This small, flat, semi-translucent plastic card contains a sharp blade, an even sharper pair of scissors, a file, a tweezers, a toothpick, and a pen. They all slide into the card, and come free of it for independent use. The whole kit is the size of a credit card, and about three times as thick. It lays flat in my pocket and weighs very little. I use it daily. It prompts a smile most every time I do, and it’s a good conversation piece. Highly recommended and undeservedly under-popular.
Tim Jenison, Founder of NewTek and star of Tim’s Vermeer, a critically acclaimed documentary about his discovery of a possible tool used by hyper-realist painters throughout history, takes us behind the curtain this week to see what tools made this investigation possible.
Here are Tim’s tool picks, with quotes from the show:
Fadal Milling 4020 Machine (Prices Vary)
“…I just love the interface on it. It’s so simple it’s just brain-dead and it does everything you need to do…They’re extremely simple and reliable.”
“A lot of people start out wanting to learn a language and then they realize it’s a lot of work, but the emphasis of this book is how to teach yourself a language, not to go to school but how to do it yourself and he’s got a step by step plan that actually works. Can’t recommend the book enough. ”
Point It $9
“It’s just a bunch of tiny little color pictures so if you can’t communicate with somebody you whip this out and point at a picture. There’s so many pictures in it that you always get the idea across. ”
Fujitsu Scansnap $420
“You just drop the papers in and push the button. There’s really no software to mess with. It just scans them in, both sides of the sheet if it is double sided, in color and it’ll turn it into a PDF or anything else you want.”
“You can drag any kind of material to it and it automatically shows up on all your computers and a local copy is kept on your computers. On your iOS or Android device it keeps the index and downloads things as you need them, but everything in synced constantly. ”
Superfocus Eyeglasses (No Longer Sold)
“Right now I’m looking at my computer screen and it’s about fourteen inches away from my eyes, but the whole thing is in perfect focus. Now, if I was wearing bifocals I’d have to tip my head back and try to find the part of the lens that works…There are other people making variable focus glasses, but nothing as good as this, so I really hope somebody takes over and starts making them again. ”
“You get incredible battery life because it’s always defaulting to low brightness and you can hold it in your teeth. It’s really small and it’s really handy. As I said, I’ve been through a lot of flashlights and this is currently the cream of the crop.”
Flex 6700 radio $7500- $8000
“Ham radio is kind of a niche. I just had to mention it because I use the thing every day and it’s just a totally different experience to knob turning Ham radio. ”
“Y’know it’s amazing how much time has been saved by everybody having a multi-tool in their pocket because you’ve gotta run and rummage around this toolbox and that’s what we always used to do, but it’s a new world.”
“…there’s one tool that a nerd cannot be without and that is the “Green Tweaker,” the Xcelite R3322, which is a tiny little flat-blade screwdriver that every tech head has to have to make adjustments on things. Actually, the 3/32″, 3″ is the better one to have because it’s a bit longer. ”
Jenison Comparator Mirror (Not Sold)
“This extremely simple elegant device, it’s just a mirror on a stick and you have to put the mirror in exactly the right spot. If you spend enough time, you end up with a hyper-real photographic-looking painting.” (In the podcast, Tim shares some building tips that were not included in the documentary.)
CEO and Founder of Creative Good, Mark Hurst brings a laundry list of Cool Tools to our show this week. Our highly productive discussion yields tips on how to properly rinse your text, type most efficiently and how you might casually pick up Mandarin Chinese in your spare time.
Mark’s Book, Customers Included
Here are Mark’s tool picks, with quotes from the show:
Default Folder X: $35
“You know how when you save a file it brings up that little popup dialogue box and it shows the file hierarchy? If you wanna save that file in a particular folder, generally you have to click through this morass of folders… Default Folder makes that process much easier by letting you set hot keys to go to your most commonly accessed folders with one keystroke.”
“How often do you go to a webpage and you copy some text and you place it in wherever you’re gonna place it, in Word or somewhere else, and suddenly it has the crazy font and italics and the blue color that the original source had an you go, “No, no, no, no! All I want was the text!” And there’s no easy way to remove all that stylistic data. What you do is just paste it in a Text Wrangler file and then copy and paste it out of Text Wrangler to wherever you’re going to put it. I think of it as rinsing off the text until you’re left with the pure ASCII.”
“It’s clever enough to save if an article is broken up into three or four click-throughs. It’ll pick up all of those pages’ content and put it in one long scrolling list and it does a text rinse…and displays it without all of the cruft that comes up in a lot of the content sites. One of the best things on my iPhone, bar none is Instapaper.”
“With one keystroke. I can tag that URL and get back to it anytime later. All the bookmarks are saved in the cloud. Really simple elegant design. I just love the service. ”
Ask MetaFilter: $5
“Every time I go on somebody’s saying, ‘Does anybody remember that movie? The guy looks to the left and then a watermelon hits the sidewalk.’ And in three minutes someone gives a link to the YouTube clip of that happening. ”
KTdict+ C-E: $4
“If you’re an English speaker learning Chinese, you have three things to memorize, the Chinese character, the definition and then the Pinyin, which is the phonetic pronunciation, including the tone. Most flashcards will give you two sides to the card, but this one actually does three sides…”
“What it does that the dictionary app does not do is it will show an animation of a character being drawn, and that’s indispensable. ”
“I was sitting down to breakfast with a friend of mine who said, “Oh, you have back pain? No problem! You just need to read the book!” and [I said] “What book? I don’t wanna read a book!” But he convinced me to read this book and I read it from front to back. The book is very clear: you just need to read the entire book. A few weeks later my back pain disappeared and it really hasn’t come back.”
I recently moved and somehow lost my tool box. I knew I would have to wrestle with endless amounts of disassembly, reassembly, and re-reassembly and so I bought an Ikea Fixa tool kit for $8.
My kids love using them because they can swap out screw driver heads, the tools fit their hands (I think they might be a tad smaller than traditional tools), and, because at this price point, I got two boxes so they didn’t need to share.
In our era of digital devices and power-everything, this tool kit was an example of K.I.S.S. working beautifully.
Contents: Contains: Hammer with separate rubber face, adjustable wrench, combination pliers, bit screwdriver with bits for slotted, cross-head, hex screws, awl.
We’ve all been there. You run out of the house for a quick errand and leave your everyday carry multitool on the table by the door. You’re not going to need it, right? I’ve been burned by this so many times it’s not even funny; clawing apart clamshell packaging in my car, scrounging for a coin to grapple with that flathead screw, breaking a fingernail whilst prying something, or worst, not being able to open that beer.
Because of all this, I’ve been a fan of the keychain tool family of lifesavers. For a long time, the Leatherman Micra was my go-to backup tool. It now belongs to the TSA. (I forgot to take it off of my keychain before a plane trip.) I wanted something that had a small footprint like the Micra but was TSA-friendly without sacrificing total usability.
Enter the Gerber Artifact. Two flathead screwdrivers, a pry-bar, nail puller/wire stripper, bottle opener, philips driver, and a holder for a removable EAB #11 hobby blade. (Pop it out before flying, buy a spare at any convenience store when you touch down if you really need it.) Paired with a small keychain LED light, I’ve got enough gear to tide me over in most situations.
The Artifact has lived on my keychain for about a year now. I’ve used every tool on it and found it equal to most any task I can throw at it. The bottle opener isn’t perfect, and the flathead drivers are a little too thick to grapple with some screws, but a little work with a mill bastard can solve that if it’s a problem. The blade rusts out pretty fast, but a $7 pack of spare blades solves that problem.
Bottom line, this tool isn’t your replacement EDC multi. But it will serve as a great backup and can be denuded of its airline-unfriendly blade in a hot second, meaning you’ll never be without a basic set of tools.
(For those who want to forego the knife component entirely, the Gerber Shard lives up to the task.)
Howard Rheingold is a critic, writer, teacher, and artist; his specialties are on the cultural, social and political implications of modern communication media such as the Internet, mobile telephony, virtual communities, digital media and learning, and online co-learning. He joins the Cool Tools podcast this week to discuss how his budding interest in woodworking has enriched his creative projects and led him to amass a whole new arsenal of cool tools. In this episode, Howard shows us a thorough list of must-haves for any beginner in woodworking or circuit tinkering, as well as some quality-of-life items to cultivate a healthy working environment.
Here are Howard’s tool picks, with quotes from the show:
6′ x 8′ Tuff Shed: ~$2,000.00 (See website for exact pricing.)
“I’ve got a six by eight foot shed installed. They broke it down into parts and moved it through my narrow garden gate and installed and painted it, all level and nice, for two thousand dollars for an eight by six foot shed. You’ll be amazed at the amount of stuff I’ve been able to cram in there.”
Makita Compound Miter Saw: $449.00-$796.00
“I’ve got a Makita compound miter saw, which is invaluable. Compound means you can move it in an angle in the horizontal plane, but you can also move it at angles in the vertical plane to make bevels. That’s very useful especially if you get a blade with more teeth on it so that you can make finer cuts.”
Survivair S-Series Half Mask respirator mask: $27
“The respirator I’m using is the Survivair, S. Series Half Mask Respirator. Cost me thirty bucks and I figure it’s worth it to not have to worry about my lungs.”
Jet 10-inch lathe: $419 – $521
“I have a Jet mini-lathe. Again, I took a wood turning class and the teacher recommended it. It’s a 10-inch, which enables me to work in a pretty small space.”
Rikon 8-inch grinder: $140
Wolverine Grinding Jig: $92
“By the way, if you get a lathe you have to get a grinder, I found out, because your tools get dull very quickly, so I’ve got a Rikon eight-inch grinder and at the recommendation of my wood turning teacher. I got the Wolverine grinding jig with it.”
Roker Wireless portable bluetooth speaker: $23
“I just put on Spotify or my iTunes, click ‘Library,’ start playing it on my iPhone, and then just turn on my speaker and turn on Bluetooth and, bang! It’s pretty substantial.”
Spoonflower Fabrics: See website for pricing.
“If you go to Spoonflower.com you can upload any image and they’ll send you fabric.”
Copy Paste Pro: Free
“Copy Paste Pro will remember up to the last two hundred things that I either cut or copied to my clipboard. The clipboard, by the way, Ted Nelson calls “the abominable hidey hole.”
Radio Shack Wire Wrapping Tool: $3 – $13
“It wraps wire around a pin and makes just as good an electrical connection — and just as good a mechanical connection — as soldering does. You put a little shrink wrap on it and it can be quite robust if you’re not going to move it around too much.”
Adafruit Perma-Proto Breadboard: $7.00
Mark: “Adafruit makes these really great printed circuit boards that have the same letter and numbering system as a solderless breadboard”
Palomino Blackwing 602 Pencils: $23/doz.
“One thing that Boing Boing turned me onto are Blackwing pencils. I’ve got those out in the shed. I’ve got them in my sketchbook here in the office.”
Felco Pruners: $54 – $63
“I use them for cutting up anything that’s basically smaller than your thumb and there’s a lot of it in my garden. If you’ve got fruit trees or you’ve got bushes or blackberries or ivy, anything like that you’ll use it a lot.”
Paper Clay: $12/16 oz.
“It’s mostly paper but it’s also got a little bit of clay in it. You don’t need to bake it. It takes a couple of days to dry and after it dried you can sand it and paint it or put something more substantial over it and it’s very, very lightweight which is a good reason for using it.”
They are way better than bungee cords. I use them to secure a bag to my motorcycle when touring. There are no hooks to scratch anything or “bend loose” as they secures with a loop in the strap itself. They are easy to use: attach, buckle, tighten.
When I first saw them at a motorcycle show, I thought yes, they are cool, but they are kind of pricey. I put it on my Christmas list and have used them this past riding season including several multi day trips. I now think they are easily worth it. They have uses beyond the motorcycle world… think anywhere a bungee would be used.
They offer several sizes for different applications. I use the model that adjusts between 18″ and 60′. It’s one-inch wide.
In this entertaining second installment of the Cool Tools podcast, Clive Thompson, author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better, discusses the problem with laptop calculators, a surprising use for uncommonly bad tools, and what we all can do to stop stock photos from ruining the internet… all while introducing us to some terrific cool tools. (Listen to episode 001 with guest David Pogue here.)
Clive’s Wired column, “Only You Can Overthrow the Tyranny of Awful Stock Photos”
Here are Clive’s tool picks, with quotes from the show:
“The guys who made Soulver decided to create a calculator that actually didn’t try and look like an old calculator, and as a result it’s way more fun to use. You can type in semi-regular expressions like ‘this times that minus this’ and you can take a result from one column and drag it down into another so you can do dynamic addition and subtraction.”
Dymo DYM12966 Plastic Label Embosser: $14.84
“This is actually a sub-par labeler, but it’s fantastic for art projects!”
iFixit 26 Bit Driver Kit: $20
“I only use it once a month but whenever I use it it’s the only thing that will fix whatever stupid little electronic thing has fallen apart.”
Livescribe Pen: $130 – $200
“I’ve been using this for five years and it has been incredibly transformative of my note taking as a reporter. I use it in face to face situations and it allows me to be as comprehensive or un-comprehensive as I want with my written notes.”
In this inaugural episode of The Cool Tools show, we pick the brain of guest David Pogue, founder of Yahoo Tech, for some lesser-known tips, tools, and life hacks. We move from discussing productivity apps, to office products, to kitchen appliances.
Here are David’s picks, with quotes from the show:
BusyCal for Mac: $50
“One of my favorite things about BusyCal is that on any other month-view calendar today’s date is where it would fall if it were on a wall calendar, which might be on the bottom row, but by definition you’re looking at a calendar to plan ahead. BusyCal has the option of having today’s date be at the top of the calendar even if it’s the last week of the month. It’s a perpetually scrolling month view and it makes so much sense, so you’re always looking ahead.”
Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Canceling Headphones: $279
“They’re so comfortable, they cut the noise a lot and you listen to your music in great style and great sound. However, I also keep a spare because they have to be charged and sometimes they’re dead.”
Nomad Charge Key and Charge Card: $29
“It’s a tiny rubberized two inch strip and can go on your keychain. One end slides into your USB jack. The other end slides into your iPhone.”
Spark for Mac: Free
“A really great macro program. I don’t use the dock ever. I open everything with keystrokes: ‘control w’ for Microsoft word, ‘control b’ for BusyCal, ‘control e’ for Evernote etcetera, and then I’ve set up the escape key (top left right across from the backspace key) to be the left handed delete key, and it is life-changing.” [I've bolded this because it is a great tip! - Mark]
Adobe Voice for iPad: Free
“It hearkens back to the old days of Mac Paint or HyperCard, or simple tools with infinite possibilities.”
Anchor TrueSeal Food Storage: $23
“My fridge looks like a commercial, it’s so organized and beautiful.”
“It’s a cutting board that folds in thirds so once you’re done cutting the thing you fold up the wings and make a chute so the food slides into your bowl without falling off.”
“This tiny little liner for the MagSafe jack, which through some miracle of physics, amplifies the magnetic grip of the power plug so that it does not fall out unless you really kick it or trip on it.”
Our recording studio is a cable-rich environment, and we struggled to find a tidy yet accessible storage solution. These hooks are awesome; the screw is fat enough to anchor securely, while the body is slim enough to make hooking the cables over it painless and fast. We installed twenty of these puppies two months ago, and an unexpected consequence is that the studio is tidier more often because people are more willing to put cables back after use because the hooks are so easy to use.