OXO Pepper Mill

This pepper mill is fantastic.

The good:

  • It is very fast. The crank arm means you can grind lots of pepper quickly. This is great if you have to cook a lot of food, but also great for people with reduced hand or arm strength.
  • It is easy to hold. The body looks a bit awkward but it fits in your hand easily. The crank knob isn’t huge, but it is also easy to grab.
  • It is also lightweight, and won’t crush a toe if you drop it, unlike those solid brass or stainless steel ones.
  • It is durable. I have used mine daily for something like nine years, with no wear at all. The grinding mechanism is ceramic and will not rust or wear out. The body is plastic, tough enough to survive any number of falls (though I haven’t tried it on a tile or stone floor.)
  • It is easy to refill. There is a clear plastic hopper door on the side that you just tilt out to pour in peppercorns. It is quite easy. No unscrewing of mechanisms or handles. A few reviews on Amazon complain that the door is too easy to open, but I haven’t had that problem.
  • It is stable sitting upright, so you can quickly set it down without it falling over. Tall, narrow grinders cannot be set down on their ends easily.
  • It comes with a snap-on lid that catches stray grounds. If reversed, it makes a handy base to set on your countertop.
  • The grind is easy to adjust. There is a large, clearly labeled wingnut on the bottom that you turn to adjust the grind. The coarseness range is also good, ranging from fine to medium-large, with big enough pieces that you can crack them between your teeth.
  • It costs TWELVE DOLLARS!

The bad

  • It is not extraordinarily beautiful, though It was recently revised to be a little more sleek. It looks simple and modern, and that’s about it. So it might not go with certain table settings (and some dinner guests might not be prepared for how much pepper it puts out.)
  • Being plastic, I suppose it is possible to break it or melt it in a fire. But nothing short of abuse would do that.

So. This grinder is amazing for people with weaker hands and wrists, and for people who need to produce lots of ground pepper quickly. It is terrific for everybody else unless you don’t like how it looks on your dinner table.

-- Karl Chwe  

OXO Good Grips Pepper Mill

Available from Amazon

Uni Jet Stream Prime High Grade Multicolor Ballpoint Pen

I have been using Uni-ball Jetstream pens ever since they came out several years ago. As a left-hander, the fast-drying ink appealed to me right away and I have not been disappointed.

I did break ranks and buy a Cool Tools recommended Parker Jotter ballpoint pen and had trouble with the ink flow almost from the get-go. I contacted Parker and they sent me two new refills, but the problem persisted, so I gave up on Parkers and went back to my standby Jetstream pen.

Then, fairly recently Uni-ball came out with their Jet Stream Prime multicolor pens. The Prime pens are more upscale then their single color brethren, but look much nicer (and, of course, cost more).

I rarely lose pens (just don’t ask to borrow mine), so, without hesitation, I opted for a black three-color pen from the Prime series. These little guys are close to $30 from Amazon, but even at that price I find them a good deal. Most multicolor pens have a less than sleek cross-section and the mechanisms tend to be clunky. Neither of those descriptions apply to the Prime pens. The little sliders for the three colors are barely noticeable and the mechanism is crisp and operates smoothly. I’m a mathematician and I often need to highlight some parts of a derivation, which used to mean circling the parts. No more. Now I just switch from black to red or blue to mark important equations.

I am not sure what the barrel is made of, but even though it’s not textured or soft-coated it is easy to grip and does not slide in my hand. Also, the pen takes standard Uni-ball refills. The Prime pens come in several color combinations and there are even models that include a pencil, but I haven’t tried the pen-pencil combination. If you hang on to your pens for a long time and have need for more than a single color (or even a pencil), I’d highly recommend the Prime pens from Uni-ball.

One caveat I discovered only after using the pen for a while, and it holds for almost all multi-pens: In order to fit all the refills into the pen, they need to either make the barrel very fat, which this one is not, or skimp on ink, which is the case with this pen. It’s not a big deal, but something to think about. I ordered refills later, but I wish I had ordered them with the pen. See photo below for comparison:


-- Jim Shapiro  

Uni Jet Stream Prime High Grade Multicolor Ballpoint Pen

Available from Amazon

Velo Orange Porteur Bike Rack

I have been using the Velo Orange Porteur Rack for three years. As a lifelong bicycle commuter I’ve never used a more useful rack. This rack lets me throw my messenger bag or backpack on the rack keeping my back from getting all sweaty, and on the way home I can stop by the store and put groceries on the rack and my backpack. It holds a twelve pack of beer wonderfully. The rail keeps things from sliding off the rack, you don’t need to strap them down. I found a cardboard box that fits perfectly on the rack so I just throw my bag or what ever in the box and go. I have used rear racks and panniers, but I always found them cumbersome and I never knew what to do with the panniers when I locked up my bike and went into a store. The Velo Orange Porteur Rack will turn any bike into a custom utility bike that can carry lots of stuff.

-- Presley Martin  

Velo Orange Porteur Front Rack

Available from Amazon

Ben Krasnow – Maker and YouTube Star

Our guest this week is Ben Krasnow. Ben works at Google[x], Google’s semi-secret technology development facility, where he creates advanced prototypes. Ben previously developed virtual reality hardware at Valve. After work, he spends time on various projects that usually involve circuit design, machining, and chemistry. You can follow Ben’s projects on his youtube channel, Applied Science.

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Show Notes:

Digital Inclinometer $31

“It’s a small box about the size of a pack of gum, maybe, or a little bit bigger. It has a magnetic base on the bottom of it and a digital readout. What you do is you stick it down with the magnets to something, like a table saw, and zero it. Then, you pick it up and stick it onto the side of the saw blade and it will tell you the angle between those two surfaces.”

Fiberglass scratch brush $8

“It’s the size of a large ballpoint pen. Instead of a pen coming out the end, it has about a quarter-inch diameter cluster like bundle of fiberglass fibers. The glass fibers are very abrasive. What you do is you push the brush down onto something that you want to clean and swirl it around. The tips of the glass fibers actually scratch away at the surface of the thing that you want to clean. The glass is really hard, so it will clean metal parts. It will erode away plastic parts if you brush them long enough. Then, as you use it, the glass bristles break off and exposes fresh, sharp fibers.”


Stereo Microscope $140

“This one is used a lot by electronics folks. If you have one sitting on your desk that you use for surface mount electronics part assembly, you will start using it for, basically, everything else. Then you realize that it’s just completely indispensable and you really can’t set up a desk without one.”

Devcon Plastic Welder $20

“There’s other brands that sell Plastic Welder, but it’s actually not the same stuff as Devcon. You’ve got to get the actual Devcon stuff. It’s basically a two-part adhesive. It looks like epoxy. It comes in one of those twin syringe packs, but it’s actually not an epoxy. I believe it’s an acrylic glue. It smells really strong, so you know it’s going to be really good.”

Nitto Tape $27

“It’s a craft paper tape with, I think, an acrylic adhesive on both sides and it’s extremely strong.”

Kapton Tape $13

“It’s not quite as strong as the Permacel we were talking about, but Kapton is a really good electrical insulator. If you want to stick something down to your circuit board, Kapton Tape is really good because it keeps your circuit isolated, and if it’s double stick, then you can put a little bit of Kapton down on the board and then stick something to that and still have pretty good electrical isolation.”


National Walking Sprinkler Model B-3

I have used it every summer for 7 years. It has a few signs of weathering (I accidentally left it outside all winter in the snow one year), but it works the same as the day it arrived. I have it hooked up to 125 ft. of hose, and it pulls that entire length with no problem including up a short hill. It has 2 speeds, and puts down about 1″ of water as it travels on the slower speed. It soaks the lawn nicely to encourage deep root growth. It cost me more than double what the Nelson Rain Train costs, but I’ve heard horror stories of the Rain Train stripping the plastic drivetrain in one year. The National Walking Sprinkler shows no signs of slowing down!

Once, the hose got caught on a retaining wall and stalled the sprinkler. Instead of stripping/destroying the drivetrain, it dug 2 trenches under the wheels until the body of the sprinkler bottomed out. It was sitting in place spinning the wheels until I found it and rescued it. My wife was not happy about the muddy ruts in the lawn… I was happy I didn’t wreck my sprinkler!

If something happened or the sprinkler was lost/stolen, I would replace it in a heartbeat.


-- Chris Dykhouse  

National Walking Sprinkler Model B-3
$179 from Lee Valley

Available from Amazon

Micro-shear flush cutters

I was looking for an inexpensive pair of surgical nippers or tiny scissors for some time, since fingernail scissors have proven to be too fragile for cutting anything (including fingernails). While shopping at Princess Auto I came across this pair of spring loaded stainless steel Palm Nippers (aka Micro-shear flush cutters) which looked like they might fit the bill. At only $4.99 I was quick to snap up a pair. These are a great little tool, they are small enough, sharp enough and go down to a fine point for all the precision cutting jobs I might need and they are tough enough to cut copper wire up to 1.2 mm so they are great at cutting cable ties. plastic packaging, thickened toenails and other tough items. I’ll be going back to purchase a second pair for my tool box.

-- Bonnar Beach  

Micro-shear flush cutters

Available from Amazon


Five years ago I discovered iKlear and I will never use anything else to clean my TV screen, desk computer, MacBook Pro, mirrors, and eyeglasses.

I carry it in my computer bag, camera bag, suitcase and any other place I find a use for it. Gone are the days of streaks, and gummy looks on my screen and camera lens, to say nothing of my eyeglasses. I highly recommend iKlear to those who have never used it. Just buy a kit and use it. Once you have used it, you will never go back.

-- Harry Anderson  

iKlear Complete Cleaning Kit

Available from Amazon


Followup.cc is a service that allows you to schedule emails to arrive in your inbox when you want them. It is similar to the previously reviewed Boomerang for Gmail, but differs in some important ways.

I have been using both free and paid versions of followup.cc for several months and find the tool to be an indispensable part of my attention management strategy, as applied to email. The email inbox tends to be a great way for other people to express their plans for my (limited) attention. Liberal deleting and short responses help a lot, but sometimes I need more time to either think about the response, or work on some larger issue before responding. Being able to re-send email to myself in the future, when I know I’ll have the time to devote to the message, has become super helpful. It’s also really useful as a prompt for followup with others (or myself). I can send a note to a colleague with a bcc to followup.cc and then forget about checking in again in three days (or whatever), because I know the note will come back to me as a reminder to follow up. So handy.

Emails are scheduled with special email addresses. If you want an email to come back to you in one week, the address is 1w@followup.cc, or 1week@followup.cc. If you want a specific date, send it to that date’s address, ie june4@followup.cc. If you want a specific date and time, just throw the time in there separated with a dash, ie june4-10am@followup.cc. All your scheduled emails can be viewed and edited in a calendar format in your followup.cc account. This calendar can also be ported to your Outlook or Gmail calendars, if that appeals to you.

I find that using the followup.cc addresses in the *bcc:* field of my emails works best for me with emails that include other people. However, if you want your other recipients to also see the email when it comes back around, just drop the followup.cc address in the *cc:* field and the note will come back to you and everyone else at the appropriate time. The service works fine in the *to:* field as well, and I frequently use that to send quick reminders only to myself, to be delivered later. Attachments are supported in the paid versions, and if you include them in a scheduled email they’ll return to you intact when you need them.

Unlike Boomerang for Gmail, followup.cc works with whatever email host/client/device you choose to use, though there is a special plugin for Gmail if you desire. The free version of followup.cc allows for one email address to be used, while paid versions allow multiple addresses. Multiple addresses come in handy when using the service for both work and personal email, or if you want to share the service with a spouse or partner.

Here’s the thing with this tool: it’s usefulness is limited by your existing email habits. You may be tempted, as I once was, to send more messages to the future than are needed in an attempt to buy yourself some breathing room in the email deluge. This only postpones and compounds your misery. Sometimes you have to learn the hard way. Practice good email hygiene, and use followup.cc to help leverage your attention appropriately.

Free and paid plans ($4 – $20 per month)

Dental Picks

Dental picks come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. First recommended to me by my art teacher in 1982 as a great tool for picking out small bits in tight areas of woodcuts. I found them to be excellent for just about anything you could imagine: lifting out gobs of hair stuck in a drain, cleaning the grooves and fine lines in my antique stove, reaching into small areas to retrieve slipped objects, clearing scraps of jammed paper in a copy machine. I got my first one from my dentist who looked at me rather oddly and I assured him I would not be doing my own dental work! I believe they throw them out anyway.

I found lots at an outlet called American Science & Surplus (they also have a website) and most came in their own little pouches — dirt cheap too. They are finely crafted instruments, lightweight, great for household or arts & crafts projects.

-- Kitty Hill  

Stainless Steel Dental Pick set, 4 pieces

Available from Amazon

8 oz. Stubby Claw Hammer

This stubby hammer doesn’t represent the peak of tool smithing. But, the darn thing is so useful in my workshop everyday. It’s a tiny hammer suitable for brads and ¼-inch or smaller diameter dowels. I had made my own previously, with a finely crafted White Ash handle. It is beautiful. Yet it remains unused and this little fellow gets the daily use. Its small size and balance suits the small dowel driving in my toy making.

8-oz. Stubby Claw Hammer

Available from Amazon