Mediasonic Digital TV Converter and Digital Video Recorder

I came across a good low-cost solution for cutting the cord from your cable company in favor of over-the-air (OTA) digital HD (ATSC) broadcast signals: the Mediasonic HW-150PVR.

While almost anyone can plug a simple antenna into their TV and get programming (and you should confirm you receive strong signal before buying this box), this $37 box adds DVR and program guide functionality for your broadcast signals – two things people might be less willing to give up when leaving cable. Guide data is received over the air, so results may vary.

Definitely a Tivo is a superior device – one key thing lacking in this device is the ability to set a “season pass” (record every episode of a show by name). But for a fraction of the price and avoiding Tivo’s monthly guide data fee, this device might be adequate for your needs (recordings can still be scheduled by time).

It requires an external USB drive for recording, which means you actually have to spend more than $37, but also means you can have lots of storage and can easily move the recordings to a PC (where you could also convert them into a suitable format for a tablet).

Including rabbit ears and a decent size USB drive, you could easily be up and running for $100 all-in.

Check out the user manual here.


-- Adam Berson  

[Read the Amazon reviews to learn about some of the frustrating things about this converter. The reason we are including it is because it is a very low-cost alternative to TiVo and other subscription based DVR services. -- Mark Frauenfelder]

Mediasonic HW-150PVR HomeWorx ATSC Digital TV Converter Box with Media Player and Recording PVR Function/HDMI Out

Available from Amazon

Rhino Laces

Tough boot laces are helpful in keeping your boots on your feet but also can be useful as a source of cordage in an emergency. Rhino Laces claim to be unbreakable and cannot be cut, burned, sawed, chopped or otherwise destroyed.

The Rhino Laces sites features testimonials of customers using the laces to fix broken brake lines on trucks, hang bear bags while camping & other difficult to believe situations. My use case was much more straight forward. The metal fittings on my motorcycle boots have always been rough on laces. Rubbing against the metal-reinforced eye holes as I tighten the boots caused the original laces to tear within the first 3 weeks. I bought a pair of Rhino Laces in hopes of finally finding boot laces that will last.

The high quality of construction is apparent right out of the package with heavy duty cordage with rugged metal tips. I’ve only been using them for a couple weeks now and I can’t confirm that they’re unbreakable but they seem to be holding up well so far and I’m hopefully that I’ve finally stopped the vicious cycle of broken boot laces.

Rhino laces are available in three colors (Spec Ops Black, Coyote Tan and Reflective Black) and come in nine different lengths. They seem like a good fit for military, first responders, hunters or anyone interested in a tough as nails set of laces they can trust. The only downside is the price. At $29 per pair, I’m hoping to see these outlive several pairs of boots.

-- Jeff Chun  

Rhino Laces – Unbreakable Shoelaces

Available from Amazon

Latest Book Recommendations on Wink

Wink Books is a website of remarkable books that belong on paper. In other words, books that don’t belong on ereaders. It’s edited by the editors of Cool Tools. In the last couple of weeks we’ve recommend books about “cursed” petrified rocks, one of the greatest comic book series of all time, 10 unusual tips for creativity, supremely weird underseas lifeforms, and a guide to making marshmallows. If none of these strike your fancy, maybe one of the other 350+ books here will.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  


When we moved into our house in 1999, it came filled with stuff. There was an old lady who was retiring so she didn’t need to take the weed-whacker and snow-blower to the retirement home, so she just left everything and they were obviously people that loved really good perennial tools. One thing they left was this thing called Door Ease, which is a stick of wax for unsticking drawers. I thought, “Oh, that’s cool,” and then one day five years later I had a sticky drawer and I said, “Wait I have the technology!” so I went downstairs and got my Door Ease and it hasn’t stuck since.

-- Gareth Branwyn  

[Learn about the other tools Gareth inherited in our podcast interview with him. - Mark Frauenfelder]

Door Ease Lube Stick

Available from Amazon

Voltage Valet Travel Alarm Clock

As a frequent international travelers know, you cannot count on having a clock in hotels outside the US. Travel clocks are a dime-a-dozen, but the 2TS has one feature that makes it indispensable in my travels.

When I am time-shifted and my sleep patters are thrown, its important to be able to glance at a clock. The simple act of reaching to activate a backlight is enough to bring me to full consciousness, making it harder to get back to sleep. Reaching for my phone is worse; I’m likely to be distracted by messages that have piled up on the lock screen.

That’s where the T2S comes in. When you set the alarm, the LCD display remains constantly illuminated. With this unit, all I have to do is glance at it. If it’s still nighttime, I can easily drift back into slumber.

The light is just bright enough to make it readable, and dim enough that you can sleep facing it. It is powered by 3 AAA batteries, which the manufacturer says should last for 6 months of daily use. I use it far less than that, and replace the batteries once a year as a precaution.

I never leave the US without this clock!

-- Chris Adamson  

Voltage Valet 2TS LCD Travel Alarm Clock

Available from Amazon

Andrew Mayne, Author and Magician

Our guest this week is Andrew Mayne. He is a magician, maker, and the author of five bestselling mystery and thriller novels. He’s the star of A&E’s magic reality show Don’t Trust Andrew Mayne, and he’s worked for David Copperfield, Penn & Teller, and David Blaine. His latest book is a thriller titled Name of the Devil

Subscribe to the Cool Tools Podcast on iTunes |RSS | Transcript | Download MP3 | See all the Cool Tools Show posts on a single page

Show Notes:

 Google Forms Free

“If I’m anywhere and I have an idea, I just press the button… It pops open the form that’s fitted for mobile and I can either type or say whatever I need and click “send.” It’s saved to a database that later on I can go back to and go look through.”

Daedelus Touch $1

“They actually have another app called Ulysses, but Daedalus is a really nice distraction free environment for writing. I’ve written a lot of stuff using that.”

Boogie Board Sync $94

“This electronic note taking device is lightweight. You don’t really worry about it as far as what happens to it. It’s nice because you can erase something but it saves everything you erased to an erase folder. If you hit the button wrong, it’s okay. It’s still there.”


Tinkercad Free

“What I love about Tinkercad 3D modeling software that the model is simpler. You use primitives — circles, squares, triangles and stuff — to build things up…”


3-Outlet AC Adapter

I travel for work with some combination of laptop, video camera, phone, tablet, audio recorder. For all their improvements, one thing that remains true when traveling with electronics is that they need power, whether constantly or occasionally in the form of a battery charge. Hotels or hostels (or, for that matter, a guest room at your cousin’s house or AirB&B host) don’t always have handy outlets for you to hook up a computer, a phone, a tablet, and a camera battery charger. Combining functions (for instance, using a smart phone as camera, computer and book reader) is admirable, good, and increasingly practical — but doesn’t work in every context for every person.

That’s why I used to often travel with a regular household multi-tap outlet, and then a cute wrap-around miniature one, which I thought and think is a great invention. However, I’ve recently upgraded — some would say down- or side-graded — to a smaller, lighter, cheaper multi-tap. It costs $8 (with free add-on-item shipping from Amazon), and weighs 90g vs. 165g for the four-outlet one it supplants for one-bag travel. Orange may be ugly, but it’s harder to forget. And with a multi-tap, no matter what kind, you can be a minor hero at a crowded airport by letting a few others charge up *their* laptops or phones when the too-few AC outlets are full: I’ve never been turned down when asking politely to share the wall, nor turned down someone who wants to use one of the outlets.

At coffee shops and other places with long-abused outlets, too, I find the sturdy 3-prong connection gives me a connection less likely to slip out of the wall. I also bring along a 3-to-2 prong “cheater,” for the increasingly rare times that only 2-prongs are available. With that, and a spare AC USB charger attached, I can avoid most minor charging hassles.

Two small caveats: 1) This doesn’t get you much *away* from the wall, so there’s only one spot for a fat wall wart; 2) compared to my wrap-around one, I now have 3 outlets rather than 4, but I find I can live with this just fine.

-- Timothy Lord  

3-Outlet Heavy-Duty Grounding Adapter

Available from Amazon

Check out the fun items at Wink Fun

Wink Fun is the new site that Kevin Kelly, Carla Sinclair, and I started earlier this year. Every weekday we recommend a new game, toy, puzzle, or other fun item. In recent days we’ve looked at Bocce balls, a terrific wireless kid’s headphone set, a 3D car puzzle, a superior slingshot, a game that pits Tesla against Edison, magic tricks, microscopes, high power squirt guns, and more. Check it out and let us know what you think. And if you have an idea for a fun thing to review, email us!

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

The Elements of Pop-Up

I’ve had this book on Pop-up book design for two years. I have other books on paper engineering but this is the one that I come back to regularly. My copy has been heavily notated with my experiences with each example. Because the book contains miniature pop-up’s demonstrating each element and also because there is some room on the page for notes next to each example, this book has become my go-to for paper engineering.

-- Joel Shepherd  

Elements of Pop Up
By James Diaz and David A. Carter
1999, 18 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts: