Rhodia Pad Holder and Pad of Paper

I have a dilemma with most notebooks: for me either they are pocket size and affordable but get shredded in my pockets (the spiral bound ones you get at the drug store), or they are too expensive and nice and I don’t want to write in them or tear out pages (Like Moleskine and similar).

When I found the Rhodia Pad Holder and Pad, I realized I found the right balance of durable and affordable.

The holder is made of black leather, and sort of looks like a wallet. It has a front and back pocket. I have found I like to keep two note books in it, but I’ve also carried one note book and some business cards. It’s size and shape fit easily into a pocket. The holder is just bigger than the pad: so it takes a beating, while it keeps its notebooks looking fresh.

The pads that they make for it are great as well. The are backed with stiff cardboard, bound with a staple, thin plastic cover to keep the elements off, pages perforated. Lined or grid: your choice. And, their color scheme is orange and black! They are just nice enough that you want to keep them around, but no so nice you don’t mind marking them up.

Another thing: it includes a pen loop that fits a Fisher Space Pen perfectly, but I’d very much recommend adding a pen clip to your pen. Because what good is a pad with no pen? It’s easy to pull the writing part of the pen out to make a quick note, or to pull the pen and cap out to make a full pen and do some writing.

One added bonus: this sort of looks like a mini version of the pad that the transit cops use in the NYC subway. If you pull it out and start writing in it, it is sort of fun to watch which people move away from you, and which ones give you side eye.



Rhodia Pad Holder and Pad of Paper

Available from Amazon


Engineer at Other Machine Co., Simone Davalos [Cool Tools Show Episode #24]

This week, engineer and robot-maker Simone Davalos shares tools that fuel her passions and support her hobbies. Simone recommends tools to enable you to build combat-ready bots for the next RoboGames, as well as tools to help you think deeply about the next thousand years.

Show Notes:

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The Othermill $2200

“The Othermill is at the very top of my list for one of my cool tools, and it’s not because I work with for the company that makes it. It’s because it’s really useful, and really fun. It’s a tiny, tiny desktop CNC mill… You drop the file right into our software, and it does it, and you don’t have to mess with learning machining first, which is a huge hurdle for most people when they’re using machine shop tools, and want to cut out things. It’s also really good for crafts, it’s really good for kids to learn how to make things with machines…”

Gross Anatomy Dissection Kit $14

“I find myself using it all the time for electronics. I build mostly cocktail robots when I’m not doing anything else… I have 2 different sizes of hemostat, I have a scalpel blade, I have a couple of different kinds of forceps, ones got teeth on the end, so it’s really easy to grip stuff really tightly. It’s got a probe so I can push wires out of the way.”

RoboGames Admission: $25-250

“You don’t have to use a certain kind of kit. You don’t have to be from any particular country as long as you can show up, and compete, and having a working robot, everyone’s welcome. There’re about 60 different events. Everything from tiny little sumo robots that push each other out of the ring, to your big standard bog, giant killer robots that shoot fire, and bang each other against the walls of the bullet proof arena. That’s always a crowd pleaser, and it’s always a lot of fun. After 12 years of doing this, it’s built quite an amazing, literally international community around it.”

BoeBot $170

“My all time favorite beginner robot book is, Robotics with the Boe-Bot. It’s made by Parallax. It’s hands down the best written book I have ever read on how to build a robot when you’ve never touched a circuit before, ever.”


The Manual For Civilization

“The ‘Manual for Civilization’ was started by the Long Now Foundation, which I am proudly a member, and I used to work for. It is a really splendid, beautifully curated collection of books by thinkers, and writers, and dreamers, and artists, and it’s all about what you would do. If civilization ended what knowledge would you need to restart it?”

The Interval at Long Now

“It’s essentially a cocktail bar where you can go and talk about long term thinking, lofty concepts, read these books. It’s a really great all-in-one thing, and it’s to get people to think long term. To think about not the next 5 years, or the next 10 years, but the next hundred years.”


New in Ask Cool Tools

In Ask Cool Tools, I asked for a recommendation for a grip strengthener:

grip strengtheners. Some are lever-based and work all the fingers at once. Others are like a trumpet, with individual pegs for your fingers. Others are squishy balls/donuts. I’m mainly interested in improving forearm strength while I watch TV, listen to podcasts, etc. What do you recommend?

Answer this question here.

If you have a question of your own, please ask!

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Olfa L5-AL Heavy Duty Cutter

These have quickly become by all-time favorite utility knife and try-to-have-it-with-me super-tool. What’s really interesting about this knife is on the back-end. You see that little metal tang? This little extension has become so handy on job-sites or around the house that I feel a little helpless without it (just a bit).

This metal extension is often the perfect pry-tool for awkward situations. It’s not just a piece of stamped metal, it has a slight tapered edge which makes it far more useful that you’d expect. Need to open an electrical cover-plate? It’ll do it. Don’t have a screwdriver (or coin) handy for those slot-fitting applications? Now you do! Opening paint-cans, prying open seals, breaking the glue-seam on a cardboard box, etc. It keeps finding new ways to be handy and it often does it well.

I was just on a job-site yesterday where an awkward panel in some office furniture just would not go back into place and I was truly stuck. Digging through the toolbox and trying different ideas wasn’t getting anywhere. I didn’t have my knife with me (lent it out) but I eventually had to go find it to give it a try and it was the perfect tool one more time. It really did save the day and I’m not sure if any other tool that could do the job, or do it as well.

Aside from this, the slim lock-slide button on the side is a wonderful performer. It’s quick, reliable and fits better in the pocket than the screw-type lock. Everytime I grab a blade with a screw-lock I’m reminded why I like this one so much.

And the grip! The molded rubber and tapered edges of the handle is really well designed. It’s just one more thing that makes this knife stand out and I’m constantly trying to keep this blade handy so I don’t have to suffer the alternatives that are littered about.

It also comes preloaded with an ultra-sharp LBB-10 blade. Icing on the cake! These blades are a legend in themselves.

It’s a great knife and utility tool and a must-have in my go-bag.

-- Martin  

[We reviewed a slightly less heavy duty cutter in 2006 -- Mark Frauenfelder]

OLFA L5-AL 18mm Heavy Duty Cutter with an Automatic Blade Lock and 10 Free Spare Blades

Available from Amazon

Stabil Steamer

I don’t want to contradict the review of bamboo steamers, they are amazing tools and work great. They can be very affordable and can last a long time if you take care of them.

And, there is the rub. I don’t take proper care of mine. I don’t really know what I do wrong, but mine break down and get moldy. And, I don’t feel I ever get them clean enough.

When I found stainless steel steamer baskets at Ikea, I realized I found the right steamer baskets for me. I bought three, and haven’t looked back since.

They are a lot like the bamboo ones: They stack on top of each other, and you can get a pot with a lid that they fit on perfectly. But, they are steel: easy to clean up, and up for a good scouring if need be! They don’t break down, and no mold issue so far.

With my stack of three steel steamers, I continue to get all of the benefits of cooking with steam (it’s quick and easy, keeps nutrition locked in, and doesn’t use a lot of energy), but I also don’t have to bid farewell to my steamers every few months.

Stabil Steamer insert


ZeroWater Water Cooler Bottle & Stand

I wanted to learn to love to drink water. I had never developed a taste for plain water, favoring sugary drinks of coffee. Plain water always seemed more of a chore or an annoyance, rather than something I looked forward to. I was jealous of all of the people enjoying their water bottles!

I had tried using several of the popular brands of water filter pitcher, but found the filters secured by friction suspect. I always expected them to pop out and float away. Also, something about the form factor of pitchers or “bins” kept in the pitcher didn’t work for me: out of sight was out of mind. And when I did remember that they were there? They were never full.

I came across the ZeroWater system. One of the things I like a lot about the filters is that they screw into the base. A real secure connection and no mixing of the filtered and unfiltered water. The filters also come with a little gizmo that tests the number of particles in the water. It’s fun to do a taste test with it, showing people the difference between tap and the filter.

While Zero makes a number of form factors, the one I chose looks like a traditional water cooler bottle: it holds a lot of water, is easy for me to fill, and I think is rather handsome.

The filter needs a base, and the ceramic one does an admirable job. Being ceramic, it keeps the water just a little bit cooler than room temperature (what I think is the perfect drinking temp), all without electricity. You just place the filter on top of it, and fill it up. (Which is a nice way of avoiding having to swing a full water bottle up on to the dispenser.) The base also comes with a wooden stand, which allows you to put a glass on the counter, and fill up without holding on to the glass.

Another thing I like about it: it makes water that generally tastes better to me than bottled. (Although New York has great tap water to start with.) I generally like to bring water with me, and that helps cut down on my creating more plastic and having more fuel burnt moving the water around.

And, it worked: I now drink water. Love to drink it, in fact. It is a handsome thing on kitchen counter which reminds me to drink. It is easy to fill, easy to see when it needs filling, and always a good temperature for me.


-- Mark Krawczuk  

ZeroWater ZJ-003 Filtration Water Cooler Bottle with Electronic Tester, Filters Included

Primo Products Llc Ceramic Water Dispenser

Available from Amazon

Kadomaru Pro Corner Cutter

I use the Kadomaru Pro Corner Cutter to round the corners on gimmicked playing cards I make to perform magic tricks. The cutter can also be used to round the corners of postcards, business cards, photos, and any other paper or card stock (as long as it isn’t too thick – it resists when I try to cut two playing cards at the same time).

It has three slots, labeled S (3 mm), M (5 mm), and L (8 mm). The 3mm is perfect for Bicycle playing cards. To use it, insert the corner of the card into the slot until it stops, then press down on the handle until it clicks. The cuts are very clean.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Sun-Star Kadomaru Pro Corner Cutter

Available from Amazon

New in Ask Cool Tools

In Ask Cool Tools, Robray wants to find a multi-purpose thermometer.

I’m always curious about the temperature of things such as; my coffee cup, the inside of my car, a slice of pizza (so I don’t burn my mouth), the surface of my solar panels, the battery in my laptop, etc. What would be the best thermometer for these sorts of tasks? I assume I would want something that measures fairly quickly as sometimes peak temperatures only last a few seconds. Would one of those pistol grip surface temperature thermometers work well or would or something more like a multimeter probe be better?

Answer this question here.

If you have a question of your own, please ask!

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Bucklehead Belt Buckle Knife

I’ve been using this belt buckle/knife for about five years now. Although the vendor’s web site gives the impression its main use is for knife fights in bars, I have never used it that way and cannot attest to its efficacy.

However, I do use the knife quite often in my vocation (librarian) and avocation (sailing).

People who know tell me the steel is of excellent quality. It holds a very sharp edge for a long time. My only complaint is the blood gutters sometimes make it difficult to cut thick lines. I asked the proprietor if he could remove the serration. This is what he said, “Our buckle is a tool. The serration, it works well for many other purposes. A tool is a weapon only when you use it as such. If you are attack by man or beast you will be glad you have our buckle. Believe me on this one.”

-- Liam Hegarty  

Bucklehead Belt Buckle Knife
$70 and up

Blair Antenna and Access Holcutter

The Blair Holcutter provides a way to make clean holes in sheet metal. The antenna Holcutter in particular is useful for drilling an antenna mount on a vehicle. The main advantage of this tool over a regular hole saw is that it creates a clean hole. Also, there is a shoulder on the Holcutter to prevent cutting too deep into the metal. It is carbide metal, and should last for a long time.

-- Noah Chanin  

Blair Junior Antenna & Access Hole Cutter Kit

Available from Amazon