Lee Valley tools sells these cheap plastic disposable nail brushes by the pair for a couple bucks each, or in packs of a dozen for about ten bucks. I believe they’re used as surgical prep brushes. I buy a dozen every few years. I have one or two by the sink in the bathroom and kitchen, a couple in the garden shed, and one for when I do intensive clean-out of our chicken coop. As the catalog copy says, they’re fabulous for cleaning out your nails or for scrubbing dirt off of vegetables. Buy a dozen, and I can guarantee that you’ll find lots of uses for them.
I’ve had this tool for about a year now. It isn’t going to replace a real socket set or wrench set in a mechanic’s garage, but in a pinch it will work for the assembly of a child’s toy or in an emergency on the side of the road (e.g., a loose battery connection). If you’re living in an apartment without the storage for a master tool chest with a complete socket set and wrench set in both SAE and metric standards, then I think ReadyWrench is a perfect fit.
The ReadyWrench fits a number of of SAE and Metric standards, and reversible from both sides. Mind you, this means that Black & Decker had to get a little – *ahem* – fancy with the sizing of the sockets. Essentially, the socket that is labeled to fit a 19 mm bolt is designed to fit a 19.049 mm bolt, because that happens to correspond with a 3/4 inch bolt within 5 one hundredths of a millimeter (splitting hairs here figuratively). It does not correspond perfectly to spec, but I’m not worried about torquing down the bolt on the handle bar to the kid’s bike to 100 ft. lbs. and possibly rounding off the bolt.
In a nutshell, you’re getting a wrench that fits 8 different metric size and 8 different SAE size in one tool.
We are trying something new: a Cool Tools Show & Tell. If you love a cool tool that should be better known, come to a show-and-tell in my Pacifica studio (in the SF Bay Area) on the evening of Wednesday, Dec 4th. Bring the tool, demo how it is used, why it is superior, and how it changed your life. Bring a whole bucket of cool tools if you have that many. Sign up here: http://www.meetup.com/
The idea here is that sometimes reading about a tool is not enough. You need to see it in action. The other reason we are doing this is because something great happens when people meet up around things they are passionate about. Cool tools fans are cool people; good things will happen when they connect.
I’ve done a couple of Cool Tools show-and-tells at Foo Camp, and I have done hundreds of show-and-tells for the Quantified Self. This is the format we plan on using: Show us your tool, tell us how it works, and why it is better than anything else, and finally, let us know how it changed your behavior. Then we’ll do the next one. Don’t be shy, bring more than one tool.
If you don’t live in the SF area, find or start a Cool Tools show-and-tell in your area by checking this site — the Worldwide Cool Tools Show & Tell Meetup. We’ll try to run as many of these in different cities on the same night, Dec 4th. Of course, you can set up a Cool Tools meet any day you want, but this is a good start.
More than 6 years ago, the very first Quantified Self meetup was held in this same studio. (I noticed Tim Ferriss in the front row.) I am looking forward to meeting some new folks and new tools. (I’ll have some sample copies of the Cool Tools book for passing around. Also, I’ll send a copy of the book to anyone who organizes a Cool Tool meetup in the US with 10 or more participants showing up.)
I like the versatility of soft coolers, which can be more easily stored when not in use. This includes keeping one in the trunk of the car for unanticipated needs. Unfortunately, the few of these I have previously owned suffered from poor insulation, shoddy zippers and a tendency to leak as soon as the ice starts to melt.
I finally came across an especially robust and capable soft cooler called the Frost Pak from Seattle Sports. I liked it so much I purchased three of the four sizes available (ranging from 12 to 40 quarts).
They’e made of heavy duty vinyl with well attached handles and quality zippers. While not quite as insulative as a good hard cooler, these are more than sufficient to fit most of my needs within a day. While not inexpensive, the Frost Pak is a much better value than all those coolers which simply didn’t hold up.
I erected a 10×12 greenhouse in my backyard two years ago, with the intent to start all my herbs and vegetables from seed. This year, I expanded into starting all my annual bedding flowers for both summer and winter.
With what is now a year round hobby, I had the need to plant a lot of seeds, very many of which are so small that it’s nearly impossible to both see and pick up just one seed.
I found this compact, reasonably inexpensive, vacuum seeder that does the job perfectly. I start most of my seeds in mini soil blocks (reviewed here on Cool Tools). Because most seeds are dark in color, I empty them into a small, white, plastic tray. Here’s how it works:
1. Squeeze the bulb of the pro-seeder
2. Place the vacuum tip next to a seed.
3. Release the bulb. This creates suction on the seed and holds the seed against the tip of the seeder.
4. Transfer the seed to the starter block by squeezing the bulb.
In a short time, I developed the coordination of squeezing and releasing the bulb perfectly, to plant hundreds of seeds in a very short time. I’ve found nothing on the market that is easier to use, and, for about $20, nothing that compares on price.
I would also like to share a something that I’ve found to work very well for seed starting using the mini-blocks and pro-seeder. The mini-block compresses and forms a square of 20 starter cubes. I occasionally buy sushi at the grocery store. The packaging tray consists of a channeled bottom, and a snap-on clear top. Each tray holds 40 starter cubes. Once the cubes are made and the seeds are planted, mist the blocks with water, snap on the top, and you have the perfect mini-greenhouse for starting seeds. Germination is faster because of the heat and moisture held inside the tray. Even without a greenhouse, these small trays can sit in a sunny window in late winter to give you a head start on your spring planting. The manager at my local grocery store sold them to me for 50 cents each when I asked.
In the days leading up to the holidays, we’ll be presenting a series of gift suggestions. Today: great gifts for under $10.
Swiss-Tech Utili-Key When I bring my keys I have no trouble getting through security on international and domestic flights. I was surprised to find the other little gizmos incorporated into this miniature thing — particularly the Philips screwdriver — are just as useful. (Our first Cool Tool review ever, from 2003!) $9
BlockLite The ultimate lightweight backpacking camp light. A tiny 6 LED chip sits atop a regular alkaline 9-volt battery which acts as body, handle, stand and power source. $9
Teeny Turner The small size and stubby shape of this cheap driver allows me to reach tight spaces and still apply considerable torque. $7
Casio F91W This $9 watch is the simplest and most utilitarian timepiece I have ever worn. It is easy to read, has an adequate (not blinding) illumination, is small, light and comfortable but also tough, and has a battery that will last up to 8 years (with many other reviewers noting that it lasts even longer). $9
The Love Glove looks like an oven mitt. The palm side is covered with rubber nubs. To use it, you simply pet your cat. The loose fur comes off and sticks to the glove. It’s easy to peel off. $6
When my elderly mother had to go into a care home we needed to keep in touch by phone.
Care homes do not manage phone systems. You have to make your own landline arrangements with the phone company, and in our circumstance this was impossible.
There was no way could she manage a handheld cellphone/mobile phone. But a “fixed wireless terminal” was a godsend. (Ours was made by Huawei; there are other makes and models out there.)
Elderly people do not need to know it uses a mobile connection, they just use it like a normal phone. It makes a dial tone sound when you lift the phone off the hook, and you can operate it just like a landline phone, so no training is necessary. You just pick up the receiver, dial the number, and after a few seconds it connects automatically and actually puts the number through to the cellphone network. (It you had to press buttons to use the phone, it would have been of no use to us.)
I was surprised that the sellers of these phone didn’t emphasize that it can be operated just like a normal phone. I guess they haven’t appreciated the potential seniors market.
Ours has worked well in two different care homes. When she gets a long term place it may be worth installing a landline.
[I couldn't find an online source for the particular Huawei phone that Tom used. But I found a similar phone made by Bestek, which sells for $37 on Amazon. I bought on and tried it out with my existing AT&T SIM card. It works as Tom describes above. The dial tone is higher in frequency than the standard US dial tone, but I was able to make calls simply by lifting the receiver and entering a number on the keypad. I'm going to give this phone to a senior relative living in a care home. -- Mark]
Postbox is sort of what comes after Eudora. I wanted an offline email reader that could
1) Use offline. This was before Gmail had that option.
2) Sync on more than one computer. So I use Postbox to read my mail on my MacBook Air when I travel, and if I delete something on my Air, it deletes on my desktop, etc.
3) Continue using SpamSieve since I have trained it so well for 10 years.
4) Interface with Gmail.
My kk.org mail goes through Gmail first and then SpamSieve so I have zero spam. One spam per week gets through and once every month I will check my sieve for one maybe two false positives.
Also, Postbox does threaded conversations (unlike Eudora) so it’s easier to track a conversation in email. It has a lot of other functions which I have not learned to use even though I have been using it for 3 years.
I can always read my mail in gmail if I want to go on the web.
[I've been using Postbox since Kevin told me about it. It's the first email client to woo me away from using Gmail's web interface. I am impressed with its speed and its excellent integration with DropBox, Evernote, and Google Calendars. (Kevin and I can't vouch for the Windows version as we are Mac users.) - Mark Frauenfelder]
I have a very hard time keeping gloves on my hands when I’m gardening, my fingers seem to long to skip and go naked in the dirt. Foxgloves are the exception to the rule, in part because of their extraordinary sensitivity. You can feel the texture of the dirt, grab remarkably fine weeds for pulling, and when you’re done, the skin on your hands is not dried, dirty, or cracked, and there is no dirt under your fingernails. They protect your hands from blisters, and provide a modicum of warmth. Best of all, they’re gloves I actually wear!
That said, these are not the gloves for dealing with spiky thistles or blackberry vines. The thorns pass right through these gloves as though they aren’t even there. But for grubbing in the dirt and weeding everything that doesn’t have spikes, these gloves are excellent.
I’ve been using Dorot’s frozen garlic, basil, ginger, and cilantro cubes in my cooking for a little over a year, after discovering them in my local Trader Joe’s. Now I don’t need to keep buying a garlic bulb or piece of ginger root every other week, after the unused portion (which is most of it) has lost its freshness. The cubes are conveniently sized (example: one cube = one clove), already minced, and last forever in the freezer. And I can’t tell the difference in most recipes from fresh.