New in Ask Cool Tools

In Ask Cool Tools, I asked for a recommendation for a grip strengthener:

grip strengtheners. Some are lever-based and work all the fingers at once. Others are like a trumpet, with individual pegs for your fingers. Others are squishy balls/donuts. I’m mainly interested in improving forearm strength while I watch TV, listen to podcasts, etc. What do you recommend?

Answer this question here.

If you have a question of your own, please ask!

-- Mark Frauenfelder  



New in Ask Cool Tools

In Ask Cool Tools, Robray wants to find a multi-purpose thermometer.

I’m always curious about the temperature of things such as; my coffee cup, the inside of my car, a slice of pizza (so I don’t burn my mouth), the surface of my solar panels, the battery in my laptop, etc. What would be the best thermometer for these sorts of tasks? I assume I would want something that measures fairly quickly as sometimes peak temperatures only last a few seconds. Would one of those pistol grip surface temperature thermometers work well or would or something more like a multimeter probe be better?

Answer this question here.

If you have a question of your own, please ask!

-- Mark Frauenfelder  



New in Ask Cool Tools

In Ask Cool Tools, Sylvar has asked about the best way to digitize several shoeboxes full of photos:

I’ve got several shoeboxes full of photos, mostly 4×6 size, and would like to get them scanned so I can upload them into Flickr and discard the originals. Is there a reason why I should buy a bulk-feeding scanner and spend my time supervising the scanbot, or should I just ship them all off to some service and let them handle it?

Answer this question here.

If you have a question of your own, please ask!

-- Mark Frauenfelder  



Ask Cool Tools Public Beta Extended

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Ask Cool Tools public beta test over the weekend. Your suggestions were very helpful. We are going to continue to run it as a beta product, and I’m asking for your help.

If you  experienced trouble registering, please try again. (We are going to streamline the registration process described below, but it’s still pretty easy to sign-up.)

How to register:

register

1. Click the “Or, register” button at the bottom of the Ask Cool Tools home page.

wp-register

2. Click the “Register” link on the WordPress log in page.

register-2

3. Create a username and enter your email address. You will get an confirmation email. Click the link in the email and then log-in.

You are now able to ask and answer questions. If you need help, or have comments, please post them in the comments section.

Thanks!

 



Ask Cool Tools Public Beta

We’ve been working behind the scenes to redesign Ask Cool Tools, which has suffered from registration problems and a confusing interface. Beginning tonight (around 11pm ET)  we are going to turn on the switch for the redesign. We’ll let it run over the weekend, to see how it does. It will undoubtedly have problems. I’d like to invite you to take it for a test drive by asking real questions, and providing real answers. Try it out tonight or over the weekend here. You can leave feedback in the comments here. Thank you!

-- Mark Frauenfelder  



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.