15 September 2019


YNAB/Best bicycle bag/Self-care checklist

Recomendo: issue no. 164

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A home budget that makes sense to me
For years I’ve tried to keep a home budget, but it never seems to work. I end up spending more than I budgeted in some categories, less in others, and I don’t keep good track of what I’ve spent. When our Cool Tools podcast guest Lillian Karabaic recommended something called You Need a Budget (YNAB) a couple of months ago, I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did. YNAB’s websites and mobile apps are excellent, as are the podcasts, videos, blog posts, and mailing lists they produce. It took me a while to wrap my head around the YNAB method, but now that I get it, I’m a true believer. For the first time in my adult life, I feel in control of my finances. — MF

Best bicycle tour bags
The best way to tour somewhere, IMHO, is via bicycle. E-bikes make that even easier these days. For overnight touring, you’ll need some bags (panniers). The blue-ribbon panniers are classic Ortlieb dry bags. Each is a roomy, rubberized single bag (no dividers or pockets) that seals off at the top to provide an absolutely waterproof container. Not cheap, but because of their simplicity they will last a lifetime. After 2,000 miles of use, I am very attached to mine, in bright yellow. — KK

Self-care checklist
It can be very hard to check in with yourself when you have anxiety or having a bad day. This is a very simple checklist for self-care that I found floating around Reddit. — CD

Mindful quotes
Five quotes that I’m minding right now — KK:
”The only interesting ideas are heresies” — Susan Sontag
“Technology is the reason we get old enough to complain about technology.” — Gary Kasparov
“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” — Dwight Eisenhower
“If my work is accepted, I must move on to the point where it is not.” — John Cage
“Remember, you can’t be stuck in traffic; you are the traffic.” — Kevin Slavin

Ergonomic Wireless Mouse
My Magic Mouse was giving me claw hand from the way I had to grip it and I needed to a find an alternative mouse, so I immediately googled Wirecutter’s tested picks and bought their upgrade pick of the Logitech MX Master Mouse ($70). Full disclosure: I thought I had purchased this from a list of the best vertical mouses. Even after it arrived and I began using it, I still mistakenly thought I was using a vertical mouse and that I had quickly overcome the steep learning curve that everyone talks about. By the time I realized that it was not a vertical mouse — just a very good ergonomic one — my claw hand was gone and I was happy with it, so I just kept it! My favorite thing about this mouse is I was able to customize the buttons and scroll wheels to do everything my Magic Mouse used to do. — CD

Cool drink for a hot summer
It’s been hot for the last couple of months here in Los Angeles and my family is guzzling the iced hibiscus flower tea I’ve been making. We go through a half gallon a day, and each glass costs about a penny. I make it with this one pound bag of Feel Good organic dried hibiscus flowers I bought for $15. I make it by putting two tablespoons of flowers into a half-gallon mason jar and fill it with boiling water. When it is cool enough I put the jar in the refrigerator. The ruby red liquid is pleasingly tart and satisfying. — MF

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 09/15/19

13 September 2019


Rob Walker, The Art of Noticing

Cool Tools Show 192: Rob Walker

Our guest this week is Rob Walker. Rob is the Human Resource Columnist for Lifehacker.com, and a longtime contributor to the New York Times and many other publications. He’s on the faculty of Products of Design graduate program at the School of Visual Arts, and his new book from Knopf is The Art of Noticing, 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration and Discover Joy in the Everyday. You can find him on Twitter and Medium at @notrobwalker. Sign up for his newsletter where he shares news, tips and inspiration for building your attention muscles.

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:

Bienfang Notesketch Pad with Horizontal Lines
This is a notebook that I’ve used for a long time. I know that people have such strong opinions about notebooks. But what I like about it this is on each page, the bottom half is ruled and the top half is blank. I like that to be able to either write things, or sketch things, or whatever. And that’s what drew me to these notebooks in the beginning. I get the 8 1/2 x 5 1/2 size — the small size. I’ve been using them I realize now, since college. The other thing I like about these notebooks, is that they’re not too precious. They’re actually cheap. I went through a Moleskine phase, but I never felt like I had anything worth saying to it, to ruin this beautiful object. This is spiral bound, but it’s not too precious. It’s not this object that you feel like you’re spoiling every time you write down some dumb observations.

Switchmate for Toggle Light Switches
We happen to have these front lights that are on a standard toggle switch and I was always forgetting to turn them on at night or turn them off in the morning. I’d leave them on until noon or something, because I would just forget. And I didn’t want to go through the whole rigmarole of rigging up, getting an electrician. I didn’t want a problem and I randomly discovered this thing and I thought that looks perfect. It’s a little box that has magnets in it that you can put over a standard toggle switch and there’s a mechanism inside that literally, physically just flips the switch up or down. Clunk, clunk. So it’s a dumb smart home product, you hook it up to an app and put it on a timer. You don’t need to worry about the wiring.

Decibel X Noise Meter
Decibel X is an app tells you what the decibel reading is. And that’s it. That’s the whole story. I get such pleasure out of it and it’s kind of like junior high school dork pleasure of just like, I wonder what the decibel level is in here. There’s one tab that you can poke on that’ll say like analogous to a quiet room or a noisy street for whatever. I have no point to this, but I find that it’s one of the apps that I check the most frequent. I bet I open it as much as I open Instagram. For no good reason. I’ve never crosschecked it, but its answers seem intuitively right in the sense of it’s loud in here now, so it’s in the red zone. The red zone is considered harmful and that’s like 90 to 100. A subway is 100. A jet engine is 140, 150.

In Our Time Podcast
I’m a huge fan of this podcast. I’ve been listening to it for some years now. The host is Melvyn Bragg. The premise is that every week he gets in three academics to talk briskly for an hour through one topic, which can be anything from Frankenstein to Ulysses Grant. It’s sort of like those Great Courses, except it’s all just boiled down to one hour, and it’s just lightning fast. It’s quite impressive.

Also mentioned:

The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday is my new book. It’s designed as a series of exercises and prompts and games and things you can actually do (or reflect upon) to build attention muscles or just get off your phone and enjoy noticing stuff that everyone else missed. Prompts such as:

Look Slowly. Discover the Big Within the Small. Sketch a Room You Just Left. Follow the Quiet. Review the Everyday. Hunt the Infrathin. Get There the Hard Way. Eat Somewhere Dubious. Trespass. Make a Field Guide. Talk To a Stranger. Listen to an Elder. Be Alone in Public. Make a Personal Map. Interview An Object. Care for Something.

Imagine a cross between Ways Of Seeing and Marie Kondo!


13 September 2019


NoPhoneSpam App for Android

Block calls from annoying or private numbers on your Android device

I’ve used NoPhoneSpam for a couple of years. The Android app enables you to set up certain rules to automatically hang up/ignore/silence/obscure calls such as those from robo-callers and spam/scams/spoofed numbers. It does this based on filters you create.

I no longer get robocalls, or at least, they never make it through to bother me. Now I know that when my phone rings it’s almost always a legit caller.

Some cell carriers in the US have some level of spam prevention but robo callers are so numerous and prevalent that they still can circumvent these carrier-side filters. This means we have to do it ourselves and which of your readers in not a DIY’er? I have, for example, a rule set up in this simple app to disallow calls from anyone with the same prefix. That’s a common number spoofing tactic to get you to pick up. Scammers call you from a spoofed number that similar to yours: same area code and prefix.

The app is available from the alternative app repository fdroid.org (another cool tool in and of itself! But I’ll save that for a future submission).

-- Will Barrueto 09/13/19

12 September 2019


Little Giant Ladders with Work Platform

Highly configurable ladder

The Little Giant Ladder has been mentioned on the blog in 2013, but with a very brief blurb that really fails to explain why this ladder is so wonderful, and doesn’t mention the work platform. I have had a Little Giant for 20 years. The models have changed, but it looks to me like the Velocity ($190) may be similar to what I have.

What’s really great about this ladder is that you can adjust the length of the two sides independently. This means that the ladder can be a 4-foot step ladder, a 5-foot step ladder, a 6-foot step ladder. You can make it just the right height. You can also slide one side out more than the other to place the ladder on a sloped surface, or to use it on stairs. I recently needed to get to the ceiling area above my stairs and don’t know how I could have done it without this ladder.

Then of course you can open the ladder out flat and use it to get on the roof or to reach other high places. But that’s not all. The typical ladders I recall have a little fold out paint can shelf with a warning not to step on it.

The Little Giant work platform ($33) can be placed on a Little Giant ladder at any height and is strong enough to support a person. It’s a fantastic addition that I use all the time because it enables me to stand comfortably and easily and turn in different directions as I work, sort of like having a tiny scaffold to stand on.

It’s also often handy that you can ascend the Little Giant from either side of the ladder. And you can set it up as two short ladders and lay some boards across to create mini scaffolding. (They also sell an accessory for this, which I have not tried.) This ladder has really been the only ladder I needed since I bought my house 20 years ago. It is still in great shape and was well worth the price.

-- Adrian Mariano 09/12/19

11 September 2019


What’s in my bag? — Andrea James

What's in my bag? issue #14

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Andrea James creates and consults on media focused on sex and gender minorities. As Time magazine noted, she has helped major productions and companies, as well as “worked on countless other projects related to LGBTQ identities.” You can find her on Instagram @jokestress.


About the bag
My bag itself is a stylish and nearly indestructible Harveys bag made of woven seatbelts. A great investment. In it, the four things I recommend carrying are:

Standard Black Sharpie ($7.99/12pk)
This comes in handy quite often for marking nearly any surface. ProTip: if it dries out, put it tip down in a shotglass with a little rubbing alcohol in the bottom. Good as new!

Streamlight ProTac HL Flashlight ($61)
This is a crazy bright police style flashlight. Heavy and battery-intensive, but worth it for the brightness. It has a strobe option, too.

Aquaphor Lip Repair Ointment ($4)
This is one of the few brands that does not irritate my lips.

Ice Breakers ($12/8pk)
Coolmint flavor only and always! I always have at least one in my bag and go through a package a day on shoots between myself and those who know I have them on my person.

-- Andrea James 09/11/19

11 September 2019


Asian Stainless Steel Soup Spoons

Versatile spoons

A spoon may not seem like much to get excited about, but a carefully designed spoon can be a wonderfully versatile tool.

These are the spoons you see in constant use all over Asia (12 for $6) — and there are many reasons why:

First: the shape is perfect. Easy to hold, it picks up a substantial spoonful (much more than most Western-style soup spoons); the side is sharp enough to cut long noodles against the side of the bowl, but not so sharp that it would cut your mouth; the spoons stack compactly in minimal space, and are small enough to easily fit in a lunch box or food container. The classic shape is elegant enough that fancy restaurants use them to present one-bite appetizers. They also works well as small scoops: use to pack ice-cream in cones, to dip salt out of a jar, etc. There’s one on my potting bench, used as a mini-trowel; I even keep a set of these at work to use while scooping and weighing medicinal chemicals. You can turn it around and use the handle end to scoop if you need to work with smaller amounts… and when you see what lab-ware companies charge for a single stainless “spoonula” you’ll see the appeal.

Second: easy to grip, a boon for toddlers and those with fine-motor mobility issues. Flat bottom prevents tipping if you set it down.

Third: stainless steel! Durable, corrosion-free, easy to clean, recyclable, eco-friendly. Shiny!

Fourth: CHEAP!

Caveats: They’re rather short, so you probably don’t want to put them in a deep bowl of ramen or they might unexpectedly submerge; use the flat bottom to perch the spoon on a plate or napkin instead. Be careful when loading them into the dishwasher, or they’ll nest into each other and not get completely clean…and of course, be careful with these spoons around their natural enemy: the ever-hungry garbage disposal. I’ve had a couple dozen of these for over 5 years; they’re always the first spoons we reach for, yet still look like new. Give them a try!

-- Barbara Dace 09/11/19


img 09/10/19

Pentel Twist Erase III

Chunky mechanical pencil


Best Helping Hands Tool

Get rid of your old Helping Hand

img 09/9/19

Dental Hard Wire Cutter

Best tool for cutting hard wire

img 09/6/19

Susie Bright, Bestselling Author

Cool Tools Show 191: Susie Bright

img 09/6/19

Pick Stick

Extend your reach

See all the reviews


img 10/9/07


Cheapest hi-quality photo scans

img 04/21/04


Perfect scalp razor

img 09/24/13

Bissell Natural Sweep

Fastest carpet cleaner

img 04/9/04

Analog Atomic Wall Clock

Constant automatic accuracy

See all the favorites



Cool Tools Show 192: Rob Walker

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 191: Susie Bright

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 190: Nik Schulz

Picks and shownotes

11 September 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.

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.