Micromuff

I use a small camera (Cisco Flip) to take video. It’s great for what I do, except small amounts of wind cause a lot of noise.

That’s where Micromuff helps. You have a small Velcro patch that glues to your camera, and a wind muff that attaches to the Velcro. I’ve been using MicroMuff Original for about six months, and it’s brilliant. I can hear people talking, not wind blowing.

I don’t think there’s anything similar, unless you’re going for professional external microphones and “proper” wind muffs. But even then this is handy because it makes syncing audio easier.

-- Dan Beale-Cocks  

Micromuff
£12.95



Programmable Digital Outlet Timer

Except for one cool feature, this is a typical wall-outlet timer for turning things on and off once or twice a day. It works well once it is programmed correctly, but you know where this is going: you have to press each button the right number of times in exactly the right sequence to achieve correct programming. There is no Ctrl-Z “undo” command.

The feature that is cool is a little slot in the housing. You fold up the programming instructions, slip them into the slot, and they are there when you need to re-program the device. I wish every programmable device in my house had such a slot and a set of instructions that fit into it.

I asked Woods (Coleman Cable) if any other of their Woods timers have this slot. They replied, “Only this timer has the slot for instruction currently. Future timer designs may have this feature.” And Woods doesn’t even tell you about it in their promotional literature.

It’s such a useful feature that I write about it in hopes that it becomes more widely spread.

-- Doug Wilber  

Woods Indoor 24-Hour Digital Outlet Timer
$14

Available from Amazon



Vacuum Stainless-Steel Coffee Press

For French press coffee geeks who also happen to be klutzes like me, no more broken carafes with this bad boy. I’ve had mine for years and it is still like brand new. Also for whatever reason, the plunger mesh is MUCH tougher than on the Bodum products and does not shred nearly as easily. Next time you smash your carafe on your Bodum just buy one of these.

-- A.T. Salzman  

Thermos 34-Ounce Vacuum Insulated Stainless-Steel Gourmet Coffee Press
$40

Available from Amazon



Marketing 101

Marketing is the practice of making products worth talking about, and then creating stories that get them talked about. It sometimes (but only rarely) uses advertising as a tool. Most of all, it starts with what gets made and why and how.

Tools that are useful:

A phone

The most important element of marketing is story telling, figuring out how to make something worth talking about, and talk about it in a way that resonates. While social media seems like a magical wonder megaphone, the fact is, calling your customers and talking to them is an overlooked shortcut. Humility plus compassion opens you to true connection.

Mailchimp

Mailchimp
This is software built on the idea of permission marketing. You can deliver millions of emails to people who want to get them (your true fans, your customers or the merely interested) for just a few dollars. Easy to use, helpful people and beautifully done.

Behance and Dribbble

Dribbble
Very different sites with similar goals: to help you find talented designers and other freelancers that can take your work and make it professional enough to sell. Rule of thumb: pay a lot and try to get more than you pay for.

An RSS reader

It doesn’t really matter which one. Marketing is about learning how to see — to see opportunities, to see stories that resonate, to see dissatisfaction. One way to see better is to read more, daily. And blogs are a priceless way to do that. In fifteen minutes a day, I can keep up on more than 100 blogs a day. Consider: Copyblogger, Scott Adams, David Meerman Scott, Mitch Joel, Steve Dennis — and then, with gluttony, add every blog you can find, then prune.

Books

Marketing lends itself more to discovery and education via books than any other topic I know. A thorough reading of a hundred books is enough to make you aware of just about all the nuance (at least the nuance that you can get without actual experience), but perhaps you could start with a few:

John Jantsch’s Duct Tape Marketing is a fine primer for the small business person who wants to market without relying on merely buying ads or spamming the world. He offers free ebooks as well.David Meerman Scott’s New Rules of Marketing & PR is quite tactical and helpful.

-- Seth Godin  

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Sample excerpts from Duct Tape

Price, as I suspect you’ve learned, is a terrible place to compete. There will always be someone willing to go out of business faster than you.
*
Find something that separates you from your competition; become it and speak it to everyone you meet. Quality isn’t it; good service isn’t it; fair pricing—not it. These are all expectations. The difference needs to be in the way you do business, how you package your product, the way you sell your service, the fact that you send cookies to your clients, your ability to show people how to transform their lives—it’s in the experience you provide.
*
My definition of marketing is: “getting someone who has a need, to know, like, and trust you.”
*
Don’t think about making a sale online; think about getting a chance to make an impression.
*
Develop your marketing strategy around a narrowly defined ideal client above all.
*
Few businesses really provide great service. In fact, stealing market share in mature markets is one of the easiest paths for smart start-ups to run.

From New Rules:

I’m absolutely convinced that you will learn more by emulating successful ideas from outside your industry than by copying what your nearest competitor is doing
*
When you stop talking about you and your products and services and instead use the web to educate and inform important types of buyers, you will be more successful.
*
For most people and organizations, it’s better to be active in a few social networking sites instead of creating profiles on dozens of them and being too busy to spend much time in any one.
*
Instead of a one-size-fits-all website with a mass-market message, we need to create many different microsites—with purpose-built landing pages and just-right content—each aimed at a narrow target constituency.
*
You are not just creating a big brochure about your organization. You’re writing for your buyers, not your own ego.




What’s in My Bag? James Altucher

James Altucher is an entrepreneur, chess master, investor, and writer. His writing has appeared in major national media outlets and his blog has attracted more than 10 million readers since its launch in 2010. His latest book is called The Choose Yourself Stories.

james-altucher
(click image to embiggen)

I don’t like to carry bags just in case I need my hands quickly for hand-to-hand combat or very quick mountain climbing.

When lives are at stake I don’t like to take chances.

Which is why I have found a 600% increase in my productivity by wearing a doctor’s lab coat including the items I put in the pockets of the lab coat.

Doctor’s coat. I wear a doctor’s lab coat whenever I’m outside the house and often when I’m inside. Like in airports, restaurants, walking around town.

The reason?

  1. It’s comfortable. Good for all weather. You can get one cheap on the “World Wide Web.” (“Triple dub” for those in the biz.)
  2. The big pockets let me put any electronic devices I might need (an iPad mini, for example, plus waiter’s pads <see below>)
  3. People actually do treat me like a doctor. If someone said, “I need a doctor” I would not be able to help unless it’s easy stuff in which case I can say, “I’m not a doctor” and then perform CPR or mouth-to-mouth or Heimlich, which are all easy to learn. But 99.9% requests for a doctor are usually things where you can just give placebic information and say “You’ll be OK” (I picture myself as Mathew Fox from the TV show Lost while I say it since it often worked for him on the show). But the reality is, people move out of the way if you are an airport and walking around in a doctor’s coat. Is this unfair? Well, I never claim to be a doctor. I’m just wearing a doctor’s coat because I like how it feels, looks, and the functionality of it. But if it has other benefits, which it does, I’ll take it.

What I carry in my doctor’s coat

As mentioned, a doctor’s coat has huge pockets. If I wanted to, the largest thing I can probably carry in a doctor’s coat is a baseball glove for a really huge hand. But I don’t need that. I don’t even play baseball.

Here’s what I need and what I think has helped me and even saved my life on numerous occasion. I have a new phrase to describe these types of items that are in my coat. I call them “Life” “Hacks”. Feel free to use that phrase since I don’t think I will trademark it.

2-bucks

$2 bills. I have thousands of $2 bills. I always tip with $2 bills. How come? Because then people remember me. They always say, “Whoah! I’ve never had one.” Sometimes they don’t know where to put the $2 bill in the cash register. There’s no slot for one. They might call over the manager. Everyone might say “What’s happening over there?” This is a side effect of the $2 bill. But the next time I come into an establishment, I’m remembered. This is good for restaurants, dates, poker night with friends, even for paying at the local deli.

I find whenever I move to a new town this is a quick way to make friends. I’m very shy and this gets people talking. This has been also very good on dates. Nobody ever forgets the guy with a roll of $2 bills.

How do you get 1000 $2 bills? Simple. Go to the bank, they order it from the Federal Reserve, it takes about 5 days and then they call you up and give you your money. By the way, then the bank never forgets you either.

Everytime I’ve ever moved since 1986 I’ve used this trick and it works. Quickly everyone remembers who I am.

I’ve even tried writing notes to waitresses on the $2 bills, complete with my phone number. This trick HAS NOT worked for me.

However, one trick for dates. Have a roll of $2 bills. Then have a single $100 bill on the outside. Pay the bill with the $100 bill, then from the back, tip with the $2 bills.

I hate to say it, but that trick works.

waiter-pad

Waiter’s pads. I have about 300 waiter’s pads. I order them for about 10 cents a pad in bulk on restaurant supplies websites.

How come?

  1. I like to write ideas on pads. I write down at least 10 ideas a day. The idea muscle is a muscle like any other. If it’s not exercised, it atrophies. If it’s exercised then within six months you’re an idea machine. Try it. It’s amazing what happens. Don’t keep track of the ideas. Just become an idea machine.
  2. Why a pad? A screen messes with your dopamine levels. I like the visceral experience of putting pen to pad.
  3. Why 10 ideas? Four or five ideas on any theme is easy. It’s the final five or six that makes the brain sweat. This is how you exercise the idea muscle.
  4. Why specifically a waiter’s pad?
  • It forces you to be concise. A waiter’s pad is small lines. You can’t write a novel there.
  • It’s a great conversation piece in meetings. Once I pull out the waiter’s pad someone always says, “I’ll take fries with my burger” and everyone laughs. Again, I’m shy so it’s a good way for me to break the ice.
  • In restaurants, when you pull out a waiter’s pad, guess what? Waiters treat you better.
  • Many waiter’s pads have the shapes of tables at the top of each page. I’m bad with names so if I’m at a meeting I pick the table that matches the one I am at and I write the names of the people around the table.
  • Most people at meetings have their expensive leather pads. I paid 10 cents for my pad. I come across as frugal when I use a waiter’s pad.
  • The other day in a cafe I was working and someone potentially violent came up and asked me for money. I held up my waiter’s pad and said, “I’m a waiter, do you want to order something?” and they sort of looked at me and grunted and then walked away.

ipad-mini

iPad MiniThe iPad mini covers my entire computing needs except in mornings when I’m writing.

I don’t really use the iPad Mini to do anything serious. When I’m outside there’s almost no reason for me to check email or social media. And I NEVER read news.

You are what you eat. And when you ingest media, it usually can’t be digested properly by the brain. (Although I read Boing Boing and jamesaltucher.com or a good book.)

BUT… the most important thing I do with my iPad Mini and the one thing which has helped me in a million situations is….

I watch standup comedy before every meeting, date, dinner, media appearance, conversation, public talk.

I watch Louis CK, Daniel Tosh, Anthony Jeselnik, Jim Norton, Andy Samberg, Seth Rogen, Marina Franklin, Ellen, Bo Burnham, and maybe a dozen others.

How come?

I have a lot of inhibitions when I meet people. I’m scared and somewhat introverted. Standup comedians are the best public speakers in the world and I think they are the most astute social commentators on the human condition.

So the reasons I watch them before most social encounters (personal, professional, media)

  1. It gives me a boost of energy. My “mirror neurons” are going to feed off of their boost of energy for at least 1-3 hours after I watch them.
  2. It gives me material. I won’t steal from a comedian. But the reality is: good artists plagiarize, great artists steal. And at the very least, I often improvise based on material I heard a comedian said. I’m not competing with them. I’m just on a date. Or a business meeeting.
  3. Studying the subtleties of how comedians get laughs: their timing, their voices, their silences, the way they look at the audience, the way they move across the stage, the way they benefits from the comedians who came before them, AND their actual commentary about life, helps me in my many interactions with people.

What I don’t carry in my doctor’s coat? A phone. I never talk on the phone. I have a hard time hearing people on the phone and then I don’t know what to say to them and feel very awkward. Plus, not carrying a phone helps me avoid email, etc.

All of the above may make it seem like I’m a loser in many respects. I don’t deny this. These are like crutches to me to help me survive in a world that’s increasingly hard to process.

But they work.

[OK, now it's your turn. Send photos of the things in your bag (and of the bag itself, if you love it), along with a description of the items and why they are useful. Make sure the photos are large (1200 pixels wide, at least) and clear. Use a free file sharing service like Bitcasa to upload the photos, and email the text to editor@cool-tools.org. -- Mark Frauenfelder]



 

Wink’s Remarkable Book Picks of the Week

Wink is Cool Tools’ 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:

The Good Life Lab – Moving from a high-powered life in New York to off-the-grid living in New Mexico

The Ashley Book of Knots – Thousands of old timey knots, both useful and decorative.

The Philosophy Book – An absorbing introductory course on philosophers throughout the ages

Masters of Deception – Optical illusion masterpieces by 20 different artists


Pirate Nightmare Vice Explosion
– Found remnants of an amateur dadaist’s library

The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert – a playful, simple, informative book about wine and its many delectable smells

Take a look at these books and many others at Wink. And sign up for our Wink newsletter to get all the reviews and photos delivered once a week.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  



Treadmill Desk Set-Up

geekdesk
Walking while working on a computer became a necessary and life-changing experience for me in 2010 after a nasty sciatic injury prevented me from sitting in a chair. I got lucky with the purchase of the electric adjustable desk frame from GeekDesk. (Reviewed here.) It cost $549 plus shipping. I saved a fair bit of cash by making a custom top out of a nice piece of birch plywood.

Finding a proper treadmill to fit under the desk was a challenge back then. The first one from Sears, bought on sale, was adequate but noisy. I bought quieter, second-hand machine and blew the motor after a few months. I got lucky on my third purchase with the LifeSpan TR1200 treadmill, specifically designed for walking while working. A small control panel replaces the upright arms and large display on standard treadmills.

Over the past three years, a great variety of treadmills and complete treadmill desks have become available and the technologies have greatly improved. Since you’re buying a tool that will get daily use, spend as much as you can afford. I ended up spending about $1,600 on the desk and treadmill (if you don’t count my two duds).

But think of it as an investment. Slowly walking an average of 4-5 miles per day while typing, talking on the phone, designing pages or cruising the news has provided many benefits. In the wintertime, I turn on a SAD lamp hanging from the ceiling for light and perceived well-being.

-- SalishSeaSam  

LifeSpan TR1200-DT3 Standing Desk Treadmill
$999

GeekDesk v3 Frame
$549

Available from Amazon



$8 Ikea Tool Set

I recently moved and somehow lost my tool box. I knew I would have to wrestle with endless amounts of disassembly, reassembly, and re-reassembly and so I bought an Ikea Fixa tool kit for $8.

My kids love using them because they can swap out screw driver heads, the tools fit their hands (I think they might be a tad smaller than traditional tools), and, because at this price point, I got two boxes so they didn’t need to share.

In our era of digital devices and power-everything, this tool kit was an example of K.I.S.S. working beautifully.

Contents: Contains: Hammer with separate rubber face, adjustable wrench, combination pliers, bit screwdriver with bits for slotted, cross-head, hex screws, awl.

-- Yen  

Ikea Fix 17-piece tool kit
$8



Tictail

The easiest way to add a shopping cart, or e-commerce, to your website is with Tictail. You can set up a digital store in only 30 seconds for free. Tictail gives you a way to present a storefront, track sales of your items, interface with social media, collect money, manage customers, and organize an online catalog. A number of alternatives such as Shopify and Magento offer easy e-commerce storefronts as well, but their cheapest plans require a $15-$30 monthly fee. That recurring payment may be okay if you already own a physical store, or are operating a large website, but if you are a small-timer and just want to try out a small store online, free Tictail is perfect.

It is not a marketplace like Esty; you’ll have to attract your own audience. But, unlike the “craft” constraints of an Esty store, you can sell whatever you want. Tictail makes their money selling freemium functions and add on services on top of the free base service — growing as your store and needs grow. (I set up a storefront for Cool Tools in less than a minute; as soon as we have more things to sell, we’ll make it public.)

-- KK  



Induction Hot Plate

Induction does for cooktops what microwaves do for ovens, but with the added safety that low frequency inductions fields won’t heat human tissue.

Induction heating works by inducing eddy currents into conductive heating containers, usually iron or stainless steel. Titanium works great too. Copper and aluminum pans do not work because they are TOO conductive. In effect they short circuit the stove’s power coils.

Induction cooktops are very efficient because the heating energy is directed directly to the heating container and none to the surrounding environment. They are also much safer in that, other than the container, no high temperatures are generated, and in particular, no combustion temperatures are generated, eliminating the risk of a fire.

I’ve own this cooktop for about a year. I bought this single cooktop to evaluate the technology prior to purchasing a full size kitchen cooktop. I could not be happier with it and my wife loves it because it boils water as fast or faster than the microwave.

The picture above is a titanium camping pot with boiling water in it, with post-it notes and my hand on the stove. (It’s a good that I wasn’t wearing a metal ring on my finger in the picture, although I probably would have noticed it pretty quickly.)

-- Bruce Bowen  

Aroma AID-506 Induction Hot Plate, Black
$89

Available from Amazon