24 January 2020


Jane Metcalfe, Founder of NEO.LIFE

Cool Tools Show 210: Jane Metcalfe

Our guest this week is Jane Metcalfe. Jane is the founder of NEO.LIFE, a media and events company tracking how digital tools and an engineering mindset are transforming human biology. Prior to that, she made chocolate on a pier in San Francisco at TCHO Chocolate. Jane is probably best known as the cofounder of Wired Magazine. The Kickstarter campaign for her new book “Neo.Life: 25 Visions for the Future of Our Species” is now live.

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Show notes:

Offi Mag Table ($249)
I love bent plywood! I also love magazines, so this bent plywood magazine holder/side table designed by Eric Pfieffer is a total winner. There is something just so satisfying about seeing a sweep of beautiful wood flow down into a curve and splash back up the other side. And that’s not all. The table makes a perfect companion to your LazyBoy recliner for Sunday afternoon reading delight. But, you can also turn it on its end and use it as a makeshift work surface, which is great when a colleague has to come be in the video conference but also wants desk space to take notes. It’s so good looking I used it this week on stage for an event we produced.

Souk Shopper Basket by Bohemia
I used to find shopping at farmers markets physically taxing mostly because I get excited and buy way more than I can carry, always. But also because once I had bags in both hands, I was constantly picking up and putting them down to taste something or fetch my wallet. Until I found the souk baskets by Bohemia. The big innovation is the length of the handle—it’s long enough to fit over your shoulder unlike literally every market basket I had ever seen before. And it’s not just any handle. It’s rolled leather covered so it doesn’t dig into your shoulder, and the colors make me so happy. I first bought them 15 years ago, but the wear and tear of feeding a family of four finally took its toll, so I just got a new one with a lovely raspberry colored handle. They sit flat on the ground, too, so no more chasing your satsumas down the aisle because your basket rolled over. They’re handwoven in Morocco from sustainably grown palm leaf. Innovation in a market basket, after all these centuries!

Desk Pad/Gaming Mouse Mat ($11)
My gamer son scoffs at me for this, but I love it. It’s a huge mouse pad, about 32 x 15” originally designed for gamers, but re-imagined as office decor. Made from a durable, washable microfiber, It’s big enough so your wild mouse motions aren’t constrained by a small 4×6” mouse pad. You can put your keyboard, your phone, your car keys, and your cup of tea all on top of it. It’s waterproof, smooth and warm to the touch. I’ve been spending a lot of time on my computer at the dining room table lately, and this gives me confidence that I’m not scratching or watermarking its finish. Comes in assorted colors, too.

Nite-Ize Gear Ties ($21)
How did I manage without these? For years, I’ve been using velcro ties for my computer and phone cables, but when I came across these recently, that all changed. Suddenly velcro seems so 20th century! Made from flexible steel wire and covered with a non slip rubber coating, these gear ties will find their way into every room in your home. The 3” ones are perfect for headphone and charging cables; I use the 6” for computer cords; and the 12” for skis. Assorted colors, too. So much easier to wrangle than velcro that wants to stick to itself.

B12 Love vitamin injections
I’d heard of celebrities and CEOs using vitamin and nutrient injections and IV drips to cure hangovers before an important board meeting or performance. I’d also heard of chemo patients getting in-home drips before having to travel, and Burners to prep for the playa (or recover upon return). So when I got sick right before the holidays, I decided it was my turn to try it because lying in bed was simply not an option. The menu was extensive and took a lot of thought and consultation. I was sick, exhausted, dehydrated, and not sleeping well, so I ended up getting 2 “cocktails.” In my right cheek, I got the Ultimate Chillax ($65), which includes magnesium, B12, MIC, and taurine. That was to help calm my mind for sleep, which was working in overdrive on my work, Christmas, and packing lists. In my left cheek, I got the Kick Butt Travel Shot ($55), which has high doses of all the B vitamins in addition to “Extra Strength” B12 which they said would give me more energy, endurance, and stamina and help prepare me for international travel.The result was an excellent night of rest, and enough energy to get out of bed and actually work like a demon the next day. I started getting better from that moment on and was able to sail through the holidays, international travel, a week of skiing, and a week of convention intensity when I got back. B12 Love makes it really easy with more than a dozen locations around the Bay Area, including fixed location lounges and pop up hours in places like natural medicine clinics, spas, and skin care salons. You are treated by a licensed naturopathic doctor, trained naturopathic medical assistant, or registered nurse. I am normally skeptical of naturopathic remedies. They always sound good but the evidence is not always there. In this case, I figured I had nothing to lose and honestly believe it was helpful. Even if all I needed was the rehydration, it was worth it. Having access to this sort of treatment without having to convince your doctor or go to the emergency room feels so 21st century!

About Jane’s new book:

Neo.Life: 25 Visions for the Future of Our Species
Neo.Life: 25 Visions for the Future of Our Species is a book about the future of human beings, as viewed by some of today’s most creative minds working at the intersection of biology and technology. You’ll find essays, interviews, fiction, and visual art that explore the powerful new tools and ideas redefining the frontiers of our biology. Think of it as a guide to your future self. We now have the means to transform ourselves and our species. This book captures today’s most daring, inventive, and thoughtful ideas as conceived by some of science’s biggest thinkers, entrepreneurs, writers, and artists. But it’s not a technical manuscript or a treatise on bioethics. Neo.Life is written in layman’s terms for people like you who care about our legacy and the world we’re building for our descendants. The Kickstarter campaign is now live and is 106% funded.


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


24 January 2020


Celestron FirstScope

Best beginner telescope

The Celestron FirstScope is the best pick for an absolute beginner level telescope. Most entry-level scopes are crap, and most useable scopes start at $300. Since the FirstScope costs only $48, you might be tempted to dismiss it as more useless junk. But I’ve been using the FirstScope, and it is sweet. It needs a sturdy chair or table to perch on, but otherwise is easy to handle. It is compact for storage; it can fit onto a shelf — and it is the perfect size for a small kid. Pretty durable, too. With its 3-inch mirror you can see moons of Jupiter, ring of Saturn, and lunar craters. (I missed that recent comet.) Many other buyers mention that if you substitute decent eyepieces (from another scope) it improves the view tremendously. With one of those you can view a few bright galaxies. It will also focus as close as 30 feet away; we’ve used it as a terrestrial telephoto lens to scan the wildlife on the mountain behind our house.

This is an adequate first telescope to try out sky watching for a small investment. If you want to invest into a higher quality telescope, I recommend Ed Ting’s reviews at ScopeReview. It was Ed Ting’s raves about this little gem that turned me onto the FirstScope in the first place.


-- KK 01/24/20

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2013 — editors)

23 January 2020


Polypropylene tie-down cam straps

Just about anywhere a rope will do, a cam strap will do better

As a whitewater kayaker, I am a frequent user of 1″ wide, polypropylene tie-down straps for easy and secure tying of boat to roof rack, but over the years there have been many instances where I have been glad to have them in the car for other purposes. This week, I used them for securing an Ikea bed frame to the roof when it didn’t fit inside the car. Past uses include strapping up a falling-off bumper, tying bundles of firewood, and as a guy-line for a tarp. Just about anywhere a rope will do, a cam strap will do better.

I got my first set of straps as a giveaway with a paddling magazine subscription 7 years ago. They’ve been in continuous use and are just about as good as new. I’ve never seen or heard of one failing.

Sometimes, I’ll see new paddlers trying other systems: ratcheting buckles, ropes, etc…but they always end up with simple, not-too-tangly, no-knots-required, versatile cam straps.

The old standby comes from NRS and runs $4.00 to $7.75, depending on length, but you can get all kinds of custom options from strapworks.com. My unreasonably organized and clever friend got various colors in lengths equal to the number of letters in the color: 3′ red, 5′ white, 10′ camouflage, etc.

Oh, and you can open bottle caps with the cam. What else do you need?

-- Jordan Yaruss 01/23/20

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2013 — editors)

22 January 2020


What’s in my bag? — Tommy Honton

What's in my bag? issue #33

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Tommy Honton creates immersive experiences that weave narrative and interactivity/game design, including the escape room Stash House in Los Angeles.


About the bag
Got this bag at E3 a number of years ago as a promotion for the Assassin’s Creed game series and it became my home for pins and buttons. I’ve since had to move on to decorating other bags (I have 2 more that are even more covered), but I like this one for traveling light.

What’s inside the bag
Rocketbook Smart Notebook + Pen ($30)
Rocketbook makes an erasable, reusable notebook that allows for easy, quick scanning with an app. Using formulas found at the bottom of each page, the app can send pages in bundles as PDFs, JPGs, etc. to cloud storage or emails. It can even make written text searchable with OCR. I’ve found the features so useful, it’s hard to write with anything else. Plus, I like the reusable factor of the notebooks.

Tile Mate ($50, 4pk)
I lost my key ring a few years ago and it was a nightmare getting replacements for everything on it. After that, I discovered Tile Bluetooth trackers. They’re simple, small, and now that newer models of the Tile Mate allow for easy battery replacement, I have one in almost everything I own.

Biodegradable Floss Picks ($16, 200qty)
I eat a lot of leafy vegetables and they have a tendency to wedge themselves where I don’t want them. There’s nothing worse than the feeling of something stuck in my teeth, so I always carry a small pack of floss picks.

Aukey True Wireless Earbuds ($50)
I listen to an unhealthy number of podcasts and having true wireless earbuds that fit comfortably and are reliable has become a necessity for me. I’m constantly surprised at how well these budget earbuds have performed. I’ve had them for almost a year and still get hours of use before having to charge them and the audio quality is great. Also, I always travel with a charged portable battery and a rugged, flexible USB-C cable, just in case.

-- Tommy Honton 01/22/20

20 January 2020

19 January 2020


Travel pillow/Library Extension/Remote working tips

Recomendo: issue no. 182

Check out our paperback book Four Favorite Tools: Fantastic tools by 150 notable creators, available in both Color or B&W on Amazon.

Best travel pillow
My 22-year-old daughter used this Ralthy inflatable travel pillow ($17) to snag 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep on a recent flight to Singapore. You set the pillow on your meal tray or your lap and lean forward into it, placing your head in the hole, like you would on a massage chair. I just bought another so I can use it on an upcoming flight to Japan. — MF

Library vs Amazon
Remember libraries, where content is free? Library Extension is a browser extension that will tell you whether a book you are looking at on an Amazon page is available in your local library. If it is you can click on the button to put a hold on the book, or find which branch has it. Very nicely done. Like libraries it’s free. Works on Chrome and Firefox. — KK

Work from home successfully
I work from home four days a week and what helps me be most productive is having a separate work space (not in a bedroom) with lots of natural light, getting dressed as if I’m going to the office, sticking to a 9-5 schedule, and giving myself short breaks every hour to walk around or cuddle with my dog. This article on How to Work From Home and Actually Get Stuff Done has a lot more suggestions for productivity. Eating lunch away from my desk is something I have to get better at, and one thing I hadn’t considered is to do some work before breakfast: “The usual recommendation is to start with a healthy breakfast, to fuel you for your busy day ahead. However, when you’re home all day, breakfast can be a drawn-out luxury, with reading, checking social media, and other distractions preventing you from getting started. Try diving into a quick work task, checking it off the list, and then sitting down to breakfast.” — CD

A better way to connect to stubborn airport WiFi
A while back I recommended some troubleshooting tips for forcing a public Wi-Fi login page to open. A Recomendo reader (“J.C.”) sent me a superior tip: just enter “http://neverssl.com” and the access point’s login page will load. On my last trip I used it at the airport and on the plane and it worked like a charm. — MF

Extend the life of your produce
My husband bought these Rubbermaid FreshWorks Containers ($27, set of 3), which prevents produce from spoiling by keeping excess moisture away, and for the first time ever, I was able to finish a bag of spinach without it going bad. Usually I have to throw out my spinach after a week or less, but this container kept it fresh for more than two weeks. It’s amazing! — CD

Cheaper car charging
Setting up a charger in your garage to charge an electric car is currently more complicated than it should be. This primer in Forbes by Brad Templeton is a good rundown on what to expect and how to do it the cheapest.  — KK


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-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 01/19/20


img 01/17/20

Tywen Kelly, Tech Evangelist

Cool Tools Show 209: Tywen Kelly

img 01/16/20

Trim Puller

Removes molding without damage


Best Demolition Tool

Tear It Apart With a Fubar

img 01/14/20

Bamboo Wok Brush

Easy, no-soap wok and pan cleaning tool

img 01/13/20

Scotchlok Butt Connectors

Solder-free, moisture-proof wire splicing

See all the reviews


img 08/19/13

Weber Rapidfire Chimney Charcoal Starter

The best way to start a charcoal barbecue

img 12/8/06

Blurb * Lulu

Personal bookprinting

img 07/8/18


Classic puzzle in great package

img 09/22/17

Gaffer’s Tape

Duct tape without the residue

img 09/13/06

Butane Burner

Compact portable hot plate

img 01/10/07

Get Human

Access to human help

See all the favorites



Cool Tools Show 210: Jane Metcalfe

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 209: Tywen Kelly

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 208: Theodore Gray

Picks and shownotes

22 January 2020


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