23 June 2017
Cheapest way to buy Lego bricks
Legos are a forever toy. Without moving parts, they last a really long time, can be assembled and reassembled in infinite arrangements, and have a long-term appeal even for old kids like me. But they are relatively expensive if you want to make something big. Seeking out the best discount boxes from Lego, or from resellers, they cost about 10 cents per piece. Smaller sets are even more expensive. I wanted to build a wall of Legos, but there was no easy way to buy standard bricks in bulk from Lego. So I went to the Chinese and found a whole army of knock-off Legos from China available on Amazon. They cost about 2.5 cents per piece.
The best option for the standard blocks are packs of 1,000 bricks for about $25. I recently needed 15,000 pieces for a 25 foot tower of Lego I am building, so I bought bulk packs from five different knock-off vendors. All five sources sell bricks that are pretty indistinguishable and interchangeable with authentic Lego — and with each other. They are about 99.8 percent exact. When building my tower, once or twice I notice a very slight gap between one level that would not be there in genuine Lego. Also there can be very slight variation in color, especially between vendors; the yellow of one is not 100% the yellow of the other. There is a slighter variation of color within one source but it is not noticeable unless you build in a solid color. For 99% of most uses, these subtle variations will not be a problem, and the fit will not be a problem. Reviewers on Amazon who actually counted the number of pieces included verify that you do get at least 1,000 pieces. Out of 10,000 pieces so far I’ve only encountered 6 pieces that were malformed. Some Amazon customers have complained that the larger bricks are less durable than the real thing when disassembling, but I am not joining and unjoining parts, so I can’t tell. For my purposes these work great.
So which knock-off to use? Because these bulk bags are sold as “random” selections it is hard to say. Toysopoly included more browns and orange bricks than the other brands, but I detected some color variance from other brands. Big Bag of Bricks had a lot of purple. They also had a pack with lots of Lego pastels — light blue and pink. I used Play Platoon and Wonderbricks and Brickyard and didn’t notice anything special but a random assortment, with different amounts of gray, or roof tiles. None of these include any special items beyond basic bricks. Any of them will be perfectly acceptable substitutes for real Lego if you need large quantities. At the time of my purchases, Big Bag of Bricks had the cheapest prices, at $25 per 1000 pieces.06/23/17
22 June 2017
A roundup of the best maker projects of the week
This week on Maker Update: Maui Makers, slow motion frames, the launch of Maker Share, zip-tie lamps, rocker switch walls, magnetic wristbands, and a cheap way to brand wood. This week’s featured Cool Tool is the MagnoGrip magnetic wristband. (Show notes)
Have you ever held screws or nails in your mouth as a way to keep them nearby while working on a project? This week for my tool review I’m going to show you a better solution. This is the MagnoGrip, it’s a $14 magnetic wristband available on Amazon. I found it on the Cool Tools blog. And if you pick one up using the link in the description you help to support my videos and the Cool Tools Blog.
This is a low-tech but useful tool. It just velcros around your wrist and includes embedded magnets to hold whatever odds and ends you need to have handy. The magnets aren’t super strong, but just strong enough to hold a handful of nails or screws. I imagine if the were much stronger it might actually be a liability.
It’s a durable design, made from thick 1680 ballistic polyester. So having screws and nails rub against it over and over shouldn’t be a problem. The inside that touches your wrist has this nice, breathable padding.
The original Cool Tools review of this comes from Sue Bettenhausen, who recommended it for nails and pins, putting together her son’s bike, hanging pictures, or shortening pants. I also see several Amazon reviews from people using these while doing car repairs to prevent bolts from falling into the engine.
The wristband comes in a few colors, but red seems like it provides the best contrast so screws and nails don’t just blend in.06/22/17
22 June 2017
Fast and accurate pregnancy test for a fraction of the usual cost
People don’t generally learn of the existence of cheap bulk pregnancy tests until they are trying to get pregnant. I wish I’d been given a pack of these when I first started having sex. At $7.50 for a pack of 20 (instead of $10 for one at a drugstore), you can put your mind at ease instantly, for a less than fifty cents. Why not make it part of your monthly self care routine?
These would be especially useful for those using the seasonal pill, injection, IUD, or other forms of birth control that alter your cycles, and for people with irregular cycles (which is most of us, at times). You hear stories of people on the pill finding out they’re going to have a baby in three months, because they just didn’t think it was possible. Don’t let it happen to you. Knowledge is power. The sooner you know about a pregnancy the more options you have, and the better you can take care of the health of your offspring if you choose to carry.06/22/17
21 June 2017
Cool Tools Show 077: Tim Ferriss
Please consider supporting the Cool Tools Show podcast on Patreon! – MF
Our guest on the Cool Tools Show this week is Tim Ferriss. Tim was listed as one of Fast Company‘s “Most Innovative Business People” and one of Fortune’s “40 under 40.” He’s an early-stage technology investor and advisor (Uber, Facebook, Alibaba, and 50+ others) and the author of four #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers, including The 4-Hour Workweek and Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers (reviewed on Cool Tools). He is the host of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, which has exceeded 150 million downloads and has been selected for “Best of iTunes” three years running.
Subscribe to the Cool Tools Show on iTunes | RSS | Transcript | Download MP3 | See all the Cool Tools Show posts on a single page
Nau Vice II Blazer ($280)
“It is a jacket that I roll up to travel with constantly. What makes it unique is a number of different factors. You can roll it up and throw it on a black t-shirt and you look like you’re ready for a business dinner or a formal or semi-formal occasion, so it saves me the trouble of packing a lot of collared shirts, for instance. … Plenty of pockets, but there are lapels so you can get away with murder. You can wear it in a light rain or you could wear it at a nice dinner. It is an incredibly flexible piece of clothing. … The fabric blends that are used tend not to wrinkle, number one. Two, it has folds and pockets and lapels that for whatever reason, make any wrinkles less noticeable. …I get it down to about a roll that is 10 inches in length and about three to four inches in diameter.”
Logitech Ultra-Portable keyboard ($34)
“In my bag of tricks. I have a Logitech bluetooth keyboard and just to put this in perspective, it is slightly larger than say a paperback book, like a 5 x 8 inch trim paperback book. It is narrow enough that I will very often stick it into a journal to protect it and it’s probably the width of eight to ten paperback pages. And it holds a charge very, very well so I use this often times if I have any issue with my laptop. I can pair it to my iPhone, which is a larger-sized iPhone and balance the iPhone or lean it against a glass of iced tea and I can get any writing done that I need to get done. Also, if I feel like taking a day trip, but not taking this backpack, which is one of my main pieces of luggage and stuffed full of stuff, it’s kind of heavy, I can take the keyboard and my iPhone and head off to some coffee shop say ten to 15 minutes away without carrying all of my gear with me.”
Mack’s Pillow Soft Silicone Earplugs ($4)
“[Max silicone earplugs] unlike foam earplugs are not inserted into the ear canal and then left to expand. These are effectively smeared over the ear opening and you have in all caps – DO NOT INSERT, JUST COVER EAR OPENING. These I found through swimmers in fact and they are very waxy and almost look like candies … some type of caramel, but they’re white colored and I find them to block sound much more effectively than any type of foam ear plug … I definitely reuse these. I would say if I had to guesstimate, I would say four to five nights and then they start to lose their adherence, because they get less tacky over time. The most important feature or benefit that I don’t want to overlook is that as someone who tends to rotate from back to side, so I sleep on my back and on my side, foam earplugs will very often hurt. They’ll get pushed into your ear when you roll onto your side. That is not the case with these.”
Cabeau Evolution Memory Foam Travel Pillow ($40)
“Most of [travel pillows] are very uninspiring and even less effective for helping me sleep. What I found is not only does [this pillow] help me sleep if I’m sitting upright, but it’s also very, very helpful for getting to sleep when I’m laying prone, whether it’s on an airplane or even a hotel room, if the pillows are of dubious quality. … It’s self expanding, so you can think of it almost like a sponge-like material that you can compress down and then when you release it, it inflates or I should say rather expands automatically. … It is a horseshoe-shaped, if you imagine a horseshoe being hung around the back of your neck, that is the shape. It can clip in the front and the design is such that there’s a ridge that supports basically the occipital area at the base of the skull. … It’s the most comfortable neck pillow that I have found.”
Apnea Trainer ($3)
“So another app that I use a lot when I’m traveling and I use it at home as well is called Apnea Trainer and I don’t use it for it’s tended use. I have an off-label use. Apnea Trainer is used by people who are training for free diving and want to improve their breath hold times. There are different types of tempos that you can use for different types of training, so there is Pranayama breathing. There is the apnea breathing which would say be a ratio of inhale, hold, exhale or inhale, hold, exhale, hold. … What I found is that if I only have, say five to ten minutes and I don’t have time for my usual morning meditation, which I like to do, that five to ten minutes of breathing training with a voice that will countdown for you is very much grounding for the rest of the day.”
Yellowtec iXm microphone ($760)
“This is a microphone that can capture just tremendous quality of audio. It automatically equalizes and it has playback buttons on the side. It all records to an SD card that’s inserted in the bottom and it’s battery powered so that you can take it on the road. Everything is contained and housed in this one unit, that then goes in a tiny zip-up bag, so this just lives really inside my backpack, so if I don’t have a chance to bring more gear or don’t want to bring more gear, I can use this anytime, anywhere and shizam.
“What it does is it makes a GPS log for our travel, wherever you’re going and the important thing is it does it without having to have cellular service somewhere because in these foreign countries, I don’t normally turn my cell phone service off, but it’s still getting GPS signals and just with that information, is enough to create a GPS log of a journey. The advantage to that is one, you have a record of your journey and you can import into Google Earth just with a KML format, but more importantly, if you have a camera that has a clock as they all do these days, you can synchronize your clock to the local time and you’ll have a way to time stamp and geotag your photographs.”
Cheap compact umbrella with top spray painted silver to reflect the sun, keeping it cooler
“I just had an ordinary cheap, black, really compact umbrella that I carry in my little camera bag all the time and I spray painted the top of it silver so that it reflects the light and it makes it a little bit cooler on the inside, because just with a black umbrella, it tends to absorb that infrared and reradiate it back down on your head. By having a silver reflective layer, it bounces at least 60% of that back into the sky and it’s a lot cooler. There are versions of the silver umbrella that are extremely lightweight. They’re not as collapsible as the ones I have, but they’re made for hiking. I think there’s called the Silver Dome if I’m not mistaken and they weigh only a few ounces, and people out west, if you’re climbing even into high altitudes, a lot of the long-distance hikers now carry an umbrella, portable shade and they walk along under the shade. Shade follows them and it really makes a huge difference when you’re backpacking because you can really work up a sweat in a hat. It doesn’t allow your head to cool off, but the umbrella does.
21 June 2017
Easily build a one-string canjo (tin banjo) instrument
I like to make my own musical instruments. I thought I take a look at what you can get for cheap online. I found this one string “Canjo” and had it shipped to me. I was pleasantly surprised! Within 20 minutes I had assembled and tuned it. It’s fretted diatonically like a dulcimer, making it very easy to play by ear. An excellent website I follow called Cigar Box Guitar has a bunch of songs to learn. Great starter project for young and old. Really fun to play too.06/21/17
20 June 2017
(This is a Cool Tools favorite from 2003 – MF)
I just bought four pair of some nifty Celestron 8x21s for an incredible $12 each! They are compact and very light weight. The eye relief is great, and while they ain’t Swarovskis, they do the job just fine. And best of all, I don’t worry about losing them or getting them scratched. My advice is to buy a bunch and keep them in every car, backpack, etc.06/20/17
(KK: I did just what Paul Saffo suggested. I got me a couple of these. They are small mini-binocs about 6 inches square — the size of your palm. They are as sharp as my other mid-price pairs, but much handier. I really like them. And for $12 (as long as the bargain runs), they are unbeatable. — editors)
ASK COOL TOOLS
|Recent Questions||Answers Given||Answers Favorited|
Affordable presentation design company
Where can I get affordable presentation design service in usa?
Duplicate Photo Finder
I have a lot of photos that have been backed up in a lot of places. I managed to collect …
COOL TOOLS SHOW PODCAST
WHAT'S IN MY BAG?
23 February 2017
An avid cyclist shares his road gear
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.
ABOUT COOL TOOLS
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.