Cool Tools 2014 Holiday Gift Guide: Kevin’s Picks

This month we’ve run a series of gift suggestions. In our final installment, Cool Tools founder Kevin Kelly selects his favorite toolish gifts. Happy holidays!

tile
Stick N Stack Magnetic Tiles ($150) 

Magna-tiles are large plastic shapes with super magnets buried along their edges so that they can be linked into solid sculptures. They are an open ended construction system that can make tall and complex buildings very fast. They are a lot of fun for kids who are too small to use Legos. We’ve reviewed them previously on Cool Tools.

To do much with them, though, you need lots of tiles, which can get expensive. But now there are a number of cheaper knock-offs, or alternative systems, that are compatible with Magna-Tiles. Brands include PicassoTile, Connect Tiles and Stick N Stack. These systems work interchangeably with Magna-Tiles — their magnets line up exactly in the same places on the same sized pieces. They seem to be just as durable, but they are cheaper. I have the 150 piece Stick N Stack set and the pieces work perfectly with my MagnaTile pieces, and they come in a few more shapes, such as windows, arches, and frames. With a large set like this, the magnets allow even small kids (and grownups) to rapidly build complicated structures.

rookie

Perplexus Rookie ($20) 

The Perplexus is a 3D maze that requires concentration and dexterity to solve. It’s designed so you keep advancing to levels of greater difficulty, but you need to start over if you die. However starting over is easy. The kinetic manipulation of your hands needed to solve this resemble the twitches of a video game controller, but there are no electronics at all in this game. It’s a lot of fun because it is so physical, but it is not easy to solve. We previously recommended this as a great Cool Tools toy that won’t get old very fast, and will never need batteries.

Still, I never made it to the end (although my teenage kids did). To give beginners more a chance, Perplexus came out with a simpler version called the Rookie. I can actually complete this one, and so can 6-year olds. At the same time they also released two more difficult Perplexus versions for that smarty-pants in your family who found the original Perplexus too easy. The Perplexus Twist ($25) requires some problem solving and the Perplexus Epic ($22) is epically difficult to complete. All three of these (and the original) are beautiful works of art that could also sit in a glass display case with ease.

 

beast

Mini Strandbeest ($19) 

This is a kit for assembling a small working version of Theo Jansen’s famous walking machines called Strandbeests. Jansen’s original contraptions were larger than human machines made of PVC pipes that would walk along the beaches in the Netherlands, powered by the fierce winds. This miniature kit version uses the same geometry. The tiny Strandbeests can be powered by a hair dryer or small fan. This kit is released as a special issue of a Japanese magazine, but it comes with a minimal set of instructions in English. It is not difficult to assemble (most parts are duplicated) needing about 2 hours for someone say 8 or older. To appreciate the genius of its design, be sure to watch any of Jansen’s video of the large-scale machines in action.

There are other knock-offs which I have not built yet.

anatomy

4D Vision Anatomical Models
Human Head Model ($19)
Eyeball Model ($15)
Human Muscle And Skeleton Anatomy Model ($17)

These plastic anatomical models are inexpensive and small. Putting them together from even smaller pieces is a bit of a puzzle, in that the directions are almost non existent. You have to just see how your body parts fit. Younger children will need help, and even adults may be challenged. Yet the models are highly detailed, informative, revealing, and for an anatomical model, incredibly cheap. I have put together the eyeball, the heart, the muscle man, and head. I learned a lot about each by putting them together. In addition to being instructive and useful for health education, they make great displays. — KK

 

scope

Brock Microscope ($156)

Expensive but indestructible. This is the microscope that science museums and public education teachers use. These scopes take a lot of abuse, yet are simple to use. I’ve also seen them used on sailboats because they don’t corrode. It has only one moving part, no electricity, and provides decent magnification. We keep one out on the table at our home, with the philosophy that the best microscope is the one that is open and ready to use. It’s fine for very young kids to use all by themselves, with almost no instruction. It will last several lifetimes. You can easily make micro photographs by holding a camera or phone right against the eye piece.

Want more gift ideas? Take a look at our other 2014 Holiday Gift Guide and 2013 Holiday Gift Guide posts.

-- KK  



Cool Tools 2014 Holiday Gift Guide: Readers’ Choice!

In the weeks leading up to the holidays, we’ll be presenting a series of gift suggestions. This week, we’ve asked some of our most active commenters to make gift recommendations.

light

Fenix MC11 Flashlight ($61) “As a stagehand for over 30 years I have spent a lot of time in the dark. All of us in this profession have a love of flashlights, as they are a very important tool in our trade. The MC11 flashlight gives me a choice of presetting the mode to blinding high, medium, or low light levels, strobe, and even SOS. It’s powered by a single AA battery so it is small (4″ overall) and a very easy carry. A really aggressive and strong clip means I can clip it to my belt or pocket or even a hat brim. The adjustable 90-degree tilting head is a great help. I can point the beam where I need to see it, and there is an easy-to-find pushbutton power switch on the top.” — Kent Barnes

light2

4Sevens Preon 2 Penlight ($41) “Aging eyes need more light, and this penlight is totally wonderful for men who generally wear a shirt with a pocket. I automatically reach for it in dim-light conditions, and also use it to search for things.” — Michael Ham

“My top recommendation for the holidays is the Kindle of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing ($10). A one-time Shinto shrine maiden, Kondo bases her “KonMari” method on the assumption that one’s house and all the objects in it have consciousness but, boy howdy, even if you’re a die-hard materialist, follow her method and you’ll zoom to a wiggy new oxygen-rich level of tidy.” — C.M. Mayo

The Flavor Bible ($26) “This book contains hundreds of charts listing ingredients and flavors that taste great together. It’s perfect for anyone who loves to experiment and create new recipes.” — Troy Packrat

“I’ve tried a couple of fancy honey dispensers, but the best one I’ve found is free. (That is, after paying for the honey it comes with.) It’s a 16-ounce plastic bottle of Safeway’s O-Organics honey. (Don’t get the larger sizes — they won’t work.) It dispenses honey only when the bottle is squeezed. When the pressure is released, a clever valve in the spout shuts off any further flow, so there are no dribbles. (Perhaps — in fact, probably — other sources have a similar bottle. It’s surprising that more don’t.)” — Roger Knights

Want more gift ideas? Take a look at our other 2014 Holiday Gift Guide and 2013 Holiday Gift Guide posts.

 



 

Last Copies

If you are reading this blog, then you probably have a copy of the Cool Tools book. If you do, you know that it both extremely handy and very inspiring. You can find some rave reviews in the press on our book page. The most common praise points to how diverse its interests are; it has something for everyone. Cool Tools, the book, is especially aspirational for a young person. It opens up a world of possibility they were probably not aware of. In other words, Cool Tools is a great gift. Even better it is a meta-gift, in that it also contains a thousand gift ideas within its pages.

Unfortunately, last year at this holiday time, Cool Tools sold out. Right before Christmas none could be found on Amazon or in bookstores. We did another printing since then, but we don’t intend to print anymore. This was a one-cycle project. After the current pile is sold, there will be no more.

I don’t imagine there will be many copies left after the new year, so if you’d like to give the Cool Tools book away as a gift to the young people in your life, or to anyone who likes to make things or make things happen, or, to yourself, I highly recommend you reserve one now on Amazon. The delights of this immense book are hard to describe but almost everyone who has received one is wowed.

Amazon discounts the $40 book deeply, but variably. It currently sells it for $27, a great bargain.

 



Cool Tools 2014 Holiday Gift Guide: Mark’s Pick’s

In the weeks leading up to the holidays, we’ll be presenting a series of gift suggestions. This week: Cool Tools editor Mark Frauenfelder’s favorite tool reviews from recent years.


Bialetti Stovetop Percolator ($28)
 ”I originally bought this classic Italian coffee maker for camping, but the coffee was so good I use it every day. It is so simple to use and the result is superb.” — Angus Miller


Golden Mean Calipers ($35)
 ”Aside from just wandering around with my kids and having them put it up to just about everything (‘Dad! this has a golden mean in it as well!’ — I’ll never get tired hearing that) you can also use them to bring some simple relational beauty and balance into anything physical that you make.” — Eric Warner


Fagor 3-in-1 Multicooker ($100)
“The Fagor is also a slow cooker and a rice cooker. Because it is so versatile, I use it almost every day. The throw-everything-in-the-pot-and-push-a-button approach has broadened my cooking horizons. I’ve made rib roast in the slow cooker that had my in-laws coming back for thirds.” — Mark Frauenfelder


Victorinox Swiss Army Manager Pocket Knife ($25)
“This has been in my pocket for nearly 2 years. This compact tool has all the useful stuff you expect from the line of Swiss Army knives: blade, scissors, tweezers, file, bottle opener, and separate flat-head & Phillips-head screwdrivers. What makes it a must-have is the retractable ballpoint pen.” — Sean Singh


Kuhn Rikon Epicurean Garlic Press ($36)
“I’ve used this tool for about 10 years and it’s still going strong. It’s probably the best garlic press in the world. It’s constructed very robustly from stainless steel; it has an unusual lever-action which is far superior to the one-to-one action of most garlic presses; it opens up easily and is trivial to clean.” — Stuart Wray

Want more gift ideas? Take a look at our other 2014 Holiday Gift Guide and 2013 Holiday Gift Guide posts.

 



 

Cool Tools 2014 Holiday Gift Guide: Gifts for $10 or less

In the weeks leading up to the holidays, we’ll be presenting a series of gift suggestions selected from the pages of Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities (which itself makes a great gift). This week: great gifts for under $10.


Giottos Rocket Blaster ($10)
“This rubber rocket doesn’t provide as much pressure as Dust-Off, but it exhales a forceful-enough blast for dusting photo/electronic gear, and standing upright on its base sidelines as playful desk dressing/stress-relief toy.”


Coghlan’s 12-in-1 Scissors ($8)
“A silly looking and cheap tool that is surprisingly useful. It will cut fairly heavy material, has a bottle opener, screwdriver, and will come apart so you can use it as an awl or hole punch in an emergency.

Photon Microlight II.jpeg
Photon Microlight II ($9)
 ”This is a very handy little light that is small enough to carry around in your pocket on a keychain. It weighs only 4.8-grams and the LED “bulb” is very bright for its size, more than adequate for finding your way around in a dark spot, reading a map, finding key holes, etc, with a simple thumb press on the button”


Fantastic Ice Scraper ($4)
 ”It’s been my go-to ice removal device. I now keep one in the kitchen for cleaning counter tops, glass tables, stove tops and any other hard surface that needs an occasional scrape down. I also keep one in the garage for general scraping and cleaning.”

rowan
Rowan LT-36 Clip-On Tuner ($10) Update! in the comments, Slideguy says the Rowan is a better $10 tuner than the Snark: “There are lots of good headstock tuners on the market now, and the the Snark has a big drawback besides short battery life. The display is too dim to be used in daylight. Even Snark recognized the problem and came out with an improved display on their SN-8. But the Rowin LT-36 has a bright display that changes colors when you get your tuning just right. It’s smaller, lighter, and has longer battery life. I sell guitars for a living, and always have one of these in my pocket to tweak an instrument before I hand it to a customer.”

Want more $10 gift ideas? Take a look at our 2013 Low Cost Gift Guide

 



 

WATCH: Kevin Kelly at XOXO conference


In October Kevin Kelly spoke at XOXO about making things, experimenting, traveling, and discovering and using cool tools.
kk
Kevin is wearing the pink turban.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  



 

Bestselling Author and Entrepreneur, Seth Godin [Cool Tools Show #13]

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Seth Godin enlightens us this week with an unexpected assortment of tools that will have you exploring the deepest recesses of your subconscious while, at the same time, enriching your hobbies and lifestyle.

Show Notes:

Strikingly Free or Subscription

“I started using this tool and it turns out it’s a simple bounded web development tool that is all plug and play. It only lets you build a one page website, but it’s hard for me to imagine a website being ten times more beautiful than what you can build with Strikingly…”

 

Wired Magazine Entire Collection

“…every once in a while I’ll take down an issue. This is the behemoth issue from December 1999. It is more than four hundred and fifteen pages long and what’s fascinating about it is the combination of breathless enthusiasm combined with sometimes not particularly long-lasting technology and what I find useful about that is it helps to not take myself so damn seriously…”

 

One Lucky Duck

“Sometimes I would drive twenty miles out of my way to get a single brownie and then drive home and I’m sure there’s no biochemical reason why it makes me feel taller, better, faster and able to jump and run higher, but it does and it’s been interesting to sort of hack my own mental physical barrier…”

Penguin Magic

“I think it’s a great site to go to because the way the site works is every single trick is demonstrated in a high production value video so it’s basically a magic show you can watch whenever you want to and the only way to find out how it’s done is to buy it.”

 



 

Co-founder of ThinkUp, Gina Trapani [Cool Tools Show #12]

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Lifehacker founder and ThinkUp co-founder, Gina Trapani introduces us to a few web based apps that offer elegant design and features well worth their minuscule price-points. Fans of an uncluttered web experience will rejoice to hear what Gina offers up in this installment of the Cool Tools Show.

Show Notes:

Gina’s Website

Gina’s Twitter

Gina’s latest venture, ThinkUp

Forecast.io (Free)

“Forecast.io takes several different weather services and, based on your location, it will make it’s best guess, given multiple data sources, of what the weather is in your position and how long it will be partly sunny or at what point it will start raining. So if you wanna walk your dog and you don’t want to do it in the rain, Forecast.io is the place to look. It’s a very, very smart and well-designed weather app.”

Draft ($4/month or $40/year)

“Draft emphasizes that you get better the more you write so it gives you these great stats about how many words per day you’ve written, what hour of the day you’re most productive, what reading level you’re writing is at. It really incentivizes you to write more and so if you’re doing that with Draft, the subscription is definitely worth that. It’s just a few bucks a month.”

kidpost

KidPost (Free during Beta period)

“Kid Post sends a daily email to whoever opts in to your Kid Post, like Grandma or Grandpa, and it rolls up the photos from all those other services and it sends them out to everyone and includes the photos inline. So everyone in the family who is checking their email gets to see just the photos that you post to these different services automatically.”

Push Bullet (Free)

“Push Bullet mirrors my phone’s push notifications, things that have come pushed to my phone, to my desktop. So if any one of my apps shows me a notification, I see that on my desktop which means I don’t constantly have to be switching between my phone and my desktop.”

ThinkUp ($5/month)

“Facebook and Twitter and Google, they have a lot of information about us because we’ve been using these networks for a long time and I wanted to build an app that was like “what kind of information do they have about me that helps them know more about me. I wanna know more about myself. What am I talking about? Who am I friends with? What are the messages that travel far? How many times do I say ‘thank you’ to people?” so ThinkUp is my attempt at that.”

 



Entrepreneur and Inventor, Dan Shapiro

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Robot Turtles creator Dan Shapiro recommends inventions and innovations that offer a surprisingly valuable experience for their price. If you’re looking for high value on a shoestring budget, you won’t be disappointed by Dan’s picks.

Show Notes:

Dan’s Website

Dan’s bestselling game, Robot Turtles

Here are Dan’s tool picks, with quotes from the show:

Brushless DSLR Gimbal $450

“…you look at what comes out of it and it looks like you just shot a documentary even though you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s like sprinkling magic fairy pixie dust on any video you shoot. These things are incredible! I’ve been using every excuse I have to shoot video now because it’s so amazing.”

 

 

The Art of Electronics $60- $120

“It’s not theory. It’s not highfalutin. It’s, ‘Here’s how to go build things that work.’”

 

 

Navdy $300

“To get something comparable with your car would be thousands of dollars if it’s even available. I think the Corvette has one that’s a multi thousand dollar option. And then at some point in the future you won’t be able to upgrade the firmware, swap it out. The Navdy you can just plunk on your dash…”

 

 

Cheerson CX-10 multicopter $20

“Its super stable and small, fits in your pocket easily with room to spare and it’s even capable of doing flips. The thing is just remarkable.”

 

 

AliExpress Free

“They have everything from fashion to electronics to lumber, across the board. It’s one of those secrets in my list of suppliers. Everybody knows about Ebay and Amazon. Some people know about these sites like BangGood and Deal Xtreme…but AliExpress is underappreciated.”

-- Cool Tools  



Blogger and Author, David McRaney [Cool Tools Show 010]

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Blogger and author David McRaney introduces us to some lesser known creative solutions to life’s tiny nuisances that will help you untangle your wad of keys, opt for a better YouTube experience, and explore the future of musical experimentation.

Show Notes:

David’s Blog, You Are Not So Smart

You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney

You Are Now Less Dumb by David McRaney

Here are David’s tool picks, with quotes from the show:

Keysmart $20

“You don’t have a big wad of keys and they just swing out like a pocket knife and go into the door and you twist it, open a door and then swing it back in. It’s all nice and tight and compact and I like it. ”

Hercules Stands Wallmount Guitar Hanger  $15

“You may have seen something like this in a guitar store. That’s how I started looking for it because I used to have all my guitars around my house and my basses on stands and it only takes two or three and suddenly a whole side of your room is taken up by the stuff. ”

Source Audio SA115 Hot Hand 3 Wireless Adapter $150

“The way I was first introduced to this is there’s a band called Pinn Panelle and they had a video where they did a live cover of Skrillex’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites“…and the bass player was able to make the dubstep bass sound by using this controller…His name is Nathan Navarro and he’s got some really face melting bass solos that he’s created using this device and his album even comes with tablature for his solos.”

AlienTube Free

“Everyone knows that YouTube comments are the worst place on the internet. They are so horrible. I hope that if some sort of extraterrestrial intelligence is scanning our database of knowledge that they don’t ever see the YouTube comments. But usually Reddit comments about a video are pretty good and sometimes really amazing things can be in a Reddit thread…”

-- Mark Frauenfelder