24 May 2019


Ziya Tong, Author of The Reality Bubble

Cool Tools Show 176: Ziya Tong

Our guest this week is Ziya Tong. Ziya is an award-winning science broadcaster, best known for her work with Discovery’s flagship show, Daily Planet, as well as NOVA ScienceNow and Wired Science on PBS. She is the author of the forthcoming book The Reality Bubble, the Vice Chair of the World Wildlife Fund Canada, and a supporter of the Extinction Rebellion.

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:

case of bass
Case of Bass
There’s this guy named Ezra who works out of Portland and several years ago, I ended up getting a speaker system through him and it is just an absolute work of art. Basically, it looks like one of those 1980s boomboxes that he has photographed and placed inside of a sort of ornate frame. But inside and behind this frame is an actual boombox. So, it’s a little bit meta in the sense that you’ve got an image of a boombox that is sort of outfitted with a boombox behind it. But what’s really cool is he’s developed painting skins of these boomboxes. So you can change your art so you’ll have different boomboxes or different images and you’ll still have the physical boombox right there. Another thing that he has been doing lately is he’s been going to vintage stores and picking up old suitcases and old luggage. And the reason why is because he really likes repurposing things that people have kind of given up on and giving them a purpose again.

AFP FactCheck Twitter Feed
This Twitter feed is by AFP, the news organization, and it comes in French, in Spanish, and in Portuguese. What I love about it is, we live in the era of fake news of course as we all know. But not all of us have time when we come across something to immediately go to Snopes, unless we’re super keener nerds which some of us are, but at the same time, it’s nice to have this through your feed. In this instance, you have AFP using reverse Google Image search to look at a lot of the postings that are going through and going viral on all these Facebook news sites that are patently false. So there’s an image that I saw the other day and it was of a pig that is in Hungary. It says, “Here’s how Hungarian border police keep Muslims from crossing their borders.” And they have a giant pig there and a cop holding the pig and a whole bunch of refugees fleeing the border. And it’s just bullshit. And so, right next to it, they’ve got the image and it’s actually a doctored image from the Philippines of just somebody who’s with their pig and some piglets and a sow with some piglets and some people playing in the background.

The Extinction Logo
I think, we’ve all said for a long time that the revolution will not be televised. But I think the revolution is certainly happening for us right now on the internet. We’re in the middle of the sixth mass extinction right now. We’re seeing loss of animals and vertebrate species around the world. At the same time, we’re battling a real planetary emergency. A lot of people are starting to protest in the streets. It’s a real form of joyful resistance and joyful rebellion. And a lot of this sort of emerged around a symbol and this was an extinction symbol that was developed a little while ago. It’s very simple. It’s being called the new peace symbol of our era. The circle represents the planet. In the inside, it looks like two triangles that kind of kiss and that’s the hourglass signifying that we are running out of time. And there are rebellions that are planned and taking place all around the world. People can go to the xrebellion.org website and sign up and find out what’s happening locally or start their own local chapter. And they can go to extinctionsymbol.info and that’s where you can actually download the graphic. And you can make anything you want out of it so long as it’s not for commercial purposes. People are making flags out of the symbol. I have a old sweatshirt that I put the extinction logo graphic on. It’s a lot like the peace symbol of yore but with a modern twist to it.

Signal is a wonderful messaging app that has end-to-end encryption on it. It’s just a really great tool if you’re talking to other activists because it gives you an opportunity to feel safe and free, and a free space with which to speak. So, a long time ago, think it was Hakim Bey who came up with the term TAZ or Temporary Autonomous Zones, and this notion of free space. And we live in a time now where there’s very, very little free space in the world. We’re not very aware of how little space there really is for us to freely communicate. In places around the world, of course, censorship is increasing, places like America, places like Asia. And so being able to communicate around the world with a tool like this is really wonderful.

Also mentioned:

The Reality Bubble: Blind Spots, Hidden Truths, and the Dangerous Illusions that Shape Our World ($14, Kindle)
It’s kind of been described as a cross between Cosmos and The Matrix in the sense that I’ve been a science journalist and broadcaster for 15 years. So it’s been really wonderful getting to work with scientists and seeing so many different sort of realities that they’re able to see with the scientific lens. Like most recently, we realized that we can see black holes. Now we can see atoms. We can see all sorts of different things from telescopes to microscopes … So, I started to get really fascinated by the fact that what my naked eyes could see and what my common sense perceived was just a real tiny sliver of reality. And we created all these different lenses, especially with science to be able to see a world that I wasn’t able to see with the naked eye. But at the same time, what I kind of started realizing was in the 21st century, we have cameras everywhere, everywhere except where our food comes from, where our energy comes from, and where our waste goes. It’s really strange that fundamentally our society is completely blind when it comes to how it survives. So, I really wanted to get to the bottom of how we became the most powerful species on earth when we don’t know how we survive. That was the initial sort of thing that got me on this journey, and it’s trippy and I hope illuminating. And I’m just very, very excited for people to read it. It’s my very first book, and that’s sort of the entry into that space.


24 May 2019


Grip6 Belt

Belt with infinitely adjustable friction lock

I bought belt ($35+) because I wanted a belt that would be exactly the right size. I’d been planning to buy one of the ratcheting belts but I found this doing some last-minute comparisons. It’s super simple; a thick, tough strap and a buckle with two slots. One side of the strap is thickened using a technology they developed themselves called Fuselock—I don’t know how it works but it’s solid as a rock and smooth. You can resize it (which is really just cutting off the excess) with a pair of scissors and a lighter and there is a video on their site to show you how and it includes a way to choose the end style you want. You probably know that your body can change size throughout the day and being able to loosen the belt is a big plus. It’s also easy to make sure it’s tight enough when I need it to hold up tools or other heavy things. It packs down to a tiny roll, especially if you take the buckle off. After 16 months there are no signs of fraying or loose ends. I’ve put it through the washing machine twice (minus the buckle) and I have no doubt it will last for years to come. I got the plain grey buckle and strap and it works with anything that isn’t too dressy.

-- Dominic Duncombe 05/24/19

23 May 2019


Mushrooming Without Fear

Introduction to edibles

Can you tell the difference between a head of cabbage and a head of lettuce? Then you can safely pick and eat some wild mushrooms. The key is to learn to identify a few easily identifiable delicious species, and then stick with these easy ones for a while. This book does a fantastic job of holding your hand every step of the way. It gives you reliable rules for learning 10 or so yummy and safe mushrooms. I wish I had this book when I was first starting out. It is a great substitute for going out with an expert.

-- KK 05/23/19


Rule number 1: never, never take a mushroom with gills!!! This is our life insurance.

Rules number 2: Only take mushrooms with tubes, spines and ridges and the mavericks portrayed in this book. This means thoroughly understanding the information on pages 18-27 of this book.

Rule number 3: Only eat mushrooms which you have clearly identified with ALL of the positive ID marks. The mushrooms you take must be a certain size in order to show all the identification marks. In their baby stage, so to speak, some deadly and poisonous mushrooms are almost indistinguishable from harmless species.

These are summer ceps. However all ceps, summer or autumn, show a fine white network on the top of the stem right underneath the tubes.

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2011 — editors)

22 May 2019


Band-Aid Fabric Tough Strips

Tough adhesive bandages

I cook all the meals in my household and have worked in a bunch of manual jobs, from welding to construction, so I have a lot of experience with cuts, abrasions, and burns. After much experience and unwilling experiment, I highly recommend Band-Aid Tough Strips without exception or qualification.

Every other variety I have tried, including the plastic “waterproof” Tough Strips and the regular plastic and fabric Band-Aids, have, in a word, stunk. Why the fabric Tough Strips stay on through sweat and multiple soapings, I don’t know. The adhesive does seem to be of a different sort. But the fact is they do stay on through everyday and not-so-everyday abuse, and no other bandage I’ve tried comes close. Also they’re a little bigger than regular bandages, and the extra bit often makes the difference between not-quite and fully covering a wound. Be sure to apply them to dry skin while trying to avoid getting any antibiotic ointment on the sticky part as that stuff is like adhesive kryptonite.

-- Tim Heffernan 05/22/19

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2011 — editors)

21 May 2019


Every Tool’s a Hammer

Mythbusters' star golden rules of creativity

I enjoyed Every Tool’s a Hammer ($13) for two reasons. First, it provides a fascinating insight into the mind of an accomplished maker. Adam shares, in often very personal ways, his journey through life so far — both the overall direction of a person compelled to make and obsess in an eclectic number of areas, and the happy circumstances, hard lessons, and unpredictable paths on the way. If you enjoyed the infectious enthusiasm you’ve seen on screen (e.g., MythBusters), you’ll very much enjoy this aspect of the book. But the main point of the book seems to be much more about encouraging the reader to act on their own interests and to create — to make — in whatever field they find a deep connection with. As he puts it, it’s permission to follow those interests down whatever rabbit holes they lead, that this is a positive thing we can do in our lives and not something to hide away.

As well, it’s about the tools and techniques that he’s found useful in his making–from simple lists to custom-built toolboxes. (Well, toolboxes that are to regular toolboxes what a motorcycle is to a tricycle.) A few of these are one-of-a-kind-Adam — and those are fun in exactly the way you can imagine — and in other cases, he’s describing his own take on some proven industrial practices (e.g., the 5S methodology of optimizing a workspace). There’s even a section on what kind of glue to use for various materials, and why not to use glue in the first place.

Adam was interviewed on Cool Tools in 2016, and at least one favorite Cool Tool I use frequently was one he contributed — Knipex cutters. (They rule.) You do not need to be someone who thinks of themselves as a “maker” to enjoy this book. But it seems like Adam’s goal would be to give you a push towards following that geeky interest in the back of your mind, to find that family of like-minded people, and to help up the people who follow behind you. An excellent message, especially to young people.

-- Dale Grover 05/21/19

20 May 2019


Adhesive Key Hider Pouch

Water resistant adhesive anchors mounting pad to any clean surface

Locking yourself out of your vehicle is nigh inevitable. Whether your keys are lost, misplaced or dangling tauntingly from the ignition of your locked rig, you’ve got yourself in a pickle. A recent review of a trailer-hitch key vault proposed a nifty, albeit pricey method to ensure you’re not stranded.

But for those too frugal to spend $65 on a solution, there’s a cheap and effective solution that has saved my bacon on a number of occasions, including out in the middle of nowhere after losing my keys in a trout stream.

This key hider ($5) is a pouch with a water-resistant adhesive which can be affixed to your vehicle discreetly. Unlike the magnetic key hiders, it won’t jiggle off on rough roads. I still have the original key pouch I purchased a dozen years ago, tucked safely away but readily accessible. I use it often by design, not wanting to carry my keys with me if I’m engaged in sporting events or hikes or such.

They can be purchased for a tiny fraction of the aforementioned trailer hitch (and don’t have to be removed if you intend to be pulling a trailer, either.)

-- John Bulger 05/20/19



img 12/9/17


Pattern recognition competition

img 07/28/17

Ortlieb Dry Bags

Heavy-duty waterproof bags

img 01/1/09


Personal outsourcing

img 01/10/07

Get Human

Access to human help

See all the favorites



Cool Tools Show 176: Ziya Tong

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 175: Sean Michael Ragan

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 174: Joshuah Bearman

Picks and shownotes

23 February 2017


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.