Quizlet

Quizlet is used almost daily by 12 million people but you’ve never heard of it unless you have a high school student. It’s a cloud-based flash card app. Here’s how my highschool son explains it.

Quizlet is what I and all my friends use to study vocabulary or anything else we have to memorize for class. It is super easy and super fast to add a card. No paper, auto-define buttons, lots of keyboard shortcuts make the process of creating a Quizlet quick and painless. Because Quizlets are all stored in the cloud, I can access them from anywhere and not worry about losing track of it. I usually type the cards on my laptop and then review/test on my phone. I can easily share my Quizlets with friends. There’s built in gamification for testing myself which makes memorizing a million words less of a daunting task. Quizlet also has a lot of other features which I haven’t yet tried; to me it is mostly a practical memorization aid. The best feature of all though is that it’s completely free!

quizlet2

-- Tywen Kelly  

Quizlet
Free



DuraSpin Phillips Bits

Designed for use with DuraSpin’s also-awesome automatic drywall screw gun, I found that the replacement bits were an inexpensive source of joy for use with power screwdrivers and drills for many electronics shop, computer repair, telecom, and datacenter uses.

Typically sold as a two-pack for around $7, I’ve found them at Ace Hardware and Home Depot, among others. They’re never with the other bits, but instead are usually stocked next to the DuraSpin tools.

Anyone who has done serious work with electronics has been frustrated by screws that can’t be reached by a regular length power driver. Bit extensions are wobbly, and the variable diameter extender’s shank can make it difficult to move through a bunch of cords and other obstructions, as well as block your view.

The nine-inch EA0128 bit, lightly magnetized with a tool magnetizer, allows you to reach that nasty screw down in a corner that’s holding a PCB in place, surrounded by delicate components. In a data center rack, it can reach through a bundle of cables so that you can hit a mounting post screwhole straight on, rather than trying to manually start a screw and then drive it at an angle because the power screwdriver is too bulky to go straight on. The EA0128 is a great enabler for such tricky environments.

The downside to this tool is that it feels awkward at first, because the tip is so much further from the user. However, once used to this, it becomes very natural, and eventually the short bits start to feel awkward.

The bits are nearly indestructible, and are convenient to abuse as crowbars or nail sets in a pinch.

Having used these for probably about twenty years, largely in combination with our totally awesome Milwaukee 6546-6 cordless screwdrivers, I cannot imagine doing any significant amount of electronics work without them.

-- Joe Greco  

Senco EA0128 Replacement Bit
$10 / 2-pack

Available from Amazon



Quick Door Hanger Brackets

I’ve been building a small cabin for my farm in Stamford, Vermont for 25 years — in my mind, that is. Last year I finally had a local contractor put up a shell for me to finish out. My wife and I went to the farm in July and lived in the construction space while we worked. I wanted to get the job done in in two weeks. (We met each other in Peace Corps Bahrain and are flexible people, but camping out among stud walls in your 60s got old fast.)

Our design included space-saving pocket doors, but the need for a bit of privacy for the bathroom forced a quick design change. A pre-hung door was my answer for the bathroom to get some privacy and get it fast. I watched some YouTube DIYs that showed me how to plumb and shim but I was a carpenter rookie with limited time. That’s when I turned to the Quick Door Hanger. It is easy, quick, dummy proof, and allows for adjustments of any mistakes you most likely won’t even make. The wood-shimming balance act goes away. I hung the door myself in no time and it closed perfectly.

To use the Quick Door Hanger, you start by screw-mounting one of the brackets behind each door hinge, as well as on the opposite side of the door. The brackets have notches in them, which you line up with a level line (drawn using a 6-foot bubble level) before screwing them into the door frame. That’s it. Perfect for rookies like me, but I’ll bet it’s a major time saver for pro finish carpenters, too.

-- Richard Silc  

Quick Door Hanger Kit
$5



Woodheat.org Website

Six years ago I left the city for a house in cottage country surrounded by acres of woodland. The house included a big but simple woodstove and we began using it. As I was new to this method of heating, I began searching the net for advice. Woodheat.org is the best site for all your questions about the matter. This nonprofit, nongovernmental agency, dedicated to the responsible use of wood as a home heating fuel, is full of informative material about all aspect of using wood to heat your home. The site is huge and has sections about firewood, chimneys, fireplaces, safety, water heating, boilers, etc.

I used free plans provided on the site to build two inexpensive woodsheds to shelter my firewood. We also upgraded our stove to a non-catalytic EPA certified one. On average, advanced EPA-certified stoves are about one-third more efficient than the old box. This I learned from the site. Woodheat.org is packed with techniques and valuable tips. Also worth mentioning, and rare today: you will not find any advertisement anywhere on the site.

-- Jean Schoeters  

Sample Excerpts:

The hardest lesson: firewood takes a very long time to season Most folks who split their wood and stack it in well-spaced rows find that they can dry their wood in about six months. If you have your wood stacked in early spring it should be ready to put away for winter’s use by October. However, it may need longer than that if you live in a damp maritime climate or use very dense wood like oak, which is notorious for taking a long time to dry. If you burn very hardwood, it is wise to process or buy it in the fall for use the following fall. That way you’ll be sure of having properly seasoned wood.

*

The biggest single efficiency booster: upgrade to an EPA certified stove

1. Although the EPA wood heater certification program was created to reduce air pollution, it resulted in added benefits like higher efficiency and increased safety. On average, EPA certified stoves, fireplace inserts and fireplaces are one-third more efficient than older conventional models. That’s one-third less cost if you buy your wood and a lot less work if you process your own.

2. Because advanced technology EPA certified heaters burn the smoke before it leaves the firebox, they extract more of the energy in the wood. This results in higher efficiency and less air pollution in your neighborhood.

3. Less smoke in the flue gas means less creosote (which is condensed smoke) in your chimney. Using an advanced technology wood heater reduces maintenance costs because your chimney will need sweeping less often.

4. The chimney deposits that do accumulate are much less combustible, which greatly reduces the chance of having a dangerous chimney fire.

5. EPA certified heaters are easier to use because their fires ignite and burn more reliably.




Rachet Rocket

I’ve gone through loads of portable bike tools over the years. Most are functional, and will get you out of a pinch on the road, but they usually make big compromises in the name of compactness and light weight. When I’m home, there’s usually a tool that does the job better in my toolbox and the portable tool stays with the spare tubes waiting for the next ride. In the years that I’ve had the Ratchet Rocket (hard to remember how many), I’ve found myself pulling it out for all sorts of jobs around the house.

A tiny ratchet set is just the thing on many quick fix-it jobs. Although the Ratchet Rocket is tiny and lightweight, it sacrifices nothing in build quality and strength. It’s become practically indispensable when assembling flat pack furniture (Ikea should consider selling it as a suicide prevention aid). My tool has had some hard labor over the years, but it shows no wear.

-- Mickey  

Topeak Rachet Rocket RX Mini Folding Bicycle Tool
$35

Available from Amazon



Wink’s Remarkable Book Picks for 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 Chip Kidd’s ingenious book covers, Jill Greenberg’s delightful photo portraits of primates, Jimmy Nelson’s stunning high-fashion portraits of tribal people in their most distinguished, authentic costumes, Annie Leibovitz’s stories behind her best photographs, the world of Game of Thrones in the form of a large pop-up, fold-out map, and Thomas C. Card’s photos of exuberantly colorful Japanese street fashion tribes.

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

-- Mark Frauenfelder  



Architect’s Wallet

Over the past 10 years I have slowly converted to the “small wallet in my front pocket” club. My last was minimal but it fell apart quickly as my other everyday carry items, like my pen, rubbed against the apparently cheaply made wallets I was getting. Four months ago I purchased this Architect’s Wallet after looking at other slim models. The combination of three items I always carry into one package sold me. This wallet holds a Fisher Space Pen (another Cool Tool), a small Moleskine Volant notebook, and about 10 or 11 credit cards, which is more than I carried before I owned this.

The leather is handsome and sturdy and has worn in so that it mimics the shape of my thigh, making it all but invisible in my front pants pocket. The perfect EDC (everyday carry) pocket organizer.

-- Matthew A. Walker  

Manufactured by Form Function Form



BlueStar Range

When we remodeled our kitchen we were shocked at the prices for professional quality cooking ranges. The elite brands like Viking or Wolf were in the $7,000 range for a 6-burner. Worse, their recent reputations for quality, service and dependability were in decline. (No appliance is without horror stories; missing were sufficient new testimonials about great satisfaction to counterbalance accounts of the awful; the higher the premium, the higher the ratio should be.) In the hunt for an alternative pro quality stove, we settled on a BlueStar stove, which was significantly cheaper yet had great user reviews and a big enthusiastic following online. BlueStar is a newcomer with several advantages for us.

First, its large open burners produce really high BTUs. I had hacked our previous stove to increase the heat by drilling larger orifices in the brass gas jets, but Blue Star’s high-heat burners came already engineered for a maximum flame of 22,000 BTUs. (Typical high burners are only 15K.) It could also simmer great. Second, the circular burner design features a ring which can easily lift out so that a wok (which needs super high heat) can seat perfectly near the jets. Third, the dials are analog, no fancy electronics to fail. Fourth, the cast iron grate above the burners forms a single uninterrupted plane so pots can be slid around easily, like a second work surface. Lastly, you have a choice of 200 custom colors for the stove. We went with a yellow to brighten up the kitchen. We’ve been using the BlueStar for a year and a half and really love the craftsmanship and intelligent placement of knobs, trays, switches. It’s super easy to keep clean as well.

There are plenty of far less expensive stoves that cook food. We’d been using one of those for years. In aiming for a life-time purchase of a high performing stove, with great user design, we found BlueStar offered the most for less compared to other high-end stove brands.

-- KK  

BlueStar
Prices vary depending on model



Potette Plus

This is the best portable potty for toddlers. We’ve had ours for about five years, and our second child is now using it. It’s very light and compact, and it allows you to have a toilet available at all times while your toddler/young child is potty training. And for at least a couple of years after that. Like the previously reviewed Travel John, the Potette Plus is perhaps most useful for road trips.

Folded, it’s just 3 inches tall, and its footprint is approximately a 9-by-9-inch square. We’ve always kept ours in the car, but it could also fit in a daypack or large diaper bag. It takes single-use disposable bags (three included) with absorbent liners that you throw away, much like a diaper. Replacement bags are about $10 for 30. We’ve used ours mainly for emergencies, so it hasn’t added up to much.

Having these on hand minimizes anxiety for children, who are still getting used to listening to their bodies’ cues; also for parents, who know they’re covered wherever they go.

It also functions as a trainer seat that fits into a standard-sized toilet, but we’ve never used ours that way. Appears great for that purpose, too.

-- Elon Schoenholz  

2-in-1 Potette Plus
$10 (Liners extra)

Available from Amazon



Boomerang for Gmail

I have been using Boomerang for Gmail on both my personal and business email accounts for close to two years, and at this point I find it indispensable.

It may have more features, but I use Boomerang mainly as a tool that helps me follow-up on critical email conversations. It makes it easy to both use emails as “to do” style reminders, but more important, creates an integrated system to make sure that you do not lose sight of an important correspondence.

Here is how this piece works:
1. You write or reply to an email.
2. Instead of just hitting send and hoping for the best, you have two options at the bottom of your screen — “Send Later” and “Boomerang this…” (this one has a checkbox). I will discuss “Send Later” below.
3. “Boomerang this” means that you are scheduling the email to RETURN TO YOUR INBOX (the awesome part) without any further action on your behalf.
4. You choose exactly when you want the email to return (there are some built-in times–1 hour, 1 day, etc. — but you are able to schedule the exact time down to the minute).
5. You also — and this is a sweet add-on — get to choose whether you want the message to Boomerang as a function of whether your email receives a reply, is not clicked, is not opened, or regardless. So if you you choose to only Boomerang in 1 week if there is no reply because you want to make sure your email is attended to, and then the recipient replies in 2 days, your email will not come back to you in 1 week.

I do use the “Send Later” feature regularly (oops, cat out of bag). You can accuse me of over-thinking my correspondence, but I often have a finished email that I do not want to ship at the moment it is finished. Perhaps it is because I am sure the email will elicit an immediate phone call that I do not want at that time or perhaps I do not want the recipients to know that I am currently dealing with their correspondence. The Send Later feature is perfect here (again, it comes with some pre-fab times but you can also choose exactly when you want the email to send). Some times I am pretty sure I want it to send the next morning but want the night to think it over, acknowledging to myself that if nothing comes to mind before 9:37 am the email can ship automatically. If I do need to make a change I can log in to the back-end and edit the email and re-schedule it. (There is one issue that occasionally shows up with Send Later: You schedule an email to be sent out requesting a piece of info for, let’s say, 7 am tomorrow. At 6 pm today you receive the info, but you either haven’t checked email or forgot about your scheduled message. So then at 7 am your email goes out and, well, you don’t look like the sharpest tool.)

It’s worth noting that you can “Boomerang” and “Send Later” on the same email.

I started with the free version but quickly found 10 messages per month too limiting for my needs. The $4.99/month is reasonable for personal use. The Google Apps version at $14.99/month might seem pricey at first. All I can say is that if you begin to leverage this for your business interactions–unless you truly have a steel trap memory or are an elephant–you will quickly see that it is worth far more.

Customer service has been fine, though it has been over a year since I have contacted them about any issue. They did recently release a mobile version, but I have not yet used it.

-- Aaron Pastor  

Boomerang for Gmail
$5 – $15 / month, depending on plan