Wink Fun is Looking for Reviewers

Calling all writers! Cool Tools’ Wink Fun is looking for reviewers. Reviews should be 1-3 paragraphs, and need to include 5-9 photos of the Fun item. If you have something fun to review (board game, lawn game, toy, magic trick, puzzles (3D or traditional), craft or modeling kit, building set, cool electronic, sporty item, etc) email me at carla@well.com to let me know what you’re thinking of reviewing. If it’s a good fit for Wink I will give you more details on what we need. Please no unsolicited reviews, and please look at the site before contacting us. Reviews pay $25 on the day they run.

-- Carla Sinclair  



Arctic Breeze USB-Powered Fan

Used for a couple of years. I’m a college professor who gets sweaty in the slightest heat. College classrooms vary greatly in temperature, so this is my totally quiet, completely portable way of getting some heat relief during lectures. It comes in handy when using my laptop in a warm coffeeshop too.

I tried some cheaper versions but they have foam fanheads that provide more noise than air. This little fella, for $8, does a great job.

-- Dylan Wolfe  

Arctic Breeze USB-Powered Fan
$8

Available from Amazon



The GrOpener

The GrOpener is simply the best bottle opener I have come across. It is designed to be used with one hand. As a new parent who is almost always holding a baby, I have found that being able to do things with one hand is essential. The GrOpener allows me to grab a cold one while holding a squirmy baby.

I have come across another one handed opener (like the Kebo), but this one is much simpler to use. As an added bonus the magnet that helps line up the GrOpener also catches your cap so you aren’t chasing it around the floor.

$16 for a bottle opener seems steep, but I don’t imagine I’ll ever need or want to buy another one.

-- AJ Lyman  

GrOpener
$16

Available from Amazon



Rockwell JawHorse

I first saw one of these at a big box hardware store about 5 years ago and immediately wanted one. I think they were about $250 then – more than I could afford – but they looked like an ideal solution to my lack of a workbench or vise or space to store either one. When I embarked on a backyard fencing/arbor project, I couldn’t resist any longer, especially given the significant drop in price.

Put simply, it’s a portable work bench whose entire top forms a sort of vise to securely hold whatever I’m working on. The clamping mechanism is controlled by a foot pedal, so I can position my materials with both hands and then securely clamp it shut using my foot. It works so well I still get a little frisson of glee whenever I engage it!

The mechanism allows one to apply as much clamping force as necessary, and easily as much as I’ll ever need (the documentation claims it offers “one ton of clamping force”). The sliding arm provides for materials up to about 16″ wide but can be flipped out and reseated to provide clearance up to 37″. Available accessories can extend that to 48″ for working with sheets of plywood – I can’t speak to how well that works.

At 43 lbs it’s not easy to lug around, but on the other hand it’s heavy enough to feel rock solid. It sits on three wide-spaced legs and would take some serious misjudgment to tip over. It folds easily to the size of a medium duffel bag and sets up quickly.

There are a number of nice design features – there’s a roller that would allow one to roll it across a smooth floor when folded. The third (and smaller) leg makes for a convenient handle for carrying. I really like that the two legs nearest the clamping mechanism meet the ground in a sort of stirrup that allows me to step into it with my workboot. When working with a handsaw this provides a bombproof worktable that won’t shudder or slide.

It’s not perfect. A few times the mechanism that draws the jaws shut with the foot pedal hasn’t engaged. I’m sure I’ll eventually figure out how to ensure this doesn’t happen, but so far I’ve just re-seated the clamping arm and pushed it back and forth till it operates correctly. The rubber pads on the jaws look and feel a little cheap, tho they do successfully avoid scratching the material I’ve been working with (mostly soft cedar).

When I worked briefly as a trim carpenter’s helper 30 years ago, I spent a fair amount of time helping my boss steady or hold the cabinets, doors, or etc. that he was working on. This device would make a helper far less necessary. And what’s more, I realized while using it last week that I no longer need the pair of sawhorses that have been taking up room in my garage, so the Jawhorse will actually allow me to reduce the precious space my tools take up.

-- Carter Kemp  

Rockwell RK9003 JawHorse Material Support and Saw Horse
$150

Available from Amazon



TransferWise

It’s a new way of transferring money from bank accounts in different countries.

Here’s the short version of what TransferWise is: Transfer money between foreign bank acounts and avoid the ridiculous bank fees. Transferwise has bank accounts set up all around the world. You make a transfer first to their local account and then they send you money from another account into your foreign bank. Hence avoiding the international fee. Since the US doesn’t have the same banking procedures (bank to bank transfers are very common in Europe) the deal is a bit more obvious for people in other parts of the world. But it still a great deal.

Here’s the pricing: Most countries have a .5% (1/2%) fee! The fees for sending money from a US bank account are a bit higher. There’s a $15 USD fee and then 1% for anything over $1500. But even if you are sending from the US here are two advantages: the recipient of your transfer won’t be paying any fees and the exchange rate is very competitive.

Since money is involved I wanted to use this new service and investigate it thoroughly before recommending it. Here’s a longer version of why if find it useful and why I feel confident passing it along.

For four months now I have been sending money home to a US bank account. Here’s what usually happens when I do that. My Polish bank charges me a fee, my US bank charges me a fee, and I get a very poor exchange rate from złoty to US dollars. When things go slower than usual I call up the banks and both blame the other for the holdup.

I tried PayPal (5% fee), Western Union (upwards of 20% in fees and bad exchange rates), and other online banking options (which many times don’t accept incoming international transfers).

TransferWise is designed to avoid that whole scenario. It’s like Skype and Pay Pal had an international lovechild. The savings can quickly add up.

From bank to bank my transfers to the US typically took around a week and this new service is no faster. But here’s another thing I like, I sent an email to their support team about the expected delivery time and they quickly sent me a thoughtful email appreciative of my business and clarified how the delivery is estimated and calculated. (At the moment the website just says “Tuesday 4pm” but it is in UK time and doesn’t indicate the date. Which is confusing if you are initiating a transfer on a Sunday for example.)

They have some major financial backing because it looks like a viable business model. They addressed my questions about security and heartbleed with an up to date encryption. (From customer support on April 18 2014: “To get specific, we are using TLS 1.2 encrypted with 128 bit AES and DHE-RSA.”) And over 6,000 customers rate Transferwise a 9.7 out of 10 on this consumer information website from the UK. That is 2000 more reviews than they had 3 months ago.

This can also be used to receive money. You simply type in how much you want to receive and then transferwise sends a link to your client which arranges for a payment in their currency. Again, you don’t pay any fees, the full amount of your invoice appears in your bank. You can add a business profile to a personal account which allows you to send and receive payments with your business bank. There is even service for students to pay their schools when studying abroad.

I was looking for this exact thing and this company filled the gap. I’m a fan

-- Seth Compton  



Nu-Flare Rebel 90 Flashlight

I have an uncle who is a hard-core user of flashlights in his work and his hobbies. He’s an airframe and powerplant mechanic specializing in experimental aircraft, so he spends a lot of time looking behind panels and into tiny, dark recesses that haven’t been seen by human eyes since the plane was built. He needs a good light to do this, but he had had a very frustrating time finding just the right one.

A couple of years ago, I had a long talk with him about the features he wanted in a flashlight, and I searched around until I found the Nu-Flare Rebel 90, which I gave to him as a Christmas present. It’s so good that he carries and uses it every day, and when he thought he had lost it, he got a little stressed out until he ordered a replacement. Of course, he found the “lost” light before the replacement arrived, but now he has a backup.

Here are some things that make this the best light for him:

A lot of lights have multi-function switches – actuate it once for dim, again for bright, a third time for strobe, etc. In his experience, these switches usually were in the wrong mode, or would simply fail. This light has none of that – it is either on, or it’s off. It always works exactly as expected, and there’s never a need to think about how to switch modes. The pushbutton switch is on the tailcap, and has a satisfying clicky action. If you only need the light for a moment, a half-press will give you light without locking the light on.

It’s also small enough in both diameter (just over 1″) and length (under 4.5″) that it’s easy to get into tight spaces and to see past; but it’s not so small that it’s difficult to hold onto or easy to misplace. But for all its small size, it makes a LOT of light – you won’t want to look directly into the beam.

I visited my uncle a few weeks ago, and we needed to use his light to look into a dark cranny for a project we were working on together. This spurred some idle fiddling with the light, and that spurred discussion about how long he had had it and his satisfaction with it. He’s been using it daily for a couple of years now, and it’s still a spectacular light. He’s stopped his previous pattern of buying new lights every few weeks, and when I got home, I ordered one for myself.

It does use an odd battery – CR123A. These are more expensive and less readily available than AA or AAA sizes, so he also recommended some Li-ion rechargeable batteries for it. I got a kit with four batteries and a charger, which allows me to keep a set in the light and one on standby. As an added feature, the charger has both a wall plug and a 12V cigarette-lighter adapter, so it can charge batteries either at home or on the road.

-- Josh Drew  

Nu-Flare Rebel 90 77R92L flashlight
$36

Available from Amazon



Windell Oskay, Co-Founder of Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories

Windell Oskay is the co-founder of Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, a Silicon Valley company that has designed and produced specialized electronics and robotics kits since 2007. Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories also runs a popular DIY project blog, and many of its projects have been featured at science and art museums and in Make, Wired, and Popular Science magazines. He’s the oo-author of the recently published book, The Annotated Build-It-Yourself Science Laboratory.

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Show Notes:

Rotring 600 Mechanical Pencil $24

“The Rotring 600 is a beautiful instrument. It has a hexagonal body that’s a lot like the size and shape of a traditionally yellow pencil, except it’s made of nice heavy brass. The part where you actually hold it has a cylindrical, thoroughly knurled grip, also made of brass. They come in either brushed nickel or black painted.”

Aluminum Brazing Rods $30

“You heat up your metal and then you wait until the brazing rod melts as it touches the surfaces. It starts to wet to the surface. Then you can just bond your metals together. It works on aluminum, magnesium, galvanized steel, brass, and copper. It’s shockingly easy and strong for what it does. It’s sort of like a low budget welding technique for people who don’t do a lot of welding.”

woodpecker

Woodpecker’s Page of One-time Run Tools

“Woodpecker’s makes some unbelievably beautiful machined jigs for doing woodworking operations. I have a ruler from them, and it’s just a 12 inch ruler. It’s made of quarter inch thick aluminum machined on every side, and laser engraved. In a sense it’s absolutely overkill, but on the other hand it’s just the most beautiful thing that I’ve ever called a ruler.”

RoboGrip Pliers $31

“I’ve been using these, I’ve got several sets of them. Some of these 20 years old, and as far as I can tell they’re completely indestructible. Just a joy to have. Frequently somebody is asking, “Where’s the Robo Grips, because we need them.”

Metcal MX-500 Soldering Iron $832

“The Metcals are the legendary great soldering irons. They work on a really interesting principle that regulates the temperature at the tip, not by using a thermostat but actually by using radio frequency power that is sent down to the tip.”

The Three Fives Kit: A Discrete 555 Timer $35

“The 555 has just 26 transistors in it and a bunch of resistors, and you solder them together and you make this thing that’s a working 555 chip. It’s kind of amazing to not have one as a black box, but something that somebody can actually go in and measure what’s going on inside of it.”

The XL741 Discrete Op-Amp Kit $35

“The other is the 741, which is the classic op amp. That is still the classic building block of all analog circuit designs.”

-- Mark Frauenfelder  



Kenu Airframe Phone Mount

I have been on a quest to find an in-car cell phone mount for some time now. I have tried various suction cup, non-slip, lighter socket plugs, cup holder and air vent versions including various hacks using paper clips, rubber bands and coffee cups only to be left wanting. Recently I came across the Kenu Airframe mount, and it’s just what the doctor ordered. This little mount has four fingers on the back of the phone clip that clamp to both thick and thin air vent fins. The fingers can be rotated to accommodate either thick or thin fins in any orientation (vertical, horizontal, diagonal). I have used this tool for approximately one month now and it is exactly what I imagined should exist; it is a simply elegant solution.

kenu-2

-- Steven Smith  

[I have one of these, too, and I like it. One thing to keep in mind is the possibility of overheating your phone if you've got hot air coming out of the vent that the phone is attached to. This is rarely an issue here in Los Angeles, but if you live in Minneapolis, I'd think twice before buying one. -- Mark Frauenfelder]

Kenu Airframe – Portable Smartphone Car Mount
$20

Available from Amazon



Emergensee Variable Focus Eyeglasses

Emergensee Variable Focus Eyeglasses adjust between -6 and +3 diopters, and come in a pretty sturdy case. They don’t correct for astigmatism.

These were apparently distributed to victims of the tsunami in Japan a few years back. I’ve kept a pair in my first aid kit, and on they have been used by a friend who lost his glasses over the side of the boat. He was amazed that we could fit him out with an adequate substitute.

The insert is clearly marked to be used for temporary use only, and are not scratch resistant. On their website, they now have notices posted referencing several states whose optical industries have felt it necessary to inform consumers that these are not a substitute for getting your eyes checked.

I heard about these on a radio program in 2012, and immediately contacted the company, which is in the U.K. They were not selling in the US yet, but made it possible for me to buy a pair.

 

[Take a look at the Amazon reviews before ordering these. Many people say they are shoddy. However, they sound like they might be useful in an emergency. In the meantime, I'm waiting for Eyejusters to launch. - Mark Frauenfelder]

Emergensee Variable Focus Eyeglasses
$23

Available from Amazon



Bison Designs Last Chance Belt

Once you start gaining weight, certain forces of physics start to come into play. Your belly tends to push down on your pants and regular belts become ineffective. This is because it is hard to tell where your waist is and you end up tying the belt beneath the waist at your hips. The solution to this problem is a belt that does not have holes but can be tied off anywhere. There are those leather belts that have holes all along them but they are not exactly business wear.

Enter the Last Chance belt. I like the one in gunmetal. Although originally designed for outdoor types this belt is simple and elegant. It also lets you tie off your lower half like a tourniquet so some judgment is required. I’ve used it for two years now and am very satisfied.

-- Edward G Iglesias  

Bison Men’s Last Chance Heavy Duty Gunmetal Buckle 38mm Belt
$24

Available from Amazon