02 October 2023


Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 54

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 The tools might be outdated or obsolete, and the links to them may or may not work.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.

High intensity exercise

Body by Science

The latest innovation in fitness is the extremely intense weekly workout. A very brief period of vomit-inducing exercise — of only 12 minutes *per week* — is enough to bestow the benefits of much longer and more frequent exercise. So says the science. My doctor recommended this book as the prime source of the scientific logic and practical program for this high-intensity interval training. A “scientific” 7-minute weekly workout that requires no equipment based on the same science was featured in the New York Times. As a coaching aid you can get a 99-cent app for it. — KK

  • When a trainee trains his biceps on a nautilus multi biceps machine, the radius of the cam is in perfect sync with the trainee’s bicep muscles: smaller when he isweaker and bigger when he is strong.
  • Our rule of thumb for rep cadence is that whatever cadence you can employ that will allow you to move as slowly as possible without its turning into a stuttering,stop-and-start scenario is the right one for you. You may even find that the cadence changes as the set progresses. For instance, if you’re working out on a piece of equipment that has a difficult start but an easy finish position, the hard start will represent a significant obstacle or sticking point to surmount. Consequently, you may start out with an eight-second cadence that is perfectly smooth, but because of the sticking point and a little bit of struggle, the smoothness may be able to be maintained only with a six-second cadence or a five-second cadence. So, again, contract against the resistance as slowly as you can without having your repetitions degenerate into a series of stops and starts.
  • Traditionally during workouts, to gauge performance and assess improvement for record keeping, trainees have focused on counting how many repetitions they perform with a given weight or load. What we advocate instead is timing the duration of the set from the moment it begins until the moment muscular failure is reached. We call this measure “time under load.” Other people have called it “time to concentric failure” or “time under tension.” Regardless of what you choose to call it, adopting it allows you to place a fine-tuning dial on your training performance. Time under load allows trainees to see smaller gradations in improvement that otherwise might be missed and allows for fine-tuning of weight progression a little more closely.
  • You will begin to really struggle at this point, and your instructor should try to keep you focused by encouraging you not to try to speed up, rest, or pause during the movement, all of which will unload the muscles and provide rest, which is the opposite of what you are striving to accomplish. If you weren’t being supervised, you would probably quit at this juncture, but you are encouraged to try one more repetition. This last positive portion of the repetition is now so difficult that it may take you fifteen, twenty, or even thirty seconds to complete. As you slowly begin to reverse direction and lower the resistance, the weight begins to overtake your strength. You attempt another positive repetition, but the weight is not moving. Your instructor now tells you to attempt to contract against the resistance (it’s still not moving) while he or she counts to ten. Your rate of fatigue is increasing rapidly now, and your strength continues to diminish well belowthe resistance level. At the end of the instructor’s count, you unload from the weight. By the time the set is finished, your strength has been reduced to approximately 60 percent of what it was prior to starting the exercise, resulting in an inroad of 40 percent being made.This whole process occurred over a span of roughly two minutes, but in that time, your muscles became 40 percent weaker. This occurrence represents a serious “threat” to your body, because it was not aware that you were simply in a gym making weights go up and down. For all it knew, you were fighting for your life with a mountain lion. To the body, this was a profound metabolic experience, and at the end of that experience, it couldn’t move. Mobility is a preserved biologic function: if you can’t move, you can’t acquire food, and you can’t avoid becoming food for other prey. This experience represented a profound stimulus, to which the body will respond, if given sufficient time, by enlarging on its strength reserves so that there will be at least some strength left over the next time such astimulus might be encountered. Of course, now that you understand this process, you will employ slightly more resistance during your next workout to stimulate your body to produce another round of metabolic adaptation.Bear in mind that as you fatigue during this process, and as your force outputdrops, you will feel the window between your force output and the resistance you’re using starting to close. You’ll develop an almost instinctual sense of panic, a feeling that you’re not strong enough to meet the resistance you’re under. This is the “make-or-break” point in the set. If you understand that what you’re trying to do is achieve a deep level of muscular fatigue, you can override the instinct to attempt to escape. Escape in this context can take the form either of prematurely quitting and just shutting down or of attempting to wiggle and jab at the weight to momentarily get out from under the load.

Barbell Bible

Starting Strength

A barbell is the best training tool an athlete can use. The weight can vary from 10 lbs to over 1000 lbs in increments as small as 1/2 lb, and the set of available exercises is limited only by the lifter’s imagination. This makes training with a barbell suitable for pretty much anyone, regardless of age, sex, or experience.

Studies detailing injury rates show weight training to be as much as orders of magnitude less likely to cause injury than sports like running, cycling, football, and especially the most dangerous sport in America: soccer.

They cover five basic lifts — squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, and power clean — in amazing, well-illustrated, and readable detail. The chapter on the squat spans over 60 pages and covers not only technique but why to squat and how to identify and fix problems as they come up. The other exercises are covered in no less impressive detail, including some stellar and original thinking on the deadlift, and an effective basic training program to put everything together. Save whatever you were going to spend on sports drinks over the next few weeks and buy this instead. It’s one of those books that belongs in everyone’s library. — Chris Roth

  • The vast majority of people will prefer to grip the bar with the thumbs-around grip. At lighter weights, this is fine since the load presents no problems to keepin place. But when heavier weights are being used — and, theoretically, they eventually should be — the thumbs can create problems.The thumb should be placed on top of the bar, so that the wrist can be held in a straight line with the forearm. Most people have a mental picture of the handsholding up the weight, and this usually ends up being what happens. The bar sits in the grip with the thumbs around the bar, the elbows end up directly below theweight, and nothing really prevents the bar from sliding down the back from this position. People that do this will have sore elbows, a horrible, headache-likesoreness in the inside of the elbow that makes them think the injury occurred doing curls. If the elbows are underneath the weight, the force of the weight is straight down (the nature of gravity is sometimes inconvenient), then the wrists and elbows will intercept some of the weight. With heavy weights, the loadingis quite high, and these structures are not nearly as capable of supporting 500 lbs, as the back is. If the thumb is on top of the bar, the hand can assume a position that is straight in line with the forearm, wrist, and hand, and all of the weight is on the back. A correct grip can prevent these problems before they start. If you learn to carry all of the weight of the bar on the back before your strength improves to the point where the weight becomes a problem, you’ll have no problem at all.
Incorrect (left) and correct (right) use of the hands and arms. Elbows should be elevated to the rear with the hands on top, not placed directly under the bar where they intercept part of the weight.


01 October 2023

Libgen/Caricature Party/Get unstuck

Recomendo - issue #377

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Shadow science library

Like the previously recommended SciHub, Libgen (Library Genesis) is a shadow library offering free scientific papers online. But in addition to journal articles, this Russian-based site also offers magazine articles, books, and especially full textbooks often required for school. I use it to find scientific papers. Scientific and academic information is often very hard to get, especially in the developing world, so Libgen is extremely valuable everywhere, despite the fact that US-based publishers consider it a pirate site they are trying to take down. I was disappointed my own books were not included in Libgen; I’d be thrilled if they were. — KK  

Laugh out loud caricatures

Watch sidewalk artists in Waikiki draw extreme caricatures of customers, and their customer’s hysterical reactions. The drawings are much more exaggerated than typical caricatures yet they look uncannily like the subjects. I was laughing along with the people who bravely sat for the drawings. A guaranteed mood lifter. — MF

3 questions to get unstuck

This article suggests three questions to help you get unstuck and start making progress when you’re feeling frustrated or procrastinating. 

  1. What haven’t I done yet? Why? — This question helps you identify unfinished tasks and understand the reasons behind your procrastination.
  2. What’s stopping me from doing this? — This question assists in identifying obstacles and excuses, allowing you to address them and move forward.
  3. What is making me frustrated or discontent? — This question encourages reflection on your sources of stress so that you can address those issues head on. 

Procrastination often feels like an invisible hurdle I can’t jump over, but once I get clarity on what my obstacles are, the path becomes clear to me and I can get it done. — CD

Pronunciation guide

If you need to hear how to pronounce a foreign word try the website Forvo. It can pronounce words you enter in the Romance languages, German, Russian and Japanese. If you are unsure of the proper English pronunciation it can do that too. —  KK

No more mosquitoes

I’m fighting a war against mosquitoes. So far, the best weapon in my arsenal is the Thermacell Patio Shield Mosquito Repeller. It looks like an insulated beverage bottle. It uses butane cartridges to heat a small paper mat treated with an odorless repellent. It’s advertised to keep mosquitoes away from a 15-foot radius, and I’ve found that to be true. I’ve seen zero mosquitoes since I started using it. The downside is that the butane bottles and pads are expensive — a 300-hour supply is about $100. But it’s worth it, because now I can sit in my backyard without being attacked. — MF

100+ useful websites

Alex Kurtev, writer of the Rabbit Ideas newsletter, has compiled a list of 100+ lesser known but useful websites. I’m not done exploring all of them, but thanks to the list I discovered a search engine for PDFs and free ebooks called PDF Drive, and WikiArt, a visual art encyclopedia where you can search artworks by genre, media and style. — CD


29 September 2023

Arun Venkatesan, Product Designer

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.

0:00 – Intro
0:49 – BMI 40b x4 tape measure
6:26 – BMI Inklinat level
10:00 – Merco packing tape dispenser
15:00 – Pinecil soldering iron

To sign up to be a guest on the show, please fill out this form.


28 September 2023

New US Train Route/Laptop Luggers/Better Short-term Apartment Rentals

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

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.


27 September 2023

Maker’s Muse

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.

–Buy my books (Tips and Tales from the Workshop Vol. 1Vol. 2).

Advertise your product, service, newsletter, app, book, tool, or anything you’d like to share with GT&T readers.

Maker’s Muse

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.

Shop Talk

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

Book Freak 139: How to Tame Your Monkey Mind

Four pieces of advice from Jennifer Shannon's "Don't Feed the Monkey Mind"

Get 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:

  1. Intolerance of uncertainty: Believing we must be 100% certain of outcomes.
  2. Perfectionism: Believing we cannot make mistakes.
  3. 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.



img 09/25/23

Landscape Visualization

Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 53

img 09/22/23

Joseph Wright, fullstack software engineer

Show and Tell #384: Joseph Wright

img 09/20/23

Book Freak 137: Finding Relief from Anxiety’s Grip

Four pieces of advice from Dr. Russell Kennedy’s “Anxiety Rx”

img 09/18/23


Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 52

See all the reviews


img 10/21/11

The Wirecutter

Meta-review site for gadgets

img 11/27/08

Omega Juicer

Quiet, versatile juice extractor

img 06/23/03

Diagrammatic Chart of World History

5,000 years of history in one square meter

img 05/19/04

Correlated History of Earth

Understanding geological and biological time

See all the favorites



Show and Tell #385: Arun Venkatesan

Picks and shownotes

Show and Tell #384: Joseph Wright

Picks and shownotes

Show and Tell #383: Ethan Stone

Picks and shownotes

09 August 2023


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.

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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.

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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).

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