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Posts tagged ‘CoolTechStuff’

ArchiCalc: CoolTechStuff


Larry Mortimer, AIA

I recently upgraded my iPhone & iPad to iOS 11 not realizing that some of my most favorite apps would no longer work on that operating system.  All of the 32 bit apps (69 of them) on my machines were instantly not useable.  So the search was on for a 64 bit replacement for each of the apps that were lost.  One of the apps I lost was a feet-inch calculator, but fortunately I found an even better replacement called ArchiCalc.

What Does It Do:  ArchiCalc does exactly what you would think a feet-inch calculator would do but with a simple, clean, elegant interface and a few extra features you would not expect.

What does it cost: $3.99

How Does it Work:  ArchiCalc might more accurately be called a dimensional calculator because it works with linear dimensions, areas, and volumes.  It works with both imperial and metric units, and mixed units can be used in the same calculation without converting them in advance.  The answer can be freely converted to either format.

Lengths multiplied by lengths result in areas and areas multiplied by lengths result in volumes.  Other geometric operators include calculating the hypotenuse of a right triangle, volumes of spheres and other useful geometric functions.  ArchiCalc has 10 storage registers, a tutorial, and an on screen rounding feature for decimal places and denominators of fractions of an inch. To get information about a key simply touch and hold that key and information about the key will be provided.

Conclusion: This app was designed by an architect for architects and it shows.  I love it’s simple intuitive interface, and if my iPhone’s in my pocket the app is already with me.  The only drawback I see to this app is that it only works on an iOS device.  The only Android app I found that seems to be similar is “Feet Inch Calculator Free” by ByOne Coder, Inc.  If anyone has used Feet Inch Calculator or knows of a similar Android app, please let me know.

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Colored Photovoltaics: CoolTechStuff

Larry Mortimer, AIA

While in the process of designing a new home for my family, I’m of course looking to make it as energy efficient as possible.  This includes photovoltaic cells on the roof.  While looking for my solution I came across colored PV panels, which I did not know about.  Here are three companies that offer colored solar panels.

Kameleon Solar:  Kameleon Solar is a Dutch company that designs and manufactures colored solar panels.  The company offers panels in custom sizes where the glass is colored or the cells are colored.  With the colored glass approach the cells are not visible and the panels appear to be one solid color.  With the colored cell approach, the cells are visible and the panels have a sparkling appearance.  The colored glass panels are available in eight colors (gold, green, blue-green, blue, terra-cotta, bronze, light grey, and grey).  The colored cell panels are available in five colors (sparkling gold, disco pink, emerald green, stone elegance, and diamond blue).

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V-energy: V-energy Green Solutions is an Italian company that makes photovoltaic panels in four colors (red, green, black, and transparent which appears blue). The panels come in two sizes (1000mm x 1980mm & 998mm x 1668mm) with 60 and 72 cells, and a power range of 250-320 W.  The panels are constructed of anti-glare tempered glass with low iron content for optimum light collection, and an anodized aluminum frame.

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Colored Solar:  Colored Solar is a company in Los Angeles that also provides photovoltaic panels in several colors (red, green, metallic gold, pink diamonds, lavender, earth brown, emerald green, polished marble, and polished slate).  These panels measure 1652mm x 990mm, with a power range of 230-245 W.

More Info:

Conclusion:  Colored solar panels could help integrate PV into your project.  They could be particularly useful in historic renovation projects, or projects that are subject to design review restrictions.  Be sure to check the efficiency of any panel you want to use, because some colors are not as efficient as others.

CoolTechStuff: American Hardwoods Species Guide

Larry Mortimer, AIA

What Does It Do: The app provides information on selecting hardwood species, including:  Alder, Ash, Aspen, Basswood, Beech, Yellow Birch, Cherry, Cottonwood, Red Elm, Gum, Hackberry, Hickory & Pecan, Hard Maple, Pacific Coast Maple, Soft Maple, Red Oak, White Oak, Poplar, Sycamore, and Black Walnut.

System Requirements: The app works on mobile devices that run the iOS or Android systems.

What does it cost: Free (the best price of all)

How Does it Work: The app has six tabs: Species, Photos, Info, Properties, Share App, and Contact Us.  The “Species” tab shows a color image of each species with a clear, light, medium and dark stain.  The “Photos” tab shows a photo of the selected species used in an actual project.  The “Info” tab give general information on each species, such as description, where it grows, main uses, abundance, availability, physical properties, and workability.  The “Properties” tab displays the strength and mechanical properties for each species.  The “Share” tab simply opens up your mail program to send info about the app to others (I think they should remove this tab).  Finally the “Contact Us” tab is just what it sounds like, using your choice of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or email as the media.

Conclusion: If you need a quick idea of the look and properties of a particular hardwood, this is a good app to have in your tool box.

More Info: (much more good information for design professionals at this site)

For Android Devices:  Download at

For iOS devices:  Download from the App Store on your iOS device (note: Apple has changed things, you can no longer download apps in the iTunes store from your desktop).


CoolTechStuff: Seek thermal Compact

Larry Mortimer, AIA

A friend of mine was concerned about heat loss/gain in one room of his residence.  The room was cold in the winter and hot in the summer.  To help diagnose the problem he purchased a little device called the Seek thermal Compact that plugged into his smart phone to provide a thermal image of the room.


What Does It Do: The Seek thermal Compact is a thermal imaging camera that plugs into your smart phone or tablet to allow it to take thermal images or videos of anything including buildings and building systems.

System Requirements:  iOS or Android smart phone or tablet

What does it cost: $249 – $499 (depending on model)

How Does it Work: Simply plug the camera into your smart device to capture a thermal image or video that will show energy loss/gain caused by air leaks, missing or damaged insulation, inefficient HVAC systems, electrical faults, and more.  You can save, send, share, and store the thermal images or videos the same way you would any other image or video on your smart device.  This compact, pocket-size, portable device measures only 1 x 1.75 x 1” and weighs less than 0.5 ounces.  It runs on power from your smart device, does not require batteries or charging, and has low power consumption (up to 4 hours of battery operating time).  There are three models of the Seek Compact:  the Compact, the CompactXR and the CompactPro. The main differences are the size of the thermal sensor, field of view, frame rate and detection distance.  For design professionals the Compact or CompactXR would probably be sufficient.

Conclusion:  This looks like a useful device for quick, convenient on-demand thermal imaging with your smartphone or tablet.

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CoolTechStuff: Contour

Larry Mortimer, AIA

If any of you are Sci-Fi fans you may remember a movie from 2000 called Red Planet.  Not a great movie, but not a bad one either.  What I remember most about it was a cool gadget that mapped the inside of an alien structure.  Well here is a new gadget from Pittsburgh-based startup, Kaarta called Contour that will do almost the same thing.  If you’re interested in seeing the movie you can rent it on Amazon Prime or see it on Netflix (DVD only) – it’s full of other cool devices too.

What Does It Do:  Contour scans the interior or exterior of a building in real time and produces a 3D mapped model of the space/structure.

What does it cost:  Don’t know yet.

When will it be available:  Don’t know yet.

How Does it Work:  This lightweight, battery-powered, hand-held device uses a circular LIDAR (light imaging, detection, and ranging) scanner to record a space or structure as you walk through or around it. It does this quickly and in real time (a 110,000 sq ft space can be scanned in about 2.5 hours).  As you scan, a 7” touchscreen display shows you what has been scanned and what still needs to be scanned, so you don’t leave the site with incomplete information.  Contour scans distances up to 20 meters (65’), and exports the 3D model in Point Cloud Model formats (.ias and .ply) that can be imported into many CAD programs.

Conclusion:  Contour looks like an ideal device for architects to quickly scan interiors and exteriors of buildings, as well as building sites. There are several companies working on similar 3D mapping devices but where Contour stands out is its ability to do the mapping in real time, and display a visual image of the data on the touchscreen so you can instantly see if you missed anything.

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CoolTechStuff: Cone – Live Color Picker

Larry Mortimer, AIA

A few years ago I purchased a gadget called Pantone Color Cue that I thought was pretty cool.  It could scan any color and it would give me the Pantone and RGB equivalents. The problem with it was to take a reading you needed to be right on the sample (fine for graphic artists but not always good for architects).  Also the interface was not very good, and it was bit pricy (a discontinued version sells for around $350 and a new model goes for over $600). Cone is an iOS app by Kushagra Agarwal that does everything Color Cue did but with more style and for much less money.

Samples of Screen 1

What Does It Do: Cone uses your iOS device’s camera to scan anything (I mean anything and from any distance) and it gives you the equivalent Hex, RGB or Pantone color.

Screen 2

What does it cost: $1.99

How Does it Work: Simply place the cursor circle over any part of the image on your iOS device and see a real-time sample of the color, a color name, and Hex color at the bottom of the screen (see Screen 1 samples).  To save the color simply tap the color sample and swipe up from the bottom to see a new screen with all saved colors (see Screen 2).  In the new screen you can tap on any saved color to see a third screen showing a range of lighter & darker versions of the selected color plus it’s Hex, and RGB values and the two closest Pantone colors (see Screen 3).

Screen 3

Conclusion: What I really love about this app is it’s simple interface (no need to read a manual here) and if my iPhone’s in my pocket the app already with me.  Also I like that you can be close to the sample target or be hundreds of feet away and still capture a color.

The only drawback I see to this app is that it only works on an iOS device.  The only Android app I found that seems to be similar to Cone is Color Picker by Ratonera, Inc.  If anyone has used Color Picker or knows of a similar Android app, please let me know.

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CoolTechStuff: USB-?

Larry Mortimer, AIA

Confused about USB (Universal Serial Bus) connectors and standards?  Here’s an explanation of the various USB connectors, standards and their capabilities. 

USB Connectors/Ports: Currently there are five basic types of physical USB connectors/ports (see Image 1).  USB-A, USB-B, USB Mini, USB Micro and the latest one USB-C.  The original USB connectors were the A and B plugs and receptacles.  The B connector was designed to prevent users from connecting one computer receptacle to another and accidentally creating a loop.  You will often see a cable with an A on one end and a B on the other used for printers. The Mini plugs and receptacles were added in April 2000 for smaller devices such as digital cameras, smartphones and tablets.  Micro-connectors came in January 2007 to accommodate integration into even smaller devices.  To further confuse things, the Mini and Micro connectors each have an A and B version and the Micro has an AB version.  The C connector came into use in 2014, and is a small reversible connector meant to replace the A and B connectors.

Adaptors can be used to connect one type of connector to another, and a hub can be used to increase the number of available ports.

USB Release Standards: Currently there are five major versions of the USB standards (protocols), USB 1.0, USB 1.1, USB 2.0, USB 3.0 and USB 3.1.  Each version has a different ability to communicate data and transfer power between computers and other devices (see Image 2).   All connectors/ports will not work with all standards (see Image 3).

Conclusion:  Although somewhat confusing, the USB protocol provides
a universal system to power our devices and allow them to communicate with each other.  The speed you experience will only be as fast as the slowest element in your system.  For example, a USB 2.0 device communicating with a USB 3.0 computer will only transfer data at 480 Mbit/s.  For that reason always purchase devices that use USB 3.0 or greater.

There is one last thing for Macintosh users.  In the last few years Macintosh computers have had both USB and Thunderbolt ports.  Thunderbolt (also known as Lighting) is a competing standard co-developed by Intel and Apple, but mainly used by Apple on Macs and iPhones.  Recent Macintoshes can accommodate either USB or Thunderbolt 3 standards by using USB-C connectors for both.  Rumors have it that Apple will ditch the Thunderbolt port on the upcoming iPhone 8 in favor of a USB-C port, and since some Android phones already use USB-C ports, USB will most likely be the winning standard (at least until the next standard comes along).

For More Information Than You Probably Want to Know Go To:

CoolTechStuff: Zera

Larry Mortimer, AIA

Here’s a new green kitchen appliance that may become commonplace in your kitchen and the kitchens you design in the future. 

What Does It Do: The Zera Food Recycler is a free-standing kitchen appliance that is designed to turn food scraps into ready-to-use homemade fertilizer in just 24 hours.

What does it cost: Suggested Retail price $1,199

How Does it Work: The Zera Food Recycler is simple to use. Just scrape your leftover food scraps into the opening. The unit then stirs, moistens, aerates, heats and mixes in a plant-based additive (made from coconut husk and baking soda) to help break the food down. After 24 hours the scraps are converted into fertilizer that is collected in a tray at the bottom.

Pros: The unit is an attractive package that measures 11” x 22” x 33 3/4” and weighs about 118 pounds. Unlike traditional composting methods, Zera can be used year-round regardless of the weather and can be remotely operated through a mobile app.

Cons: I have mixed feelings about this one. On one hand it can help reduce the amount of material that gets placed in landfill by turning unwanted food into useful fertilizer, but on the other hand it may encourage people to be more wasteful since they will feel less guilty about not consuming perfectly good food (my mother would never let me waste any food).

Conclusion: This is an interesting concept that had it’s debut at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in January. The appliance was developed by WLabs of the Whirlpool Corporation (Whirlpool’s innovation incubator). It is scheduled to be available for purchase at selected retailers and in Spring of 2017, but can be pre-ordered now on Indiegogo’s crowdfunding service. It’s interesting that a large corporation like Whirlpool is using crowdfunding to test the waters on a new product.

More Information at:

Click here to purchase.

CoolTechStuff: Travel Apps

Summer is coming, so it’s time to start planning that trip.  Here are several apps you might find useful on your trip to visit the world’s great architecture and other points of interest. By Larry Mortimer, AIA


Circa – World Time and Meeting Planner for Travelers:  This app helps you to keep time across multiple time zones and locations. Available for iOS and Android devices. ($3.99)


izi TRAVEL – City Guide & Museum Audio Tours:  An audio guide for travelers. It’s your personal tour guide, who will guide you around the most interesting attractions and museums in more than 900 cities around the world.  Available for iOS and Android devices. (Free)



Buildings – Locate and Visit Interesting Architecture:  An encyclopedia of architecture in your pocket.  Using GPS to pinpoint your location, Buildings shows you what interesting architecture is nearby.  It includes information, images, videos and commentary on historic, contemporary, and conceptual buildings from a user-generated database. Available for iOS and Android devices. (Free)


Pevsner’s Architectural Glossary:  This glossary draws on the architectural vocabulary of the buildings of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.  The app is part of the Yale University Press’ Pevsner Architectural Guides started in 1951 by the architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner (1902–83). Available for iOS devices. ($4.99)

Pivot – Augmented Reality Historical Tour App:  Pivot is a mobile app that reveals what places looked like in the past – showing authenticated histories of locations (from everyday places to popular tourist attractions), through images, videos and text-audio.  Available for iOS and Android devices. (Free)

29GPS Architecture

29GPS Architecture – A Geo Located Guide to Architecture:  A very good app to discover new architecture around you. It´s not just maps and directions, but it does make good use of these features. It features a daily selection of contemporary architecture and tells you exactly how far you are from it.  Available for iOS devices. (Free)

Google Translate

Google Translate:  Don’t forget this app to help you understand signs, menus etc. in a foreign land.    Available for iOS and Android devices. (Free)

LiveTrekker Go:  With this app you can record your GPS track, photos, movies, and recordings all in one place.  Later you can retrace your trip by viewing your media and path of travel in every detail.  Available for iOS and Android devices (Free)

CoolTechStuff: Smart Bricks

pg. 6 mortimer

LarryMortimer, AIA

If you played with Legos as a kid, you will like “Smart Bricks.” This system of interlocking elements is being developed by an Israeli company named Kite Bricks Ltd.

What Are They: Smart Bricks is a collection of high- strength concrete block elements that fit together like Legos.tech2

How Do They Work: Smart Bricks are designed to be easily joined together with an adhesive, and have open internal, vertical and horizontal cells to allow for reinforcement, insulation, plumbing and wiring. Floors, walls, and ceilings are all constructed using smart brick elements creating solid construction with little mess or waste. Removable panels allow access to the internal elements without tearing open walls. The developer, Kite Bricks, claims the Smart Brick system significantly reduces construction costs over other types of construction and reduces the need for other on-site materials such as sand, steel and water.tech3

tech1The developer envisions construction to eventually be done rapidly with on-site robots (see video at

Conclusion: This system looks promising, but as far as I know it’s still just in the development stage and no buildings have yet been built using it. If it ever gets up and running, custom shapes and finishes could be designed that will allow more design flexibility, and I suspect other companies will come up with similar systems.


Re: Last Month’s CoolTech Article: I’ve been using a 30-day trial version of 1001 bit Pro and would like to purchase it. Because of a problem with the developer’s PayPal account I have not been able to do so. However a freeware version is readily available for download.