Huglight

There have been a lot of reading and camping headlights featured on CoolTools over the years. But I’ve not found either to very practical, in so far a reading lights are often limited in their utility by the clip on the back — some are better than others — and their utilization of watch-type batteries; headlamps on the other hand are often expensive, somewhat tricky to fit on one’s head, and dorky.

The Huglight offers the best of both worlds. First, it is cheap. Second, it runs on two AAA batteries, which makes it convenient. The dual lights wrap around your neck and can be angled independently, or bound together with a rubber connection provided with the lamp.

The lights are bright and you can switch them on and off individually. They offer four modes, three white — which, frankly, don’t differ much in intensity — and one red one to help you maintain night vision. The white and red are both plenty bright.

Like headlamps, they leave both of your hands free.

I took a pair of these camping with my kindergartner and they were the most practical tool we took with us. She could put them around her neck, turn them on, and walk around at night. I wore them while cooking and washing dishes at the campsite, and then turned them face up inside the tent for illumination.

I use the red at home in bed for late night reading, as it also doesn’t mess with my sleep cycle (or that or my spouse).

Simple, cheap, and practical. I’ve had them for months and continue to be more than happy with my purchase. They are available at Amazon, but I bought mine at Costco at an even deeper discount.

-- Edward Nawotka  

Huglight
$25/2-pack

Available from Amazon



Tim Jenison, Founder of NewTek [Cool Tools Show #005]

Tim Jenison, Founder of NewTek and star of Tim’s Vermeer, a critically acclaimed documentary about his discovery of a possible tool used by hyper-realist painters throughout history, takes us behind the curtain this week to see what tools made this investigation possible.

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

Here are Tim’s tool picks, with quotes from the show:

Fadal Milling 4020 Machine (Prices Vary)

“…I just love the interface on it. It’s so simple it’s just brain-dead and it does everything you need to do…They’re extremely simple and reliable.”

“How to Learn any Language” by Barry Farber $7

“A lot of people start out wanting to learn a language and then they realize it’s a lot of work, but the emphasis of this book is how to teach yourself a language, not to go to school but how to do it yourself and he’s got a step by step plan that actually works. Can’t recommend the book enough. ”

Point It $9

“It’s just a bunch of tiny little color pictures so if you can’t communicate with somebody you whip this out and point at a picture. There’s so many pictures in it that you always get the idea across. ”

Fujitsu Scansnap $420

“You just drop the papers in and push the button. There’s really no software to mess with. It just scans them in, both sides of the sheet if it is double sided, in color and it’ll turn it into a PDF or anything else you want.”

evernote

Evernote Free

“You can drag any kind of material to it and it automatically shows up on all your computers and a local copy is kept on your computers. On your iOS or Android device it keeps the index and downloads things as you need them, but everything in synced constantly. ”

Superfocus Eyeglasses (No Longer Sold)

“Right now I’m looking at my computer screen and it’s about fourteen inches away from my eyes, but the whole thing is in perfect focus. Now, if I was wearing bifocals I’d have to tip my head back and try to find the part of the lens that works…There are other people making variable focus glasses, but nothing as good as this, so I really hope somebody takes over and starts making them again. ”

Foursevens Mini MLR2 flashlight $33

“You get incredible battery life because it’s always defaulting to low brightness and you can hold it in your teeth. It’s really small and it’s really handy. As I said, I’ve been through a lot of flashlights and this is currently the cream of the crop.”

Flex 6700 radio $7500- $8000

“Ham radio is kind of a niche. I just had to mention it because I use the thing every day and it’s just a totally different experience to knob turning Ham radio. ”

Leatherman Skele-tool CX $67

“Y’know it’s amazing how much time has been saved by everybody having a multi-tool in their pocket because you’ve gotta run and rummage around this toolbox and that’s what we always used to do, but it’s a new world.”

Xcelite R3323 Steel Slotted Pocket-Clip Screwdriver, 3/32″ Head, 3″ Blade Length $6

“…there’s one tool that a nerd cannot be without and that is the “Green Tweaker,” the Xcelite R3322, which is a tiny little flat-blade screwdriver that every tech head has to have to make adjustments on things. Actually, the 3/32″, 3″ is the better one to have because it’s a bit longer. ”

Jenison Comparator Mirror (Not Sold)

“This extremely simple elegant device, it’s just a mirror on a stick and you have to put the mirror in exactly the right spot. If you spend enough time, you end up with a hyper-real photographic-looking painting.” (In the podcast, Tim shares some building tips that were not included in the documentary.)

 

Available from Amazon



Rubber Stamps Unlimited, Inc.

Back in the 90s, I did a lot of mail art (small scale and one-of-a-kind artworks, letters, collages, and post cards exchanged through the mail). I’ve recently gotten back into it (and believe it’s making a comeback).

Part of the fun of mail art is creating your own custom rubber stamps to embellish your artwork. In the 90s, stamps were expensive and took weeks of production and turnaround time. Today, sites like Rubber Stamps Unlimited make it quick and easy. And cheap (averaging around $10-$20/stamp). To get a stamp produced, all you do is upload your art (up to 3.75” x 6”), choose the stamp type you want (rubber or self-inking), and place your order. Stamps arrive in just a few days. I’m also using rubber stamp artwork for packaging on some limited-run product kits, something other professional makers/kitchen table business moguls should consider.

-- Gareth Branwyn  



Korg nanoKey2

Only 20 years ago, it was almost unimaginable to have the ability to easily carry around an entire recording studio’s worth of high-end music production equipment on a laptop computer, but that is exactly where we are today. Pros and hobbyists alike can create any type of music, anywhere, at any time, by just pulling out their laptop, setting it down on a flat surface in front of them, and digging into any number of the great Digital Audio Workstations out there. Now, one thing that hasn’t changed is that notes still need to be input by hand. If you’re not working with a touch screen or, reasonably so, have a distaste for trying to enter notes on a QWERTY keyboard, a portable MIDI keyboard is a must have.

The Korg nanoKEY2 is a highly portable USB MIDI keyboard that can easily fit into a baggy jacket pocket, or be tucked into a backpack/messenger bag, taking up the same volumetric space as an average paperback. At only about 13″ wide, 3.25″ deep, and .75″ thick, there’s not much of a footprint to keep a mobile composer from having a keyboard on their person at all times. The nanoKEY2 has basic midi functionality, like Octave up and down, Pitch up and down, Sustain, and Modulation, all with back-lit buttons featuring varying levels of intensity to indicate how many steps up or down it is, a great feature to keep things simple but clear. Its 25 keys are organized like a piano, but a clear concession to portability set the sharp/flat (black) keys on a distinct row above the natural (white) keys, which will be odd to piano purists. The keys themselves feel more like laptop QWERTY presses than a natural piano key touch, but are still pressure sensitive. Finally, for connectivity, it has a micro USB port to get it connected to your laptop, simple as that.

Korg’s nanoKEY2 may handle strangely at first touch, but the fact that it can so easily be taken anywhere make it an excuse breaker. There’s no excuse to miss an opportunity to get a musical idea down with this really cool tool tucked into your laptop bag. At about $50, it doesn’t crush the wallet either.

-- Josh Eyre  

Available from Amazon



Cool Tools New RSS feed

Google has gotten out of the RSS game. They’ve recently stopped supporting Feedburner and killed Google Reader. Kevin and I are RSS junkies, and we both used Google Reader. We switched over to Feedly, which is as good or better than Google Reader was (the free version is excellent, and I have no plans to upgrade to the Feedly Pro version for $5/month unless they offer something I can’t live without).

If you used to read Cool Tools on Google Reader, or you have had trouble with our Feedburner Feed, try our new feed!

Here’s the direct Cool Tools sign-up for Feedly, and here’s the link to the RSS file.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  



15 x 18 Craft Sheet

From online discussions and reviews, it seems that nearly everyone who buys one of these non-stick, heat-resistant worksheets has the same initial reaction: “I paid $14 for THIS?” Quickly, that skepticism turns to appreciation, if not outright tool evangelism. I am one such skeptic. For too long, I’ve taken the “self-healing” billing of my cutting mat far too literally, subjecting it to paints, glues, epoxies, clay, heat — all sorts of indignities from which it never heals. Besides cutting, every other crafting/hobby activity should happen on some other surface, and for me, I now don’t want to use anything but one of these heavy duty (5 mil) PTFE (Teflon) sheets.

The Craft Sheet first seems rather fragile and insubstantial, but it’s virtually indestructible. Almost nothing sticks to it. And besides it acting as a protective surface, you can also use it for techniques like low-brow paper marbling (mix some paints on the sheet and swirl paper through it). To clean the sheet, you just wipe with a rag – good as new. You can buy direct from sealersupply.com for cheaper (and larger sizes), but you’ll have to pay for shipping.

-- Gareth Branwyn  

Available from Amazon



Farm Show Magazine

Farm Show has been the DIY magazine of rural North America since 1977.  While MAKE magazine may have fantastic coverage of 3D printing and home-built drones, it’s a whippersnapper wet behind the ears compared to the depth of ingenuity contained by this tabloid magazine published 6 times a year.  They’ve been hacking in a parallel universe, and this periodical offers a window into that world for those who may not regularly come into contact with the <2% of the population that is involved in farming.

Don’t be put off by the name — even if you don’t have a farm, there is a surprising amount of useful data in each issue. I suspect someone living in an apartment would not find it particularly good for their lifestyle, but even urban gardeners with the tiniest of plots would find value in some of the firsthand experiences that are passed along by contributors.

Crop and plant wisdom, clever fabrication hacks, new alternate energy company experiences… it’s a wide and unpredictable mix of information.  One of my favorite areas is custom farm equipment modification that shows off what can be done with spare time and few dollars.  Some of the machines and mods are astoundingly practical, and some of which are head-shakingly bizarre or even dangerous (200HP lawn mowers?)

Much like Cool Tools, the content is driven primarily by contributor/subscribers. Included are tool reviews on pretty much anything used in agriculture, or in a farmhouse, or by someone who is self-sufficient.  Some of the reviews are long prose with photos and diagrams, but many reflect the “make-what-you-say-matter” ethos of the rural readership and are just short write-in messages with pros and cons in a few brief sentences or less.

Farm Show takes no advertising in their regular issues, and publishes reports about tools and companies for good or ill — mostly verbatim from people writing in. There are many articles that are clearly contributed by vendors, but they tend to be on the short side and are more announcements than advertisements, and are edited by the staff to have more content and less marketing noise.

I look forward to every mailing, and even review the back issues frequently since I often find that some new problem I have is addressed by past articles to which I didn’t pay much attention on the first reading.  And with the subscription typically comes a “Best of Farm Show” booklet, which is a compilation of some of the best hints and hacks.

I will also admit to having a soft spot in my heart for anything that comes on newsprint paper, perhaps from early mental pathway imprinting from the Whole Earth Catalog.  I really don’t like glossy magazine formats, and the cheap paper allows for more content at the same price. They have electronic back issues for subscribers dating back to 1977 and even offer a searchable back issue DVD for only $40, which in my opinion is incredibly reasonable given the content value.

Here’s the top of the list from around 140 articles from the first issue of 2013:

• 4-Speed Drill Press Works Great
• 4-WD Articulated Deere Tractor
• Abandoned Silo Sprouts Elm
• Ag Professor Helps Revive Churro Sheep
• Air Tool Organizer Rack
• Air-Powered Australian Water Pump Works
• All-Wood Brush Mower Built For $125
• Allis Chalmers “B” Gets A Low Profile
• Animal Hair Adds Life To Ceramics
• Articulated Case Garden Tractor

-- John Todd  

Farm Show
Yearly cost: $23.95/yr (6 issues)

Sample Excerpts:



75 Questions About Science and Other Great Books

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:

Typewriter Art: A Modern Anthology – A handsome collection of this little-known art form

The Where the Why and the How – 75 questions that can’t be conclusively answered by an iPhone


Letter Fountain
– A stunningly well-crafted bible of typography

Adventure Time: A Totally Math Poster Collection – Featuring 20 Removable Frameable Prints


Stencil Republic
– 20 laser-cut, brown-paper stencils bound on perforated pages


The Good Life Lab
– Moving from a high-powered life in New York to off-the-grid living in New Mexico

Take a look at these books and many others at Wink. And sign up for our Wink newsletter to get all the reviews and photos delivered once a week.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  



What’s in my bag? – Laura Welcher

By training, I’m a linguist. I’m fascinated by systems, especially complex yet economical ones — like human language — that elegantly solve problems. To feed my inner geek, I look for tricky aspects of daily life that can be improved by the development of such systems, and then put the system together with just what is needed to make it all work just right. And then let it run, with minimal input, like clockwork.

Several years ago I was faced with such an problem by the introduction an extremely annoying 3-hour-a-day commute. Liking my job a lot, but hating being sedentary and stuck in traffic for hours at a time, I decided to ditch the car and become a bike commuter.

However, my particular commute (in the San Francisco Bay Area) presents several challenges. Part of my ride involves either riding BART or taking a bus across the Bay Bridge. This means quickly donning and doffing a bike bag in order to be able to carry the bike up and down BART stairs, through fare gates, being able to maneuver on trains without rolling over packages, paws, or feet, and being able to load the bike on and off the rack on the outside front of the Transbay Bus. Fellow public transit takers are not appreciative of cyclists who are slow or clumsy at doing any of this.

After trying out many commuter bags, some too big and some too small, I think I have found one that is just right. The Ballard Market Pannier ($80) by Detours converts in a flash from a pannier to a backpack, so that you can quickly secure it on your back and carry your bike. It also converts to a long-handled tote bag so you can travel as an incognito bike commuter as needed. The pack is rugged, the base is waterproof, there are internal straps and clips to secure a laptop and keys, and there is a cover you can whip out in wet weather to keep everything inside clean and dry. It fits on both my standard hybrid commute bike, as well as my folding Dahon Vitesse bike ($530-$750) shown here.

[Click images to embiggen]

And now for what is inside. One basic challenge that most bike commuters have is the need to be able to transition from casual bike commuter wear (which San Francisco workplaces are generally tolerant of), to “event-wear” for special activities or meetings at work, where one attempts to banish the sweat and bike helmet-hair for a look that is a bit more polished and put-together. I am no exception to this.

Besides carrying a change of clothing, my secret weapon is this small mesh bag with all of the essential elements to produce the transformation. They allow it to be accomplished anywhere from a seat in the back of the bus, to a work desktop, to the least equipped of public bathrooms. Also stashed in this bag are a variety of necessities including basic tools, toiletries, and first aid to handle most minor commute and workday emergencies.

This bag also includes a small Altoids tin that neatly packs in the smallest (and somewhat sensitive) health and beauty items. I keep it closed with a hair elastic.

Another challenge that I have to deal with is the need to take a shot. I’m supposed to take it every day, ideally at the same time each day. The only time I can manage to be consistent about it is around 10 am, so I usually carry the shot bag with me. Afterwards the shot site can hurt like heck so it is really better to do after the bike ride when it can be iced for a bit. I wanted to show this picture because I figure a lot of people have to deal with something like it, and to show that it can be dealt with. (My shot is for M.S. but it is more common challenge for diabetics.) Not fun and not fair, but having to take a shot doesn’t need to keep you off your bike if that’s what you want to do. And, managing it well within my larger bike commute system adds a touch of elegance to my solution, imho.

  • BD Safe-Clip ($3) needle-nipper. A fantastic and inexpensive device — it safely removes and stores hundreds of needles as biohazard waste; the rest of the syringe materials can go into regular recycling. Disposing of used syringes was a huge pain until I figured this out.
  • Copaxone — a treatment for M.S. and quite possibly the reason I can still bike (and work and walk and run) today. I usually keep several syringes in the bag so I don’t have to restock every day.
  • Autoject ($34) — mechanical injection tool that hides the needle (a big help for the needle-phobic) and for those hard-to-reach injection sites.
  • Prescription and doctor contact info, 1-800 number for advice.
  • Individual alcohol prep pads ($5/200) — turns out these are also incredibly useful for cleaning all kinds of things, but especially grungy mobile phones and computer keyboards.

The next system of gear I carry in my bag is part fun, part communications experiment (nerdy linguist fun), and part civic service in a location where a major earthquake could happen at any moment. This set of stuff is my portable amateur radio gear. Using this radio, I can talk point-to-point with other radio users, hop on one of the several local volunteer-maintained repeaters, and in an emergency (when cell networks often go down), join or run an alternate communications network and pass emergency messages using established and well-known protocols. I often practice on Tuesdays with a radio net that convenes on a local repeater after the San Francisco emergency sirens are tested.

  • Yaesu VX-8DR HT Radio ($492)
  • AC charger, earphone mic, charged extra LI-ON battery. Another good practice is to carry an alkaline battery case and spare batteries and / or a cigarette lighter plug ($28). These aren’t in my current kit but probably should be, because they extend use of the radio in an emergency. Without recharging, I can currently get about 8 continuous hours of use in receive mode, but considerably less if I need to a lot of transmitting.
  • Nifty Mini-Manual — laminated quick guide to the VX-8DR for reading on the BART / bus or looking up a function (this particular radio has lots of functions, and many involve multiple key-push combinations).
  • Diamond SRH519 ($23) flexible antenna which so far has held up to a lot of abuse in my bag and allows the radio to be comfortably carried, either clipped on the bag or on the belt / waistline. I’ve also used the Diamond SRHF40 flexible antenna with good results.

A more recent gear / bag challenge I had involved maintaining a training schedule this past spring to complete my first marathon. On an event day at work, this could mean biking to work in the morning, working a regular day, heading out from work to complete a 5 – 8 mile run, returning to work to get ready for an event (and cleaning up sans shower), working the event, getting back into commute gear, and then biking home. Now that the marathon is done, I want to keep up my endurance and training level to run more of them. So, the stuff I carry with me needs to support days like this.

The workday essentials (ok, I admit the wallet and key ring need a bit of editing)…

And last, but not least — the gear to support the commute itself. I keep the SF Bike map because of its paper charm, also because I like to look at it while riding BART or the bus (such a pretty system!). It folds down to wallet size. I show the various cards here (some are normally in my wallet) because they demonstrate whole other systems of infrastructure that operate in the background to efficiently maintain my ability to bike commute — Clipper Card to quickly pay transit fares, Commuter Check card to quickly restock the Clipper Card with pre-tax dollars, BikeLink card to lock my bike in safe locker storage at most transit stations, and a ZipCar membership to rent a ride share during the workday if need be (for example, to pick someone up or haul stuff). And of course, my card to show I’m a proud member of the San Francisco Bike Coalition!

Btw, this is my summer bike kit; the winter kit is much more involved because of the rain gear. I consider one of the greatest and most delightful challenges to my system to be the ability to maintain comfort, safety and visibility as well as dryness for self and gear during a San Francisco downpour!

 



Bontrager Race Lite Hard-Case Tires and Specialized Airlock tubes

(Quick terminology note: tires are the stiff protective shells on the outside; tubes are the air-filled Escher condoms that go inside the tires.)

I’m a bicycle commuter and hate flat tires. Some people adopt a Zen-like attitude toward them, but not me. I’ve never gotten fast at fixing them. They always happen at a bad time. Fixing them in the field stinks. (Listening for an imperceptible hiss, tube pressed against your ear? Gah.)

Despite having a pretty good handle on the mechanics of it, I’m always a little freaked out I’m going to pinch the tube between the tire and rim, bend the rim, or miss that second pinhole and have to repeat the process over again.

After getting a road bike and having a flat the very first day I took it out, I decided to find a solution.

I read up on tough road tires and based on reviews on Road Bike Review, I settled on the Bontrager Race Lite Hardcase tire, with reviewers saying they had a good balance between protection and “road feel.”

I’d always been leery of “slime” filled tubes (I’m using this term generically), having heard so many horror stories of it all leaking out and making a huge mess. But after some research decided self healing tires had to be part of the solution. I settled on Specialized Airlock tubes. (I think this time my earlier leeriness prejudiced me specifically against Slime brand.)

To be candid, the incident that convinced me to add tubes was an office staple that gave me a flat despite my fancy new tires. I settled on the theory that the tires are good against larger offenders — glass, nails, small rocks— that might cause a large slash that outstrips the healing abilities of the tube, while the tubes would protect against pinprick punctures (staples and nature’s caltrop, the goathead) where the full puncturing force is concentrated into such a miniscule point that it overwhelms the tires’ protective abilities.

(One of my conversion moments was when I saw a goathead sticking out of my tire as I pulled my bike into my office. Already resigned to a flat tire, I pulled it out and heard only a half-second long “psst.” I rode home on a fully inflated tire.)

If I am doing a lot of riding (commuting four or five days a week year-round), I replace the back tire yearly as it wears down, and the front every other year. You can tell when they are worn down when the center curve of the tire has worn flat to the touch. (Incidentally, if you balk at the prices, maybe try the tire/tube combo on the rear wheel. It intuitively makes sense to me that bearing more weight means being at greater danger for flats.)

I have been riding with this system for almost five years without a flat tire. (Except once; I got cocky, and decided to take my road bike on a rugged off-road shortcut. I learned my lesson; this doesn’t make you invulnerable, just nigh-invulnerable.)

Caveats:
• You do still have to top off the tire pressure once in a while, especially if you prefer to ride on speedy inflated-rock-hard tires. Those pesky air molecules still sneak past the tube.

• This is pretty much the only tire and tube combo I’ve ridden on, so it is my baseline. I can’t tell you if it will feel sluggish or if your “road feel” will be unacceptably degraded. I feel speedy.

• This is a road bike, with traditional narrow, high PSI tires. I can’t say whether someone running this same system on a lower PSI cruiser or mountain bike would have the same results. (For example, Airlock tubes are fairly well savaged here.)

• I have given people Airlock tubes to use, and been less than impressed by their solo performance. I really think the synergy of both products is necessary to get the full benefits.

• Obligatory horror story: the first week I got the tube I was unscrewing the protective red cap and I had threaded it so tight that the core of the presta valve unscrewed instead. Slick white goo sprayed everywhere. When I installed the replacement tube the next day (grudgingly given to me by the bike shop), I removed the core, put a dot of threadlock, and then gave the core a nice firm twist with needlenose pliers to tighten it down. I also stopped using the little red caps; I never felt they added anything. (This post is informative.)

• Specialized has since fixed this “feature” so it does not unscrew readily. (Pardon me if I don’t go test this assertion with a pair of pliers.) When I upgraded to the longer stems I didn’t do anything to the core and have had no issues.

Bike accessories seem to be extraordinarily resistant to Amazonification. (Most the time any Amazon link will be to a third party bike vendor anyway.) Visit a local bike shop. LBS’s are like car dealerships — you need a Specialized dealer for the tubes and a Trek-friendly dealer for the tires. Sorry.

-- Taylor Bryant