Cool Tools

Magnetic Drive Guide

Long ago a contractor friend of mine turned me onto a simple fixture for a power drill. It's an inexpensive gizmo that allows anyone to drive long screws in straight and fast. That's a huge plus now that sheetrock screws have replaced nails for most homestead projects. The guide fits into any chuck. You slip the screw head-first into the extended tube. A magnet at the bottom holds it. You place the loaded guide with the tip of the screw poking out over the place where you want to screw and the tube collapses as the screw goes in. The result: no muss, no-hands, quick, straight-in screw first time. Kids and newbies really love it. I keep one permanently affixed to my drivers. I use it for short as well as long screws. In fact I had forgotten how dependent I had become on the guide until I misplaced one recently and had to work without it. Now I have multiple backups. I don't think the brand matters; I use a $5 one. Make your life easier: keep one on your driver.

 
Cool Tools

Floating Water [Maker Update #72]

https://youtu.be/_ACPLlFtMd8

This week on Maker Update, levitating water with LEDs, 3D printed skull buttons, servos on Pi, a game of Twang, Arduino animatronics, and project talk with Becky Stern. This week’s Cool Tool is the EBL 18650 Rechargeable Battery.

Show notes

 
Cool Tools

Fiskars PowerGear Bypass Pruner

This hand clipper is a really cool ergonomic innovation. It uses an ingenious gear design to easily slice off sticks that are 3/4 inch in diameter. As you squeeze, the bottom handle rolls slightly and this motion leverages the power in the scissor cut. I find I can now tackle stuff that ordinarily I would have had to run back to get the larger pruners for. Your Felco pruning clippers will last you a lifetime, but as my grip wanes, I find I this lightweight Fiskars pruner is the clipper I grab first.

 
Cool Tools

Clean Meat/Debt clocks/Everything But The House

Lab-grown meat
I’m reading Clean Meat, a new book about the emerging field of lab-grown meat. It covers the efforts of about a dozen companies and research centers trying to create animal meat without animals. The book lacks many scientific details, but it gives a comprehensive overview to this embryonic industry in 2017, and some of the possible ramifications of success. It’s the current best one-stop source for a very fast-moving frontier. — KK

US and World debt clocks
This website is a dashboard view of national debt, student loan debt, budget items, tax revenue, jobs, and dozens of other rapidly rising numbers. It also has a page of debt numbers for other countries. It’s alarming to watch the numbers rise before your eyes. What can be done about it? — MF

Estate sale marketplace
I have great childhood memories of going to estate sales with my mother in rich neighborhoods. Everything but the House is estate sale hunting without the effort. It’s like a more refined eBay. I’ve already spent way too much time bookmarking things and imagining the history of each item. — CD

Favorite pencil case
I bought this $8 Japanese pencil case a couple of years ago and my daughters liked it so much I ended up buying one for each of them. Despite its small size you can pack a lot of art supplies in it, thanks to its book-like middle “page” that holds pens and pencils on one side and small items on the other side. — MF

Blockchain clarity
I am unable to consume another article/book/video/rant about Bitcoin. But there’s an exception in the New York Times Sunday Magazine: This longish piece on blockchain, the technology underpinning cryptocurrencies, is worth every second of your attention. In crystal clear language, Steven Johnson explains the potential of blockchain in a way that will enable you to appreciate the over-enthusiasm for this new thing. It’s still uncertain how it will all roll out, but at least you’ll understand why folks are excited. — KK

Science of Happiness
This infograph by Happify is a great reminder to check in with yourself and your current priorities. It lists 5 instant ways to boost happiness, and the one that always works for me is to send a quick note to someone thanking them for something they did. Always puts me in a better mood. — CD

Recomendo now has a Facebook page! Follow us for daily recommendations.

 
Cool Tools

Kevin Rose, Serial Entrepreneur

(Photo of Kevin Rose by Christopher Michel)

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $358 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF

Our guest this week is Kevin Rose. Kevin is a serial entrepreneur and product builder, having founded the social news site Digg in 2004. Later Kevin pursued a career in venture investing, investing in companies like Medium, Ripple, and Blue Bottle Coffee while at Google Ventures and is now investing at True Ventures.

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:

pelotonbike

Peloton Bike
($1,995)
“I had taken a couple stationary bike classes and the ones that you actually have to go in person, but then I had a buddy of mine, that was like you don’t understand, these classes are a lot of fun, they really motivate you, you can do it your house, and for me that just sounded like, okay, I’ll give it a shot, and I went and tried it at a friend’s house, and I got hooked, purchased one, and for a geek it's awesome because you get all the really detailed analytics on the screen there post workout, and then it's all live streaming classes, so like when you're in a class the instructors will call you out by name sometimes, and there's all different types of instructors depending on your music style and likes, so I've just found it to be a great way — if you have an extra half hour — to just jump on for 20 minutes and get a work out in." [Note: True Ventures, the venture capital firm Kevin Rose works for, is an investor in Peloton.]

Habitify-app
Habitify: Habit Tracker
"I've been into habit tracking apps, but they always kind of fall off, but as a data junkie, and kind of a geek, I really like to see and be held to certain habits, so I like to see like completion rate, and progress indicators, and little charts and graphs. This is just a really beautiful and simple habit tracking app. So for me, I set up daily habits that would be say “meditation” and there’ll be habits that I want to happen three times a week, like "cardiovascular exercise", or taking certain vitamins three times a week, things like that, and so this is just my go to app for all things habit tracking."

ledger
Ledger Cryptocurrency Hardware Wallet ($132)
“I've tried both the TREZOR and the Ledger, and I wanted a place to have a physical device that is required to unlock your wallet, so that, that means, you know if I lose my laptop, or wherever I'm storing my cryptocurrency, you have to have this device along with a PIN code to authorize any transactions, any sending of any of your coins or tokens. The reason I went with Ledger though versus TREZOR is just the amount of companion apps and kind of built in coins that they support. I’m looking at their site right now, it looks like they support close to 30 different coins, and that was more than TREZOR.”

fermenter
Easy Fermenter Wide Mouth Lid Kit ($30)
“A little hobby of mine is fermenting vegetables, and I’ve done this with a whole variety of different stuff. [I] started with sauerkraut, and I’ve done pickles, and things of that nature, but it’s always kind of a pain, it's difficult in that these things are expelling gases, and you always have to keep everything submerged the right way, and this was a device that I had found probably a year ago called The Easy Fermenter that really makes it easy. You buy these little glass weights that sit inside of any standard mason jar, so it keeps all of your vegetables submerged beneath the brine, and then all you do is just screw on this lid that has an automatic exhaust valve to allow the gases to escape, and it’s as simple as that.”

Also mentioned:

Oak meditation

 
Cool Tools

Nylon Hand Truck

Every household garage and homestead needs a hand truck. It's amazing how often you'll use it once you have one. Makes heavy and awkward things seem less so. I've hauled all kinds of weird stuff. Big tires can work outside in the yard, too. And you'll be a hero next time a friend needs to move. "Be sure to bring your hand truck," they say.

The truck I settled on is a lightweight yet tough nylon model made by Harper, but I don't think the make matters much. (There is a similar one from Gleason.) Since it weighs only 22 pounds it's easy to toss in the trunk, yet it will handle weights greater than I can move (600 pounds). It has big fat balloon tires, stair glides (to ease going up or down stairs), and is just about indestructible.

You can get a cheap new metal one for $20. Since they are hard to kill, a hand truck is a great candidate for buying used.

 
Cool Tools

Skil iXO Palm Screwdriver

I'm preparing a tool kit for my college-bound daughter and I wanted a cordless screwdriver that was small, tough, and long-lasting in dormant battery mode. Something she could quickly grab, hold securely, and be sure it would still be charged despite not being used or plugged in for months on end. I found the ideal tool in the Skil iXO. It uses the new generation of tiny Lithium-ion batteries which reduces its overall size to nearly fitting into my palm.

Once I started using it, I bought one for myself. I throw it in the desk drawer where my other simple household hand tools live. It's held its charge with gratifying dependability. (Skil claims it will hold its charge for 18 months to 2 years of non-use; I haven't had mine that long.) It's not that powerful, but good enough for around-the-house chores. Occasionally I need it because it can squeeze into places my larger cordless driver can't.

Its eager readiness, and tiny size, make it the driver I reach for first.

The same drill is sold under the Bosch name in Europe.

 
Cool Tools

2017 recomendations/Bitcoin podcast/Easy

2017 recomendations
For your convenience and as a refresher, Claudia has compiled our first 73 weeks of Recomendo and crafted a pretty cool website that displays all 450+ recommendations. Items are grouped by subject, so you can see all the travel tips, workshop gadgets, etc. in one place. The links have all been checked/updated. It’s a smooth way to access our current faves by topic. Might be even more useful for folks. The complete Recomendo website is also a great way to share recomendos with friends or on social media. Here is an easy short link to copy: goo.gl/7Zpa6b

Let us know what you think. — KK

Best Explainer Podcast About Bitcoin
I’ve read a lot of books about cryptocurrencies and have listened to many podcasts on the subject. This episode of After On has an interview with Fred Ehrsam, the founder of Coinbase, the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the US. If you’re curious about bitcoin, this will get you up to speed with basic concepts and where the technology could be headed. —MF

Binge-worthy show about relationships
Last weekend I binge-watched two seasons of Easy on Netflix. The show focuses on the tension and love that arises in relationships of all kinds. Sometimes it’s frustrating to watch, but that makes it true to life. Although the characters are connected, you can watch each episode as a standalone. A word of warning — it’s rated TV-MA because there is a lot of nudity and sex. The best part about Easy for me is that it’s filmed in Chicago, my favorite city to visit, so it’s great to see so much of it on-screen. — CD

Best wine opener
I’ve had the same lever-style bottle opener — like this one — for years now and compared to the classic corkscrew or electric openers it’s definitely the easiest to use. I’m always amazed when I find that my friends and family don’t own one yet, that I’ve decided it’s what I’m gifting from now on. — CD

Clean sink pipes
We bought an OXO Good Grips Silicone Sink Strainer ($8) last year and it does a good job of keeping the kitchen plumbing clog free. It’s easy to clean, too. Just hold it over the trash can and pop the rubber filter inside out. — MF

Don’t be the mark
You can’t win fairly at carnival games, because they aren’t fair. Here’s a great fun tutorial that teaches you a few tricks for the ones you might win. — KK

 
Cool Tools

Digitizing old photos/Robolights/Kindle hack

Digitizing old photos
A friend who took a mountain of photos in the last century (1950s-90s) recently asked me how to get all his oId analog photos digitized, cataloged, online and printed. Here is what I told him: I get all my old stuff (slides, negatives, prints) scanned at ScanCafe because the price is right. They have the cheapest yet reliable scanning service. I box them up quickly and sort them after they are scanned. The files are returned on DVD or a thumb drive. But you need time — several months since they send them overseas (with incredible care and safety). For faster service when needed I use Costco. They scan at 600 dpi which is more than enough for most purposes. Costco is fast, but they don’t scan negatives any more. Only slides and prints. And they save to DVD, but not everyone has DVD reader these days. If you need mild retouching on the old photos, Wirecutter makes some good recommendations of scannerswho retouch. After scanning and tweaking I upload my digital files to Costco to get prints. Costco Photos has an excellent quality/price ratio, for both smaller and larger sizes, including fancy metal prints. Cheap, fast (usually same day pickup!), and decent quality. To manage and organize all my scanned photo files I use Lightroom. It’s standard issue for any serious photographer; I couldn’t work without it. (I currently have 230,000 photos in Lightroom.) Its image processing interface is better than Photoshop for 99% of the time. You don’t need the subscription cloud version; the standalone version of Lightroom is still available and fine. — KK

Robolights
If Burning Man was created by a single eccentric artist, it would be Robolights, a four-acre mind-blowing sculptural landscape in Palm Springs, California, created by Kenny Irwin. It’s the only place I’ve visited that matches the surreal feeling I get from dreams. Free. Open until January 8th, 2018 from 4:00pm-9:30pm including holidays and rainy days. — MF

Kindle hack
I often want to read a long PDF someone sends me on my Kindle. Here is the hack to get it loaded. Use your Kindle account name to create a Kindle email as yourname@free.kindle.com. In the subject line of an email message put < convert >. Enclose the PDF and hit send. Amazon will convert the PDF to their Kindle format and it will show up in your library. Then you can select it to download to your device. The PDF on a Kindle is clunky but readable. — KK

Further refinements on the Kindle hack by two readers:

I was trying to read Ellul’s Propaganda. I downloaded it from archive.org (which is now crucial to my pdf kindle hack, including old Arthur Koestler books and other hard to find titles) Sadly it was 30mb, and the emailed couldn’t upload. For days I say there frustrated. Then I realized the hack: I split the pdf into two files of ~15mb each and named them propaganda part I and propaganda part II. Wham, solves it. — Bryan Campen

There is an even easier way to transfer a PDF to Kindle. If you download the Kindle app for Mac or PC you can drag a PDF to the app icon (which I keep in my dock on the Mac). You can configure the app to convert to Kindle format or keep the file as a PDF. You can also choose which of your Kindle /Fire devices you want it sent to. — Len Edgerly (thekindlechronicles.com podcast)

Merge unrelated emails
Currently there’s no official way to merge gmail threads with different subject lines, so I just copy and paste the text I want to add to an existing conversation and send it to myself. Here are instructions. — CD

Short meditations on Love
I bought How to Love by Thich Nhat Hanh on Kindle, read it in one sitting and often go back to it for short, helpful reminders on how to be more loving. Two of my favorite passages are: “You are part of the universe; you are made of stars. When you look at your loved one, you see that he is also made of stars and carries eternity inside. Looking in this way, we naturally feel reverence,” and “There’s a tradition in Asia of treating your partner with the respect you would accord a guest. This is true even if you have been with your loved one for a long time.” — CD

Mini-card game
Iota ($8) is a tiny card game in an equally tiny tin, making it perfect for taking on trips with friends. The object is to assemble the colorful cards in a grid so that the colors, shapes, and numbers are all the same or all different. — MF

 
Cool Tools

Rebecca Romney, Rare book dealer

We have hired an editor to edit the Cool Tools podcast. It costs us $300 a month. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $288 a month to the podcast. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have nice rewards for people who contribute! – MF

Our guest this week is Rebecca Romney. Rebecca is a rare book dealer at Honey & Wax Booksellers in Brooklyn. She got her start with Bauman Rare Books, managing their Las Vegas gallery. She is known for her appearances on the HISTORY Channel’s show Pawn Stars, where she evaluates books as the show’s only female expert. She recently published a book on books called Printer’s Error: Irreverent Stories from Book History with HarperCollins.

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:

mylar
Mylar Film Rolls
“This is an archival uncoated polyester film used by antiquarian book dealers, librarians, and archivists to add a layer of protection to an object for storage or handling. It’s added to dust jackets, cut into sleeves to tuck in individual sheets of paper, etc. “Archival” is a key word here — you have to watch where you’re storing items long term, as high acid content will deteriorate the item over time. This is why taping your books with standard Scotch tape or whatever is so bad — the acid content will eat away at the paper!”

cliplight
Cliplight (both LED and UV)
"In order to see clearly the watermarks and chain lines of a book printed on handmade paper (generally before 1800CE), you need to backlight the paper. Watermarks and chain lines are important evidence of how to identify a book — its format, any repairs, when it was printed, whether it has been messed with by an unscrupulous seller, etc. I use the UV light for things like offsetting of ink that’s normally invisible to our eyes.”

magnifier
Magnifiers
"A good old jeweler’s loupe is great, and I will occasionally use a microscope. But I also use a tool called the Optic given to me by a friend whose business solely relates to autograph authentication. According to him (frankly, I have no idea if this is true), it was developed by the military and used in tanks in Desert Storm, meant to enhance their infrared. What’s cool about the Optic is that it brightens the picture, which offers added clarity."

White Gloves — The "Anti” Cool Tool
"I would love to take a moment to debunk the myth that I should be wearing white gloves when I handle printed books. From the British Library to the Houghton, none of the major conservators and rare book curators recommend these. And for good reason: with gloves, you lose your tactile sensitivity and are much more likely to damage the book while handling it. Just wash your hands first and you’re fine."

 
Cool Tools

Craig Mod, Writer

We have hired an editor to edit the Cool Tools podcast. It costs us $300 a month. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $277 a month to the podcast. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have nice rewards for people who contribute! – MF

Our guest this week is Craig Mod. Craig is a writer and designer. He's worked extensively with Silicon Valley and Japanese start ups. He spends about two months each year walking the old pilgrimage paths and ancient highways in the mountains of Japan.

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:

Suica
Suica card
"It's a really old thing, the suica. It started as a electronic ticket system for the subways. … The Japanese subway system works where you pay an entry fee and then depending on how far you go, when you leave on the other side, you have to pay again, you have to tap out. You have to make sure you have enough money on there to get out the other side … The card that I mentioned as my Cool Tool is an auto fill one that’s connected to your bank account. … I have it set, if it drops below $40, basically, 4,000 yen, it will add another 100 bucks automatically. Basically, you never have to worry about if you can get out the side or if there’s enough money on it. … You can also use it in cabs and in the convenience stores. It just saves you from having to think about coins and all that stuff.

Moulton
Moulton Bicycle
“It’s a funky British bicycle, designed by Sir Alex Moulton and part of his claim to fame was working on the suspension systems for Mini Coopers back in the original Mini Cooper days. He wanted to find this kind of more efficient bicycle form and he built the Alex Moulton bicycle. … Alex realized, ‘If I use a tiny wheel, but really high pressure, I get all of the benefit of the bigger real bikes, but I get more maneuverability in cities and faster acceleration ….' I bought the cheapest Moulton I could get, which was about $1,500 and that was a single speed.”

wanikani
The Japanese language itself and WaniKani
“Japan is like a lot of countries that have a language that isn’t spoken by a lot of people outside of the country, it can be kind of impenetrable and then Japan has this other layer of weirdness in a increasingly global society where Japan has decided not to get good at English. … if you go into the countryside, people in Japan really don’t speak English at all. … You can go onto a mountain in Japan and you can walk through these rice paddies and rice fields in the middle of nowhere and you can connect with the people and you can have these conversations and you can learn about lives in ways that would otherwise be impossible to learn about. It's just fun and addictive and it's this self inspiring loop. … Today, I think there was a lot of tools that didn't exist when I was studying way back in the day ... There’s a tool called WaniKani. I’ve had a lot of fun playing with it. It’s better [than Anki] because the mnemonics and the cards are already prepared for you. They put a lot of thought into the system of giving radicals a consistency so that this mnemonics stories makes sense as you go through.”

chalkboard
Magnetic chalk board
"I just love blackboards. I like quiet technology. … I got a really big one and actually it’s funny when you go into this universe of trying to find blackboards, basically it breaks into two stratospheres. There’s one where it’s for hipster restaurants and cafes … and the other is for esoteric, country schools. … This blackboard is two meters long, it's like three meters high, it sits against a wall in my living room/studio, and it doesn't call attention to itself like a whiteboard would. It kind of sits back there. There's just something really satisfying about having a blackboard. You can use magnets on it, and I find the combination of note cards with the magnets with little notes written on them allow me to move them around real easily, so I don't have to erase things and then redraw it or whatever. I'm able to move stuff, shuffle stuff around easily. Then what I do is I use the full touch chalk to kind of add metadata around all of the note cards and group things. I find that works really well.”

airpods
AirPods
"Again, I like technology doesn't draw attention to itself in the sense that you don't have to interact with it much, you can just kind of use it. I think when you have your AirPods in, you look like a fool and you kind of draw attention to yourself that way … but [I like] the user experience of it and the object itself and the charging case that it comes with and then the way the AirPods stick into the charging case using magnets, and the fact that the case itself is a battery.”

 
Cool Tools

Brad Templeton, Futurist

We have hired an editor to edit the Cool Tools podcast. It costs us $300 a month. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $172 a month to the podcast. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have nice rewards for people who contribute! – MF

Brad Templeton is founding faculty for Computing & Networks at Singularity University, and Chairman Emeritus and futurist of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the leading cyberspace civil rights foundation. He is on the board of the Foresight Institute. He also advised Google's team developing self-driving cars, and writes about such cars at robocars.com. He also advises Starship on delivery robots and Quanergy in the LIDAR space. He founded ClariNet Communications Corp (the world's first "dot-com" company.) He also created rec.humor.funny, the world's longest running blog.

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:

4KTV
4K TVs as computer monitors
“[I have] a 50-inch 4K television, and you may think, ‘Wow, that’s really big, how far away do you sit from it?’ I sit the same distance I sat from the 30-inch and the 24-inches that so many people use. In fact, if you think about it, the typical 24-inch HD monitor, that is the most common sort of monitor sold today or a few years ago, that actually is one quarter of 4K and it’s 24-inches, which means it’s basically half of the 50-inch screen. … The great thing though is, they’re selling these TVs really cheap. They’re selling them down, you can get them for five, 600 bucks, even less …They didn't want you to use these as monitors, they designed them to be TVs. So there’s s few tricks to pull, but if you do you can get something that's just amazing."

VoIP PBX
"I run a voice over IP PBX in my home, that's a little unusual. You may not need to do that, but there are lots of voice over IP services now, so you can get even your landline phone to travel with you. No matter where you are in the world, even on your cell phone or on your computer or if you want to bring a small phone with you because you like that landline experience, which I happen to. I like the voice quality and the physicality of it for a real conversation. You can get that and proxy it up so that my phone in California, you can call it, and it's gonna ring at my desk in Paris and I can call you back. It's gonna look like I'm there. A lot of people are doing that.”

Amazonfire
Fire TV Stick ($40)
“I brought [overseas] my Amazon Fire Stick. I have the first generation one, that was my mistake. The second generation one can be programmed to do what you need to do here, which is use a VPN, a virtual private network. Why? Because you want to cheat all these global content controls that are telling me, even though I have an American Netflix account and I’m paying money into it right now, Netflix will not show me the things that I pay for in the US, ‘cause I'm in France."

sonycamera
Sony cameras
"I like the fact that my cameras keep getting smaller. … I’ve got the Sony a7RII, that's about the best of the digital SLRs for image quality right now. Now, Sony just came out with their A9 which is possibly better. And then in their line I have their APS-C size, that's the sensor that's about half the size of a full 35 millimeter frame. That drops a lot of weight. … I also have, again it’s Sony so this one doesn't have to be, but it's one of the nicest little point and shoots. That fits in your pocket, and it's the DSC-RX100 IV, and that guy does get some great images. But of course it just has a point and shoot zoom lens on it.”

robot-lightbulb
Starship Technologies
"My favorite tool I'm working on right now is with a company that's based in Estonia, and it's called Starship Technologies. We're making a delivery robot. It's a little robot the size of a big beer cooler, and it's got six wheels, and it's not fully autonomous yet, but it's going to be. It's going to bring you everything that you want to order in 30 minutes, and it's gonna cost under a dollar to do it. … Like so many things these days, you won’t be able to get one. You'll be able to get one to bring you something, or if you're a delivery company you might be able to buy them. "

 
Cool Tools

Five crime novels/Song Exploder/Free app finder

Five good crime books:
On the excellent Five Books website Author Simon Brett is interviewed about his five favorite crime novels. Three of his picks (A Kiss Before DyingThe Big Sleep, and The Talented Mr. Ripley) are among my favorites, so I added his other two picks to my wish list. — MF

Summer enjoyment:
I spent almost four hours lounging in this papasan float on the 4th of July and it’s now my favorite purchase of the year. Half my body stays in the water, so I’m able to stay cool while basking in the sun. The only drawback might be how easy it is to relax — time went by so fast, I got sunburned. — CD

Outstanding listen:
You know about Song Exploder, yes? It’s this amazing podcast that takes one well-known song each week and explodes it into its component parts. The musicians who wrote and perform the song take it apart track by track, sometimes beat by beat, explaining what they were thinking as they created the pieces: what challenges and dead-end they met along the way, how the song changed as they worked on it, and why they like the final version. It’s the x-ray into music I always wanted. — KK

Free app finder:
Daily App Advice shows you which paid apps are currently being given away for free in the iTunes App Store. I’ve found many useful free utilities and games here that usually cost between $1 and $10. — MF

Movie night must-have:
Cinesift is a website that combines film ratings from Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB and Metacritic and gives you the average. What I find the most helpful is that I can filter my movie search by genre, and limit results to only those available on Amazon Prime and/or Netflix Watch Instantly. That way I don’t waste time flipping between services searching for a movie. — CD

Best work surface:
I have a large self-healing mat on my workbench, and I have smaller cutting mats I lay on a table if I am working. The non-skid surface keeps parts and pieces stationary, while the cushion prevents dings in the table top beneath. And of course, the self-healing mat is ideal for cutting fabrics, paper, etc. with razors and blades. Also protects from spills better than cardboard. It is easy to clean up: just tilt and wipe. It’s become my default surface for any work. Get the largest size you can. At the minimum, an 18 x 24 inch mat covers well and yet is portable and easy to store. — KK

Get the Recomendo weekly newsletter a week early by email.

 
Cool Tools

Spark/King of Random/Bullet Journaling

Following:
I’m a big fan of YouTube tutorials by folks who make things. One of the best YouTube channels for cool and unusual doable (by average person) projects is Grant Thompson’s King of Random. He has a well-deserved following of 7.5 million subscribers. His detailed instructions are impeccably researched, his build details clever yet totally reliable, and his project designs extremely fun and even “dangerous” in a good way. His videos are blueprints for projects but also teach me how to do my own. — KK

Travel:
My first choice for getting money when traveling overseas is to use a credit card with no foreign exchange transaction fees. Credit cards give me the best exchange rates, and it reduces how much cash I carry. (If a card is not accepted, my second choice is local cash issued from an ATM, using a debit card without transaction costs. I don’t bother with Travelers Checks; they are unusable these days. And traditional money exchanges have unfavorable rates.) For a credit card without foreign transaction fees, I use a Chase Sapphire Reserve which has lots of other perks, but a high annual fee. Another good option is the Capital One Venture for $60 per year, but less perks. For the current lowdown on the best travel cards and their perks see ThePointsGuy, a free blog full of travel advice. — KK

Email App:
For many years I’ve used Gmail’s web interface. I’ve tried lots of standalone apps, but they always fell short and I’d return to Gmail. Then I tried Spark (Mac OS X and iOS) and I’m hooked. It’s smart, snappy, and has lightning fast search. I have not used Gmail since installing Spark. — MF

Readable:
Here’s a funny anecdote from Isaac Asimov’s autobiography, It’s Been a Good Life. — MF

Enjoyment:
This feels like the golden age of movie theaters. I find myself making more movie dates at either dine-in theaters, like the Alamo Drafthouse or at ones with luxury loungers. Buying tickets in advance for reserved seating makes it really convenient. — CD

Productivity:
A while back I reverted to using an analog to-do list because it forces me to be accountable when I have to carry over my tasks to the next day. Then, this YouTube video on How to Bullet Journal entered my life and took my notebook skills to the next level. — CD

 

Get the Recomendo weekly newsletter a week early by email.

 
Cool Tools

Best Cool Gifts Received

The time AFTER the holidays is really the best time to get gift suggestions. Now we can share the unexpected gifts we may have received from others. Were there any cool tool-ish gifts you got this year worth sharing? Leave a note in the comments, with links please.

 
Cool Tools

Purse/Arabian Sands/Photo gifts

Money Saver:
I have a small amount of money in the form of bitcoin. I discovered Purse, which lets me buy things on Amazon using bitcoin at a 15% discount. So far I’ve purchased two items over $100 each, and it has worked without a hitch. — MF

Readable:
To get as far away from my bubble in Silicon Valley, I am enjoying reading Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger. Written in 1959 (not that long ago) this classic travelog describes the extremely remote path of Thesiger in the Empty Quarter of Arabia. He goes native with the Bedouin, and after years of traveling with them he can convey their alien mindset. They are not just pre-modern, they are pre-literate, primeval. The book plunges me into a wholly different way of seeing the world, which is why I keep reading. — KK

Tool:
My favorite use for the Fujifilm Instax printer is for printing out small photo gifts. It’s portable, so you can take it to parties and it only takes a few minutes to wirelessly connect and print out photos straight from your phone. — CD

Tip:
When texting, at the end of sentence hit the space bar twice and it will easily put a period in the right place. — KK

Better C to F:
Recomendo reader Don wrote to tell us, “Your Centigrade to Fahrenheit conversion [from Recomendo #20] works ‘sorta’ as long as the result of doubling the C number is a two-digit number. I’ve always doubled the C number and subtracted 10%, then added 32. Most folks can figure out 10% and subtract it. Also, this doesn’t result in an approximation, but the correct result.” — MF

Service:
I’ve used Canvas on Demand twice now and I am very satisfied with the quality of their premium thick wrap canvases. Sign up for the newsletter and wait for their 50-70% off promos, which happen about once a month. — CD

Get the Recomendo weekly newsletter a week early by email.

 
Cool Tools

Cool Tools Book

An avid reader and user of the the Cool Tools book sent in this snapshot of how his dad marked up the good stuff. Yeah, it's all good stuff! I am proud to claim Cool Tools is the best all-around gift for anyone who wants to make stuff or make stuff happen. It's particularly aimed at the young and young at heart. This large sized book is a much easier way to make use of this site's vast archive. We've done the hard work of culling and only featuring the best of the best tools. At this point there are less than a thousand copies remaining and they have been selling fast. No more will be printed. I doubt any will be left after the holidays.

 
Cool Tools

Secure messaging/Labyrinths/Backyard eggs

Secure Messaging:
Edward Snowden recommends the free encrypted chat and call app Signal. It works on Android, iOS and the desktop. Built by volunteer Open Source contributors and a group of grant-funded developers, Signal is slick and solid. I’m asking everyone I know to start using it. — MF

Following:
I’ve come to appreciate blogs more and more. They are reliable sources of informed enthusiasm and news that stays new. I’ve been surprised how few people use a RSS reader to subscribe to their select choices of blogs because a great RSS reader like Feedly is a tool I use every day. With Feedly, I can read the newest posts of any blog I subscribe to on my laptop or phone in a smooth, intelligent form. It is MUCH easier to read a blog on RSS than it is to go to the website, and it also strips away all ads and other marginalia, so I only see the core text and images. Feedly isn’t the only RSS reader, but it’s stable and highly evolved and I love it. — KK

Enjoyment:
I find that walking a labyrinth is a much simpler way for me to meditate than sitting. I stand at the entrance and contemplate my issue or question, then after some deep breathing and when I feel ready, I enter. As I walk through the winding path toward the middle, I imagine myself shedding all fears and doubts, so that when I arrive at the center I physically feel lighter and open for clarity. — CD

Consumable:
Backyard eggs really do taste better than farm raised ones. At least ours do. It may be because they get a more varied diet: we include our kitchen scraps, which they devour. Chickens will eat anything. I had always resisted raising chickens because of what I imagined would be a daily chore. But they are really very low maintenance. We’ve had half dozen chickens for 6 years now. Their feed trough can hold a week’s worth of feed, and an automatic water feeder keeps them in water indefinitely, so we can leave them alone for days at a time if we need to. We can always find someone willing to pick up some free, yummy backyard eggs. You can buy chicks from a mail order like McMurray Hatchery, but most feed stores, even urban ones, will sell chicks one by one. The best intro book is Raising Chickens for Dummies — KK

Tool:
The Tomato One is free focus timer for iOS, based on the Pomodoro technique. I use it when I have trouble focusing. The timer goes off every 25 minutes for a 5 minute break. I make sure the sound is turned down so that the timer ding is discreet, and allow notifications on a locked screen in case I don’t hear it. Most of the time, I end up working through the breaks and get more done. — CD

Watchable:
In a sleepy Australian town, a group of long dead people come to life and dig themselves out of their graves. Unlike traditional zombies, they are intact, both mentally and physically. They are as confused as the good natured sheriff who becomes their protector against people who wish them harm. Can wait for season two of Glitch, this intriguing Netflix original series. — MF

Get the Recomendo weekly newsletter a week early by email.

 
 

Archives - This site operates under a Creative Commons License.