New in Ask Cool Tools

In Ask Cool Tools, Sylvar has asked about the best way to digitize several shoeboxes full of photos:

I’ve got several shoeboxes full of photos, mostly 4×6 size, and would like to get them scanned so I can upload them into Flickr and discard the originals. Is there a reason why I should buy a bulk-feeding scanner and spend my time supervising the scanbot, or should I just ship them all off to some service and let them handle it?

Answer this question here.

If you have a question of your own, please ask!

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Humistat #3 Musical Instrument Case Humidfier

Unlike many guitar or case humidifiers that use a sponge or other absorbent material to hold water, this clear plastic disk is filled with water but uses a special material that swells up to regulate the rate at which moisture leaves the device. You can see at a glance when it needs refilling, it refills in seconds, and to a degree you can regulate the amount of moisture in the case. Very cool. They recommend the use of distilled water which you can buy at the grocery store and keep in a corner — I guess a gallon will last nearly forever.

-- Jeff Williams  

Bombas Socks

When’s the last time you got excited about your socks? When’s the last time you messaged your friends to tell them about your socks? In addition to recently doing both of these, this is also the first time I’ve ever written about my socks.

The evangelism-inducing socks in question are called Bombas, a line of athletic socks that were launched last year after a successful crowdfunding campaign. Project creators David Heath and Randy Goldberg asked for $15,000 and ended up getting over $142,000.

The idea behind the Bombas sock project was two-fold: design an amazing pair of socks from the ground up and use the sales of said socks to subsidize the giving away of free socks to the homeless and other needy humans. Dave and Randy got the idea for the project after reading that socks are the number one item requested at homeless shelters. So now, for every pair of Bombas you buy ($9/pair), a pair is donated to a shelter or other suitable charity.

The do-gooder aspects are admirable enough, but what about the socks themselves? The first thing you need to know about me personally is that I have a painful history with socks. I have severe arthritis and resulting poor circulation. As a result, I have a devil of a time finding socks that don’t make my ankles swell. With probably 75% of the socks I buy, by the end of the day, I have a painful and unsightly sausaging effect above the top band of the socks. Sometimes this gets so bad that I develop painful blisters along the top band. The result of this is that I end up with a few pairs of socks that are comfortable enough and I wear those over and over again until they fall apart. And the trouble with these comfortable-enough socks is that, because they’re loose in the ankle, they tend to fall down. No fun, either. Bombas socks alleviate all these issues and are, hands down, the most comfortable, supportive, and physically-kind socks I’ve ever worn.

During the development process, the Bombas design team re-examined every aspect of the sock. They tested hundreds of tension levels around the ankle and came up with a stitching approach they dubbed “stay up technology.” They figured out how to create a toe that has no uncomfortable seams and a heel that forms a natural cup around the back of your foot. They also came up with a honeycomb stitching pattern for the midfoot that sort of gives your foot a comforting squeeze as you wear them. The soles of the socks are also slightly padded, which feels really good, especially to my always-aching dogs.

I was first introduced to Bombas in the fall of 2013 when I gave a talk at the Long Now Foundation in San Francisco. I was on a book tour, promoting my recent book, Borg Like Me. Some friends of mine had given me a collection of touring socks and challenged me to create some sort of “Socks on Tour” performance piece around them. So, I started introducing my socks before my readings and asking audience members to come up after the reading and have a photo taken, sock-to-sock. After the Long Now reading, a guy came up, took off his shoes, and began evangelizing about his Bombas socks (he’s been a backer of their Indiegogo campaign). I thought it was a little odd, but hey, I like odd. I went home, looked up the socks, ordered a pair, and about 20 minutes after wearing that first pair, I went back online and ordered a bunch more. I soon plan to replace all of the unwearable socks in my drawer.

My Stance-brand “Socks on Tour” meeting a pair of Bombas

My Stance-brand “Socks on Tour” meeting a pair of Bombas

As much as I love my Bombas, I have a few criticisms. I’m not really thrilled by the overly vibrant, busy design. I hope that, given the success of the socks (they’ve been having trouble keeping them in stock), they’ll offer other designs. This doesn’t bother me too much – whoever sees your socks? – but I’d prefer less over-the-top design. The other, more significant drawback, is that while the padded sole is really comfortable, the extra material (pima cotton, BTW) makes my feet sweat more than usual. But honestly, given everything else that I love about these socks, I can deal with a little damp-foot. When you’re really in love, you’re willing to turn a blind eye to a few faults. I’m in love.

-- Gareth Branwyn  

$9 and up

The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World

This is hands-down, the best vacation guide to Walt Disney World. The authors visit the parks several times a year to keep their information up-to-date. The guide utilizes survey data from park attendees as well as loads of first-hand information.

The best parts of the guide are the planned routes in the back of the book. They have several different routes for seeing each park depending on what your priorities are. Each route gets you to the attractions you want to see with a bare minimum of waiting on line. The book will pay for itself many times over in saved vacation time!

The guide also contains a wealth of best-practices for a Disney World vacation that will help you get the most out of your trip.

-- Mike Saccoccia  

The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2015
by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:





Mibro Door Lock Installation Kit

Installing a door knob is a tricky job, and having to install a new lockset on my daughter’s bedroom door was proving head-poundingly frustrating until the guy at the hardware store sold me this nifty template. Basically, this template idiot-proofs the installation of a door knob.

You screw it to the door where you want the knob, use the included hole saws to cut the holes for the knob and latch and it’s done! This kit costs only a little more than the hole saws you’d have to buy to do the job anyway, and it’s lots cheaper than buying a whole new door if you mess up the job. The two tricky bits are remembering to screw the template to the door, and making sure that the hole saws are tightly screwed to the arbor of the drill. There are more expensive kits with higher quality materials, if you’re planning to install a lot of doorknobs, but this one will probably last me a lifetime.

As your basic all-thumbs carpenter, I really need a device like this!

-- Amy Thomson  

Mibro Ultimate Door Lock and Hinge Installation Kit for Wood Doors

Available from Amazon

DAP Plastic Wood Cellulose Fibre Filler

For years, I was frustrated by stripped screw holes, particularly with wooden doors. To get a screw to stay in the stripped hole, I stuffed wood pieces, plastic anchors, basically anything I could find that would fit in the hole. Usually the fix failed, and I was again searching for a MacGyver fix.

A friend suggested plastic wood, which can easily be found at your local hardware store. Simply squeeze a thin layer into the into the stripped hole, let it dry, then repeat until the area is sufficiently closed up. It’s easy to use and quick drying, and is sandable and paintable. Usage isn’t limited to screw holes, it can be used on any finished or unfinished wood. Highly recommended.

-- Tony Bieda  

DAP Plastic Wood Cellulose Fibre Filler

Available from Amazon

Power Pull Bungey Cords

I camp a lot and picked up six of these last year. I thought the pull ring was a good idea after having more than a few regular bungees slip from my hands while stretching. The ring makes these easy to secure. Even better, the ring provides an additional tie down location. This works out great when latching locations are limited. My wife really loves them, a huge plus. A simple, very useful, innovation.

-- Patrick Leary  

Power Pull Bungey (Pack of 6)

Available from Amazon


What’s in my bag? – Colin Marshall

Colin Marshall hosts and produces the world-traveling, in-depth interview podcast Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. His forthcoming book is called A Los Angeles Primer: Mastering the Stateless City.

I go around Los Angeles/the world writing essays and recording interviews about cities. In this endeavor, I carry always and everywhere the same two things that everyone else does. By “everyone” I, of course, mean “every bike-riding thirty-year-old with no traditionally identifiable job,” and by “the two items” I mean a Chrome Citizen Messenger Bag and a 13.3-inch MacBook Air. If you live in San Francisco, home of Chrome headquarters, you spot these bags all too often. In Los Angeles, however, mine, especially the strap’s griffin-emblazoned seat belt-style buckle, still draws compliments. (“Hey, I like your Ferrari thing,” said one rich-looking, out-of-it-seeming middle-aged lady.) The MacBook, not so much; the girl at the Apple Store where I picked it up (refurbished, natch) just said, “You’re a writer, right?”


The bag has proven impressively durable over the past four or five years, especially since my previous messengers all tended to disintegrate within two or three. In the unlikely event that it does fall apart, I’ll replace it not with another black-on-black one, having almost fully phased that unworkable color out of my wardrobe, but maybe with the gray Motor Citizen — better to match the MacBook. That particular piece of technology looks a bit more distinctive when I bring it out in its Harris Tweed sleeve, an anniversary gift from my girlfriend. If you, too, live the sort of life which involves a constant search for Harris Tweeds, for your laptop or otherwise, make sure you keep an eye out for that distinctive orb and cross — the emblem of at least probable authenticity.


Whatever they sheathe it in, if everyone else does indeed use this same MacBook, they use it for good reason. Its the-future-is-now battery life frees me from even having to carry its (admittedly, pretty unwieldy) power cord during the day, no matter how many coffee shops I plan to park myself in. It also allows me to produce my entire podcast on the go — a valuable capability, since the show’s very premise has me traveling around looking for interviewees. I’ve recorded the interviews themselves with a handheld Zoom H4n Handy Recorder since day one. That third-party fluffy windscreen next to it — known, in the business, as a “dead kitty” — has proven essential, but I didn’t actually get around to buying it until the day I found, to my horror, that I’d neglected to pack the H4n’s (inadequate) included one.


I got the new windscreen in Copenhagen — or “CPH,” as that bike-seat protector next to the recorder calls it. They have more rain there than we do in Los Angeles (not to mention a considerably larger cycling population) so such an item makes sense there, but also in the various other countries in which I find myself. Hence the passport, which, according to one school of thought, I probably shouldn’t carry around all the time. But I do so as a precautionary measure against my odds of, given the increasing frequency of my international flights, turning up at the airport without it. (I’ll spare you my standard incredulous lament about the fact that, in 2014, we still need a paper booklet in order to go from place to place.)

Some reassurance does come from the rest of What’s in My Bag crowd’s apparent tendency to remain passported at all times. But it also reminds me that well-stamped travel documents no longer confer bragging rights; hence the need hang on to all the subway payment cards I collect, proof of not just one’s worldliness but one’s transit-riding acumen. Pictured here, we have Los Angeles’ TAP, London’s Oyster, Seattle’s ORCA, and Seoul’s T-Money (which actually works in South Korea’s other major cities too, one of those foreign conveniences that makes you wonder what happened to America). It does make practical sense, I would argue, to keep on hand and thus never have to re-purchase all the cards of cities with which you have ongoing relationships — especially Seattle’s, which costs a criminal five dollars.


Despite riding a bicycle (a folding Dahon Speed D7, which I reviewed elsewhere on Cool Tools) as my primary means of transportation, I perhaps foolishly don’t carry quite as much gear as some: a Kryptonite U-Lock, a spare key to it, a small bottle of Tri-Flow, a handheld tire pump, and, for the occasional tightening here and there, a wrench I bought from my local Daiso. (I can’t tell you how many TSA screenings that wrench made it through before an agent pulled me aside and rooted through my bag for it.) That bicycle-patterned tenugui towel also came as a present from my girlfriend, who picked it up at a Japanese store in Venice, though it always seems too nice to use in any normally towel-y capacity.

Though they’ve taken more than their fare share of scratches at this point, my sunglasses, Randolph Engineering Sportsman (Sportsmen?), have over all these years miraculously escaped loss or breakage. They do require professional bending back into shape every once in a while, but on the whole they provide further to support that reliable maxim about men’s clothing and accessories: the more you pay up front, the less you pay in the long run.


Given everything else about my life, I suspect I’d get some sort of fine if I failed to pack at least one Moleskine notebook, of which my stock, initially built up in the mid-2000s, has lasted to this day. File them under the “useful at weird times” category; I don’t write in them habitually, but I do find them awfully useful when, for instance, I lose GPS access in a foreign country and have to hand-draw maps to find my way. The pens to do that, all cheap, I stick into pockets apparently designed into the bag for just that purpose. (The pin near them comes from Seoul’s Owl Arts and Crafts Museum, a visit to which I couldn’t recommend more highly.) The same goes for the USB drives; you’d think our Dropbox age had eliminated the need for them, but they solve more than enough problems to compensate for their negligible bulk.


Then again, you wouldn’t call me an early adopter. I’ve also got a circa-2008 iPod, still going strong, that I use to listen to language podcasts (favorites include Talk to Me in Korean, Notes in Spanish, and NHK Japanese) whenever I happen to have working earbuds, which never seem to last me more than a few months. And speaking of second, third, and fourth languages, if you want to carry books, I recommend carrying around ones written in your non-native tongue. (Pictured: I Yeong-jun’s Nervous City, about Seoul, and J.M. Servin’s D.F. Confidencial, about Mexico City.) They last longer, and if you feel like slacking off some other project and reading, you can always call it “studying.”


Allow me to express my gratitude for this opportunity not just to think about what I carry, and not just to clean out and re-organize the contents of my bag, but to consider what items aren’t in my bag that I now realize I need: a second type of bike lock, Excedrin, a spare phone charger, contact-lens supplies, extra collar stays, deodorant, something niftier (possibly tweedier) to put that passport in. Ask yourself what, until now, I didn’t ask myself: can your bag do without these things?


[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 to upload the photos, and email the text to -- Mark Frauenfelder]

Google URL Shortening Service

Google has a convenient URL-shortener service. Here’s how it works:

1. Select and copy your long URL into your clipboard.

2. Go to

3. Paste your URL into the box where the cursor is positioned.

4. Click the Shorten URL button.

5. Copy (Ctrl + C) the already “selected” short URL to your clipboard. (It looks like this:

Google keeps all your long/short URL pairs on display on that page for you to re-use in the future. (It’s public, but you can hide any pair you want.)

-- Roger Knights

Ram Mount Mobile Phone Mount

I’ve used this for the last six months and it’s been a rock-solid mount for using my phone as a GPS.

I prefer to use the Waze app on my phone to the GPS in my car, and this allows me to safely and easily mount my phone to my car. I like Lexus and BMW’s implementation of their navigation system, which puts the screen further forward and up than mounting it in the console where the climate control and stereo typically go. This way, you don’t have to look as far down to read the navigation, and can keep better visibility on the road. The windshield mount puts the display in a similar position that I think is ultimately safer.

The suction assembly is excellent — it uses a twist lock to add additional suction and has so far been flawless. The X-grip flexibly accommodates many different phones, in or out of cases.

-- Mark Xue  

Ram Mount Twist Lock Suction Cup Mount with Universal X-Grip Cell/iPhone Holder

Available from Amazon