Cool Tools

10) Cool Tools: The Best Solution for RoboCalling

It’s a great concept. You call one number and record a brief prayer request or other comment, then, automatically, the service robo-dials (or texts) dozens or hundreds of others. The one we’ve been recommending is

These services will run you about $20/month for approximately 100 participants. You’ll have something like 45 seconds to briefly give your quick prayer request. But the great part is — you get unlimited calling (and, as a bonus, unlimited emailing) to your group. But there are others. What’s your favorite?

12) Cool Tools: The Best Online Blog Readers?

This is a class of services that, frankly, I haven’t ever tried. However, a regular Brigada contributor from North Africa has strongly recommended Google Reader

as one of the best in this class. Do you agree or disagree? He explained that this was effectively a free blogging tool. He added that there was also a free tool for commenting on regular web pages that don’t have RSS feeds. Sounds great for those who do reading like this regularly. Do you use it? … or something similar? What’s the best solution in your opinion?

13) Cool Tools: The Best Online Calendar Solution

Google Calendar is a free, powerful calendaring application. You can maintain multiple calendars for work, for home appointments, for project itineraries, and more. You can make hour calendars public or private, then grant read-only access or full-on “edit” capabilities to any number of friends or groups. You can allow them to see details, or merely vanilla “blocks” of committed time. And, the sync’ing capability has become a virtual switchboard for other calendars throughout multiple platforms, including smartphones, slates, personal computers, and across multiple operating systems. And — it’s all free!

But maybe you have a different/better solution? What do you prefer?

3) Cool Tools: The Right Bible

True “Cool Tools” are not all about dazzle and glitz. A true Cool Tool could be as simple as finding the best Bible for you, personally, to carry. And so, on that cue, we proceed to our first Cool Tool item. When I travel, I carry the thinnest Bible I can find that has print that is easily readable for my own eyes, while teaching in a dark environment. In other words, there are thinner Bibles, but my eyes (which are 55 years old) do require just a TAD “beefier” print than they did when I was 25 (even with the multi-focal contacts that I wear). Still, my slightly-stepped-up-font Old and New Testament is no more than 1 inch thick. Sure, I have a Bible on my phone and the Bible is never far away when there’s internet. But I still believe it’s important to have a printed Bible too. For one thing, what if the power goes out for an entire day and I exhaust the batteries on both my laptop and phone? But beyond that, I’m convinced that in some contexts, it still just looks too… WEIRD to teach using a phone or laptop Bible. (After all, people might think I’m up there texting or emailing someone.) Do you disagree? If so, please say so in the comments below.

But what about the other times, when you CAN read the Bible on your phone or tablet? Which Bible program do you like most as your iPhone, iPad or Android device? Zondervan is currently running a special: They’ll give you the NIV version for free — but only until January 20th. Search the app store for “Bible Gateway.” (Be careful, because a non-Zondervan, non-Bible Gateway scoundrel or two have conspired to confuse you. Make sure you see Zondervan’s logo.) Free. So if price is the primary factor, I don’t think the Bible Gateway app can be beaten. But if you have a few dollars from your Christmas stocking, maybe there’s a better app out there “for pay.” I’ve been a long-time big fan of the Bible+ app from Olive Tree. What’s your own favorite?

If you’re looking for an app for your PC, many have steered me toward

What’s your own favorite?

4) Cool Tool: The Best Journal, Notes, or “Grass-catcher” app

I have yet to meet anyone who, upon having given Evernote a fair try, isn’t impressed. It’s fast, it’s synchronized (with every device you own), the notes are always available off-line, and it’s full-featured. Basically, think of it as a funnel into which you can throw all your ideas, goals, things to remember, notes, and everything else. On the other side, you can retrieve everything. It has been said that the spreadsheet application virtually CREATED the market single-handedly for the personal computer. Why? Because paper spreadsheets were made SO obsolete by computerized versions.

To me, Evernote is another one of those apps.

Having said that, I still suggest we carry a thin notebook & a pen, and write everything down.  We all need to get in the habit of making diligent and accurate notes. The notebook has to be thin enough to stick in your shirt pocket or hip pocket, so you always have it with you. Do a section for finances. Write down every expense, make note of every currency exchange, including the commission and the exchange rate. Do another section for language learning. Jot down words you want to learn to say, words you can’t quite understand, whole text phrases you want to memorize, etc. Depending on the stage of your work, you might want other sections for interviews & cultural lessons, another for prayer requests & praises & devotional thoughts, another section for contacts & addresses & people with whom you’d like to follow up. Most of all, write down the ideas you want to share with folks back home. I know we can take notes on our digital devices, but sometimes, paper still wins.

5) Cool Tools: Best Camera for Travel

I was hauled into the back of a swat truck once in Uruguay because, unbeknownst to me, policemen were making a drug bust in the market I was photographing. I think they concluded I was working for some magazine or something because the camera I was using had one of those long telephoto lenses on the front. It was too high profile. My suggestion is – carry a camera that’s comfortable and practical for you, but beware of equipment that raises your profile unnecessarily. After years using Canon “G-series,” I’ve recently ventured into the Nikon family, partly because our Creative Arts Department at Team Expansion had gone that direction and I wanted my RAW photos to be compatible with theirs. But I had campaigned for some time that G-series cameras were lagging behind on merging high-def video features (merging a camcorder with a still-shot camera). The Nikon P-7700 finally seems to hit that sweet spot. High-def 1080 video WITH a mic jack into which we can plug a wired or a remote lavalier mic (essential to bump up the audio quality for videos). Like the Canon G-series (that probably inspired it), it’s one of those unique cameras that has essentially all the settings of a digital SLR, without the look of one; in fact, it carries reasonably well in my jacket or vest pocket, completely out of sight. But the secret is to find something that works well for YOU. Read reviews online. When you notice that a friend or co-worker is producing great results, ask her what she uses, then see if that would work for you. And once you find something you like, stick with it — and *use* it. Pick up a little tripod to stick in your backpack or vest pocket. It’s the only way you’ll get shots with *you* in them (using the self-timer). My carry tripod is so light, I barely know it’s in one of my right vest pockets. It’s probably just 6″ long, but it’s generally all I need to capture a shot of a luncheon meeting or a time-exposure of a church building at night. And with the P7700, the on-board flash finally gets some brightness (meaning that if you positively HAVE to use flash and you don’t have a powerful flash with you), you can depend on the on-camera flash to give you some quality light. I’m carrying (and have used a LOT) one of the Speedlite hot-shoe mounted electronic flash units — and it truly lights up the entire room (and even a small church auditorium, even if the power is off; I have photographic proof). If you decide to bite the bullet and carry a powerful flash like I did, I suggest you get one with a head that you can pivot upwards to “bounce” the flash off the ceiling so it illuminates the entire room. That’s the way to get a really pleasing picture at night without all the glare in your subject’s eyes. The Nikon Speedlite series meters through the lense of the camera with a small test flash first, allowing for a perfect exposure every time. Outstanding units.

6) Cool Tools: Travel Vest

I admit: I was always just a tad embarrassed to wear a photographer’s vest, even though it was extremely handy, just because it made me look like a gadget freak. With the development of the new slender profile “ScotteVest,” however, most of that image problem has gone away.

The ScotteVest’s pockets are all but invisible — and tech-enabled. It was recommended to me by a great friend and, I’ll have to admit, he was spot-on. They become a walking, incognito extra carry-on. My camera fits in one pocket, my flash or water bottle in another, and I still have PLENTY of space for a lightweight mini-tripod, a small flashlight, hand sanitizer, passport (in a protected, waterproof pocket), hand sanitizer, and virtually everything else you wish you had on the trail or village visit. I suggest you stick to khaki. The black vests seem a bit too paramilitary-looking.

7) Cool Tools: 8′ Brown Extension Cord

File the widened ‘polarization tip’ off the one prong of the plug so it’ll plug into the 220 V. British (round prong) tip adaptor. Use the brown extension cord not only to bring the electric closer to you (in rooms that only have 1 plug for the whole room), but also to multiply the plug so you can charge your a) laptop, b) PDA, c) digital camera all from the same cord. Many rooms will have only one plug. You won’t want to have to decide which unit to charge. If you’re lucky enough to be able to charge all your devices through USB ports (reducing the number of AC outlets you need), you’ll still be glad you have it for the times there are multiple group members who need power. USB-type charging is a great feature, whenever you can use it. Just get all this stuff sorted out BEFORE you depart so you can utilize your trip-time for people instead of devices.

8) Cool Tools: Back up Your Work

Sooner or later, you’ll unintentionally overwrite your work, or worse yet, your equipment will fail or be stolen. Online back-up software now makes this nearly brainless. There are several providers. If you work in sensitive fields, look for one that offers end-to-end encryption, meaning that the staff people at the server farm can’t even read your data. SpiderOak is a great example, although I admit that they like to sell you more space by not helping you configure your backup to overwrite previous backup versions. Oops. I still use it because of their commitment to working data-blind as your vendor. But another option is to carry an inexpensive and portable external hard drive or flash drive. I currently carry a 1-terabyte drive (huge by any standard) that I think I picked up for $100. It’s about the size of a small smart-phone. (We live in an amazing age, eh? My first portable computer was a KayPro II, roughly the size of a large suitcase! It had NO hard drive and the “floppy disks” each stored about as much memory as one small Facebook picture. Yikes.) Again, make sure you sort this out before your trip and practice using it. Several vendors now offer high-speed SD cards (which are about the size of a small coin!) that can store as much as 128Gig without any moving parts. USB sticks offer that much and more, if you have a USB port on your device (all of them should!).

9) Cool Tools: World Phones

Get a phone with a SIM card (GSM chip). [Note that “GSM” does not translate into GPS. We’re not talking about Global Positioning System here. GSM stands for “Global System for Mobile” Communications — or “SIM” card (“SIM” stands for “Subscriber Identity Module.”)] When you land, you’ll instantly have  access to emergency service (the local equivalent to “911”), even with your USA-based chip. But prior to your departure, find a carrier in your destination land that sells “pay as you go” or “top up” or “non-subscriber service” or “PrePaid” GSM chips or SIM cards. These are tons better than the “roaming chips” that we previously recommended. On this trip to Haiti, I paid $4 for the chip and bought a ton of minutes (with lots of text-messages too) for $15 more. Calls to the USA were 10 cents/minute. This contrasts radically with USA-based-cell-carrier plans, which typically make you pay at least three times that much. (On one recent trip, between calls and emails, one group member managed to rack up $2000 on his smartphone in just one week. So if you’re going to try to use your existing homeland-based plan, please call customer service before you leave your homeland so you know exactly what you’re going to spend. In my experience, buying a local sim card will always be the best route. What’s more, it gives you a local number so local contacts can easily call you about schedule changes.

10) Cool Tools: Secure In Your Email

If you’re using Gmail or the equivalent (seems like almost everyone has switched), you’re probably good to go. Many vendors (like Gmail) are fairly secure now, if you’re logging on to their server (and you trust their staff). Look for the “padlock” or “https” address in your browser’s URL web address box. We previously recommended Hushmail — and it’s still a great option, but we have to admit, Hushmail is looking a bit old-fashioned these days compared to Gmail. And since Gmail offers 10 gig of secure online storage for free — remind me again why we’re paying for Hushmail? :-)

For my own purposes, I refuse to switch to a web-based email solution like Gmail because I want to be able to even when I can’t find a source for Internet. (As I write this item on the road in Haiti, internet is nowhere to be found. Using Gmail or another web-based solution, I’d be dead in the water.) So I still use an email client like Outlook, queue my messages, then send them later when I’m near Internet. I realize I’m probably in the minority these days, but for my life, it still makes sense. If yours is similar, make sure you’re logging on to a secure email server. Am I wrong, or can I assume that all IMAP servers are typically “https” secure? Not all POP3 servers are. Check yours and take the necessary action. Or surround your entire computer with a secure “wall” by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). StrongVPN


are both great solutions. StrongVPN seems to have better customer service. Not only will a VPN keep prying eyes from seeing your internet (as it leaves your computer all the way to your VPN-provider’s server), but it will also likewise secure your web-browsing as well. Find out where your VPN is based (for example, Sweden or Vancouver). If a secure route out of your sensitive field is all you need to “get into the clear,” then you’re golden. If you need end-to-end encryption with your home or office, look for a tech that can hook you up with a home-brewed VPN. Be prepared to manage the extra technical needs. As with everything else, sort all this out before you board the plane.

14) The BackPage: Help Update “Cool Tools for Travelers”

Cool Tools

Cool Tools

Have you ever noticed how Wikipedia succeeds? They have a ton of volunteers who edit pages, that’s how. You could help a great deal with a similar situation. Every year, we assemble a list of “Cool Tools for Travelers — and those who love them.” Find it at…

Please read the Cool Tools, then help us round out the list so that it includes YOUR favorites. You can also comment on the ones we supply, giving alternatives and options. Together, let’s make it a great list.

Thanks for any help you can give!


8) Use TripCase to Bring Order to your Travel Chaos

For years, I’ve longed for a way to make a timeline/itinerary for trips with complicated, multi-city flights. Who knew that I’d finally find it on my phone. Try it. You can forward itineraries to your account and TripCase automatically sorts out the flights, dates, times, and destinations. You can add events manually, too, and share your itinerary with friends (like your wife or co-workers from your org). Learn more at…

Or find it in the Apple AppStore.

1) Has it Really Been 3 Years Since we Featured Cool Tools? —

Then it’s time to update our list. Without a doubt, some of Brigada’s most requested back-issues include those which have featured “Cool Tools for Travel.” So today, we feature the 2010 version, with the humble request that you help us improve it. With the growth of the web, it’s going to be virtually impossible to list all the great Cool Tools in one edition of Brigada, but let’s at least get the list started. Here are a few dozen Cool Tools, all listed here on one page:


Please use the Comment box below the item to add or detract from any of the items mentioned. Remember, this file is the 2010 version, so some of this stuff is two years old and we NEED to update it. Please use the Comments instead of emailing me directly so, in this way, your input will be available IMMEDIATELY. We recommend you mention only one URL in each comment because our spammer filter won’t feature items that look like spam. Thanks for your understanding.

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