14 January 2018


Home building/Cryptocurrency videos/Best of 2017

Recomendo: issue no. 77

Advice on building a home
Over many decades, homesteader Lloyd Kahn has built his three beautiful homes by hand, and is the author and publisher of books about building personal homes. Lloyd lives in a fire-prone part of California. He compiled a useful list of hints for people rebuilding homes after fires. The tips are so helpful they would be useful to anyone building a home anywhere. — KK

Free Princeton video series on cryptocurrencies
The Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies Online Course is a 13 hour video series from Princeton. After a very brief introductory video, they get right down to business with a video about hash functions that’s easy to understand. You can also download a companion textbook. — MF

Good podcasts
You’ve finished all the episodes of This American Life and Cool Tools. What podcasts should you listen to next? This is a curated list of great podcast episodes airing in 2017, mostly from podcasts you haven’t heard of, but should. — KK

Best stories of 2017
This chart of the 100 most engaging stories of last year is worth adding to your read list. The top story, My Family’s Slave, was a powerful personal account of being raised by a Filipina woman who the family kept as a slave for 56 years. It stayed with me for months. — CD

Online typing tutor
After decades of being a hunt-and-peck typist, I’m finally forcing myself to learn touch typing. After trying a bunch of different typing websites, I’ve settled on How To Type as my favorite. It’s not fancy, but the drills have helped me to become more accurate. — MF

Keep track of whose glass is whose
My mother-in-law had these metallic markers on hand during the holidays to keep track of whose glass is whose. We had a full house of more than 10 people staying overnight, so this was perfect for keeping track of our wine and water glasses, and coffee mugs. — CD

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 01/14/18

13 January 2018


LED Light Weight Magnifier with 5 Lenses

Wearable LED lit magnifying glasses

For this week’s Cool Tools video review, I’m going to show off these wearable magnifying glasses. These run around $14 on Amazon, and by using the link in the video description you help to support my videos and the Cool Tools blog.

I bought these a year ago looking for a way to get a better look at soldering up small stuff. They really are perfect for those times when you’re wiring or painting or glueing up something tiny and delicate. Plus there’s a little LED on the front that helps put a little extra light on things.

These come with an interchangeable set of lenses. The most powerful one gives you 3.5 times magnification and is the one I leave on all the time. I honestly wish these went up a little higher, as the lower lenses really don’t do much for me.

The lenses are plastic, so they can get scratched if you’re not careful, which I’m guilty of. On the upside, compared to glass these are lightweight and can be worn for long periods without hurting your face. The lens also flips up and down so you can kick in the magnification just when you need it.

But by far my favorite use for these is put these on and surprise people. They make you look so super nerdy. They should really file these things under birth control. They are quite possibly the unsexiest pair of glasses ever made.

-- Donald Bell 01/13/18

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

13 January 2018


The Thumb Thing

Book Manipulation Device

When I was a teenager I remember reading a science-fiction story which predicted that by the 21st century, information would be piped directly into the brain. In this story, a character encountered that most archaic object, an old-fashioned book, and felt appalled that people in the 20th century had been forced to endure so much physical discomfort, holding books and turning their pages manually — or trying to prevent the pages from turning if there was a breeze.

Well, here we are in 2006, and yet another science-fiction prediction has failed to pan out. While we’re waiting for wetware implants, we’ll just have to make do with a stopgap solution: A plastic thumb aid.

-- KK 01/13/18

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2006 — editors)

11 January 2018


Jane Frauenfelder, techie teenager

Cool Tools Show 104: Jane Frauenfelder

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $362 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF


Our guest this week is Jane Frauenfelder. Jane was born and raised in Southern California, she co-hosted a podcast called Apps For Kids for two and a half years, and now attends a robotics academy at her high school. In her off time, she designs video games and she aspires to be a video game designer when she’s older.



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:

“Quizlet is very, very popular among most, like middle and high school students, but it’s a way of studying. It’s a website online, and you just simply type in a bunch of terms as if they’re flashcards and then they have many different many ways that you can learn them through writing them down and they can generate quizzes themselves. They even have games you can play to memorize them. It’s just a wonderful way to memorize facts or terms or memorize anything for school. I used to use it for Spanish class all the time and history and English, and just everything.”

“I like doing game design, but sometimes I just want to do small projects, like I recently did a school project and it was a video game that I designed. Piskel is a website where you can design, kind of like GIFs of a pixel animation. It gives you a board and you can draw on it however you want and it’s all pixelized. That’s a great way to make pixel art and pixel sprites — a sprite is like the object in the game, the main character that you play, the images of the characters — which is kind of popular nowadays, it’s coming back, I feel like 8-bit games and things like that. I just find it really great because when I’m designing games I’m not like a huge artist, I can’t do like these elaborate character designs, and pixel art is able to be so simple.”

Copic markers ($63)
“I’m going to assume that the majority of artists that do fine art and drawing know about Copic’s, because they are very widely known since they’re just very incredible. They’re alcohol-based markers and they blend so wonderfully because they have hundreds of colors, and if you take similar colors you can blend them so nicely that it looks almost like paint. If you’re coloring something with these markers you can make it so that there’s no strokes. If you’re using a lot of water-based markers you’re going to get stroke lines and it’s kind of messy-looking, but Copic’s just glide so smoothly and they’re really great.”

Prusa 3D printer ($599)
“Compared to other 3D printers that I’ve seen, this one’s by far like the best personal 3D printer. It’s really easy to swap out the plastic, and it prints really well. It has an SD chip, which you can plug into your computer and then upload your files, and then you plug it straight into the Prusa and you just select it, because it has a little screen on the bottom, which is great. You select it and it will start printing, and it has different types of plastic that it can use, and it has a heated bed, which is great.”

Also mentioned:


11 January 2018


Pancro Lens Cleaning Fluid

Nonstreaky Lens Cleaner

How do you keep a camera lens clean? You cover it with a filter. But how do you keep the filter clean?

I floundered for many years with streaky Kodak solutions and other goofy products, till I was referred to a mysterious product called Pancro by an extraordinary AC named David “AC Dave” Wendlinger. Pancro comes in industrial white bottles with a big sticker on the front, “PANCRO Professional Lens Cleaner Non-Streaking Non-Residue Non-Toxic Fast-Drying” (almost poetic).

Who knows what it is. But it works like magic. Now my lenses are spotless. This stuff cleans anything with glass; binoculars, telescopes, cameras, rearview mirrors. I carry a little bottle of it in my pocket for my eyeglasses. A pack of Rosco Lens Tissue goes well with it.

Best practice for cleaning the lens/filter? First, hold the camera upside down with the front lens pointing down. Use a little blower with SOFT bristle brush to blow off any particles from the lens surface, particles which will fall off the lens aided by gravity. Put a few drops of Pancro on the Rosco lens tissue and softly polish the lens in a circular motion. Rotate use of the 4 corners and both sides of the tissue so that you always are using a clean part of the tissue to avoid grinding grime into the lens surface. Repeat upside down brush operation if necessary. Inspect with extremely bright flashlight pointed at angle to the element. Some people recommend a cloth instead of the Rosco paper, but I’ve found them too fussy to keep clean and free of abrasive particles. Canned air can work as well, but it can streak the lens if freon is accidentally sprayed when help upside down or sideways. And it can’t be checked in baggage legally.

-- Paul Lundahl (Creative Director/Partner, eMotion Studios) 01/11/18

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2006 — editors)

10 January 2018


Microlite Flip Waterbottle

Ultra lightweight water bottle

Like many others, I’ve been in pursuit of the “perfect” drink bottle for basically my entire adult life. Plastic, metal, glass, hybrids, they all have their pros and cons. No bottle is perfect.

About a year ago I needed to get new bottles for my kids to take to school and camping and wherever else we might end up going. Since I had kids in mind, I needed it to be durable (glass is out) and small enough for little hands to handle easily. I also needed them to not leak. Like, seriously, no leaking. At all. Ever. No. Leak.

In general, I’m not a big fan of bottles with straws. The straw is very difficult to clean and is the most vulnerable part of any bottle. Straws require replacement often in my experience. More generally, bottles where silicon/plastic pieces bend/pinch tend to fail often. Bottles designed with a straw in mind are also usually susceptible to some level of leaking. As you now know, we don’t like leaks here.

I found the Microlite Flip bottles from GSI Outdoors at REI. They are of a small enough diameter that my kids can hold onto them, they disassemble into manageable pieces for very thorough cleaning, and they’re durable enough to take wherever. The bottle is aluminum and the cap is plastic with fully removable silicone seals. The way the bottle cap disassembles is actually quite ingenious and I’d recommend going to a store just to try breaking the cap down into its parts. The spout comes away from the main cap and both silicon seals are removable. All nooks and crannies are accessible.

My kids like their bottles, there are enough colors so that their diversity can be expressed and they hold up well to abuse… well… mostly. One of the kids dropped the bottle while the cap was open and it landed precisely on the latching mechanism for the cap, which snapped off, so it would no longer stay shut at all. I was able to get the bottle replaced from the retailer without incident. I feel like that was a pretty lucky drop and the bottles have handled a variety of other drops with aplomb. It keeps contents at a consistent temperature pretty well. I haven’t tested heat/cold retention very well, but the reviews are positive on this aspect.

I’m sure it’s not perfect, but it’s certainly close enough for my family.

-- Matthew Clark 01/10/18


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Culinary Parchment Baking Cups

Zero-Stick unbleached baking cups



Round off wood edges

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OBD II Power Supply Cable

Preserves vehicle codes and electronic presets when swapping car battery

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Veto Pro Pac Tool Bag

Heavy-duty tool portability

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The 5 Year Journal

Recording the great cycle

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Cool Tools Show 104: Jane Frauenfelder

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 105: Gareth Branwyn

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 104: Barbara Dace

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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.