18 January 2018


Sensor Swabs

Cleans delicate optical and hard to reach imaging surfaces

I shoot a lot of photos with my DSLR camera. I also teach a photography course and am responsible for maintaining over 20 cameras. I travel with my DSLR and am always swapping lenses… dirt and dust just naturally floats in there and can cause spots on longer exposures or shots using a smaller aperture. When the sensor is dirty you don’t want to scratch it by cleaning it incorrectly.

I used to have cameras serviced individually when the need arose, but I got tired of sending them out and all the time (too much paperwork, etc). I ordered a Sensor Swab kit from Photographic Solutions and was really pleased. It just takes a few minutes to clean a camera sensor with this swab kit, the included directions were quite clear and the swab sticks can be re-used with a refill kit. I have resurrected cameras that students have brought in from the depths of their parents closet with this simple cleaning kit.

Cleaning a camera sensor isn’t something that needs to be done often, but when the need arises you don’t want to go sticking your finger in there (cloth can leave more dust in its wake and scratch the sensor) and blowing air just moves or embeds particles deeper in the camera. This swab and solution cleans in 2 swipes, super easy and effective.

-- Seth Wilson 01/18/18

18 January 2018



Better than a power strip

Lets you connect multiple devices, even with big power converters, to a single outlet.

-- Zimran Ahmed 01/18/18

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2006 — editors)

17 January 2018



Multipurpose craft tool

My microspatula is one of the tools I reach for most often in my house. As an archivist, microspatulas are standard issue tools in my profession. They are useful for a variety of careful, fine-motor tasks that come up when handling manuscripts, photographs, or rare books. At this point in my career I rarely have an opportunity to do to the detailed, careful work that requires a microspatula, but at home I’ve used one several times a week for over a decade. It’s a perfect tool for situations that require something strong enough to apply a little force but gentle enough not to break stuff. A microspatula has two blades, one more tapered, the other snub-nosed. Both are useful for scraping, prying, turning, and adjusting things that require delicate persuasion. Whichever blade you use, the other becomes a convenient handle. The more tapered blade is perfect for loosening small, Phillips head screws, and the narrow shaft makes it easy to turn the microspatula quickly in one hand. I use mine frequently to open battery compartments on toys and electronics.

It’s also an ideal letter opener and crease maker. These days my favorite use for my microspatula is prying apart small Lego pieces — a not infrequent task in my house with three young boys. The narrow blades can get between two pieces without either marking the plastic or slipping and jamming into my palm.

The combination of strength, delicacy, and versatility provided by a microspatula has made me reach for screwdrivers, scrapers, and knives less often, knowing they are often too large for a particular task. It took me by surprise when I looked for microspatulas online and saw that their advertised use is for measuring and transferring powders in a laboratory context. I’m certain they can do that ably, but that’s not something I’ve ever used one for. I can’t say exactly which model microspatula I have – mine was a required purchase back in a grad school book repair class. But an apparently identical version on Amazon looks the same and has the same measurements. For just a few dollars I’d replace mine without hesitation were I to lose it.



-- Mike Rush 01/17/18

17 January 2018


LED Pixel Physics [Maker Update #67]

The latest maker tools and projects

This week on Maker Update, simulated gravity pixels, the HowToons Kalimba kit, an automata art bike mashup, and building your own B-MO from Adventure Time. This week’s Cool Tool is the DeWalt Right Angle Attachment. Show notes.

-- Donald Bell 01/17/18

16 January 2018


Beaded Cable Tie

Easier than a twist tie

I came across beaded cable ties at my local hardware store, figuring maybe it was some common thing I just didn’t know about — and maybe it is — but I cannot find more than a single video about this stuff online. So I figure I can at least right that wrong here.

Think of this as a cross between a zip-tie and a velcro or hook & loop strap. It’s cheap and plastic like a ziptie, easy to reuse like velcro, but also kind of it’s own thing.

Let’s say you’ve got a cord to tie up. You wrap it around, thread it through the bottom hole, and then when you go back through the top hole you get a loop you can use to hang this up.

If you have multiple cords to bundle together, you can also use that second loop to wrap another cable.

Depending on the cord you’re wrapping, you could also wrap one notch just on the cord, and use the other notch for wrapping the entire bundle. This helps keep the wrap with the cord when you undo it.

If you have something big to wrap and need a longer cord, you can chain these together until you get the size you need. They also just sell bigger and smaller versions of these if you already know what kind of job you want them to handle.

Best of all, these come undone with just a little gentle encouragement. I feel they’re easier to undo than reusable zip ties, but not so easy you have worry about them falling apart.

Compared to a hook & loop strap, the hook and loop looks nicer and is more intuitive to manage — but they’re not cheap, you don’t really get the secure chaining feature, and you don’t get the built-in loop for hanging.

I’m not saying they’re perfect, but I’m glad to have them around, and they’re cheap.

-- Donald Bell 01/16/18

16 January 2018


UV Window Tint

Protect your skin from sun damage while driving

I spent a lot of my early working years outside, all day, mostly in the south. I didn’t worry much about the sun damaging my skin, so long as I avoided a sunburn. Now, however, my dermatologist tells me that was a mistake. Though she really doesn’t have to tell me that, it’s pretty obvious. And we all know about sunscreen, though I bet most of us who should use that stuff don’t — unless we’re going to the beach or something. What’s surprising is that the left side of my face is more affected than the rest of me. Driving around in North America gets the left of our faces much more sun than we realize. She tells me that they see this a lot.

So I’ve gotten some new 20% window film for my side windows of my vehicle. It’s an old SUV with the whole rear of the thing equipped with smoked glass; the tint guy tells me that’s not UV rated, so besides just attenuating sunshine I can’t say how much UV is blocked, but all densities of the film are rated at blocking 99% of the UV spectrum; that’s what’s right next to me now. A little night time adjustment, NBD. My tint guy tells me that the cheap purple tint that bubbles up (we’ve all seen that stuff?) does not do anything significant to block UV, and that stuff blows anyway. Anything better should show the UV rating in the product datasheet.

There are some UV films for homes that are otherwise clear. Dunno how well they work on curved vehicle windows. The law here in Colorado says window film “must allow more than 27% of light through”. (Mirror-style-tint is against the law on vehicles as well as just wrong anyway.) Check your laws, of course. And winter sun is lower, getting UV into the vehicle better. Consider that too. I wish I had been aware of this face-frying effect 30 years ago, it might have saved me trouble now. Oh, and wear a dang hat and use sunscreen if your skin belongs a lot further north…

-- Wayne Ruffner 01/16/18


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23 February 2017



We Refreshed Our Website

If you read Cool Tools via RSS (which is the way Kevin and I read blogs) then you probably don’t realize we updated our website design today. We took your feedback seriously and tried our best to simplify the design and make it more legible.

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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.

13918651_603790483113973_1799207977_oMark Frauenfelder edits Cool Tools and develops editorial projects for Cool Tools Lab, LLC. If you’d like to submit a review, email him at editor {at} cool-tools.org (or use the Submit a Tool form).

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