21 May 2017


Learn difficult subjects/memomize/Kevin’s go-to camera

Recomendo: issue no. 43

How to understand difficult subjects:
This four-step method for learning difficult subjects was developed by physicist Richard Feynman when he was a student at Princeton University. All the steps are important, but the most important step is the one where you have to teach what you’ve learned in a simple way so a new student can understand it. If you can’t do that, you don’t really understand it yourself. — MF

Save text for later:
My current favorite Chrome extension is memomize, which lets you save text for later. Just highlight some text, right click >  Add to memomize, and the next time you open a new tab, what ever you save will be there along with links to its original source. I save subject lines and text from emails and use it as my inbox to-do list. — CD

Nifty email:
I’m old school: email is my chief communication mode, and I primarily work on a laptop or desktop. While there are many things to recommend about Gmail on the web, it’s interface is not one of them. I use Postbox as my mail client to reach my Gmail (it runs on Mac or Windows). I’ve tried other clients now and then but keep coming back to Postbox for its intuitive (to me) design and interface. And I’m still uncovering new capabilities I didn’t know it had. — KK

Wrist relief:
I’ve been using the 18” version of this gel-filled wrist pad for five years (I’m on my second one — they last a few years). It goes behind my keyboard, giving me a soft-but-firm place to rest my wrists. This is essential equipment for me. — MF

Mute individual tabs:
I like to read celebrity gossip for fun, but most of the websites I visit are bloated with ads and videos that automatically start themselves. I recently discovered right click > mute tab on Chrome and Firefox, which makes reading my junk news a little more peaceful, and a lot less annoying. — CD

The camera I use:
I’ve been a very serious photographer for 45 years (!!!). Even though I’ve had one book of my photos published by Taschen, I have never used a state-of-the art professional camera. I have always relied on good-enough amateur level cameras. For the past 10 years, I’ve used Panasonic Lumix superzooms. They suit my cultural photography perfectly. They are silent. They are featherweight (I carry them all day, weeks on end.) They have flip out screens so I can shoot stealthily, with subjects unaware. They are cheap. They super zoom from wide angle to telephoto, very fast. The model I’ve used for the past 3 years, the FZ 300, has a super zoom (600mm equivalent) with a constant 2.8 lens. It’s been great. For my subject — recording the vanishing cultures and peoples of Asia — this camera is perfect. — KK

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder and Claudia Dawson 05/21/17

19 May 2017


Basin Buddy

Universal wrench for metal metal PVC locknuts, couplings nuts and toilet supply nuts

About a year ago, the cold water in the kitchen began to slow down to a trickle. Instead of changing the cartridge I decided to just change the entire faucet as the old faucet was nearing 20 years old and was getting rusty.

I bought this Basin Buddy socket and a regular basin wrench. I had never changed out a faucet before and did not know what would be the best to use. After shutting off the water and verifying that the water is off at the faucet, you can use the Basin Buddy to easily remove the supply lines under the faucet. Then you can also use it to remove the plastic retaining flange nuts that hold the faucet down to the sink.

The cut outs at the top of the tool grab the wings of the retaining flange. It comes with an adapter so you can use either a 1/4 or 3/8 ratchet. Using this socket and a ratchet and extension makes the entire chore much easier. You do not have to reach up so far. I did not even bother with the basin wrench. I returned it.

I reused the Basin Buddy socket the other day to replace the bathroom faucet. What makes it great is that it gives you better control over how much torque you’re applying. Supply lines usually are compression fitted, so you tighten it by hand as much as you can and then about another 1/4 turn of the ratchet and it is done. With the ratchet, it makes it easier to gauge how far you are turning it.

A plumber charges about $150 to $200 depending on your area to change out a faucet, so this tool easily pays for itself even if you just use it once.

As a tip, after turning off the water and making sure it is off, remove the supply line nuts at the bottom first just to verify that no water is trickling out. Because if so, you can easily twist them back on tight. It is easier to twist the bottom ones back on then the ones way up top under the faucet. And supply lines are pretty cheap at about $5 each, so it is cheap insurance to replace them at the same time that you are replacing the faucet.

-- Justin Lamar 05/19/17

18 May 2017


Vittles Vault Stackable Pet Food Container

Airtight seal keeps food fresh and safe from ants

I bought my 50 lb version of the Vittles Vault Stackable Pet Food Container 19 years ago when I moved into a garden apartment and got ants in my dog food bag. It keeps me from having to throw out dog food when I get ants, and, better yet, I never have the experience of putting my hand in the dog food container and pulling it out covered with ants. I’ve also had mice occasionally since I got it, and they haven’t gotten into the dog food. They haven’t even been interested in the general area.

I also like it because it’s less of an eyesore and easier to move around than a half-open bag of dog food. The other containers I’ve seen are either too small, too flimsy, or not really air/critter-proof. In fairness, some of them are less of an eyesore than this.

After about 10 years, I had to buy a replacement lid because I lost the gasket. I bought a second Vittles Vault container, 10 lb, for car travel with the dog. It has a handle, which is really convenient (the big one is too heavy for a paint can-style handle). My 10 lb vault isn’t as sturdy as my 50 lb one. Although I’ve only had it for 4 years, the bottom is warped, and it’s gotten moldy a couple of times. It’s still useful, just not as epically so as the big one. In terms of $/hour of interactive use, the big vault is one of my best value purchases.

-- Holly Beale 05/18/17

17 May 2017


Maker Update #34

A roundup of the best maker projects this week

This week on Maker Update: a skateboard that shoots fire, design concepts from Hackaday prize, a dirt-cheap telepresence robot, a military tool bag, cardboard rivets, a microcontroller guide from Make, and the biggest show and tell on earth. Here’s a link to our featured Cool Tools product on Amazon (Canvas Military Tool Bag). Extended show notes and transcript are here.

-- Donald Bell 05/17/17

17 May 2017


Heat Holders Thermal Socks

Best thermal sock

My feet chill easily, and warm slowly; particularly after a long session of computer work or cold outdoor chores, I’d end up with a acute case of popsicle toes. Before bed, I’d have to plunge my feet into a hot water soak just to get them warm enough so I could sleep; if I didn’t, they’d remain cold—and I’d remain awake — for hours.

Fortunately for my frosty feet, I discovered Heat Holders. So far, these are the most effective thermal socks I’ve found; warmer than wool, and not the least bit itchy. The fibers on the inside of the sock are brushed to form a wonderfully soft, thick, fleecy interior that retains heat very effectively; yet the fibers breathe, so you don’t get sweaty in them, either. They are the most comfortable socks I own; they also work well as bed-socks in the colder months, and can be a lifesaver on camping trips. Hunters love them. My first pair is almost 5 years old, and they show no appreciable wear. I machine wash-and-dry them like any other sock, and they come out fine; I’ve noticed no difference in the fleeciness of the 5 year old socks and the new pair I just bought. They’ve developed no holes (yet), so they’re pretty durable. They aren’t cheap—but what price happy feet? Get yourself a pair; your toes will thank you for it!

-- Barbara Dace 05/17/17

16 May 2017


Support our podcast and get good things in return

How to support the Cool Tools Show podcast

When Kevin Kelly started Cool Tools as an email list over 20 years ago, his goal was to foster a community of people who wanted to share recommendations of tried-and-true tools. It worked! Today Cool Tools is the most popular website of tool recommendations written by its readers.

A few years ago, after I joined Kevin, we started the Cool Tools Show podcast with the belief that the interesting people who use interesting tools will have interesting things to say about them. The format for our podcast is simple: Kevin and I ask a guest (such as Adam Savage, Tim Ferriss, and Veronica Belmont) to recommend four tools they depend on and believe others would like. Then they share with everyone why their tools are great. The format is a success — the podcast has many thousands of listeners. We are grateful for the audience and we love making the podcast.

Many hours are needed to schedule, record, edit, transcribe, and post each episode. Currently I edit the podcasts, but it is time consuming, and so we aren’t able to post a new episode every week, which is our goal. To continue producing these podcasts at the quality we have been, we’d like to hire an editor. We are asking for support from our listeners through Patreon so we can continue to post one great episode every week with the help of an editor. Your support of even $1 per month (just 25 cents a show) will make a difference in helping us achieve this goal.

When you contribute, we will thank you in a variety of ways, ranging from copies of books that Kevin and I have written, to a guest slot on the podcast!

Here’s a message from Kevin about our podcast:

-- Mark Frauenfelder 05/16/17


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What's in My Bag? 23 February 2017

Announcements: 09/6/16


CargoRAXX – unrecommended

This appears to be a shill review. Many thanks to Cool Tools reader Matthew Connor for looking into this. He wrote:

Meaghan Hollywood works for CargoRAXX. Meaghan Hollywood put a review up quasi-anonymously on Amazon. A similarly worded review is now anonymously on KK.org.

On Amazon there are two reviews for the product (https://www.amazon.com/CargoRAXX-S1A-Interior-Management-System/dp/B01A6X4MBS). Neither is attributed by name but the one from January 18th, 2016 refers to “my Tahoe” and read similar to the KK.org review. Let us suppose the author is, in fact, the same person.

Clicking on the name for the review – merely “Amazon Customer” brings up their profile (https://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A1CF94IIWSAE00/ref=cm_cr_dp_pdp). This profile contains one Wish List on the left side. Clicking on it revels – the name of “Amazon Customer” – it is Meaghan Hollywood.

Ok. I believe at this point the author of the KK review and the author of at least one of the two reviews on Amazon are in fact the same person and that person’s name is Meaghan Hollywood.

Here’s the kicker, CargoRAXX has a website with a blog feature – their blogger’s name is Meaghan Hollywood. (http://cargoraxx.com/5-reasons-re-organize-suv/)

About Cool Tools

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.