30 March 2023

Bali & Nepal Crackdowns/Best Ski Bargains/Finding Balance

Nomadico issue #45

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.

Restricted Movement in Bali and Nepal

This has not been a great month for independent travelers who like to find their own path. Traffic-choked Bali announced it will stop foreign visitors from renting motorbikes and Nepal announced that it will no longer allow independent hikers to get trekking permits. Both outlined some good justifications for the decisions, but the latter seems like overkill considering how easy it is to hike the Annapurna Circuit or ABC route without a guide or group. I’m betting on some exceptions or a softening once local businesses complain loudly enough.

Shop Local for… Adapters

If you’re on a round-the-world journey to multiple continents, you need some kind of multi-plug adapter for different countries. If you’re going to one region on vacation or to live, however, you probably just need a simple small adapter to convert from your home plug to the local sockets. You can order these in advance online, but I’ve found it far cheaper to just buy one or more on arrival. I bought one today in Sofia, Bulgaria for $3 and have paid even less in Thailand, Argentina, and Brazil. Check electronics shops or hardware stores, but the best prices are at street stalls and in the local markets, which gives you another reason to go visit them.

European Ski Bargains

As this ski season wraps up soon, here’s one truth that’s news to most Americans: It’s far cheaper to ski in Europe than in the USA. So much less, in fact, that you could probably cover the cost of your airfare and meals with the difference. (Plus those meals will be a lot better.) I mentioned Switzerland last week, a surprising value compared to the best-known Rocky Mountains options, but the “bargain” resorts in the USA are often priced at a level that’s the maximum on the other side of the ocean. Check out this article to see the cheapest ski resorts in Europe.

Finding Balance

Working remotely, especially for yourself, has plenty of challenges related to stress, boundaries, balance, and health. One of the people involved with Nomadico is Claudia Dawson, a devotee of self-improvement and life balance advice/tools. Reco•mind•o: Mindful Recomendos for Life and Work is now available as a downloadable PDF with clickable links for $2.99. It’s a collection of her personal tips distilled from more than 300 issues of Recomendo, our sister newsletter. It is packed with resources and invisible tools to improve the inner and outer aspects of life. The full-color paperback is still available on Amazon if you prefer a book you can hold.


29 March 2023

What’s in my NOW? — Michelle Lynn

issue #154

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

I work for a non-profit in the performing arts. I spend my free time exploring the city I live in, reading, taking a Peloton ride with my favorite instructor Sam Yo, rooting for the LA Dodgers, attending plays/musicals, listening to podcasts, and planning my next adventure. —Michelle Lynn


Hobonichi Techo
Writing things down, seeing my schedule and crossing off my to-do’s on paper is very gratifying. I love the Hobonichi layout and its portability! And it’s fun to look back and see what I did and my general thoughts of the day. I decorate the entries with stickers, highlighters/markers, stamps, ephemera, and washi tape. I’m not artistic, but this lets me feel a little creative and I enjoy learning how to express myself in a fun way.

Yoshi Yoshitani tarot cards
I was at NY Comic Con in Oct 2022, and stopped by her booth to buy a print for my sister. She’s one of my sister’s favorite artists. I was immediately drawn to Yoshi’s tarot card set. I have never been interested in tarot before, but I was like a moth to a flame when I saw her tarot cards. I do a one-card pull every day and write down my thoughts, and then immediately look at the accompanying guidebook and handbook for more insight. It’s fun to learn and is also kinda wild how accurate the card pull is! I carry the card with me all day. I love being a beginner and can’t wait to start doing a more detailed spread when I’m ready. She has an oracle deck coming out soon, and I can’t wait.

Nguyen Coffee Supply mug
When I went to Vietnam in 2015, I became obsessed with Vietnamese coffee. My fondest memories were visiting the various coffee shops with my friends and trying the different kinds of coffee (my fave is coconut coffee). I am a fan of this brand because each cup I drink reminds me of being in Vietnam, the coffee beans are stellar (my fave is Loyalty), and Nguyen Coffee Supply is a company I feel aligned with and am happy to support. I love drinking my coffee in their insulated mug.


The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy on Apple TV+
This is one of my favorite books, and it was a joy to see this book come to life. It’s absolutely beautiful. It filled my heart with so much love. Watching this short film made me feel like I was being given the most comforting hug and it filled me with warmth and hope.

Yoseka Stationery
I love writing letters and journaling. Yoseka is one of my favorites for stationery. I check their website way too often for new arrivals. They have a thoughtfully curated selection of items, and the kindest staff who are always happy to assist their customers. My favorite is their Inks section for fountain pens and dip pens. They have a nice variety and sell sample sizes if you don’t want to commit to buying a full bottle and/or want to try a bunch of inks.


Ever since I was little, I’ve been inexplicably drawn to Hawaii, its history and culture. I’d like to think I lived there in a past life. I try to carry aloha with me wherever I go, and it’s a reminder for me to stay present, humble, loving, and compassionate.


29 March 2023

Preserving Wood with Fire

Gar's Tips & Tools - Issue #152

Gar’s Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales is published by Cool Tools Lab. To receive the newsletter a week early, sign up here.

  • Send me a tip or tool recommendation.
  • Buy my books (Tips and Tales from the Workshop Vol. 1Vol. 2).
  • Advertise your product, service, newsletter, app, book, tool, or anything you’d like to share with GT&T readers.

Preserving Wood with Fire

From Bird’s Eye Builds on Instagram:

Shou sugi ban treatment for these cedar panels that will become an exterior door. The wood is burned until the surface is charred, resulting in a pest, rot, and fire resistant finish as well as becoming a natural water repellent and sun shield. And it looks amazing!⁠”

Know Your Foam Feet

Two-part spray foam kits (both insulation and sealant) are usually labeled/measured in the board feet that the foam will cover. So, for instance, a 210 insulation kit will cover 210 sq ft. at 1” thick, a 600 kit, 600 sq. ft. at 1”, etc. [Via Family Handyman]

Tips on Working with Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF)

James of Stumpy Nubs has a wonderful basic guide to MDF. He talks through when to use it (and when not to), how to properly join/fasten MDF, working with it safely in your shop, avoiding cutting it with expensive blades and bits, and more. He also talks about preparing the edges of MDF using drywall joint compound to seal off the otherwise rough and thirsty edge. By applying the compound and then sanding, you can get a primable/paintable edge that’s at least as smooth as the material’s surfaces.

Reading “Tools”

Gareth shares fascinating and fun entries as he reads through Tools and How to Use Them by Albert Jackson and David Day. This week: Leather creasing tools: Single creaseradjustable double creaser.

Maker Slang

Slang, jargon, and technical terms for the many realms of making things

Aztecing — A model painting technique that involves applying a series of small, intricate patterns and textures to the surface of a model to create a sense of depth and complexity, as well as to simulate the appearance of overlapping panels, mechanical components, or weathering effects.

Dashboard — Originally, the term dashboard referred to a barrier at the front of a horse-drawn carriage that prevented mud from getting on the passengers as the horses dashed down the lane.

GPT (as in ChatGTP and GTP-4) — Stands for Generative Pre-trained Transformer, “a type of deep learning algorithm that uses a transformer architecture to generate human-like natural language text. The GPT models are pre-trained on large amounts of text data, which allows them to learn the patterns and structure of language, and then fine-tuned on specific tasks such as text classification, language translation, or question answering.” [Or, at least, that’s what ChatGPT told me.]

Uppercase/lowercase — While we’re on the subject of word origins. Have you ever wondered about uppercase and lowercase? The above picture should clear it up nicely — letterpress type cases with capital letters on top and smaller letters in the bottom case.

Vial — The bubble assembly on a spirit level tool is referred to a vial or spirit level vial.

Shop Talk

In response to my EDC piece in issue #150, Joz Jonlin writes:

I always struggle with the EDC category. As a tech guy, I have a large backpack with every cable, dongle, adapter, you might want or need for computer related activities. I also have non-computer items I carry in the bag, such as wetwipes, a fire starting kit, a lifestraw, and other various survival tools. It’s all very compact and light weight. On the other hand, I also have a separate EDC category of things belonging in my pockets. I carry 5 small items, with the first being a small cloth for cleaning eyeglasses, which also works well for computer screens. Then, in no particular order. I carry: Olight flashlightGerber ShardGerber DimeGerber Fastball. (I promise, I’m not sponsored by Gerber.) I have several Leatherman multi-tools but my goal is small and light for my pockets. After decades of mixing it up, this is what I’ve settled on for several years now and I use these items, usually, several times a day for something.

Mistakes Were Made

In the write-up to Grampa Amu pot-repair video last week, I lamented that the finished pot wasn’t shown with water in it. Someone on Cool Tools pointed out that, in fact, it did show the pot filled with water and on the boil in the last few seconds of the video. I must’ve clicked off when he puts the pot down and walked away and the other vids were teased. So glad to see it in actual use!


27 March 2023


Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 27

Once a week we’ll send out a page from Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. The tools might be outdated or obsolete, but the possibilities they inspire are new. Sign up here to get Tools for Possibilities a week early in your inbox.

Most all-around practical

Tilley Hat

Often copied, never quite equaled, the Tilley Hat is the most all-purpose chapeau I know. Its broad brim keeps the sun or light rain off, the bit of foam in the flat crown pads the skull against light whacks and keeps the hat floating in water, and the double strap defeats all wind. (Use just the rear strap behind your head to hold the hat in all but strong winds; the front strap under the chin is effective but dorky looking.) The Canadian behind the Tilley line has generated a humorous but effective fetishism around his durable hats. With one or both side brims snapped up to the crown you get a rakish look which also stiffens the front brim against wind. The Tilley packs well and does last for many years; however, a lot of hot weather use will stain it incurably with sweat. You may not mind. — Stewart Brand

Crushable wide-brimmed hat

The Crusher Hat

Being a man with pale complexion I had received yet another severe sunburn and was on the market for wide-brimmed hats when I discovered the Crusher. It is aptly named. I have squeezed it into a ball and put it into the pocket of my jacket. I have thrusted it in my carry-on luggage. Nevertheless, it still bounces back into shape when I take it out of its cramped storage; the brim remains easily reshaped in the front and back sides to provide the best cover.

This is by far the best head cover I’ve had in warm climates, and it is made only better seeing as it is affordable.

Finally, a few thoughts: Replace the little piece of leather that Duluth use as a drawcord stopper, it is useless. Create a plastic rain cover for the hat to make it perfect! I have only found those for western style hats, with brims exceeding 4 inches. It’s effective but not necessarily comfortable. — Per-Erik Ekberg

Soft helmet

Ribcap Knit Helmet

My second time snowboarding I got a concussion and lost memory of the day. Since then, I wear a helmet as much as possible when boarding. However helmets are hot and bulky, and if I am traveling, or if it’s a nice soft powder day, I have always wanted something that offers protection without the hard shell. D3o Labs has come up with a new foam that is soft in general use, but gets rigid when impacted. This material was used in Olympic slalom ski suits to take the sting out of the oncoming gates and to offer crash protection. A Swiss company, Ribcap, has licensed this material for a set of very nicely made knit caps. These hats have this smart foam sewn in to make them effectively a soft helmet. This is by no means a substitute for a rated hard shell helmet, but I like having the option, especially when traveling where a helmet is bulky. The hat I just got from a retailer in Canada (so far the only place I have found them) is really nicely made, and has a built in balaclava. — Alexander Rose

Lightweight head-and-neck protection

Adventure Hat

I spend much of my time outside. Especially backpacking. And this hat always goes with me. It looks a little different, but I’ve come to like that. Its function is unequaled. Light weight at 2.5 oz and crushable into the pack when not in use. It blocks sun all around with a 4” front brim and a long back tail that can be velcroed up if not needed. It breathes well through side mesh panels and will even scoop water out of a stream to douse your head on a hot day. — Carol Corbridge

Enduring head warmers

Tilley Winter Hats

I’m bald, and my father was a hat hobbyist, so I come by my hat interest biologically. Furthermore, I grew up in the northern midwest — I know about cold ears.

These two wool-plus hats from Tilley are the best winter headgear I know for wear-around use.

The “Winter Hat” is a tweed marvel, with short sloping brim all around, fold-down ear flaps, and a fold-down forehead warmer (a great comfort against a chill headwind, but invisible to others, being hidden behind the brim). The ear flaps are slightly cupped around the ear for further wind protection. The wool is teflon-treated, so rain and snow pretty much bounce off. The hat can be folded into a jacket pocket, yet retains its shape perfectly. In two varieties of tweed, plus black, it’s a surprisingly handsome hat—”friendly,” Brian Eno called it. People call out: “Nice hat!”

The “Winter Cap” looks like your basic New England wool deer hunter’s cap, with big baseball-cap brim and ear flaps. But it has the Tilley augmentations—forehead flap, teflon treatment, excellent construction. I love it under a hood in cold precipitation—keeps my glasses dry and clear. Black or red; get the red. — Stewart Brand

Durable shade hat

Tilley Airflow Hat

The new Tilley Hat is beautifully made of nylon microfiber. It is much lighter (3 oz. total weight) than the original canvas hat and is extremely comfortable to wear, even on the hottest days. The crown is well ventilated and the brim holds its shape well. There is an effective chin strap. It is not suitable for heavy rain wear due to the crown ventilation; use the OR Seattle Sombrero for that. The new hat is guaranteed “forever”, even against loss. — Carl Bradford


26 March 2023

Universe Splitter/Crystallized Lemon Packets/Best tool evaluator

Recomendo - issue #350

Sign up here to get Recomendo a week early in your inbox.

Quantum Decision Maker

If I can’t make a decision on something I like to consult my Universe Splitter app ($1.99 iPhone, Android). I enter two possible paths of action and press the “Split Universe” button. It then reports back to me which universe I’m in and what action to take. It’s fun and silly and like flipping a coin, except you’re creating multiple universes. The app keeps track of all your past universe splits and has a running tally of estimated universes created. I’m up to 512. — CD

Crystallized Lemon Packets

A couple of weeks ago, my parents introduced me to True Lemon packets, which contain crystallized lemon juice that can be easily added to tea or water. The powder dissolves instantly, and taste even better than fresh lemon juice. I use it to enhance my drinking water and sprinkle a bit on cut strawberries and papaya to bring out their flavors. There are many other ways to use these handy packets. — MF

Best tool evaluator

There’s this guy  – Todd at Project Farm – who maniacally tests tools on his YouTube channel. He invents systematic ways to test multiple versions of popular tools, which he buys himself. His evaluations are measured rather than qualitative. At the end of the long tests he displays a table of each tool’s performance and in a sentence or two gives his comparative verdict. This year, Todd rounded up his top 10 tests for the past year (2022), and put them into one super video. It’s a handy tool evaluator, and a good way to see if you’d find his other reviews useful. — KK

Examples of deceptive design

Deceptive.design is a pattern library of deceptive design examples used on websites and app to trick you into buying or signing up for things. There is a Hall of Shame with about 400 examples from the most complained about companies. The whole purpose of which is to raise awareness. Here’s an infographic of 12 different types of dark patterns sourced from the website. — CD

Creepy and cool AI-generated animations

I recently came across an intriguing Instagram channel featuring AI-generated animations that evoke the eerie changing portraits of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. These Dorian Gray-style portraits transform from people into grotesque monsters, with creepy music in the background. — MF

Alternative histories

In addition to the pleasure of reading a rousing story, there is a special benefit in exploring alternative histories. You know, the ones that ask what if? What if the Nazis won? What if the Russians landed on the moon first? This question is both a great way to approach history, and a good skill for thinking about the future. The Sideways Awards for Alternative History on Wikipedia is a fantastic source that lists the best alternative history stories written for each of the past 30 years. — KK

Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson


24 March 2023

Keith Kelley, Integrated Technology Teacher

Show and Tell #358: Keith Kelley

A Maine educator for more than 33 years, Keith Kelley is currently teaching Integrated Technology. Having taught Language Arts, Social Studies and serving as the School Librarian, he is now teaching IT at Nokomis Regional Middle School. His students make Robots, Skateboards, 3D print, and build Guitars. He earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Education at UMaine. He has coached soccer, track and various tech camps. In his free time he enjoys riding around in his classic mustang with his wife and dogs.

0:00 – Intro
1:45 – Shop Fox hand pneumatic drum sander
6:41 – Milescraft Drillmate
10:50 – Wainlux Mini laser engraving machine
19:34 – Wood-Mizer L25 Portable Sawmill

To sign up to be a guest on the show, please fill out this form.



img 03/22/23

Adding Foot Switches to Your Shop Tools

Gar’s Tips & Tools – Issue #151

img 03/20/23


Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 26

img 03/17/23

MagicFiber Cleaning Cloths

Extra large microfiber cleaning cloth for TV, eyeglasses, screens, windows, and mirrors

See all the reviews


img 12/11/03

Beyond Backpacking

Super ultra lightweight camping

img 07/21/11

Zenni Optical

Best cheap eyeglasses

img 12/8/06

Blurb * Lulu

Personal bookprinting

img 10/18/18

Haws Watering Can

Fine-tuned watering

See all the favorites



Show and Tell #358: Keith Kelley

Picks and shownotes

Show and Tell #357: Matt Candler

Picks and shownotes

Show and Tell #356: Sam McDonald

Picks and shownotes

29 March 2023


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.

When Amazon.com is listed as a source (which it often is because of its prices and convenience) Cool Tools receives a fractional fee from Amazon if items are purchased at Amazon on that visit. Cool Tools also earns revenue from Google ads, although we have no foreknowledge nor much control of which ads will appear.

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.

13632766_602152159944472_101382480_oKevin Kelly started Cool Tools in 2000 as an email list, then as a blog since 2003. He edited all reviews through 2006. He writes the occasional review, oversees the design and editorial direction of this site, and made a book version of Cool Tools. If you have a question about the website in general his email is kk {at} kk.org.

13918651_603790483113973_1799207977_oMark Frauenfelder edits Cool Tools and develops editorial projects for Cool Tools Lab, LLC. If you’d like to submit a review, email him at editor {at} cool-tools.org (or use the Submit a Tool form).

13898183_602421513250870_1391167760_oClaudia Dawson runs the Cool Tool website, posting items daily, maintaining software, measuring analytics, managing ads, and in general keeping the site alive. If you have a concern about the operation or status of this site contact her email is claudia {at} cool-tools.org.

© 2022