16 October 2017


Magic Melamine Sponges and Erasers

Multi-purpose scuff and stain removers

A 2007 Cool Tools review of Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser raved about its ability to remove smudge marks from walls that other cleaners couldn’t touch. The price then for a 4-pack was $6, or $1.50 apiece. The current cost of a Magic Eraser 4-pack on Amazon is $3.57 (the in-store cost is about $1 higher). That’s about $0.89 apiece.

For Prime members, Mr. Clean sells a textured, extra-durable (“50% Stronger to Last Longer”) 4-pack for $5.34, or $1.34 apiece. Mr. Clean also sells a 2-pack of bathroom-scrubber pads for $2.97, or $1.48 apiece. It contains a soap/scum -dissolving chemical. There are now sellers of similar products in various quantities (“packs”) for much lower prices, such as 50₵ apiece, or 40₵ each for a 100-pack. To see them, search Amazon for “melamine sponge.”

Slightly more expensive (64₵ apiece in a $15.95 25-pack), but a better value, is an “extra durable” version with a stable, blue-colored middle layer that deters softening and crumbling. It also has a conjured (S-shaped) grip and a textured surface. It is sold by a couple of vendors, the one I prefer being “Oh My Clean,” which is rated highest by Amazon reviewers at 4.6 stars.

If you’re doubtful about paying $16 for so many of an unknown item, pick up a 4-pack of the Mr. Clean brand and test how often you find a use for them. Also, check out the uses described in numerous enthusiastic YouTube videos (and in comments on Amazon product pages). They can be found by searching for “melamine sponges erasers.” Such uses include this (from a vendor): “Dirty old sneakers are white again. Scuffed up baseboards look like new. The coffee stain inside your favorite mug is gone.” And this (from a user): “clean your car’s interior, Door Panel, Dash, Console, Leather or Leather like Material, and Outside black trim to remove those stubborn wax marks around black trimming.”

Caution #1: I suspect these melamine sponges — or at least the Mr. Clean alternatives — are subject to occasional glitches in production that lead to bad batches. For instance, one customer who complained about fragile sponges was sent a replacement package and reported that it worked fine.

Caution #2: P&G warns: “Test a small area with light pressure before use. Not recommended for the following surfaces: high gloss, polished, dark, brushed, satin, faux, bare/polished wood, copper, stainless steel, non-stick coating, or vehicle body.” Some cosmetic damage will follow. However, it may be less noticeable or damaging (except in the case of an auto body) than the smudge the product removes. That’s been my experience.

Caution #3: P&G also warns: “Rinse required for surfaces in direct contact with food.”

-- Roger Knights 10/16/17

16 October 2017


Mobile Plug Inverter

Portable household current

You plug this solid-state inverter into your car’s lighter socket and power whatever 110 volt AC appliance you want, 75 watts max. No need for special DC gadgets. It’s made for recharging cell phones and other batteries, but I’ve used it for my scanner and my printer while on the road. Also, I’ve run a small black-and-white TV set, and more important, my baby’s bottle heater (I admit is a small one). You can power almost anything that doesn’t use large resistance like hair dryers, waffle makers, bread toasters, small ovens. I haven’t tried a coffee maker yet.

The same company offers an assorted line of automobile inverters with more output power (200 watts on up). This is the smallest one.

-- Juan J Gil 10/16/17

(This Cool Tools Favorite from 2004 is no longer available, but this Bestek inverter is a highly-rated substitute. — editors)

15 October 2017


Blade Runner 2049/Lynda for free/Bear

Recomendo: issue no. 64

World building
For science-fiction buffs, I highly recommend the new Blade Runner sequel. It is less a movie and more of an experience. It feels like an immersion into virtual reality without 3D. The unmusical sound track, slow-pace editing (it runs almost 3 hours!), breathtaking visual details, all deliver a stunning alternative world, with even more persuasion than its famous prequel. The plot is merely a vehicle for the main character: this totally felt world. Worth seeing on a big screen with full-scale sound. — KK

Lynda for free
Lynda.com has an excellent collection of training videos for learning programming, design, bitcoin fundamentals, bookkeeping, and much more. Lynda charges a monthly fee, but if you have a library card, the chances are you can become a Lynda member for free. Here’s a link to Lynda (and other great stuff, like the digital edition of the New York Times) for free. — MF

Pretty note app
I use Evernote for work and personal note keeping, but I have to admit Bear, which is referred to as the “beautiful writing app”, is more enjoyable to use on my phone. It’s so clean and pretty and easy to format. I’ve been using it as a daily journal and for poem writing. — CD

IKEA as platform
People have been hacking Ikea furniture forever, customizing and upgrading its modular units. Now Ikea has become a platform that high-end designers create skins for. You buy the economical guts of an Ikea kitchen, shelving, or a sofa, and then apply new doors, or handles, countertops, fabrics created by legendary designers. This is a great New York Times summary article describing the ecosystem with links to the many companies that offer refined design layers for the Ikea platform. — KK

Learning game for preschoolers
My three-year-old brother is obsessed with watching Youtube on his iPad and playing app games. I wanted to find a non-tech activity that he would have fun playing with and maybe learn something. The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game — a color matching game — was fun for both of us! You spin a spinner, you pick up acorns and you try to be the first to collect all the colors. He practiced saying all his colors out loud and worked on his motor skills with the squirrel squeezer. He also learned to “cheat” by landing on the “sneaky squirrel” and being allowed to steal acorns. It was really cute. — CD

Small parts storage
My daughter and I have converted part of the family room into a maker space. We needed something to hold and organize lots of small parts, and that didn’t eat up a lot of tabletop space. This $28 cabinet with 44 drawers was just what we wanted. It’s tall, but some double-sided tape on the bottom has anchored it to the table to prevent tipping over. — MF


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-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 10/15/17

15 October 2017


Razor Tooth Pruning Saw

Best way to cut green wood

I am shocked at how long it took me to figure out the virtues of a pruning saw. For three decades I have sweated with a regular hand saw to lop off hefty tree branches, tidy up firewood, trim Christmas tree stumps, and cut down shrubs. (Trimming branches is really not a place for a mini-chain saw even if I had one). Yet month after month my regular saw would bind up in green, wet or frozen wood.

On principle I avoid one-job tools, which is what a pruning saw sounded like. However when I finally got a pruning saw it was like a hot knife slicing through buttery wood. I don’t think it matters much what brand you get. I now have two: a folding 7″ Coleman I take car camping, and a 13″ Corona Curved I use for landscaping at home. The wolfishly large teeth bite off visible chips without binding, and in no time the wettest, greenest wood is cut. But you already knew this, right?

-- KK 10/15/17

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2004 — editors)

13 October 2017


Nicole Harkin, Writer and Photographer

Cool Tools Show 093: Nicole Harkin

We have hired an editor to edit the Cool Tools podcast. It costs us $300 a month. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $296 a month to the podcast. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have nice rewards for people who contribute! – MF

Our guest this week is Nicole Harkin. Nicole lives in Washington, DC with her family. She recently published her first book, Tilting: A Memoir, and she’s currently working on a mystery set in Berlin. She also runs a small photography business focused on family portraiture. She is from Montana and before becoming a writer worked in government oversight.

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:

Yuba elMundo LUX ($3800)
“My bike is the mini-van version of the cargo bike. The most amazing thing about my bike is how much more interaction I have not only with my environment but also with my kids. I have my bike outfitted with one giant pannier and the ‘Monkey Bars.’ I have had up to four kids on the bike at once but generally ride with my two boys. However, the bike can carry, in addition to the rider, 440 lbs. Mine is the 2nd version I believe. They are now on the V5. My bike has Bionx system. My battery is a bit older and I unfortunately have to charge it anytime I stop riding. I have the Rack Bag for the front ‘bread basket.’ It’s waterproof and holds my phone safely for me.”

Yama Glass 8-Cup Stovetop Coffee Siphon ($51)
“My husband and I have two small children. Before kids we made pour overs every morning…well Brent made them for us. When the kids came along we switched to the Technovorm Moccamaster, which is a lovely machine. I had the siphon on my Amazon wish list and my mother-in-law purchased it for us. To our utter surprise, we have started using the siphon for our daily coffee. It takes less time than the pour over and makes substantially better coffee than the Moccamaster. For two cups of coffee it is perfect. We use four scoops of beans and eight ounces of water per cup of coffee. First, you fill the coffee pot with water, put the siphon on top, and bring to a boil. There is a filter with a metal chain already in the top of the siphon. Once the water is boiling, you put the coffee grounds into the top and the water will climb up the chain into the upper glass siphon. Once it has boiled for two minutes, you turn it off and the cooling water in the pot reverses the vacuum pulling the hot water back down through the coffee. …. One weird thing though is you have to keep the filter in the refrigerator in water.”

The Windi Gas and Colic Reliever for Babies ($15) and Fridababy NoseFrida Nasal Aspirator ($19)
“Our kids are too big for these now, but when they were babies, these things were super helpful. Babies cry for four reasons: hunger, tired, diaper, gas. The Windi helps with the fourth. When a kid is sick and can’t breath well the snot sucker comes to the rescue. I think that people used to use a blue bulb thing to try to suck snot out, but those blue bulbs don’t really work well. This thing does. The company is Swedish. If you give this as a gift, the parents to be will look at you like you are crazy. But in a few months they will thank you.”

SodaStream Penguin Sparkling Water Maker ($200)
“After years of lugging cases of sparkling water into our third floor apartment, my husband asked for the Penguin for his birthday. We’ve never regretted it. I also once dropped the entire machine onto the floor. It naturally broke. I called Soda Stream, explained the situation, and they sent us a new one. So I recommend springing for the more expensive Williams Sonoma version rather than the cheaper versions. Additionally, I like that the carafes are glass rather than plastic.”


13 October 2017



Your photos on real postcards

My job keeps me abroad and away from family, and I wanted an easy way to keep in touch with my little nephews as they grow up. They’re not old enough to read or receive email, so I thought something tangible they could receive in the mail would be a good idea.

The best service I found for one-off postcards is TouchNote. I signed up on their website and paid for some “credits,” and then whenever I want to send a card, I just choose some photos from my phone and add a little message and address, and the kids get a physical card. There are several photo configurations available, and you can add a caption on the front or a paragraph on the back.

The cards cost $1.70 to $1.99 each (including shipping), depending on how many credits you buy at once, and occasionally they have sales for bulk purchases.

I feel that this has really helped me keep in touch with the kids even though I don’t see them often. When I finally got to see my little nephew in person, he treated me – -and the little characters I had posed in the photos — as familiar friends.

Of course you could also use the service for other things, such as thank you notes, Christmas cards, move announcements, etc. They also have greeting card options which I haven’t used. I researched several similar services before I settled on this one, which I have been using for about eight months. The others I tried either required using a very slow website or just weren’t that easy to use. This one has nice layouts and sending a card is extremely quick. The app is available for iOS and Android.

-- Maria B 10/13/17


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SmartGlass Pie Pan

Use it with a spork

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Dumbo ShotBot [Maker Update #55]

The best maker projects and tools of the week

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1/4-Inch Dual-Drive Mini Ratchet Driver

Dual-drive head accepts 1/4-inch drive sockets and standard screwdriver bits

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Scraperite Plastic Razor Blades with Holder

Best plastic razor blades for non-scratch scraping

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Pigma Micron PN Pen

A great pen for journal writing

See all the reviews


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Mushrooming Without Fear

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Cool Tools Show 093: Nicole Harkin

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 092: Rebecca Romney

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 091: Craig Mod

Picks and shownotes

23 February 2017



We Refreshed Our Website

If you read Cool Tools via RSS (which is the way Kevin and I read blogs) then you probably don’t realize we updated our website design today. We took your feedback seriously and tried our best to simplify the design and make it more legible.

I’m sure we got some things wrong. If you find a mistake or have suggestions about our current iteration, please let us know in the comments.

Thanks for reading Cool Tools and being part of the community.

If I’ve still got your attention, I’d like to remind you that Cool Tools runs reviews written by our readers. Please recommend a tool you love.


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.