16 February 2020
Recomendo: issue no. 186
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Free guided breathing
This free iOS app called Breathwrk makes it incredibly easy to start a consistent habit of daily breath exercises. I schedule to practice different methods of breathing for different times of the day. Like “Awake” to get energized at 7AM, and “Unwind” to reduce stress at 5PM. This is one of the few apps from which I enjoy receiving reminder notifications. What I appreciate the most about this app is that there are different sounds played for the duration of breathing in and exhaling, and this lets me just close my eyes and focus on breathing. — CD
Unlocking battery brands
Because the batteries of cordless power tools cost almost as much as the tools themselves, I, like everyone else, tended to lock into one tool brand to make the most of shared batteries. But new inexpensive adapters allow me to use my existing set of batteries for any brand of tool. I can now get the best bargain tool no matter the brand of battery. This guy (Sixtyfiveford) on YouTube has compiled a fantastic list of cordless battery adapters for any of the 60 different possible tool/battery brand combinations. Check his shownotes for the purchase links. — KK
Timer in your browser
In your browser search bar, enter “five minute timer” (or whatever time you need) and Google will display a timer that beeps when it runs out. — MF
Easier to find
If you are looking for something in your house, and you finally find it, when you’re done with it, don’t put it back where you found it. Put it back where you first looked for it. — KK
List of sustainable companies
Takecare.io is a curated list of sustainable alternatives for consumer goods and other innovative companies. It’s a crowdsourced list, so it’s growing all the time. Scroll through and check it out. — CD
Peanut butter mixer
I recently opened a jar of natural peanut butter in which the oil and solids had separated so much that I couldn’t mix it with a spoon. I had to use a drill and a stirrer I made from a bent metal barbecue skewer to mix the peanut butter. (I posted a photo to Twitter. It was messy and the skewer bent, so I went to Amazon to look for a better solution. I found it: the EZPB Natural Nut Butter Stirrer. It’s a zig-zag metal rod that fits most jars and requires patience, but will get the job done far better than a spoon and without splashing peanut oil. Watch the video on the Amazon product page to see how well it works. — MF
14 February 2020
Cool Tools Show 213: Mike Liebhold
Our guest this week is Mike Liebhold. Mike is a Distinguished Fellow and Senior Researcher at the Institute For the Future, exploring future technology systems, working with clients, global leaders, researchers, and public groups. Mike’s a pioneer and veteran with decades of experience as a senior researcher for iconic companies like Atari, Apple, Netscape, and Intel. You can find him on Twitter @mikeliebhold.
Google and TweetDeck advanced search tools
For a long time my favorite setup was an app called Flip Board, that dynamically created a personal magazine. But they ran into a real financial problem with the bottom line, and started spamming way too many ads. I’ve reverted back to Twitter’s Tweet Deck. But all of these search tools really kind of rely on a fundamental understanding of some really basic search tools. Because Google News is not the place for me to aggregate information anymore, Twitter’s where I aggregate information. My tools for Google search are the advanced search operators, like the minus sign for a term that I really don’t want. I would have, “Nano -chemistry”. If I wanted to talk about nano engineering without the chemical references. The minus would take the “chemistry” references out of the search. It’s a different set of search tools for Twitter. The main thing I do is curate lists of experts. When I find a scientist or academic, I look for who they’re following. One of my great tricks is, people don’t realize that you can add people to a list without following them. Then if you view a list, you get all of the tweets from that person. I follow networks of scientists, networks of authors. Networks of many different domains. That is one of the key tricks. I keep many channels on Tweet Deck for different lists. I have curated streams. The way I use Twitter is segregated into, at any time, 15 or 20 topical channels, and they auto fill. I don’t use Twitter as a social medium. I use other media as social media. Twitter is just an information engine for me.
2020 Tacoma SR pickup truck
All my free time is spent outdoors. I use the lowest end Toyota four wheel drive truck you can get. The SR pickup truck. It’s four cylinders, and it doesn’t have any of the elegant packages. It is in fact built on the identical platform of a truck I reviewed in Cool Tools many years ago, a 1994 Toyota base model four by four, that got 240,000 miles on it. This is the replacement. I drive it like a tractor. I throw stuff in it, and I still can get on the freeway, and it’s comfortable. It’s got a much better sound system, and more comfortable seats than the other one. Plus, I calculated the cost of this truck compared to the truck I bought in ’94 for $19,000. This one’s $24,000. But at the rate of inflation, this is about 30 percent cheaper than the truck I bought back in 1994.
Firewood splitting tools:
Seymour S400 Jobsite Grenade Style Wood Splitting Wedge
Truper Splitting Maul, 3-Lb
Collins 34 in. L x 8 lb. Forged Steel Single Bit Splitting Maul
We’re up on a ridge, and we get these great southern 40 mile an hour gusts every time there’s a storm. There’s a lot of brush and pine branches. I’m lucky that I get a lot of windfall firewood. I just go out and buck up on madrone or oak, and throw it in the truck. I really enjoy splitting firewood myself, rather than a mechanical splitter, which is just too easy. The Seymour Wedge will just neatly split the wood into four pieces. It’s magical, and very satisfying. For the tough ones, then I’ll get an eight pound sledge and really split it.
The Truper Splitting three-pound maul is just like a heavy hammer. It’s pretty easy to work with. It’s not the kind of giant sledge you have to lift way over your head and hammer it. It is more like a carpentry hammer. A little bit heavier. It’s very easy to use with a good wedge, for soft woods like pine, for kindling. Or for heavier woods with a really good wedge, that are still green enough to split well. Then I use the Collins eight-pound maul, which is a sledge hammer on one side, and a splitting wedge on the other side, for wood that’s harder to split. Seasoned madrone is a little harder to split, and eucalyptus is incredibly difficult. I’ve given up on eucalyptus. But sometimes you can’t apply enough pressure with a three pound maul, so I’ll drop the heavy hammer on it. Very satisfying. I sit out there with a beer and I put on KPIG on the radio, and split wood. It’s kind of my comfort zone out there, on a beautiful day.
Stihl HellRaiser Glasses
Stihl, the chainsaw brand, actually sells very cheap safety glasses. But they’re styled like really cool Ray Ban glasses. They’re super cheap. They sell for between $11 and $19 at your local hardware store. They’re really good safety glasses. They’re comfortable, and replaceable if they get lost or damaged working outdoors all the time. They’re great for general use as sunglasses too. I buy two or three at a time in case I lose them. I can leave one in the car, one in the house, and one in the garage.
I keep a Leatherman Skeletool clipped on the belt loop of my Levis. It is the lightest utility tool I have ever owned. It is the bare minimum. It’s needle nose pliers, wire clippers, two heads of screw drivers, and a cutting knife. All on a simple carabiner that snaps on your jeans, and will also open a beer bottle for you. It’s way easier and lighter, and less bulky than these Swiss Army Knife tools that have got 55 different capabilities you never use. I’ve had three of these over the years. This is the one. It’s five ounces, and just the right combination of tools for everything I’m doing. I use the needle nose for retrieving lost hardware that falls down. If you’ve got a washer or something that falls down somewhere. I use the knife all the time as just a utility knife for everything. I’m always using it for something. The screwdrivers seem to work for just about everything, repairing anything around the house. Taking a light fixture apart. Any kind of mechanical, or repairing a tool. Putting together a toy kit for the grandchildren. All of the above.
Current favorite non-fiction books about ancient mideastern cultures:
Travels with a Tangerine: A Journey in the Footnotes of Ibn Battutah
Granada: A Pomegranate in the Hand of God
Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys Into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East
Lately I’ve been attempting to do an attitude adjustment in thinking about the Middle East. I’m fascinated with ancient history, and I’ve read lots of books about the Silk Road in central Asia. But recently I’ve been trying to understand more deeply the Islamic cultures, and most recently Andalusia in southern Spain. Which up until 1492 was a caliphate. It was a time of incredible harmony among Muslims, Jews, and Christians. It was a time of cultural blossoming, really before the Renaissance. There’s a book I recommend called Grenada: A Pomegranate In the Hand of God. The story of Al-Andalus and the Convivencia. It’s really astounding. I used the book as a guide and toured the Arabic and the medieval Islamic Andalusia last year with my wife. It was just a stunning eye opener to see Europe from a totally different perspective. Then likewise, Timothy Mackintosh-Smith is one of my all time favorite authors. I’ve read many of his books. But Travels With A Tangerine is one of his most astounding books. He followed the footsteps of Ibn Battuta, who was an erudite journalist and author working for the sultan of the Maghreb in Morocco, and I think Al-Andalus as well. He traveled all across northern Africa, into the Middle East. Up into the Black Sea. All the way down the Arabic Peninsula. Across the Indian Ocean, into India and China, and wrote journals all the way. Timothy Mackintosh-Smith wrote a series of books following the footsteps of Ibn Battuta. It’s really incredible. The first one is called Travels With A Tangerine, that takes you across north Africa, Egypt, and into the Black Sea. Then some of his later books follow Ibn Battuta into India and China.
I’ve been very active with the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space. It’s a group that manages 64,000 acres of open space, of wild forests on the San Francisco peninsula.Over five years, I’ve been trying to get them to appoint a chief scientist and have an independent scientific mission to create baseline inventory and survey of the habitats and species, to build policy on. After five years of negotiation, just this week, they just approved a whole scientific program to build a baseline understanding of the habitats and species in all of the open space property. It’s a week of a quiet personal victory I’m celebrating. I got into it originally trying to explore, what really is going on with pesticides? I started understanding the molecular chemistry of the root systems, that things like Roundup work on. I found that groups were sampling whole microbiome habitats. They do something called environmental DNA. They sample the health of all the microorganisms in a soil sample. That came from trying to understand pesticides. Since then, I recommended that they use techniques like environmental DNA. They’re already doing it at a research laboratory over here near Stanford, called Jasper Ridge. If you sample a cubic volume of soil, you can get inventory of all the species. Not just the microorganisms, but raccoons, mice, bobcats, mountain lions, birds. There’s genetic materials for all of them. It’s an exciting new way to monitor and inventory the health of a habitat. It implies there’s a possible future for citizen science, where people can actually go out and help an institution, like a massive forest preserve, take samples and better understand the ecologies of all the different microbiomes.
14 February 2020
Transform bed of a pickup into a safe, dry place store
Pickups are the ultimate utility vehicles. With quad-cabs now, they’re even great family vehicles. The only challenge with a pickup as a family vehicles is moving people and stuff at the same time. Enter a roll up truck bed cover. It changed the game for my family on trips. I went from wrestling and cussing at tarps on the side of the road to not worrying about our luggage. Obviously, any truck bed cover is going to transform the bed of a pickup into a safe, dry place to store luggage, etc. So why a roll-up cover over folding hard covers, or other styles? Two reasons: 1) Cost: Less than half the cost of a hard cover at around $200. 2) Puts Away Completely: Don’t lose any storage space when you want to roll up the truck bed cover. You can still use 100% of the bed to move your “friend’s” refrigerator by simply rolling the cover up. I bought the cheapest one I could find that fit my pickup. After 30 minutes of installation, mines been on for 2 years with no signs of wear. I don’t usually need the truck bed covered, so it stays rolled away – protecting it from UV, water, and wind except when needed. As far as security goes, hard covers are certainly harder to break into, but our soft cover has worked well. Locking the truck bed hides your possessions and this was enough to get some curious folks to steal from the truck next ours and not ours on one trip. Cheap, effective, game changing. That’s my definition of a cool tool.02/14/20
13 February 2020
Gareth's Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales - Issue #34
Andrew’s Whackin’ Post
My pal, Andrew Lewis, has a video on YouTube showing how he turned a log into a metalworking station. I love everything about this.
Using Drywall Tape Instead of “Granny Grating”
This is likely useful only for those who do game modeling (like me), dioramas, scale-modeling, model trains, and the like. In a recent Black Magic Craft video on building fuel tanks for gaming terrain, Jeremy shares something I’ve never heard of. Instead of using needle point mesh (a.k.a. “granny grating”) to simulate industrial decking (a traditional practice), use drywall mesh tape. Among other things, the diameter of the threads is more scale-appropriate. Granny grating has always seemed too big to me and is somewhat difficult to work with.
Pull-Down Ceiling Shop Storage
If space in your shop is at a premium, especially if you have exposed rafters, consider building a set of attic-stair-like storage shelves that you can pull down from the ceiling to access. There are numerous versions of this project online. Here is the build on Woodshop Junkies.
How Label Makers Work
Sean Ragan reminded me how much I love (and still use) my ancient Brother PT-65 label maker in a recent Cool Tools video as he compared it to his newer, swankier P-touch PT-D210. The next day, I ran into this video, where BigClive takes apart a tape on his swanky new Brother PT-E300VP printer to figure out how the printing works. Fascinating stuff. In the process of this explorations, Clive reveals something very interesting about the cartridges used in these printers. They basically retain a copy (in negative) of the printing – on the black film part of the tape that carries the printing “ink.” So, if you take one of these spent carts apart, you’ll see everything that was printed out on that cartridge. Office snoops, take note!
Finding the Center of a Dowel/Rod with Sandpaper?
Emory Kimbrough writes: “Here’s a method for finding the center of a dowel or any solid rod that will fit into a drill or drill-press chuck. Besides the drill or drill press, it uses only sandpaper. A lot of center-finding methods that use pencil-and-straightedge geometry or store-bought center-finding gizmos become hard to use and inaccurate on small-diameter rods, but this method excels with the skinny little workpieces.
“Just place the rod into the drill chuck and spin the end of the rod against the sandpaper. The sandpaper will scratch a bulls-eye pattern of concentric circles in the rod’s end, revealing the center. Center-punch the bulls-eye and you’re ready to drill into the cylinder’s axis.
“This works for both wooden and metal rods. If the concentric rings aren’t as distinct as you’d like, try a different grit of sandpaper. In the left photo above, some ½” aluminum round stock is being spun in a drill press against some coarse sandpaper glued to a wooden block. In the right photo, you can see the concentric circles sanded into a wooden dowel.”
Making a Heat-Bent Cable Rack
My fellow HackSpace contributor, Bob Knetzger, sent me images of this wall-mounted cable organizer that he built from thermoformed (heat-bent) plastic. This was featured as a project in HackSpace #22 [free PDF]. Cutting files are there too (under the “Download resources” link).
Must-See Maker TV: DIY Perks
Over my decades of covering hardware hacking and DIY tech, I’ve written a number of articles and seen countless other articles and videos on what to do with dead or obsolete computers. This piece on DIY Perks, about re-purposing laptop parts, has more clever, cool, and downright useful project ideas than I ever could have imagined. Turning the mic into a headset mic, turning speakers into wall-mounted speakers, making a wall-projecting laser VU meter from a dead hard drive. Wall lights, illuminated picture frames, fan-cooled LED work lights (seen above), a light table, USB battery chargers – so many great ideas!02/13/20
(Gareth’s Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales is published by Cool Tools Lab. To receive the newsletter a week early, sign up here. — editors)
13 February 2020
Ultra comfortable footwear
My job (pharmacist) requires that I stand about 8 hours a day, and despite anti-fatigue mats and a variety of different shoes, my feet used to scream in protest by the end of the day.
I went through many phases of footwear to combat the pain: Birkenstocks, Eccos, Adidas, Abeos, Earth Shoes, heat-molded insoles, etc., spending up to $150 a pair; each one would feel pretty good for a month or so, then I’d be back where I started…until I finally gave these Amoji foam clogs a try 8 months ago: they allow me to stand all day, and still be pain free by the end of the shift.
Foam clogs prevent foot pain by simply spreading your weight over the maximum possible surface area, reducing pressure points that can cause pain. No fancy arch support, negative heel, or what have you—they just distribute the load better than any other type of shoe I’ve found. It’s somewhat like standing on wet sand that molds itself to the bottom of your foot. This type of footwear is also popular in professional kitchens—now I know why!
I’m not fond of the “Crocs” look (I also tried a pair and was not impressed by their comfort, either—the foam was too stiff), so I looked for a highly-rated pair that was as un-Croc-like as possible. These Amojis are perforated all over with tiny hexagons, so they don’t get all sweaty when your feet get hot. They also have another version that’s fleece-lined and not perforated, which I’ve switched to during the winter. They’re slip-resistant, have a generous toe-box so your distal digits won’t be cramped, and are so comfortable I forget to take them off when I get home. They’re also about half the price of Crocs, and have free returns on Amazon, so they’re easy to try out.
My pairs aren’t showing significant wear after wearing them every day for months—but they’ll be cheap to replace when they finally do wear out. I wouldn’t take them on a hiking trip (or anywhere else little rocks and burs could find their way inside them) but for general purpose walking and standing, they’re perfect. The key attribute seems to be the softness of the EVA foam; if it’s too stiff, it won’t distribute your weight as well. I can bend these into a U-shape fairly easily, so if you’re considering a different brand of foam clog, try bending it into a U to test the foam before you buy it; then wear it indoors for a while so you can return them if they don’t suit you. May these make your feet as happy as they’ve made mine!02/13/20
12 February 2020
What's in my bag? issue #37
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Alex Glow creates videos and projects at Hackster.io, the community for hardware developers. She jumped into electronics as a FIRST Robotics kid, and later at hackerspaces in Ann Arbor and San Francisco; her favorite creations include brainwave-controlled wings, a song that orbited the earth, and her robotic owl familiar, Archimedes. She is currently learning how to recycle plastic. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @glowascii.
About the bag
POMCH VF Triangle Bag ($70)
A badass, recycled PVC bag with a wrench vacuum-formed into the side. It’s triangular and has tons of room! I tuck my old MUJI hip bag in there to keep things organized. (That used to be my EDC, but the zipper failed and they don’t make ‘em anymore… ☹️ )
What’s inside the bag
I put Hackster.io logo stickers on a pair of generic headphones, which fold flat in my bag. They work with any outfit in my travel wardrobe, and I can wear them for days in a row, or throw them on for last-minute events. They’re cool, useful, and durable — and visible in most photos, where a t-shirt might be covered up or cropped out.
Arm & Hammer Essentials Fresh Deodorant ($3)
I prefer deodorant without antiperspirant, and most are hyper-masculine and/or heavily scented. This one is subtle and pleasant, but effective. I keep a new stick at home, and a lighter, partial stick in my bag. (Bonus tasty smells: Fat Electrician perfume by Etat Libre d’Orange, and Greylocke by Phlur.)
I designed this two-finger ring in OnShape (a browser-based CAD tool), and had it fabricated in raw brass by Shapeways. It says AD ASTRA ET CETERA: a reference to “Ad Astra Per Aspera” (to the stars through difficulty), the state motto of Kansas, where I lived as a kid. “Et cetera” gives a less serious take on it, and also implies that you might go further. It feels good to wear things I made, and this ring can fancy up an outfit; I pair it with a laser-cut, smoked acrylic version of the ring.
Clip-on shades ($10)
I call these my “dad shades”, because my dad used to wear them in the car, and they’re incredibly handy for those who wear glasses. No more choosing between blurry vision and light-blindness, or swapping between regular glasses and expensive prescription shades. They’re polarized, and they flip up, in case you need to take a clearer look at something; the brown lenses are like a nostalgic sepia color filter for the world. (I think they look dorky, but apparently others think they’re cool.)
Recomendo: issue no. 185
COOL TOOLS SHOW PODCAST
WHAT'S IN MY BAG?
12 February 2020
What’s in my bag? issue #37
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