23 January 2018


Philips Sonicare Essence Electric Toothbrush

Best low cost toothbrush

The Philips Sonicare Essence is their basic Sonicare electric toothbrush, without the bells and whistles of the more expensive models. Electric toothbrushes appear to be about equally effective, from what I can tell. Reviews and research papers don’t seem to favor one over the other. And replacement heads are generally similar in price, though the Sonicare heads cost a bit than the Oral-B.

Wirecutter chose an Oral-B model as its pick mostly because Oral-B offers the greatest variety of replacement heads. So why should we choose the Sonicare instead? Because aside from the replaceable heads, it basically lasts forever. When my old Sonicare started requiring a bit of extra pressure on the switch to turn it on or off, I put off buying a new one. But after another year or two, the switch stopped working entirely, and I had to buy a new one. That was when I realized that it had served me faithfully for 14 years. Why does it last so long?

  • The handle has one moving part, the on/off switch. On my previous toothbrush, it lasted through perhaps 10,000 actuations. The replaceable head has one moving part, the brush/shaft. There is no drive shaft with seals and bearings to wear out and leak. The handle is sealed and evidently waterproof. The way it works is that it has a coil of wire that inductively causes a magnet to vibrate. The magnet is connected to the toothbrush head with a clever three-part shaft (hidden behind a cover) that is apparently designed to maximize stiffness and minimize resonance modes. The magnet doesn’t touch the coil. Magnet, shaft and brush head are all one assembly, and are replaced as one. (Incidentally, the magnet is removable with a pair of pliers, and is rather strong. They make good refrigerator magnets.) I know this is true of any Sonicare that takes E-series replacement heads. I don’t know if that is true of other models.)
  • There are no exposed electrical contacts. The handle sits in a sealed charger. Charging is again accomplished through induction; the base generates a vibrating electrical field which induces a current in a coil of wire inside the handle.
  • Brushing your teeth is a very light load for the batteries, which can last for weeks without recharging. With nightly topping up, the batteries will essentially last forever.

Other nice touches:

  • The thing vibrates at a pretty perfect C above middle C. That means that songs you hear on the radio are likely to harmonize with the toothbrush.
  • It comes with a tiny clear cover for the brush head. It is easy to lose, but other toothbrushes come with nothing.


  • The handle is relatively smooth and nearly cylindrical. If it were textured, and especially, if it flared a little at the brush end, it would be easier to hold without slipping.
  • If the vibrating head touches a tooth directly, it can cause a zippy buzzing sensation in your head. That is easy to avoid, and I haven’t done that in years.
  • If you pull the head directly out of your mouth while it is still on, you can spatter toothpaste and saliva/water on your mirror. Again, easily avoided.

So this is a cheap, effective appliance that lasts an unusually long time. Again, this applies only to models that take the E-series replacement heads, the cheapest of which is the Essence. That might also apply to other Sonicare models, but I don’t have direct experience with them.

-- Karl Chwe 01/23/18

23 January 2018


Shoe Goo

Super rubber cement

Originally marketed to repair old tennis shoes (which it does very well), this industrial strength rubber cement has many, many purposes.

I had a problem with the trim falling off of my second Mazda Rx-7, so I went around the car and pulled off all the trim and re-glued it with Shoe Goo. I never had the problem again. Through all kinds of weather and at very irresponsible speeds, the trim was still on the car after the vehicle was used up, wrung out, stripped of parts for my third Rx-7 and sold to a salvage yard for scrap metal.

Goop makes several other varieties that are supposedly specialized for different applications, but after trying them I keep going back to the original.

-- Justin Belshe 01/23/18

(Note: Apparently "Shoe Goo" is not a trademark. Several products from differing manufacturers use the same name, in very similar packaging. Amazing Goop is the brand Justin Belshe used. Beware of imitations! — editors)

22 January 2018


External Hard Drive Enclosure

Easy way to use a bare disk as an external drive

If you work with media as I do, you are always moving data around and backing up projects. I have built a few external drives from old internal drives in the past, and when I had a spare HD left over from an old laptop I went looking for a compact enclosure. This enclosure from Mantistek is made for slim 2.5″ SATA hard disk drives. I like this enclosure for it’s easy swapping in and out of drives. One end of the drive flips open and out pops the drive… slide another one in and off you go… no tools required. The USB 3.0 is fast enough for me and the price is right too. Get some extra life from those old hard disk drives you have laying around after upgrading to SDD.

-- Seth Wilson 01/22/18

21 January 2018


Extract Kindle highlights/Coin Talk/Crashtag

Recomendo: issue no. 78

Your Kindle highlights
As you read a Kindle you can, with some effort, highlight a passage. The best way to extract those passages so that you can cut and paste them later, or so you can insert the text into an article, or otherwise use a highlight as text, is to go to this page and login with your Amazon credentials. You’ll see your highlights book by book. There you select texts and copy them. Or on that page use Bookcision, a browser bookmarklet, that will download each book’s passages as a text file. — KK

Cryptocurrency podcast by newbies, for newbies
Coin Talk has only two episodes so far but it shows promise. Created by a couple of self-deprecating podcaster/journalist/crypto investors — Aaron Lammer (Longform) and Jay Caspian Kang (HBO’s Vice News Tonight/NYT Magazine) — Coin Talk looks at all the crazy happenings in the cryptocurrency sphere with a high-level, jargon-free approach. Lammer and Kang are not crypto experts, but they are intelligent, funny, and skeptical. — MF

Better Road ID
My husband wears a Road ID bracelet on long bike rides, but we’re moving soon so I needed to buy him a new ID. I chose Crashtag because he said he preferred a necklace and they have a lot more necklace designs to choose from than Road ID. They also look cooler and the tag doubles as a bottle opener. I had it printed with our new address and my phone number, but there was enough space to include medical information or multiple lines of text. — CD

The Supply Cloud
This article about the Supply Cloud by Alexis Madrigal details how any teenager can make an instant retail store using Instagram, Shopify, and Alibaba. It’s suppose to be a warning about the unreliable ads for interesting stuff in your Instagram and Facebook feeds, but it’s actually a good primer on how to make an instant legitimate store. — KK

Delicious teas
My wife has become a fan of the teas from Wild Foods, based in Austin, Texas. Her favorite is the Organic Pu-erh Black Tea, which is aged and fermented. Every order comes with samples of other products, like flavored salts, and their newsletter has interesting recipes and guides. The owner often includes a hand written with an order. — MF

Juicy chicken recipe
This simple French Chicken in a Pot recipe made the juiciest, most flavorful chicken I’ve ever cooked. It took me less than 2 hours to prep and make. I also had most of the ingredients on hand so all I had to buy was the chicken and some of the veggies which totaled around $10. As someone in the comments said, “It’s idiot-proof.” — CD

Get the Recomendo weekly newsletter a week early by email.

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder and Claudia Dawson 01/21/18

19 January 2018


Ruben Bolling, Cartoonist

Cool Tools Show 107: Ruben Bolling

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $359 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF


Our guest this week is Ruben Bolling. Ruben is the author of the award-winning comic strip, Tom the Dancing Bug, which premieres each week on Boing Boing.

Subscribe to the Cool Tools Show on iTunes | RSS | Transcript | Download MP3 | See all the Cool Tools Show posts on a single page

Show notes:

Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones ($249)
“I think of headphones as being the big bulky things that you put over your ears but the cool thing about these is that these are just the ear buds. A friend of mine showed them to me and I didn’t think they could really work because I thought most of the noise cancellation of these things come from these big cushions that you put over your ears. I was really amazed. You switch it on and it really does, all of a sudden, the volume of everything else, boom, just floors. … My wife got them for my birthday, I think a year ago and they’re just awesome because they really, they just fit right into your ears. They really do work. You can put your head down in bed and go to your side and you don’t have these big bulky things on. I used them on the airplane on the way to Tokyo. That was awesome. These things are essential on airplanes.”

Apple Music
“Apple Music is something, I don’t know if this is a tool really, or it’s a system and of course, everyone’s heard of it. There’s no revelation. I sort of was interested in my reaction to it because this was also a gift that I gave to my daughter because she really wanted it. I’m a guy who, I love my music collection and it’s in my iTunes and it’s curated and it’s organized and I’m really careful about what goes in there and what I get. She wanted this so we got it and it’s just so weird to, I can’t wrap my head around the fact that I listen to literally anything ever recorded any time I want to, wherever I am. … I have to remind myself, I hear something and I’m like, wow, I’d like to hear that. I wish I could. Then, once I do hear it on Apple Music, I still have this instinct or this impulse to say, hmm, now should I get it? Do I want it for my collection? It’s like a totally alien concept to my kids. They’re just like, why do you want to have it. You can listen to it any time you want.”

Citi Bike
“There’s an app that you have on your phone and it tells you where all the docking stations are, where the bikes are kept and whether there are any available bikes at those docks at this time, and also, where you’re going, whether there are any empty docks to put your bike. Instead of owning a bike, you just go and put a little sort of a card into a slot and then you get a bike for an hour and you drop it off somewhere else. I pay an annual fee of a hundred and something. … There’s the helmet issue so it’s hard to do it spontaneously. Sometimes, I bend that rule. The first time I used it, I just took out a bike and I’m riding along and I see someone I know and I wave to them on my bike and it was like I was 10 years old again. Ringing the bell, it was just amazing. It’s really a great service and a lot of fun.”

SodaStream ($80)
“I don’t use the flavors, I only use the seltzer. I think seltzer is a regional thing. I think it’s in the Northeast where you can actually buy seltzer. When I travel and I go to a CVS or a convenience store, I find that they don’t even have seltzer, whereas in New York and New England, they have lots of options for different brands off seltzer, plain seltzer, flavored seltzers. … Making it at home with this Soda Stream, you just sort of put a bottle in there and press the button a few times and it makes the water into seltzer. It’s environmental because we used to buy these big bottles of seltzer and all the plastic and transportation. I love it. I usually drink a whole one with dinner.”

Also mentioned:

The EMU Club Adventures, a series of chapter books for kids

And The Inner Hive, Tom the Dancing Bug’s subscription club


19 January 2018


Fiskars X7 14″ Hatchet

For chopping kindling and small- to medium-sized logs

During the winter months we use a wood burning stove for most of our heat. Propane is very expensive for home heating so it’s worth the hassle of using our stove. After many years I have streamlined my methods for fire starting and the process was improved significantly when I picked up Fiskars baby axe, their 14″ hatchet. My old camp axe had gotten a wobbly head and no matter how much I tried I couldn’t get that great of an edge on it. I picked up the smallest Fiskars at my local hardware shop. I use this small axe to chop kindling down into batons for easy lighting. I also use it to create wood shavings for starting my fires. I try to avoid using paper as much as possible, preferring to break wood down so it lights quickly with just a match or two. The Fiskars 14″ hatchet has a great angle for splitting small wood pieces, and is super sharp for making kindling of any size. It holds its edge very well and sharpens right up with a few angled strokes of a file or stone. These hatches come with a lifetime warranty and it’s clear they are made to last. I have the larger splitting maul they make and they are both quality products.

-- Seth Wilson 01/19/18


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Sensor Swabs

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Better than a power strip

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LED Pixel Physics [Maker Update #67]

The latest maker tools and projects

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Beaded Cable Tie

Easier than a twist tie

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UV Window Tint

Protect your skin from sun damage while driving

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Cool Tools Show 107: Ruben Bolling

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Cool Tools Show 104: Jane Frauenfelder

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Cool Tools Show 105: Gareth Branwyn

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23 February 2017



We Refreshed Our Website

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Cool Tools is a web site which recommends the best/cheapest tools available. Tools are defined broadly as anything that can be useful. This includes hand tools, machines, books, software, gadgets, websites, maps, and even ideas. All reviews are positive raves written by real users. We don’t bother with negative reviews because our intent is to only offer the best.

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We recently posted a short history of Cool Tools which included current stats as of April 2008. This explains both the genesis of this site, and the tools we use to operate it.

13632766_602152159944472_101382480_oKevin Kelly started Cool Tools in 2000 as an email list, then as a blog since 2003. He edited all reviews through 2006. He writes the occasional review, oversees the design and editorial direction of this site, and made a book version of Cool Tools. If you have a question about the website in general his email is kk {at} kk.org.

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