75 Questions About Science and Other Great Books

Wink is Cool Tools’ website that reviews one remarkable paper book every weekday. We take photos of the covers and the interior pages of the books to show you why we love them.

This week we reviewed:

Typewriter Art: A Modern Anthology – A handsome collection of this little-known art form

The Where the Why and the How – 75 questions that can’t be conclusively answered by an iPhone


Letter Fountain
– A stunningly well-crafted bible of typography

Adventure Time: A Totally Math Poster Collection – Featuring 20 Removable Frameable Prints


Stencil Republic
– 20 laser-cut, brown-paper stencils bound on perforated pages


The Good Life Lab
– Moving from a high-powered life in New York to off-the-grid living in New Mexico

Take a look at these books and many others at Wink. And sign up for our Wink newsletter to get all the reviews and photos delivered once a week.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  



What’s in my bag? – Laura Welcher

By training, I’m a linguist. I’m fascinated by systems, especially complex yet economical ones — like human language — that elegantly solve problems. To feed my inner geek, I look for tricky aspects of daily life that can be improved by the development of such systems, and then put the system together with just what is needed to make it all work just right. And then let it run, with minimal input, like clockwork.

Several years ago I was faced with such an problem by the introduction an extremely annoying 3-hour-a-day commute. Liking my job a lot, but hating being sedentary and stuck in traffic for hours at a time, I decided to ditch the car and become a bike commuter.

However, my particular commute (in the San Francisco Bay Area) presents several challenges. Part of my ride involves either riding BART or taking a bus across the Bay Bridge. This means quickly donning and doffing a bike bag in order to be able to carry the bike up and down BART stairs, through fare gates, being able to maneuver on trains without rolling over packages, paws, or feet, and being able to load the bike on and off the rack on the outside front of the Transbay Bus. Fellow public transit takers are not appreciative of cyclists who are slow or clumsy at doing any of this.

After trying out many commuter bags, some too big and some too small, I think I have found one that is just right. The Ballard Market Pannier ($80) by Detours converts in a flash from a pannier to a backpack, so that you can quickly secure it on your back and carry your bike. It also converts to a long-handled tote bag so you can travel as an incognito bike commuter as needed. The pack is rugged, the base is waterproof, there are internal straps and clips to secure a laptop and keys, and there is a cover you can whip out in wet weather to keep everything inside clean and dry. It fits on both my standard hybrid commute bike, as well as my folding Dahon Vitesse bike ($530-$750) shown here.

[Click images to embiggen]

And now for what is inside. One basic challenge that most bike commuters have is the need to be able to transition from casual bike commuter wear (which San Francisco workplaces are generally tolerant of), to “event-wear” for special activities or meetings at work, where one attempts to banish the sweat and bike helmet-hair for a look that is a bit more polished and put-together. I am no exception to this.

Besides carrying a change of clothing, my secret weapon is this small mesh bag with all of the essential elements to produce the transformation. They allow it to be accomplished anywhere from a seat in the back of the bus, to a work desktop, to the least equipped of public bathrooms. Also stashed in this bag are a variety of necessities including basic tools, toiletries, and first aid to handle most minor commute and workday emergencies.

This bag also includes a small Altoids tin that neatly packs in the smallest (and somewhat sensitive) health and beauty items. I keep it closed with a hair elastic.

Another challenge that I have to deal with is the need to take a shot. I’m supposed to take it every day, ideally at the same time each day. The only time I can manage to be consistent about it is around 10 am, so I usually carry the shot bag with me. Afterwards the shot site can hurt like heck so it is really better to do after the bike ride when it can be iced for a bit. I wanted to show this picture because I figure a lot of people have to deal with something like it, and to show that it can be dealt with. (My shot is for M.S. but it is more common challenge for diabetics.) Not fun and not fair, but having to take a shot doesn’t need to keep you off your bike if that’s what you want to do. And, managing it well within my larger bike commute system adds a touch of elegance to my solution, imho.

  • BD Safe-Clip ($3) needle-nipper. A fantastic and inexpensive device — it safely removes and stores hundreds of needles as biohazard waste; the rest of the syringe materials can go into regular recycling. Disposing of used syringes was a huge pain until I figured this out.
  • Copaxone — a treatment for M.S. and quite possibly the reason I can still bike (and work and walk and run) today. I usually keep several syringes in the bag so I don’t have to restock every day.
  • Autoject ($34) — mechanical injection tool that hides the needle (a big help for the needle-phobic) and for those hard-to-reach injection sites.
  • Prescription and doctor contact info, 1-800 number for advice.
  • Individual alcohol prep pads ($5/200) — turns out these are also incredibly useful for cleaning all kinds of things, but especially grungy mobile phones and computer keyboards.

The next system of gear I carry in my bag is part fun, part communications experiment (nerdy linguist fun), and part civic service in a location where a major earthquake could happen at any moment. This set of stuff is my portable amateur radio gear. Using this radio, I can talk point-to-point with other radio users, hop on one of the several local volunteer-maintained repeaters, and in an emergency (when cell networks often go down), join or run an alternate communications network and pass emergency messages using established and well-known protocols. I often practice on Tuesdays with a radio net that convenes on a local repeater after the San Francisco emergency sirens are tested.

  • Yaesu VX-8DR HT Radio ($492)
  • AC charger, earphone mic, charged extra LI-ON battery. Another good practice is to carry an alkaline battery case and spare batteries and / or a cigarette lighter plug ($28). These aren’t in my current kit but probably should be, because they extend use of the radio in an emergency. Without recharging, I can currently get about 8 continuous hours of use in receive mode, but considerably less if I need to a lot of transmitting.
  • Nifty Mini-Manual — laminated quick guide to the VX-8DR for reading on the BART / bus or looking up a function (this particular radio has lots of functions, and many involve multiple key-push combinations).
  • Diamond SRH519 ($23) flexible antenna which so far has held up to a lot of abuse in my bag and allows the radio to be comfortably carried, either clipped on the bag or on the belt / waistline. I’ve also used the Diamond SRHF40 flexible antenna with good results.

A more recent gear / bag challenge I had involved maintaining a training schedule this past spring to complete my first marathon. On an event day at work, this could mean biking to work in the morning, working a regular day, heading out from work to complete a 5 – 8 mile run, returning to work to get ready for an event (and cleaning up sans shower), working the event, getting back into commute gear, and then biking home. Now that the marathon is done, I want to keep up my endurance and training level to run more of them. So, the stuff I carry with me needs to support days like this.

The workday essentials (ok, I admit the wallet and key ring need a bit of editing)…

And last, but not least — the gear to support the commute itself. I keep the SF Bike map because of its paper charm, also because I like to look at it while riding BART or the bus (such a pretty system!). It folds down to wallet size. I show the various cards here (some are normally in my wallet) because they demonstrate whole other systems of infrastructure that operate in the background to efficiently maintain my ability to bike commute — Clipper Card to quickly pay transit fares, Commuter Check card to quickly restock the Clipper Card with pre-tax dollars, BikeLink card to lock my bike in safe locker storage at most transit stations, and a ZipCar membership to rent a ride share during the workday if need be (for example, to pick someone up or haul stuff). And of course, my card to show I’m a proud member of the San Francisco Bike Coalition!

Btw, this is my summer bike kit; the winter kit is much more involved because of the rain gear. I consider one of the greatest and most delightful challenges to my system to be the ability to maintain comfort, safety and visibility as well as dryness for self and gear during a San Francisco downpour!

 



Bontrager Race Lite Hard-Case Tires and Specialized Airlock tubes

(Quick terminology note: tires are the stiff protective shells on the outside; tubes are the air-filled Escher condoms that go inside the tires.)

I’m a bicycle commuter and hate flat tires. Some people adopt a Zen-like attitude toward them, but not me. I’ve never gotten fast at fixing them. They always happen at a bad time. Fixing them in the field stinks. (Listening for an imperceptible hiss, tube pressed against your ear? Gah.)

Despite having a pretty good handle on the mechanics of it, I’m always a little freaked out I’m going to pinch the tube between the tire and rim, bend the rim, or miss that second pinhole and have to repeat the process over again.

After getting a road bike and having a flat the very first day I took it out, I decided to find a solution.

I read up on tough road tires and based on reviews on Road Bike Review, I settled on the Bontrager Race Lite Hardcase tire, with reviewers saying they had a good balance between protection and “road feel.”

I’d always been leery of “slime” filled tubes (I’m using this term generically), having heard so many horror stories of it all leaking out and making a huge mess. But after some research decided self healing tires had to be part of the solution. I settled on Specialized Airlock tubes. (I think this time my earlier leeriness prejudiced me specifically against Slime brand.)

To be candid, the incident that convinced me to add tubes was an office staple that gave me a flat despite my fancy new tires. I settled on the theory that the tires are good against larger offenders — glass, nails, small rocks— that might cause a large slash that outstrips the healing abilities of the tube, while the tubes would protect against pinprick punctures (staples and nature’s caltrop, the goathead) where the full puncturing force is concentrated into such a miniscule point that it overwhelms the tires’ protective abilities.

(One of my conversion moments was when I saw a goathead sticking out of my tire as I pulled my bike into my office. Already resigned to a flat tire, I pulled it out and heard only a half-second long “psst.” I rode home on a fully inflated tire.)

If I am doing a lot of riding (commuting four or five days a week year-round), I replace the back tire yearly as it wears down, and the front every other year. You can tell when they are worn down when the center curve of the tire has worn flat to the touch. (Incidentally, if you balk at the prices, maybe try the tire/tube combo on the rear wheel. It intuitively makes sense to me that bearing more weight means being at greater danger for flats.)

I have been riding with this system for almost five years without a flat tire. (Except once; I got cocky, and decided to take my road bike on a rugged off-road shortcut. I learned my lesson; this doesn’t make you invulnerable, just nigh-invulnerable.)

Caveats:
• You do still have to top off the tire pressure once in a while, especially if you prefer to ride on speedy inflated-rock-hard tires. Those pesky air molecules still sneak past the tube.

• This is pretty much the only tire and tube combo I’ve ridden on, so it is my baseline. I can’t tell you if it will feel sluggish or if your “road feel” will be unacceptably degraded. I feel speedy.

• This is a road bike, with traditional narrow, high PSI tires. I can’t say whether someone running this same system on a lower PSI cruiser or mountain bike would have the same results. (For example, Airlock tubes are fairly well savaged here.)

• I have given people Airlock tubes to use, and been less than impressed by their solo performance. I really think the synergy of both products is necessary to get the full benefits.

• Obligatory horror story: the first week I got the tube I was unscrewing the protective red cap and I had threaded it so tight that the core of the presta valve unscrewed instead. Slick white goo sprayed everywhere. When I installed the replacement tube the next day (grudgingly given to me by the bike shop), I removed the core, put a dot of threadlock, and then gave the core a nice firm twist with needlenose pliers to tighten it down. I also stopped using the little red caps; I never felt they added anything. (This post is informative.)

• Specialized has since fixed this “feature” so it does not unscrew readily. (Pardon me if I don’t go test this assertion with a pair of pliers.) When I upgraded to the longer stems I didn’t do anything to the core and have had no issues.

Bike accessories seem to be extraordinarily resistant to Amazonification. (Most the time any Amazon link will be to a third party bike vendor anyway.) Visit a local bike shop. LBS’s are like car dealerships — you need a Specialized dealer for the tubes and a Trek-friendly dealer for the tires. Sorry.

-- Taylor Bryant  



Creative Good Founder & CEO Mark Hurst [Cool Tools Show #4]

CEO and Founder of Creative Good, Mark Hurst brings a laundry list of Cool Tools to our show this week. Our highly productive discussion yields tips on how to properly rinse your text, type most efficiently and how you might casually pick up Mandarin Chinese in your spare time.

Subscribe to the Cool Tools Podcast on iTunes | RSS | Transcript

Show Notes:

Mark’s Website

Mark’s Book, Customers Included

Twitter: @MarkHurst

Here are Mark’s tool picks, with quotes from the show:

Default Folder X: $35

“You know how when you save a file it brings up that little popup dialogue box and it shows the file hierarchy? If you wanna save that file in a particular folder, generally you have to click through this morass of folders… Default Folder makes that process much easier by letting you set hot keys to go to your most commonly accessed folders with one keystroke.”

TextWrangler: Free

“How often do you go to a webpage and you copy some text and you place it in wherever you’re gonna place it, in Word or somewhere else, and suddenly it has the crazy font and italics and the blue color that the original source had an you go, “No, no, no, no! All I want was the text!” And there’s no easy way to remove all that stylistic data. What you do is just paste it in a Text Wrangler file and then copy and paste it out of Text Wrangler to wherever you’re going to put it. I think of it as rinsing off the text until you’re left with the pure ASCII.”

 

Instapaper: $10

“It’s clever enough to save if an article is broken up into three or four click-throughs. It’ll pick up all of those pages’ content and put it in one long scrolling list and it does a text rinse…and displays it without all of the cruft that comes up in a lot of the content sites. One of the best things on my iPhone, bar none is Instapaper.”

Pinboard.in: $10

“With one keystroke. I can tag that URL and get back to it anytime later. All the bookmarks are saved in the cloud. Really simple elegant design. I just love the service. ”

Ask MetaFilter: $5

“Every time I go on somebody’s saying, ‘Does anybody remember that movie? The guy looks to the left and then a watermelon hits the sidewalk.’ And in three minutes someone gives a link to the YouTube clip of that happening. ”

KTdict+ C-E: $4

“If you’re an English speaker learning Chinese, you have three things to memorize, the Chinese character, the definition and then the Pinyin, which is the phonetic pronunciation, including the tone. Most flashcards will give you two sides to the card, but this one actually does three sides…”

 

eStroke: $7

“What it does that the dictionary app does not do is it will show an animation of a character being drawn, and that’s indispensable. ”

Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection by John E. Sarno: $7

“I was sitting down to breakfast with a friend of mine who said, “Oh, you have back pain? No problem! You just need to read the book!” and [I said] “What book? I don’t wanna read a book!” But he convinced me to read this book and I read it from front to back. The book is very clear: you just need to read the entire book. A few weeks later my back pain disappeared and it really hasn’t come back.”

 



Micromuff

I use a small camera (Cisco Flip) to take video. It’s great for what I do, except small amounts of wind cause a lot of noise.

That’s where Micromuff helps. You have a small Velcro patch that glues to your camera, and a wind muff that attaches to the Velcro. I’ve been using MicroMuff Original for about six months, and it’s brilliant. I can hear people talking, not wind blowing.

I don’t think there’s anything similar, unless you’re going for professional external microphones and “proper” wind muffs. But even then this is handy because it makes syncing audio easier.

-- Dan Beale-Cocks  

Micromuff
£12.95



Programmable Digital Outlet Timer

Except for one cool feature, this is a typical wall-outlet timer for turning things on and off once or twice a day. It works well once it is programmed correctly, but you know where this is going: you have to press each button the right number of times in exactly the right sequence to achieve correct programming. There is no Ctrl-Z “undo” command.

The feature that is cool is a little slot in the housing. You fold up the programming instructions, slip them into the slot, and they are there when you need to re-program the device. I wish every programmable device in my house had such a slot and a set of instructions that fit into it.

I asked Woods (Coleman Cable) if any other of their Woods timers have this slot. They replied, “Only this timer has the slot for instruction currently. Future timer designs may have this feature.” And Woods doesn’t even tell you about it in their promotional literature.

It’s such a useful feature that I write about it in hopes that it becomes more widely spread.

-- Doug Wilber  

Woods Indoor 24-Hour Digital Outlet Timer
$14

Available from Amazon



Vacuum Stainless-Steel Coffee Press

For French press coffee geeks who also happen to be klutzes like me, no more broken carafes with this bad boy. I’ve had mine for years and it is still like brand new. Also for whatever reason, the plunger mesh is MUCH tougher than on the Bodum products and does not shred nearly as easily. Next time you smash your carafe on your Bodum just buy one of these.

-- A.T. Salzman  

Thermos 34-Ounce Vacuum Insulated Stainless-Steel Gourmet Coffee Press
$40

Available from Amazon



Marketing 101

Marketing is the practice of making products worth talking about, and then creating stories that get them talked about. It sometimes (but only rarely) uses advertising as a tool. Most of all, it starts with what gets made and why and how.

Tools that are useful:

A phone

The most important element of marketing is story telling, figuring out how to make something worth talking about, and talk about it in a way that resonates. While social media seems like a magical wonder megaphone, the fact is, calling your customers and talking to them is an overlooked shortcut. Humility plus compassion opens you to true connection.

Mailchimp

Mailchimp
This is software built on the idea of permission marketing. You can deliver millions of emails to people who want to get them (your true fans, your customers or the merely interested) for just a few dollars. Easy to use, helpful people and beautifully done.

Behance and Dribbble

Dribbble
Very different sites with similar goals: to help you find talented designers and other freelancers that can take your work and make it professional enough to sell. Rule of thumb: pay a lot and try to get more than you pay for.

An RSS reader

It doesn’t really matter which one. Marketing is about learning how to see — to see opportunities, to see stories that resonate, to see dissatisfaction. One way to see better is to read more, daily. And blogs are a priceless way to do that. In fifteen minutes a day, I can keep up on more than 100 blogs a day. Consider: Copyblogger, Scott Adams, David Meerman Scott, Mitch Joel, Steve Dennis — and then, with gluttony, add every blog you can find, then prune.

Books

Marketing lends itself more to discovery and education via books than any other topic I know. A thorough reading of a hundred books is enough to make you aware of just about all the nuance (at least the nuance that you can get without actual experience), but perhaps you could start with a few:

John Jantsch’s Duct Tape Marketing is a fine primer for the small business person who wants to market without relying on merely buying ads or spamming the world. He offers free ebooks as well.David Meerman Scott’s New Rules of Marketing & PR is quite tactical and helpful.

-- Seth Godin  

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Sample excerpts from Duct Tape

Price, as I suspect you’ve learned, is a terrible place to compete. There will always be someone willing to go out of business faster than you.
*
Find something that separates you from your competition; become it and speak it to everyone you meet. Quality isn’t it; good service isn’t it; fair pricing—not it. These are all expectations. The difference needs to be in the way you do business, how you package your product, the way you sell your service, the fact that you send cookies to your clients, your ability to show people how to transform their lives—it’s in the experience you provide.
*
My definition of marketing is: “getting someone who has a need, to know, like, and trust you.”
*
Don’t think about making a sale online; think about getting a chance to make an impression.
*
Develop your marketing strategy around a narrowly defined ideal client above all.
*
Few businesses really provide great service. In fact, stealing market share in mature markets is one of the easiest paths for smart start-ups to run.

From New Rules:

I’m absolutely convinced that you will learn more by emulating successful ideas from outside your industry than by copying what your nearest competitor is doing
*
When you stop talking about you and your products and services and instead use the web to educate and inform important types of buyers, you will be more successful.
*
For most people and organizations, it’s better to be active in a few social networking sites instead of creating profiles on dozens of them and being too busy to spend much time in any one.
*
Instead of a one-size-fits-all website with a mass-market message, we need to create many different microsites—with purpose-built landing pages and just-right content—each aimed at a narrow target constituency.
*
You are not just creating a big brochure about your organization. You’re writing for your buyers, not your own ego.




What’s in My Bag? James Altucher

James Altucher is an entrepreneur, chess master, investor, and writer. His writing has appeared in major national media outlets and his blog has attracted more than 10 million readers since its launch in 2010. His latest book is called The Choose Yourself Stories.

james-altucher
(click image to embiggen)

I don’t like to carry bags just in case I need my hands quickly for hand-to-hand combat or very quick mountain climbing.

When lives are at stake I don’t like to take chances.

Which is why I have found a 600% increase in my productivity by wearing a doctor’s lab coat including the items I put in the pockets of the lab coat.

Doctor’s coat. I wear a doctor’s lab coat whenever I’m outside the house and often when I’m inside. Like in airports, restaurants, walking around town.

The reason?

  1. It’s comfortable. Good for all weather. You can get one cheap on the “World Wide Web.” (“Triple dub” for those in the biz.)
  2. The big pockets let me put any electronic devices I might need (an iPad mini, for example, plus waiter’s pads <see below>)
  3. People actually do treat me like a doctor. If someone said, “I need a doctor” I would not be able to help unless it’s easy stuff in which case I can say, “I’m not a doctor” and then perform CPR or mouth-to-mouth or Heimlich, which are all easy to learn. But 99.9% requests for a doctor are usually things where you can just give placebic information and say “You’ll be OK” (I picture myself as Mathew Fox from the TV show Lost while I say it since it often worked for him on the show). But the reality is, people move out of the way if you are an airport and walking around in a doctor’s coat. Is this unfair? Well, I never claim to be a doctor. I’m just wearing a doctor’s coat because I like how it feels, looks, and the functionality of it. But if it has other benefits, which it does, I’ll take it.

What I carry in my doctor’s coat

As mentioned, a doctor’s coat has huge pockets. If I wanted to, the largest thing I can probably carry in a doctor’s coat is a baseball glove for a really huge hand. But I don’t need that. I don’t even play baseball.

Here’s what I need and what I think has helped me and even saved my life on numerous occasion. I have a new phrase to describe these types of items that are in my coat. I call them “Life” “Hacks”. Feel free to use that phrase since I don’t think I will trademark it.

2-bucks

$2 bills. I have thousands of $2 bills. I always tip with $2 bills. How come? Because then people remember me. They always say, “Whoah! I’ve never had one.” Sometimes they don’t know where to put the $2 bill in the cash register. There’s no slot for one. They might call over the manager. Everyone might say “What’s happening over there?” This is a side effect of the $2 bill. But the next time I come into an establishment, I’m remembered. This is good for restaurants, dates, poker night with friends, even for paying at the local deli.

I find whenever I move to a new town this is a quick way to make friends. I’m very shy and this gets people talking. This has been also very good on dates. Nobody ever forgets the guy with a roll of $2 bills.

How do you get 1000 $2 bills? Simple. Go to the bank, they order it from the Federal Reserve, it takes about 5 days and then they call you up and give you your money. By the way, then the bank never forgets you either.

Everytime I’ve ever moved since 1986 I’ve used this trick and it works. Quickly everyone remembers who I am.

I’ve even tried writing notes to waitresses on the $2 bills, complete with my phone number. This trick HAS NOT worked for me.

However, one trick for dates. Have a roll of $2 bills. Then have a single $100 bill on the outside. Pay the bill with the $100 bill, then from the back, tip with the $2 bills.

I hate to say it, but that trick works.

waiter-pad

Waiter’s pads. I have about 300 waiter’s pads. I order them for about 10 cents a pad in bulk on restaurant supplies websites.

How come?

  1. I like to write ideas on pads. I write down at least 10 ideas a day. The idea muscle is a muscle like any other. If it’s not exercised, it atrophies. If it’s exercised then within six months you’re an idea machine. Try it. It’s amazing what happens. Don’t keep track of the ideas. Just become an idea machine.
  2. Why a pad? A screen messes with your dopamine levels. I like the visceral experience of putting pen to pad.
  3. Why 10 ideas? Four or five ideas on any theme is easy. It’s the final five or six that makes the brain sweat. This is how you exercise the idea muscle.
  4. Why specifically a waiter’s pad?
  • It forces you to be concise. A waiter’s pad is small lines. You can’t write a novel there.
  • It’s a great conversation piece in meetings. Once I pull out the waiter’s pad someone always says, “I’ll take fries with my burger” and everyone laughs. Again, I’m shy so it’s a good way for me to break the ice.
  • In restaurants, when you pull out a waiter’s pad, guess what? Waiters treat you better.
  • Many waiter’s pads have the shapes of tables at the top of each page. I’m bad with names so if I’m at a meeting I pick the table that matches the one I am at and I write the names of the people around the table.
  • Most people at meetings have their expensive leather pads. I paid 10 cents for my pad. I come across as frugal when I use a waiter’s pad.
  • The other day in a cafe I was working and someone potentially violent came up and asked me for money. I held up my waiter’s pad and said, “I’m a waiter, do you want to order something?” and they sort of looked at me and grunted and then walked away.

ipad-mini

iPad MiniThe iPad mini covers my entire computing needs except in mornings when I’m writing.

I don’t really use the iPad Mini to do anything serious. When I’m outside there’s almost no reason for me to check email or social media. And I NEVER read news.

You are what you eat. And when you ingest media, it usually can’t be digested properly by the brain. (Although I read Boing Boing and jamesaltucher.com or a good book.)

BUT… the most important thing I do with my iPad Mini and the one thing which has helped me in a million situations is….

I watch standup comedy before every meeting, date, dinner, media appearance, conversation, public talk.

I watch Louis CK, Daniel Tosh, Anthony Jeselnik, Jim Norton, Andy Samberg, Seth Rogen, Marina Franklin, Ellen, Bo Burnham, and maybe a dozen others.

How come?

I have a lot of inhibitions when I meet people. I’m scared and somewhat introverted. Standup comedians are the best public speakers in the world and I think they are the most astute social commentators on the human condition.

So the reasons I watch them before most social encounters (personal, professional, media)

  1. It gives me a boost of energy. My “mirror neurons” are going to feed off of their boost of energy for at least 1-3 hours after I watch them.
  2. It gives me material. I won’t steal from a comedian. But the reality is: good artists plagiarize, great artists steal. And at the very least, I often improvise based on material I heard a comedian said. I’m not competing with them. I’m just on a date. Or a business meeeting.
  3. Studying the subtleties of how comedians get laughs: their timing, their voices, their silences, the way they look at the audience, the way they move across the stage, the way they benefits from the comedians who came before them, AND their actual commentary about life, helps me in my many interactions with people.

What I don’t carry in my doctor’s coat? A phone. I never talk on the phone. I have a hard time hearing people on the phone and then I don’t know what to say to them and feel very awkward. Plus, not carrying a phone helps me avoid email, etc.

All of the above may make it seem like I’m a loser in many respects. I don’t deny this. These are like crutches to me to help me survive in a world that’s increasingly hard to process.

But they work.

[OK, now it's your turn. Send photos of the things in your bag (and of the bag itself, if you love it), along with a description of the items and why they are useful. Make sure the photos are large (1200 pixels wide, at least) and clear. Use a free file sharing service like Bitcasa to upload the photos, and email the text to editor@cool-tools.org. -- Mark Frauenfelder]



 

Wink’s Remarkable Book Picks of the Week

Wink is Cool Tools’ website that reviews one remarkable paper book every weekday. We take photos of the covers and the interior pages of the books to show you why we love them.

This week we reviewed:

The Good Life Lab – Moving from a high-powered life in New York to off-the-grid living in New Mexico

The Ashley Book of Knots – Thousands of old timey knots, both useful and decorative.

The Philosophy Book – An absorbing introductory course on philosophers throughout the ages

Masters of Deception – Optical illusion masterpieces by 20 different artists


Pirate Nightmare Vice Explosion
– Found remnants of an amateur dadaist’s library

The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert – a playful, simple, informative book about wine and its many delectable smells

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-- Mark Frauenfelder