Power Pull Bungey Cords

I camp a lot and picked up six of these last year. I thought the pull ring was a good idea after having more than a few regular bungees slip from my hands while stretching. The ring makes these easy to secure. Even better, the ring provides an additional tie down location. This works out great when latching locations are limited. My wife really loves them, a huge plus. A simple, very useful, innovation.

-- Patrick Leary  

Power Pull Bungey (Pack of 6)

Available from Amazon


What’s in my bag? – Colin Marshall

Colin Marshall hosts and produces the world-traveling, in-depth interview podcast Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. His forthcoming book is called A Los Angeles Primer: Mastering the Stateless City.

I go around Los Angeles/the world writing essays and recording interviews about cities. In this endeavor, I carry always and everywhere the same two things that everyone else does. By “everyone” I, of course, mean “every bike-riding thirty-year-old with no traditionally identifiable job,” and by “the two items” I mean a Chrome Citizen Messenger Bag and a 13.3-inch MacBook Air. If you live in San Francisco, home of Chrome headquarters, you spot these bags all too often. In Los Angeles, however, mine, especially the strap’s griffin-emblazoned seat belt-style buckle, still draws compliments. (“Hey, I like your Ferrari thing,” said one rich-looking, out-of-it-seeming middle-aged lady.) The MacBook, not so much; the girl at the Apple Store where I picked it up (refurbished, natch) just said, “You’re a writer, right?”


The bag has proven impressively durable over the past four or five years, especially since my previous messengers all tended to disintegrate within two or three. In the unlikely event that it does fall apart, I’ll replace it not with another black-on-black one, having almost fully phased that unworkable color out of my wardrobe, but maybe with the gray Motor Citizen — better to match the MacBook. That particular piece of technology looks a bit more distinctive when I bring it out in its Harris Tweed sleeve, an anniversary gift from my girlfriend. If you, too, live the sort of life which involves a constant search for Harris Tweeds, for your laptop or otherwise, make sure you keep an eye out for that distinctive orb and cross — the emblem of at least probable authenticity.


Whatever they sheathe it in, if everyone else does indeed use this same MacBook, they use it for good reason. Its the-future-is-now battery life frees me from even having to carry its (admittedly, pretty unwieldy) power cord during the day, no matter how many coffee shops I plan to park myself in. It also allows me to produce my entire podcast on the go — a valuable capability, since the show’s very premise has me traveling around looking for interviewees. I’ve recorded the interviews themselves with a handheld Zoom H4n Handy Recorder since day one. That third-party fluffy windscreen next to it — known, in the business, as a “dead kitty” — has proven essential, but I didn’t actually get around to buying it until the day I found, to my horror, that I’d neglected to pack the H4n’s (inadequate) included one.


I got the new windscreen in Copenhagen — or “CPH,” as that bike-seat protector next to the recorder calls it. They have more rain there than we do in Los Angeles (not to mention a considerably larger cycling population) so such an item makes sense there, but also in the various other countries in which I find myself. Hence the passport, which, according to one school of thought, I probably shouldn’t carry around all the time. But I do so as a precautionary measure against my odds of, given the increasing frequency of my international flights, turning up at the airport without it. (I’ll spare you my standard incredulous lament about the fact that, in 2014, we still need a paper booklet in order to go from place to place.)

Some reassurance does come from the rest of What’s in My Bag crowd’s apparent tendency to remain passported at all times. But it also reminds me that well-stamped travel documents no longer confer bragging rights; hence the need hang on to all the subway payment cards I collect, proof of not just one’s worldliness but one’s transit-riding acumen. Pictured here, we have Los Angeles’ TAP, London’s Oyster, Seattle’s ORCA, and Seoul’s T-Money (which actually works in South Korea’s other major cities too, one of those foreign conveniences that makes you wonder what happened to America). It does make practical sense, I would argue, to keep on hand and thus never have to re-purchase all the cards of cities with which you have ongoing relationships — especially Seattle’s, which costs a criminal five dollars.


Despite riding a bicycle (a folding Dahon Speed D7, which I reviewed elsewhere on Cool Tools) as my primary means of transportation, I perhaps foolishly don’t carry quite as much gear as some: a Kryptonite U-Lock, a spare key to it, a small bottle of Tri-Flow, a handheld tire pump, and, for the occasional tightening here and there, a wrench I bought from my local Daiso. (I can’t tell you how many TSA screenings that wrench made it through before an agent pulled me aside and rooted through my bag for it.) That bicycle-patterned tenugui towel also came as a present from my girlfriend, who picked it up at a Japanese store in Venice, though it always seems too nice to use in any normally towel-y capacity.

Though they’ve taken more than their fare share of scratches at this point, my sunglasses, Randolph Engineering Sportsman (Sportsmen?), have over all these years miraculously escaped loss or breakage. They do require professional bending back into shape every once in a while, but on the whole they provide further to support that reliable maxim about men’s clothing and accessories: the more you pay up front, the less you pay in the long run.


Given everything else about my life, I suspect I’d get some sort of fine if I failed to pack at least one Moleskine notebook, of which my stock, initially built up in the mid-2000s, has lasted to this day. File them under the “useful at weird times” category; I don’t write in them habitually, but I do find them awfully useful when, for instance, I lose GPS access in a foreign country and have to hand-draw maps to find my way. The pens to do that, all cheap, I stick into pockets apparently designed into the bag for just that purpose. (The pin near them comes from Seoul’s Owl Arts and Crafts Museum, a visit to which I couldn’t recommend more highly.) The same goes for the USB drives; you’d think our Dropbox age had eliminated the need for them, but they solve more than enough problems to compensate for their negligible bulk.


Then again, you wouldn’t call me an early adopter. I’ve also got a circa-2008 iPod, still going strong, that I use to listen to language podcasts (favorites include Talk to Me in Korean, Notes in Spanish, and NHK Japanese) whenever I happen to have working earbuds, which never seem to last me more than a few months. And speaking of second, third, and fourth languages, if you want to carry books, I recommend carrying around ones written in your non-native tongue. (Pictured: I Yeong-jun’s Nervous City, about Seoul, and J.M. Servin’s D.F. Confidencial, about Mexico City.) They last longer, and if you feel like slacking off some other project and reading, you can always call it “studying.”


Allow me to express my gratitude for this opportunity not just to think about what I carry, and not just to clean out and re-organize the contents of my bag, but to consider what items aren’t in my bag that I now realize I need: a second type of bike lock, Excedrin, a spare phone charger, contact-lens supplies, extra collar stays, deodorant, something niftier (possibly tweedier) to put that passport in. Ask yourself what, until now, I didn’t ask myself: can your bag do without these things?


[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 to upload the photos, and email the text to editor@cool-tools.org. -- Mark Frauenfelder]

Google URL Shortening Service

Google has a convenient URL-shortener service. Here’s how it works:

1. Select and copy your long URL into your clipboard.

2. Go to goo.gl

3. Paste your URL into the box where the cursor is positioned.

4. Click the Shorten URL button.

5. Copy (Ctrl + C) the already “selected” short URL to your clipboard. (It looks like this: http://goo.gl/tjzuZw)

Google keeps all your long/short URL pairs on display on that page for you to re-use in the future. (It’s public, but you can hide any pair you want.)

-- Roger Knights  


Ram Mount Mobile Phone Mount

I’ve used this for the last six months and it’s been a rock-solid mount for using my phone as a GPS.

I prefer to use the Waze app on my phone to the GPS in my car, and this allows me to safely and easily mount my phone to my car. I like Lexus and BMW’s implementation of their navigation system, which puts the screen further forward and up than mounting it in the console where the climate control and stereo typically go. This way, you don’t have to look as far down to read the navigation, and can keep better visibility on the road. The windshield mount puts the display in a similar position that I think is ultimately safer.

The suction assembly is excellent — it uses a twist lock to add additional suction and has so far been flawless. The X-grip flexibly accommodates many different phones, in or out of cases.

-- Mark Xue  

Ram Mount Twist Lock Suction Cup Mount with Universal X-Grip Cell/iPhone Holder

Available from Amazon

Bic 4-Color Ball Pen

I work at a French school here in San Francisco, and our French teachers require students to use these pens for editing purposes. Apparently they are quite popular in France, their origin of manufacture. In fact, many of our American teachers have begun using these pens for their utility, and I myself have found the four colors useful for taking notes, as they allow me to differentiate between the types of notes I am taking. Funny enough, I recently ran across an homage to these pens in the New York Times, so it appears they have attracted a cult following.

-- Jason Sellers  

Bic 4-Color Ball Pen
$5 for 3 pens

Available from Amazon


Laura Welcher, Director of Operations: Long Now Foundation [Cool Tools Show Episode #22]

This week Laura Welcher joins us. Laura is a Linguist, Director of Operations for the Long Now Foundation and volunteer at the Global Lives Project.

Show Notes:

Subscribe to the Cool Tools Podcast on iTunes |RSS | Transcript | Download MP3 | See all the Cool Tools Show posts on a single page

Yaesu VX-8DR $370

“A lot of people think that ham radios are really big. The one that I’ve had for several years, is called a Yaesu VX-8DR. It’s quite small. I’m a small person, I have a small hand and it fits really well in my hand and you don’t need this crazy long antenna if you’re doing local communications.”

The Family Piano Doctor $0.80

“I learned how to tune a piano using that book and as far as I know you can’t even get it in digital. The book isn’t available as a Kindle book or anything. It’s still paper, which seems very appropriate for it.”

Guerilla Painter French Resistance Pochade $175.10

“This art case for the plein air painter traveling light, ready to paint at a moment’s notice and under-the-radar painter. You’re like a stealth, ready to jump into action, painters would carry one of these.”


Sennelier Oil Pastels $43

“I have a variety of different types…but the soft, super buttery ones are Sennelier. They are a French pastel… They’re nice for those finishing effects because you can either do an underpainting or you can lay down the harder pastel. If you scrape one of the softer pastels over it, it just looks like shimmering light.”

Notary Public Seal (Not for Purchase)

“What it is I think at its core, as a notary public you’re a public servant… Your role is to, in part, be an impartial witness to a proceeding so that you don’t have any interest in the document that you are notarizing or what it’s being notarized for. You’re there to be a witness and to identify the person who is signing this document. It’s an in-person, face-to-face authentication system and it’s intended to deter a fraud.”




I’ve played with the Kaleidograph Pattern Design toy for two years.

Simply: It allows me to be creative. It’s like a paper kaleidoscope. You can learn about composition, movement, color theory, pattern, geometry. It’s a design toy AND tool. It’s a quiet diversion. It’s open-ended. It’s relaxing. Almost meditative at times. It claims to make billions of designs with the 12 cards.

I don’t think there’s anything else like it. It’s for kids and adults.


-- Amy  


Available from Amazon

Ask Cool Tools Public Beta Extended

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Ask Cool Tools public beta test over the weekend. Your suggestions were very helpful. We are going to continue to run it as a beta product, and I’m asking for your help.

If you  experienced trouble registering, please try again. (We are going to streamline the registration process described below, but it’s still pretty easy to sign-up.)

How to register:


1. Click the “Or, register” button at the bottom of the Ask Cool Tools home page.


2. Click the “Register” link on the WordPress log in page.


3. Create a username and enter your email address. You will get an confirmation email. Click the link in the email and then log-in.

You are now able to ask and answer questions. If you need help, or have comments, please post them in the comments section.



Feedly is a great way to read Cool Tools

A couple of years ago, hundreds of thousands of our readers read Cool Tools using Google Reader, an RSS aggregator. But when Google pulled the plug on Reader, tens of thousands of our readers didn’t bother to resubscribe by using a different RSS reader.

Kevin and I are both RSS junkies. It’s the way we read all our blogs. And the reader we use is Feedly. It’s evolved over the years and now it is better than Google Reader ever was. The free version is excellent (I have no reason to pay $5 a month for the premium version).

I recommend reading Cool Tools via Feedly. We offer the full text of every post, not just an excerpt. Give it a try and I think you’ll understand why 46 thousand people read Cool Tools readers through Feedly.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Twister Fruit Picker

This fruit picker blows away any other one we’ve had.

Most fruit pickers use a “hook and basket” which requires you to pull the fruit to remove it from the tree. The problem with this system is fruit that is notoriously difficult to pull. On more than one occasion, the basket detached from the pole and was then stuck in the tree. As a rule, the basket designs are not very good and there’s really no way to definitively attach the basket to the end of the pole so that it WON’T come off.

This one works very differently. It’s like actually having a hand with two 4-inch looped fingers at the end of the pole that grips the fruit (there’s a very ingenious cord system that controls the opening and closing of the jaws of the picker) tightly, but not so tightly that it injures the fruit. This then allows you to twist the fruit until the stem snaps and frees the fruit.

We have avocado and pomegranate trees. These are NOTORIOUSLY difficult to pull using a conventional “hook and pull” basket picker. This picker made short work of picking both of these types of fruits/veggies.

The design is ingenious and works REALLY well.

I have it attached to a 12-foot telescoping pole that I use to change light bulbs. The great thing is that if you already have a pole with a standard threaded end (the same end you might have on a push broom or mop), you can attach this picker easily.

My feeling is that if you wanted to use a longer pole (say 20 feet) the picking might be a 2 person job which has nothing to do with the picker and everything to do with “targeting” a piece of fruit with a 20 foot pole.

Compared to the other fruit pickers I’ve tried, the design, durability, and ease of use can’t be matched.


  • Picks even difficult to remove fruit/vegetable varieties.
  • Ease of use
  • Ingenious Design

  • Cost
  • You have to bring your own pole
  • Set up is a little tricky but well documented
-- Fred Raimondi  

The Twister Fruit Picker

Available from Amazon