15 July 2018



Recomendo: issue no. 103

Long-form listening
One of the best books I ever listened to is Shantaram. This very long story — 43 hours! — is the fictionalized autobiography of an Australian outlaw who hides out in the slums of Bombay, is thrown in Indian prison for drug dealing and eventually follows his guru to fight for the muhadjin in Afghanistan. He is a holy thief, a wise sinner, a coyote trickster, and this meld of the sacred and profane is what gives the story its epic rousing power. The narrator in the audible version does hundreds of foreign accents pitch-perfectly and captures the enthusiasm of the Indian sub-continent. Even after 43 hours I wished the story-telling would never end. — KK

Best news app
Smartnews is a free, lightweight, mobile app for iOS and Android. It presents the top news stories in different categories and is updated frequently. You can add your favorite news sites to it, too. When I want to find out what’s going on, it’s the first place I go. — MF

Indie online projects
MakeHub is an crowdsourced list of interesting and useful projects by indie developers. You can sort by which has the most social media followers or votes on Product Hunt. Through MakeHub, I came across colorkuler, which extracts and displays your instagram color palette, and had fun comparing my palette with people I follow. — CD

High leverage philanthropy
I’ve been making micro-loans to entrepreneurs in the developing world via Kiva for 10 years. I loan small amounts (less than $100) to say, women in Africa hoping to buy a sewing machine to start their own sewing business, or herders in Bolivia needing some equipment to make cheese, and soon enough they will repay the loan, so I can re-loan the money again to someone else. I’ve gone through 4 cycles of loans for my first money, and there is less than 0.1% delinquency — a rate any bank would die for. 100% of my money goes to helping the individuals I select; Kiva’s operating costs are funded separately. The money keeps going around. It’s one of the best bargains in the world. — KK

Worry about it later list
I got the idea to make a worry list from this Forbes article on organizing your feelings. I keep a sticky note on my laptop and when something is bugging me I add it to the list and mentally shelve it until later. By the end of the day, most of it doesn’t matter and then I get to cross it out and that feels great. — CD

Moth catcher
We have pantry moths in our kitchen cupboards, and can’t get rid of them. But we can greatly reduce how many there are with these moth traps. They look like little scout tents but the inner walls are coated with a sticky substance. Once every 9 months we replace the trap, which by then is covered with the creatures. — MF

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 07/15/18

14 July 2018


Raymay Pencut Scissors

Pen style portable scissors

These are scissors, if you can believe it. These are Raymay Pencut scissors from Japan. I got them for around $6 on Amazon. And if you want some for yourself, using the Amazon link in the description helps support my videos and the Cool Tools blog.

It can be handy to have a pair of scissors in your kit, either for travel, or in your car. The problem is that they’re stabby and the handle can be a little bulky.

The Pencut solves both problems by including a cap that snaps in place, and flexible handles that collapse down. The result is a super compact pair of scissors that are safe enough to keep in your pocket.

One other cool feature is that these can be easily adapted for left hand use. These little plugs here on the handle can pop out and be placed on the opposite side, which forces the flexible bit out the other side, reversing the grip.

Now, there are plenty of compromises here. The blade is only 2 inches long. The short handle doesn’t offer much leverage and isn’t exactly comfortable. But if space is a premium I can’t imagine a more compact pair of scissors that are still reasonably useful.

-- Donald Bell 07/14/18

(Cool Tools has a YouTube channel with many more tool reviews — editors)

14 July 2018


Leatherman Micra

Keychain Size Multitool

I’m a computer geek, both by trade and by lifestyle, so I’ve accumulated several boxes full of tools for disassembling and reassembling all sorts of obscure computer stuff. Since I found the Micra, most of what’s in those boxes sits unused in my office. Smaller than most pocket knives, and with the ability to unfold into a completely handy pair of snips, the stainless steel Micra contains two functional flat-blade drivers (micro and “regular”) and a #2 Phillips-equivalent screwdriver, so I can achieve most anything I need to do inside a server closet or at a customer’s desk. You could opt for the Wave, which features more tools. However, the less expensive Micra is lighter (1.75 vs. 8.5 ounces) and smaller (2.5″ vs. 4″), and overall it’s much more of an urban survival tool. It comes with tweezers, scissors, nail file, and a bottle opener, but the features that make it the most valuable to me are the “Phillips” blade (a flat blade shaped to fit into a Phillips head) and the micro flat driver blade. I’m constantly opening stuff – packages from FedEx (knife,) packages of sunflower kernels (scissors), laptops (micro screwdriver,) data racks (Phillips) and the like. This tool has everything I use on a daily basis in a simple, little package.

-- Steve Sussex 07/14/18

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2007 — editors)

13 July 2018


Alex Glow, Hackster.io

Cool Tools Show 131: Alex Glow

Our guest this week is Alex Glow. Alex creates electronics videos and tutorials at Hackster.io in San Francisco; she loves building wearable tech, EEG, music, bikes, holograms, and more. Alex grew into hardware as a FIRST Robotics team member, then as a director of the AHA and Noisebridge hackerspaces and Artist in Residence at Autodesk’s Pier 9.

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:

Pikazo app
“What this app is for is using a neural network to impose Picasso’s visual style on other images. You could take a selfie and make it look like Picasso, it could be a portrait or whatever. In this case it’s basically Polaroids for neural style transfer, which means that you can make one image look like another or like someone else’s style using convolutional neural networks. It takes the structure of your original image, your content, like your selfie or whatever, it takes your face and the visual style of Picasso or Monet or any other image that you can feed it. This is where it gets interesting … I’ve been playing around with using the Arduino circuit diagram to turn things into, basically sort of circuitified versions of what they are, and especially in the context of using traditional ritual symbols like for alchemy, for Nordic runes, for crop circles. Taking those and turning them into something that a machine might produce. It’s really fun.”

USB Capture HDMI
“This is kind of a frustrating tool for me honestly, because it’s what people always ask about when I’m trying to present about something else. I’ll be setting up a video with Raspberry Pi or with a guest in the video studio, and I will pipe the HDMI output from their computer or from the Raspberry Pi or whatever into my computer as a USB webcam using this device. It sounds so simple, but it’s so magical, like the fact that you don’t have to point a camera at a grainy monitor in order to try and capture something from the Pi. It’s a little silver box that has an HDMI port on one side where you plug in an HDMI cable, and then you plug in the other end of that cable to your source such as a Raspberry Pi or your guest’s computer or whatever. On the other end of it, it has a USB port and you basically stick a USB cable into that connected to your computer, and now it’s a webcam. You can also use it just to use your Mac computer or Windows computer or whatever, as a monitor for something else, which is something where I haven’t been able to find another tool that does this. It basically means that you don’t have to lag around a huge monitor.”

Open Broadcasting Studio
“OBS is used for compositing video basically, which is another really awesome tool on its own right. Basically it’s a free open source tool. It’s a lifesaver. I can put in all kinds of different audio inputs and turn them on and off. I can have a persistent setup that basically includes text and logos, and my little face in the corner, and then a number of video sources that I can configure as different websites. There are other ones that other people use. I’ve tried them and to be honest, they kind of sucked. Whenever I try another one it always either required some kind of weird plug-in that would eat all the video that I tried to send to other places on my computer, so I couldn’t use Google Hangouts anymore or something. It was just a nightmare or it was super expensive or it just didn’t have as much power as I wanted. This one is so configurable, you can setup multiple scenes.”

“The cool thing is I stream from OBS to restream.io, which basically splits it into going to Facebook and YouTube at the same time, it can go to Twitch at the same time as well. I think that’s mostly free. There is a charge for adding extra links … it’s simultaneous streaming on multiple sites.”

3D Hubs
“This is a super cool service, where basically there’s people all over the map who have their own 3D printers at home, and they’ve decided to make a profession out of it. You will send in your file, you upload it to the site, and that’s an STL file or anything that you created from a 3D modeling program, for example Tinkercad or Fusion 360. I use onshape.com a lot, which is a browser-based one, and basically from that modeling program you’ll export your 3D model, and then you basically had to figure out how to print it. If you don’t have your own 3D printer or if you’re not very good with it yet and you need a really pro-level model, then you can upload it to this website, and choose from a list of people to print it for you. Since these are individuals working wherever, there are often a lot of people in your own city who will do it, and you can go and pick it up instead of waiting for delivery.”

Also mentioned:

Archimedes, the AI Robot Owl
My latest project is probably the most ambitious wearable I’ve built (pictured above), and I’m excited to use him to start conversations about how we perceive cuteness and innocence with regard to robot intelligence.

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $336 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF


13 July 2018


OXO Apple Divider

Healthy snacking in 30 seconds

I like apples but I’ve never been a fan of the form factor, which tends to be tough on the teeth and jaws. The OXO Apple Divider ($10) cores and chops in one fell swoop. Total prep time, including rinsing the apple beforehand: 30 seconds max, 20 if I’m in a hurry. Like other OXO products I’ve tried, the OXO Apple Divider is a well-designed, well-built version of a classic tool. The company’s included its trademark “good grips” and sharp blades.

I appreciate it every time I use, it because I’m a chocoholic with easy access during the day to cookies and hot chocolate. Bringing a plastic container filled with wholesome, fresh, organic apple chunks makes it easier for me to resist the lure of chocolate. Even if you don’t consume apples as frequently as I do, the OXO Apple Divider is one single-use tool that’s worth keeping around.

— Jonathan Steigman

We we bought this and use it regularly on potatoes to make oven fries. Slice the potato, toss the pieces in olive oil and spices of your choice, and bake on a non-stick sheet for 20-30 minutes at 450F, turning once. I didn’t even know this device was actually for apples until I saw it on Cool Tools!

— Julee Bode


(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2007 — editors)

12 July 2018


Fiskars SewSharp Scissors Sharpener

Cheap, disposable scissors sharpener

Shaped like a worry stone, this low-tech scissors sharpener features a ceramic whetstone piece set in plastic. The tiny tool (about the size of a poker chip) is designed specifically for the user to sharpen the two blades simultaneously, a process that’s safe and controlled due to its design. The textured tab is to be held between thumb and forefinger. Mounted inside is a small ceramic rod that serves as the whetstone. One blade is inserted below the rod and the other above. As you draw both blades through, the open scissors close themselves. The previously reviewed Jiff V Sharpener might be the best all-around inexpensive sharpener for the home — it can handle knives and the blade is replaceable — but it’s still too big to keep in crowded or small spaces. The SewSharp is perfect for an office desk or sewing kit. It also costs half as much as the Jiff V, so you can buy multiples to stash in crafts kits, tool drawers, and scrapbooking boxes. The life of the ceramic rod is not indefinite, so I’d recommend buying more than one anyway.

-- Anne Morris 07/12/18

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2007 — editors)


img 07/11/18

Kidz-Med Medicine Dispenser

Pacifier for administering meds

img 07/10/18

Ziploc Big Bags

Super large plastic bags

img 07/8/18


Classic puzzle in great package

See all the reviews


img 07/5/18

GustBuster Umbrella

Unflippable umbrella

img 08/4/13

How Buildings Learn

Making adaptable shelter

img 07/21/11

Zenni Optical

Best cheap eyeglasses

img 12/3/15


Satisfying audio books

img 07/9/10

Nesco Food Dehydrator

Affordable dehydrator

See all the favorites



Cool Tools Show 131: Alex Glow

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 130: Tom Fassbender

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 129: Jake von Slatt

Picks and shownotes

23 February 2017


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.

One new tool is posted each weekday. Cool Tools does NOT sell anything. The site provides prices and convenient sources for readers to purchase items.

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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.

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).

13898183_602421513250870_1391167760_oClaudia Dawson runs the Cool Tool website, posting items daily, maintaining software, measuring analytics, managing ads, and in general keeping the site alive. If you have a concern about the operation or status of this site contact her email is cl {at} kk.org.