One Useful Thing: Smallpdf 📄

Edit, convert and sign PDFs for free.

One Useful Thing is a weekly newsletter of well-designed and helpful things.

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There are many online PDF editors out there. For my needs, Smallpdf is the best designed and easiest to use of the bunch.

Smallpdf organizes popular PDF editing tasks into a simple grid that makes it easier to navigate than other online PDF editors. No hidden menus or confusing icons. No need to login. Click what you want to do and get to work.

You can choose from nineteen common editing tasks. Convert your PDF to Word, PowerPoint and Excel (or vice versa). Delete one or more pages. Or eSign a document. Smallpdf covers the most common edits and then some.

Here I’ve selected ‘Edit PDF’.

After uploading the PDF I want to edit I click ‘DRAW’ to highlight a sentence.

Smallpdf lets me select the color and thickness of the line. I draw the highlight and hit ‘DONE’.

Smallpdf takes me back to the ‘EDIT’ menu to continue with other options, if I want.

I select “Finish” and download my PDF. It’s that easy.

You can do most PDF editing tasks with the software that comes with your desktop or laptop computer. But if you’re like me, you’ll spend more time Googling how to do it than the task actually takes.

Smallpdf’s easy learning curve lets you do whatever you need to do, no Googling required.

You can edit up to three PDFs each month for free. More than enough for most people.

The pro version of Smallpdf is $12 US a month for unlimited PDFs and advanced features.


Keith Monaghan writes the One Useful Thing newsletter and is a researcher who works with creative teams on projects for companies like Nike, The CW Network and Upworthy. Just reply to this email to get in touch or follow him on Twitter @keithmonaghan


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🎁 One Useful Gift: Hori-Hori Weeding & Digging Knife

A special holiday issue of One Useful Thing.

One Useful Thing is a weekly newsletter of well-designed and helpful things.

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A Japanese Hori-Hori, or soil knife, is a great gift for the gardener in your life. It’s also a good gift for those of us who grudgingly do yard work.

The Nisaku Hori-Hori has a 7 1/4” stainless steel blade that is concave, making it ideal for digging and prying. The edges, one smooth and one serrated, are sharp for cutting and sawing.

This thing is fun to use. I enjoy strolling around the garden hunting newly sprouted weeds, coffee (or wine) in hand. I poke the Hori-Hori into the soil near the weed and tilt it back. The weed pops right out.

This fall I planted one hundred tulip bulbs around our yard. The Nisaku Hori-Hori’s inch markings made it easy to plant them at the right depth. With a few jabs into the soil, I was able to make larger holes for groups of bulbs.

A Hori-Hori is useful for much more than weeding. It is perfect for digging small holes, cutting small branches, removing plants, and splitting perennials. I’ve even used it as a makeshift hand axe for chopping tough roots.

I have the $22 US stainless steel model and it’s held up well. Nisaku also has a hardened HRC58 steel option for about twice the price.

See It On Amazon


Keith Monaghan writes the One Useful Thing newsletter and is a researcher who works with creative teams on projects for companies like Nike, The CW Network and Upworthy. Just reply to this email to get in touch or follow him on Twitter @keithmonaghan


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One Useful Thing: Libby 📘🎧

A free app for borrowing library ebooks and audiobooks.

One Useful Thing is a weekly newsletter of well-designed and helpful things.

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Free library books are good. A free app to read and listen to them with is even better. Good news: you get all of that with Libby.

With Libby you can borrow thousands of ebooks and audiobooks from your local library and its partner libraries.

OverDrive, the developer of Libby, is the digital distributor for over 43,000 libraries worldwide. There’s a pretty good chance your library is one of them.

Libby also has a wonderful ebook reader that’s as good or better than others I’ve used. The reader has all of the features you’d expect: white, sepia and dark page options, different fonts, reading timeline, full screen mode and more.

The audiobook player is beautiful, taking on the colors of your book’s cover. It’s a little thing, but I like it. The player has a sleep timer, listening speed options, bookmarking and an easy to use timeline that lets you drag your place in an audiobook forward and backward.

For my reading habits, Libby is easier to use than other reading and audiobook apps. I can’t tell you why, exactly. But the little things add up to a better experience for me.

Libby has all the features you’d expect in a world-class book app.

  • Sample any book with a tap — nothing to download or delete.

  • Download books and audiobooks for offline reading, or stream them to save space.

  • All your loans and holds are on a single shelf.

  • Positions, bookmarks, and notes sync across your devices.

Libby can send your library books to the Kindle app with a few taps, if you prefer reading with it.

You can even try Libby before downloading it on the Libby website. Click the “Try” button on the image of the phone.

Download the Libby app for iOS and Android

iOS App Store

Google Play

What reading app do you recommend?


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Keith Monaghan writes the One Useful Thing newsletter and is a researcher who works with creative teams on projects for companies like Nike, The CW Network and Upworthy. Just reply to this email to get in touch or follow him on Twitter @keithmonaghan

🎁 One Useful Gift: Rechargeable Warm LED Book Light

A special holiday issue of One Useful Thing.

One Useful Thing is a weekly newsletter of well-designed and helpful things.

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What’s so great about this reading light? Three things: warm light, a solid build, and it’s rechargeable. That's one less gift that needs batteries this holiday season.

Let’s start with the warm LED light. The LuminoLite lights up two full pages of any size book with ease. The quality of the light itself is reminiscent of an old school incandescent bulb. (That’s about 3000K to the 2800K of an incandescent bulb, for the nerds.)

I’ve been using mine to read the rather hefty print edition of The Noma Guide to Fermentation (speaking of nerds). The warm LED light is an absolute pleasure to read by.

The flexible neck is easy to adjust and doesn’t wobble when you shift position while reading. The clamp, too, stays put on your book without the need for constant adjusting. And the LuminoLite is super lightweight at only 2.15 ounces.

The power button—a flush panel, really—is satisfying to press. Sometimes I change between the three brightness levels just to hear the click. It feels durable.

The LuminoLite will last for 60 hours of reading on a single charge at the lowest brightness setting, according to the manufacturer. Mine hasn’t needed recharging after two months of pretty solid use on medium brightness. I’m inclined to believe them.

If you need a holiday gift for a reader who hops between print books and ebooks with abandon, at $12.99 US the LuminoLite is a fine choice.

See It On Amazon


Keith Monaghan writes the One Useful Thing newsletter and is a researcher who works with creative teams on projects for companies like Nike, The CW Network and Upworthy. Just reply to this email to get in touch or follow him on Twitter @keithmonaghan


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One Useful Thing: The Listener🦉

Weekly recommendations of outstanding podcast episodes.

One Useful Thing is a weekly newsletter of well-designed and helpful things.

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I listen to podcasts when I’m doing a task like washing the dishes or running errands. The problem: there are just too darn many podcasts to choose from. So I’ve turned to a weekly newsletter for help. It’s called The Listener.

Each week, Caroline Crampton sends outstanding podcast episode selections covering a wide range of topics.

For example, a recent issue of The Listener featured a podcast episode about the fast-spreading epidemic of Lyme disease in America. It felt like listening to a real-life medical mystery. It is gripping.

Each issue of The Listener newsletter includes a wonderfully diverse selection of episodes, including this one from a car podcast: “Hold Your ‘Hearses!’: A Chat with an Undertaker”

Crampton:

“The guest here is an undertaker, and he shares his experiences of driving a hearse: “It’s just an extra long car that’s kind of hard to see out of,” apparently. Those who enjoy morbid trivia will like some of the hair-raising mishaps related towards the end of the episode”.

It’s both historically and darkly fascinating, if that’s your thing.

In another issue Crampton describes “Salad Is So Much More Than You Think” from the Bon Appétit podcast thusly:

“According to the chefs in conversation here, dressed bowls of leafy greens with toppings are “having a moment” as food and restaurant trends respond to the global wellness obsession. Yet, they argue, there’s no need for a salad to be a chore to eat — indeed, it should be a delightful meal in itself. They share practical tips for salad spinning, the correct ratio of fat and acid for the perfect dressing, and the precise toasting time for different varieties of nut to achieve the optimum crunchy topping

I learned a few things listening to this episode and it made me hungry. That’s a delicious win in my kitchen.

Lastly, a personal favorite from The Listener about the weird cultural airport thing we have here in the Pacific Northwest, The PDX Carpet Love Story. I live in Portland and, after listening, I still don’t understand why we do this. But it’s interesting!

I’m lucky if I get through one hour long podcast in a week, so I’ve stuck with the free version of The Listener newsletter, which arrives on Fridays with three unique episode recommendations.

But if you’re like my wife, who consumes several audiobooks a week (madness!), the paid version will get you three issues of The Listener each week, plus even more subscriber-only posts. By my count that’s nine hand-picked podcast episodes every week for your listening pleasure.

You can browse free issues to get a feel for The Listener’s recommendation style.


Previously from One Useful Thing: IFTTT: Make your apps and devices work together in new ways.


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Keith Monaghan writes the One Useful Thing newsletter and is a researcher who works with creative teams on projects for companies like Nike, The CW Network and Upworthy. Just reply to this email to get in touch or follow him on Twitter @keithmonaghan

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