Wilson Electronics Cell Phone Signal Booster

Wilson Electronics 815226 Sleek Cell Phone Signal Cradle Booster for All Cell Phones with Mini Magnet Mount Antenna  - For Single User.jpeg

I have an online editing job, and like to travel by car when I can around North America. Over the last 12 years I’ve hit all but two or three of the continental U.S. states, and worked at least a bit (from my car) in most of them as I passed through. In 2000, Internet cafes were rare outside big cities; when I was on one of my drive-abouts and needed to get online, I’d rush to find a hotel with free local calls and dial-up my ISP. Things got easier with the advent of coffee shops adding WiFi as a perk. And even easier when I could buy cheap wireless online time at truckstop chains like Flying J. Now, in any major population center or along major highways, I can instead get 3G service via my MiFi at reasonable rates (faster than dialup, at least), but only when in the covered footprint. As any cellphone user knows, that footprint doesn’t always match the published, disclaimer-laden maps, and isn’t always consistent.

Enter the Wilson Sleek signal amplifier. I looked at many such extenders hoping they’d match my peripatetic lifestyle, but this model of Wilson (they make others, too, which I can’t vouch for) is the first one that rang all the right bells. It’s small, inexpensive, fairly unobtrusive, and sized for the devices I wanted it for (MiFi, smart phone). Importantly, it also comes with a 12v plug, rather than requiring a 120v outlet, as do some home-centric signal boosters. Note: this device is sized to amplify the signal to only one device at a time, but through creative rubber banding, I had no trouble attaching both of my MiFis, even though I was only using one at a time.

I have not done any formal signal-strength testing, but in the year I’ve had it, I’ve found the Wilson device works well. Just like the too-good-to-be-true testimonials I was skeptical of before buying it, I’ve seen one bar of reception go to four or five, and sometimes zero bars go to one or two. (Which is to say, a *true* lack of reception can’t be fixed by a fancy antenna, and this won’t fix problems that exist between the bigger Internet and the nearest cell tower, but if you’re simply on the iffy fringes, this can put you back in business.) Though I bought the device for the purpose of working while stopped, I anticipate that I’ll now use it as well with the Android tablet I recently bought, which uses Google Maps to navigate. Since those maps are online rather than off, this amplifier extends the tablet’s usefulness as a big-screen, always updated GPS.

When I spent a few months in Puerto Rico earlier this year, the marginal reception I experienced from the Virgin (Sprint) network via MiFi was made considerably more tolerable by this device, once I found a working place for the sold-separately suction cup antenna mount.

There are a few caveats I’d point out, too. First,the amplifier, being powered, steals either a DC outlet in the car or, in my case, an outlet on my invertor. You need to plan ahead, especially if you find (as I do) that it’s easy to grow a Rube Goldberg nest of electronics. Second, the tiny “feet” which hold in place the bottom edge of the device being held both broke for me in the first week of serious use. Yes, I dropped it — twice! — but from such a low height that I was actually amused that each fall broke a different foot. Wilson should make those feet from metal. No worries: a borrowed hairband, though ugly, works just as well.

-- Timothy Lord  

Wilson Sleek Cell Phone Signal Cradle Booster
$92

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Wilson Electronics



Thermos Stainless Steel Hydration Bottle

Thermos Nissan 2465 18-Ounce Stainless-Steel Hydration Bottle.jpeg

This 18 oz Thermos water bottle is terrific. It claims to keep beverages cold for 12-hours, and often I’ll find ice in the bottle from use the day before. It features a wide mouth construction which makes it easy to fill, even with ice cubes. The cap sports a nifty hinged pop-up top that can be opened and closed with one hand and doesn’t require removing the lid. It offers an adult “sippy cup” spout. It also features a safety latch to insure no spills during transport.

The stainless steel does not sweat so it won’t leave rings and the rubber mid section grip has a good “hand feel”. It’s great for the gym, the beach or the car, and fits most cup holders. For liability issues, it’s advertised for cold beverages only, but many of the BB reviews say it work just as well for hot beverages.
Thermos Nissan 2465 18-Ounce Stainless-Steel Hydration Bottle-1.jpeg
It is perhaps the most stylish and utilitarian product I use on a daily basis. At $15 on sale from both Walmart and Amazon it’s a little more than a standard steel water bottle but it offers so many features it’s well worth it. I have two, and will probably get several more as the summer progresses. All in all,it’s one of my favorite things, and its hard to keep it out of my kids hands

-- Thomas Winberry  

Thermos Nissan18-Ounce Stainless-Steel Hydration Bottle
$15

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Thermos-Nissan



Aerobie Orbiter

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This lightweight boomerang won’t kill you if it happens to strike you or a passerby. It flies fast, wide, and sure. Easy to catch because of its closed shape. It does take practice to get a full no-move-from-start return, but anyone can get it to come mostly back. You’ll need a football-sized empty field for its 90-foot circle performance. Unlike a frisbee, it can be a lot of fun solo.

-- KK  

Aerobie Orbiter
$10

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Aerobie

Sample Excerpts:

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Fenix Flashlight Headband

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I’ve been using the Fenix Headband for about 6 months now and I’ve found it superior to just about any other headlamp system out there.

It’s much more versatile since it allows me to rotate the light 360-degrees, instead of just forward and down. And because it is on the side of my head instead of on my forehead, light doesn’t hit my eyes. It’s designed to fit Fenix lights (most AA and CR123 models), and works with countless others including the outstanding 4Sevens Quark line.

Having a “real” light means actually getting “throw” with a headlamp which is something sadly missing from the older LED technology commonly used on caving/jogging lights on the market. Along the same lines, newer LEDs are more efficient, having a much higher lumen to power consumption ratio, in effect giving me a brighter light for much longer. The plastic light mount is super durable and has a metal hinge, screw and threads so there’s no chance of plastic wear on moving parts.

It’s unique design means I can have all of the benefits of the latest light technology and the versatility to choose which flashlight features I want, for every type of use I can throw at it. I can choose the batteries, bulbs, and modes I want or need in a light and secure one or TWO to my head leaving my hands free to start a camp fire, steer a bicycle, work on electronics, hold a map, or write a note while standing. I can investigate a noise over 100 feet away while unscrewing my water bottle (a simple task but impossible with an average headlamp) and can point it upward then set my light to SOS mode and signal a rescue team while administering first aid.

-- Joel Mellon  

Fenix Headlamp Headband
$19

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Fenix



Best Bookmark Organizer


I have a bunch of bookmarks, and I need a good favorites organizer to make them more usable. What are the best services out there?
– Philntex

While looking for the best bookmarking tool out there I used Delicious for awhile, but eventually switched to Pinboard which is a paid service. I also use XMarks and Instapaper too, just to throw in a tool that’s a bit more than a bookmark organizer. I originally dropped Delicious when they were going through their Yahoo issues. I wasn’t really unhappy with the service but was unhappy with Yahoo. I use each service differently:

1. Pinboard: I store links to individual articles that I want to find again. For example, I’ve many links to individual cool tools in my Pinboard account.

2. XMarks: I use organized bookmarks inside the browser to find sites I want to read/visit on a regular basis. I’ve a link to just the Cool Tools front page in my browser. I then use XMarks to sync these browser bookmarks from my home Mac to my Windows computer at work (and provide an easily restored backup of all my bookmarks). I also have Safari bookmark syncing turned on for my iOS devices. This means I have the same browser bookmarks on iOS, Windows and Mac.

3. Instapaper: I use this to store the full text of articles when i’m interested in reading them offline when I travel or just having because i’m paranoid the article might age away before I get a chance to read it (local news sites can be really bad for this) or if I want an archive of it so I can refer to it later.

Depending on your needs, they’re all good tools.

-- K. Vanh  

[Do you have a better solution? Or, do you need a question answered? Don't forget to check out Ask Cool Tools! --OH]



Best Bookmark Organizer


I have a bunch of bookmarks, and I need a good favorites organizer to make them more usable. What are the best services out there?
– Philntex

While looking for the best bookmarking tool out there I used Delicious for awhile, but eventually switched to Pinboard which is a paid service. I also use XMarks and Instapaper too, just to throw in a tool that’s a bit more than a bookmark organizer. I originally dropped Delicious when they were going through their Yahoo issues. I wasn’t really unhappy with the service but was unhappy with Yahoo. I use each service differently:

1. Pinboard: I store links to individual articles that I want to find again. For example, I’ve many links to individual cool tools in my Pinboard account.

2. XMarks: I use organized bookmarks inside the browser to find sites I want to read/visit on a regular basis. I’ve a link to just the Cool Tools front page in my browser. I then use XMarks to sync these browser bookmarks from my home Mac to my Windows computer at work (and provide an easily restored backup of all my bookmarks). I also have Safari bookmark syncing turned on for my iOS devices. This means I have the same browser bookmarks on iOS, Windows and Mac.

3. Instapaper: I use this to store the full text of articles when i’m interested in reading them offline when I travel or just having because i’m paranoid the article might age away before I get a chance to read it (local news sites can be really bad for this) or if I want an archive of it so I can refer to it later.

Depending on your needs, they’re all good tools.

-- K. Vanh  

[Do you have a better solution? Or, do you need a question answered? Don't forget to check out Ask Cool Tools! --OH]



Pocket Eyes Reading Glasses

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After 45 years of perfect vision, I began needing help to see up close. I have prescription glasses for writing long chapters at my desk, and I’ve stashed cheap reading glasses everywhere else in the house. But inevitably, when traveling around the planet, I have struggles with menus and bank documents and so on. A convenient pair of portable readers can be a blessing.

I started with one of those slim fresnel lenses, shaped like a credit card, in my wallet. They’re fine for emergencies but useless for comfortable or extended reading. An ideal solution would be a small pince-nez. But the cheapo versions – with a plastic nose-bridge – soon break, or they pinch and hurt.

What you want is for the bridge to be made of flexible metal, squeezing the two lenses against your nose with just the right pressure. They can slip off, if you’re sweaty, and there are (ahem) some places you do not want to let them drop-off. But the good ones can squeeze together so the lenses overlap and they fit into a tiny pocket pouch. It’s surprising how comfortable they can be, feeling so natural you forget they are there.

Alas, my first trio of pocket pince-nez all broke in the same place; where the metal bridge was riveted into the glass. I searched all over and finally found better ones from Pocketeyes. These have an improved, adjustable metal-to-glass attachment, a corrugated spot on each lens to help grip the nose, and a split pouch that lets you keep the lenses from rubbing against each other in your pocket. The keychain grommet is another plus.

They also have a fun factor. People do double-takes and even strike up conversations asking about them. They won’t help with driving or distance. But if all you need is readers to help while traveling around, this may be your answer.

-- David Brin  

Pocket Eyes
$13

Available from Pocket Eyes



Pentel Sharp Kerry Mechanical Pencil

KerryMP.jpeg

I’ve been testing Pentel’s Sharp Kerry mechanical pencil for over a year now, and I’m ready to give it an enthusiastic thumbs up. I’m a graphic designer by trade and, in addition to everyday use, I find it to be an excellent tool for sketching out ideas on a tracing paper pad. (I’m partial to Bienfang Parchment 100 Fine Tracing Paper.)

This is a precision-made instrument: fairly heavy, made from metal and plastic. It’s unique in that it features a removable cap that when placed on the other end still functions to advance the lead with a click of the button. You pull the cap off and click it back onto the opposite end of the pencil; an action that makes me feel as though I’m about to draw something brilliant.

I found it by searching around for a mechanical pencil that was well-balanced, moderately heavy, and handsome to look at. Do the same and you’re likely to find the Sharp Kerry is mentioned by more than a few pencil aficionados as one of the best.

-- Chuck Green  

[I promptly ordered this pencil after reading Chuck's review as its cap solved a significant problem I have had in the past where sharp pencils tear through pockets. After a week of heavy use, I have to agree that this is one of the best pencils I have ever used.--OH ]

Pentel Sharp Kerry Mechanical Pencil
Available in 0.5 mm and 0.7 mm lead sizes
$15

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Pentel



Screw Pliers

Screw Plier.jpeg

The first time I used these screw pliers I was amazed that I had lived without a pair for so long. These pliers are designed for screw removal in cases of corroded or stripped heads.

Regular pliers tend to have straight jaws. This works if you grab the screw from the side (horizontally), but if you are in a cramped space and attacking the screw from the end regular pliers fail. I have had many pliers slip off a difficult screw because the jaws are straight where contact is made with the screw, which limits the gripping surface area.
Screw Plier Detail 2.jpeg
The jaws of these pliers are curved with teeth on the inside of the clamping surfaces. Since the jaws have both horizontal and vertical teeth, these pliers will bite into the circumference of the screw head regardless of the orientation – this makes stubborn screws very, very easy to remove.

It won’t handle stripped countersunk screws (those are suited to the extractor bits on the drill) but for other surface screws or bolts it should be fine.

-- Ezra Reynolds  

Engineer PZ-58 Screw Pliers
$36

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Engineer Screw-Pliers

Sample Excerpts:

Screw Plier Detail.jpeg
A close-up of the pliers inset teeth allowing for vertical traction.




4Sevens Preon 2 Penlight

Preon 2, Stealth Black, R5 Edition.jpeg

I recently discovered that as one ages you need more photons to see clearly. In particular, when skimming the bookshelves at home it’s extremely hard for me to make out titles because my eyes require (a lot) more light than they formerly did.

My wife gave me a 4Sevens Preon 2 penlight last December, and I love it. It weighs 1.6 oz and uses two AAA batteries. No special batteries needed. In addition to the 3 main selections (low – 2.2 lumens; medium – 22 lumens; high – 120 ANSI lumens), it has a strobe and SOS options, not of use to me. When you turn it on, it comes on “low”. Pressing on/off switch slightly then switches to “medium,” pressing slightly again switches to “high.” A full press on the switch turns it off. Actual operation is easier than the explanation suggests.

It gets this much light from the new CREE XP-G S2 LED, a modern LED capable of incredible light output. Low, at 2.2 lumens, is fairly dim, but ideal for reading a restaurant menu in a dimly lighted place. And it’s good that the dim comes on first: the “high” setting seems like flashbulb brightness, which would be annoying in (for example) a good restaurant or if you want to read from the program during a play.

It’s easily carried, and 120 ANSI lumens is a LOT of light and provides excellent illumination. So far as I can tell, this is the current leader in the penlight format. And my life is easier now that I can readily carry sufficient light for my elderly eyes.

-- Michael Ham  

[Wikipedia has a good explanation of lumens for those interested.--OH]

4sevens Preon 2 Pen Light
$40

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by and also available from 4Sevens