22 April 2024

Bike Basics

Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 83

Once a week we’ll send out a page from Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. The tools might be outdated or obsolete, and the links to them may or may not work. We present these vintage recommendations as is because the possibilities they inspire are new. Sign up here to get Tools for Possibilities a week early in your inbox.

Bicycling sanity

Just Ride

This book returns the fun to recreational bicycling. Biking has been taken over by racing style; weekend riders and bike commuters imitate racers in their gear and approach. The author is a long-time bicycle maker, racer, and advocate, and in this manifesto he deflates common bicycling myths one by one. He argues you can wear ordinary street clothes, and that you will be less tired if you don’t use clip in cleats on your pedals, that the weight of the bike does not really matter, baskets are cool to have, plastic saddles are good enough, and so on. I’ve ridden bikes for 40 years, including long-distance touring and everyday commuting, and the common sense Grant Peterson preaches here is both absolutely true and refreshing. If biking seems less fun than it once did, read this. You’ll save a lot of money, and will enjoy riding more. — KK

  • I say, wear underwear–even if it’s cotton. That goes against a powerful rumor mill that considers cotton underwear a no-no for any kind of ride beyond a ten-minute commute. The naysayers say it gets wet with sweat; the sweat makes your skin more vulnerable to chafing; the seams are uncomfortable at best and will cause saddle sores at worst.
  • The only riders who benefit from clipless pedals are racers, and only because their pedals are so small and slippery. If you don’t ride tiny, slippery pedals, you don’t need stiff, cleated shoes.
    The benefits of pedaling free far outweigh any real or imagined benefits of being locked in. They are as follows:Your muscles last longer. Moving your foot about the pedal shifts the load, even if slightly, to different muscles, and spreads the load around. Sprint up the hills on the balls of your feet and, on long-seated climbs, push with the pedal centered almost under your arch. It’s not a turbocharged, magic sweet spot, but it feels better and more natural, and you can’t do it if you’re locked in.You reduce the chance of a repetitive stress injury, because your feet naturally move around more, changing your biomechanics.You get off and on easier at stoplights; there’s no twisting to get out of your pedals, no fussing to get back in.You can walk in stores without walking on your heels. You can run! You aren’t handicapped by expensive and weird-looking shoes.
  • Whenever a rider gets hit and is being loaded, unconscious, into the ambulance, the driver who hit him will testify to the cops, “I swear, I didn’t see the dude.” If you’re looking brilliant and geeky, you’re more likely to be seen and less likely to get hit, and he won’t have that excuse.
  • Grab the fork with your fingers, and use the heel of your hand to close the quick release. The convex side of the lever is labeled CLOSE, and should face outward when you’re finished.Closing the lever properly requires enough force to leave an impression on your hand.
  • On a stop-and-go commute, a red light at the wrong time instantly wipes out even a hundred-pound weight difference.On a descent, the heavier bike rider is faster.Light wheels accelerate faster than heavy ones, which helps when you’re taking off from a stop, but heavy wheels maintain more of their momentum than light wheels, which helps you keep your speed on rolling roads and trails.On twenty-five-mile club rides, when you and your club mates are close to the same fitness level, the pack sets the pace, and since you’re riding in a partial vacuum (not fighting the wind), it’s easy to keep up, even with heavier bike and body.
  • It’s easy to buy tires with an extra layer of rubber, nylon, kevlar, or something else between the casing and tread to stop thorns. Every extra bit of protection adds weight that will always scare of racers and others under the spell, but for all-purpose Unracing rides, I like extra flat protection. Why not? I’ve fixed at least five hundred flats in my life, I’m really good at it, and I still hate it. Beef up my tires, thank you.

DIY guide to bikes & biking

Sheldon Brown’s Online Cycling Encyclopedia

Whether you’re looking to convert your road bike into a fixed gear or want to learn how a derailer functions, this site has all the info you could ever want — a giant glossary, bits of cycling history and plenty of specific instructions and photos.

His site has helped me purchase, repair and build two road bikes (my Gios Torino and a Tom Ritchey built Palo Alto).

I’ve seen, in the process, just how precise Sheldon’s attention to detail is. I had no idea that there was English and Italian threading. Sheldon has a chart that gives you the measurements for every BB out there, anything from French to Swiss. And I totally didn’t listen to his tip on Italian threaded bottom brackets and paid the price.

Even if you have no interest in working on your bike or going deeper than the basics of maintenance, this site can really boost your understanding of how a bike works (it has in my case) and even how to ride. There are great tips for beginners, including articles like “Everything You Wanted To Know About Shifting Your Bicycle’s Gears, But Were Afraid To Ask.” — Benjamin Gaffney


21 April 2024

PamPam/One Billion Americans/Free Scribd downloader

Recomendo - issue #406

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Maps in minutes 

PamPam lets you create custom maps in minutes and it’s fun to use! I was able to quickly search for and add points of interest by simply describing them to an AI. Then, I customized them with stickers and text. It feels very playful. For an even faster map-making experience, you can copy and paste text or a link to a list of places. PamPam is free for personal use and that includes 5 maps, 100 spots, and up to 500 views per month. I decided to test it out by making a nostalgic map of my hometown in under 5 minutes, and here’s what I created. If you’re unable to view it, it’s probably because I have a free account and I’ve reached the limit of 500 views. However, you can check out the templates here. — CD

Heretical good idea

At first, the title sounds like an insane idea: One Billion Americans. But this easy-to-read book is very persuasive in making the case why current Americans benefit from a vigorous immigration policy and generous family friendly programs, as ways to increase the country’s prosperity. Matt Yglesias, the author, deals with all the obvious objections of a billion Americans in an even handed way. He changed my mind; I think it is a great idea. — KK

Free Scribd downloader

While reading an article, I came across a link to a court document hosted on Scribd. However, Scribd charges a monthly fee of $12 to access their hosted files. Since I didn’t want to subscribe just to read a document that is in the public domain, I used a website called Scribd.vpdfs.com to download the file instead. (You may want to check out the numerous complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau by users who claim that Scribd continued to charge them even after they canceled their subscription.) — MF

Best cave experience

I’ve visited many tourist caves in the world. They all have their attractions. But by far the best cave experience I’ve had is Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Not only is it huge, but it is highly decorated, with endless intimate, close-up ornate formations. And an unthinkable amount of work went into making its immense spaces accessible, without wrecking its wildness. You can easily spend half a day enchanted. Like the Grand Canyon, or the Pyramids, it is an experience that cannot be captured by images. Bonus tip: Get the self-guide audio tour. I rank it in my top 3 favorite national parks. — KK

Ear wax removal tool

Years ago I used Q-tips to remove wax from my ears. They didn’t do a good job because most of the wax got pushed deeper into my ear. Later, I found specialized ear wax removal tools that are designed to scoop and scrape out the wax more effectively. One tool I like is the Clinere earwax removal tool, which has a built-in stop guide to prevent accidentally poking too far and damaging the eardrum. — MF

Authentic recommendations 

If you find Recomendo useful, you’ll definitely enjoy Rambull — a newsletter that profiles a different person each week and shares 6+ recommendations for living, buying, experiencing, and more. I had the pleasure of being profiled last week, and I was truly impressed by the thoughtfulness and care Rob, the creator, invests in crafting an issue. A few of the things I shared were ones I had intended to recommend here, making this a bonus Recomendo! — CD


18 April 2024

Luggage Built to Last/€49 French Rail Pass/Europe on a Budget

Nomadico issue #100

A weekly newsletter with four quick bites, edited by Tim Leffel, author of A Better Life for Half the Price and The World’s Cheapest Destinations. See past editions here, where your like-minded friends can subscribe and join you.

* Happy birthday to us: we just hit issue #100! Thanks for your support and if you upgrade to being a paid supporter, we’ll reward you with an e-book soon that has 104 of our best travel and living abroad tips from our first two years.

Digital Nomad Visas On One Page

Mark F. stumbled upon this VisaList site that is an alternative to some of the digital nomad visa guides we’ve highlighted before. This one has a clean layout and reflecting the governments’ habits of “announce first, plan later,” most are still listed as “developing.” This is a very minimalist site with frequent grammar errors, but it does show fees and income requirements and it links out to the official government page for each of the 56 countries and territories.

Independent Rugged Bag Companies

You don’t see many review blogs talking about USA-based Tom Bihn or Red Oxx luggage because you can’t buy them at retailers that pay commission like REI or Amazon. They only sell directly to consumers, allowing them to maintain high standards without having to sell their products for low margins at half the retail price. Also, unlike the big companies that need to keep retailers excited, they can sell the same classic bag for 20 years and not feel pressure to make changes. I just used my 14-year-old Tom Bihn Aeronaut for two recent short trips and forgot how much faster you can move if you have a light carry-on bag with no wheels. (Read the 96 5-star comments to see what real brand devotion looks like.)

€49 French Rail Pass

You’ll need to be 27 or younger and be touring France at the busiest time of year, but if that’s you or someone you know, you could ride the rails around France this summer for just 49 for 2 months. The most populated area around Paris is excluded, but that still leaves a big chunk of the country to explore and it would only take a few trips to come out ahead. See more details here. (Note that Germany runs a similar scheme with fewer age restrictions.)

Europe on a Budget

Last year I spent about five months in Europe, this year I’ll be there somewhere between two and three months. The continent has a reputation for being expensive, but it doesn’t have to be if you’re savvy about the when, where, and how. Here’s my advice based on a few decades of visits: Touring Europe on a Budget: 11 Money-saving Travel Tips.


17 April 2024

What’s in my NOW? — Mark White

issue #175

Sign up here to get What’s in my NOW? a week early in your inbox.

Technologist and Podcaster living in Memphis, TN. Always looking to make the best of the next opportunity and a really hot cup of coffee. Tunes:Uncovered is my podcast about songs you probably have not heard but should! — Mark White



  • Spotify — whether it’s listening to podcasts while cleaning the workshop or background music it’s hard to beat Spotify’s breadth of shows, songs, and music.
  • Structured App — Multiple daily reminders of the things a busy person will forget to do. Drink more water, spend 30 minutes on a side project for 30 days, etc.


If you want to be productive, wake up early. If you want to be creative, stay up late.

Not sure who said this but it’s true, at least for me.


16 April 2024

A Beginner’s Guide to Immortality / Goldfish Ghost

Books That Belong On Paper Issue No. 10

Books That Belong On Paper first appeared on the web as Wink Books and was edited by Carla Sinclair. Sign up here to get the issues a week early in your inbox.


A Beginner’s Guide to Immortality: From Alchemy to Avatars
by Maria Birmingham, Josh Holinaty (Illustrator)
2015, 48 pages, 7.4 x 0.6 x 9.7 inches, Hardcover

Buy on Amazon

Featuring simple, bold, and colorful illustrations, A Beginner’s Guide to Immortality examines humanity’s never-ending quest to discover the secret to eternal life. The book is categorized into five options on extending one’s life: Elixirs, Meeting Immortals, Visiting Magical Places, Patience, and The Future.

Starting with a look at historical figures such as Gilgamesh’s search for youth-restoring seaweed and Qin She Huang’s hunt for a fruit which grants eternal life, the book touches on the unsuccessful search for mythical life-extending tools like alchemical elixirs, the philosopher’s stone, and the flesh of the ningyo fish. The folkloric Moon rabbit is shown is vibrant yellow, stirring its cauldron of the Elixir Of Life.

The journey continues to mythical places where some form of a fountain of youth supposedly exists in Bimini, St. Brendan’s Island, and Tir Na Nog. A dynamic full-page illustration of a maiden soaking in a mountain stream in bold aquamarine evokes an idyllic atmosphere. Real-life places such as those in Earth’s Blue Zones occurring in Sardinia, Okinawa, and Loma Linda, California, where inhabitants regularly live to upwards of 90 years, are also investigated.

Venturing into the realms of biology and other sciences, long lived animals such as naked mole rats, planarian worms, and a jellyfish known as turritopsis dohrnii are described. A gene that centenarians may possess known as FoxO is examined. Healthy routines like eating well, regular exercise, and flossing are suggested. A humorous full-page illustration of famous literary immortals is shown, featuring amazons, wizards, Pinocchio, and Dracula.

Ending the book with options that might exist in the future, cryogenics, mummification, cloning, and inserting one’s consciousness into a digital avatar are all represented. The theory of biomechanical immortality is vividly illustrated in emerald green with an enormous robot having its puny human brain installed as pleased scientists look on. Finally, the belief in an afterlife in world religions is presented.

A Beginner’s Guide to Immortality is a lively, quick read, exploring concepts in history, science, literature, and geography, and presented in an easily digested manner. Charmingly illustrated in a blocky, comic book style, with chunky images of futuristic robots with glowing brains, medieval alchemists mixing strange chemicals, and Ponce De Leon wielding a metal detector, it’s an informative, humorous book.

– SD


Goldfish Ghost
by Lemony Snicket, Lisa Brown (Illustrator)
oaring Brook Press
2017, 40 pages, 8.4 x 10.4 inches, Hardcover

Buy on Amazon

Goldfish Ghost does not begin with the death of a fish. It begins with the birth of a ghost. The wonderfully clever, silly, sweet story about a ghost in search of good company comes from husband and wife team Lemony Snicket and Lisa Brown.

Though the story is great, it’s the little details in Brown’s illustrations that make me love this book. Goldfish Ghost (and the ghosts of the sea creatures he meets) floats through the story belly-up. Tucked into the beach scene is pair of people ghosts, watching the waves in old-timey bathing suits. The subtle way in which Brown uses scrawled, faint, white line—ghost-like in its own right, like the chalked words erased from a blackboard but not really gone—is so lovely and smart, it’s probably my favorite thing about the whole book.

– Mk Smith Despres


15 April 2024

Cartoon History

Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 82

Once a week we’ll send out a page from Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. The tools might be outdated or obsolete, and the links to them may or may not work. We present these vintage recommendations as is because the possibilities they inspire are new. Sign up here to get Tools for Possibilities a week early in your inbox.

Flippant, but painless, world history

Cartoon History of the Universe (Volumes 1, 2, 3)

Larry Gonick, the over-educated cartoonist, continues his series of book-length comic-strips that illustrate ancient history. This new 300-page installment covers the rise of Arabia and the role of “Orientals” in crafting the culture we have today. In Gonick’s hands history is a hoot, and very much about ideas. I particularly savor this latest volume because by moving the center of the universe somewhere east of Europe — delving into Islam, Africa and East Asia — Gonick’s cartoons can remedy the ignorance and arrogance of the west. Laugh your way to enlightenment! — KK



img 11/20/12

Stanley Compartment Organizer

Affordable parts organizer

img 09/13/11

Last Pass

All-in-one password management

img 03/7/08

Tech Web Belt

Last Chance Heavy Duty Belt * Tech Web Belt

img 08/28/12

Knipex High Leverage Cutters

Clippers that cut anything

See all the favorites



Show and Tell #404: Adam Hill

Picks and shownotes

Show and Tell #403: Mia Coots

Picks and shownotes

Show and Tell #402: Josué Moreno

Picks and shownotes

17 April 2024


Cool Tools is a web site which recommends the best/cheapest tools available. Tools are defined broadly as anything that can be useful. This includes hand tools, machines, books, software, gadgets, websites, maps, and even ideas. All reviews are positive raves written by real users. We don’t bother with negative reviews because our intent is to only offer the best.

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