Cool Tools

Spray Adhesive

What magnificent stuff. Glues together thin layers of paper products such as cardboard, photographs, foam core, even light fabrics, firmly and evenly. Most of the time it's superior to rubber cement, white glue, tape or contact cement. Comes in various formulations. 3M's Spray Mount is most versatile. You can find archival versions, too.

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Precise memorable addresses
What3Words divides the world into 3 x 3-meter squares and gives each square a unique, unalterable sequences of three random words. For instance the location of my writing desk is “smile.rocket.gates”. This global address is really handy for sending a delivery person to the right part of a building, or meeting someone on at trail head, or locating a home in the large parts of the developing world that have no operational address. It’s better than a lat/long sequence because you can remember it. Works in multiple languages. The phone app version integrates into Google maps, etc. — KK

Keep tabs on neighborhood crime
If you don’t have a Ring doorbell or security camera installed, you can still be alerted of nearby crimes and theft using the Neighbors by Ring app. Once you set up the parameters for your neighborhood you can watch video footage of suspicious activity posted by neighbors (up to 5 miles away). I already own Ring products, so I set up the free Neighbors app to alert me of crimes in my Dad’s neighborhood that I can then forward on to him.— CD

Quickly de-stress with deep breathing
Doing breathing exercises are easier for me if I can focus on something visually. is perfect for that. It’s also helpful if you want to discover different types of yoga breathing. — CD

Gallery of magazine covers
I don’t read many paper magazines nowadays, but I appreciate good magazine covers. I’ve been working for magazines for decades and have learned coming up with eye-grabbing, meaningful covers is the most challenging aspect of publishing. CoverJunkie collects the best covers from magazines all over the world. The have an Instagram account, which is the best way to browse the gallery. — MF

Virtual chill aquarium
Here are 10 hours of oceanic video. Just ten uninterrupted hours of relaxing underwater scenes of fish swimming and bubbling sounds. No narration, no drama. I watched more of this than I thought I would. Outtakes from the BBC’s Blue Planet series. — KK

Strawberry huller
Gimmicky kitchen tools are usually worse than the knives, graters, and other kitchen tools you already own. This little strawberry huller is an exception. The spring-loaded jaws make it a breeze to remove stems, making short work of basket of berries. I’ve used this $7 tool dozens of times since I bought it in 2015. — MF

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Making Comics

Magnificent! A work of genius. The best how-to manual ever published. I could keep piling on the superlatives because this book is simply a masterpiece. At one level, it is a comic book about how to make comics, and for that it is supreme; the best. It will walk you through every step of making a comic, including how to make them on the web, digitally, or in pen and ink. I've been working on a near-completed graphic novel, and every page has told me something important and spot on. With brilliant graphics, Scott McCloud combines the most profound insights from his two previous books, Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics. But in this book he raises your understanding of graphic communication further by making every lesson utterly practical and useful for both novice and expert. I can't imagine anyone ever doing a comic manual better.

However, even if you are not planning on making a graphic novel, this book is a gold mine. McCloud's section on constructing facial expressions and emotions is astounding, and worth the price of the book alone. The clever way McCloud arrays human expressions in one chart reminds me of the first time I saw all the colors arranged in a color wheel; it's the same aha! The insights McCloud extracts from comics and presents so vividly here are useful to novelists, sociologists, film makers, artists, roboticists -- anyone interested in human expression. That's probably you.

Indeed, even if you have no interest in comics at all, this charming book will win a place in your life because ultimately it is about communication and stories -- and those are the foundations of all cultures. Making Comics teaches you the visual elements of stories. If I had to re-title it, I would call this book Making Visual Stories.

Finally, as an example of communication itself, this comic book has few peers. I read, review and use hundreds of how-to books every year. I can't think of any instructional manual in any subject that is clearer, more thorough, more honest, more user friendly than Making Comics.

As I said, it's a classic. You can expect to find marked-up copies on bookshelves (or on hard drives) a hundred years from now.

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Sierra Stove

There I was, in driving rain, cooking breakfast under a tree over an intense, portable fire. Fresh coffee and scrambled eggs.

It was a Sierra Stove I got for $52. It's a mini-forge, forcing air into a small insulated chamber where a double handful of twigs (or dung or whatever) can heat water in a couple minutes---just a little longer than a butane stove, but with NO fuel or fuel containers to carry. One enthusiast hiked from Mexico to Canada cooking with one, claims Chip in The Compleat Walker IV. Chip himself now claims to camp largely solar--with backback solar charged batteries running his flashlights and his Sierra Stove.

The basic unit I got weighs 18 ounces and is clever and well-evolved. Accessory goodies can be found at the manufacturer's site. The newest item is a titanium version that weighs only 10 ounces, for $129.

I was impressed at how little fuel was needed, and how funky it could be. A switch offers high or low speed on the fan, driven by one AA battery. No igniter -- my Bic failed me in the rain, but a Lifeboat match and lil' firestarter saved the day. Unlike butane, the Sierra Stove does blacken your pots and pans, which is the main nuisance -- they go in Ziploc bags anyway though. All in all an impressive little rig.

We'll all want one when the economy collapses completely and we have to live homeless.

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Sharpie Twin-Tip

Sharpie markers are well-known for being indelible, particularly on plastic, glass and metal surfaces. Folks in labs, movie sets, and hospitals who need to mark things permanently use Sharpies. If the ink goes on, it won't come off. What's special here is that the other tip of these pens is an ultra-fine point Sharpie, fine enough to write like a ball-point pen - but permanently -- when you need to. The "industrial" version of Sharpie ink will even resist chemicals and scrubbing. Since more writing surfaces seem to be plastic-like, I find we use Sharpies all the time now.

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Stop phone spam/GateGuru/70s Sci-Fi art

Stopping phone spam
For the past 2 years I’ve been using the free Nomorobo service to stop spam calls on my landlines and it works fantastically. A few months ago I started using the paid Nomorobo app on my phone, and suddenly all those dumb spam calls have ceased. There are a number of phone spam eliminator apps, but Nomorobo is one that does not scarf up your friends’ phone numbers in order to make its white list. — KK

Airport terminal guide
GateGuru is a smartphone app with a lot of travel features, but the only one I use is the amenities list. It will show you all the eateries, shops, and services located in your terminal, along with the location. It also has user ratings for the places. I use it to find the best place to eat when I’m waiting for a flight. — MF

Streaming art
I’m enjoying this stream of old science fiction art, mostly from the heydays in the 1970s. Comes as an InstagramTwitterTumblr, or RSS feed. — KK

Best inexpensive hair curler
Over the years I’ve spent anywhere from $20 to $150 on heat styling tools, and this $25 Remington Curling Wand is the best hair curler I’ve ever owned. It heats up in 30 seconds and the curls keep all day, even through the next day. I owned the smaller ½-inch wand for 5 years before I bought the larger 1-inch wand and now I can curl all my hair in less than 5 minutes. — CD

Longer-lasting herbs
If you are lucky enough to stumble across these lightly dried herbs by Gourmet Garden in your grocery store, give them your money. I always buy up basil, cilantro and parsley. They last more than a month longer than fresh herbs and taste just as good. Here’s a store locator. — CD

Zippered mesh pouches
These small Japanese zipper pouches are made a some kind of sturdy, fine mesh so you can easily see what you put in them. I bought an 8-pack for $9. It includes four 8” x 5.5” pouches and four 9” x 7” pouches. They’re great for travel. — MF

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Cool Flow Respirator

I am convinced that the single most effective tool you can have on hand for an ABC disaster (Atomic, Biological, or Chemical) is a good face mask. The danger of nuclear radiation is primarily from fallout, which drifts as air-born particles. Same for many chemical spills; their poison also drifts on microscopic airborne droplets. And the biological toxins we most fear also travel in the air as particles. A face mask covering nose and mouth can reduce (not eliminate) the risk of inhaling these particles.

But face masks are useless unless worn, and are not worn (for long) if uncomfortable. I've been trying out various inexpensive masks that I could wear for many hours without going crazy. I found the Cool Max to be the only respirator I could keep on for long periods. The Cool Max [now called Cool Flow] are cheap N95 units (workshop, not surgical quality) that fold out and fit on the face with two elastic straps. The enlarged surface area eases breathing, and removes that suffocating sensation I usually get from wearing respirators. I could talk, drive, and work outside in the garden for hours without much discomfort. These masks are cheap enough that I have stocked a supply for our household (you'll need more than one).

Recently I attended a meeting for the world's avian flu experts and asked them how effective a face mask like Cool Max would be in an avian flu epidemic. (I had already learned that touching hands transmits more viruses between people than does sneezing; so it makes no sense to wear a mask without wearing gloves.) About half of the flu researchers believed a mask would not do anything at all (viruses are smaller than the filter pores), and the other half said that of course it would help since the viruses ride along on larger particles. When I asked them how many of them would personally have their families wear one in a flu pandemic, they almost all said they would. Although the efficacy of masks with viruses is unproven, there is no harm in using them, as long as you don't believe it guarantees anything.

My research came down to this: Better than hoarding Tamiflu, sequestering some face masks and disposable gloves is the cheapest, easiest and most productive thing you can do to prepare for a flu epidemic beforehand. Fancier, more sophisticated face masks would probably be more effective if you kept them clean and were willing to wear them. But I find it cumbersome to walk around with a gas mask. These Cool Max respirators will at least be worn for the durations needed, and will reduce your risk of inhaling ABC particles.

And, oh, they work really great keeping dust out, too!

Cool Tools

Tod E. Kurt, Co-founder of ThingM

Our guest this week is Tod E. Kurt. Tod runs ThingM, an IoT device studio in Pasadena. He is creator of the blink(1) USB notification light and BlinkM Smart LED. He co-founded CRASH Space, a Los Angeles hackerspace. He is the author of “Hacking Roomba” and long ago worked on cameras for Mars probes.

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:

Stickvise PCB Vise with Standard Nylon Jaws ($30)
“The main difference between this vise and other vises you might use to hold your work is that it maintains your work parallel to your desktop. And that's the other thing: it isn't attached to a surface. It just kind of sits on your desk. It's very small, and it's made for doing electronics work. But I've seen people use it for things like jewelry and other sort of small work where you're kind of on a desk and you need to have something that's held flat. And the reason why you need it to be held flat for electronics is because you don't want the parts to slide off as you're soldering them down. If you're doing surface mount work, it's just like things are just kind of sitting on top and then you have to solder them down."

Viltrox Super Slim LED Light Pane ($34)
"Anyone who has a work bench has had to try to solve the problem of how do you light up the space you're working in, and for me I've tried fluorescent light tubes, the standard long tubes. I've tried LED strip that I then stuck to a base and then had that. But they've all been a little fiddly, and it becomes hard to either adjust the brightness or adjust the color temperature, which I've really liked lately. A lot of lights now you can change if you want them to be a noon, like a bluish-white that you'd see during noonday, or a more orangey-yellow white, one you'd see during the evening. And now there's all these lights, all these LED-based lights out there, where you can have a knob to tune the color temperature. And this LED light panel, it's about maybe six inches on a side, and it's normally meant to be mounted on top of a camera for photography people to take pictures and to light their subject, but I found you can just mount it above your bench and it becomes a great task light.”

Koolertron 4.3" LCD Digital USB Microscope ($79)
"I stumbled across this little microscope, and it's perfect because it's super portable. I can just kind of drag it around wherever I need it, and I'll stick circuit boards that I'm looking at to see how the manufacturing of them went. When I'm soldering stuff, sometimes I'll stick the circuit board I'm working on underneath it to see it. And because it is fully-self-contained — it's a digital device, digital microscope, but it's got a screen built in, and the screen's good — I don't need a computer and have to look up at a computer all the time. I can just look at it. And so it's just brilliant."

Asus Chromebox2 ($170)
"Everyone's probably heard of Chromebooks. They're the little notebooks that run only Chrome, the browser. This is exactly that, but it looks kind of like a Mac mini. So you have to bring your own keyboard and mouse and screen to the game, but it's a lot cheaper. And so you plug in your mouse, keyboard — or as what I do, I've got a little combo mouse-keyboard thingy — and an old display, and suddenly you've got a working computer that's on the net. You can just log in with your Google account, and you've got a Chrome browser that just is on the net. You can watch YouTube. You can look at documentation. That's what I use it for. I have the schematics that I'm working against or maybe some educational videos that I'm following along with. I have that next to me. And because it's this little, tiny, cheap computer, I don't care if it gets a little dirty from being in the workshop.”

Also mentioned:

It’s a non-obtrusive notification light. You can hook it up to events on the Net you care about (“new mail”, “server down”, “it’s going to rain”).

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $342 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF

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Nail Puller

A nail puller like the ones reviewed in Cool Tools earlier (here and here) is not the best. It will gouge a quite horrible crater in your material unless the nail is at the surface, or just the right size. With this one, on the other hand, I can extract a headless nail from more than a centimeter inside a beam. The wood was not unscratched of course, but since it was compressed rather than splintered, a bit of water can make it swell back up somewhat.

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Talin, Recovering game programmer

Our guest this week is Talin. Talin is a “recovering game programmer” whose career spans 25 years, stretching from the early years of personal computing to more recent games like Sim City 4 and The Sims 2. He’s also a writer, artist, cosplayer, musician and web developer.

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:

Inkscape SVG editor
"It's a editor for SVG files, Scalable Vector Graphics, which is a web standard. You know most images are made out of pixels, little square blocks, but vector images are made out of lines and points and geometric shapes. That means they can be scaled up and scaled down without any loss of quality. All the major browsers support them, so SVG's very efficient. Most websites use SVGs for their icons now, because SVG is a web standard, it can be embedded in the web page directly, without having to do a separate download, which you would have to do with an image. That makes for much fewer network connections, so it's very efficient. … It's one of the most polished and professional opensource apps out there. It's better than GIMP in many ways, in terms of its overall level of quality of the user interface.”

ResMed AirSense CPAP machine
"I suffered from sleep apnea, like many people do, and I didn't know this until about 20 years ago and somebody told me, "Hey, by the way, do you know that you choke when you're sleeping?" Sleep apnea is essentially an extreme form of snoring, where your nasal passages get blocked up and you start to choke. ...This has all kinds of negative effects. It means you're tired all the time. You don't get enough sleep, and also because you're at a reduced oxygen level, it has other health impacts. So they recommended that I get a CPAP machine. CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Air Pressure. It's kind of like a miniature iron lung. It's basically a little mask that fits over your face and provides a gentle air pressure to inflate your nasal tissues, so that you get a clear airflow. It takes a little getting used to at first, but now that I've been using it for 10 years, I don't think I could sleep without it. Well, I can but it's actually more comfortable now, to be able to breathe freely when I'm lying down like that. … I've tried a couple ones, and the thing is, is that every one I get is better than the last, because the technology keeps improving. The machine I've got right now is about a year old. It's a ResMed AirSense. It's actually a BiPAP machine. Which means that it actually senses. It's got a computer system that senses that you're breathing, and that adjusts the pressure for your inhale and exhale, so that it's actually easier. You don't have to breathe against the pressure as you're breathing out."

Forbidden Desert Board Game
"First of all, I really like cooperative board games. I find winning is not that interesting. I like collaboration and cooperation. The thing I love about cooperative board games is that every turn becomes this kind of creative brainstorming session. … Forbidden Desert, it's a very interesting cooperative game. It has an interesting play mechanic, where the board is changing its configuration as you're playing. The desert consists of a bunch of tiles, and as you, each turn there's a new storm card that comes up, and it moves the storm around. Every time the storm moves, it shifts the tiles, and so as you're playing it's like you're playing on shifting sands. The goal of the game is you're working together to find all of the hidden pieces of the lost airship, so that you can escape the desert before you run out of water, because every time a sun-beats-down card comes up, you all lose one unit worth of water, and if you run out of water the game ends."

The Captain is Dead Board Game
"This is a great one. The Captain is Dead is kind of a parody of classic Star Trek. The basic premise is that you are all crewmen on a star-ship where the captain has died, and you're being attacked by aliens, and all these things are going wrong. Each crewman has a different role. There's a dozen different crewmen you can choose from, and usually have four or five players, each with a different role. It's like, the doctor, and the hologram, and the alien. There's even one that's called crewman, which wears a red shirt, and every time he dies he respawns on the bridge as a new character. Every turn there's a new disaster that you have to cope with, like the systems are going down, or you have a weird anomaly that's changing the crew behavior. A lot of it is trading resources. It's like, I'll have three engineering skill cards, and I'll use the communication system to give you three of my engineering skills so that next turn you can fix the warp core, and then you can use the teleporter to move me over to the armory so I can attack the aliens. It's a very challenging game.”

Also mentioned:

Wil Wheaton's TableTop

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $331 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF

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Elements of Typographic Style

For a long while I've been looking for an expert who could guide me through the complex world of typography. I didn't need another artsy typographical design book. I wanted a reliable friend who could introduce me to the philosophy of type and then also practically guide me through the jungle of fonts to ones that work best. Mr. Bringhurst is that guru. Under his apprentice I understood for the first time how to architecturally shape a page with text, as if I were building a house. I figured out when to kern, or not. Now I find myself drawn back to his study every time I need to craft a book, a webpage, or format a report. The wisdom and experience in this book is astounding. It's for anyone who makes words visible. That's all of us. The book is regularly updated. Blessings on Bringhurst.

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Bob Clagett, Maker

Our guest this week is Bob Clagett. Bob loves making stuff. He loves showing other people how he works to hopefully inspire them and empower them to make whatever is that they're passionate about.

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:

AirTable + IFTTT
"So Airtable is, like it was mentioned before, it's kind of an online spreadsheet. And that's one way that people use it. But the thing that makes it different for me and the way that I use it is more of a relational database. I come from a software background, so when you're programming you often have a database of tables, and those tables need to relate to each other. … The way that I use that in my business is I have what looks like a spreadsheet that is my project schedule, and then I have a separate one that is project ideas that I come up with all the time and I just dump into this big list, and I use IFTTT for that. … IFTTT is about taking multiple online services of all different types and connecting them together. So if something happens on one, it can cause something to happen on another. And I use that with Airtable. The IFTTT app, I've got a little thing set up where I can open an app on my phone that's just a text field and a button, and that's all it is. And if I type in a project idea, and I hit that button, it disappears. It's gone. But in the background it's sending that to Airtable. It's putting in my list of project ideas, and it just keeps it there, and then I don't have to remember it anymore, but I also don't lose it."

Nest Hello
"The Hello is a doorbell, which seems, for the price it sounds so unrealistic to actually get, because it's several hundred dollars. But it's an HD camera built into a tiny little doorbell, and it's the same technology that they have in their security cameras … It's small and kind of modern-looking and it hooks right up to the normal hookup for a doorbell. So you don't have to really do anything special to get this in to place. And it's got some really cool features. It's very new, so I think some of the features that will be the coolest have yet to be added. But when you get it hooked up and someone walks up to your door, you get a notification on your phone or device or whatever that shows you video of the person who's walked up to the door. And you can press a button onscreen, and you can talk to them remotely through the doorbell. It's got some kind of canned responses that you can just press a button and this voice will say, "Just leave the package by the door," there's a few things like that. But one of the coolest things, I think, about it is that they've got some facial recognition stuff built in to it. So once it starts to take pictures, it gets this video of the people that come up to your door, and it keeps a log of all these pictures of the people."

ISOtunes Bluetooth Headphones
“They have basically the same features as far as listening that every other headphone in the world. But they have an interesting phone insert on them that you roll it up and you kind of heat it with your finger, between your thumb and your finger, and it squishes it down. And then when you put it in your ear it expands and completely fills the ear canal. So it cuts out basically all the noise that can come in. And the guy that works with me is maybe 10 feet from me right now, and I've yelled at the top of my voice his name to try to get his attention with these things in, and it completely blocks it out. But one of the things that I think is even color about them is that they have a, I can't remember exactly what they call it, but it's like a consistent noise level suppression. So if there's a noise in the background, like if you had a saw running that was kind of the same noise the whole time or like a lawn mower or something, it can actively cut that sound out. So you can take a phone call while you're on a riding lawn mower, and the person on the other end doesn't really even know that there's a mower running. They just hear when your voice spikes and things like that. That's the part that they hear. And I have not heard of any other Bluetooth headphone that does that."

Prusa i3 MK3 3D printer
"I've had several different 3D printers. I use them a lot for my projects. And I'm in a position where a lot of companies will send me things, and I get to try out really expensive things that I wouldn't ever justified buying myself. But I have a lot of people who ask me about a good first printer. And I think the problem with that question is a lot of people are looking for a good first cheap printer. And what you actually want is a good printer, not a cheap printer, because cheap printers that don't work very well are gonna make you hate 3D printing and think that it doesn't work. And so when I've looked at a bunch of different ones from the perspective of cost and functionality and tried to find something in the middle, and I got the Prusa I3 Mark 2 a couple of years ago when it came out, and it was fantastic. It was like $699 for a printer that worked almost perfectly every single time right out of the box. You didn't have to do anything to it, and it was a great printer, I was really happy with it. And then they announced this Mark 3, which is an upgraded version of the same thing. But they added all these features that just make it awesome. It's now one of my favorite printers just because of its features. And then when you look at the price compared to a lot of other printers, it's very, very reasonably priced for what you're getting out of it. … It’s got a panic thing built in to it. So if it loses power, it has a little bit of a battery or capacitor in it somewhere that if it senses power dropping it will write the state of the print to some sort of a memory. And then when power is reapplied it'll ask you, "Do you want to continue to print?" And you hit yes, and then it re-homes the print head, just goes over to the corner, and then comes right back and starts printing. It's amazing. I'm sure there are other printers that do that, but I've never seen one, and it works great."

Also mentioned:

Making Time by Bob Clagett

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $346 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF

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Pocket magic trick/Minimalism notebooks/How to apologize

Imp bottle magic trick
I bought this $5 pocket trick in 2015. It’s a tiny plastic bottle with a spherical base. It has a weighted bottom to keep it from tipping over. I can make it lie on its side, but no one else can (unless they know the secret, and surprisingly few do). Drive your friends crazy with frustration. — MF

Minimalism notebooks
I’ve long been a fan of blank (no-lines) Moleskine notebooks, large and small. I recently switched to Minimalism Art notebooks which are very similar, maybe better, quality and half the price. They also come in bright cover colors. — KK

Apologize effectively
I often refer back to this Reddit LifeProTip that describes the three parts of an effective apology. (1) Acknowledge how your action affected the person; (2) Say you’re sorry; (3) Describe what you’re going to do to make it right or make sure it doesn’t happen again. Don’t excuse or explain. It’s amazing how easy this is to forget so I have it saved and pinned in my iCloud notes. — CD

Binge watch TV: Colony
I’m eagerly looking forward to season 3 of Colony, a science fiction thriller about a world under lockdown after aliens arrive and take over. We never see the aliens — the oppressors are the humans who have cut a deal with the aliens to administrate repressive and cruel martial law in exchange for better living conditions. The story centers on a family trying to survive in a militarized, walled-off Los Angeles, where the smallest infraction is punishable by death. — MF

Teleport around the world
Globe Genie is a relaxing respite from my daily routine. I randomly bounce around to remote places, imagine myself there and appreciate the hugeness of the world. — CD

Pinterest scrapbooks
A lot of folks, especially guys, kind of sneer at Pinterest, but I use it all the time. I have the Pinterest plugin activated on my web browsers, so anytime I come across an image or visual idea on a webpage I want to save, I simply click on the little red Pinterest bug that appears in the left corner of that image, and it is saved to a “pin board” of my choosing. The advantage of this method over say Evernote is that each image saved can unearth many more similar images from all the Pinterest boards. So say I am researching how to make a lumber rack, I can collect a few examples from Google Images, or from some online forum, and then Pinterest will generate many more similar that others have collected. I can then curate my own collection from those, which is better than just looking at pages of Google results. You can keep your collections private or make them public, as I do with some of mine. — KK

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Michael Borys, Interactive Design Director

Our guest this week is Michael Borys. He is a designer who creates experiences for the entertainment industry. He is currently the Vice President of Interaction and Game Design at 42 Entertainment, a Magician Member of The Magic Castle and his immersive magic show is called The 49 Boxes — which is not to be missed.

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:

The Book of Codes
“It is a treasure trove of every single type of language that is used for encryption from the dawn of man to now. Of course, you've got braille and Morse and things like that. There's even Klingon. It sort of teaches your brain to look at the world differently and see language in everything. For example, the way that binary works, as you know, it's all ones and zeroes, and binary isn't just on-off like that. It can be birds sitting on a fence, and if a bird has his wings up that could be a one, and if he's got his wings down it can be a zero ... Even a hem of a dress, if it has stitching that changes from time to time, you can embed information even with stitching that way. ... I'm looking at Page 19, for example. It gives you versions of how information was decoded in the hems in garments during times of war, for example. And so across enemy lines ... This is called steganography, by the way, the hiding of information. Soldiers were given information that were kept in their jackets. And so when they would go across enemy lines, if they were captured their capturers wouldn't know that they actually had this information, but if they did get to where they needed to go the information could then be parsed, and that could win a war or lose a war. … hundreds and hundreds of these different ways of thinking that just become part of your rote memory, and so it makes you, as you travel, as you work, as you meet people and see things in a curio shop, you'll realize that information is being hidden everywhere without anybody knowing it. It's exciting, actually."

The Puzzle Keyring ($30)
"I wish I had this at every room escape that I tried to solve, because it'd be a tool to both to make puzzles, think about things differently, and to solve things really quickly. It's great. … It is a plastic-coated booklet, so you can dump it in water, and it'd still be fine. Unrippable, and it's on a metal keyring so that you can have it on your keys if you wanted to during the event. It's too bulky to have it with you every day of your life, but, boy, is it convenient. It's durable, and it's very, very useful.”

BLACK+DECKER Impact Screwdriver ($60)
“Because my show travels, all my tools have to travel, and a lot of times I don't have time to be delicate with the stuff that I have. This particular Black & Decker drill, I've charged it one time in two years, and darn it, it is great. Whenever I need it, it is ready. It had a light at the head of it. It seems unbreakable. I have a few different ones because I have a couple different sets of screws on many boxes that I have to undo and do during the show. This thing has been a lifesaver. You're probably expecting, well, specialized tools, but this is the best drill I've ever had in my life. It was like 70 bucks, but again, it has fallen 20 feet to the ground and it's never shattered, and it's just always been there for me."

Mag Hand Workstation
"That is the greatest for me because what this is is a platform that has magnetic trays — and it's heavy, which is good — that I can keep the tiniest screws in and the tiniest washers, and because I'm always working with these tiny boxes and building things and making things tighter than what they probably were designed for, things fly all of the place, and how many times have you lost eyeglass screws? This thing, I can tip it upside down and all my screws and washers stay in one spot. I've knocked it on the ground and things have been fine. And there are also these posable arms with clips on the end of them, so if I'm ever painting something or I'm staining something that's delicate, I don't have the stain or the paint on my hands, because this thing will hold very objects in place for me so I won't have to worry about that. It's great. It's a multipurpose thing that keeps me sane.”

Also mentioned:

Hidden Codes & Grand Designs

Locked by Jim Kleefeld


We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $346 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF

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Mushrooms Demystified

Veterans of wild mushrooming quickly graduate to author David Arora's masterpiece, Mushrooms Demystified, which is the undisputed bible of mushroom knowledge in North America. Where All That the Rain Promises and More... is breezy and succinct, Demystified is encyclopedic and exhaustive. You take Rains out to the mushrooms in the woods; you bring the mysterious ones back to the heavy Demystified tome at your kitchen table.

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Mosquito Netting

I hate mosquitoes. Serious gut-tightening allergic aversion. One bite at night and I am awake for hours, and I'll itch for days. They'll always find me, too. I've learned to ignore what natives say; there are mosquitoes around, and they do bite. When I travel in any remotely warm place, I pack my own mosquito netting. It weighs only a few ounces and can scrunch up small. It's cheap, and lasts forever. I'm still using one I bought 30 years ago for $2. I like the boxy four-cornered variety to fit over a bed or sleeping bag. I tie a 6-foot long string to each corner; that usually enables me to attach the string somewhere to keep the net elevated at night. I tie it to trees if I am camping without a tent.

I haven't figured out why more people don't pack their own. Mine has saved my life more than once. Mostly by allowing me to sleep soundly, but also because with it I avoid mosquito-borne diseases in areas they are common. Studies have shown that sleeping in a net is more effective at preventing malaria than taking prophylactic drugs. I insist my family use netting while we travel in the heat overseas. A quick search led me to Coleman as the least expensive source for a one-person camp-style box net.

There are new self-supporting varieties of mosquito netting, which would be useful where there is little outside support but lots of mosquitoes (tundra, everglades). They are more expensive, but still lightweight. I haven't tried these. Let me know if you do.

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Koichi, Tofugu

Our guest this week is Koichi. Koichi started Tofugu, a blog to help people get to Japan and have a good time once they get there, and WaniKani, a kanji learning program that uses mnemonics, SRS, and some morally ambiguous addiction strategies to teach you around 2,000 kanji and 6,000 Japanese vocabulary words up to 10x faster.

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:

“Magic is kind of a concierge service. When they first started, I think their whole thing was like, 'We can do anything,' and then they had examples like renting you a helicopter or helping you meet a celebrity or things like that, things that I don't think anyone would actually do. … I use them for less magical things, things like going through data and pulling things out, or even just making reservations at restaurants, really just all the time consuming things that I don't want to do. I send it to them, and they have a bunch of people and I believe they're all college graduates and it used to be everyone was in the U.S. ... they just get things done very quickly and then I come back and it's done. It's magic, I guess, in that sense."

"Airtable is something we adopted at work, and then I started adopting it in my regular life. I had a lot of spreadsheets before in Google Drive … But I didn't understand any of the math parts of it, so I just make pretty spreadsheets with colors in them and stuff like that. I was more interested in the text ... Airtable is, I guess the quick way to pitch it is it's spreadsheets minus most of the complicated math. You can still add stuff together and do other simple math things, but it's a lot more tailored towards, of course, text and also things like images. You can upload images to cells and audio, different kind of files. It's a lot more about that side of spreadsheets, the things that everyone tries to use spreadsheets for."

Cornell Notes system
"The Cornell notes-taking system, it's just like if you're in a class or you're reading a book and you just need to take notes ... the way it's set up is you have two columns … one column on the left side is a little bit shorter and it's supposed to be kind of a keyword, or what the topic is. For example, if we're just using it to take notes on the tools that I talked about before, maybe the left side would just be Magic or Airtable. It's just something to help you trigger a memory. Then, on the right side, you'd put in the information about it, like, 'Magic is a 24/7 text message-based concierge service that lets you do blah, blah, blah, blah.' You have these two columns, one that's the trigger and one that's the thing that you want to remember. Then, at the very bottom, they have you put the summary, which is just kind of the basic theme of whatever that page is. That's assuming you're doing it by hand. It would be like Cool Tools Podcast would be the summary, and maybe something about what the podcast is about and why you're doing it. ... It's a little bit like flash cards, but it's all in your notebook. You can set it up on your computer too with tables. … You can just use that to help memorize things, because it triggers your memory and it forces you to recall something, which is really important, rather than just reading your notes over and over again and making yourself pull it out of your brain. It's going to be the thing that helps you remember, and then this style of note-taking method, it really caters to that and helps you to memorize or remember whatever you want to remember. Even if it's not really formal memorization of raw data, it's just like reviewing notes, it'll help you to remember things longer and just things keep organized pretty well too."


We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $369 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF

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Mobile Justice/Daily/Long-term thinking

Mobile justice
If you spot police officers doing something wrong, you can record them with the free Mobile Justice app from the ACLU. It sends the video directly to an ACLU server so even if the police illegally confiscate your phone they won’t be able to delete the incriminating video. — MF

No-frills To-Do app
I like to blame my To-Do List apps if things don’t get done. I get annoyed with reminders, then turn off notifications, and eventually delete. Daily - Zen Planner’s super simplistic design is non-threatening and easy to use. I type up tasks and move them to either the Today or Soon screen. — CD

Two Rooms and a BoomLong-term thinking
To encourage me to take a long-term view I’m a regular at the Seminars for Long-term Thinking hosted by the Long Now Foundation (where I am a founding board member). The hour-long talks (plus 30 minute Q&A) happen once a month in San Francisco. The topics are surprisingly diverse, ranging from ancient history to speculative futures, from food to nuclear power, from Silicon Valley to the Silk Road — all with a slant to the next 10,000 years. Several hundred past talks are archived and available to the public as free podcasts. For those outside San Francisco, or disinclined to travel unnecessarily, a membership to the Long Now gives you access to a real-time streaming version of each talk; you can even ask questions live. (Next up, next week, Steven Pinker.) — KK

I played this social deception/deduction game with about a dozen other people on the JoCo Cruise a few weeks ago. If you’ve played Werewolf or Mafia you’ll be familiar with this kind of game. In Two Rooms and a Boom, the goal is for team red to blow up the president, and the goal of team blue is to stop them. Each game takes about 15 minutes and if you’re like me, you’ll end up playing multiple rounds until way past your bedtime. It’s addictive — MF

Best scheduler
The best way to schedule a meeting for a bunch of busy people is via Doodle, a free easy website. No need to sign up. Just lay out all possible time slots and let everyone else go to the site, and click the times that work for them. The site sorts out the best time/date. No email tag. Quick, painless, I’ve been using the site for years. — KK

Get rid of frizz and flyaways
My favorite quick-fix hair product is Bumble and Bumble Brilliantine. The product description says it’s unique and hard to define, and it’s true. I use it when I don’t have enough time to heat style my hair. I rub a dime-size amount between my palms and pat it through out my hair to smooth it out, create shine and get rid of flyaways. — CD

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Madeline Ashby, Sci-fi Writer

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $365 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF

Our guest this week is Madeline Ashby. Madeline is a science fiction writer and futurist living in Toronto. Her most recent novel, Company Town, was a finalist for the 2017 CBC Books Canada Reads prize. She has also developed science fiction prototypes for the Institute for the Future, SciFutures, Data & Society, Nesta, the Atlantic Council, NASA, and others.

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Show notes:

Clarisonic Mia ($169)
"The Clarisonic is a device that uses the same technology as something like a Sonicare toothbrush … and other sort of ultra sonic cleaning devices to wash your face. It's a device that has a brush on one end of it and basically vibrates across your face at a certain frequency and vibrates the bristles on a brush head to exfoliate your face, and it works like a dream. And I've owned one for about four years now, and it has yet to die, which I suppose I'm jinxing myself. But all of those four years have been wonderful. ... I bought it when I turned 30 as a gift to myself because I wanted to actually start taking my skin seriously, for once. And I've found that, much like a Sonicare Toothbrush, which I also have, having the device forced me to be more mindful about what I was doing and encouraged me in a good habit, which was washing my face in the morning and at night. The logic behind the Clarisonic is that, because you've exfoliated with this device, anything you put on your skin like serums, or sunscreen, or anything like that, will actually go deeper into your skin. I don't know about the actual science of that, but I do think that anything that actually helps you wash your face is probably good for you in the long term."

Women’s Girl on the Go Insulated Trench Coat ($140)
“This is the coat from Eddie Bauer that I recommend to everyone. The Girl on the Go Insulated Trench Coat is fully waterproof and has a button-in insulated lining that you can take in or take out. So you can wear it, and I wore mine all over the world. I've worn it in Toronto, in New York. It got me through a New York rainstorm. I wore it at the Gullfoss in Iceland. I've worn it through Scotland. It's really perfect for days where you don't quite know what's gonna happen weather-wise. The lining is sort of thin enough that it's pretty packable, and the coat itself is very light and easy to wear. And crucially, it comes in petite, tall, and plus sizes in a bunch of different colors. So, everyone can have one. It's one of the things that I love and I carry with me everywhere.”

Travelon Set of 7 Packing Envelopes ($14)
"I use the Travelon Clear Packing Envelopes both for packing, both for travel, and for just everything in my house. There are clear packing envelopes all over my bedroom. I have a couple I carry with me in various bags that I might be using. I'm a big bag full of bags person 'cause it allows me to change bags really easily. It's like "Oh, this is the cosmetics bag. It goes in here. This is the bag full of cables and dongles. It goes here. This is the bag that's full of stickies, and stationary, and pens, and it goes here. And do I need the pens bag today? Yes. Do I need the cosmetics bag today? Yes, or no. And the clear packing envelopes really help with that, in that they can get you through security a bit faster and help you find stuff more quickly.”

Hamilton Beach Set 'n Forget Programmable Slow Cooker With Temperature Probe ($37)
"The slow cooker that we have at home is the Set and Forget Slow Cooker with a built-in meat thermometer. And in the era of the Instant Pot, I recognize it's probably passé to recommend a slower cooker, but I really like the meat thermometer function that it has because it means you can program the device to bring a piece of meat to temperature and it immediately just kicks off into the warming mode after. So, one of the problems that is endemic to slow cookers, or has been endemic to slow cookers, is that they overcook things. And this prevents you from doing that and works really well."

Also mentioned:

Company Town
"Company Town is the story of Go Jung-Hwa. She's a bodyguard for the United Sex Workers of Canada Union Local 314, on a city that floats around an oil rig, 500 kilometers Northeast of Saint John's Newfoundland. And she is working for the Sex Worker's Union when a new company buys the entire town and instantiates themselves as the new owners. They buy the entire city of New Arcadia, and they ask her to be the bodyguard for the heir to the throne, the heir to the company, a boy named Joel Lynch, who will one day inherit the company and who appears to be getting death threats from the future.”


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