I have been using this for 7 months, since my daughter was 16 months old. I love it! She was constantly wanting to either sit on the counter or have me hold her while I was prepping meals/snacks/drinks. This enables her to climb up and be counter level in the kitchen and I have both of my arms and hands free. It also comes with accessories (like a chalkboard and castle stuff) which I have not purchased, but likely will. What I love about this, versus other products, is it gives her the independence she so desires but is safe (compared to a step ladder or stool of some type).
Cool Tools is giving away a one-year membership to the TripIt Pro (a travel organizing service, which we reviewed here) to one person who writes and submits a Cool Tool review between now and Thursday, September 18 at noon PST. It’s a $40 value. We’ll pick our favorite review (about any tool you love) and notify the person who wrote it. (I won’t send the physical card — just the redeemable gift code.)
If you write a review and you don’t win the gift card, don’t despair — if we like it we will run it here on Cool Tools. We pay $25 for each review we run. Please use our Submit a Tool form to send us your review.
I recently completed an extensive search for a new bag. The goals were to provide space for my work items (laptop, etc), easy access to camera equipment with a quick shoulder sling, and a compact design for riding my motorcycle.
The solution was the Chrome Niko Pack. This bag has two spaces: one at the top for my work items and laptop, and one at the bottom with a side zipper for camera equipment. The velcro straps on the back make a great spot to attach a tripod.
Here’s what’s in my bag on a regular basis:
- Canon 5D Mark II (would love to upgrade to the Mk III sometime)
- Canon 40mm pancake lens
- Canon 24-105 L lens
- Vivitar 285HV flash
- CowboyStudio wireless hot shoe triggers (finally a trigger that doesn’t suck)
- Extra CF cards
- Wasabi Power LP-E6 batteries (cheapest 5D spares around)
- Mamiya C33 (a gift from an fantastic friend, trades off with the 24-105)
Strapped on the outside:
- Manfrotto BeFree travel tripod (excellent for traveling!)
In the top compartment:
- Macbook Pro 15″ charger, and VGA adapter
- Beats headphones (the old versions were great)
- Velodyne V-Pulse earbuds with foam tips
- Anker 10000mAH USB battery (how is this only $30?)
- Lightning USB cable
- Ray-Ban Wayfarers
- Uni-ball 207 bold point retractable pen (preferred by 2 out of 2 Frauenfelders surveyed)
- Hand sanitizer
[Cool Tools Readers! We will pay you $100 if we run your "What's in My Bag" story. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. See all of our What's in my Bag? posts. -- Mark Frauenfelder]
I recently needed to fill a particularly expensive prescription. The first pharmacy I visited, a big box retailer with a reputation for low prescription drug prices, quoted a price of $800.
A few moments later, I found the exact same prescription from a pharmacy just down the road for less than $300.
The market for prescription drugs in the US is ridiculously inefficient. Fortunately, companies like GoodRx.com are creating tools that can help you find the best prices online, making true price comparison fast and efficient.
GoodRx works by pulling in price feeds from most of the top pharmacy chains in the US, allowing you to search and sort by drug, delivery form, dosage, count, and pharmacy type. It’s trivial to compare prices for brand name vs. generic, and the website automatically sorts the results by price.
If you create an account on GoodRx.com, you can save searches for later reference, which is handy. Prices change daily, so it’s worth re-checking prices before refilling your prescriptions.
Once you find the best option, you can print out a “discount card” that contains GoodRx’s Pharmacy Benefit Management (PBM) information, so the pharmacist can find the GoodRx quoted price. (They’ll also mail you a card for your wallet if you request one.) Every time you fill a prescription using GoodRx’s group information, they make money via referral fees, so the service itself is free to use.
Out of curiosity, I had the pharmacy quote prices using the GoodRx rate vs. my major health insurance company’s negotiated group rate. GoodRx won by $150.
A quick search on GoodRx.com saved me over $500 in less than a minute. If you live in the US and need to fill a prescription, search here first.
– Josh Kaufman
This little gadget hones your razor after each use, and extends its usefulness by keeping it sharp longer. It’s a strip of silicone rubber in a plastic holder. You push your razor along the strip a dozen or so times after you’ve shaved. I’ve used it for about two years and it works well – it gives me at least double or perhaps triple the number of shaves before the blade becomes too dull to use. I’ve tried other similar things but this is the one that works best.
Imagine a stack of hacksaw blades riveted together in several spots and then bent out like expanded metal mesh. This is what you have with the Shinto Wood Rasp. It is extraordinarily effective at removing material. I use it to shape wood parts as well as when working with fiberglass and epoxy in my boat building business. It can cut aggressively yet can leave a smooth surface.
The expanded metal configuration of the blade allows sawdust and shavings to pass through the blade without gumming up the works as is common with standard rasps. The teeth remain sharp for a long time. I’ve used my rasp for nearly 15 years on some difficult materials and it still cuts quite well. A high quality traditional rasp doesn’t have the same longevity.
The blade is two sided, one fine, the other coarse. There are several different handle configurations available: in-line permanently affixed, offset, and offset with a second forward handle for more pressure. I like the offset handle to get full strokes, the full length of the blade. The handle can be easily switched from one side to the other.
A good “Rambo” carpentry tool, when you want to do a lot of damage fast, but still capable of clean work.
The most effective local community-enhancing tool I know of is Meetup. This service helps you find, recruit, manage, and cultivate people in a local area who are, or could be, sharing an issue, idea, or passion. Let’s say you are a barefoot runner who wants to meet other local barefoot runners, or you are an activist trying to stop land mines in wars and want to engage other like-minded locals, or maybe you have a crazy idea for a new kind of retail store and you want to network with other retail business people. In each case, you can use Meetup to help find others, to help them find you, and most importantly to help you schedule and curate face-to-face meetings gathered around your interest. Meetups can range in size from less than 5 people to more than 500.
I used Meetup (with Gary Wolf) to launch and operate the Quantified Self movement, which now holds regular meetings in almost 100 cities around the world. I’ve also used Meetup to start a community of self publishers in our vicinity interested in sharing their best practices for e-books. And Meetup has saved me much trouble and effort in another way: when I have a yearning to connect to something new to me I often find that someone has already started a local Meetup with this idea or passion. Meetup makes it easy to evaluate and join an ongoing local community. Meetup is 100 times easier than trying to organize a meeting or event by hand. It automates the notifications, the who-is-attending list, the agenda (or not), the map to the meeting place, the calendar, the history of past meetings. Essentially, Meetup makes meeting as self-organizing as possible. Members who attend a meetup rate the meeting afterwards, so there is feedback in improving them.
Every Meetup is run differently. Many are casual, open to anyone, and free. Some organizers charge membership dues as the number of people attending increases; some charge event fees. The Meetup software handles all these payment options superbly. It does not cost anything to get a Meetup account, or join most Meetups, but it does cost something to organize a Meetup. The “organizer dues” needed to run up to three Meetups is $12 month. If you’ve ever tried to organize regular meetings of any size, you’ll recognize this self-organizing tool as a bargain.
Our seventh Quantified Self Meetup. A decent monthly group of this size was only possible for us because of Meetup.
I have had this Christmas tree stand for more than 7 years. My father-in-law purchased it for my wife and me when we celebrated our first Christmas in our new home.
A little back-story. As you may discern from my surname, I did not grow up in a house that celebrated Christmas. When my wife and I first started dating, her parents would help her decorate her apartment, including putting up a tree with some crazy 8-screw stand. The first time putting up the tree became my responsibility, I experienced endless frustration. The next season my father-in-law gave me this stand, which has been our own little Christmas miracle.
The operation is unbelievably simple… You place the trunk of the tree in the middle of the stand and pump the foot pedal until the five teeth bite the trunk securely. The teeth are tightened in unison through a steel cable that operates with a cam attached to the pedal. Once it’s tight, you lock the pedal in place and voila! you have a secure tree. Total installation time? 5 minutes, maximum. When it comes time to take the tree to the curb, the cam is disengaged and the teeth spring open.
This stand has held up to people bumping into the tree, sliding it out of the way to access fallen ornaments behind the tree, and one unfortunate incident when my toddler tried to hug the tree and fell into it. I can’t recommend it enough.
I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for a good kitchen novelty, and it was certainly that affliction that initially drew me to the Boska Holland Toastabags, but it turns out they’re both practical and really useful too.
These “toasting bags” are synthetic envelopes that create a near-perfect grilled cheese sandwich using just your regular toaster. You can even add little a ham, or perhaps use a pita with some veggies instead. I was skeptical of these claims, as found on the product’s packaging, but they’re true.
You simply assemble your sandwich as usual, but sans butter, then slip it into a Toastabag. Insert the whole shebang in your toaster and drop the lever. After one medium-darkness cycle, your sandwich will be hot and the bread toasted — complete with little grill marks.
The secret is the envelopes, of course, which are made from some sort of conductive material that amplifies the heat from the toaster’s elements. (Apparently woven fiberglass coasted in PTFE, AKA Teflon.)
The bags work best with a wide-slot toaster, and slim bread, but I’ve managed to stuff even thicker slices in the bag with just a little effort. Be sure to monitor the “grilling” process, at least at first, as it happens a lot faster than you’ll expect. The bag is hot when it emerges; probably too hot for some children.
The manufacturer claims that the bags are free of any mess, and they certainly don’t muck up your toaster, but they do such a good job of melting the cheese that some will ooze out inside. No problem, just let the bag cool and turn it inside-out to clean the non-stick surface.
The video at the product’s website presents a fair and honest depiction of both the process and results. You get a pack of 3 or more bags in a set, each of which are reusable. I have yet to wear out my first one; they are said to be good for at least 50 cycles.
I’ve been using chainsaws for many years. Over the decades I have
probably owned 5 or 6 different ones. In the 1960s and ’70s I used
chainsaws extensively, cutting up redwood (from the beaches or
windfallen trees in the woods) into bolts, and which I then split into
shakes for roofs and siding. These days I use a Stihl Woodboss MS270,
24″ bar for firewood. Every year I find wind-felled oak on country
roads, haul it home, cut it into stove-size lengths, then rent a
splitter for a day and stockpile a year’s or more worth of firewood.
Point is, I’ve had a lot of chainsaw experience.
The other day I was sawing through a piece of wood on the woodpile and
as I finished the cut, the blade hit a log below it and snapped back
towards my face. It sent a chill of adrenaline that I somehow felt in my
ears. Very scary.
BUT I was wearing my Husqvarna helmet, which combines skull protection,
ear guards, and a metal mesh facemask. I’ve only been using the helmet
the last few years, prompted by a log rolling down the hill and knocking
me down. I felt then I should have had one of these helmets all along.
Good thing. This time the blade didn’t reach my face, but if it had, the
mask would have blocked it from carving up my flesh.
I urge you chainsaw users: get one of these. $40 or so. Play it safe,
please. The more hours you’ve operated chainsaws, the more the chance of
a freak accident. Experience doesn’t make you invulnerable.