Clip N’ Drain Strainer

Frequently, when draining water from a pot to separate it from its contents, I would need a second person to hold the strainer over the sink while I poured the contents of the pot through the strainer.

If no one was there to help me, I would have to scoop the contents into the strainer by hand or attempt to empty as much water as possible from the pot, which usually resulted in whatever I was cooking ending up in the sink.

Two years ago, I discovered the Clip N’ Drain strainer by Chef’s Planet. This handy kitchen gadget clips to the side of the pot, which allows me to use both hands to tip over the pot and strain out the water – no second person required. The clip mechanism is very strong and it has never slipped off or moved while straining. Unlike my other strainers, it’s small and easy to clean and fits on all of the pots and even the pans in my kitchen, pretty much any round vessel. The holes are not too large and so far I have not made anything that has gotten through them.

My only advice would be to tip slowly for a larger heavier pot so that the contents don’t slip over the top of the strainer.

-- Alice Denenberg  

Chef’s Planet Clip N’ Drain Strainer
$13

Available from Amazon



Google Drive Camera Scanning

This is a specific function of the Google Drive application for Android. There is a “scan” button that lets you take a photograph of a document and uploads it to your Drive folder (formerly Google Docs).

I have used this for the past year, mainly to scan in business cards. When I put the card against a contrasting color surface, the app automatically detects the edges and crops the image to just the card. If the crop is inaccurate, I can fine tune the selection by hand (there is a very satisfying feeling as you drag the edge and it snaps to detected edges in the image). Best of all, Drive’s OCR lets me search these images by text content, such as name, email address, company, etc.

This has enabled me to go paperless with respect to business contacts. I can access these cards from my phone or any computer with internet access. I can toss cards soon after receiving them with peace of mind.

I prefer this tool over specialized business card scanners, which cost money and take up space. CamScanner is a nice alternative with more image processing tools; the trade-off for this is an extra step in getting those scans up into the cloud. Drive’s scanner is a great fire-and-forget, no-cost, no-file-handling way to scan in a bunch of business cards from any location.

-- David Lee  



Sonuus i2M Musicport Signal Converter

The Sonuus I2M Music port is a great little device that provides a USB Audio input for guitar or other instrument via 1/4 inch jack.

Here are the things I appreciate the most about it:

  • Small and portable
  • Compatible wth iOS, both ipad and iphone via usb camera connection kit
  • Powered by USB only
  • Converts audio to midi so you can play any of the many virtual instruments on iOS with guitar. (Try the Moog app–very cool sounds!)

-- Matt Stark  

Sonuus i2M Musicport Signal Converter
$99

Available from Amazon



Fotodiox Lens Mount Adapters

If you’re getting started in digital photography, or have just picked up your first DSLR/mirrorless camera, your first purchase should be OLD lenses.

Vintage manual lenses take as good (often better) images than newer lenses, particularly on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Search eBay, Goodwill, Craigslist, and thrift stores for old SLR gear. My favorite lens is a Asahi Super Takumar 50mm f/1.4 — it sells for around $100 on eBay, and probably much less in a local shop. The quality of the lens blows away the cheap “nifty fifties” you can buy new. That’s just one example of dozens if not hundreds. It’s an affordable way to learn about focal lengths and image quality.

But much more importantly, shooting with vintage manual lenses forces you to THINK about your photography. Having to focus each shot and choose an aperture has made me a much better photographer. You can’t fire and forget and hope the camera made a good choice for you. That’s the real value of shooting with manual lenses.

That brings us to the cool tools in question — how to mount old lenses on new cameras. On my Sony A57, my Takumar lenses are mounted using a $6 adapter from Fotodiox. It’s as simple as it gets — screw the adapter onto the lens, mount the lens on the camera. I also use a Fotodiox adapter on a manual Nikon 70-200 f/4 zoom.

Fotodiox makes adapters for just about every camera system in existence. They range from less than $10 to hundreds of dollars. Some adapters come with focusing glass, which you may need to focus to infinity depending on the lens-to-sensor distance on some cameras.

I’ve dealt with Fotodiox for nearly two years, and they’ve been a great company with great service — when one adapter shipped with a missing screw, they quickly shipped a replacement, no questions asked.

-- Aaron Weiss  

Available from Amazon



Artist and Author Douglas Coupland

Our guest this week is Douglas Coupland. Since 1991, Douglas has written thirteen novels published in most languages. He has written and performed for England’s Royal Shakespeare Company and is a regular columnist with the Financial Times. He began a visual art practice in 2000, and his first museum retrospective opened in summer 2014 at the Vancouver Art Gallery and travels to Munich this summer. In this week’s episode of the Cool Tools Show, Douglas introduces us to some new tools as well as new ways to think about old ones.

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

Subscribe to Cool Tools Show

The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present By Douglas Coupland, Hans Ulbricht, and Shumon Basar

Japanese brush pens $5

“I discovered them first in Japan, where they’re more or less perfected. I guess you would call them the Japanese Sharpie. You open them up. They come in a variety of colors…They’ve got these long pointy nibs which are super flexible. They’re very good mimics for hair or whatever material you might use for a brush. They have a line quality that is…so unlike say, a Bic pen or a Sharpie…with these pens it’s a genuine calligraphical experience, and wonderful.”

Little spiral notebooks $1.40

“I think back when I was at Wired in ’93, I don’t know if you remember [Douglas spent a few weeks with us at the Wired offices in San Francisco when Kevin and I were editors there. – Mark], I used to have these little spiral ones in my pocket. Every time I saw something new or…had an idea, I’d just jot it down. Then the people in my life started mutinying around 1997, saying, ‘You just can’t bring that thing out anymore. Douglas, you’re spooking us. Every time we say something you pull it out.’ Then five years later comes the smartphone revolution and now everyone’s doing the exact same thing, albeit electronically. I just like having the paper.”

Fingernails

“I think fingernails are really important and they never get talked about…There’s nothing like them. They’re the most underrated tool.”

Drawers from Ikea $120

“…[T]here’s this wonderful set of drawers that IKEA makes that really is a storage dream, actually. They’re not like Billy bookcases, they’re just these white drawers you pull out.”

 



Motorola Moto X

I know Cool Tools is not traditionally a phone/gadget review site, but the Moto X got so much small stuff right that it qualifies as a cool tool.

The biggest is the Active Display, which lets you check the time and notifications without unlocking the phone or even pushing a button. The sensors detect when you pull your phone out of your pocket (or pick it up off the table), and 90% of the time, what you need to know is right there. Because the X has an OLED screen, displaying grey text on a black background uses almost no battery power. That feature alone is such an incredible timesaver that even though my employer provided a brand new iPhone 5S, I find myself reaching for the Moto X first.

The other invaluable feature is being able to say “OK, Google Now” without touching the phone. In the car, this means I can make calls, start music, and navigate without taking my hands off the wheel. It just works, and I can’t imagine switching to a phone that doesn’t include this feature.

Yes, you can put many of the Moto X features on existing Android phones, but this is the only one that does it out of the box, and without sacrificing battery life. I’ve had mine for 6 months, and if I lost it today, I wouldn’t consider replacing it with anything else.

-- Aaron Weiss  

Motorola Moto X, 16GB Unlocked
$275

Available from Amazon



Splash Tunes Speaker

I am a confirmed podcast listener following several shows a day. I usually start listening in the morning in my shower. I’ve been listening using an external speaker sitting outside the shower but, with the volume needed, voices were sometimes distorted.

I wanted a waterproof Bluetooth speaker that I could put close to my ear inside the shower. Given the environment, I didn’t want to spend a lot on a item subject to spray and accidental falls.

The Splash Tunes has been a good in-shower speaker. I’ve been using it for a few months now with no problems. The suction cup lets me put it at ear level on the shower wall making voices clearly understandable over the water noise.

It also has speakerphone capability but, not being one to answer the phone in the shower, I don’t know how well that works. Volume and pause controls do work well and the rubber-membrane covered buttons give good tactile feedback.

A good low-cost choice for wet environments when you don’t want to worry too much about damaging a more expensive product.

-- Ron McCoy  

Waterproof Wireless Bluetooth Shower Speaker
$9

Available from Amazon



Raspberry Pi Computer Board

I bought one of these a few weeks ago for use in home automation projects, the first of which is an RFID – controlled door lock to my shop. It is easy to use for anyone even sightly familiar with Linux, and is quite inexpensive ($29 for the Model B). Networking is plug-and-play, and there is massive support from its user community.

It is about the size of a credit card and is powered by a USB charger (not supplied). Many accessories are available from multiple suppliers.

This is an excellent learning tool for people who want to know more about computers than how to run common apps like Microsoft Office. It is cheap, small, and very well supported for users of all skill levels.

-- Jack Powers  

[I have a Raspberry Pi. The first thing I did was install Raspbian, a version of Linux, on it. Then I installed a Minecraft Server on it. I bought a $10 USB WiFi stick and a cheap SD memory card to make it more useful. It also has an HDMI port so you can use it like a regular computer. It's pretty amazing how much you can do with one of these. - Mark Frauenfelder]

Raspberry Pi Model B+ (B PLUS) 512MB Computer Board
$29

Available from Amazon



Freelance Writer, Bob Parks

Freelance writer Bob Parks delivers a handy inventory of tools for home improvement and renovation projects in this week’s episode of the Cool Tools Show. Be sure to check out Bob’s website to see some of his most recent articles for magazines like Popular Science and Bloomberg Business Week.

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


SawStop 10-inch Jobsite Table Saw $1500
“SawStop has lowered the price of their table saws. These are the saws that have an electrical system that automatically stops the blade once your finger touches it. It stops in 5 milliseconds, so that you only get a little nick on your finger.”


Ellipse Half Mask Respirator $32
“Super low profile on the face, you can put your glasses or your hood over it. It doesn’t feel like anything. And I also hate when I’m using a good respirator, the feeling of the straps pushing into my safety glasses, and this one seems to have solved that ergonomic challenge. I love the feel of it on my face.”


Fernco Wax-Free Toilet Seal $4
“Typically, it’s very awkward when I’ve got the wax seal on the floor, I’m grabbing this incredibly heavy toilet, my knees aren’t that great, so I’m swinging this thing over the hole, trying to land it in the middle of the wax ring…the first time I usually miss and crush the side of the wax ring, and have to start again. This is a different process. You turn the toilet over and you press this wax-free ring, the adhesive, into the toilet drain. And now you’ve got this long, 4-5 inch plastic throat and this adhesive piece stuck to the toilet. So it’s completely stuck, you can basically lift the whole toilet with the plastic throat. And so it’s really in there good.”


Sawyer Mini Water Filter $17
“This is an example of where technology and design completely recreates the market. Water filtration while camping used to be a huge pain in the butt and the devices cost from $100 to $400. And now this little device, that is now 1.9 oz, fits right in the palm of your hand, and can filter 100,000 gallons of water.”

 



Snuglet

Millions  suffer in silence as the freakin’ MagSafe magnet in Mac notebooks turns out not to be strong enough, so every time you shift on the couch it falls out. I don’t know if you have this problem, but many of us are very frustrated that the magnet is not as strong enough as it was in the old days.

There was a successful Kickstarter thing called a Snuglet. It’s a shim, it looks like a staple. This tiny  liner for the MagSafe jack, through some miracle of physics, amplifies the magnetic grip of the power plug so that it does not fall out unless you really kick the power cord or trip on it or something, which was the original idea.

-- David Pogue  

[This is from the Cool Tools Show podcast with David Pogue. See all of David's picks here. – Mark Frauenfelder]

Snuglet
$13 for 2 (includes remover)

Available from Amazon