Peter Rojas, Tech Entrepreneur and Cohost of MVP [Cool Tools Show Episode #19]

Peter Rojas is the founder Engadget, gdgt and Gizmodo. He currently co-hosts MVP, a podcast about new tech products, alongside Ryan Block, a former guest on our show. Peter focused his picks for this episode on personal impact, his philosophy being that truly worthy tools not only change your life, but they also change the way you think about the world. With help from some of the following carefully chosen tools, you may find yourself acting and thinking a little differently.

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Boomerang for Gmail - Free (Paid Plans Available)

“I think you have to let go of this idea that things need an instantaneous reply. There are certainly things where you may want to do that. There are plenty of messages where I do want to get back to the person right away, but once you let go of that…it’s very liberating.”

Zeo Sleep Manager - $330

“The Zeo is tracking your brainwave activity, at least to the extent that they can on a very rudimentary device. I found that being able to know and understand my sleep patterns helped me change how I was sleeping.”

ART USB Phono Plus - $79

Good for converting LPs to digital music files. “It works really well and it lets you use the turntable that you already own which is probably going to be higher quality than the USB turntable that you might buy… You’re better off buying that and buying a regular turntable.”

 

Vitamix 750 - $649

“I could go on and on about it, but it’s an amazing product. It works so well and I use it as much as two or three times a day now. It makes it so easy to eat really healthily and I found myself blending vegetables in a way that keeps all the fiber which is much better for you. I’ve just felt more energy and I felt that the quality of the food I’ve been eating has gone up from this.”

 



Tally-Ho Playing Cards

As a practicing magician, playing cards are just one of the many tools in our “magical toolbox.” For the causal card player any pack of cards will most likely do. But for anyone who practices card magic or just plays a lot of card games, cards might be a subject of interest. If you’re looking for quality long-lasting budget playing cards, I highly recommend Tally-Ho cards. They’re inexpensive and can be subjected to being bent and abused, while maintaining its ease of handling. Tally-Hos’ durability can be attributed to its linoid finish, which also helps prevent the cards from sticking together. Unlike most other playing cards such as Bicycles or Bees, Tally-Hos are rather resistant to warping after heavy usage. In fact, a pack of Tally-Ho’s I own for five years and counting, still springs and fans just like it did first out of the box.

 

-- Jefferson Deng  

[The magicians who hang out at The Magic Cafe message board seem to agree that Tally Ho cards are more durable than Bicycle cards. Another interesting thing about these cards is that the Circle back design is slightly asymmetrical, which makes the cards useful for mentalism tricks. The one negative thing about Tally Ho cards is that spectators are usually more familiar with Bicycle cards and unfamiliarity raises suspicions about whether or not a deck is gimmicked. -- Mark]

Tally Ho Circle Back Playing Cards
$6

Available from Amazon



KoMo FlicFloc Flaker

I feel like I’ve discovered a sort of breakfast unified field theory. And it’s all thanks to an impulse purchase at an awesome new homesteading supply shop in our Los Angeles neighborhood, The King’s Roost. My credit card discharged from my pocket like ectoplasm at a 19th century seance when I spotted the KoMo FlicFloc.

The FlicFloc manually flakes oats, wheat, rye, barley, millet, spelt, rice, sesame, flax seed, poppy and spices. The breakfast possibility it opened to me? Fresh muesli is thy name. Finally a filling and healthy alternative to my Grape Nuts addiction.

The FlicFloc is elegant and simple. There’s not much to say about it. You put grain in the top, turn the handle and deliciousness discharges into a glass, thoughtfully provided. I’ve owned a KoMo grain mill for a year now and it’s been a life changer in the kitchen. I really like having access to freshly milled whole grains when I need them. It eliminates waste as ground grains spoil. And whole grain, including oats, get bitter if they sit around too long.

And cancel the Neflix – Below is KoMo’s Austrian/German design team demonstrating their products. All this video needs is Werner Herzog to narrate the English language version. Note the solar powered manufacturing facility and German breakfast porn. Also note the mouthwatering array of whole grain baked goods.

UPDATE: On his blog, Root Simple, Erik compared the results of oats processed by a FlicFloc to oats processed by a cheap grain cracker:

flicflocflack

“On the left are some oats run through the cracker versus oats, on the right, run through the FlicFloc.”

He also says, “I’ve never regretted paying more for a tool that will last a lifetime. I have regretted, many times, buying cheap tools. The FlicFloc broke my Grape Nuts addiction. It will pay for itself.”

-- Erik Knuzten  

KoMo FlicFloc Flaker
$179

Available from Amazon



Bluetooth Car Diagnostic Scanner

I have used this for several months to troubleshoot and diagnose various automotive problems on several vehicles ranging from a 1997 Saturn SL1 to a 2010 Infiinti G35 and a 2014 Jeep Compass.

Unlike the standalone handheld OBDII Can-bus diagnostic computers, which can cost upwards of $150, this device is only about $12. It uses your Android or iPhone smartphone as a wireless display and works both to tell you the diagnostic error codes that trigger your check engine light as well as a real-time diagnostics information display that can be used to troubleshoot performance problems while the engine is operating. The application you need to do this is free.

There are also paid apps that turn this unit and your smartphone into a tool for improving fuel efficiency through real-time monitoring and analysis of your car’s sensors.

One major advantage of this tool is that the Bluetooth connection has a 30′ range, which allows you to read the display without actually being in the vehicle. This means you can check under the engine hood or under the vehicle while still being able to read the diagnostics displays, which is really not possible with the older wired tools. This can make testing and troubleshooting much simpler.

elm-2

-- Dan Kim  

[Readers say this Bluetooth device is not iPhone compatible. Here's a $15 OBDII scanner with WiFi that is advertised as being iPhone compatible, but we have not tried it. Also, reader Alan Burnstine says: "The thing you didn't mention is that you can also send codes to the car. Other than just turning off the check engine, you can also set some features, for instance on a Prius, you can turn off the annoying back-up beep. There is a procedure to do it without a scan tool, but one of these makes it simple as long as you know the codes to send (which are widely available on the internet)."]

Bluetooth Mini Small Interface OBD2 Scanner Adapter

Available from Amazon



Stayhold

A Stayhold is a right-angled plastic item that goes into a car’s trunk. It measures 9.7″ high, 5.9″ deep (forming the “base”), and 18.5″ wide. Two 1″ wide strips of Velcro run the length of the base, which keeps the upright leg of the right angle vertical, which prevents anything leaning against it from toppling over or sliding around.

To test it, I bought a pair of a smaller (less high and deep) model today at Home Depot, went grocery shopping, descended a steep hill on the way home — and found that they kept my grocery bags upright. (It should also keep open-top containers and potted plants secure.) All right!

It’s on sale at my local (Seattle) Home Depot for $8 each, but when I searched the company’s website it came up Not Found.

It’s $22 for a pair at Amazon, but the product isn’t yet in stock and hasn’t been reviewed. Amazon however will happily add you to its waiting list.

-- Roger Knights  

[Other sizes are available on Amazon. The 18.2 x 5.5 x 7.5 inches model is $13. — Mark Frauenfelder]

Stayhold
$8 – $11

Manufactured by Stayhold



Vintage Clauss Scissors

My awareness of scissors has been raised recently. Dunno why, but really, they’re a tool we all know, use, value — but, I think, under-appreciate.

We have several pairs of various Fiskars scissors. No complaints, good tools.

But my appreciation of old-style, hot forged, all-steel scissors has been piqued. These things were made in the heyday of heavy manufacturing. You know, the steel scissors with the black-painted handles? Maybe all chrome? You can still get some of these new, but on eBay and in flea markets, the old ones are still there, outlived their previous lives, looking for new ones.

For example, you’ve probably seen the telco guy with his snips and knife on his belt. Those are some old-style tough scissors. Made by Clauss or Klein, they can last a whole career with minimal care.

I’ve got a pair of Clauss 3769 shears in my desk. They’re long, elegant, have a satisfying heft, cut very cleanly – and I have no idea how old they are but I can tell they’ll outlive me.

Like good old buildings, good old tools survive. There are lots of scissors looking for new homes. A little time with a honing stone might help them, some steel wool or WD-40 might make them look a little better. And your hand will always appreciate using them. Way better than most of those plastic-handled cheapos.

Clauss was started in Ohio in 1877. And there are others out there too. These were cool before cool was.

-- Wayne Ruffner  

Vintage Clauss Scissors
Prices vary on eBay



Omni Grid Rulers

From the world of sewing comes this fabulous array of clever transparent rulers in a variety of shapes and sizes, including rectangles, squares and triangles. I use my 6″ x 24″ omni grid ruler for cutting out fabric with my rotary cutter. Quilters use them for cutting out quilt pieces in various geometric shapes. People cutting templates or marking tricky cuts will find these transparent rulers very handy as you can see the surface through the ruler. There are angles for cutting 45 and 60 degree angle on many of the rulers.

A wide variety of accessories make these rulers more useful: glowing tapes for marking the ruler when making many cuts of the same same size, clear “sticky” stuff to put on the bottom of the ruler so it will not slide, suction cup handles for grips to make them easier to move, as well as cases and storage options.

On the down side, they are fragile, and can break if dropped on a hard surface.

-- Amy Thompson  

Omnigrid rulers
Prices vary

Available from Amazon



Solar Shield Over-Glasses Sunglasses

I wear glasses. Mine are good ones, and I have little clippy sunglass “covers” for them that are polarized and work pretty well too.

But they’re sorta delicate, and really take two hands to properly fix to my specs. Not ideal for driving, when I may want to stick something on quickly and with a single hand.

Years ago I bought a truly ugly pair of Fitovers. They worked like I hoped but even just wearing them driving I got laughed at. Plus, they’re somewhat expensive. (Lots better looking these days, too.)

I stumbled into Solar Shield sunglasses at a Walgreen’s drugstore. They’re less than $20, much less ugly, and work pretty good too. Polarized as well.

Good for summer glare, even better for winter snow glare, and even good out of the car too. The, I dunno, brow-ridge on the frame shades the inside of the specs to cut down on behind-the-lens reflections (when sunlight gets directly in behind the sunglasses, what you’re seeing though your sunglasses is in competition with glare from your face, etc.), so a baseball hat isn’t so needed outside.

These things are cheap enough and fit simply enough that we’ve got two pair in each car — driver’s and an extra.

There are different sizes, so while you can pick these up online, I suggest going to Walgreen’s to find what fits your specs first.

These are not tiny little things, so you’ll need to have some space to store them. And one pair of mine broke for unknown reasons. That’s then I found that parts are not interchangeable between sizes. But again, these are not expensive, so while I was disappointed, I just replaced them.

You may not be styling with these things, but you’ll be comfortable. And a lot safer in those bad driving situations, too.

-- Wayne Ruffner  

Solar Shield
$10 – $15

Available from Amazon



Nite Ize S-Biner MicroLock

I, too, owned a Nite Ize S-Biner, and found it convenient to put my keys, keyfobs, thumbdrives, etc, on — except the spring was too loose, and things would pop off all the time.

Then I found the locking S-Biner. The larger #2 and #4 locking S-Biner had a piece of rubber on the spring that you could slide in order to lock. While this worked well to lock it in place, I found the operation to not be smooth at all, and difficult to apply leverage to such a small piece.

Ironically, I then found the S-Biner MicroLock, which conceptually does the same thing, in that it locks the springs, but does so with a single, rotating knob in the middle. This knob allows for considerably smoother operation and application of torque than the tiny rubber pieces on the #2 and #4 S-biners.

As such, this is now my favorite inter-link for my keys, keyfobs, etc. It works surprisingly well, the locking mechanism is quite secure, and easily the fastest when it comes to swapping things in and out.

The little secret extra value here is that while you can buy 2 MicoLocks for about $5, you can buy the Nite Ize Key Rack Locker, which comes with 6 of these MicroLocks for $10.

I now have these all over the place, and enjoy the convenience of attaching and detaching things with ease, yet knowing that it will absolutely not randomly detach. The biggest impact this has had is on my backpack, which happens to be a hybrid city/camping backpack, which has lots of service loops. I can finally make use of the loops without worrying about the hassle of using keyrings, or the fear of losing things when using a non-locking S-Biner or velcro.

-- Kaz Mori  



Plastic Storage Caps for Wide Mouth Canning Jars

White plastic one-piece screw-top lids sized to fit either regular or wide-mouth canning jars. Mine came from Lehman’s but they are often available at hardware or kitchen-ware departments, where they sell the jars. These are not for canning, but simplify storage in pantry or fridge. They are easier to handle than two-piece metal lids, don’t rust or dent, and clean easily. I’ve used them daily for years.

-- Lynn Nadeau  

Ball Wide-Mouth Plastic Storage Caps, 8-Count
$7

Available from Amazon