06 December 2019
Cool Tools Show 203: Melissa Kirsch
WriteRoom Distraction free writing for Mac OS
WriteRoom is a word processing program. I find it just the thing for keeping me from surfing the internet when I’m trying to write something. It builds itself as distraction-free. There are a few different themes that you can choose from, but the one that I like is the green terminal font on a black background with a block cursor that looks like an original terminal font from a CRT monitor. It really feels like a room. The description of it is WriteRoom is really apt because there’s nothing. If you go into full screen mode, there are absolutely no menus. There are no choices. It really is sort of the simplicity of the terminal line, which I find extremely soothing for writing.
OOFOS Recovery Sandals
It sounds like something you might find in a hospital, and I’m not sure you don’t find these in hospitals. They build themselves as recovery sandals. They’re extremely ugly generally and not as something that I had to contend with. I didn’t understand why someone would pick something that was so aggressively unattractive until I started having foot problems. OOFOS are made of some sort of proprietary foam — I’m not entirely sure what’s happening in the sole of these flip flops — but they seem to relieve all the pain in my feet. The pain is not insignificant. The second that I walk into the house, I put these on whether I’m alone or not. I’ve gotten comfortable with people seeing these sort of hideous flip flops. They’re just like heavily cushioned, extremely comfortable shoes. I think they make a bunch of different kinds of shoes if you have any foot problems like a bunion — or I have Morton’s neuroma, which I had just found out about — or any kind of like training related injury, I’m assuming the recovery refers to people who actually need to recover and use these sandals for recovery.
Technivorm Moccamaster KBG
The coffee maker that I love, I got recently, it’s the Technivorm Moccamaster KBG 741. I didn’t think that I was a coffee snob in any way, but I was advised by a doctor to stop using any sweetener in my coffee. I didn’t think that that would be so difficult, but it actually has proven to be quite awful to wean myself from Splenda. I thought if I drank better tasting coffee, I may have an easier time. It’s true. This is a drip coffee maker, which I know that coffee snobs tend to disdain, but it a really beautiful coffee maker just aesthetically. I like having it on the counter. It’s handmade in The Netherlands of completely recyclable materials. Each element can be replaced independently. While it’s not cheap at the outset, you can hopefully repair it yourself for many years to come. They have all kinds of features that they tout, like a consistent brewing temperature and a special copper boiling element. They say that the Moccamaster makes something called like the golden cup of coffee, which is I think the Technivorm people’s own designation for a really delicious tasting cup of coffee. It’s not like an award that’s been bestowed on it, but I have to say that it makes the best coffee I’ve ever tasted.
Faraday Cortland Pedal-Assist Bicycle
I think that like the world’s best life hack right now is a pedal assist bike. The one that I have is made by a company that may or may not be going out of business, but the company is called Faraday. It was a designer from Apple, I don’t remember his name, who started this company. He wanted to make a beautiful electric bike because often the batteries are sort of ugly and bulky. I know that that will change I’m sure and it’s changing rapidly. The battery for the Faradays are in the down tube so you can’t see them. It pretty much looks like an old school kind of cruiser bike. I tested one for a story thinking I used to ride my bike everywhere and then I moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn. I continued to ride my bike everywhere except to work because I had to bike over the bridge and on the bridge I would start to sweat and then arrive at work sweaty. That was a deal breaker. I had a feeling that an electric bike could be the answer, but it just seemed too easy. I tested one and then it was so freeing and amazing. It wasn’t just going over the bridge that became a sweat-free experience. I took it on vacation with me and there in some mountains where I had like been unable to bike up a hill. The previous summer I was able to cruise up with a tiny bit of effort. The way that I describe being on an electric bike is that it’s like the dream where you’re flying, like you’re walking and suddenly you’re flying. It’s like there’s a wind behind you. Something’s helping you. When you don’t need to get anywhere quickly, you can just turn it off and it rides like a regular bike. The reason I liked the Faraday was because it was also the lightest one that I found. It weighs about 40 pounds, which is still fairly heavy for a bike, but they generally run 50, 60, 70 pounds. I feel like if you love the bike and you want one that you should get one and they are going to continue providing support for them. But I would say that my general recommendation is for pedal assist bikes in general and I’m sure there will be pedal assist bikes as beautiful as the Faradays coming out if there aren’t already.
The Girl’s Guide: Getting the hang of your whole complicated, unpredictable, impossibly amazing life
The Girl’s Guide is a book for college grads, and I wrote it when I myself was not that long out of college. I was looking for answers to questions that I couldn’t find on the internet and that I hadn’t been taught in school and didn’t feel comfortable asking my parents about. I wrote the book sort of for myself at around age 27. I joke now that it’s sort of life hacker for women or life hacker for young grads, where it’s sort of everything that I and my friends learned in the first six or seven years that we were out of college that we wished someone had told us earlier.
The Upgrade podcast
Every week my cohost Alice and I go over and talk to experts about one way in which people can improve their lives. Just today we did an interview about how to read people’s minds. We talked to a mentalist in Sweden. We go over everything from how to use social awkwardness to your benefit to stuff like having to do with money. We recently talked to somebody specifically about how to get out of debt or how to find true love or how to get over a breakup. We take one topic each week and sort of apply the Lifehacker treatment to it.
We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $390 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! If you would like to make a one-time donation, you can do so using this link: https://paypal.me/cooltools.– MF12/6/19
05 December 2019
Best everyday carries
Here are some of our readers’ favorite pocket-size tools. — MF
The Gerber Dime Multi-Tool ($29) has become and item I carry everyday. At times I carry bigger multi-tools, but even then, everyday I always have my Gerber Dime with me. The size of the tool is just over 2 inches when folded up so it fits comfortably in the watch pocket of my jeans. Because of this size you will find you always can carry it with you. Light enough to carry even with dress pants on. — Tom Parks
The Gerber E-Z Out Jr Knife ($27) has been my daily carry knife for 16 years. It is a small light weight belt clip knife with a serrated blade that lets me cut anything from paper to rope and straps. The thumb slot in the blade allows you to open the knife one handed. The lock release makes it easy to fold the blade back in one handed. The belt clip is handy but secure. — Peter Lucas
The Swiss Army Victorinox CyberTool 29 ($67) has a nice long 5mm driver that uses four double-ended bits, including my favorite Phillips #2, two smaller Phillips bits, a straight bit, three Torx drivers (#8, #10, #15), and a 4mm hex bit. It also includes the classic straight-blade screwdriver, can opener, awl, two knife blades, corkscrew (yes, I use it fairly regularly!) and a tiny screwdriver ingeniously tucked in the corkscrew. I really like that the straight-blade screwdriver and Phillips driver are at opposite ends. Having the two screwdrivers open at the same time often makes the task go quicker. — Rurik Spence
When saving ounces, the Leatherman Squirt ($35) is the lightest multi-tool kit to carry. It’s got your knife, pliers, wire cutter, scissors, file, and two screwdrivers in only 2 ounces (57 g). Some folks use it as a keychain fob; I primarily carry it while backpacking and biking. — KK
Smaller than most pocket knives, and with the ability to unfold into a completely handy pair of snips, the stainless steel Micra ($30) contains two functional flat-blade drivers (micro and “regular”) and a #2 Phillips-equivalent screwdriver, so I can achieve most anything I need to do inside a server closet or at a customer’s desk. — Steve Sussex
Got the DoohicKey Keychain Multitool ($4) over 6 months ago and it has been attached to my keyring ever since. It is almost invisible and barely noticeable, until you need it. The wide screwdriver tip, the bottle opener and the box cutter are perfect additions to my Leatherman Style PS Multitool, which also comes with me everywhere, including planes, as they are both TSA clean. The DoohicKey also comes with a wrench and a ruler. — Jesus Climent
Everyone has heard of the legendary Space Pen, which was developed for the space program and writes upside down, underwater and in extreme temperatures. They make many different varieties of the Space Pen, but the most useful and elegant is the Bullet ($18). The Fisher Bullet is in two pieces: the actual pen, and a cap that fits on the back of the pen to make a full-size writing instrument. When closed, it makes a compact, tight-fitting, gasket-sealed capsule that easily fits in your pocket. It comes with a shirt pocket clip that can be removed, so it’s less obtrusive in your pants pocket. You can get it in chrome, but the matte black finish is so much cooler. — Curtis Galloway
S-Biners ($2) are much lighter than conventional carabiners and have two attachment points, which really comes in handy when you need to quickly attach and detach things. — Cormac Eubanks
The Split Pea Lighter ($21) is the “world’s smallest lighter,” a stainless steel tube 1.3″ high and 0.5″ in diameter. Unscrew the top, flick the flint wheel, and behold! Fire! — Mike Everett-Lane
The Spyderco Bug Knife ($16) is the smallest knife I have ever found and is just big enough for general scraping, tiny hole poking, and little thing slicing you need to do on a daily basis. It does not have a lock mechanism, but as long as you know that, you can use it in a way that will not cause it to close. It is stainless steel, so it is tough and corrosion resistant. — Mark Nordhaus
At around $10, the Pelican Progear Keychain Flashlight is the right price for a piece of gear that my life could depend on, but if I happen to lose, they crying will be over the loss of a trusty piece of kit, not the loss of a small fortune. And believe me, this is something that I will replace with the same item immediately if it’s ever lost. — Mark Krawzcuk
I’ve been using various models of the Chive ($40) for 6+ years. It’s perfect for how I use it — everyday carry all around convenient small sharp thing. It has a small (~2″) 420HC blade, light, spring-assisted assisted opening (with a small flipper) and stainless steel so I can run it under hot water or otherwise clean and wash it with less concern about rust. The steel is a a big deal for me. Other small folders I’ve used have relatively softer blade steel, whereas the 420HC is a nice balance between holding an edge and easy to sharpen. — Steve
What surprised me about this cheap, tiny microscope ($7) is how much fun it can be to just take it to anything out in the world — the wood grain on a table, the tread of a bike tire, the print in a comic book — all these little hidden worlds open up and you can just instantly peek at them. If you have kids, it’s a slam dunk. Even if they already have a standard microscope, like my kid, the reaction to this was totally different. Beyond the novelty, I’ve found this useful a few times for inspecting electronics projects and troubleshooting connections or reading little component values or serial numbers. — Donald Bell
If you’re in IT, the need for small Phillips and Flat screwdrivers is common. Megapro, which makes the recently reviewed Megapro Stainless 15-in-1 Driver ($8), also makes a handy and inexpensive Pocket Driver. The bits cover two sizes for both Phillips and Flat head. The bits are well made. The handle is comfortable, just big enough for the job, while not being too big for a shirt pocket. The caps snap over each other, so you can put them on the tool when removing them and are less likely to leave them behind. The caps also rotate smoothly, making it easy to apply pressure with the palm of the hand while twisting with the fingers. The holes in the sides of the cap let you check which bit is in which end of the tool. There’s a clip for putting in your shirt pocket. I bought five so that I could hand them out to co-workers so they would be less likely to steal mine! — Toby Ovod-Everett
I wanted to have a set of tweezers I could put on my keychain. It needed to be sharp enough that I could dig out a stubborn sliver broken off under the skin and go with me hiking and camping and through the TSA too. I found it in the Pocketweez ($20). Like any tool once you use it you find others things to use it for. I dropped a tiny machine screw inside the electronics I was repairing that was non ferrous and not retrievable with a magnet. Worked great. — Kent Barnes
04 December 2019
What's in my bag? issue #26
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Steven Leckart is a writer/director (and former editor of Cool Tools). In 2019, he wrote the two-part documentary “What’s My Name | Muhammad Ali” for HBO, and co-executive produced the three-part documentary series “Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates” for Netflix. You can find him on Instagram @leckart.
Zojirushi Stainless Steel Vacuum Mug (16oz) ($25)
Since I was on the Cool Tools podcast earlier this year, I upgraded travel coffee mugs to this Zojirushi model. It not only keeps beverages hotter for longer, but the design is also more hygienic. On top, there’s a lid that opens and closes to protect the mouthpiece from dirt and debris while in transit.
Camelbak Beck Insulated Stainless Water Bottle (20oz) ($28)
A lot of reusable bottles are large and unwieldy, or have spouts that are awkwardly-shaped or sized. I’m partial to this one because the lid is the diameter of a soda can, and the bottle is skinny enough to fit in most drink holders. The last time I filled it with ice, four hours later, cubes were still floating inside.
4-inch iPhone Cable Charger ($10)
I always keep a spare battery pack in my inside jacket pocket while traveling. But uncoiling and detangling the charging cable was a constant annoyance. Switching to one of these shorter cables was so helpful, I wish I’d done it years ago. I don’t have a specific brand to recommend. Just buy one that’s short enough that it can’t tangle.
Rubber Trigger Point Release Therapy Balls ($12)
I often travel with a short, hollow trigger point foam roller. It’s fantastic, but I still need an every-day carry to help me relieve and prevent muscular tightness and tension whenever I feel it coming on. So I’ve accumulated various balls for different spots or to achieve a different sense of pressure. The link here takes you to the big blue ball in the photo, which came with a set of two balls in a black travel bag (pictured). Also pictured: The black ball is a Wham-O SuperBall. I alternate the larger blue and smaller Wham-O balls on my hip. For the bottom of my foot, I use the other two balls pictured, which my rolfer gave me. The little green marble-sized one is rubbery. The multi-colored ball is essentially a hackey sack. I recommend Googling and watching YouTube videos on how to do this stuff before trying. It can be incredibly painful, but highly effective.
About the bag
Lo & Sons Hanover Deluxe 2! This is the absolute best everyday backpack I’ve ever owned: ample space w/interior pockets and padded sleeves, exterior drink holders, padded straps, sleeve for a rolling suitcase handle, and more. Best of all: NO LOGOS!
02 December 2019
Tresalto Auto Trim Removal Tool Kit
Related tools mentioned:
Noico 80 mil 36 sqft car sound deadening mat
(Cool Tools has a YouTube channel with many more tool reviews — editors)
02 December 2019
Gift suggestions from Cool Tools' founder
The editors of Cool Tools have curated a number of gift suggestions selected from our website, newsletters, videos, and podcasts. This week: Kevin’s picks!
I use only nylon web belts. They don’t have holes, so they are infinitely adjustable. And they use hard plastic for the buckle so I don’t have to remove it in airports, saving me hassle. There are many styles and colors, all can be trimmed for length. The one I use is this generic model. — KK
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
Blendable color markers
For sketching and painting I favor alcohol-based markers, which let you blend colors like a watercolor brush, but with the convenience of a felt marker. The preferred premier markers are the extremely expensive Copics. An equivalent inexpensive alternative for blendable markers with dual tips (fat or point) are Bianyo. I can paint quickly easily in a notebook using a travel set like these 72 Bianyo markers — KK
Two-sided magnetic measuring spoons
These magnetic measuring spoons are handy because they have two sides for each measurement. The oval side fits into smaller jars, and I can alternate between wet and dry ingredients without having to wash a spoon. Also, the magnets keep them together so I never have to search for the one I need. — CD
Hiking poles give me two extra legs. They are most useful going downhill, over uneven or wet terrain. I bring them wherever I hike, especially when I travel, because I use a collapsible set from Black Diamond that folds up to less than 14 inches (36 cm). That not only fits in carry-on luggage, it will also hide away in a day pack, so I can take them out only when needed. The $75 Distance Z-Poles are lightweight aluminum, unfold in a second, and are very rigid. You can get featherweight carbon fiber if you want to pay more. — KK
After decades of using a Utili-key as my choice of a small knife to pass through airport security, I lost it in the woods. I replaced it with a Victorinox SwissCard. This tool is a mini-Swiss Army knife flattened into a plastic holder the size of credit card but thicker. It has a tiny (1.5 inch) sharp blade, scissors, tweezers, a pen, toothpick, and a pin. You can carry it in your wallet or bag. Goes through security. There is a knock-off version which remarkably adds a magnifier, a light, and four screwdriver heads in the same size card for half the price at $9 — but you’ll need to sharpen the flimsy blade. — KK
Werewolf, intense social game
When we meet for family reunions, or gather with friends, our favorite group game is Werewolf. Classrooms and corporate retreats also play Werewolf. It’s a deduction/deception game, extremely social, that is as much fun to watch as to play, so it can involve everyone. The games are exhilarating, surprising, and addictive. The only gear you need are some cards. While you can get by with an ordinary deck of cards, a set of dedicated Werewolf cards makes it much easier. After you’ve played a number of basic games, it’s easy and fun to play with variations, which are supported by this deck of Apostrophe Werewolf cards ($11). — KK
Cloud magnetic key holder
I saw one of these cute cloud-shaped magnetic key holders ($7) at my friend’s place and wanted one immediately. It solves my one recurring problem: not knowing where I put my keys. It came with adhesive backing so I was able to “set it up” right away. Easy peasy. — CD
Smallest, cheapest flashlight
This ThorFire is the brightest, cheapest ($22), smallest, lightest LED flashlight that runs on a single AA (rechargeable) battery. Rugged, made of metal, it will stand up on its end. I have them everywhere. — KK
WiFi smart plugs
I bought this 2-pack of GoldenDot WiFi smart plugs for $17 on Amazon. I used one on our bedroom’s air filter and the other on our garage door (to turn of the power so no one can open it with a remote). It was easy to link the plugs to Alexa and Google Assistant. I now control these appliances with my voice. I also put the air filter on a schedule, so it turns on at night and off in the morning. — MF
USB rechargeable lighter
Forget butane-lighters or matches. This $13 gooseneck electric arc lighter has a lithium-ion battery that can light hundreds of candles and barbecue fires on a single USB charge. — MF
Sturdiest big umbrella
We’ve had one of the rainiest winters in memory. I normally carry a compact foldup umbrella in my bag, but when I head out from my house in the rain, I grab the Blunt near the door. This full-length umbrella is built like a tank. It is super sturdy, larger than a solo umbrella but not as big as a golf umbrella. There are no pointy corners (they are blunt, hey), and high winds won’t faze it a bit despite its large sized canopy. It would take an actual hurricane to invert it. You’ll lose it before it wears out. It’s expensive ($79), but worth it. — KK
Most comfortable flip-flops
Sanuk Yoga Slings are made from recycled yoga mats and are unbelievably comfortable to walk around in. The thong sandals have stretchy fabric straps that you can pull around your ankle so that they never fall off. I gave a pair to my mother-in-law, who was born and raised in Hawaii and maybe the ultimate authority on flip-flops, and she loves them. — CD12/2/19
01 December 2019
Recomendo: issue no. 175
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300-page tool recommendation book
Kevin and Mark host a weekly podcast called Cool Tools. For more than 5 years now they have invited notable and creative people to talk about their favorite tools. This year, I took the transcripts from the best 150 episodes and pulled text, added images, and laid it all out in a 300-page book titled Four Favorite Tools. It is now available on Amazon in both color ($39.99) and B&W ($12.99) versions. Inside the book are hundreds and hundreds of recommendations for apps, gadgets, tools — but my recommendation is the book itself as a handbook for inspiration. — CD
World’s cheapest destinations
So much to see, so little money. Why not maximize your travel by getting the most per dollar? The World’s Cheapest Destinations will guide you to the best least expensive countries in the world, where a small budget will purchase you ten times the joy of a more expensive region. Part of my secret to travel is to visit these countries listed, which are usually the most interesting, too. Now in its 5th updated edition, this succinct guide is one of the best investments in life you can make. — KK
Force a public Wi-Fi login page to open
Here’s a problem I frequently encounter when I’m trying to use public Wi-Fi at the airport — the login page won’t load on my browser. This troubleshooting cheat sheet lists the different things you can try to get a Wi-Fi login page to open. In short, they are: 1) Turn off alternative DNS servers 2) Try to open the router’s default page 3) Open a non-HTTPS site in incognito 4) Restart your device 5) Create a new network location. One or more of these actions usually does the trick. — MF
Notes is the default built-in note taking app that syncs between Mac OS and iOS. The new thing for me is using it as a dictation device on my iPhone, since I am a lousy thumb typer. When I want to make a note, I depress the microphone icon near the space bar on the virtual keyboard in Notes and talk. My voice is transcribed into text with remarkable accuracy, even in noisy environments. Notes then syncs these written notes onto my laptop. — KK
Free, printable motivational poster
This is not like those cheesy, motivational posters you’ve seen. This is a collection of effective action plans to defeat procrastination. Every tip feels new and helpful and mind-opening. You can download your own poster to print out here. — CD
Save your knees
I bought this 11 x 18 inch Fiskars Ultralight Kneeling Cushion in 2011 for $8 and have used it hundreds of times since then. It has come in handy when repairing appliances, working on and washing cars, weeding, and any other activity that requires getting on my knees. More recently I bought these $7 Fiskars Ultralight Knee Pads, which let me crawl around the backyard or garage without pain. —MF
COOL TOOLS SHOW PODCAST
WHAT'S IN MY BAG?
04 December 2019
What’s in my bag? issue #26
ABOUT COOL TOOLS
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.
One new tool is posted each weekday. Cool Tools does NOT sell anything. The site provides prices and convenient sources for readers to purchase items.
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We recently posted a short history of Cool Tools which included current stats as of April 2008. This explains both the genesis of this site, and the tools we use to operate it.