Every once in a while, our employees come across “cool stuff.” We run one of our employees' discoveries in every TimePilot Times newsletter. To see "Cool Stuff" from our first 20 newsletters, click here.
To see all of our newsletters, click here.
Christmas gift for the family traveler? This is a map of the world with a coating over every country and U.S. state. Trace your travels by scratching off the coating when you visit a particular country or state. The coating scratches off with the edge of a coin.
Its $26 for the standard size (23.4" H x 32.5" W) and $40 for the large version (33" H x 46.8" W).
You may have seen the walls of yellow lockers appearing outside gas stations, shopping centers, grocery stores and even at colleges and universities. They're a new Amazon service: Amazon Locker.
Let's say you've ordered something from Amazon, but you're afraid it might get stolen from your front porch or apartment house vestibule after delivery. Just have the package delivered to a nearby Amazon Locker. Amazon will send you a code so you can open the locker and retrieve your package.
Or let's say you want to return an Amazon purchase. You can go through the hassle of returning it by mail or delivery service, but often an easier option is to drop it off at a nearby locker. When you get to the facility, just enter the code Amazon gives you when you set up your return online and a locker will pop open. Put the package in the locker, close the door and you're done. They're open 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, and there's no additional charge to use them.
It never hurts to have a little extra power.
The pocket-sized Weego Jump Starter Battery+ is a powerful battery that can jump-start your car, boat or motorcycle as well as recharge your smartphone, laptop or tablet. It's also got a built-in LED flashlight with strobe and SOS capabilities.
It's perfect for the car: the set comes with jumper cables, USB and phone connectors and eight popular PC-based laptop/device connectors.
Just throw it in the glove compartment and you'll be ready for emergencies—when stored it loses only 5% of its power per month.
The complete set is on sale for $99.
Let’s say you find a beautiful piece of furniture at an estate sale 15 miles from home. The furniture is too big to fit in your car, and you’d have a hard time lifting it by yourself anyway. What do you do?
Call Dolly. It’s the “Uber” of hauling. Dolly contractors—truck owners—will go get the furniture, haul it to your house and bring it inside for a low price. You set up the appointment and pay for it in Dolly’s smartphone app. They’ll also remove junk or bring items to a donation center, and even just provide two strong people to move furniture or appliances in your house.
Here’s how it worked for some friends of TimePilot: This couple lives in Chicago and ordered a chair from a furniture store across the city. Being city dwellers, they don’t own a car or truck, and they were reluctant to pay the store the $100 delivery fee it charges. They pulled up the Dolly app on their smartphone, and in minutes had reserved two men and a truck. The Dolly men picked up the chair at the furniture store and delivered it. The whole process took less than an hour and cost $50.
Dolly is available now in four cities—Chicago, Denver, San Diego and Seattle—and their surrounding suburbs, and has more coming soon.
When you go grocery shopping, do you ever have trouble carrying all of those plastic bags? Grocery Gripps make it easy. It's a heavy-duty nylon strap with two loops that lets you carry four, six or even eight bags easily with one hand.
Just run the strap through the bag handles and lift. You can even carry them over your shoulder, Santa Claus-style. They'll carry other awkward things like dry cleaning or even beach chairs, too.
Grocery Gripps come in five colors and are $19.99 each. (If you're a veteran you get a 30% discount!)
Adult coloring books have become very popular in the last few years, and here's one of the most creative and fun ones.
Yes, Querkles is a coloring book, but New Zealand artist Thomas Pavitte has taken 20 of the world's great masterpieces and turned them into color-by-numbers artworks. Pavitte's genius idea is that he has disguised each piece of artwork with a mass of circles, so that you won't know what picture you're working on until you're well into it.
Pictures have numbers between 1 and 5, along with blank circles. You are not given the colors to use, but choose your own five colors, with 1 being the darkest and 5 the lightest.
Not big on coloring? How about dot-to-dot? Pavitte has a series of beautiful, creative dot-to-dot books, too.
When you plug a USB cable into your computer, how often do you get it right side up the first time? If you're like us, the answer is a lot less than 50%. The MicFlip solves that problem. It's a six-foot USB cable with a standard USB plug on one end and a microUSB plug on the other. The genius is that they've engineered the plugs so that whichever way you plug it in, it works. No more reaching blindly behind your computer trying to flip the plug to get it into the USB port—it just works every time.
One of our tech support specialists found it and recommends it highly.
MicFlip USB Cable on Amazon: $19.99
If you've ever been to beach, you know one of the worst things is getting sand in your drink or on your food. Or you have an ice-cold can of whatever, and a minute after setting it down in the hot sand, it's warm.
Here's the solution—just in time for beach season: Sandstand.
It's a wooden tabletop platform attached to a post that keeps your drinks, food, sunglasses, etc., out of the sand.
Sandstand comes in walnut, hard maple or cherry. The top includes sunglass loops, beverage holders and a handle; on the underside are bottle openers, a threaded base for the post, and storage clips for the post when it's not being used.
It's easy to carry, simple to set up and does what it's supposed to do. Starts at $75.
So what's all this talk about virtual reality, anyway? If you have a smartphone—iPhone or Android—and $20, you can find out. Google has designed a cardboard virtual reality viewer that folds together. (For those of us of a certain age, it's a bit like a View-Master.)
You assemble the cardboard viewer, download a VR app to your smartphone and place the phone inside the viewer.
Looking through the lenses in the viewer, it's like you're really there. You can look left, right, up and down, and see things. There are games, documentaries (the New York Times has made a bunch of them) and music apps. You can stand on the stage while the White Stripes are playing, fly over New York City, ride a roller coaster, test drive a Volvo or play a great Star Wars game. Make sure you use your headphones—sound makes it seem even more real.
Filling freezer bags is a three-handed operation. For those of us without three hands, Jokari has a solution: the Hands-Free Baggy Rack Storage Bag Holder.
You clip the top of the bag to the holder, fill the bag, then unclip and seal. Simple.
A four-pack of holders is $18.20 at Amazon.com.
If you've got a smartphone, you probably have a map app. One of the coolest uses for the app is to check traffic when you're traveling. If you use Google Maps (the iPhone or Android app or the PC version) you can turn on traffic reports by tapping (or clicking) the menu icon in the top left corner of the screen and choosing "Traffic."
Now on your maps you'll see live reports: red where there's stopped traffic, yellow where it's slowed and icons indicating the cause: construction, accident, etc. We've found it to be amazingly accurate: Recently one of our employees was able to avoid a 5-mile highway backup in the middle of nowhere simply by looking at his phone. To turn off the traffic report, tap the menu icon again and tap "Traffic."
If you use Apple Maps, follow the instructions above to turn on traffic reports; the maps will appear a little different, but they're equally effective.
Did you ever drive off with your garage door open? Or after a half-hour wonder if you had closed the door? Chamberlain, a major garage door manufacturer, offers a kit that will allow you to see on your smartphone whether your garage door is open or closed. And you can close it or open it with a tap on your phone.
Many of their newer openers have this built in, but if yours doesn't, you'll need the kit. It's $93.74 at Amazon.
Microsoft blogger Eric Ligman is giving away millions of free eBooks on Microsoft programs. Among them are quick start guides for Microsoft Word 2013, Excel 2013, Outlook 2013 and Access 2013. There are tons of other free books, too: everything from Office programs shortcuts to an intro to Windows 10 to networking to programming for Windows and Windows Phones.
Just want the quick start guides? Here you go:
How about a quick intro to Windows 10? It's right here.
Your organization's web site is pretty important, right? Is it up and running right now? Or has it been down for the last half-hour without your knowledge?
DownNotifier.com is a simple, free tool that alerts you when your web site goes down. Here's how it works: Every 5 minutes, DownNotifier.com tries to access your site. If it can access the site, all's well; if not, it send you an email or text message notifying you. If your site is down, it keeps trying every 5 minutes; when it comes back up, it emails or texts you again. That's it: simple and unobtrusive. Signup is a breeze, and DownNotifier doesn't show up in your web site's hit totals.
There's also a premium version. For $14.95 per year, your site will be monitored every minute (instead of every 5) and you get more detail in your reports.
We've used it for years and like it very much.
Do you have a place that needs a little more light? Or maybe a great Christmas decoration? The Supernight LED strip might be the answer. It’s a 16-foot roll of lights that can be mounted anywhere. You just unroll the strip, cut it to size, and mount it with the adhesive strip on the back.
The waterproof LEDs have a lifespan of more than 50,000 hours, low power consumption and little heat generation. With the included wireless remote control, you can have the lights display 16 colors, dim, flash or fade. You can also connect up to 3 16-foot rolls together.
The kit includes a 16.4-foot strip holding 300 LEDs, remote control, power supply, and infrared control box.
Ever break a fingernail trying to get keys onto or off your key ring? With the FreeKey System, you press the FreeKey logo on the ring and the end lifts up for easy access. Perfect for iButtons, too!
The FreeKey System was invented by a Swedish design firm that licensed the design to U.S. company, which makes it here. It's $6.49 for the main ring and three mini rings, or $4.49 for just the main ring.
Feeling a little dried out? The air can get pretty dry in winter months, and adding humidity can make you more comfortable. But it's hard to do in an office or if you're traveling.
The Air-O-Swiss Travel Ultrasonic Humidifier uses regular water bottles as its reservoir and makes it easy to add humidity to your environment.
When you bake a cake, it's hard to taste-test it without ruining it. (Yes, you can hide a missing chunk with frosting, but someone always finds out!)
Nibble solves that problem. When you bake a cake with the Nibble pan, put a little batter into the cup on the side of the pan. Your sample will be ready in about 12 minutes.
Taste-test the sample and you can decide to give the cake as a gift, keep it for yourself, dump it in the trash or, if it's really good, send it to us at TimePilot.
The Biolite Camp Stove has two interesting features:
It might also be a nice thing to have if you lose power frequently or in the event of a natural disaster.
The Biolite Camp Stove is $129.95 at the Biolite web site.
The Kitchen Safe is a cookie jar-like container with a time-lock lid. You fill the container with cookies or any other "forbidden" product, put on the lid and set the timer. You can't get to the contents until the time runs out.
The timer can run from 1 minute to 10 days. The device is available with a clear container (as seen at right) or white container.
Users have found it has helped them lose weight, reduce smoking, take medicine on time, cut spending and remove "distractions" (note the video game controller and cell phone in the photo!). Others have put a gift in the white version of the container and set the timer; the recipient can't see the gift or get it until the time runs out.
This is one of those "why-didn't-I-think-of-that?" products.
Don't you hate it when you grab your water bottle, pop the top and find mold growing at the bottom? The people at Clean Bottle have solved that problem. They've created a line of water bottles with screw-off bottoms so you can clean them thoroughly.
The bottles come in plastic, metal and glass, round and square, and are guaranteed for life. They start at $9.95.
This isn't the most "techy" of products, but it's one of those "slap-to-the-forehead, why-didn't-I-think-of-that" things.
Let's say you're at the local fast-foot restaurant, picking up lunch for you and a co-worker. You've got two drinks, two bags and there aren't any cardboard drink carriers. Then you see the solution. It's a simple plastic bag with a handle, divided into two slots, each just the right size to hold up to a 32-oz. cup securely.
We spotted a package of them attached to the side of a fast food restaurant's soft drink station.
They're recyclable and reusable.
If your children use traditional toothbrushes, they probably seldom brush for the full 2 minutes that dentists recommend. The Bobble Brush Timer, a weighted toothbrush stand with integrated timer, makes it fun.
The $9.99 device comes in three colors and holds a toothbrush upright until it’s needed. When the child starts brushing, they turn the base to start the 2-minute timer. When the bell rings, it’s time to stop. Tip: Put a dot at the 1-minute mark on the timer to prompt your child to switch from brushing their upper teeth to brushing their lower teeth.
RightPSI is an easy and inexpensive way to check the air pressure in your car, truck, motorcycle or bicycle tires.
It screws on to your tire, replacing the valve cap, and changes color if the tire runs low on air or is overinflated. When you’re inflating your tires, you pump right through the RightPSI’s cap, so the device can tell you when you have exactly the right pressure.
The maker of the RightPSI is raising money to produce the product—which has won the Popular Mechanics Editor's Choice Award for Outstanding Achievement in New Product Design and Innovation—on Kickstarter.
There is a variety of choices: two for $15, four for $25, etc. Check it out at Kickstarter.
Ever wanted to learn Spanish? How about French or Italian? Or maybe you speak French or Spanish and want to improve your English?
Duolingo is the place for you. It’s a free service that turns the tedious process of learning a language into to a fun game. You can use it on their web site, www.Duolingo.com, or download their iPhone or Android app.
It consists of a series of short lessons. As you progress through a lesson, you either add or lose “skill points.” One study found that in 34 hours on Duolingo you can learn as much as in a 130-hour college semester.
It’s a great example of the intersection of two trends in technology: Gamification and Crowdsourcing.
Gamification is the act of turning what might be a tedious task into a game by awarding points or badges.
Crowdsourcing is using a group of people, each of whom does a small amount of the work, to complete a large task, instead of one person spending lots of time.
In Duolingo’s case, the examples used in the lessons are actual text from web sites, and Duolingo has agreed to supply the text translated by their users to the web sites.
Check it out at http://www.duolingo.com.
This one isn't quite new, but this app is a must-have for those of us receiving a smartphone or tablet for the holidays.
Did you ever hear a song—on TV, in a store or on the radio—and want to know its name and performer?
Shazam can tell you. When you start the free app, it listens to the music through your phone's or tablet's microphone. After a few seconds, it identifies the song and will also tell you the artist and displays the lyrics. It even gives you the opportunity to immediately buy the song.
Shazam is available for virtually any smartphone or tablet. Windows Phone users have a built-in alternative: Bing Audio.
Your smartphone can do a lot more than make phone calls. You can download audio books and listen while exercising, driving or even working.
Audible.com is a great place to get those books. You choose from thousands of books available, download your choices to your phone and start listening. You can buy individual books or a membership plan where you pay monthly. Their $14.95 monthly plan gives you one book a month and offers the first month free. You can cancel at any time.
One of our employees has been a member for a dozen years. He downloads mysteries and doesn’t allow himself to listen to the book unless he’s exercising—that way he’s much more motivated to get a workout, and the mysteries keep him occupied.
Audible was purchased in 2008 by Amazon.com, which has added a few new wrinkles:
Sitting at your desk for more than three hours a day will cut your life expectancy, according to experts. The solution: a standing desk.
You can buy specially-made standing desks for hundreds of dollars, or you can build your own solution (shown at right) that rests atop your current desk for just $22 in parts from Ikea. The parts are available from Ikea's web site as well as at Ikea stores.
The designer calls it the "Standesk 2200." It's simply an end table with two brackets and a shelf attached to it. Here's a link to the instructions.
Want something a little more sophisticated (and expensive)? Try these from Staand Up Desk.
Anyone who does small repairs around the house knows that choosing the right socket from a 50-piece socket set often takes longer than making the repair itself. The Gator Grip eliminates the need to choose exactly the right size.
Just push it on and start turning. It fits virtually anything that isn’t round: hex nuts and bolts from ¼-inch to 3/5 inch, eyebolts up to 2 inches, wing nuts, square nuts, broken nuts, hooks, etc.
Inside the socket are 54 spring-loaded rods. When you push the socket over a nut, some of the rods retract and the others surround the nut, giving you a good grip.
The Gator Grip comes in several versions: You can buy just the socket or the socket, a ratchet and power driver adapter (so it can be used on a power drill).
This might be just the thing for a great Father’s Day gift!
Gator Grip Universal Sockets: http://www.endeavorproducts.com
This isn’t that new, but it’s certainly cool. Google AdWords is an advertising tool that lets the little guy compete with the big guys. You’ve probably seen the ads that appear across the top of the screen and down the right side when you do a search in Google.
Those are placed by Google’s AdWords system. It’s called pay-per-click advertising. The benefit over traditional advertising is that you only pay when someone clicks on your ad. We use it and it has been very effective.
You write the ad—just a few lines of text with a link to your web site. Then you give Google a list of keywords where you want your ad to appear. For instance, an ice cream stand might want to have its ad appear when someone does a search for “ice cream sundae” and for “ice cream cone.” Then you tell Google how much you’ll pay when someone clicks your ad and your maximum monthly budget.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “My ice cream stand is in Andover, Mass.—why would I want to advertise all across the world?” Good question: You don’t have to. You can have Google target your ads only to people within a city, a region, a country or even a specific distance from your business.
You can cancel at any time, or even turn off your ad for a few days if you want. Google gives you lots of help to get started. Here’s a link: http://www.google.com/adwords/index.html.
Are you a new Windows 8 user? Do you miss the old “Start” button from Windows 7, XP and earlier? Microsoft may have taken it away in Windows 8, but it’s not hard to get it back.
Pokki is a free download that restores a “Start” button to your Windows 8 computer’s desktop. Click the button and, just like the old days, you can see your programs or shut down your computer.
Here at TimePilot most of us are using Windows 8, and several of us have installed Pokki and like it very much.
If you miss the old “Start” button, give Pokki a try. You can always uninstall it if you don’t like it.
Pokki (Windows 8 add-on): https://www.pokki.com/windows-8-start-menu.
Do you use Microsoft Excel? How often do you click your mouse when you use it? Let’s say you want to enter $5.42 into a cell. The typical way to handle it is to click the cell to choose it, enter 5.42, then click away to another cell, click the 5.42 cell again, right-click the cell, click “Format cells,” then click “Currency,” then click “OK.” By our count, that seven clicks.
There’s gotta be a better way, right? There is: Click the cell to choose it, enter 5.42, then click away to another cell, click the 5.42 cell again , then hold down the “Shift” and the “Control” keys on your keyboard at the same time and press the “$” key. Three clicks and you’re done.
Microsoft has written up a cheat sheet with lots more of these shortcuts. No one will use all of them (or even half!), but you might find exactly the shortcut to save you some time. It’s available here.
If you have trouble waking up in the morning—and you have an Android phone—this may be the app for you.
This app uses sleep cycle science to wake you up when you’re ready—not just at a specified time. According to the developer, near the end of our night’s sleep, we alternate 30-minute periods of deep sleep and 30-minute periods of light sleep. If you’re awakened by a traditional alarm during a deep sleep cycle, you won’t feel particularly rested. But if you’re awakened during a light sleep cycle—even if it’s a half-hour earlier—you’ll feel better.
Let’s say you set your Gentle Alarm for a 7 a.m. wakeup. At 6:30 a.m., the App will play a fairly quiet alarm. If you’re in a light sleep cycle, you’ll wake up a half-hour early, but feel refreshed. If you’re in a deep sleep cycle, you’ll sleep right through the quiet alarm and be awakened by a louder alarm at 7 a.m. when you’re presumably in a light sleep cycle.
One of our employees has tried it and says it worked for him. The app costs $2.78 at the developer’s web site. Sorry, iPhone, Windows Phone and Blackberry users—no version for us yet.
Did you get a computer, smartphone or tablet for Christmas? If you did, and you’re resolving to get more productive and organize your life, the web site Lifehacker.com has the answer.
The site has a article, “Hack your Life in One Day: A Beginner’s Guide to Enhanced Productivity," that will get you started. The story describes eight free programs and/or apps and includes tips on setting them up and using them. LifeHacker says you can get them all downloaded, installed and set up in a total of six hours. Of course, you can do them one at a time, or skip a few and try a few.
Their all-star apps are:
To see "Cool Stuff" from our first 20 newsletters, click here.