18 October 2019


Seth Godin, Bestselling Author

Cool Tools Show 196: Seth Godin

Our guest this week is Seth Godin. Seth is a 19-time bestselling author, a blogger, an internet pioneer and a teacher. You can find out more at seths.blog.

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:

LaserBond 100: All-Purpose Metal Marking Material
So, the Glowforge laser cutter was a sensation on Kickstarter, and unlike many Kickstarter sensations, it actually works. It’s a device that goes back and forth like a CAD cam flatbed printer, except it’s got a high powered laser in it that can cut through wood or acrylic or maybe chocolate. I haven’t tried chocolate. And I have been bad at it for a long time, and I’m getting better. They put up a sign in my building in the lobby, and I don’t like the sign. So I made a new one. I ended up making 18 versions to get it to look professional. And the key, which is talked about a little bit on the very active Glowforge discussion board is this new product called Laser Bond 100, and it’s this weird hack, which is this: Laser cutters of this sort can’t cut through metal, but they can heat it up. So, if you spray a certain kind of lubricant on the metal, when it heats up, it becomes impervious to everything, and then you just wash off all the other bits. And it’s a super weird way to make a sign, but it works beautifully.

Ashes Still Water Boats Canoe Plans
I’m imagining that I’m going to build a boat in my garage. Imagining is way better than actually doing it. So here’s the quick background: In 1955, there were more canoes in Canada than automobiles. It was the number one form of transportation for the whole country. And the canoes were mostly cedar strip canoes. A cedar strip canoe is made from very thin strips of cedar on top of wooden ribs, just like the ribs in a human being’s lungs that hold your lungs together. And then you can either put fiberglass or even more elegantly canvas on this boat. And the company that made most of them was the Chestnut Canoe Company. And I know this because I learned how to style a canoe from the student of the person who invented the sport in the 1930s. I once paddled with him, and I’ve taught thousands of people in Canada how to canoe. But even though I make my own canoe paddles, I’ve never made my own canoe. Well, the Chestnut Canoe Company, the pioneer, long out of business, and I’ve always been fascinated by how you just take basically 40 pounds of cedar strip scraps and make it into a boat. Well, there’s this guy, who has built a website where he sells you a tube with plans in it. That’s all you get is a printout. And what I love about it is it’s as if he has the ethos of a $50,000 motorcycle manufacturer. It’s got a style to it. It’s not just here’s the minimum, it’s here’s the maximum, here’s the Rococo Baroque version of a set of plans to make this timeless boat. And it is entirely possible I will never make the boat because I got almost 106% of the satisfaction just by knowing that I could.

Seth’s Zoom & Skype Call Tips
One of the biggest shifts of the last five years is that more and more people are realizing you don’t need to get on an airplane. You can just do a video call. And just before this, I was on a video call with 60 people, but you can do a video call with two people. And if you flew across the country and showed up at a meeting looking like you had just eaten pizza and then slept in it, people would laugh at you. But people show up like that in Zoom calls all the time. And so I wrote a blog post called How to Be on a Zoom Call. And basically what I describe is where to put the light, where to put the microphone, what to wear, don’t have a conversation in the middle because, unlike a conference call, which you can put on mute, it’s really hard to put a video call on mute talking to other people because everyone can see you. And so, if I’ve added sanity to anyone’s life with these six or eight points, I hope that it was worth the free click.

Paul McGowan’s speaker journey
There’s a guy named Paul in Boulder, Colorado, and he makes all the little pieces or some big pieces for expensive stereos, like pre-amps and amps and power conditioners and stuff like that. And what I like about this story is it’s a maker’s story because he has succeeded at doing it. But he made a friendship years ago with a guy named Arnie Nudell, and Arnie built the biggest speaker that was for sale in the history of the country, four boxes, each one bigger than a casket. So, if you bring these four boxes home, you’re going to need a casket because your spouse is going to kick you out. But leaving that aside, most people believe that Arnie’s speakers were some of the greatest ever made. Well, Paul hooked up with Arnie toward the end of his life, and they started talking about what would it be like to use modern technology to make that again. And unfortunately, Arnie died about nine months ago, and in his memory, Paul is persisting in making this speaker. What’s really cool about it is for a year he’s been sharing everything he’s been doing, talking about it. Halfway through, they abandoned the plans and started over in a different direction, and he’s doing it in front of all of his customers, and he hasn’t taken any orders. It’s not a Kickstarter ploy. It’s just a guy who likes being a maker. And I’ve been thrilled to watch it. He just demoed the prototype two weeks ago, and you can see some of the posts that he’s put up as it’s unfolded, and it takes real guts, I think, to be this sort of maker.

Pacojet for ice cream
There’s a machine in Switzerland that you can get called a Pacojet, and they use it in restaurants. You probably have never seen one. It’s a little bigger than a sewing machine. And in it is a blade that spins in a vacuum at about 10,000 RPM, which is wicked fast. And it comes with a half a dozen metal aluminum canisters that you fill with a homemade ice cream mix. In my case, I make a vegan one with four kinds of nuts, dates, and cocoa powder, and you freeze it to four degrees below zero. Then you put the canister into the Pacojet and tell it how many servings of ice cream you want, and you press a button, and it spins down at super high speed and spins off as many servings as your restaurant needs. And it is the best ice cream technology in the world. It’s using a totally different way to break up ice crystals to make deliciousness. And if you care a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot about homemade ice cream, this is the thing to get.

LEVOIT Air Purifier
This thing is such a breakthrough. In my office, I make lunch for everyone every day, and dosas are big on the mango, and dosas make a little bit of smoke. And this was a problem. It turns out this machine — you put it next to your stove, and you press a button, and all the smoke disappears. It’s got a carbon-something filter inside that is good for many, many hours. But I only use it for five minutes at a time, so I haven’t used it up. I have one next to my Glowforge. I have one next to my stove.

Copper Grill Mats for Dosas
Dosas are made from two ingredients, rice and lentils. So if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, it’s a home run. They’re delicious. You make them on a big cast iron skillet with no sides. But it turns out that the super popular brand new copper mats that are a miracle for cooking fish on the grill, you can also just dump the dosa batter right onto the copper mat, and you can grill your dosa. I got some copper mats for Dan Pink. I’m now a hero in his home. These copper mats cost a dollar each on Amazon. It is the size of a small cooking sheet. They’re flexible, and they’re just woven copper. And what you do is you put them on the grill, you warm them up for just a minute, and then nothing you put on them will stick. You can cook fish, anything. And it’s a miracle. Why did they just get invented now? If this was on late night TV, you would say, “That’s impossible.”

Dosa batter wet grinder
If you want to make the batter for dosa, you first have to move to South India, and then you get the two ingredients, and they have to each be soaked separately. And then you have to grind them in with all the wet grinder, which are a granite flat surface that’s round, and then these conical granite pyramids that spin around and grind things to a very small size. The reason you have to move to South India is, after you’ve made the batter, you have to plunge your hands into it repeatedly. That is how you inoculate it with whichever sort of bacteria makes it ferment. Now, I did not make my batter in South India, so my inoculation isn’t quite as successful, but you can’t skip the part about infecting it with the bacteria. But leaving that aside, a wet grinder is a miracle. You can make hummus in it. You can make chocolate from scratch, from cocoa nibs, and you can make this product. And there are lots of people who are importing them from India. The interesting thing about the Cocoa Town link is the guy who imports it from India realized it was the cheapest way to make homemade chocolate. So he just put a sticker on the outside, calls it Cocoa Town, and he doesn’t even mention dosa. You just have to pay extra because you can make chocolate in it.

Also mentioned:

My day job, the thing I’m spending all my time on now, is learning, not education. No certificate, no degree, no accreditation, no tests. Show up because you want to learn something. And it’s in the spirit of what I learned from Kevin all the way back to Whole Earth, which is that, if you’re enrolled in learning something, it doesn’t need to be sugarcoated the same way, and you are open to experience, which makes you open to change. So at akimbo.com, that is what we are building: one series of workshops after another where people work with each other, face to face on video or in discourse, around small lessons, over months of time, where at the end, they are transformed in the way they see the world, and they don’t care that they didn’t get a certificate.


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.– MF


18 October 2019


Insta Raised Bed

Ultimate air mattress

You never seem to have an inflatable bed when you need one. Then you buy one and the piece of crap leaks or is really uncomfortable. This one works well. A typical two-prong power outlet nearby lets you fill the Insta Bed quickly with the mattress’s built-in air pump — and this is key — it quietly keeps it inflated to your desired pressure all night. You also deflate it via that pump. Folds into a small twin pillow-sized bundle for storage. It is firm enough to fool me, doesn’t lose air very fast either. Guests have commented on its comfort. Returning guests pick the room with that mattress over a guest room with a real queen-sized bed for some reason.

-- Jason Weisberger 10/18/19

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2012 — editors)

17 October 2019


A Pattern Language

Design heuristics

Don’t go to architecture school; devour this book instead and use it to design buildings and places that really work. This 1,000-page encyclopedia contains two hundred design patterns found in the buildings and cities that people love. For instance, pattern number 167: “Balconies and porches less than 6 feet deep are hardly ever used.” Therefore make balconies wider than 6 feet. Each pattern is what computer programmers call a heuristic: a compressed principle that can be unpacked in many ways. Each pattern is illustrated with exemplary examples and photos, and sociological evidence from studies of real places.

Employ this book to design attractive, timeless buildings (or towns) by combining as many of these patterns as can be consistently contained in one project. Does the house have a hat? An obvious central entrance? A transition zone between public and private? All these are eternal patterns that have worked in the past and will make a place better. First published 45 years ago by Christopher Alexander and team, this book has influenced tens of thousands of architects and urban planners who credit it with giving them tools to make buildings and towns that operate at human scale.

I used this pattern language to design our own house and my studio and both are structures that people love to be in. Among the many fancy homes I have visited, my three favorites are houses designed by the owners using Alexander’s pattern wisdom. These spaces are comfortable, humane, inviting, and the structures treat inhabitants intelligently.

-- KK 10/17/19


In both format (patterns) and content (timeless wisdom) this is a core text for anyone building anything at human scale.

A building cannot be a human building unless it is a complex of still smaller buildings or smaller parts which manifest its own internal social facts.


Ceiling Height Variety

A building in which the ceiling heights are all the same is virtually incapable of making people comfortable.

In some fashion, low ceilings make for intimacy, high ceilings for formality. In older buildings which allowed the ceiling heights to vary, this was almost taken for granted.


Pools of Light

Uniform illumination--the sweetheart of the lighting engineers--serves no useful purpose whatsoever. In fact, it destroys the social nature of space, and makes people feel disoriented and unbounded.


On no account place buildings in the places which are most beautiful. In fact, do the opposite. Consider the site and its buildings as a single living eco-system. Leave those areas that are the most precious, beautiful, comfortable, and healthy as they are, and build new structures in those parts of the site which are least pleasant now.


Always place buildings to the north of the outdoor spaces that go with them, and keep the outdoor spaces to the south. Never leave a deep band of shade between the building and the sunny part of the outdoors.



 Each creates the transition with a different combination of elements.



Make a transition space between the street and the front door. Bring the path which connects street and entrance through this transition space, and mark it with a change of light, a change of sound, a change of direction, a change of surface, a change of level, perhaps by gateways which make a change of enclosure, and above all with a change of view.


Lay out the space of a building so that they create a sequence which begins with the entrance and the most public parts of the building, then leads into the slightly more private areas, and finally to the most private domains.


A Buddhist monk lived high in the mountains, in a small stone house. Far, far in the distance was the ocean, visible and beautiful from the mountains. But it was not visible from the monk's house itself, nor from  the approach road to the house. However, in front of the house there stood a courtyard surrounded by a thick stone wall. As one came to the house, one passed through a gate into this court, and then diagonally across the court to the front door of the house. On the far side of the courtyard there was a slit in the wall, narrow and diagonal, cut through the thickness of the wall. As a person walked across the court, at one spot, where his position lined up with the slit in the wall, for an instant, he could see the ocean. And then he was past it once again, and went into the house.

What is it that happens in this courtyard? The view of the distant sea is so restrained that it stays alive forever. Who, that has ever seen that view, can ever forget it? Its power will never fade. Even for the man who lives there, coming past that view day after day for fifty years, it will still be alive.

This is the essence of the problem with any view. It is a beautiful thing. One wants to enjoy it and drink it in every day. But the more open it is, the more obvious,the more it shouts, the sooner it will fade. Gradually it will become part of the building, like the wallpaper;  and the intensity of its beautify will no longer be accessible to the people who live there.


If there is a beautiful view, don't spoil it by building huge windows that gape incessantly at it. Instead, put the windows which look onto the view at places of transition--along paths, in hallways, in entry ways, on stairs, between rooms.

If the view window is correctly placed, people will see a glimpse of the distant view as they come up to the window or pass it; but the view is never visible from the places where people stay.


Balconies and porches which are less than six feet deep are hardly ever used.



Everybody loves window seats, bay windows, and big windows with low sills and comfortable chairs drawn up to them.

It is easy to think of these kinds of places as luxuries, which can no longer be built, and which we are no longer lucky enough to be able to afford.

In fact, the matter is more urgent. These kinds of windows which create "places" next to them are not simply luxuries; they are necessary. A room which does not have a place like this seldom allows youth feel fully comfortable or perfectly at ease. Indeed, a room without a window place may keep you in a state of perpetual unresolved conflict and tension--slight, perhaps, but definite.


Bed Alcove

Bedrooms make no sense.

Don't put single beds in empty rooms called bedrooms, but instead put individual bed alcoves off rooms with other non sleeping functions, so the bed itself becomes a tiny private haven.


Now, try to imagine how, on your particular site, you can establish this pattern. Stand on the site with your eyes closed. Imagine how things might be, if the pattern, as you have understood it, had suddenly sprung up there overnight. Once you have an image of how it might be, walk about the site, pacing out approximate areas, marking the walls, using string and cardboard, and putting stakes in the ground, or loose stones, to mark the important corners.

While you are imagining how to establish one pattern, consider the other patterns listed with it. Some are larger. Some are smaller. For the larger ones, try to see how they can one day be present in the areas you are working on, and ask yourself how the pattern you are now building can contribute to the repair or formation of these larger patterns.

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2012 — editors)

16 October 2019

16 October 2019


What’s in my bag? — David Murray

What's in my bag? issue #19

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

David Murray is the senior writer for The Waterways Journal, the oldest continuously published trade journal in the country (founded in 1887). He is never without pens and notebooks.


Field Notes Reporter’s Notebook ($15)
I like the Field Notes reporter’s notebook for interview notes, which I keep and archive. For me, taking notes in real time focuses attention and thought in a way that listening to a recording doesn’t. I’ve found that these notebooks last about a month, using both sides of the paper. It holds a surprising amount, as much as I can fit into one of those steno notepads I get free at the office. But it’s more portable, smaller and with nicer paper. (I keep a Field Book “indestructible” notebook in a pocket, for other miscellaneous notes, rather than the bag.)

Sarasa Gel Pens ($10)
The pens are a Japanese brand of gel pen called Sarasa. I color-code my interview notes for easier reference.

ProCase Roll-up Organizer ($14)
The ProCase Roll-Up holds all the electronic doo-dads, chargers, plugs, power-packs, etc. that I pick up or am given at various conferences. I use some myself and give others away at work. Keeping them in a rollup means I have only one thing to remember.

The umbrella was a giveaway from the Greater New Orleans Barge Fleeting Association, composed of barge operators, maritime attorney and marine insurance brokers, which meets every spring.

Modern Bethel Travel Pouch ($7/Set of 5)
The plastic mesh pouch from Modern Bethel is part of a set and holds a toothbrush and assorted toiletries, hand sanitizer, medicines, etc.

About the bag
I don’t normally carry a laptop, but when I do, it fits nicely in a zippered compartment of the bag pictured above, a Ruitertassen I bought to celebrate a promotion and that I expect to outlast me.

-- David Murray 10/16/19

16 October 2019



Better bandage

Use this 3M material, called Tegaderm ($5 for 8), for applying dressing over a bleeding injury. It’s much better than adhesive tape or a big band-aid. Tegaderm is an air-permeable plastic film, as thin as cling film, but stronger and with an adhesive. I’ve found it adheres perfectly and because it is so thin it’s unnoticeable, especially on joints. You don’t even remember it’s on. Because of its thinness Tegaderm works really great under clothing. It’s breathable, too, and won’t come off in water. And since it is transparent, the dressing is not as visible, and you can see what’s going on underneath. It comes in sterile packaging about the size of a playing card, so you can apply it right over the injury, with the option to include some gauze underneath at first. I’ve cut smaller pieces for finger cuts, but I’ve found that waterproof bandaids work better for this.

-- KK 10/16/19


On the right a bicyclist has applied Tegaderm over his road-rash shown on left. The bandage is hardly visible.
Image via NY Velocity

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2012 — editors)


img 10/14/19


Head support for back sleepers

img 10/11/19

Kevin and Mark’s Four Favorite Tools

Cool Tools Show 195: Kevin and Mark of Cool Tools

img 10/10/19

Scaled Digital Map Measurer

Quickly and easily measure maps at any scale.

img 10/9/19

What’s in my bag? — Charles Platt

What’s in my bag? issue #18

See all the reviews


img 12/8/06

Blurb * Lulu

Personal bookprinting

img 08/15/12


Direct line to a warm body

img 07/22/04

McMaster-Carr Online Catalog

The ultimate hardware store

img 11/26/15


Crowdsourced design

img 01/1/09


Personal outsourcing

img 12/19/11


Still the best thermometer

See all the favorites



Cool Tools Show 196: Seth Godin

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 195: Kevin and Mark of Cool Tools

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 194: David Moldawer

Picks and shownotes

16 October 2019


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.