Timbuk2 Classic Messenger Bag

This bag has been my indefatigable mobile office for the past 2 years. I am a train commuter navigating from Boston’s suburbs into Kendall Square (MIT), Cambridge five days a week. Productivity is important to me during my commuting time and the bag offers outstanding organization and comfort to allow me to work anywhere.

This bag is loaded with organizational features, durably crafted and stylistically elegant (and customizable!). Few bags excel in all three of those critical elements. I use the large size, and while it can be roomy for lighter daily travel, having the extra space accommodates the occasional overnight trip or the large object that I need to tote into my work-space.

-- Nathan Chesley  

Timbuk2 Classic Messenger Bag 2014
Large: $109

Available from Amazon



Pyranna Plastic Package Opener

Who hasn’t struggled trying to open one of those heavy duty plastic product packages, or sliced their hands or fingers in the process? This inexpensive little gadget, which I’ve been using for the past few years, makes it much easier to get to your plastic-sealed merchandise. You could just use a hand-operated can opener but the Pyranna is more compact and ergonomic, and it wouldn’t be out of place in your desk drawer.

-- Peter Laird  

Pyranna Plastic Package Opener
$4

Available from Amazon



FlexSMART Wireless In-Car Bluetooth FM Transmitter

My car doesn’t have an auxiliary port jack, let alone a fancy USB or iPod connector. I’ve tried headphone jack-to-cassette adapters but they fail after a few months. I a tried headphone jack-to-FM transmitter but I could never keep them positioned for good reception. Both solutions required using my phone (if I could find it under the seat it slid under) for playback controls.

Finally I found a Bluetooth-to-FM transmitter that solved the issue for me. The GOgroove FlexSMART X2 connects to your media player via Bluetooth and to your car radio via a tunable FM transmitter. It has a microphone on the device so you can use it as a hands-free speakerphone. It also includes a USB port for charging your device and an line-in jack to connect a Bluetoothless device.

I purchased the model where the adapter is on a long stem because my car’s power outlet (formally the cigarette lighter socket) is near the floor. The stem brings the adapter close to the front of my radio, close enough that the radio gets a clean signal at all times. (A version of the adapter without the stem is also available.)

I’ve had the GOgroove over a year and a half now and it has been worth every penny. While I initially bought it for podcasts and music, it turns out it is great for voice over GPS navigation as well. Finally I can actually hear the instructions.

I’ve only run into a few issues, mostly during the initial setup. I had a problem with static on the FM signal when using the USB charger. I found tuning to a higher FM station mostly resolved that problem (I only use the charger on long road trips anyway).

I also had a problem with volume at different times. In general you want to turn the bluetooth volume from your device as loud as possible, then control the volume you hear with the radio volume. I found doing this I could use my normal radio volume setting. If I did switch to radio it didn’t suddenly blare because I had to turn it up for my phone.

However the iPhone seems to set all Bluetooth volumes separately and they have to be set via the Bluetooth device. I thought I had a problem with the Siri volume not working properly even though I would increase the volume on the phone. Instead I had to activate Siri, and turn the volume up via the GOgroove. I did this once and the volume level has been remembered correctly since. I had to do the same for ringtone volume as well (trickier in that I had to wait for someone to call me, then get the volume up before voicemail kicked in.)

The only ongoing issue I’ve had is that in cold conditions (< 20°F in the US Midwest) the radio doesn’t connect immediately as it does in warmer weather. I turn the GOgroove off, wait about 30 seconds, and turn it back on. It connects immediately after that. Not sure if this is a problem with my car radio, or the GOgroove, but it’s only a minor inconvenience.

My final concern was with security and privacy. I’ve not had a chance to test how far away from my car it’s possible to tune into my signal but radio waves can be weird and picked up much further away from the broadcaster than you might expect. Using the microphone on the device your side of the conversation is via encrypted bluetooth only, but any response from the other person is broadcast FM radio. If you have Siri read a text to you, it is being broadcast as well. As it is, I avoid most of the handsfree interactive stuff and just use it as a podcast/music/GPS player.

-- Kevin van Haaren  

GOgroove FlexSMART X2 Wireless In-Car Bluetooth FM Transmitter
$50

Available from Amazon



Cuturi Air Hammers

I am a figurative marble sculptor. I have been using the Cuturi air hammer line for 20 years. I learned about it from the 70-year-old artisani in Italy who have been sculpting for major studios all their lives.* They use Cuturi because they stand up to 40 hour weeks, for decades. So, that’s what I got. I have tried some others, and they worked OK, but nothing was better and it has withstood the test of time since I have been using mine for a long time.

Cuturi air hammers come in different sizes (different size pistons) and two types. The roughing hammers take larger chisels shaft diameters. The finish hammers take smaller chisel shaft diameters. Depending on your needs, you will probably want a large, medium, and small hammer for roughing, and then a medium and small for finish work. If you don’t use a diamond bladed saw for the initial stage of the rough (getting rid of big chunks of stone), you may want the largest air hammer for your initial rough but it’s very heavy and exhausting to use.

Generally, I use carbide tipped chisels which can be purchased commercially. However, for finish work, the last two finishing stages are done with chisels made by a blacksmith out of steel. (The retired Italian blacksmith who made my set of steels complained that he has a hard time finding quality steel for chisels anymore.) The carbides are sharpened on a grinder. The steels are sharpened on a stone. (Nothing fancy, a nearby flat rock will do.) The roughing Cuturi hammers are best with carbide chisels. The larger finishing hammer can use both. The smaller finishing hammer is only used with steel.

You can see examples of my work.

sculpture

*Sadly, when you buy a marble sculpture by a famous artist, it is not unlikely that they have never touched the stone. They send a model to one of the major studios in Pietrasanta, Italy and the artisani there copy the model into stone, often enlarging it and adding important details. Sometimes they just get a hand sketch or a short description to work from. They get paid a fairly low hourly wage, then the sculpture gets crated by a guy who has been doing it all his life, shipped to a New York gallery, and someone pays six figures for it.

-- Chuck Clanton  

Cuturi Air Hammers
Prices vary



Breville One-Touch Tea Maker

It is amazing how different the same tea tastes when you have the ability to consistently experiment with the brewing temperature and steeping time. Different teas require different brewing temps and steeping times to bring out the best flavor. I like green tea. The Breville allows you to set the temperature by degrees and the steeping time. Do you like strong tea? Set it to steep longer. Once you set it, it is all automatic. No more waiting for your tea to cool from boiling to drink it. Would like another cup of tea? The Breville will keep the tea at your set temp for 60 minutes.

Yes, this appliance is expensive. However, after using it nearly each day since November 2010, it is totally worth the money, and remains one of my favorite purchases and is very reliable. I’ve had zero problems with it. Breville makes great appliances, and they are very well made, with excellent customer support.

-- Kevin Lindsay  

Breville One-Touch Tea Maker
$250

Available from Amazon



 

Bestselling Author and Entrepreneur, Seth Godin [Cool Tools Show #13]

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

Seth Godin enlightens us this week with an unexpected assortment of tools that will have you exploring the deepest recesses of your subconscious while, at the same time, enriching your hobbies and lifestyle.

Show Notes:

Strikingly Free or Subscription

“I started using this tool and it turns out it’s a simple bounded web development tool that is all plug and play. It only lets you build a one page website, but it’s hard for me to imagine a website being ten times more beautiful than what you can build with Strikingly…”

 

Wired Magazine Entire Collection

“…every once in a while I’ll take down an issue. This is the behemoth issue from December 1999. It is more than four hundred and fifteen pages long and what’s fascinating about it is the combination of breathless enthusiasm combined with sometimes not particularly long-lasting technology and what I find useful about that is it helps to not take myself so damn seriously…”

 

One Lucky Duck

“Sometimes I would drive twenty miles out of my way to get a single brownie and then drive home and I’m sure there’s no biochemical reason why it makes me feel taller, better, faster and able to jump and run higher, but it does and it’s been interesting to sort of hack my own mental physical barrier…”

Penguin Magic

“I think it’s a great site to go to because the way the site works is every single trick is demonstrated in a high production value video so it’s basically a magic show you can watch whenever you want to and the only way to find out how it’s done is to buy it.”

 



Caframo Ecofan Airmax Heat Powered Stove Fan

This woodstove fan has greatly increased the comfort level of my home. Our primary heat source is a wood stove insert. Prior to the use of this fan the stove would only heat the immediate area around the fireplace and the upstairs. Now the entire lower floor is much warmer. The coolest thing about this tool is that it uses “thermoelectric technology to convert a temperature difference into electricity.” It’s the same technology as the recently reviewed Biolite Camp Stove.

-- Peter Ratner  

Caframo Ecofan Airmax Heat Powered Stove Fan
$127

Available from Amazon



Grease Monkey Gorilla Grip Gloves

I ran across these gloves when I did a bathroom remodel around 2 years ago. Basically, they are a thin synthetic knit glove that has a palm and fingertip area that’s coated in a “polymer.” Traditionally, I’ve worn those cheap rubber dipped gloves when working with tile, but these gloves are far superior. The best part of these gloves is that they are really thin and allow for all the manual dexterity that you would have in a nitrile glove, but the Gorilla Grip gloves are much more durable. They’re great for wet work because they let the back of your hand breathe and dry out.

When I did tile work with them, they were really great for using with the wet tile saw. Even though they were wet, they didn’t slide around, get soggy, or come apart – even when soaked in water. I’ve used them as a go to general purpose glove for most home improvements. Just this past week, I used them on a drop ceiling project and an attic insulation project. They were great in that they protected my hands from the ceiling tiles and insulation while allowing me to switch tools and do fine motor tasks while wearing the gloves.

These gloves are the perfect medium between a disposable rubber or nitrile glove and a heavier work glove while being better than other rubber/vinyl dipped gloves.

-- Chuck Balog  

Grease Monkey Gorilla Grip Gloves
$9

Available from Amazon



X-Stand Portable Notebook Cooling Stand

I’ve used this laptop stand for six years after discovering it branded and sold by Targus (where it can no longer be found). After losing mine, I found it again branded under “Hercules XStand Portable Notebook Cooling Stand” and “Opteka X-Stand Ergonomic Portable Airflow Cooling Stand.”

The stand is beautifully built, light (all-aluminum structure), and well-designed. It’s for 15″ – 17″ laptops, and easily folds down to something you could slip into a pocket. The stand tilts the keyboard a few degrees, which is nice, but its primary use is to allow plenty of airflow under the computer for cooling; I find it substantially reduces the temperature, which is not only nice for me, it certainly helps lengthen the life of my laptops. It has to be used on a flat surface – not your lap. I use it everywhere.

The stand is far-and-away the smallest and lightest laptop stand I’ve ever seen, and retails online for anywhere from $15 to $23.

-- Barry Schwartz  

X-Stand Portable Notebook Cooling Stand
$23

Available from Amazon



EGear 30-Day Lantern

I have used this one for over a year. My grandmother was thrilled to have a couple during an extended power outage last year. When we got power back we passed the lanterns on to her friends until they had power restored. We never changed the batteries and neither did they. My grandmother gave one to all her friends last Christmas — best received gift ever. One of the best features is that it is actually bright enough to be useful. I love the hook on the bottom that lets me hang it from a fixture or pipe. (There was a huge battery shortage before, during and after the storm so now I keep a set of rechargeable batteries on hand for them.)

-- Tim Stone  

eGear 30-day lantern
$40

Available from Amazon