Cool Stuff We've Found Archive—Volume 1

Every once in a while, our employees come across “cool stuff.” We run one of our employees' discoveries in every TimePilot Times newsletter. These are the entries from our first 20 newsletters, dating back to 2011. To see "Cool Stuff" from our most recent newsletters, click here.

To see all of our newsletters, click here.

Issue 20: Writing-Fonts

Writing-Fonts

Looking for an unusual and inexpensive gift for Christmas?

Here’s an idea: Give a person their very own font—in their own handwriting. You can use the font anywhere you’d use any font: on printed documents, e-mails, etc.

Here’s how it works: You download a form from Writing-Fonts.com and print it on your printer. The form has spaces for you to write the alphabet, numbers, various punctuation marks and your signature. Then scan the form and upload it to Writing-Fonts. They’ll convert it to a font, which you download, ready for use.

The web site offers clear instructions for the whole process, which takes about 15 minutes. Each font costs $9.95.

Also, if your handwriting is like ours—just about impossible to decipher—Writing-Fonts.com also offers 12 very legible handwritten fonts for free.

www.Writing-Fonts.com


Issue 19: GorillaPod Mobile

GorillaPod Mobile

Most modern smartphones have high-quality still and movie cameras. If you've got an iPhone 4 (now a couple of generations old), you've also got a 5 megapixel still camera and a high-definition video camera in your pocket. To take advantage of them to the fullest, you need very steady hands. Or a Gorillapod Mobile for iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S.

The GorillaPod Mobile is a desktop tripod that will hold your phone steady, but its legs are also bendable, so you can adjust the tripod's height or even hang it upside down from a pipe or a railing. It's also good for watching videos on your iPhone.

It's $19.95. For details, check out the manufacturer's site: http://joby.com/gorillamobile/iphone4


Issue 18: Khan Academy

Khan Academy logo

School has been in session for about a month, and right around now some kids have started falling behind in their math or science classes. As a parent, you want to help, but it's been a long time since you were in school and helping is difficult. Khan Academy to the rescue!

Khan Academy is a completely free online "school" with thousands of short videos explaining everything from basic addition and subtraction and telling time to calculus, statistics, biology, chemistry, physics, history and economics. Other videos take apart a digital camera to see what's inside and even feature NBA star LeBron James asking and answering science questions.

Each video runs about 10 minutes and does a wonderful job explaining its topic. It's a perfect way for a student to have a concept explained in a different way to help them understand it, or for an adult to "fill in the gaps." One staffer here at TimePilot is planning to watch the calculus videos—he passed calculus in college, but understood very little of it.

Visit Khan Academy at http://www.khanacademy.org.


Issue 17: Fences

Fences screenshot

This free software helps you keep your Windows desktop icons organized.

You set up boxes (you can see five of them on the screenshot at right), give each box a title, and drag your icons into them.

The boxes are movable and sizable and keep your icons "corralled."

Learn more and download the software here.


Issue 16: Sketchup

This house was designed by an 8th grader using Sketchup.

SketchUp is a free, easy-to-use 3-D drawing program that turns you into an architect, designer or artist. It was popularized by Google and sold in early 2012 to a company called Trimble.

If you’re designing a house, a garden or a piece of furniture, for instance, you can draw it in Sketchup to see how it will look in three dimensions. There are online libraries of pre-made elements (windows, doors, etc.) that you can add to your design. If you're an artist, you can make things like this, by Australia-based artist Thomas Pavitte.

Click to visit the Sketchup web site.Children catch on quickly to Sketchup, but it’s so powerful that architects use it too. It’s also found a very unexpected fan base: children with autism.

One of our employees, a woodworker in his free time, uses the program to design the furniture he builds.

You can download Sketchup here.


Issue 15: Prezi

Prezi is a free presentation tool.

Do people fall asleep during your Powerpoint presentations? Even worse, do you fall asleep during your Powerpoint presentations?

Maybe you should try Prezi.

Prezi is a free online tool that helps you create animated presentations.

In Powerpoint, you move from slide to slide, with no real continuity. The best way to describe Prezi is to imagine scattering all your content on a giant whiteboard, then flying from topic to topic on the board, zooming in and out where necessary. You can use text, graphics, photos, even videos.

Want to see an example? Click the image at right. Click the arrow at the bottom of the Prezi screen to advance through the presentation.

Prezi is free for users who don’t mind having their presentations appear on the Prezi web site. If you want to keep your presentations private, the cost is $59 a year; for additional features, it’s $159 a year.

Need help creating your Prezi? Here’s a cheat sheet.


Issue 14: ELM 327 OBD2 Car Diagnostic Interface Code Scanner

The ELM 327 OBD2 scanner works with the Torque Lite Android app.

Did you ever get a warning light on your car’s dashboard and wonder, "What does that mean?"

You can find out with the Bluetooth ELM 327 OBD2 Car Diagnostic Interface Code Scanner. This little box plugs into the On Board Diagnostics (OBD) port in your car and gives you all kinds of information that once was available only at the dealer or repair shop.

It comes with software that displays the information in real time on a PC, or if you add the free Torque Lite app to your Android smartphone (available at your favorite Android app store), you don’t even need a computer. The data from your engine is transmitted via Bluetooth from the scanner to the smartphone.

These devices can cost hundreds of dollars; this one is $18.59 at Amazon.com. It reads the codes from your car’s computer to tell you things like:

  • Diagnostic trouble codes, both generic and manufacturer-specific, and their meanings.
  • Engine RPM
  • Coolant Temperature
  • Fuel System Status
  • Intake Manifold Pressure
  • Timing Advance
  • Intake Air Temperature
  • Air Flow Rate
  • Absolute Throttle Position

Issue 13: Utili-Key 6-in-1

Utili-Key 6-in-1

The Swiss+Tech Utili-Key 6-in-1 is a device that's just a little bigger than an iButton, but it contains six high-quality tools, fits on a keychain and weighs just half an ounce.

The tools are:

  • Flat Screwdriver
  • Phillips Screwdriver
  • Micro-Sized Screwdriver
  • Straight Blade Knife
  • Serrated Blade Knife
  • Bottle Opener

The Utili-Key 6-in-1 starts at $10.99 at the Swiss+Tech web site. (But check out their specials page—we just saw one there for $7.99!)


Issue 12: IngenuiTEA

IngenuiTEA

We’re mainly coffee drinkers here at TimePilot (we like PapaNicholas Coffee, roasted a few miles from our offices in Batavia), but occasionally we like a cup of tea.

Teabags are fine in a pinch, but there’s no need for them anymore with the IngenuiTEA, which is made by Adagio Teas. All you do is put the loose tea in the IngenuiTEA cup and fill it with hot water. Let it steep, then put the cup on top of your mug. A valve opens in the bottom of the cup, filtering the tea and filling your mug.

This is a new model—no paper filters needed. It’s simple to clean, dishwasher safe and BPA-free. A pretty ingenious design and fun to use. It’s $19 from the Adagio web site.


Issue 11: iGo Green Power Smart Wall

The iGo Green Power Smart Wall

The iGo Green Power Smart Wall is a surge protector with four outlets: two "smart" outlets and two regular "always-on" outlets.

This device's smart outlets cut power when it's not needed, saving you money, helping the environment and possibly extending the life of your rechargeable batteries. The outlets are ideal for items like cell phone or laptop chargers, which usually draw power even when your phone or laptop isn't attached.

When you attach your cell phone or laptop to be charged, the outlet wakes up and begins feeding power to the charger.

We've seen the iGo Green Power Smart Wall for as little as $9.99 (at Amazon.com.)

Note: If you use this product with TimePilot Vetro, use the "always-on" outlets—the clock requires a consistent power source.


Issue 10: Windows 7 Cheat Sheet

Windows 7 Cheat Sheet

Many of our customers are moving up to Windows 7, the latest operating system from Microsoft. It has all kinds of new features, but it's not particularly easy to find out how to use them.

Philadelphia programmer Chris Strosser, who also runs a web site called WebJawns.com, has created a downloadable Windows 7 cheat sheet listing many of its "hidden" features. It's a PDF document, so you'll need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view it. If you don't have Acrobat Reader, you can download it here.

If you use nothing else, make sure you try out the "Snap" and "Peek" features Strosser describes on the first page of the sheet.


Issue 9: Rust-Oleum Dry Erase Paint

Rust-Oleum Dry Erase Paint

The whiteboards here at TimePilot have gotten quite a workout over the years. In fact, they absorbed enough dry-erase ink that no amount of cleaning could make them white again.

So we decided to try a product we found at our local hardware store: Rust-Oleum Dry Erase Paint. The maker claims it will renew whiteboards as well as turn any drywall, Masonite, wood, cement or metal surface into a whiteboard. You could paint a wall with the stuff if you wanted to. We tried it over the weekend on one of our whiteboards, and it worked pretty well.

Like any painting project, the secret is in the preparation. If you don't prep the surface just as instructed, it won't work as well. Another secret with this paint is that it'll take at least four coats to get a good hard surface.


Issue 8: Royal DSS Pro Shipping Scale

Royal DSS Pro Shipping Scale

This is the heavy duty shipping scale that we use here at TimePilot, and we love it.

The Royal DSS Pro Shipping Scale has a wireless remote display that makes it easy to read. We have the base sitting on a shipping table and the display mounted on the wall at eye level.This way, the package doesn't cover the display when you're trying to read it.

Occasionally several of our health-conscious employees move the base to the floor and use the scale to check their own weight. Fortunately (for the scale and for us), no one comes close to the scale’s 400-pound capacity.

The remote display runs on three AA batteries and functions as a digital clock when the scale isn’t being used. The base runs off AC power (an AC adapter is included) or can run off four AA batteries.

This is not designed to be a postal scale: It’s not going to be accurate if you’re mailing a letter and can’t decide whether it needs one stamp or two. But if you’re shipping bulkier things, it might just be perfect.

We’ve seen it at Amazon.com for just over $60 and for a little less at Sam’s Club.

Note: Full disclosure: Royal is a timeclock partner with TimePilot, but we wouldn’t recommend the scale if we didn’t use it every day and truly like it.


Issue 7: Whitelines notebooks

A Whitelines notebook The difference between regular graph paper (left) and Whitelines graph paper (right) is obvious.

With school starting up soon (sorry, kids!), you might be thinking about notebooks. We've discovered a very interesting line of notebooks from a Swedish company called Whitelines. While most notebooks use white paper with blue lines, the paper in Whitelines' notebooks is a very light gray with white lines.

We've found that they're easier to write in and easier to read—the blue lines aren't as distracting—and they're perfect if you're sketching as well as writing. An added benefit is that if you make a copy or a scan of the paper, the gray background and white lines vanish, leaving only your work neatly arranged on the page. The notebooks are available with college-lined paper as well as with graph paper.

Here's an entertaining video showing the benefits: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1o5vlJ0ULs

You can get Whitelines notebooks at stationery stores, bookstores and at Amazon.com. The Whitelines web site is http://www.whitelines.se/.


Issue 6: Electric Rabbit Corkscrew

The Electric Rabbit Corkscrew

After a long, hard day, some of us here at TimePilot like to unwind with a glass of wine. Others like a glass of red for its heart-healthy qualities.

Either way, the toughest part is getting that darn cork out of the bottle.

But we've found a device that makes it easy. It's called the Electric Rabbit corkscrew. It's a cylinder with a battery-powered corkscrew inside. All you have to do is put the cylinder over the neck of the wine bottle and push a button. In a few seconds, the cork is out.

The Electric Rabbit is made by Metrokane. You can read about it here and see a video demo of it here.

The manufacturer's suggested retail price is $50, but we've seen it for as low as $45.


Issue 5: QR Codes

TimePilot QR Code

What’s that thing on the left? It looks like somebody spilled ink on my screen!

Don’t worry—it’s called a QR Code, and it’s the latest thing in marketing. You’ve probably seen them in magazines or at stores. If you’ve been in Chicago lately, there’s a billboard-sized one at Clark and Harrison Streets.

If you’ve got a smartphone—iPhone, Android or Windows—you can use them. An app on your phone uses the phone’s camera to scan the code, and your phone immediately displays a web site or a YouTube video. Companies use them to drive traffic to their web sites or to provide more product information.

For instance, a QR code on a package can direct the smartphone user to a YouTube video giving more details about the product. The billboard in Chicago offers a daily deal at one of the many restaurants in the neighborhood—one day it’s half-price shrimp tacos, another day it’s 57% off pizza and beer.

A QR Code is essentially a two-dimensional bar code, and because it scans horizontally and vertically, it can carry more than 200 times the amount of information a traditional bar code can carry. It also can be in color, unlike a regular bar code.

How do you get a QR code for your business? There are lots of web sites that will generate a QR code for you. One free one is here: http://www.qrstuff.com/

Need an app for your smartphone to read QR codes? Just search for “QR code” at your app store and you’ll find dozens of different ones. Here at TimePilot, we like NeoReader for the iPhone and Bar Code Scanner by ZXing Team for the Android.

(Try scanning the code that accompanies this story!)


Issue 4: Dropbox

Dropbox logo: Click to visit the Dropbox site

Do you ever find yourself e-mailing documents to yourself so you can work on them at home? Or maybe trying to send someone an e-mail containing a file that their e-mail system can’t handle? How about burning file after file to CD just so they’re backed up?

We’ve found a pretty cool free service that solves all these problems. It’s called Dropbox. Here’s how it works: You go to www.Dropbox.com, sign up with an e-mail address and password, and, optionally, install a small software program.

As long as you have an internet connection, anything you put in your Dropbox is immediately synchronized on Dropbox’s servers. Make a change to a file, and the new version is immediately sent to Dropbox.

But Dropbox can do a lot more than that.

Add your Dropbox account to your other computers and smart phones, and your files can be accessed on any of those devices. When you make a change to a file, the change is synchronized across all of your devices.

In addition, you can create a folder within your Dropbox, and share the contents of just that folder with another person anywhere in the world. Anything you put in that particular folder will be copied to the Dropbox servers, and also sent instantly to the other user’s shared folder in Dropbox.

Here’s one way this can be used: One of our employees had a son living in China, and when the son wanted to share pictures with his parents, he’d simply put them in his shared Dropbox folder. Within seconds, they were backed up and copies had arrived on his parents’ computer in the U.S.

We’re pretty excited about this technology, and TimePilot is in the early stages of using Dropbox to provide better support to its customers.


Issue 3: One2Flush

One2FlushWe're pretty environmentally conscious here at TimePilot, both because it's the right thing to do and because it helps reduce our operating costs. (You can learn about our efforts here.)

That's why we think the One2Flush Toilet Conversion Kit (right), a product sold by our neighbors at Marsh Products, is so cool. It replaces the mechanism in your toilet tank and can save the average family 30 gallons of water a day.

The secret is in its dual flush design: Push the handle one way for liquids or the other way for solids, and the chamber knows just how much water to use—and no more. For details, visit www.ecoMarsh.com.


Issue 2: Twist-a-Dose

Pretty much everyone here at TimePilot is a pet owner. One of our employees has a very finicky (and, he hastens to add, intelligent and good-looking) cat. The cat needs to take medication twice a day, but refuses to accept pills or liquids, no matter how well they’re hidden in food or treats.

After trying everything else, the owner’s vet prescribed the medicine in a “Twist-a-Dose” applicator. The medicine is “painted” into the inside of the cat’s ear with a device that looks like a felt-tip pen. Two twists of the pen dispense just the right dose.

It’s been a lifesaver. The cat doesn’t fight the medicine; she just curls up and tolerates the momentary “ear rub.” The “Twist-a-Dose” applicator can also be used on dogs and other household pets and with a variety of medicines. Check with your veterinarian for more information.


Issue 1: Google Cheatsheet

Google Cheatsheet

Here at TimePilot we use Google quite a bit. We use it for product searches, to keep up with our competitors and to advertise our products. But did you know Google can do math? Or that it can define words or convert weights and measures? (Quick: How many ounces are there in two pounds?*)

The people at Google have put together a cheatsheet with some of their most popular functions. You can download a copy here.

(*Answer: 32 ounces)

To see "Cool Stuff" from our most recent newsletters, click here.