15 December 2019

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Absolute Black Chocolate/Talk to Transformer/Kevin’s gift picks

Recomendo: issue no. 177

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Awesome unsweetened chocolate bar
I’ve long been a fan of Montezuma’s Absolute Black chocolate bars, which are made from 100% chocolate and cocoa nibs and no sweeteners of any kind. (The best way to enjoy unsweetened chocolate is not by chewing them, but by letting a square melt in your mouth.) Recently, Montezuma’s introduced a version with sea salt and almonds and it is even better. I buy mine at Trader Joe’s for $3 a bar. — MF

AI writing prompts
After reading this post on How to begin a novel using AI, I’ve been having fun using this neural network, Talk to Transformer, to come up with prompts for new poems. I’ll just type in a few lines or start with an image that haunts me, and I’m always surprised by the seemingly original imagery that it gives back to me like this one (prompted by my aunt’s back tattoo of a phoenix): The days passed like smoke under my feet. “That should be enough for now.” She paused and sighed again. But still the phoenix kept going.— CD

My holiday gift guide
I went through all this past year’s recommendations from Recomendo and picked out a dozen items I think would make good inexpensive gifts. I posted my holiday gift list on our Cool Tools site, so many of my gift suggestions are somewhat toolish. — KK

A month of curiosities
It’s December, which means it’s time for blinry’s Advent Calendar of Curiosities. Every day this month, Sebastian “blinry” Morr will post interesting bit of little-known history, culture, or trivia. You can browse earlier years by altering the URL (it goes back to 2011). — MF

Stop the bleeding
When I first started shaving in high school my dad gave me a stytptic pencil. When this chalky stick is touched to razor nicks and cuts, it immediately stops the bleeding. One stick seems to last forever. Two new stytptic pencils cost $3.50. — KK

Budgeting tip
I appreciate this r/personalfinance tip to control impulse purchases by adding things to a wishlist first. I sort of already doing this by “saving for later” a lot items on Amazon, but I will definitely practice this more intently and wait a week before I buy anything that is not necessary. — CD

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 12/15/19

13 December 2019

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Mark Krawczuk, Creative Instigator

Cool Tools Show 204: Mark Krawczuk

Our guest this week is Mark Krawczuk. Mark works as a freelance producer/project manager, who leads teams of developers and creatives to make digital stuff for big companies. In his free time, Mark likes to incite street events and other creative collaborations, as well as help others with their creative projects. You can sign up for his newsletter here.

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: 

cricutmaker
Cricut Maker ($350)
Manual dexterity/fine motor skills are not my strong point. So, I’ve always dreamed of a machine that could do all of those exacting, detailed cuts for me. When TechShop was around, I started to use laser cutters. But when they closed in early 2018, I was left in the lurch. I looked at getting my own laser cutter, and found out they ran in the thousands of dollars, needed to be vented, and are generally a bit too big to have in my apartment. I looked for alternatives to laser cutters, and came across die-cut machines, particularly the Cricut Maker. It’s the love child of a printer (size / shape / methodology) and a plotter/cutter (a blade is moved across the material, cutting out design). While a laser cutter can cut through a lot of different materials, the Cricut Maker can do a fair bit as well. That said, cutting through heavier materials takes a number of passes, so I generally stick to thinner materials such as cardstock and vinyls (which the Cricut Explore seems to do just fine…). Also, while the Cricut Maker can cut fabric, the “bed” that it works with is a maximum 12” X 24” surface, which is great for craft items, but maybe not so great for fabric for clothes. One of the things I love about the Cricut is the integrated training (included) / design software (included) / design library (pay as you go or monthly/annual). I really like how it can import images, and the print and cut feature is really impressive. They also have a rather large library of projects that are ready to go, in their service called Cricut Access. You can get a monthly or yearly subscription (I think of it as Netflix for crafting), or buy projects as you want them. The Cricut Access is great because downloadable projects allow you to customize them, and see how the projects are done. You can also remix parts of one with another, and make them your own. Having so much support, tutorials and projects has made it easy for me to dive in. That said, making your own things are also pretty easy. The design software feels similar to other software I’ve used, and is forgiving for casual users. Cute Cutter has made it even easier to create your own files. Cricut sells all sorts of materials, but the machines are not limited to just those. While dialing in the materials settings is a bit of an experiment, I’ve been using vinyls, papers and paper boards from craft stores and places like SCRAP SF.

Seiko
Seiko solar powered watch ($118)
The cool tool here is using a time piece that isn’t my phone. In addition to trying to stay away from social media, I’m also trying to reduce phone time. I found that I’d often check my phone for the time, and then get sucked into the messages. Now, when I use my “just a watch” to check the time, I can stay focused on the moment. That said, I love that this watch is solar powered. I’ll never need to wind it, and the battery will last probably as long as I will have the watch. I leave it on the window sill every now and again to make sure it is topped up, but as there is no power gauge (a benefit as far as I’m concerned), so it may be fine without that step!

powergenerator
Portable Power Station ($260)
I often do events on the go, or without an outlet near at hand. For example, I’ve throw Fur Coat Movie Nights – guerrilla movie screenings in public parks at night to people wearing warm jackets (ethical fur choices encouraged), and Karaoke nights in under-used public amphitheaters. This little battery box makes those things a lot easier: it has AC and DC plugs that you can just plug devices in to. I like it better than a gas generator when I can get away with it: no gas, no exhaust, no motor hum! And a lot lighter. And for an LED projector and some decent speakers, and a VCR, it works just fine! I also use it around the house – sometimes where I want to use my sewing machine and where the plug is just isn’t the same place. This lets me set up and go just about anywhere for a couple/few hours. One thing to note: It can’t support items more than 500W. So, you need to find something else for your microwave, toaster or iron.

silkdentalfloss
Silk Dental Floss ($14)
I went to the dentist, and I thought they gave me a free trial of coconut floss, but it turned out it was plastic floss with coconut oil in it. I did a bit of research, and came across this article about dental lace made out of silk. I’m not going to save the world by using silk floss, but it is a nice daily reminder to try to cut down on plastics. It comes in a handsome glass and metal container, and you can get refills of the floss. I like it as much as its plastic counterpart.

Also mentioned: 

Some of the projects Mark has worked on lately include: The Cardboard Animal Parade (regular folks created hand made cardboard animal floats, and escorted by 4 marching bands, paraded through San Francisco), You’ve Got My Eyes (a Blade Runner themed, Science Fair / Dance Party – for “Note Ready for Prime Time” science) and The Night Owl Ceremony (a surrealist take over of a large city park at night with interactive art, marching bands, pardes, singers, all ending in a tea party).

 

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

12/13/19

12 December 2019

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Milwaukee Fastback Flip Utility Knife with Blade Storage

Best folding utility knife

I propose the Fastback Flip Utility Knife with Blade Storage ($24), from Milwaukee, is the best folding utility knife.

The good:

  • It literally falls open. When the blade release button is pressed, the blade assembly swings out like a pendulum. It is not “smooth” or “silky,” it is easier than that. It is friction-free. You can flick it open with less effort than any alternative, including flippers, thumb holes, etc.
  • The blade assembly (the blade and the piece that holds the blade) locks in BOTH open and closed positions. So even though it opens so easily, it will not open accidentally and cut you. The lock is positive, with no play or rattle.
  • The blade also locks at a 45 degree position, for greater ease in certain cutting jobs, like slitting carpet, perhaps.
  • The blade lock mechanism is operated with just a simple push-button. No levers or screws. It is also strong and secure (though more on that below.)
  • The aluminum handle is comfortable and hand-filling, and it has a deep cut-out for the index finger that makes it very unlikely it will slip out of your grasp. It also means holding it casually requires almost no effort.
  • It also has a “gut hook” slot in the handle for cutting string or packing tape without opening the knife.
  • It also has a wire-stripping notch in the blade assembly.
  • It has a sturdy wire clip that will not damage your pants.
  • It has on-board blade storage for perhaps four blades. (If you prefer, Milwaukee makes a slimmer model without spare blade storage, and a “Compact” model with a shorter handle.)
  • It has a lanyard hole.
  • It comes with a lifetime warranty from Milwaukee.
  • It costs $15.

The bad:

  • A few people have complained that the blade mount can fail, releasing the blade. I haven’t encountered that, and none of the several professional, hands-on reviewers have reported that issue, but there are a few user reviews complaining about the issue. It seems that the problem may be restricted to particular blades, which vary in thickness and apparently notch location (the semicircular cutouts in the top of the blade that knives use to hold the blades.) If you do encounter that issue, try a different blade. That said, this knife is so ergonomically refined and thoughtfully designed that it is worth experimenting.
  • The knife doesn’t have the ability to extend the blade just a little bit or just halfway like some utility knives do, but neither does any other folding utility knife.
  • The clip cannot be repositioned. It is set in a “tip-down” position, meaning that when the knife is clipped in a pocket, the tip is pointed downward. This is supposedly the safer position, but the knife already locks both open and closed, so I would feel comfortable with a “tip-up” carry, so I could pull out the knife and press the button to let the blade fall open all in one motion. Some of the nicer pocket knives offer repositionable clips, but no utility knives do that I know of. So a repositionable clip would just be gravy.

Overall, the knife is the most thoughtfully designed folding utility knife I have found. It would make an excellent present for the handyman or woman in your life.

-- Karl Chwe 12/12/19

11 December 2019

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9 Volt Snap Lights

Bargain LED flashlight

Transcript

Tools (Recommended):
Lixada Blocklite

PAK-LITE Super Glow LED Flashlight

Tools (Other):
Blocklite 2.0

-- Sean Michael Ragan 12/11/19

(Cool Tools has a YouTube channel with many more tool reviews — editors)

11 December 2019

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What’s in my bag? — Jen Schachter

What's in my bag? issue #27

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Jen Schachter is a maker and mastermind of big, collaborative builds — light-up letters for the Obama White House, an enormous 3D-printed Rosie the Riveter, and a replica of the Apollo 11 hatch for the Smithsonian. She recently relocated to San Francisco to work in the shop of legendary Mythbuster Adam Savage. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @schac_attack.

 

Bullets 2 Wireless Headphones ($99)
I don’t normally splurge on expensive headphones because of how prone I am to lose or break them, but these were given to me as a gift, and NOW I know what I was missing! The sound quality is awesome, but by far the best feature is the magnetic on/off feature. When you separate the earbuds, they turn on – snap them back together, and they turn off. They’re never draining battery when not in use so they hold a charge forever. Out of the box, I used them on my commute for 2 weeks before having to charge them the first time!

Anker PowerCore+ mini 3350 USB Power Bank ($19)
I’ve had this little power bank for a few years and it’s never failed me. It’s so compact you can really take it with you anywhere. (It fits in the tiniest lady purses I have too.) When you’re running low on juice on the road, you can plug in for a full charge instead of being tethered to a wall outlet for an hour. Check out Anker’s site for tons of other capacity and size options.

Leatherman Style PS Keychain Multitool ($26)
Tiniest pocket knife I’ve ever seen. Don’t tell TSA, but I’ve accidentally flown with it a few times undetected. I’m a stickler for keychain minimalism, and this micro multitool has never cramped my style. Because it’s so small, I have it with me always, and reach for it nearly daily. Mine is the older version which is discontinued, but the Style PS got a nifty carabiner upgrade AND pliers!

Mafia EDC Two Bag ($145)
Can “what’s in your bag” be your bag itself? It’s no secret that I work for legendary Mythbuster Adam Savage at his shop in San Francisco. One of the many job perks is this slick tool bag he helped design. It’s minimalist, utilitarian, and stylish, which pretty much checks all my boxes. Inspired by an early astronaut toolbag, it’s made from recycled sailcloth and comes in black or white — which ages beautifully as it gets loved and lived in. Oh, and did I mention it’s machine washable?

-- Jen Schachter 12/11/19

10 December 2019

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Book Freak #30: Simple Ways to Be a Better Communicator

Simple ways to be a better communicator

Book Freak is a weekly newsletter with cognitive tools you can use to improve the quality of your life.

Leil Lowndes is an expert in techniques for better communication. Here are four pieces of advice from her book, How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships.

Answer questions in a way that sparks a conversation
“Never, ever, give just a one-sentence response to the question, ‘Where are you from?’ Give the asker some fuel for his tank, some fodder for his trough.”

Imitate a parrot
“Never be left speechless again. Like a parrot, simply repeat the last few words your conversation partner says. That puts the ball right back in his or her court, and then all you need to do is listen.”

Save your smile for greater impact
“Don’t flash an immediate smile when you greet someone, as though anyone who walked into your line of sight would be the beneficiary. Instead, look at the other person’s face for a second. Pause. Soak in their persona. Then let a big, warm, responsive smile flood over your face and overflow into your eyes. It will engulf the recipient like a warm wave. The split-second delay convinces people your flooding smile is genuine and only for them.”

Learn to listen
“I always try to turn the spotlight on the other person. Truly confident people often do this. They know they grow more by listening than talking.”

Book Freak is one of four newsletters from Cool Tools Lab (our other three are the Cool Tools Newsletter, Recomendo, and What’s in my bag?).

12/10/19

EDITOR'S FAVORITES

COOL TOOLS SHOW PODCAST

12/13/19

Cool Tools Show 204: Mark Krawczuk

Picks and shownotes
12/6/19

Cool Tools Show 203: Melissa Kirsch

Picks and shownotes
11/29/19

Cool Tools Show 202: Dan Slaski

Picks and shownotes

WHAT'S IN MY BAG?
11 December 2019

ABOUT COOL TOOLS

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.