Eclipse Magnifier Workbench Lamp

This is a 5-inch diameter magnifying glass mounted on a swing arm, and the assembly has a vice clamp to mount itself to the edge of a table or desk. It includes a ring of light around the lens to illuminate the work vividly. This allows you to place your work on the furniture surface and swing the magnifier over the work so you can comfortably access tools, the material, and additional lighting when needed. When one does not need it, it can be taken down and stored in twenty seconds, and set back up as needed in almost as little time.

I have used it for 5 years. It allows me to see extraordinarily small things and, when appropriate, make precision repairs, such as cracked or clogged parts in expensive electronics and tiny splinters in skin. Children whose toys are broken sometimes become heartbroken until they are repaired or replaced, and this can allow immediate salve to them. When they get a painful splinter, this not only saves them prolonged pain, but may save the parent a trip to a medical provider. In addition, children tend to adore exploring the world of tiny things such as insects, and manufactured things using these.

headmountFor really tiny detail, one can combine this with a headset magnifier. Most of these headsets allow multiple lenses at one time so you can use only one of its lenses if you want moderate magnification or all three for extreme. The disadvantage of the headset is the disorientation when not looking only at the work, such as looking for tools, parts, and instructions which will seem blurry and distracting unless you continually raise and lower the headset as you look from the closeup work to more distant other things. That is the advantage of the swing arm magnifier; you can look from close to more distant without limitation since the swing arm magnifies only the work you want magnified.

-- John Ward  

Eclipse 5″ Diameter Magnifier Workbench Lamp with Bench Clamp
$64

Available from Amazon



Learning Tower Kids Step Stool

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).

-- Katie Lee  

Little Partners Learning Tower Kids Step Stool
$200

Available from Amazon



Giveaway! One-Year Membership to TripIt Pro

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.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

TripIt Pro
$40/year



What’s in my bag? – Dean Putney

Dean Putney is a software developer, photographer and Internet superhero. He recently published a book of his great-grandfather’s photos from World War I

whatsinmybag475

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:

Bottom half:

Strapped on the outside:

In the top compartment:

 

[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 editor@cool-tools.org. See all of our What's in my Bag? posts. -- Mark Frauenfelder]



GoodRx.com

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

GoodRx.com
Free

-- Josh Kaufman  



Blade Buddy

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.

-- Stephen Saxe  

Blade Buddy
$20

Available from Amazon



Shinto Saw Rasp

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.

-- Nick Schade  

9″ Shinto Saw Rasp
$34

Available from Amazon



Meetup

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.

meetup

Our seventh Quantified Self Meetup. A decent monthly group of this size was only possible for us because of Meetup.

-- KK  



Christmas Tree Genie Stand

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.

-- Sam Horowitz  

Krinner Christmas Tree Genie Christmas Tree Stand
$74



Boska Holland Toastabags

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.

-- Gordon Meyer  

Boska Holland Toastabags, Set of 3
$9

Available from Amazon