Wink’s remarkable book picks of the week

Wink is Cool Tools’ website that reviews one remarkable paper book every weekday. We take photos of the covers and the interior pages of the books to show you why we love them.

This week we reviewed books about excellent optical illusions, the events of one day in WW1 told in the form one long continuous pen drawing printed on a fold-out scroll, Ernest Shackleton’s brave yet disastrous attempt to cross the Antarctic continent, hundreds of science-themed tattoos worn by working scientists, the sketchbooks of artists from around the world, and the greatest comic books ever published in a bound slipcase.

Take a look at these books and many others at Wink.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  



Logitech B530 USB Headset

I purchased this on a whim a few months ago to use at my office. To say that it was a great investment would be an understatement. Comfortable and flexible, the headset does its job well by providing an incredible sound quality that is unmatched to any other headset I’ve used. The mic is also surprisingly efficient, capturing the smallest or thinnest sounds and making them audible (often to the detriment or embarrassment of the user). I would highly recommend them.

-- Jacob  

B530 USB Headset
$37

Available from Amazon



Kitebuilder

This is the best site for learning how to build your own kites. Good tutorials, decent forums (quieter since the site’s founder died) and a great encyclopedia of techniques and materials. Their best asset is the stash of plans submitted by users for almost any type of kite.

(Kite making supplies can be found from the previously reviewed Into the Wind.)

-- KK  

Sample Excerpts:

There’s no such thing as kite fabric! Just about any fabric will work… including the fabric grade Ripstop you chose. Was it difficult to sew? It is probably pretty stretchy eh?? The coated Ripstop often used by most builders on this website is coated with a finish that reduces stretch and porosity. It is also pretty light weight, probably about half the weight of the cloth you used. So… your kite will probably require a little more wind for optimum performance… but if balanced and bridled properly, it should still fly.

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Pocket Rocket Outside Diameter Rule

I work in a pulp mill and this tool comes in very handy when sizing up pipes in the field. The calipers quickly measure outside diameters of any round object up to 16 inches in diameter. The gauge is marked with actual inch diameter and also standard iron pipe sizes. When opened completely it also doubles 14″ ruler. Folded, the rule easily fits in your pocket. For years I used PI tapes but this is much quicker and easier to use on pipes in hard to reach or tight spots — you only need access to a small section of the pipe to get a read, not wrap the tape all the way around. Simple one handed operation, great when you are on a ladder. They are available in plastic or aluminum, I prefer the durability of the aluminum, it is worth the extra few dollars.

-- David Riecken  

Pocket Rocket Pipe / Diameter Caliper and Ruler Black Anodized Aluminum
$35

Available from Amazon



Rugged Rukus Portable Solar Wireless Sound System

I have owned this rugged, splash-proof speaker for about six months. I purchased it for week-long bicycle tours and camping. It is a combination of solar charger, battery and speakers in one unit. I charge my phone and i-pod when off the grid. The speaker has blue-tooth and auxiliary (wired) input and indicator lights for battery status, etc. I use the two loops to strap the speaker to my bike bag for listening on the road. It sounds great for its size. It even fits in a large pocket of cargo pants.

-- Bob Lewis  

Rugged Rukus All-Terrain Portable Solar Wireless Sound System
$66

Available from Amazon



Diablotek 8800mAh Portable USB Battery

[This is out of stock on Amazon. I can't find another source for this particular battery. If you know where to get them, please post in the comments. -- Mark]

I’ve been a road warrior for years now, and have gone through over a dozen different Portable USB batteries – they have all either broken (Looking at you, fancy LiPoly chargers!), I’ve lost them, or I outgrew their capacity.

Capacity is the name of the game with this little device! While it is heavy, weighing in at 247 grams (Slightly over a half pound), it packs in every feature that a road warrior would need:

* 8800mAH capacity
* 2 standard USB ports, one outputting at 5V-2A
* Charges via a standard micro-USB cable
* Simple On/Off
* A ring of LEDs around the power button show capacity remaining (Both charging and discharging)
* Comes with a handful of different adapters, though they aren’t needed

I picked it up at a local Microcenter for less than $20, thinking it would be trash — but it’s survived dozens of drops, hundreds of charge/discharge cycles, water, mud and more than enough to have me come to depend on this little guy!

The best part is the 5V – 2Amp output – this allows most devices to enter a fast charge state, which is noticeably quicker than with a standard socket.

On a recent 6-hour flight, I kept both my Android phone and my power hungry Nexus 7 plugged into it. I played games, listened to music, or watched movies the entire time on the Nexus and when we landed both devices were at 100% AND the little USB battery was still at 75%.

In fact, I have yet to drain it beyond 50%, and that includes a 12-hour day of Geocaching with my phone’s GPS on and the screen fully awake.

It also holds a charge for a long long time — I’ve left it alone for 6 months, only to come back and see it’s still at almost a full charge.

If I had an gripe with it at all, it’s that it lacks an attachment point, which is corrected with some epoxy and a trip to the hardware store.

-- Jeremy D Pavleck  

Diablotek 8800mAh Portable USB Battery
$33

Available from Amazon



Wink’s remarkable book picks of the week

Wink is Cool Tools’ new website that reviews one remarkable paper book every weekday. We take photos of the covers and the interior pages of the books to show you why we love them.

This week we reviewed books about the greatest comic books ever published, provocative ads that defined the world of fashion, the art and revelations of hand-drawn maps, a an eccentric genius’ explanation of how half-Yeti hybrids have enslaved mankind , Rex Ray’s merging of design and fine art with retro-mod flair, and
spectacular close-up photographs of the elements
.

Take a look at these books and many others at Wink.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  



Couchsurfing * Airbnb

I travel a lot. I hope to never book a hotel room again. I stay in people’s homes, arranged either by couchsurfing or Airbnb.

While I was traveling through Europe as a student I got tired of staying with other American travelers in hostels. I was looking for a more authentic and local experience so I began to stay in homes through Couchsurf.com. Over the years I’ve stayed in about 25 homes. Once you sign up you can search for locations and hosts with similar philosophy, interests, and traveling tendencies. There is no payment for sleeping on whatever couch/bed/futon is provided. To show my gratitude I make it a rule to cook a meal for my hosts. I’ve also reciprocated the generosity by hosting couchsurfers in my homes. CS runs on trust, interests and positive reviews. Since there is no payment, the main reason to join is to meet like-minded people who have stories and camaraderie to share. As long as you have a detailed profile, you will attract and find people with similar interests. Being a female traveler has never been an issue since I normally travel with a friend, or I choose to stay with primarily female hosts. I have met some of my best travel companions and friends through CS. You can find couchsurfing all over the world now.

Now that I am working I can also use Airbnb. Airbnb offers an elegant interface and large database of ordinary to extraordinary places to stay all around the world, at a reasonable price. The service they offer is the curation of unique places, as well as increased security. Part of why some people will stay in an Airbnb and not a couch on CS is because Airbnb treats security as its primary financial and legal liability. Airbnb offers a 24-hour hotline, secure payment platform, identity verification, verified photographers and profile reviews. They also show whether you have mutual friends with the host, which makes me more inclined to stay with them. I’ve discovered some unbelievably beautiful and unique places that I otherwise would never have had access to at a price lower than a conventional hotel, almost by two or three fold ($50 vs. $100-150).

Both CouchSurfing and Airbnb offer “local experiences” and a more affordable way to travel. However, CS requires more of a commitment to engage with your host (share stories, eat a meal together) in exchange for free board vs. Airbnb, which requires payment yet is more luxurious and less personal. Think of it as the difference between getting a ride in a taxi (Airbnb), vs. from a rideshare (Couchsurf). In the cab you sit in the back and you don’t need to talk to the driver if you don’t want to, while the rideshare is more intimate so you sit up front and chat.

When deciding which service I want to use, I always ask myself: Do I want surprise or security? CS always surprises me with interesting people and stories, while Airbnb offers local luxury at an affordable price.

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Kreuzberg, Berlin. From $120

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Kreuzberg, Berlin. From $63

-- Ting Kelly  



Presto Power Pop Microwave Corn Popper

I do love popcorn, but usually don’t like to pop commercial microwave bags in the office. Although their contents are delicious when popped, commercial microwave bags release a cloud of buttery esters into the local environment for all to smell. They have a TON of added fat and salt, and one has no control over the contents.

There’s also a great deal of debate over the safety and stability of polyunsaturated fats in high-heat cooking, and corn popping is a very high-heat process.

Hot-air poppers aren’t suitable for an office environment, and anyway I haven’t found one that doesn’t eventually make the popped corn taste like it came out of a hair dryer.

I have used the Presto Power Pop corn popper for at least a decade, and found it to be an excellent solution to light snacking in the office. It doesn’t smell strongly of anything but the corn, and that can be controlled by keeping the lid on until I’m back at my cube. I can control the amount of salt or oil I use, if any. It acts as a serving bowl for the popcorn, and is easy to keep clean once emptied. It does an excellent job of popping most of the corn, even in lower-power microwaves. It typically will pop a batch in under two minutes, not three to four like commercial bags. (Which makes one wonder how much of the mass inside commercial bags is popcorn, and how much is just colored fat.)

Its construction is fairly simple: a bowl, a detachable base with a metal reflector disc inside it, and a paper/foil heater cup. The cups are replaceable, but last a long time for me. I’m just finishing my first 8-pack of them after 10+ years. Granted, using oil in the popper will make them deteriorate more quickly. Also, as microwaves have increased in power over the years, I notice the cups burn more quickly. Replacements are available in many big box stores and at Amazon.

About Corn Popping:

Use fresh popcorn, and keep it hydrated so it pops well. Every few weeks, if your bag of popcorn lasts that long, open the bag and sprinkle maybe a half teaspoon of water into it. Close the bag, turn/roll it over a few times to distribute the water, and then let it sit. You don’t want a lot of water: just enough to keep the corn from drying out, not enough to make it germinate.

The best salt to use is superfine salt, like the movie theaters use. There’s something about that initial super-salty hit from extra-fine salt, that quickly fades into the mellow sweetness of popped corn. That salt/sweet balancing act is a visceral trigger that has kept us coming back for more for centuries.

Don’t get the popcorn salt with yellow coloring, it’s just dye. Easiest and cheapest is to make your own fine salt in a coffee or spice grinder.

Salt doesn’t often stick well without a little oil. Very, very little oil is actually needed. So I made a recipe:

Popcorn Salt/Oil Mix

~1 Tbsp. Table Salt
~1 tsp. Oil (Coconut oil preferred, it’s most stable long-term and at high heat)
Coffee/Spice Grinder

Put a few teaspoons of regular salt into the coffee grinder. Grind it for a few seconds until it is a fine powder. Repeat until you have a tablespoon or so. In a very small container (1 oz.), put the salt and about a teaspoon of oil on top. Let it soak in. If it’s coconut oil, it’s OK if it’s solid; it will soak in.

What you’re looking for is a dry crumble of salt/oil. Use ¼ teaspoon for a batch of popcorn. Just place it on top of the corn; the popping action will distribute it fairly well.

-- Bill Fleet  

[The Nordic Ware Microwave Corn Popper, which we reviewed in 2008, gets equally high ratings on Amazon. It is less expensive than the Presto Pop, and doesn't require replacement cups like the Presto Pop, but other online reviewers complain that the Nordic leaves a lot of unpopped kernels. - Mark]

Presto PowerPop Microwave Multi-Popper
$16

Available from Amazon



 

Part-Time Sysadmin Help Wanted

We are looking for a part-time sysadmin type for our blog networks. We have recently moved to Word Press, and we use Amazon as our host. We need someone to do basic OS maintenance, to perform upgrades, maintain security, and provide rare emergency support. The work comes in spurts. Most months we don’t need any help, and some months we might need a few hours; occasionally we’ll be doing development and will need a string of hours.

Here are some of the technical skills/knowledge this person would need for the job:

* Amazon Web Services
* Security awareness
* Experience with high-traffic site
* PHP
* NginX, MySQL
* WordPress familiarity
* Integration with Disqus
* Working with MailChimp
* Github
* Bonus: OSQA / Django  (for Ask Cool Tools)

Our tasks will be hard to do without ALL the above skills. This is not for novices. This is ideal for someone already doing this kind of stuff and would like an additional client.

Some of the projects (above ongoing maintenance) you might expect to tackle:

•    Start a redundant instance of our content on Amazon.
•    Change over to “origin pull” for content delivery in the network.
•    Test newly redesigned WordPress site for robustness.
•    Install new “ask us” forum software package.
•    Migrate DNS to new hosts.

We can either pay an hourly fee, or agree on a retainer. If you are interested, please describe your previous experience solving similar tasks. You should have a solid portfolio of previous similar work, and personal references. If you possess these skills and would like to help us, send an email to editor@cool-tools.org.

-- KK