29 September 2023
Show and Tell #385: Arun Venkatesan
Arun is a product designer, engineer, photographer, and writer. Most recently, he was co-founder and product designer at Carrot Fertility. He writes at arun.is.
To sign up to be a guest on the show, please fill out this form.09/29/23
28 September 2023
Nomadico issue #71
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.
New Train Route in North America
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a headline like that and it actually delivered: usually it means there are plans that might happen a decade from now. But on Friday, the new Brightline train from Orlando Airport to Miami will finally be running for real. It stops at West Palm Beach and Boca Raton too, or you could switch to local service for a stop and get to the Ft. Lauderdale or Miami airports. The next phase, which is still “someday,” will connect Orlando and Tampa. Watch future issues about new lines coming soon in Mexico too, ones the president already rode on for photo ops.
“Laptop Luggers” Profile
A Deloitte report based on a survey conducted in March and April predicted a huge summer for international air travel (they were right) but had some interesting insights on “laptop luggers” who planned to work while they were away. Those bringing a laptop were wealthier (39% making $100K+), more confident about their finances, and planned to take an average of 3.8 trips over the summer. They’re not stereotypical loners: “One in four will travel with 3–5 people, while over half of disconnectors are traveling with one other adult.” (via Kevin Kelly)
Home Swaps for Working Travelers
Have you ever rented an Airbnb place that promised fast Wi-Fi, only to find you couldn’t get any work done because it was down or super slow? And that you had to work from a bed or sofa? Noad Exchange (an occasional Nomadico advertiser) is trying to change all that with a home exchange program just for working travelers. Every listing must have internet speeds of 20mbps or more and have a place to get work done. Once you join and list your own place, you only pay one credit per night plus the cleaning fee, making it far cheaper than renting through Airbnb or Booking as well. Use ALCENTRO as the promo code to get 3 additional credits when you sign up and if you feel like taking a flyer on an early-stage investment, they’ve got a funding round going too, with low minimums.
Digital Nomad Visa Realities
The hype about digital nomad visas seems to be dying down in the mainstream press as it becomes clear that some of these big announcements aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Some of the plans that are real have hidden tax implications or onerous paperwork requirements that don’t suit the self-employed. We’ve linked to a few round-up reports in the past, but this seems to be the best one for digital nomad visas you can apply for now and they’re laying out all the cons, not just the pros. Don’t forget that in these other countries that allow long-stay tourist visas, you may not need residency anyway if not moving there permanently.09/28/23
27 September 2023
Gar's Tips & Tools - Issue # 165
Gareth’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.
–Tell me a shop tale.
–Advertise your product, service, newsletter, app, book, tool, or anything you’d like to share with GT&T readers.
Coolest propane tank ever!
How PID Controllers Work
In your travels in the world of electronics, however casual, you have most likely encountered the term “PID controller.” In this Digi-Key video, Shawn offers a crystal clear introduction to what PID (proportional, integral, derivative) is and the science of Control Theory behind it.
In the video, we use an example of a cruise control system in a car. We want to design a mechanism that can maintain a constant speed by controlling the position of the accelerator (gas pedal). PID controllers are a perfect fit for such a system. In fact, most modern cars use PID controllers for cruise control.
A simple, naive approach to designing such a controller is to adjust the process’s input signal based on the set point alone with no feedback. This is known as an “open-loop control system.” This may work in some cases, but most of the time, the output is dependent on other factors (such as road conditions and hill climbs for our cruise control system). As a result, we need to incorporate feedback into our controller.
A “closed-loop control system” measures the actual output of the process and compares it to the set point. The error is the difference between these two values, and it’s used as the input to the controller. The controller looks at that error and makes adjustments as needed to the process’s input.
Scissor Sharpening Basics
Confession time: I absolutely suck at tool maintenance. I avoid it like the plague. Every year, I tell myself that I want to get better, and every year, little changes. At least this year I told myself I would be better about cleaning the gardening/yard tools and have done OK with that. Part of this maintenance aversion means that I never sharpen anything. But, after watching this video, I decided to at least sharpen our scissors collection. In the video, James uses a cheap flat file and a diamond sharpening/whetstone to get the job done. Like James in the video, I have several pairs of lovely vintage scissors that need this kind of TLC. After the scissor sharpening, it should be on to the knives. Our kitchen knives are laughably dull. Do you share a similar aversion to sharpening and other forms of maintenance?
Looking at Hobby Brushes under a Microscope
In this Goobertown Hobbies video, Brent delves into some hobby science with his new digital microscope. Using it, he peers into a bunch of synthetic and natural bristle paint brushes, from the very cheap to the expensive, from the new to the very well used. The results are fascinating. Under the microscope, you can really see why natural bristle brushes are superior to synthetics, how the tension in their fibers helps in keeping the integrated, pointy shape of the brush. One of my favorite parts of the video was seeing his dirty old brushes under the scope before and after a thorough cleaning.
TOYS! Magnetic Project Mat
Via a Cool Tools “Tools of Possibility” newsletter, I was reminded of this wonderfully useful iFixIt magnetic parts mat for assembly/disassembly of electronics. Not only is it magnetized to keep all of your parts in place, it’s also a whiteboard so you can label everything and even take notes. You can also get one for half the price on Amazon.
Revisiting “The Kenny Rogers Rule”
In having done this newsletter for the past 5 years or so, I am frequently asked what are my top-most tips? What are the ones that stick, that “changed my life” (or at least my workflow). I was reminded a few nights ago of one tip that would be at the top of such a list: The Kenny Rogers Rule (as in “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, Know when to fold ’em, Know when to walk away, Know when to run”). This is a name I came up with years ago for knowing when to take a break from a project that has turned to little but frustration. The other night, I was trying to put together a bed frame that was not cooperating. It was all the things we know all too well about modern flat-pack furniture: warpage, improperly-drilled holes, cheap hardware, confusing instructions. By the time I was down to the last two nuts and bolts, I was struggling, sweating profusely, and rung tight with curses and frustration. I decided to put the tools down and come back tomorrow. In the morning, rested and with a new dedication to getting this damn thing done, it took about ten minutes to finish (with nary a bead of sweat or profane utterance). A perennial lesson from Kenny to us all.
It’s always interesting to see which posts are going to get the most response. It turns out (OK, no surprise, really) that everyone loves pasta and has something to say about it. I got the biggest response ever to the item I posted in the last issue about cooking spaghetti right in the sauce instead of in water.
Just a few examples:
Steven Roberts: Yes on the pasta in sauce… been doing this for years, both with fresh pasta from my extruder and dried stuff. Originally motivated by being on the sailboat and wanting to minimize fuel, steam generation, and water waste… but I came to like the effect of cooking something in flavor so it’s not just a neutral substrate. Coupled with making pasta that contains herbs, it’s another variable to play with that has a side benefit of resource management… but so much with creamier sauces unless you do the wine part first then add heavy cream near the end. I never turned it into a formula, but when I do that I just make the sauce more watery than usual, then adapt on the fly if I underestimated. (For some things, that differentiation between substrate and sauce has greater expressive value, and the equation is more about fuel and water resources. It’s more of an addition to the toolkit than a standard protocol.)
Daniel Kim: It turns out that you can soak pasta in cold water to make it pliable. This can be stored in a bag in the refrigerator, and then put in to the sauce when you heat it up. (When I’ve tried cooking pasta in sauce, and have leftovers, the pasta gets too soft for me)
Amit Agrawal: Also, this trick thickens the pasta sauce from the starch in the pasta.
George Mokray: I save pasta water for other uses later.
P. Korm: Cooking the pasta in the sauce is a trick that Ralphy shows Jackie Jr. in season 3 of The Sopranos. Though, of course, it’s not tomato sauce, it’s “the gravy’.”
Matt Middleton: If you have a standalone pressure cooker (e.g. Instant Pot), you can do the same thing; you need about 16 oz of sauce, 16 oz of liquid (water, broth, wine, etc.), and 16 oz of pasta. Meatballs are optional, but recommended IMO; if using, add them first. Break long noodles and spread out so they don’t clump too much, then dump sauce and liquid over everything. Set it for high pressure, and cooking time is about half whatever the box says; the linguine I usually use says 9 minutes, so I round down to 4. Quick release the pressure, and if yours has a Keep Warm setting, turn it off. When safe, open and use tongs to stir up the noodles. They might seem a little underdone, but that’ll fix itself up quickly enough. My kiddos prefer the frozen box meatballs, so I use those, but you can class it up with your own fresh ones, saute onions & garlic before adding sauce, or any other technique you like to build up some extra flavor.
And someone even upped the ante by sending this link to frying your spaghetti!
26 September 2023
Four pieces of advice from Jennifer Shannon's "Don't Feed the Monkey Mind"
Don’t Feed the Monkey Mind: How to Stop the Cycle of Anxiety, Fear, and Worry by Jennifer Shannon, explains that anxiety is generated by the “monkey mind,” which perceives threats and sounds alarms to try to keep us safe. This can lead to an ongoing “anxiety cycle” where we feed the monkey mind by using avoidance and resistance strategies in response to anxiety, which confirms the perception of threat and maintains the anxiety.
The book identifies three common “monkey mindsets” that underlie anxiety:
- Intolerance of uncertainty: Believing we must be 100% certain of outcomes.
- Perfectionism: Believing we cannot make mistakes.
- Over-responsibility: Believing we are responsible for others’ feelings.
To break the anxiety cycle, Shannon recommends replacing avoidance/resistance strategies with strategies that create new experiences to support an expanded mindset. She also encourages welcoming anxiety sensations and emotions rather than resisting them.
Here are four tips from the book:
Thank the monkey
When you get caught up in anxious, worrying thoughts, don’t try to suppress or argue with them. Instead, just observe the thoughts and say “Thank you, monkey” to acknowledge them. This creates distance between you and the anxious thoughts.
Ask the monkey for more
When you feel anxious sensations or emotions, purposefully ask for more of them. Say things like, “Good, let me feel more numbness!” This shows your brain that you can handle the feelings.
Ignore the monkey
Practice making decisions according to your values rather than the monkey mind’s focus on safety. For example, choosing an adventurous restaurant over your usual safe choice.
Befriend the monkey
Treat the monkey mind like an overprotective friend trying to keep you safe, rather than an enemy. Have compassion for its limited perspective.09/26/23
25 September 2023
Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 53
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.
Understanding big buildings
Few have mastered the big picture better than artist David Macaulay. When a kid wants to know about pyramids or castles introduce him/her to Macaulay’s books. Macaulay dissects the parts in kid-obsessive detail while keeping his eye on the whole. And he shows how it all grows in time. His uncanny ability to x-ray complex places makes him the master guide to the built world. Of all his books, Underground is his most revelatory. Even adults will find themselves studying each page of “the city underneath the city” in aha enlightenment. Oh, so THAT’S how it works! Macaulay revisited three of his early books — Castle, Cathedral, and Mosque — creating new even more amazing visualizations, and combined the books into one new book called Built to Last. It’s a short course on civilization for kids. — KK09/25/23
24 September 2023
Recomendo - issue #376
Sign up here to get Recomendo a week early in your inbox.
Generative AI art is particularly suited for architecture. My favorite AI Instagram follow right now is Midjourney Architecture. It features the best examples from diverse creative AI co-artists who generate ultra imaginative buildings and unexpected interiors. It doesn’t matter if these won’t ever be built. (There is a set of multiple images behind each image on the home page.) — KK
Using wide-mouth mason jars is a great way to store leftover soups, stews, and curries that I prepare in a pressure cooker. However, transferring the liquid into the jars often creates a mess on the counter. That’s where a canning funnel comes in handy. I wish I had purchased one 20 years ago. The one I currently use is the Bilal stainless-steel model. — MF
Non-Sleep Deep Rest tracks
Non-Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR), also known as yoga nidra, induces a state of deep relaxation while maintaining consciousness. If you’re unable to take a 15-minute nap when you’re tired, I find that one of these free 9-minute NSDR tracks has a similar effect. The guided breathing techniques help to slow down my heart rate, and the body scans redirect my focus from external visual information to a sensation of pure rest. — CD
If you define success in the conventional ways – wealth, fame, accomplishments — then Sam Altman has a great list of tips on How to Be Successful that are very helpful in nudging you in that direction. Altman is the co-founder of OpenAI and ChatGPT, but he published this essay five years ago before he was “successful.” — KK
Clean 15 fruits and vegetables
When it comes to buying produce, I opt for organic whenever possible. However, there are certain non-organic fruits and vegetables that contain negligible traces of pesticides. These are known as the “Clean Fifteen” and are typically cheaper than their organic counterparts. The list includes avocados, sweet corn, pineapple, onions, papaya, frozen sweet peas, asparagus, honeydew melon, kiwi, cabbage, mushrooms, mangoes, watermelon, and carrots. On the other hand, the “Dirty Dozen” refers to produce that, when non-organic, tends to have high levels of pesticides. This list includes strawberries, peaches, spinach, cherries, kale, pears, nectarines, tomatoes, apples, celery, grapes, and potatoes. Choosing organic versions of these can help avoid pesticide exposure. — MF
Curated links to the very best documentaries
Rocumentaries.com is a growing collection of over 200 documentaries handpicked by the website’s creator for their quality and interesting subject matter. You can filter the selection by Genres and Channels, and each listing includes links that direct you to their streaming platforms. I always enjoy documentaries but don’t have the time to search for new ones, so I appreciate that these films have been vetted and vouched for, and I’ve added several to my watchlist. — CD09/24/23
Nomadico issue #70
Four pieces of advice from Dr. Russell Kennedy’s “Anxiety Rx”
COOL TOOLS SHOW PODCAST
WHAT'S IN MY BAG?
09 August 2023
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.
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.