I erected a 10×12 greenhouse in my backyard two years ago, with the intent to start all my herbs and vegetables from seed. This year, I expanded into starting all my annual bedding flowers for both summer and winter.
With what is now a year round hobby, I had the need to plant a lot of seeds, very many of which are so small that it’s nearly impossible to both see and pick up just one seed.
I found this compact, reasonably inexpensive, vacuum seeder that does the job perfectly. I start most of my seeds in mini soil blocks (reviewed here on Cool Tools). Because most seeds are dark in color, I empty them into a small, white, plastic tray. Here’s how it works:
1. Squeeze the bulb of the pro-seeder
2. Place the vacuum tip next to a seed.
3. Release the bulb. This creates suction on the seed and holds the seed against the tip of the seeder.
4. Transfer the seed to the starter block by squeezing the bulb.
In a short time, I developed the coordination of squeezing and releasing the bulb perfectly, to plant hundreds of seeds in a very short time. I’ve found nothing on the market that is easier to use, and, for about $20, nothing that compares on price.
I would also like to share a something that I’ve found to work very well for seed starting using the mini-blocks and pro-seeder. The mini-block compresses and forms a square of 20 starter cubes. I occasionally buy sushi at the grocery store. The packaging tray consists of a channeled bottom, and a snap-on clear top. Each tray holds 40 starter cubes. Once the cubes are made and the seeds are planted, mist the blocks with water, snap on the top, and you have the perfect mini-greenhouse for starting seeds. Germination is faster because of the heat and moisture held inside the tray. Even without a greenhouse, these small trays can sit in a sunny window in late winter to give you a head start on your spring planting. The manager at my local grocery store sold them to me for 50 cents each when I asked.
In the days leading up to the holidays, we’ll be presenting a series of gift suggestions. Today: great gifts for under $10.
Swiss-Tech Utili-Key When I bring my keys I have no trouble getting through security on international and domestic flights. I was surprised to find the other little gizmos incorporated into this miniature thing — particularly the Philips screwdriver — are just as useful. (Our first Cool Tool review ever, from 2003!) $9
BlockLite The ultimate lightweight backpacking camp light. A tiny 6 LED chip sits atop a regular alkaline 9-volt battery which acts as body, handle, stand and power source. $9
Teeny Turner The small size and stubby shape of this cheap driver allows me to reach tight spaces and still apply considerable torque. $7
Casio F91W This $9 watch is the simplest and most utilitarian timepiece I have ever worn. It is easy to read, has an adequate (not blinding) illumination, is small, light and comfortable but also tough, and has a battery that will last up to 8 years (with many other reviewers noting that it lasts even longer). $9
The Love Glove looks like an oven mitt. The palm side is covered with rubber nubs. To use it, you simply pet your cat. The loose fur comes off and sticks to the glove. It’s easy to peel off. $6
When my elderly mother had to go into a care home we needed to keep in touch by phone.
Care homes do not manage phone systems. You have to make your own landline arrangements with the phone company, and in our circumstance this was impossible.
There was no way could she manage a handheld cellphone/mobile phone. But a “fixed wireless terminal” was a godsend. (Ours was made by Huawei; there are other makes and models out there.)
Elderly people do not need to know it uses a mobile connection, they just use it like a normal phone. It makes a dial tone sound when you lift the phone off the hook, and you can operate it just like a landline phone, so no training is necessary. You just pick up the receiver, dial the number, and after a few seconds it connects automatically and actually puts the number through to the cellphone network. (It you had to press buttons to use the phone, it would have been of no use to us.)
I was surprised that the sellers of these phone didn’t emphasize that it can be operated just like a normal phone. I guess they haven’t appreciated the potential seniors market.
Ours has worked well in two different care homes. When she gets a long term place it may be worth installing a landline.
[I couldn't find an online source for the particular Huawei phone that Tom used. But I found a similar phone made by Bestek, which sells for $37 on Amazon. I bought on and tried it out with my existing AT&T SIM card. It works as Tom describes above. The dial tone is higher in frequency than the standard US dial tone, but I was able to make calls simply by lifting the receiver and entering a number on the keypad. I'm going to give this phone to a senior relative living in a care home. -- Mark]
Postbox is sort of what comes after Eudora. I wanted an offline email reader that could
1) Use offline. This was before Gmail had that option.
2) Sync on more than one computer. So I use Postbox to read my mail on my MacBook Air when I travel, and if I delete something on my Air, it deletes on my desktop, etc.
3) Continue using SpamSieve since I have trained it so well for 10 years.
4) Interface with Gmail.
My kk.org mail goes through Gmail first and then SpamSieve so I have zero spam. One spam per week gets through and once every month I will check my sieve for one maybe two false positives.
Also, Postbox does threaded conversations (unlike Eudora) so it’s easier to track a conversation in email. It has a lot of other functions which I have not learned to use even though I have been using it for 3 years.
I can always read my mail in gmail if I want to go on the web.
[I've been using Postbox since Kevin told me about it. It's the first email client to woo me away from using Gmail's web interface. I am impressed with its speed and its excellent integration with DropBox, Evernote, and Google Calendars. (Kevin and I can't vouch for the Windows version as we are Mac users.) - Mark Frauenfelder]
I have a very hard time keeping gloves on my hands when I’m gardening, my fingers seem to long to skip and go naked in the dirt. Foxgloves are the exception to the rule, in part because of their extraordinary sensitivity. You can feel the texture of the dirt, grab remarkably fine weeds for pulling, and when you’re done, the skin on your hands is not dried, dirty, or cracked, and there is no dirt under your fingernails. They protect your hands from blisters, and provide a modicum of warmth. Best of all, they’re gloves I actually wear!
That said, these are not the gloves for dealing with spiky thistles or blackberry vines. The thorns pass right through these gloves as though they aren’t even there. But for grubbing in the dirt and weeding everything that doesn’t have spikes, these gloves are excellent.
I’ve been using Dorot’s frozen garlic, basil, ginger, and cilantro cubes in my cooking for a little over a year, after discovering them in my local Trader Joe’s. Now I don’t need to keep buying a garlic bulb or piece of ginger root every other week, after the unused portion (which is most of it) has lost its freshness. The cubes are conveniently sized (example: one cube = one clove), already minced, and last forever in the freezer. And I can’t tell the difference in most recipes from fresh.
Do you have a favorite tool that you’d like to let other people know about? Then come to the first Cool Tools Show & Tell Worldwide Meetup on December 4, 2013! Bring your favorite tool (hand tools, maps, how-to books, vehicles, software, specialized devices, gizmos, websites — and anything useful) and be prepared to talk about it and (if feasible) demonstrate it to other cool tools enthusiasts.
To lead a local Cool Tools Show & Tell, visit http://www.meetup.com/Cool-Tools/ and enter the name of the city or zip code of where you would like to host a meetup into the field in the upper right corner. Then, click on the community of your choice and RSVP.
If you are not yet a member of Meetup.com, you’ll be given the opportunity to sign up for a free account. Once you’ve joined your community and RSVP’d for the Cool Tools Worldwide Meetup date on Dec. 4, you can suggest a location for the event and begin inviting your friends.
Share on Facebook or Twitter or use your community URL (example: http://www.meetup.com/Cool-Tools/Boulder/) to invite local friends via email. Otherwise, use http://www.meetup.com/cool-tools to spread the word to people around the world. Please consider videotaping your local meetup and uploading the videos for others to see. We will post links on the Cool Tools website.
Bonus! If you are in the United States would like to lead a local meetup and are able to host at least 10 other people, we would like to send you a complimentary copy of Kevin Kelly’s new book: Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities.
While I rarely use USB for data transfers these days, almost all my portable devices use USB cables recharging. Now that I travel with my iPad instead of a laptop I needed an army of chargers to carry with me. Even if they all used the same connector, I wanted to wake up with all devices charged, meaning multiple chargers. I replaced the multiple transformer bricks with a $40 Antec USB charging station.
The USB charger provides 4 ports for simultaneous charging. Two ports can provide up to 2 amps, and two ports up to 1 amp. The 2 amps can fast charge devices that support it. I use them with an iPad 3 and an iPhone 5. The two 1 amp ports I use for other devices like my bluetooth headset and bluetooth keyboard. With devices charging on all 4 ports it barely warms up. The long (tranformerless) power cable can plug into power outlets hidden behind hotel TVs, desks or beds.
You can find cheaper USB chargers but you have to read carefully to ensure the power output meets your requirements. I found many of the cheaper ones would provide “2 amps of output power” in total. Meaning with one device plugged it the full 2 amps were available, but plug in one more and it would drop in half. Add a third and frequently iPads would no longer charge.
[Above: a video review of the charger. - Mark Frauenfelder]
I don’t own a Unimat yet, but have had the pleasure of borrowing a ’70s model for small projects from time to time. I’ve used it on metal, wood, and plastic.
It’s a miniature wonder tool, made in Austria. It transforms from a lathe, to a drill press, to a mill, and back again. The older model looks a bit like a home sewing machine and has similar dimensions. You can whip this thing out on a desk and start machining stuff.
It’s relatively inexpensive, especially compared to the larger individual machines that it imitates. I’ve created many smaller parts on a Bridgeport that could have been completed on a Unimat. Of course there are limitations on speed, power, and precision, but for certain projects it’s the perfect fit.
I’ve never used the newer black & red model that looks like it’s made from 80/20 beam, so I can’t speak to them. But the older ones are well crafted. They have the feel of a fine watch crossed with a classic kitchen appliance. The parts are solid and hefty. The motor is beefy. The design is simple and precise. A real joy to touch and work with.
For me the ultimate combo is a Unimat coupled with a 3D printer. Subtractive and additive making without leaving the office chair means maximum iterations on protoypes while still having the computer nearby for research or CAD’ing.
Unimat demonstration from Dustin Firebaugh on Vimeo.
[Here's a video of Aaron's Unimat in action - Mark Frauenfelder]
I just used it again… And it reminds me of just how important this particularly cool tool has become to my everyday workflow.
It’s TextExpander, a wonderful little Mac program that instantly pastes any long or short snippet of text you have saved into whatever you’re typing — everything from a piece of HTML code to a complete form letter –using a simple code word or abbreviation.
For example, when I type in “xsig” (my abbreviation for “signature”) in the program I’m using, TextExpander, pastes my entire signature block into the email I am composing.
Using Windows? There are similar types of programs–try searching “text expander for windows.”
[I have used TextExpander for a couple of years. The Macintosh OS has a handy (and free) text epander (System Preferences -> Keyboard -> Tex), which is good enough for most users. TextExpander's extra features ( fill-in-the-blank snippets, Dropbox synchronization, libraries of HTML and other snippets, the ability to add content in the clipboard into an expanded snippet) make it worth the price for others, including me.
According to TextExpander's statistics, I have expanded 7,551 snippets, saved 563,966 characters, and saved 47 hours of typing. I have a feeling these numbers are lower than they should be. I must have reinstalled the software recently. -- Mark Frauenfelder]