marking sticky papers, extra pencil leads and a couple of large erasers.

knife-1

knife-2

Attached to the zipper of this compartment is a little clip to which I attach my Tool Logic SLP2 knife ($30). This knife is relatively lightweight, sharp, and has a magnesium fire starter, an LED flashlight and a piercing emergency whistle built into it. Love my knife! Attaching it this way allows me to find it without digging thru the depths of my bag and to unclip it easily. The short length of orange cord remains on the knife allowing me to easily find it without getting in the way of using it.

toiletry

The large center zippered pocket is the only large pocket without gussets, but it is the widest one. I use this as my toiletry kit. Like the previous pocket, it has interior organizational pockets (Three of them, all open and all on one side). Here I keep an inhaler, nasal spray, a divided box of various meds, hand lotion, a brush and comb, lip balm, disposable toothpicks, a metal tooth cleaner, and, since I made myself extremely nauseous taking two prescription tablets that looked like ibuprofen from my divided pill container, a small Altoids tin dedicated to ibuprofen tablets. If needed, I also carry a prescription bottle of short-term medicine I may be taking.

dice-1

dice-2

The final zippered compartment is gusseted and is one large area. Here I keep a smaller (yellow) zippered bag that holds my pStyle female urination device ($12) (for dirty restrooms and paintball fields), another pack of Kleenex, a zip pouch of polyhedral dice (just because I like math and they are pretty), a snap-close pouch of earbuds with all the various sizes of foamy parts that go on them and some ear plugs to retain my sensitive hearing and avoid migraines in loud places.

strap

Lastly, there is the bag’s padded shoulder strap. More than one person has commented it looks like a, well, a not-very-comfortable shoulder strap. I am quick to assure them, that however it looks and whatever it is made of, it is hands-down the most comfortable shoulder strap I’ve ever worn (and I have lots of experience with bad ones from 40+ years of guitar and bass straps holding up instruments that weigh between 5 and 20 lbs).

case

Clipped onto the shoulder strap is a glasses case for my sunglasses (which I wear year-round because my eyes are light sensitive).

That about covers it and the bag isn’t even all the way filled up! I’ve shown it to some female friends (outdoorsy biology instructors and an ER nurse) and without my junk in it, the bag is quite capable of carrying a Kindle or smaller iPad plus a 6×9” size book plus a 6×9” notebook or journal with room for other things.

-- Stephanie Moore  

[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]



Bitybean Child Carrier

There are lots of infant and toddler carriers out there to suit personal preferences. What makes this carrier special — and a big reason why it’s become our everyday go-to carrier for our 22 pound six-month old — is its unbelievably compact size and simplicity.

Unlike other carriers like the Ergobaby and Babybjorn, when not in use our Bitybean carrier can be stuffed into a sack barely larger than a soft drink can. This means it can be easily slipped into a small diaper/travel bag, or even in our stroller’s cup holder. It’s there when we need it, out of the way when we don’t.

Its fast to put on (either front or back facing), very lightweight and stays cool in warm weather. While I was initially concerned about the relative lack of padding or support, our little one is quite content in it for short errands and trips to the grocery store.

We still occasionally use the Ergobaby carrier we got at our baby shower, but the Bitybean sees much more daily use.

-- Rayan Parikh  

Bitybean UltraCompact Baby Carrier
$60

Available from Amazon



Handy Paint Pail

I’m glad I don’t have to stain my cedar deck every summer but when I do I’m extra glad I found the Handy Paint Pail. It’s a quart-sized container that holds paint or stain while you do brush work. The wide, rubbery strap works two ways. Slip your hand through the adjustable strap. Your hand relaxes into a gentle curve: no cramps from hours of gripping a paint can. You can also use the handle in reverse: wear the can across the back of your hand. This leaves your hand free to grip ladders or hold things. The unique D-shaped cup is really useful. The curved part fits your hand while the flat side fits the brush.

The pail also has a very clever feature: a strong magnet molded into the inside the cup magically holds your bush up and out of the paint (and catches any drips). Clean up is a breeze — just toss away the used vacuum-formed liner (and slip in a fresh one for next time). As you can see from the photo we’ve used our HANDy Paint Pail for many years of staining and painting, inside and out.

pail-2

-- Bob Knetzger  

Handy Paint Pail
$10

Available from Amazon



Vix Bit

This might seem like a bit of a specialty tool, but for a homeowner or finish carpenter, it makes installing any kind of fixture a snap. “Vix” is a brand name for the S.E. Vick company, more generically it’s a “self-centering” drill bit, and they make a few different sizes, but I’ve only ever used the smaller one — need a bigger hole? Use it as a pilot bit. Hinges, cabinet pulls, shelf brackets, anything you need to fasten to a piece of wood, this bit prevents the tip from wandering so countersunk screws will seat perfectly. I first encountered these as a carpenter — attaching cabinet hardware is usually the last thing on the job, so you really don’t want to screw up at that stage. The vix bit makes it pretty much idiot-proof. I’ve had one for at least ten years, and it still worked great when I lost it a few weeks ago. It was sorely missed until I replaced it.

-- Chris Landers  

Set of 3 Vix Bits
$23

Available from Amazon



 

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

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.

Subscribe to the Cool Tools Podcast on iTunes | RSS | Transcript | Download MP3

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.

*
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