17 December 2017


The Friendly Orange Glow/Woodworking DIY/Sokanu

Recomendo: issue no. 73

Forgotten history
A book I recommend, The Friendly Orange Glow. I’ll just paraphrase the rave burb I wrote for it: “I love this deep unknown history. It’s an incredible tale of a rag-tag team of students inventing key technologies such as flat screens, instant messaging, networked games, blogging — in the 1960s and 1970s, several decades before Silicon Valley, Apple, Facebook. Then they were totally forgotten. Your mind will be blown.” — KK

Woodworking DIY channel
April Wilkerson is a woodworker and her YouTube channel is filled with her projects, like a chicken coop, a multipurpose garage storage station, a cedar fence, a walking cane, and more. She’s great at showing and explaining her work, and letting you see her mistakes and workarounds, which is very valuable. — MF

One-stop career center
The Sokanu Career Test is like a supercharged version of the one I took in high school. A 20-minute test will give you your top matches out of 800+ careers based on your personal interests, personality characteristics and ideal work environment. You also get info on degree paths, salary and links to job listings. — CD

Inexpensive upper body workout
In 2012 I bought an $18 pull-up bar that hangs from a door frame. When I started, I wasn’t able to do a single pull-up. After a week I could do one pull-up. A couple of months later I was able to do over 10 pull-ups. I still can. — MF

Person I am following
I follow Patrick Collison on Twitter. He posts regularly (but not obsessively), with a high-signal to noise ratio, a broad interest in the usual tech, science, and bookish things, but with the occasional quirk to keep me surprised. — KK

Cheap bedside alarm
I bought this small $10 clock so I could avoid looking at my phone in the morning. The alarm is progressive and the ticking is as close to silent as possible. There’s a button to illuminate the time in the dark and it doubles as a snooze button. Perfectly simple and useful. — CD

Get the Recomendo weekly newsletter a week early by email.

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 12/17/17

15 December 2017


Carol Tilley, Information Science Professor

Cool Tools Show 102: Carol Tilley

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $327 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF

Our guest this week is Carol Tilley. Disguised as a mild-mannered Midwestern library and information science professor, Carol Tilley is actually the Comics Crusader, whose 2013 research debunked evidence used by 1950s anti-comics advocate Fredric Wertham. A 2016 Eisner Award judge, Carol is also president-elect of the Comics Studies Society and an in-demand speaker on comics history.

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:

Instant Pot Duo 8-quart ($129)
“I’m not a big kitchen gadget person. I sort of operate under the idea that if you have a good pan, and a good knife, that’s more or less all you need. I fell under the sway of the Instant Pot marketing about a year ago, and some friends of mine convinced me that it was a miracle. I was a little bit hesitant but I thought for 100 bucks I would give it a try. It really is something very cool. I sometimes joke that it’s the one pot, sort of like the one ring except in a good way. We make yogurt, rice, dry beans, everything that we’ve tried so far has been pretty magical in terms of cutting down the time and cutting down the mess of making set up.”

Antsy Labs Fidget Cube ($10)
“I was one of the Kickstarter backers for the original Fidget Cubes from Antsy Labs. I am so happy and so impressed. I’ve always been one of those folks who even as a kid, I twiddled my thumbs, which was kind of a joke at times. I cannot sit still. I’ve never been able to sit still. The Fidget Cube, even though it doesn’t keep me from tapping my legs, or crossing or uncrossing my legs, the Fidget Cube does keep my hands occupied. I really love that there are six different things that I can do with this. I think probably the glide side is my favorite but also the spinner side, and the side that looks like the five on a die where you can punch the little buttons in and out. It’s just very satisfying.”

Pilot Varsity Disposable Fountain Pens ($14)
“Like a lot of people, I love to sort of glam on to pens, but I also lose them frequently. I like to be able to write with something that feels good when the tip touches the paper. With the Varsity, I found that the nib is really nice and smooth. I think the ink flow is good. I feel like I can write elegantly with it. If I lose it, it’s not the end of the world. I haven’t spent $500 or $1,000 on a month-long and then feel guilty when it disappears out of my bag. I keep a box of the black ones and a box of the purple ink handy, pretty much all the time.”

Library Card
“I’m a librarian by training. I teach people who are going to be librarians. I have been a library user since age three. A library card for me, I’m lucky to live in a community that has two extraordinarily good public library systems; Champaign Public and Urbana Free Library. Our university library system here at University of Illinois is one of the best in the world. I can’t imagine being without that access. I think that whether you are a kid, or a senior, or a college student, or a parent, an entrepreneur, I think there’s something at your local library that can really make a difference in your life.”


14 December 2017


Cool Tools 2017 Holiday Gift Guide: Best Visual Books

Best gift books for 2017

We love books and buy lots of them. Here are our favorite gift books from our book review site, Wink

The Superhero Comic Kit ($16) “This is a great gift for any creative kid who likes to draw and make up stories.” – Carla Sinclair

The Little Prince Deluxe Pop-Up Book ($19) “If you enjoyed this classic as a child, you’ll adore this deluxe pop-up version and appreciate the way the imaginative art of paper creation brings the muted tones of this book to magical, poignant life.” – Kaz Weida

You Are Stardust ($16) “A fascinating gem that reminds us all of the ways in which earth’s vibrant textured surface gives our existence shape and meaning.” – Kaz Weida

Art Forms in Nature ($15) “Haeckel’s lifeforms radiate vitality from the page and the peculiar way they are drawn seems to stimulate the same part of the brain that’s affected by psychedelic drugs.” — Mark Frauenfelder

Things Organized Neatly: The Art of Arranging the Everyday ($17) “Seemingly meaningless collections gain intelligence and order which focuses attention on the parts. The book ranges wide and far in the type of things that are inspected. You will soon knoll your own.” – Kevin Kelly

Outside the Box ($14) “Loaded with sketches and finished work from the portfolios of the best hand letterers working today. It inspired me to pull out my sketchbook and do some hand-lettering like I used to do in the late ‘80s when Boing Boing was a print zine. – Mark Frauenfelder

Zakka Embroidery ($14) “A collection of beautiful embroidery motifs (shot clearly and up close so that you can practically feel the stitches on the muslin) with corresponding projects. All the motifs are garden/nature inspired and only use one or two colors of thread.” – Marykate Smith Despres

Tools: How They Work and How to Use Them ($18) “By the end, you’ll have been introduced to dozens of tools, materials, and techniques and have gained a solid grounding in how to use them in the real world. – Gareth Branwyn”

The Longest Day of the Future ($25) “I read this twice, savoring every beautiful panel, filled with insanely weird and wonderful robots, buildings, vehicles, and creatures.” – Mark Frauenfelder

Want more? Check out our other 2017 gift guide picks, as well as our 2016 Gift Guide, 2015 Gift Guide, 2014 Gift Guide and our 2103 Gift Guide


13 December 2017


Ego Leaf Blower

Battery-powered blower

We had a Black & Decker electric leaf blower. It also had attachments to turn it into a leaf sucker/grinder. That thing was the loudest sumbitch ever, we really needed to use ear protection when that thing was out, but, y’know. But it blew okay, using a cord was a PITA, and anything in the leaves besides leaves would seriously ding up the plastic blower blade if you were sucking up leaves – we didn’t use that much as it seemed to just be asking for catastrophic system failure. Overall, it got the job done but really was a showcase in what a non-Cool Tool could be.

Thanks to The Wirecutter’s roundup, last year I bought an Ego blower. It’s battery powered – no cord. It’s well designed – not sucking up shirt or jacket ends, and, when you’re not using it, it sits down politely, ready to go back to work. It’s light-weight & well-balanced – forearms function nominally after a long session with it. It’s quiet; I mean, it makes noise, but not enough to wake babies or make anybody close their windows and has no weird frequency issues. The battery is capacious and its charger is fast; one full 2.5Ah battery can usually get as many leaves moved and piled as we care to deal with, and if we have lots of leaves, we can’t use “stupid slow charger” as an excuse to stop. It’s speed-adjustable, so you can be smart (less mindless?) when using it. It’s got an appropriately named Turbo button that easily un-jams soggy leaf piles behind & under shrubbery & such – it’s not a gimmick, it really works well. Besides being good at wrangling leaves, it’s also a quickie way to uncover back-yard-dog-poop before things get worse.

-- Wayne Ruffner 12/13/17

13 December 2017


Titanium Nitride Shop Snip

Powerful scissors/snips

I find myself reaching for this titanium nitride shop snip a couple of times per week. It is like nice sharp pair of scissors with (almost) the power of tinsnips. It is VERY sharp and will cut through tough materials like vinyl cove base, nylon pallet strapping, or rope quite easily. I recently had to cut some vinyl trim that was too thick for scissors, but got mangled up with tinsnips. This tool cut the material perfectly. Fiskars says this about the Titanium Nitride coating: “EXTREMELY DURABLE Titanium Nitride coating resists wear, nicks and scratches as well as corrosive chemicals and sticky substances while reducing friction for easier cuts.” I found the rubber grip is comfortable and the tool is very easy to control. It seems very well made. It has nice little touches such as: the tab that keeps the blades locked closed is powdercoated.

-- John Nichols 12/13/17

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2005 — editors)

12 December 2017


Makedo Cardboard Building System

Reusable connectors for cardboard creations

The cardboard boxes that come as packaging for my family’s numerous online purchases were formerly an annoying nuisance, piling up until we could cut them apart and add them to the recycle bin. But for the kids at my wife’s school, cardboard is a wonderful construction material. Thanks to Makedo’s plastic screws, this cardboard can be magically transformed into the raw material for forts, castles, suits of armour, etc. A Makedo building kit comes with a serrated plastic knife (non-pointy for extra safety), for cutting up the cardboard, thirty plastic screws that can be used to hold layers of cardboard together, and a special screwdriver that works on these plastic screws. Nothing is sharp enough to hurt the kids. Even sitting on the pointy end of a screw would merely be uncomfortable. Equipped with these simple tools, it’s amazing to see what the kids can do with cardboard. Eventually, the cardboard constructs get left out in the rain, lose their structural integrity, and must be tossed away. When this happens, the bright blue screws are easy to spot and and remove from the junk cardboard, keeping lost screws to a minimum. We buy ours from Lee Valley Tools, but I think Makedo’s construction tools are widely available from other suppliers too. A full set is under $20.


-- Scott Reid 12/12/17


img 12/11/17

Diamancel Diamond File For Foot Calluses

Geometric diamond pattern buffs away hard corns and calluses.

img 12/11/17

Favorite tool finds under $10

A roundup of inexpensive useful tools

img 12/9/17


Pattern recognition competition

img 12/8/17

Cold Drip Coffee Maker

Easy to use slow-drip brewer

img 12/7/17

Norm Chan, Editor of Tested.com

Cool Tools Show 101: Norm Chan

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Ortlieb Dry Bags

Heavy-duty waterproof bags

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Constant automatic accuracy

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Affordable dehydrator

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Cool Tools Show 102: Carol Tilley

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Cool Tools Show 101: Norm Chan

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Cool Tools Show 100: Jennifer Pahlka

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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.