23 June 2018


Making Comics

How to communicate visually

Magnificent! A work of genius. The best how-to manual ever published. I could keep piling on the superlatives because this book is simply a masterpiece. At one level, it is a comic book about how to make comics, and for that it is supreme; the best. It will walk you through every step of making a comic, including how to make them on the web, digitally, or in pen and ink. I’ve been working on a near-completed graphic novel, and every page has told me something important and spot on. With brilliant graphics, Scott McCloud combines the most profound insights from his two previous books, Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics. But in this book he raises your understanding of graphic communication further by making every lesson utterly practical and useful for both novice and expert. I can’t imagine anyone ever doing a comic manual better.

However, even if you are not planning on making a graphic novel, this book is a gold mine. McCloud’s section on constructing facial expressions and emotions is astounding, and worth the price of the book alone. The clever way McCloud arrays human expressions in one chart reminds me of the first time I saw all the colors arranged in a color wheel; it’s the same aha! The insights McCloud extracts from comics and presents so vividly here are useful to novelists, sociologists, film makers, artists, roboticists — anyone interested in human expression. That’s probably you.

Indeed, even if you have no interest in comics at all, this charming book will win a place in your life because ultimately it is about communication and stories — and those are the foundations of all cultures. Making Comics teaches you the visual elements of stories. If I had to re-title it, I would call this book Making Visual Stories.

Finally, as an example of communication itself, this comic book has few peers. I read, review and use hundreds of how-to books every year. I can’t think of any instructional manual in any subject that is clearer, more thorough, more honest, more user friendly than Making Comics.

As I said, it’s a classic. You can expect to find marked-up copies on bookshelves (or on hard drives) a hundred years from now.

-- KK 06/23/18





22 June 2018


Dan Ruderman, Physicist and technologist

Cool Tools Show 128: Dan Ruderman

Our guest this week is Dan Ruderman. Dan is a physicist and technologist. He is faculty at the Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine of USC, where he applies machine learning to individualized cancer treatment. Dan enjoys overseas travel, and picking up enough foreign language to never again order a plate of organ meat.

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:

Anki NihongoShark.com Kanji Deck
“There’s this program called Anki, which works both on your desktop computer but also on your phone. I think it costs like $25 or something like that, but it’s well worth it, and you can synchronize them. It’s basically a platform for flashcards, and people have uploaded all kinds of flashcards decks for all kinds of subject matter: sciences, chemistry, physics, pathology, history. All kinds of thing you want to learn about, there are flashcard decks on those things. Well, someone has put together a particular flashcard deck around Kanji that I really like, and it’s called NihongoShark Kanji. So it has the 2200 Kanji that you need to learn to be basically proficient, and then it has their meanings in English on them — and it has some of the Japanese as well — and so you can learn them. ….What’s wonderful about Anki is it doesn’t just give you the new cards that you’re supposed to learn this day, but it also goes through and reviews the previous ones that you’ve supposedly learned and maybe have forgotten. It takes you back to them, and so it’s continually reinforcing your learning while it’s having you learn new things.”

Pimsleur Approach Gold Japanese I,II,III, IV Complete 64 Cd’s Total
“Pimsleur makes language CDs for all kinds of languages, and I’ve found their stuff to be really good. The particular one that I’m using is Pimsleur Approach Japanese Levels 1-4 Gold Edition, and you can get 64 CDs combined, and you can get it on eBay used for like $100. So for essentially like 60 hours of learning, that’s really pretty inexpensive. It’s very high-quality. The language instruction is great. They take you through conversations, they teach vocabulary. It has a good pace. It has male and female speakers, so you’re hearing multiple people say the same words but also different genders. Sometimes you can’t quite make out a sound, but then you’ll hear the other person say it and suddenly it makes sense. Great conversation examples that are useful for the traveler.”

A Guide to Japanese Grammar ($19)
“As I said, I’m taking a multi-pronged approach, learning the Kanji, learning the listening and speaking, but also grammar, of course, is essential. And so you want to find a book that isn’t too dry. You want to find one that is practical, and I really like this book A Guide to Japanese Grammar by Tae Kim. His name is Korean. I don’t think he’s a native Japanese speaker, and so that means that he has some perspective on the process of learning as an adult. … He’ll make sentences that aren’t really sentences in English, but they are sentences in Japanese or they’re concepts, and so you really get this sense from the very beginning of the way the Japanese think in terms of their language, and I think that’s a really important thing to do.”

JapanesePod101 Youtube Channel
“A great part of learning a language is trying to get immersed as much as possible in the culture and see how it works in real life, and what I love about JapanesePod101 is it has those real-life aspects where they’ll go and they’ll do something. They’ll go to tea shop, and they’ll talk to the guy that sells tea, and they’ll see what the tea is all about. And so it’s these real-world activities, the kinds of things you want to do as a tourist. Now, what’s great about it also is you have English subtitles. So they may be talking Japanese, you see the English subtitles. But more than watching a Kurosawa movie, you also have the Japanese there often with it. So you will have the spoken Japanese, you’ll have the written Japanese in full Kanji and Hiragana, you’ll have the Latin alphabet transliteration, and then you’ll have the English. But what’s great about YouTube is … Once they say something, you can pause, see all the text together, take your time, and learn it.”

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $341 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF


21 June 2018


Lexel Caulk

The "duct tape" of all caulks

They call this stuff caulk, but I use it as a general purpose glue. It pretty much sticks anything to anything. It may not hold as strongly as epoxy, but for 90% of my attachment jobs it does the trick. Almost everything in my mobile illusions museum is adhered with Lexel. It sticks better than silicone sealant and is not as obnoxious to work with.

Used to stick everything to everything.

-- Doug Payne 06/21/18

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2006 — editors)

20 June 2018


Sierra Stove

Lite-weight stove burns fuel found along trail

There I was, in driving rain, cooking breakfast under a tree over an intense, portable fire. Fresh coffee and scrambled eggs.

It was a Sierra Stove I got for $52. It’s a mini-forge, forcing air into a small insulated chamber where a double handful of twigs (or dung or whatever) can heat water in a couple minutes—just a little longer than a butane stove, but with NO fuel or fuel containers to carry. One enthusiast hiked from Mexico to Canada cooking with one, claims Chip in The Compleat Walker IV. Chip himself now claims to camp largely solar–with backback solar charged batteries running his flashlights and his Sierra Stove.

The basic unit I got weighs 18 ounces and is clever and well-evolved. Accessory goodies can be found at the manufacturer’s site. The newest item is a titanium version that weighs only 10 ounces, for $129.

I was impressed at how little fuel was needed, and how funky it could be. A switch offers high or low speed on the fan, driven by one AA battery. No igniter — my Bic failed me in the rain, but a Lifeboat match and lil’ firestarter saved the day. Unlike butane, the Sierra Stove does blacken your pots and pans, which is the main nuisance — they go in Ziploc bags anyway though. All in all an impressive little rig.

We’ll all want one when the economy collapses completely and we have to live homeless.

-- Stewart Brand 06/20/18

19 June 2018


5 Resistor Kits compared

Round up of inexpensive resistor kits

In this video I’m going to show you 5 different resistor kits for electronic projects. I found all of these on Amazon.

Whether you’re just getting started with electronics or you’re an old pro, a well organized assortment of resistors is incredibly useful.

The good news is that there are a bunch of options you can quickly get on Amazon. The bad news is that the quality and organization is hit or miss. So I’m going to show you 5 options.

Let’s start out with this one from Yobett. On paper, this one seems like a crazy deal for around $17. You get 166 different ¼ watt resistor values, 10 resistors per value. It comes packed and labeled and there’s a little chart inside with all the values listed.

But I have two problems with this. First, once you dig around for the resistor you need the organization falls apart almost immediately.

Second, the leads on these resistors are these thin, wimpy legs that aren’t breadboard friendly. And I’ve found this problem with a lot of resistors I’ve bought through eBay or Amazon. If you’re used to a solid, Radio Shack style of resistor lead, these will disappoint.

Next up, at just $9, there’s the RexQualis 22 value kit. You get 550 ¼ watt resistors, all separately bagged and labeled with big, legible numbers. It also includes a resistor code cheat sheet.

I like this set. The organization is great. There’s not a lot of different values, but you get the most useful and common range, from 10 ohms up to 1 megaohm. My only complaint is that the resistors still have these wimpy legs, similar to the other kit. Fine for through-hole PCB projects, but not great for breadboarding or point-to-point stuff.

Next up is the Elegoo resistor kit. It’s around $11, and comes with 525 ¼ watt resistors across 17 values.

This one comes in a neat, plastic case. Each value comes in its own individual bag, clearly labeled. You also get a resistor code chart and a list of all the included values.

The problem with this one is that there’s no linear order to how it’s organized, or any way to really keep them in order. You just hunt for what you want throw it back in.

The leads are a little stiffer on these guys. You can breadboard with these, but they’re still a little squishy.

Now here’s my personal favorite. This 16 value kit from Joe Knows Electronics isn’t the best value or most complete kit. But for around $8 you get an individually bagged assortment that’s clearly labeled and will stay organized.

The leads are relatively stiff. They’re a classic beige color because they’re 5% carbon film style. And you get a code chart inside the lid. A few extra values in here would be nice, but this covers the most common breadboard project values, and there’s enough room in here that I could pop in a few bags from the other kits and keep them organized here.

Now, I was so impressed by the way they did this kit that I also ordered up their $20 860 piece kit with 86 values.

It’s the same idea, but the box is larger, you get more values, and the resistors themselves are a more precise quality that use copper leads. I find the whole thing a little overkill for me, and honestly none of these really delivered the old school lead stiffness I was hoping for.

So that’s a look at some of the different resistor kits you can buy on Amazon. There are a bunch out there, but my advice after looking at all of these is to consider organization over quantity.

Yobett 166 Values 1/4w Resistors pack

REXQualis 22 Values 1/4W 1% Resistor Kit Assortment

Elegoo 17 Values 1% Resistor Kit Assortment

Joe Knows Electronics 1/4W Resistor Starter Kit

Joe Knows Electronics 1/4W 1% 86 Value 860 Piece Resistor Kit

-- Donald Bell 06/19/18

18 June 2018


Fiskars Take-Apart Shears

Designed for tasks all over the house

I don’t consider myself a great cook, but I’ve found that for a multitude of kitchen activities, scissors are important. Whether for cutting cooking twine, small bones or a chicken breastbone, they can be very useful. Normal office scissors don’t have the right length of blade and the joint can harbor germs and food residue.

The Fiskars shears are one of a number of scissors specially made for the kitchen. They feature shorter, stainless steel blades and a take-apart joint for cleaning. However, these shears are one of the least expensive, yet still reliable pairs. — AK


Shoot, we keep pairs of these in the kitchen, office & home desk drawers and my tool bag. These are the epitome of a Cool Tool, perfectly functional, simple, clean and comfortable. — Wayne Ruffner


(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2006 — editors)



img 10/8/10


Burly folding backwoods saw

img 09/13/11

Last Pass

All-in-one password management

img 09/1/05


3D Tangrams

See all the favorites



Cool Tools Show 128: Dan Ruderman

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 127: Becky Stern

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 126: Charles Platt

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.

When Amazon.com is listed as a source (which it often is because of its prices and convenience) Cool Tools receives a fractional fee from Amazon if items are purchased at Amazon on that visit. Cool Tools also earns revenue from Google ads, although we have no foreknowledge nor much control of which ads will appear.

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.