17 June 2018
Better than sandpaper
It’s time for another Cool Tools review. This time we’re looking at this Ultra-Flexible sandpaper by 3M. I got four sheets of this for around $7 on Amazon, which is kinda pricey for sandpaper but I’ll show you why it’s special.
We’re all familiar with sandpaper. Sometimes, there’s just no substitution for sanding something by hand.
These Ultra Flexible sheets aren’t paper at all. The grit is backed by a smooth plastic film that feels like packing tape, but stretchy. It is the limpest, floppiest sandpaper I’ve ever used. And honestly it weirded me out when I first tried it. It’s a very different feel.
But there are some huge advantages. The packaging states that it lasts 15 times longer than conventional sandpaper, but it doesn’t say why.
One reason is that it doesn’t rip. You could destroy it if really try, but the plastic back would rather stretch than rip.
It also doesn’t crease. I can fold it, I can roll it up, I can form it around complex shapes, I can crinkle it up into a little ball if I want — but it just goes back to being this floppy sheet of sandpaper. So it’s very versatile.
It can also be used wet or dry, since there’s nothing to get soggy. The flexibility makes it resistant to clogging. And you can shake them out like a rag, or whip them on the table if you need to knock anything loose.
They’re cool. I’m glad I have them. They come in Medium, Fine, and Extra Fine grit. I’ve been keeping a Medium sheet rolled up at my workbench that I use almost like a sanding rag. Mark from Cool Tools has been using these for sanding the wooden spoons that he whittles.06/17/18
(Cool Tools has a YouTube channel with many more tool reviews — editors)
17 June 2018
Recomendo: issue no. 99
When I took LSD, I got it from John Perry Barlow. Barlow was a famous internet pioneer and a veteran hippy. Barlow was also a semi-politician, pundit, writer, and a most remarkable story teller. He died recently but left an amazing fast-paced memoir behind, which I thoroughly enjoyed. He may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I found moments of profundity in his autobiography Mother American Night, a series of tales which I will happily re-read. — KK
Use cloud storage like a local drive
I use several cloud storage services. The easiest way to access them is with CloudMounter, a $49 Mac utility that mounts OneDrive, Google Drive, Amazon S3, Dropbox, and others as local hard drives on my desktop. Setup was painless and it works flawlessly. — MF
Few things in life are as satisfying as getting handwritten thank-you notes from school kids for helping them learn. DonorsChoose is a non-profit that features thousands of public school teachers seeking basic school supplies, or extra gear for special projects (rocket kits for science!). The teachers post their pitch. You choose a project. When it gets fully funded they post verification pictures of the kids using the resource which your funds provided, and later they’ll send you a fistful of amazingly detailed (and endearing) letters from the students themselves. You’ll want to do this. — KK
Motorized corner desk
I am very happy with my IKEA standing desk. I bought it because I needed an affordable corner desk for my small home office and the BEKANT sit/stand desk ($529) was half the price of other adjustable height corner desks on the market. There’s different sizes and color combos you can choose from and the desk comes with a 10-year limited warranty. — CD
Bamboo gardening gloves
I bought these $7 gardening gloves for pulling up roots in my yard. They have a textured, latex grip that kept the roots from sliding out of my hand. They’ve held up well after many hours of hard work. — MF
Keep your hair in place while sleeping
I use my satin pillowcase ($10) on nights before “no-wash” hair days. The silky pillowcase prevents my hair from getting tangled up or matted so that I barely have to brush it or style it. Beauty blogs claim that these pillowcases also prevent face wrinkles while you’re sleeping, which would be an added bonus if true! I just like how it makes my hair look and how cool and soft it feels. — CD
16 June 2018
cheap, durable, rechargeable power source
In this Cool Tools video review I’m going to show you why it’s handy to have a 12v, SLA battery around.
The first time I encountered a sealed lead acid battery was in a Power Wheels kids ride-on car. Instead of having something like this take 100 D-cell batteries that have to be thrown away, the manufacturer mercifully includes a dedicated battery that can be recharged over and over again.
Like your basic car battery, these are an old school rechargeable technology. They’re sealed up completely, so there’s no major risk of spilling or chemical exposure unless you really work to crack these open.
The major downside to these is that they’re heavy. Compared to the LiPo and Lithium Ion packs in most of our gadgets, these things weigh a ton. But they come in a range of shapes and sizes, and a more standard range of voltages.
You do need to exercise some caution not to bridge the terminals accidentally, or they could spark, just like any battery. I’ll often store these with gaffer tape across them as insulation.
They’re very simple to recharge. I have this $17 Battery Buddy charger that I can just clip on and plug in and it charges automatically. Fancier RC battery chargers will typically have a setting for SLA or Pb too.
Now, here’s why I consider these a tool. I have used these multiple times to make plug-in 12v appliances portable. If you have a thing that you typically plug in using an AC adapter, that adapter is often doing the work to translate 110v AC into 9 or 12 volts DC. It will usually say right on the adapter.
For example, my family has this air mattress we use for camping and it came with an inflator that works off an AC adapter or car cigarette lighter adapter. But because I like inflating the bed in the tent, I just wired this up to use with the 12v battery by exposing the wires and putting crimp spade connectors on it.
As another example, I had this portable cathode ray TV that took 8 C-cell batteries or a 12v AC adapter. I just wired a barrel jack cable with crimp spade connectors and glued the battery to the bottom of the TV along with a Raspberry Pi that autoplays videos. It’s a little chunky, but it’s portable and rechargeable.
So that’s a look at SLA batteries. They’re heavy, but they’re cheap, durable, rechargeable and an easy hack for stuff that runs on 12 volts.06/16/18
16 June 2018
Fine point performance
Sharpie markers are well-known for being indelible, particularly on plastic, glass and metal surfaces. Folks in labs, movie sets, and hospitals who need to mark things permanently use Sharpies. If the ink goes on, it won’t come off. What’s special here is that the other tip of these pens is an ultra-fine point Sharpie, fine enough to write like a ball-point pen – but permanently — when you need to. The “industrial” version of Sharpie ink will even resist chemicals and scrubbing. Since more writing surfaces seem to be plastic-like, I find we use Sharpies all the time now.06/16/18
15 June 2018
Cool Tools Show 127: Becky Stern
Becky is a Content Creator at Instructables, and part time faculty at New York’s School of Visual Arts Products of Design grad program. Making and sharing are her two biggest passions, and she’s created hundreds of free online DIY tutorials and videos, mostly about technology and its intersection with crafts.
In addition to its free 3D modeling tools, Tinkercad now has a circuit simulator for prototyping with parts and code. I’ve been working with the Tinkercad team recently to help create and organize their Arduino curriculum, and I’m impressed with how useful it is as a teaching tool and how fun and fast it is to “wire up” a quick idea. Once you’re logged in to Tinkercad you can also follow along with my interactive lessons which guide you through using the editor and learning Arduino at the same time.
Parrot Teleprompter ($98) with Bluetooth remote ($20)
This thing attaches to the end of your camera lens and holds a phone running a teleprompter app. I drag my video scripts into a dropbox folder and they are automatically slurped into the Parrot app. The bluetooth remote makes it easy to redo a take or adjust the speed of the playback myself while recording. It dramatically decreases the time it takes to both film and edit scripted tutorial videos.
Silicone-tipped Solder Sucker ($24)
When I worked at Adafruit, I got to try out and show off new products of theirs all the time. One of my favorite new tools that I still use today is this Japanese solder sucker. I remember struggling to undo big soldering mistakes when I was first learning, melting the tips off the cheap RadioShack solder suckers and burning myself on copper braid. This sucker’s got a heat-resistant silicone tip that you can press right up against the hot soldering iron tip to get a good seal to slurp the solder once it’s molten. Also the sounds it makes are very satisfying. It may be more expensive than its alternatives but provides a big boost in performance and luxury handling. In that way it feels like driving a fancy car.
Many of my design grad students are able to catapult their single semester of simple Arduino into complex product prototype functionality by integrating IFTTT. I teach folks online how to use it with an ESP8266 microcontroller board and adafruit.io in my free Instructables Internet of Things class, but you can also use it with hardware from Particle, littleBits, Raspberry Pi as well as a handful of ‘single button’ devices you can find if you scroll through the expanded list of services on IFTTT’s site.
Becky Stern’s Maker videos on Youtube
I recently made a leather wallet, a foot pedal shutter remote for my camera, a humidity-controlled storage and dispenser box for 3D printer filament, and a bluetooth device for coaching your knife sharpening angle.
We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $342 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF06/15/18
14 June 2018
Wood pencil with a large, blocky eraser
I use pencils for stories, poems, jottings, sketching, but mostly for musical notation. Finding a great pencil has been surprisingly difficult. Mechanical pencils have their place, but the leads are fragile. The small, plastic containers of replacements are easy to misplace, and the erasers are tiny things.
While there are many excellent pencils that do the wood/shape/graphite combination very well (Derwent, Caran d’Ache, Dixon) finding a one with great eraser is a challenge (an aside: I’m surprised that so many “premium” pencils have no eraser at all. While I could use a separate eraser, I lose those as often as I lose lead containers).
It was with much delight I found the Blackwing 602. It hits every note beautifully. It’s well made, feels great in-hand, and looks sharp. It makes a great, dark, line that is easy to erase with the included eraser. And this isn’t one of those small, round, afterthought erasers, no. It’s rectangular, large, and replaceable. Ideal for edits and reworking a score, or anything else I’m working on. As a bonus, the ferrules rectangular shape means the pencil won’t roll off a slanted desk or music stand. Blackwing regularly releases limited editions with different color combinations, but I’m happy to stick with the basic black.06/14/18
Spray thin materials such as stains, sealers, urethanes, varnishes, and lacquers
Cheap board gives you a quick way to play around with servos
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