21 July 2019


Seed starting kit/@jordhammond/Wake-up light

Recomendo: issue no. 156

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Seed starting kit
This set of three plastic trays comes with 30 soil pods for foolproof germinating of vegetable seeds. I used it to start bean, basil, tomato, and catnip plants in my kitchen windowsill. Transplanting is easy — just place the pod with the sprout into your garden soil or planting container. — MF

Stunning travel instagram
Instagram encourages envy. I am totally envious of the photography of Jordan Hammond on Instagram. He travels to the kind of remote places I go, but he gets stunning images on a regular basis. Each one is a classic, requiring a lot of work, and captures the spirit of a place. — KK

Wake up earlier, naturally
I wasn’t sure if I would like the Philips Wake-Up Light Alarm Clock, but in one month it’s trained me to wake up earlier, naturally. I set the alarm for the time I want to wake up and the light gradually increases beginning about 20 minutes before the alarm is set to go off. During that time is when I usually wake up. When the wake-up light doesn’t work, I get woken up by the sounds of birds chirping. Either way, I’m never startled or grumpy. — CD

7 secrets of advanced writing
I like this graphic shared by DailyInfographic which lists seven tips for better writing. Some advice for mastering them is to just focus on one or two at a time until they become habits. I am working on parallel construction, by taking out words I’ve listed and confirming the sentence still makes sense. — CD CD

Page turner aid
I bought this Sortkwik fingertip moisturizer so I could do card tricks better, but it turns out to be excellent for separating sheets of paper and turning book pages, too. If you have dry fingers, give this stuff a try. It’s not greasy or sticky, it just adds a little extra grip. — MF

Underwater corrective optics
This made a huge difference to our family when we discovered them: you can get swim goggles and snorkeling masks with corrective lenses. Same price, see better! — KK

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 07/21/19

19 July 2019


Rob Beschizza, Managing Editor of Boing Boing

Cool Tools Show 184: Rob Beschizza

Our guest this week is Rob Beschizza. Rob is the Managing Editor of Boing Boing and the founder of Txt.fyi, an effectively invisible publishing platform and low-key internet cult.

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:

Vortexgear Tab 75 Mechanical Gaming Keyboard ($140)
“Mechanical keyboards — the appeal is in the old-fashioned key switches which have a more tactile, more clicky feel to them, and there’s all sorts of different types that you can get depending on your preferences. It’s just great for people who type a lot who just don’t like modern keyboards or who are getting sick of butterfly keyboards from Apple. I think for anyone who listens to a tech podcast or is familiar with the cult of mechanical keyboards, a big part of the appeal is you can swap out the keys, so there’s a cottage industry of key caps and sorts of different color schemes and styles. You can have a keyboard that looks like an old typewriter or one that looks like a very specific 8-bit computer that you had 30 years ago, or that looks like a nuclear missile launch silo console. Vortex is one of the brands and its thing is that it makes offbeat sizes and includes Bluetooth, which is a relatively rare feature in mechanical keyboards. They make these tiny little 40-key keyboards that will fit in a shirt pocket or you can get these huge, sprawling hundred-key keyboards with a condensed or otherwise bizarre layout. The one that I picked, which I would guess is like the official pick for this tool, is the Vortex Tab 75. This has all the keys that you get with the 10 kilos keyboard, so it doesn’t skimp and make you learn weird shift levels or anything like that. There’s no spaces at all between any of the keys, including the arrow keys and the page up/page down stuff. It has this extremely compact layout, not much larger than a Magic Keyboard, but you get all of the benefits that you would get from a mechanical keyboard. You can have it with clicky keys. You can have it with tactile keys. You can have it with linear ones that gamers like, and or course, you can make it look any way you like.”

Logitech MX Vertical Wireless Mouse ($88)
“I have a little bit of repetitive strain type trouble in my right hand, and the trigger has always been using a mouse. If I was smart, I would probably adopt better posture, hold the mouse in a more ergonomic way, but why do that when I can just buy something? It was a vertical mouse, and the idea here is the mouse is in a peculiar shape which means it’s almost like a handshake posture rather than a hand flat on the table posture. I tried a cheap one, I don’t know what brand it was. It stopped working after two weeks. There’s a brand name for vertical mice but it has the feel and look of medical equipment. I think it has that kind of vibe to it, and they’re like $200. Logitech has muscled in on this field in the last year or so and it has all the features and the stylish look of the brand, so I’m giving it a go. The big problem is it just seems very difficult to be as precise with it, at least for me, but I’m giving it a go and it has instantly made all the pain go away without sending me to a trackpad or a stylus or some other control system that I don’t want to use. I want to use a mouse, so I’m having a good time with it.”

Gyokucho Razorsaw Ryoba Saw ($20)
“It’s a saw which has a long, thick blade with two sides, and one side has teeth for rip cuts and the other side has teeth for crosscuts, so for going against and with the grain on a piece of wood. The way it’s designed, you apply pressure on the pull rather than the push and this means that its flex is always straight rather than threatening to bend. It doesn’t require expert technique the way Western saws do to actually get quality results. A complete idiot can do fast, accurate cuts with one. It was a revelation to me. I’ve got a baby son who is now almost two years old, and he got to the stage where he’s running crazy around the house constantly and he managed to headbutt our ancient Victorian era radiators. He was okay, but it was immediately obvious the design of these radiators with the metal sharp edges was absolutely lethal, so I decided, “Okay, I’m going to get radiator covers.” They have to be custom made to whatever size your radiator is, they cost $200 or $300 each. I’ve got a house full of these things, so I thought, “I’m just going to buy the wood at the lumber yard and get a decent saw and cut everything into rudimentary, straightforward runs myself.” It was so difficult to get precision. I was getting frustrated. It was slow going and someone told me, “Just buy one of those cheap Japanese saws off of Amazon. You’ll be amazed.” I was. I was absolutely gobsmacked. Suddenly I’m doing all these fancy cuts and making radiator covers that look really nice rather than just boxes.”

2006 17” iMac
“I think these were only made available to schools, but they’re widely available on the internet. If you write a lot and you’re not very good at focusing, maybe have a little bit of the attention deficit about you, which a lot of us writers do have, especially when the writing is on deadline, you want something which lets you focus but which isn’t completely ridiculous. There’s a whole cottage industry, almost like the keyboards, of gadgets for focused writing, and likewise there’s all sorts of apps to help you do focused writing. I don’t think the apps work because you can just close the app and go back to YouTube. I don’t think the gadgets work because they’re all really expensive and just hinky, weird things that encompass an idea but don’t really have much to them. An old 2006 17-inch iMac is a nice, small computer which has all the useful features of word processing software, some basic internet access if you need to look things up, but which is too slow and too primitive to do anything with but write. I don’t think it can even play YouTube videos because you can’t install software with the new codecs and all that stuff. It’s great. It’s the focused writing machine you’ve always wanted if you’re the person who’s looking for a focused writing environment.”

Also mentioned:

“Everyone in the last couple of years has been reacting against the sort of pervasive and invasive qualities of social media, and I think there were a few platforms which had come about which people got a bit disappointed in as they pivoted from one model of publishing to another. Everything is complicated. You couldn’t just go online and just publish something and then share a URL. There was always some complexity, there was always tracking and all sorts of other things that would get in the way of it, and then there’d be likes and sharing systems which would kind of fill you with anxiety about how popular what you were publishing was. I created something where people can go online, hammer out some text, hit publish, and it’s published. You don’t have to log in, there’s no social media, no social capital stuff, none of that. You can use Markdown or plain text. You can share if you want to, but it’s not syndicated anywhere. You’re the only person who knows it exists.”

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $400 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


19 July 2019


Halo II Sweatband

Effective sweat absorbing headband

I live in Ohio and I try to run consistently year-round. I’ve run in sub-zero temperatures on many occasions with no problems. My sweet spot temperature for running is around 55 degrees and when it gets over 70 degrees, I start whining like a baby. My body just does not deal well with warmer temperatures and higher humidity, and I tend to sweat like a pig.

I’ve tried many products over the years to keep sweat from soaking my sunglasses and stinging my eyes. I have a few Headsweats and SweatVac products, but the king of headbands is definitely Halo. Their headbands are made out of a soft, stretchable fabric they call DRYLINE. It’s a polyester/nylon combination that feels similar to a thin neoprene. They also use a thin rubbery strip (dubbed Sweat Block Technology) along the front, inside area of the headband so that excess sweat will be channeled to the sides of your face and not straight down into your eyes. I’ve got a pretty good-sized melon and I’ve had no problems at all with fit or comfort.

The amount of sweat that the Halo products absorb is incredible. Naturally, there is a point at which they will become completely saturated. Taking off the headband and giving it a squeeze may amaze and/or disgust you, but you’ll definitely know that it’s doing its job.

I’ve personally used the Halo II headband ($13+) and the Sport Visor ($26) (which features a slightly smaller band sewn into the cap) and strongly recommend both.

-- Jason Long 07/19/19

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

18 July 2019


Power Cord Splitter

Lightweight power sharer

What’s so cool about a power cord splitter? Sure, it turns one plug into two, but so what? The genius of this short adaptor ($6) is that you can pack it in your travel bag. So when you come upon the lone outlet in an airport, cafe, or hotel lobby that is already occupied, all you need to do is to politely ask to insert this spitter. Now you can add your line without disrupting theirs. And of course, at times you may use its doubling yourself.

-- KK 07/18/19

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

17 July 2019


What’s in my bag? — Gareth Branwyn

What's in my bag? issue #6

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Gareth Branwyn writes on DIY media, tech, and culture. He’s been an editor at Wired, Boing Boing, Mondo 2000, and Make:. He is the author of ten books, including his most recent Amazon best-seller, Tips and Tales from the Workshop.

Moleskine Cahier Journal ($9)
I have carried Moleskine Cahier Pocket Notebooks (3.5″ x 5.5″ Plain/Blank) in my pockets and travel bags for decades. I have many dozens of volumes of them, filled with book and article ideas, dreams (both the waking and sleepy-time varieties), writing fragments, research, etc. If I ever woke up to a fire in my house, these are what I would grab on my way out of the door.

Pilot Varsity Disposable Fountain Pen ($12/6pk)
A Varsity Disposable Fountain Pen (black) has been next to my Cahier Notebooks ever since I started carrying them. I love the flow and feel of the nib. I buy a dozen every year. Years ago, I realized I was losing my ability to write (after years of all-day typing). I now love switching between keyboard and notebook. Sometimes, if I get stuck writing something, I’ll change to handwriting to help stir things up.

Maglite Solitaire Flashlight ($14)
I have had the same Maglite Solitaire flashlight in my laptop bag for over 20 years. It runs on a single, long-lasting AAA battery, has a decently-bright, adjustable beam (for its size), and fits on a keychain. Perfect for finding your car keys or the keyhole of an unlit door. For more powerful lighting, I usually have a Maglite Mini not far from access.

Moo Business Cards
Several years ago, my son and I designed and printed Artistic License cards after I saw several friends issuing their own (one was an art teacher who issued them at the end of the year). I get these printed, laminated with rounded-edges, through Moo Cards. I’ve issued hundreds of them and have even made some money selling them online and at art shows. I mean, hasn’t everyone been in a situation where they needed a little artistic license? What’s in YOUR wallet?

About the bag
I have carried the same Brenthaven laptop bag since 1997. I reviewed it for Wired back then and raved so much about it, they used my review on their hang tags for years. I guess my glowing assessment was correct because, all of these years later, I’m still happily carrying the same bag and it shows few signs of wear. If it ain’t broke …

More about Gareth
Gareth recently launched a new weekly newsletter, Gareth’s Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales, published every Tuesday. You can subscribe here.

-- Gareth Branwyn 07/17/19

17 July 2019


The Itty Bitty Kitchen Handbook

How to cook in small spaces

I happened across The Itty Bitty Kitchen Handbook at the local library, and the subtitle (“Everything you need to know about setting up and cooking in the most ridiculously small kitchen in the world: Your own”) caught me instantly. The cute cover suggests charm over content, but the book itself doesn’t waste a paragraph. It’s pithy, insightful, inspiring, and entertaining.

Justin Spring grew up on a boat, with a kitchen even smaller than mine — essentially a camp stove, an ice chest, and a bucket. He has huge insight into the problems of small kitchens, including the “shut-off point” where clutter stops most food preparation and the local takeout place gets a lot of business.

He is not hesitant to make solid, practical suggestions, and includes websites for sourcing. He weighs in on everything from the best tool cabinet to repurpose for a kitchen, to the best sources for cheap, lead-free, by-the-stem crystal.

This is a truly holistic guide to getting the most possible use and enjoyment from a tiny kitchen. It includes 100 recipes tailored for the small kitchen (“one-pot, toaster oven brownies”).

I have only had this book for a week, but it has inspired one full day of kitchen cleaning (!) and doubled the number of meals I eat at home. It is not comparable to anything else I’ve seen, either on the web or in print: no glossy photos of gleaming granite countertops, no vague, sentimental, market-friendly prose. The closest thing I’ve seen was Mark Bittman’s guide to stocking a minimalist kitchen, but that was four pages and this is over two hundred.

If you are struggling with a tiny kitchen and have almost given up on eating at home, this book is a lifesaver. If you want to eat well, eat healthily, entertain occasionally, and generally live like a normal person despite your itty bitty kitchen, I can’t recommend it enough.

-- Tricia Postle 07/17/19


And Also A Quick Word about Blenders
The best new blenders will now do the work of mixers and food processors-- and in itty bitty kitchens, where limited counter space cuts down on the possibilities for countertop appliances, multitasks of this sort are particularly valuable. Nearly any blender will do for basic blending tasks (for ten years I managed very well with a used bar blender purchased for $5 at an Episcopal Church tag sale; I have no doubt it blended up many a daiquiri before it came into my life.)


The Refrigerator
Consider washing out your refrigerator interior with a deodorizing solution of baking soda and water and (after unplugging the appliance) cleaning the coils on the back-- they attract dust, which interferes with the refrigerator's ability to cool and thus drives up your energy costs. If the refrigerator has wire shelving inside, install sheets of plexiglass over them-- they will clean up easier, and your food items won't topple over so much. Just take the measurements to a hardware store and have the inexpensive Plexiglas cut to order.

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


img 08/1/14

Mann Lake Beekeeping Starter Kit

Cheapest way to start bees

img 09/25/17

Felco Pruners

Superb garden clippers

img 07/24/17

Stretch Wrap

Quick self-binding wrap

img 12/19/11


Still the best thermometer

img 06/8/13

Celestron FirstScope

Best beginner telescope

See all the favorites



Cool Tools Show 184: Rob Beschizza

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 183: Oliver Hulland

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 182: Richard Kadrey

Picks and shownotes

17 July 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.

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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.

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