ASUS RT-N16 Wireless Router

The ASUS RT-N16 is an excellent high performance router that has all the features you would expect from a router in its category. But the feature that stands out is an embedded torrent client that can download and upload torrents to and from an external hard drive plugged into the router’s USB port. I’ve been using it for more than 2 years now, and I can’t count the time and electricity it saved me so far.

The point in having a torrent client in your router is that:

1) To download torrents it’s necessary for someone share it in the first place, and depending on the availability of sources (seeds) this can take some time.

2) The torrent protocol, as any other P2P protocol, depends on people sharing what they have downloaded in order to continue working; so it’s recommended that you upload at least two times what you have downloaded in order to keep the network alive.

All of this requires you to leave your computer on and connected for a long time, and doing this for the sole purpose of downloading and uploading torrents is a waste of electricity and at times just inconvenient. As most people just leave their wireless router on and connected all the time at home, it’s quite interesting to have this task performed by it.

Although many people associate torrents with piracy, it’s just a peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing protocol and it can be used to download lots of legal content, mainly media and software. [Here are 30 sites for legal torrents — Mark]

To use this embedded torrent client you need to connect an external hard drive to one of the router’s USB ports. Then, using the router configuration page through a web browser, just press a button to install the client in this HD. After that you will be able to access the client from your browser through an IP address (just like you do to access the configuration page of any router). The client is updated regularly by ASUS through new versions of the router’s firmware, which can be easily updated through the router’s configuration page.

Beware, however, that this client is much more limited than traditional torrent applications, like uTorrent. Limitations include a limit to the number of torrents you can download at the same time, and not being able to select files to download within a torrent.

-- Alessandro Mattos  

ASUS RT-N16 Wireless Router
$78

Available from Amazon



 

Wide Mouth Adjustable Wrench

I have used this tool for well over 20 years. I use it several times per year, whenever I need to do plumbing repairs. I use it most commonly to loosen or tighten faucet strainers. Ordinary wrenches don’t work because they don’t have a large enough opening to wrap around the strainer. A large mouthed wrench can adjust its opening wide enough to remove or tighten the strainer without scarring it.

-- Dick Spencer  

Channellock 1-1/2″ Cap Wrench
$27

Available from Amazon



Automatic Smart Driving Assistant

The “quantified self” personal measurement tools all seem too constricting to me, at least at this point in my life. But, as one who cringed when I needed to buy my late-model Mazda3 for a commute, the concept of a “quantified car” makes a lot more sense. Buying a car means investing a decent sum of money in a depreciating collection of metal that requires sizable ongoing investments. Even when experiencing the joy of the open road, I’m still haunted by how much this contraption costs me.

So, to ease my heartburn over car ownership, I bought the Automatic “Smart Driving Assistant” just after the holidays. Intrigued by early reviews that I read on sites like TechCrunch and Engadget, I put it on my wish list and ended up buying it with some holiday cash. Spending $100 to get data on your car’s operation, your driving habits and your overall driving quality seems prudent. When that $100 also allows you to benefit from ever-improving software linked to your car’s data, it seems like a bargain. Of course, this assumes that Automatic delivers on its promise.

At present, Automatic is a simple dongle that attaches to your vehicle’s OBD-II port (every car since 1996 has one, apparently). The Automatic dongle samples your vehicle’s speed, fuel efficiency (MPG) and uses an accelerometer to measure your acceleration and braking. If your car has a mechanical problem known to the car’s computer, the Automatic dongle can read the OBD-II code, as well. The dongle then beams that data to your smartphone, using bluetooth, and an associated app then uses your smartphone to analyze and synthesize the dongle data; track your driving route and parking location; and guess at your overall fuel cost (based again on location).

The Automatic Smartphone app is simple but polished. The app presents the MPG, distance and driving habit data per trip; as well as total miles driven, hours spent, estimated fuel cost and average MPG for each week. Featured prominently is your score: a measure from 1-100, which penalizes hard brakes (measured by the accelerometer), hard “accels” (ditto) and minutes over 70 miles per hour. Your scores are calculated daily (Last day = 100!) and weekly (Last week = 98; four hard brakes in city driving screwed me!).

While it’s easy to pick at small flaws with Automatic – isn’t 70 mph arbitrary? why is the route imprecise? what if my hard brakes were the fault of other drivers? – my experience has been: it’s working. I’m now obsessed with avoiding hard brakes and hard accelerations. I scrutinize MPG numbers after each trip, wondering how I can improve it the next time. I brag about my high score to my wife. And, though I still cringe at the potential cost, I’m looking forward to reading the code on my first “check engine” light without taking my car into a mechanic.

I’m hoping that the app will continue to pay dividends. There is a “crash alert” feature, in beta, that duplicates some of the features on more expensive cars. Automatic has published an API, in alpha, which could lead to some awesome other applications. It just announced an integration with IFTTT.com, which allows for user-friendly API access. And, as Horace Dedieu has discussed on his “Asymcar” podcast, a real promise of apps like Automatic is in reselling the car. If a used car seller can document their good driving habits, the car’s performance and their maintenance record (down to the trip) it could help the buyer and the seller.

I’ve got generalized privacy concerns, but they’d apply to most “quantified” gadgets and I view my car as the least personal item I own. Automatic could also, ultimately, let users down. But, for now, the promise of a car quantified through Automatic is soothing my concerns about automotive ownership.

-- Ben Bradley  

Automatic Smart Driving Assistant
$99

Available from Amazon



Hausgrind Hand Powered Coffee Grinder

Let’s cut right to the chase: You cannot find a better hand powered coffee grinder than the Made by Knock Hausgrind. Oh, we know the names of all the competitors – Porlex, Hario, Comandante, and even the Grindripper – but none of them are built like this.

Grinders come in two flavors: blade and burr. Blade grinders are fast, but they burn the coffee beans, and the uneven particle sizes they produce mean a poor cup of coffee. If you care what your coffee tastes like, burr grinders are really your only choice.

Among burr grinders, the camps are pretty evenly divided. Proponents of ceramic burrs will tell you they’re harder and last longer. Advocates of steel burrs will tell you they can be ground sharper and finer than ceramic burr casting technology allows. The Hausgrind uses 38 mm conical tool steel burrs that are conservatively rated to grind 650 kg (= 1433 pounds = ~3/4 of a ton) of coffee beans before needing replacement. I grind 15 grams of coffee beans every day, which is enough for a double shot of espresso from my ROK. That means I could go 43,333 days (= 118.72 years) before the burrs needed replacement. Even if you ground 3 times that much, you could go more than 39 years before you started to think about replacing your burr set.

Many people like to change up the coffee they drink, shifting from espresso to drip to French press at a whim. This means adjusting the setting on your grinder to change the fineness. On every other hand grinder out there, this involves twisting a knob on the bottom of the male burr to tighten or loosen it against the female burr. Often, this adjustment knob is stepped to prevent the loss of the setting as you grind. That means the settings are finite, and if you want something in between, you’re out of luck. With the Hausgrind, adjustment is performed with a graduated, knurled knob on the top of the grinder. The settings are smooth and infinite, held in position with a rubber grommet, and if you want to twist it to 9.6 (or 9.7 or 9.9) for your espresso and 13.2 for drip brewing, you can easily do so. Returning to a previous setting is also just as easy.

Some hand grinders have a problem with their handles coming off while grinding, and this is endemic with the Porlex. This is less of a problem with the Hario, Comandante, and Grindripper, but it is nonexistent with the Hausgrind – the adjustment knob screws on to completely secure the handle.

A lot of people complain that hand grinders are difficult to operate. Although this is largely due to the plastic bearings allowing the burrs to grind against each other, some of the blame can be traced to how the grinder is held. If the grasping hand is not at the very top of the grinder, the top of the grinder will swing back and forth as the handle is turned. The handle design is crucial to this, and some grinders actually come with a handle that forces the grasping hand lower on the grinder body. This is not so with the Hausgrind, whose handle allows the body to be grasped at the very top.

Because even the most freshly roasted coffee begins to stale 15 minutes after grinding, the home brewer gets the best flavor by grinding only what’s needed for the moment’s cup. That means you don’t want any leftover beans remaining in the grinder, so to keep things flowing smoothly, there is a sweep pin to ensure all the beans in the hopper drop into the burrs.

But none of these are the most important factor that set this grinder apart from the others. Whether you like the ceramic burrs of the Hario, Porlex, or Grindripper or you prefer the steel burrs of the Comandante, they all have one thing in common: plastic bearings. With all other hand grinders, the male burr depends from a central shaft that rotates within a plastic tube. Although the female burr is firmly held by the casing, the male burr can easily shift from center as the beans are ground. This doesn’t just cause wear; it creates an uneven grind.

In contrast, the Hausgrind has raced bearing sets top and bottom, and these bearings are held in place by 316 marine grade stainless steel frames. Together, they stabilize the burr sets to effortlessly produce a frighteningly even particle size.

Finally, we’re not talking about some visual monstrosity you wouldn’t show your dog. The Hausgrind currently comes in hand-tooled beech or walnut, and future versions are planned with aluminum and steel casings.

I was lucky to get in on the ground floor for Batch 1. Batch 2 sold out within 35 hours of announcement, and Batch 3 ordering is now closed. You can read more and register for yours here.

At £130 for aluminum and £140 for walnut (they’ll ship anywher), these grinders are not cheap. But they are simply the best, and they’ll likely last your lifetime or longer!

-- Conan Cocallas  

Hausgrind Hand Powered Coffee Grinder
£130 – £140

Manufactured by Made by Knock



MSR Universal Canister Stand

One of the major problems with most liquid propane gas stoves is that they are inherently top-heavy. Coupled with the inevitable lack of flat terrain while camping, it’s only a matter of time before they are accidently knocked or tipped over. At the very least you’re looking at a colossal mess and potentially losing a meal; at the very worst you could be severely scalded or start a fire. These problems can be preempted by choosing the most level cooking surface as possible and using a canister stand in conjunction with your stove.

The best model I have found is the “Universal canister stand” from MSR. Design and operation is dead-simple: unfold the legs into the tripod position, place the rim of your LPG canister under the appropriate set of fixed hooks (outer hooks for 230-450g canisters, inner hooks for 100-130g canisters), and slide the third spring-loaded hook into place. The stand will drastically reduced your stove’s potential to tip over and safely allows cooking with large/tall pots, even on sloped or uneven surfaces.

Other LPG stove manufacturers do offer their own branded canister stands but they are made of plastic, which is nowhere near as durable or reliable as metal. They also have shorter legs than the MSR model, which compromises the stability afforded. At around $12 street price and backed by a lifetime warranty, this accessory should be a no-brainer for anyone who owns a LPG stove.

stand-3

stand-2

-- Nabhan Islam  



 

Peter Rojas, Tech Entrepreneur and Cohost of MVP [Cool Tools Show Episode #19]

Peter Rojas is the founder Engadget, gdgt and Gizmodo. He currently co-hosts MVP, a podcast about new tech products, alongside Ryan Block, a former guest on our show. Peter focused his picks for this episode on personal impact, his philosophy being that truly worthy tools not only change your life, but they also change the way you think about the world. With help from some of the following carefully chosen tools, you may find yourself acting and thinking a little differently.

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

Boomerang for Gmail - Free (Paid Plans Available)

“I think you have to let go of this idea that things need an instantaneous reply. There are certainly things where you may want to do that. There are plenty of messages where I do want to get back to the person right away, but once you let go of that…it’s very liberating.”

Zeo Sleep Manager - $330

“The Zeo is tracking your brainwave activity, at least to the extent that they can on a very rudimentary device. I found that being able to know and understand my sleep patterns helped me change how I was sleeping.”

ART USB Phono Plus - $79

Good for converting LPs to digital music files. “It works really well and it lets you use the turntable that you already own which is probably going to be higher quality than the USB turntable that you might buy… You’re better off buying that and buying a regular turntable.”

 

Vitamix 750 - $649

“I could go on and on about it, but it’s an amazing product. It works so well and I use it as much as two or three times a day now. It makes it so easy to eat really healthily and I found myself blending vegetables in a way that keeps all the fiber which is much better for you. I’ve just felt more energy and I felt that the quality of the food I’ve been eating has gone up from this.”

 



Tally-Ho Playing Cards

As a practicing magician, playing cards are just one of the many tools in our “magical toolbox.” For the causal card player any pack of cards will most likely do. But for anyone who practices card magic or just plays a lot of card games, cards might be a subject of interest. If you’re looking for quality long-lasting budget playing cards, I highly recommend Tally-Ho cards. They’re inexpensive and can be subjected to being bent and abused, while maintaining its ease of handling. Tally-Hos’ durability can be attributed to its linoid finish, which also helps prevent the cards from sticking together. Unlike most other playing cards such as Bicycles or Bees, Tally-Hos are rather resistant to warping after heavy usage. In fact, a pack of Tally-Ho’s I own for five years and counting, still springs and fans just like it did first out of the box.

 

-- Jefferson Deng  

[The magicians who hang out at The Magic Cafe message board seem to agree that Tally Ho cards are more durable than Bicycle cards. Another interesting thing about these cards is that the Circle back design is slightly asymmetrical, which makes the cards useful for mentalism tricks. The one negative thing about Tally Ho cards is that spectators are usually more familiar with Bicycle cards and unfamiliarity raises suspicions about whether or not a deck is gimmicked. -- Mark]

Tally Ho Circle Back Playing Cards
$6

Available from Amazon



KoMo FlicFloc Flaker

I feel like I’ve discovered a sort of breakfast unified field theory. And it’s all thanks to an impulse purchase at an awesome new homesteading supply shop in our Los Angeles neighborhood, The King’s Roost. My credit card discharged from my pocket like ectoplasm at a 19th century seance when I spotted the KoMo FlicFloc.

The FlicFloc manually flakes oats, wheat, rye, barley, millet, spelt, rice, sesame, flax seed, poppy and spices. The breakfast possibility it opened to me? Fresh muesli is thy name. Finally a filling and healthy alternative to my Grape Nuts addiction.

The FlicFloc is elegant and simple. There’s not much to say about it. You put grain in the top, turn the handle and deliciousness discharges into a glass, thoughtfully provided. I’ve owned a KoMo grain mill for a year now and it’s been a life changer in the kitchen. I really like having access to freshly milled whole grains when I need them. It eliminates waste as ground grains spoil. And whole grain, including oats, get bitter if they sit around too long.

And cancel the Neflix – Below is KoMo’s Austrian/German design team demonstrating their products. All this video needs is Werner Herzog to narrate the English language version. Note the solar powered manufacturing facility and German breakfast porn. Also note the mouthwatering array of whole grain baked goods.

UPDATE: On his blog, Root Simple, Erik compared the results of oats processed by a FlicFloc to oats processed by a cheap grain cracker:

flicflocflack

“On the left are some oats run through the cracker versus oats, on the right, run through the FlicFloc.”

He also says, “I’ve never regretted paying more for a tool that will last a lifetime. I have regretted, many times, buying cheap tools. The FlicFloc broke my Grape Nuts addiction. It will pay for itself.”

-- Erik Knuzten  

KoMo FlicFloc Flaker
$179

Available from Amazon



Bluetooth Car Diagnostic Scanner

I have used this for several months to troubleshoot and diagnose various automotive problems on several vehicles ranging from a 1997 Saturn SL1 to a 2010 Infiinti G35 and a 2014 Jeep Compass.

Unlike the standalone handheld OBDII Can-bus diagnostic computers, which can cost upwards of $150, this device is only about $12. It uses your Android or iPhone smartphone as a wireless display and works both to tell you the diagnostic error codes that trigger your check engine light as well as a real-time diagnostics information display that can be used to troubleshoot performance problems while the engine is operating. The application you need to do this is free.

There are also paid apps that turn this unit and your smartphone into a tool for improving fuel efficiency through real-time monitoring and analysis of your car’s sensors.

One major advantage of this tool is that the Bluetooth connection has a 30′ range, which allows you to read the display without actually being in the vehicle. This means you can check under the engine hood or under the vehicle while still being able to read the diagnostics displays, which is really not possible with the older wired tools. This can make testing and troubleshooting much simpler.

elm-2

-- Dan Kim  

[Readers say this Bluetooth device is not iPhone compatible. Here's a $15 OBDII scanner with WiFi that is advertised as being iPhone compatible, but we have not tried it. Also, reader Alan Burnstine says: "The thing you didn't mention is that you can also send codes to the car. Other than just turning off the check engine, you can also set some features, for instance on a Prius, you can turn off the annoying back-up beep. There is a procedure to do it without a scan tool, but one of these makes it simple as long as you know the codes to send (which are widely available on the internet)."]

Bluetooth Mini Small Interface OBD2 Scanner Adapter

Available from Amazon



Stayhold

A Stayhold is a right-angled plastic item that goes into a car’s trunk. It measures 9.7″ high, 5.9″ deep (forming the “base”), and 18.5″ wide. Two 1″ wide strips of Velcro run the length of the base, which keeps the upright leg of the right angle vertical, which prevents anything leaning against it from toppling over or sliding around.

To test it, I bought a pair of a smaller (less high and deep) model today at Home Depot, went grocery shopping, descended a steep hill on the way home — and found that they kept my grocery bags upright. (It should also keep open-top containers and potted plants secure.) All right!

It’s on sale at my local (Seattle) Home Depot for $8 each, but when I searched the company’s website it came up Not Found.

It’s $22 for a pair at Amazon, but the product isn’t yet in stock and hasn’t been reviewed. Amazon however will happily add you to its waiting list.

-- Roger Knights  

[Other sizes are available on Amazon. The 18.2 x 5.5 x 7.5 inches model is $13. — Mark Frauenfelder]

Stayhold
$8 – $11

Manufactured by Stayhold