Kyocera ceramic knife

kyoceraA must have in the kitchen. Stays sharp, really, really sharp. Will not react to or stain what you are cutting. I even have a serrated bread knife that can cut old stale baguettes paper thin. The very best for fruits and veggies.

Not for prying or cutting meat with a bone. So hard they are fragile and will not survive a drop on a tile floor. Use them with a wood or plastic cutting board only.

-- Kent Barnes  

Kyocera Revolution 3-Piece Ceramic Knife Set

Available from Amazon

John Edgar Park – Producer at Disney Research

This week we invited our friend John Edgar Park to discuss the tools and apps that simplify and enhance his daily life. John is a Producer at Disney Research and a writer for such outlets as Make, Boing Boing, and Adafruit Learning. John also has a knack for building, making and tinkering and uses his perspective as a creator to apply these tools to life’s everyday challenges. We hope you enjoy this latest episode of the Cool Tools Show.

Show Notes:

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Behmor 1600 Coffee Roaster $370

“What this thing offers is fairly brainless operation. It looks like a toaster oven and has a rotisserie drum inside. There’s a motor turning the drum slowly to keep the beans agitated. It has little paddles inside the cage to keep the beans from falling in a pattern. It has two big halogen heating lamps in the back of the unit.  ”

QuickRes $5

“This is a little dock icon that lets you pick the resolution on the Macbook screen. You can pick any of a dozen resolutions that are good for the retina display, or you can set it up so that at  the press of a button it will flip between two or three different presets that you’ve chosen.”

Wooden Gymnastics Rings $33

“I’ve started using gym rings instead of a pull up bar or almost any other equipment to do things like dips. I also drop them way down to the ground and do push-ups on them. You’ll wobble like crazy, and that forces you to engage all types of stabilizing muscles.”

6” Digital Calipers $13

“I don’t know why I went so long without having these, but I got a few years ago. It’s a really cheap set of digital calipers that can measure up to 6 inches of inside diameter, or outside diameter, or the depth of something. It has a depth gage tail that swings out as you roll the head of the thing along the shaft. It has a digital read out. You can switch between inches and millimeters.”


5-Port USB Rapid Charger

On a recent vacation, my family brought along three mobile phones, an iPad, and two Kindles. Normally, we’d have plugged multiple chargers into all the available outlets in the hotel room. But this time I set up my Photive 25 Watt 5-Port USB Desktop Rapid Charger on the desk and it served as our central charging station. It’s convenient because the charging unit (attached to a 5 ft power cord) sits on a desk or table, so you can easily plug USB cables into it.

Each of the five ports is “intelligent,” which means it delivers the right amount of current to the device connected to it. All ports are rated at 2.1A.

It doesn’t have an LED to indicate that it is on, which I consider a feature, because I don’t like LEDs when I sleep.

When I’m not traveling, I use this as my desktop device charger.

The only reason I’d stop using it would be if I replaced it with the 50 Watt 6-Port USB Desktop Rapid Charger ($27).



-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Photive 25 Watt 5 Port USB Desktop Rapid Charger

Available from Amazon

Clip N’ Drain Strainer

Frequently, when draining water from a pot to separate it from its contents, I would need a second person to hold the strainer over the sink while I poured the contents of the pot through the strainer.

If no one was there to help me, I would have to scoop the contents into the strainer by hand or attempt to empty as much water as possible from the pot, which usually resulted in whatever I was cooking ending up in the sink.

Two years ago, I discovered the Clip N’ Drain strainer by Chef’s Planet. This handy kitchen gadget clips to the side of the pot, which allows me to use both hands to tip over the pot and strain out the water – no second person required. The clip mechanism is very strong and it has never slipped off or moved while straining. Unlike my other strainers, it’s small and easy to clean and fits on all of the pots and even the pans in my kitchen, pretty much any round vessel. The holes are not too large and so far I have not made anything that has gotten through them.

My only advice would be to tip slowly for a larger heavier pot so that the contents don’t slip over the top of the strainer.

-- Alice Denenberg  

Chef’s Planet Clip N’ Drain Strainer

Available from Amazon

Google Drive Camera Scanning

This is a specific function of the Google Drive application for Android. There is a “scan” button that lets you take a photograph of a document and uploads it to your Drive folder (formerly Google Docs).

I have used this for the past year, mainly to scan in business cards. When I put the card against a contrasting color surface, the app automatically detects the edges and crops the image to just the card. If the crop is inaccurate, I can fine tune the selection by hand (there is a very satisfying feeling as you drag the edge and it snaps to detected edges in the image). Best of all, Drive’s OCR lets me search these images by text content, such as name, email address, company, etc.

This has enabled me to go paperless with respect to business contacts. I can access these cards from my phone or any computer with internet access. I can toss cards soon after receiving them with peace of mind.

I prefer this tool over specialized business card scanners, which cost money and take up space. CamScanner is a nice alternative with more image processing tools; the trade-off for this is an extra step in getting those scans up into the cloud. Drive’s scanner is a great fire-and-forget, no-cost, no-file-handling way to scan in a bunch of business cards from any location.

-- David Lee  

Sonuus i2M Musicport Signal Converter

The Sonuus I2M Music port is a great little device that provides a USB Audio input for guitar or other instrument via 1/4 inch jack.

Here are the things I appreciate the most about it:

  • Small and portable
  • Compatible wth iOS, both ipad and iphone via usb camera connection kit
  • Powered by USB only
  • Converts audio to midi so you can play any of the many virtual instruments on iOS with guitar. (Try the Moog app–very cool sounds!)

-- Matt Stark  

Sonuus i2M Musicport Signal Converter

Available from Amazon

Fotodiox Lens Mount Adapters

If you’re getting started in digital photography, or have just picked up your first DSLR/mirrorless camera, your first purchase should be OLD lenses.

Vintage manual lenses take as good (often better) images than newer lenses, particularly on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Search eBay, Goodwill, Craigslist, and thrift stores for old SLR gear. My favorite lens is a Asahi Super Takumar 50mm f/1.4 — it sells for around $100 on eBay, and probably much less in a local shop. The quality of the lens blows away the cheap “nifty fifties” you can buy new. That’s just one example of dozens if not hundreds. It’s an affordable way to learn about focal lengths and image quality.

But much more importantly, shooting with vintage manual lenses forces you to THINK about your photography. Having to focus each shot and choose an aperture has made me a much better photographer. You can’t fire and forget and hope the camera made a good choice for you. That’s the real value of shooting with manual lenses.

That brings us to the cool tools in question — how to mount old lenses on new cameras. On my Sony A57, my Takumar lenses are mounted using a $6 adapter from Fotodiox. It’s as simple as it gets — screw the adapter onto the lens, mount the lens on the camera. I also use a Fotodiox adapter on a manual Nikon 70-200 f/4 zoom.

Fotodiox makes adapters for just about every camera system in existence. They range from less than $10 to hundreds of dollars. Some adapters come with focusing glass, which you may need to focus to infinity depending on the lens-to-sensor distance on some cameras.

I’ve dealt with Fotodiox for nearly two years, and they’ve been a great company with great service — when one adapter shipped with a missing screw, they quickly shipped a replacement, no questions asked.

-- Aaron Weiss  

Available from Amazon

Artist and Author Douglas Coupland

Our guest this week is Douglas Coupland. Since 1991, Douglas has written thirteen novels published in most languages. He has written and performed for England’s Royal Shakespeare Company and is a regular columnist with the Financial Times. He began a visual art practice in 2000, and his first museum retrospective opened in summer 2014 at the Vancouver Art Gallery and travels to Munich this summer. In this week’s episode of the Cool Tools Show, Douglas introduces us to some new tools as well as new ways to think about old ones.

Show Notes:

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

Subscribe to Cool Tools Show

The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present By Douglas Coupland, Hans Ulbricht, and Shumon Basar

Japanese brush pens $5

“I discovered them first in Japan, where they’re more or less perfected. I guess you would call them the Japanese Sharpie. You open them up. They come in a variety of colors…They’ve got these long pointy nibs which are super flexible. They’re very good mimics for hair or whatever material you might use for a brush. They have a line quality that is…so unlike say, a Bic pen or a Sharpie…with these pens it’s a genuine calligraphical experience, and wonderful.”

Little spiral notebooks $1.40

“I think back when I was at Wired in ’93, I don’t know if you remember [Douglas spent a few weeks with us at the Wired offices in San Francisco when Kevin and I were editors there. – Mark], I used to have these little spiral ones in my pocket. Every time I saw something new or…had an idea, I’d just jot it down. Then the people in my life started mutinying around 1997, saying, ‘You just can’t bring that thing out anymore. Douglas, you’re spooking us. Every time we say something you pull it out.’ Then five years later comes the smartphone revolution and now everyone’s doing the exact same thing, albeit electronically. I just like having the paper.”


“I think fingernails are really important and they never get talked about…There’s nothing like them. They’re the most underrated tool.”

Drawers from Ikea $120

“…[T]here’s this wonderful set of drawers that IKEA makes that really is a storage dream, actually. They’re not like Billy bookcases, they’re just these white drawers you pull out.”


Motorola Moto X

I know Cool Tools is not traditionally a phone/gadget review site, but the Moto X got so much small stuff right that it qualifies as a cool tool.

The biggest is the Active Display, which lets you check the time and notifications without unlocking the phone or even pushing a button. The sensors detect when you pull your phone out of your pocket (or pick it up off the table), and 90% of the time, what you need to know is right there. Because the X has an OLED screen, displaying grey text on a black background uses almost no battery power. That feature alone is such an incredible timesaver that even though my employer provided a brand new iPhone 5S, I find myself reaching for the Moto X first.

The other invaluable feature is being able to say “OK, Google Now” without touching the phone. In the car, this means I can make calls, start music, and navigate without taking my hands off the wheel. It just works, and I can’t imagine switching to a phone that doesn’t include this feature.

Yes, you can put many of the Moto X features on existing Android phones, but this is the only one that does it out of the box, and without sacrificing battery life. I’ve had mine for 6 months, and if I lost it today, I wouldn’t consider replacing it with anything else.

-- Aaron Weiss  

Motorola Moto X, 16GB Unlocked

Available from Amazon

Splash Tunes Speaker

I am a confirmed podcast listener following several shows a day. I usually start listening in the morning in my shower. I’ve been listening using an external speaker sitting outside the shower but, with the volume needed, voices were sometimes distorted.

I wanted a waterproof Bluetooth speaker that I could put close to my ear inside the shower. Given the environment, I didn’t want to spend a lot on a item subject to spray and accidental falls.

The Splash Tunes has been a good in-shower speaker. I’ve been using it for a few months now with no problems. The suction cup lets me put it at ear level on the shower wall making voices clearly understandable over the water noise.

It also has speakerphone capability but, not being one to answer the phone in the shower, I don’t know how well that works. Volume and pause controls do work well and the rubber-membrane covered buttons give good tactile feedback.

A good low-cost choice for wet environments when you don’t want to worry too much about damaging a more expensive product.

-- Ron McCoy  

Waterproof Wireless Bluetooth Shower Speaker

Available from Amazon