Glenn Fleishman, Writer

Glenn Fleishman is a Seattle-based technology journalist, and two-time winner on Jeopardy! He’s a senior contributor at Macworld, regularly writes for The Economist, and pens stories about parking and cryptography for Fast Company.

Subscribe to the Cool Tools Podcast on iTunes | RSS | Transcript | Download MP3 | See all the Cool Tools Show posts on a single page

Show Notes:

OpenX $5

“This opens plastic clamshell blister packs. It’s got a great gripping handle. There’s a little blade you can push out and it’s got a spring on it so it doesn’t stay up permanently. It also has a deep hole with a razor blade embedded inside it so you can’t reach it and hurt yourself. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Default Folder $35

“Default Folder keeps a long list of folders I’ve recently navigated to. I’ve got folders all over the place. I dream of a day in which Spotlight and other automatic full text search engines actually do what they’re designed to do years ago which is prevent the need to have folders, but I still use folders for a lot of basic organization.”

Fitbit One $88

“I didn’t want a wristband. I’m one of those people who does not like rings or things on my hands or wrists. I am very aware of that so I thought I’d get one that I can clip on or stick in a pocket. It’s a distance activity-tracker and it has a barometer in it, so it can tell you if you’re going up steps.”

TreadDesk $995

“I used a standing desk first and then I got a treadmill after a few months of figuring out that I could stand all day. I’ve had it I think 4 years now and I use it almost everyday and I find my best writing is while I’m walking on it.”


Mini Boom Wireless Bluetooth Speaker

I’ve been using several models of this for the last 2 years — the Mini and a larger version, the UE Boom (no “mini”) that is slightly more unwieldy for packing in your luggage, but also a bit sturdier. (I’ve had one UE Mini Boom die on me.)

I work in music, travel a fair bit & shift between different computers and environments frequently. But having access to decent quality sound is a constant need, and this enables me to have a good baseline level of quality wherever I go, with minimum prep or fuss. You can connect it to most devices (laptops, phones, tablets) via Bluetooth or a 3.5mm jack. Honestly I tend to prefer the jack as Bluetooth connections can be finicky, and the Mini Boom is small enough it can be secreted on any kind of surface pretty easily (at the edge of at towel rack in a hotel bathroom, or a few inches of spare space on a bookshelf).

It’s better than headphones because you don’t have that “voice inside your head” effect and can do other work while listening; it’s better than built-in computer speakers for obvious reasons; and I’d say it may even be better than a full-on stereo system because as we enter the streaming music era, you don’t know where the music will be emanating from (a phone, a tablet, a laptop) and this allows you to switch between sources on the fly much more quickly than a traditional sound system.


-- Alec  

UE Mini Boom Wireless Bluetooth Speaker

Available from Amazon

3M Tekk Virtua Safety Glasses

I love cycling fast, but the wind makes my eyes water, especially in cooler weather. That is probably a safety hazard.

So I got these safety glasses to wear while biking. They ride high enough that they will block the wind even when you are hunched down low over the handlebars, and there is no frame to block your vision. They are cheap enough to be nearly disposable. The frames are wide enough to fit even my wide Korean cheekbones, but still fit closely enough that no wind sneaks around the edges. They are available in a variety of colors if you need glare reduction.

Their only downsides: 1) the lens have sharpish edge that wouldn’t bother most people, but do very lightly touch my Korean cheekbones. I softened the edges with some sandpaper. 2) they don’t come with a case. (I use an old sock.)

Simple, cheap, effective. They probably make dandy safety goggles in the shop too, but this model is particularly suited to cycling, because of the lack of frame.

They are available at Home Depot in one or two colors, and at Amazon in all colors.

-- Karl Chwe  

3M Tekk 11329 Virtua Anti-Fog Safety Glasses

Available from Amazon

Husqvarna 550 XPG and 560 XPG chainsaws

In the world of professional arborists and tree fellers there are only really two makes of chainsaw that you’ll find them using: Husqvarna or Stihl. You’ll note that I said Husqvarna OR Stihl because almost everyone prefers one make or the other and tend to use them pretty much exclusively. You can have hours of debate and discussion over who makes the best saw and everyone has their favorite.

Well I’m firmly in the Husqvarna camp. I’ve used various Husqvarnas felling, snedding (limbing) and crosscutting trees for more years than I care to remember. Every now and then Husky comes out with a real classic saw. The last one I fell in love with was the 357XP and I used that saw far longer than I should have before retiring it.

They’ve done it again with the 550 XP and the 560 XP saws. These are both medium capacity professional grade saws that are made to work – and work they do. The thing that makes them different from other saws is their combination of balance, low weight, power, and acceleration. In some saws you can have low weight, but pay for it in terms of balance. In others you might get a really torquey engine but pay for it with slower acceleration. Husqvarna seem to have gotten the mix just right with these two.

I originally bought the 550 XPG as a smaller saw for some clearance work I was doing (it has a 50cc engine) and I quickly fell in love with it. In fact I liked it so much that I almost immediately went out and bought its bigger brother, the 560XPG (60cc capacity) to replace my main felling saw. What do I like so much about them? Well the main thing on first picking them up is the balance, they just feel right. They sit nicely in the hand and the 550, with a 13 inch bar, fairly dances when you’re cutting small stuff. Now, no industrial saw is going to be truly lightweight but these weigh in at 5.1 and 5.7kg respectively – much lighter than older saws in this class.

However, what really sold me on them is their acceleration. You don’t think of chainsaws as having to have quick acceleration, but when you’re snedding conifers, the ability to get the saw up to cutting speed almost instantly is really important. It saves a lot of time, fuel, and effort, which might not important for the occasional user, but when you are processing twenty or thirty trees a day it really does make a difference, which you can feel at the end of the day. Both these saws have something that Husqvarna calls “rev boost” and I’m not sure how it works but it makes the saw accelerate noticeably faster than most other saws I’ve used. They also have an electronic engine management system that runs their “autotune” system that can compensate for altitude, fuel mix, air filter condition etc. It seems to work just fine and an interesting spin off is that I can have the dealer plug it in to a computer in their workshop and give me a readout of the number of hours it’s been working, maximum revs reached, hours worked since last service and a couple of other useful bits and pieces.

I decided with these saws to spend the extra bit of cash and buy the XPG model which has heated bars, it’s the first time I’ve used heated grips but especially in the wet cold they make a very pleasant difference, they do get a bit hot after a while but I just switch the heater off once I’ve warmed up.

Now there are a bunch of reviews on the web that criticize the early manufactured saws that came out around three years ago, but as I got my first one in 2013 they seem to have worked through the kinks and I’ve never had a problem with mine, except for one thing which does seem to be a common complaint from users. If you are working the saw hard in hot weather and you let it cool down past a critical level it can become an absolute bear to restart. This only seems to happen if I’ve stopped cutting for more than twenty minutes and less than an hour or so (we call it “half hot.”) It only seems to happen in hot weather and the problem goes away if you’ve stopped long enough for the saw to cool completely. If I’m stopping for a cup of coffee or a similar short break then I get round the issue now by popping the cover off and leaving the saw in the shade. It seems to let the saw cool more evenly and lets it restart straight away.

Anyway, minor niggle apart, I reckon these are the best mid-sized saws Husqvarna have made and when it’s time to retire these two I’ll be replacing them like for like.

-- George Graham  

Husqvarna 550 XP

Husqvarna 560 XP (UK only?)

Cargo net

When I got my motorcycle a year ago I bought this bungee net to secure loads to my seat. It has proved indispensable over thousands of miles of casual and touring use. It easily stretches over a sizable duffel and holds it securely in place. The models with the wire hooks are prone to losing their rubber caps making them a scratch risk. But the wire hooks stay more firmly attached to the net compared to plastic hook models.

-- Rick Weber  

Heavy-duty 15″ Cargo Net for Motorcycle

Available from Amazon

Limor Fried, Founder of Adafruit

Limor Fried is an MIT engineer and the founder of Adafruit, a one-stop shop for makers to buy electronics kits and components, and learn and share ideas related to electronics prototyping. Limor’s picks will be especially useful for anyone interested in electronics prototyping or looking to learn more about the field.

Subscribe to the Cool Tools Podcast on iTunes | RSS | Transcript | Download MP3 | See all the Cool Tools Show posts on a single page

Show Notes:

Samsung SM482 Prices vary

“They’re awesome machines. This is a 6-spindle pick and place chip mounter. It’s very flexible. It can place components as small as 0201s, which are basically like dust, up to 64×64 millimeter parts, which are big chunky modules or chips. It can kind of do it all and it’s very, very fast. It’s got flying vision. The software’s good.”

Samsung 481 Prices vary

“Even though the number is one less than the 482, it’s actually a much better machine. It has 10 nozzles, so right off the bat it’s at least 60%, 70% faster.”

Speedline Momentum Elite Prices vary

“Getting a good stencil printer is key. We used to stencil by hand, literally. We used a stencil printer that you would use for t-shirts. But after you get to fine pitch components, you can’t do that anymore.”

Metcal 500 Soldering Station $1262

“The thing that’s nice about the MetCal is that it’s a reliable and dependable machine that’s very fast. There’s a wide selection of tips that you can use and you can quick change them. That’s important…”

Circuit Playground Free

“It’s the longest running electronics puppet show because it’s the only electronics puppet show. They take quite a bit of effort to do. I don’t know if you’ve done puppeteering but it’s a lot harder than it looks. Sesame street makes it look easy. It’s actually really, really hard to make a puppet seem fun and alive.”

Pigrrl $100

“There no soldering required, you just plug it in then you’re ready to go. We sell it fully assembled now. It basically adds a little display to your Raspberry Pi.”

Lady Ada Toolkit $100

“The Lady Ada tool kit is in the store and is very popular. It has one of every tool that you need and it will last you quite a while. It’s very good quality stuff.”

FX888 Soldering Iron $92

“Whenever I’m not doing fine pitch work, this is the soldering iron I use for day-to-day use. It heats up very fast. It looks adorable. It’s very durable.”


Room Essentials Fast Dry Towels

The thing I hate about pretty much all bath/hand towels out there is they try to be fancy by sewing a non-absorbent band near both ends of the towel, leaving a smaller area that will effectively dry.

So I was pretty happy when I found Room Essentials towels at Target. They have a basic hem on the edge, but no ornamentation. They are very inexpensive, so they aren’t as plush as some other higher-end towels. They also won’t hold up to wear as long. But for as cheap as they are, it’s easy enough to buy new ones and relegate the old for car/floor/pet duties.

-- Dave Cortright  

Room Essentials Fast Dry Bath Towels
$3 – $5


I bought this on impulse at an outdoors store while I was waiting at the register. I am not exaggerating at all when I say that I’ve vocally gushed about how much I like everything about it to anyone I know who carries a water bottle.

For years I carried a Klean Kanteen bottle. I liked that I could put ice in it and, while I couldn’t get my hand in there, it was accessible enough for cleaning. Not until a coworker with one of those narrow-mouthed stainless steel bottles pointed out that the Klean Kanteen bumped one’s nose when drinking from it did I find that annoying.

Along the way I picked up a Nalgene bottle with a bite valve cap. Same advantages of a wide-mouth bottle but the benefit of a different method of drinking. I liked the bite valve most of the time but not all of the time, and I didn’t have confidence when it came to tossing the bottle in my bag.

Then I lost my Klean Kanteen. Too cheap to buy another bottle, I stuck with the Nalgene. When I saw the capCAP and all its purported advantages, I was sold. Imagine how tickled I have been to discover that everything about it is just as humangear claims.

I can drink through the small spout without spilling water all over myself plus there’s plenty of room for my nose. I can carry the bottle easily by the strap between the lid and the cap. I can take off the lid to add ice and clean the bottle. And I can transport the bottle in my laptop bag without worrying that it will leak. The only thing I haven’t tried is removing the cap while gloved but that’s only because it’s still summer (and I hadn’t even thought of that).

-- Sacha Brady  


Available from Amazon

Olfa Touch-Knife

I picked the Olfa Touch-Knife from an art store counter display because the design caught my eye about 5 months ago and I’ve been using it pretty consistently ever since. The Touch-Knife is a spring-loaded razor blade, concealed in a flat circular container. Since it isn’t a typical long, pencil-like shape it is very portable and it has extra surface area for good leverage and accurate cuts. I use it for opening things like boxes and letters. I also use when I’m crafting and it is the closest cutting tool within reach. Yesterday I even used it to remove a piece of glass from my foot because it was the only thing around that was suitable for the job!


Olfa Touch Knife

Available from Amazon

Tenzi Dice Game

A couple of years ago my friend Kent Barnes recommended a simple, fast-moving dice game called Tenzi. I bought it and my wife, 11-year-old daughter, and I had fun playing it. The rules are simple: everyone starts out with 10 dice and the goal is to roll your dice as fast as you can until all of them show the same number. Every time you roll, you are allowed to set aside any dice that match your desired number. When all ten of the dice show the same number, you shout “Tenzi!,” throw your hands in the air, and gloat while the other players gnash their teeth. The game rules included a couple of variations on the basic rule set, which we also played and liked.

A few days later Kent told me about a $10 deck of cards called 77 Ways to Play Tenzi. Each card has a variation of the basic rules. The rules for the variants are simple enough that they can be described in one or two sentences.

My wife, 11-year-old, 16-year-old daughter (who doesn’t like games and joined us reluctantly), and I tested the deck out. Ninety minutes later we decided that this deck takes Tenzi to a new level. The deck adds variety, surprise, and humor to Tenzi. It makes Tenzi so much more fun that I think the company shouldn’t sell the dice without the cards. My 16-year-old daughter was surprised that she had such a good time.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  


Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:





To win the above game, you start with nine dice and roll until you get nine threes. Then you have to arrange the dice as shown on the card, and then roll the tenth dice until you get a six.