22 October 2017


Getting Things Done

Stress-free productivity

Getting Things Done is a thoroughly practical method of handling the little things that over time comprise the big things in life. I’ve been chronically disorganized as long as I can remember. Within a month of following Allen’s advice – actually, within a few weeks – I was making better use of my day, getting far more done, and feeling happier and less anxious.

Allen’s not-so-hidden agenda in getting people organized is not simply to turn us into highly efficient bureaucrats. With a clearer mind, we can focus on our meaningful, long-term goals in a more creative way. I’m not sure if I’ve achieved Allen’s favorite state of “mind like water,” but I’m feeling a lot more fluid nowadays. This book is full of tricks to help you get things done, but it also offers an underlying challenge: Just what is it that you want to do?

— Marcel Levy

This is the third recommendation I’ve received for this book. It’s pretty good. On the blogs there is a lot of chatter about Allen’s system and its effectiveness for nerdlike people. I would have posted a review of the book earlier if I had actually practiced what it preached.

— KK

Here’s the gist of GTD in a single image. I have kept a printed copy of this for years and find it useful.

— MF

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
David Allen
2001, 267 pages

Sample excerpts:

Why Things Are On Your Mind
Most often, the reason something is “on your mind” is that you want it to be different than it currently is, and yet:

* you haven’t clarified exactly what the intended outcome is;
* you haven’t decided what the very next physical action step is; and/or
* you haven’t put reminders of the outcome and the action required in a system you trust


Things rarely get stuck because of lack of time. They get stuck because the doing of them has not been defined.


Give yourself permission to capture and express any idea, and then later on figure out how it fits in and what to do with it. If nothing else (and there is plenty of “else”), this practice adds to your efficiency – when you have the idea, you grab it, which means you won’t have to go “have the idea” again.


In mind-mapping, the core idea is presented in the center, with associated ideas growing out in a somewhat free-form fashion around it.


The big problem is that your mind keeps reminding you of things when you can’t do anything about them. It has no sense of past or future.


Most people don’t have a really complete system, and they get no real payoff from reviewing things for just that reason; their overview isn’t total. They still have a vague sense that something may be missing. That’s why the rewards to be gained from implementing this whole process are at least geometric: the more complete the system is, the more you’ll trust it. And the more you trust it, the more complete you’ll be motivated to keep it. The Weekly Review is a master key to maintaining that standard.


22 October 2017


Scotch Tear-by-Hand Packaging Tape

Great tape for shipping boxes

My family ships a lot of boxes during the holidays, and we go through a few rolls of packaging tape. Large pistol-grip tape dispensers don’t work well on smaller boxes — I have never been able to get the hang of using the serrated blade to cut off the tape.

I was happy to find out about Scotch’s Tear-by-Hand packaging tape. I (and more importantly, my wife) can easily tear off strips with our hands. It’s easy to get the length you desire, and the tear is perfectly perpendicular. Also, it’s easy to find the end of the tape on the roll by running your fingernail along it. This stuff is like magic. I never want to use any other kind of packaging tape.

-- Mark Frauenfelder 10/22/17

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2014 — editors)

21 October 2017


Rothco G.I. Type Mechanics Tool Bags

Best everyday carry military type tool bag

Russel Brooks wrote a review of the Rothco G.I. type mechanics toolbag for Cool Tools, saying that these are similar to bags he was issued when he was in the Air Force in the 70s. They’re made of a thick canvas with a heavy brass zipper, pockets on both sides, and small pockets lining the inside.

Compared to carrying around a big, steel toolbox, these are lighter, cheaper, and they don’t scrape or dent things when you put them down. They also pack down nice and flat when you don’t need them.

They’re not perfect. I wish the inside pockets could hold tools better. But at $16, there’s no reason not to cut out stitches and rework the pockets for what you need. I’m taking this one to Maker Faire this weekend with my angle grinder and some wrenches, and it’s perfect.

Even for non tool use, as a guy, it’s a good option for when you need a purse-sized bag that in no way could be mistaken for a purse. It’s tough, it’s cheap, and versatile. A link to buy this bag is in the video description. And you can see thousands of reader-recommended tools just like this one at cool-tools.org.

-- Donald Bell 10/21/17

([Cool Tools has a YouTube channel with many more tool reviews] — editors)

21 October 2017


Speedy Stitcher Sewing Awl

Elemental sewing machine

One of the world’s oldest tools, but one that is often overlooked. This Speedy Stitcher Sewing Awl is a heavy-duty needle with its eye at the working end, mounted in a handle. For mending leather, shoes, bags, sewing canvas, or stitching heavy materials, there’s no better tool. I don’t use mine often, but it has a place in the essential toolbox. Kit includes tool, extra needles, and waxed thread.

-- KK 10/21/17

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

20 October 2017


Simon Quellen Field, CEO of Kinetic MicroScience

Cool Tools Show 094: Simon Quellen Field

Our guest this week is Simon Quellen Field. Simon is a chemist and former Google software engineer and is the author of over a dozen books, including Gonzo Gizmos, Return of Gonzo Gizmos, Culinary Reactions, Why is Milk White, Elements Vault, Why There’s Antifreeze In Your Toothpaste, Electronics for Artists and, most recently, Boom!: The Chemistry and History of Explosives. He’s the author of the science toy website SciToys.com and several novels.

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:

Taylor Wharton LD10 Aluminum Liquid Dewar ($638)
“I’m often asked to demonstrate scientific toys and things at different science conventions, like the Google Science Fair … and one of the things that they love when I show off is all of these fun things that you can do with liquid nitrogen. And, of course, it lasts a lot longer if you keep it in a big Dewar. So, I’ve got this thing, it’s about 2 feet tall, about 10 inches in diameter, And holds 10 liters of liquid nitrogen, which I get locally from a place called Nitroderm. And we do all kinds of fun things with it. Put some liquid nitrogen in a bowl and squirt some whipped cream out of a spray can into it, freeze it really hard. Kids pop it into their mouth and crunch on it and fog comes out their nose like a dragon.”

Mastercool 90066-B Vacuum Pump ($130)
“I have a vacuum chamber, and this vacuum pump, this one does six cubic feet per minute, which is pretty good. It used to be that vacuum pumps were really expensive, but once the smog dealers needed them in order to take the Freon out of your air conditioner for environmental reasons, everybody needed one and they got cheap. But, with this vacuum pump, I can put some liquid nitrogen into a small thermos and put it in my vacuum chamber and start sucking the air and the nitrogen vapor out of that chamber. And after about a minute or so, you get solid nitrogen … and then you disconnect it and let the air rush in and in about 3 seconds, it’s liquid again.”

Tekpower TP3005T Variable Linear DC Power Supply ($80)
“It’s got a nice LCD display on it and you can set the current or the voltage to be constant. And what I use it for is electroforming. You take a solution of copper salts and a few other magic ingredients. Usually, it’s a proprietary mix, they don’t tell you exactly what’s in it. But you can start electroplating something and if you let it go, it will make a thicker plating … So, for example, suppose I took an egg. I could paint conductive paint in a pattern on the egg, like a filigree or a tree or whatever. And then I could submerge that in the plating bath and plate it for 20 minutes or so and get a thick enough copper plating that I can dissolve the egg away and now I can hold this filigreed Fabergé egg-like thing in my hand.”

Baofeng Ham Two-way Radio ($35)
“I picked this up recently, when I was going up to see the eclipse up in Oregon, and we knew that there would be so many people in these little towns that only had cell phone bandwidth for a tenth as many people as were going to be there and so, we wanted to stay in touch and be able to chat with other HAMs on the road about traffic conditions, which we also expected to be a nightmare. … And this little gadget … It’s got 128 memories that you can easily program with all of the repeaters for all of the HAM radio repeaters on the mountains and stuff and it just works … It does everything you want and it’s tiny. … It’s probably good for anywhere, 5 to 20 miles. But once you hit the repeater, now the repeaters are networked, so I can talk to people in Portland, Oregon or in San Diego.”


20 October 2017


Lighted Telescoping Inspection Mirror

Telescopic range of 6-3/4" to 37-inches

Three years ago, I stumbled across this Lighted Telescoping Inspection Mirror mentioned in a Sears email. I bought it on a whim, since I could see some potential uses for it. It was one of my better impulse buys!

If you work with A/V equipment or computers, you know that all the ports/plug-ins tend to be on the back side of the machine, snugged up against the wall. This tool allows you to slip a mirror behind the equipment and see where things are located. With the incorporated LED light, finding what you are looking for is much easier even in dark nooks and crannies. Now, anytime I need to connect an HDMI cable, an A/V cable, or a USB cable, the first thing I grab is this mirror.

Once I started using it on a regular basis, I found more scenarios where it came in handy: finding things in the lower section of my engine compartment (especially when I dropped a socket and it got stuck somewhere), checking the soap level in the soap pump bottle under the kitchen sink, looking at the plumbing in the bathroom vanity, etc. I’ve even used it to see where the cable feed hole is on my desk when I’m trying to get yet another USB cable connected from point A to point B.

It has a telescoping handle that extends 33 inches, a non-slip grip handle, and a bright LED light, powered by a standard CR-2016 battery. The mirror unit can be swiveled about 300 degrees, making it easy to adjust to any situation. It is fairly compact, and folds almost flat. I haven’t seen many of these in tool stores, and the few I’ve seen are more expensive than what I paid for this tool. It’s available on the Sears website or in their store, if you live nearby. It sure beats using the dental mirror and flashlight setup I used before!

-- Martin Lange 10/20/17


img 10/19/17

Gaia GPS Smartphone App

Superb backcountry GPS app

img 10/19/17

Ear Infection Detector

Cheaper than doctor visits

img 10/18/17

Deckard’s Binoculars [Maker Update #56]

Weekly roundup of the best maker tools and projects of the week

img 10/18/17

Jabra Speak USB Speakerphone

Speakerphone for Skype and other VoIP calls

img 10/17/17


Scan and save your printed photos using your phone’s camera

img 10/17/17

Micro Flame Butane Torch Kit

Mini torch with soldering tip attachment

See all the reviews


Recent Questions Answers Given Answers Favorited

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Making adaptable shelter

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Understanding geological and biological time

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Cool Tools Show 094: Simon Quellen Field

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 093: Nicole Harkin

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 092: Rebecca Romney

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.