30 October 2020


Sam Maggs, Video Games and Comics Writer

Cool Tools Show 250: Sam Maggs

Our guest this week is Sam Maggs. Sam is a best-selling author of books, including The Unstoppable Wasp: Built on Hope, Conquest, and Tell No Tales, as well as comics, including Marvel Action, Captain Marvel, My Little Pony, and Transformers, and video games as well, like Marvel’s Spider-Man and Ratchet & Clank. She’s also an on-air host for networks like Nerdist. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @sammaggs. Her new books The Fangirl’s Guide to the Universe and The Fangirl’s Journal for Leveling Up were just released this week.

Subscribe to the Cool Tools Show on iTunes | RSS | Transcript | See all the Cool Tools Show posts on a single page

Show notes:

Twine, a free online game writing tool
My day job is writing for video games, which is super fun, and people always ask me how they can get into it. I always recommend using this tool, it’s called Twine. You can find it at twinery.org. The great thing about Twine is that you can do it completely in browser, you don’t even have to download anything, and it allows you to make your own text-based, essentially, choose-your-own-adventure style video games, or like old DOS games. It’s incredibly easy to learn. There’s a whole tutorial system and Wiki right on the tools, so it’s very simple for folks. Even if you have little to no knowledge of like HTML or coding or tagging or anything, you can pick it up super fast, and then you can publish it for free on a site that they have that hosts all of these so you can have other people play it as well. It’s great to be able to use if you want to kind of add to your portfolio, or if you want to show people your writing, or if you want to be able to say, “I built my own game,” this is a perfect way to do it completely for free on your own.

Archer & Olive Bullet Journal ($32)
Instead of a pre-made planner that you buy that has a certain amount of space already blocked off for each day in a calendar month, this journal gives you like three or four lines for every day during the week. It’s freeform so you can organize that calendar however you want by drawing it yourself. So in my bullet journal, at the front, I have a little space for every upcoming month. If I have something coming up in November, I can put it in the November section. Then when November comes around, I make a little month calendar where I can then transfer everything from there into a calendar page. Then every week I make a weekly spread where I take a couple of pages of my bullet journal and I put down all of my days that week, all the things that are going on, so I constantly have a view what’s going on and what’s coming up for me. Then every day I kind of write down, okay, today is Monday, November 1st, and I take the tasks that I have in that weekly spread and put them on this list as well as anything that comes up during that day. So all my meetings, all my writing tasks, any appointments that I have, all of that goes on the page. What’s great about it being freeform is that if you have a Monday that has 67 things that you need to do and a Tuesday that has nothing, you’re not frantically trying to cram in all 67 things into that same amount of space. You have the freedom.

Yoshi Yoshitani’s Tarot of the Divine ($18)
I am a big fan of tarot readings as a tool that you can use in your daily life to kind of guide you in the right direction. If you’re looking for some answers or some guidance, or you need to figure out a problem, or you’re not sure how to take a new approach to something, I like to use tarot cards to help with that. Or even in my writing, if I’m kind of like, what should this character be like? It can be fun to draw a card as an inspiration moment. Most people use a traditional deck, but Yoshi Yoshitani, who is a wonderful comic book artist — she just worked on Zatanna for DC — she’s come out with her own tarot deck, fully illustrated by herself, and a book to go along with it. It’s called the Tarot of the Divine, and what she’s done is each card is modeled after a story from a selection of fables and folktales from cultures all over the world. So The Fool is based on The Little Mermaid, which was from a Danish tale. The Lovers is based on China’s Beauty and the Beast story. The World card is based on the Maori legend of Hinemoa and Tutanekai, which I almost certainly pronounced incorrectly. The suits, which are typically cups, coins, swords, and wands, draw from cultural fables in ancient mythologies, like Japan’s the Crane Wife, Persia’s Aladdin, England’s Jack and the Beanstalk. So you get this amazing tarot deck with this 44-page guide book that tells you not only how to interpret the cards, but also gives you a little background on each of the fables on each of the cards. So it’s pretty cool.

Sḵwálwen’s Mimts’ Hand Sanitizer ($10)
My last pick is a hand sanitizer, because I feel like it’s something that we’re all using a lot of right now. If we’re not, we probably should be. Though it’s no substitute for washing your hands, but still it can be good when you’re out and about, on the run. What I love about this hand sanitizer by Skwalwen is that it was developed by a woman called Leigh Joseph, and she is part of the Squamish Nation, an indigenous first nation’s person in Canada. She actually has a master’s degree in science from the University of Victoria, and she is using her master’s degree for her company Skwalwen Botanicals to look at natural elements and reconnecting to her ancestral Squamish lands and traditions, and combining those two things together to make a line of skincare, essentially, which includes this awesome hand sanitizer called Mimts. What’s great about Mimts is that it is, of course, made with 99% isopropyl alcohol, which is a hand sanitizer, but then she combines it with usnea lichen, which is antibacterial and antimicrobial, and also Labrador tea, which is Canadian witch-hazel and lavender eucalyptus and sage essential oil. So she’s basically combining the traditions of the Squamish Nation with real science to make a great hand sanitizer. We’re all buying sanitizer anyway. I feel as though it is a much better choice to support an indigenous women’s small business than to just give our money to more big corporations. If we’re going to buy it anyway, we might as well make a smart purchasing decision if we have to exist within capitalism.

About The Fangirl’s Guide to the Universe and The Fangirl’s Journal for Leveling Up:
Back in 2015, my first book ever published was called “The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Girl Geeks”. It was basically a handbook for getting girls into geek culture. So if you wanted to get into comics, or video games, sci-fi, it was kind of a how-to guide. If you already liked those things, it was a great way to tell you how to go to your first convention, how to meet like-minded people online or in-person, how to incorporate feminism into your fandom. With the “Fangirl’s Guide to the Universe” coming out on October 27th, I’ve actually been able to put together a second edition of Fangirl’s Guide. So it’s fully updated for 2020. It has all new art by Kat Goodloe. She’s wonderful. We’ve got all new references in there, all new interviews with awesome female creators in the nerd industry, and the same day it’s coming out with its own companion guided journal called the “Fangirl’s Journal for Leveling Up”. So you can, kind of like my bullet journal, use this journal to write down your own experiences with fandom. It’s fully guided, also fully-illustrated by Kat Goodloe, it matches the guide, and you can kind of personalize it and use it to make notes and think hard about your own journey into fandom and feminism and what that means for you.


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


30 October 2020


Personal Locator Beacon

Alerts search and rescue services to quickly locate you

With more and more people heading into the outdoors, there’s been a corresponding uptick in the number of search and rescue (SAR) missions to retrieve lost or injured hikers. Tragically some of these people didn’t make it, while others were eventually rescued after several days or even weeks. The cruel irony is that in this era of smartphones, action cams, and drones, even experienced outdoor enthusiasts are oblivious to a simple piece of technology that could have prevented or mitigated these ordeals, and that’s a personal locator beacon (PLB).

As a quick primer, an activated PLB sends a one-way SOS message to a dedicated SAR satellite network, which then relays your location to the nearest SAR center so a search can be initiated. There’s no subscription fee and satellite coverage is worldwide. According to the NOAA, which administers the program in the United States, 77 people in the US were successfully rescued via PLB in 2019 alone. A PLB should not be confused with a satellite communicator with SOS function (e.g. InReach, SPOT), which piggyback off commercial satellite networks and thus require a subscription plan. REI has an easy to understand comparison here, and you can read about the technical details of PLBs and Cospas-Sarsat here.

Almost all PLBs are made by two parent companies (ACR Artex and Orolia), who in turn operate various brands targeted to different markets. I personally own the McMurdo FastFind 210, which has since been supplanted by the FastFind 220 (adding Galileo and MEOSAR support to the original model). Although I can’t rate its performance per se as it’s never been activated, it hasn’t given me any grief either. The original battery actually lasted longer than the intended 5 years, and it’s small and light enough I don’t hesitate to pack it for any hike or road trip. All PLBs meet a minimal operational standard so you should be well-served by any model you choose. Over the last seven years, the peace of mind my PLB provides has allowed me to explore some truly remote and beautiful locations around the world, and I strongly encourage my fellow hikers to make the same investment in their personal safety.

-- Nabhan Islam 10/30/20

29 October 2020


Twin Draft Stopper

Simple removable draft barrier

Lots of people visiting my house comment on all the different gadgets I have, but the only one they ask me about — where can they get their own? — is my double draft stopper. Sometimes the simple and cheap is more impressive than the complex and expensive. It’s just two long cylinders of styrofoam that slide into a cloth cover which is then slid under the door and holds the foam in placed to stop drafts. The foam can be trimmed to fit your door and the extra fabric folds back and fastens with velcro. The whole thing moves with the door, is easily removed, and the cover is machine washable. They’re available all over the web for less than $10.

-- Jimmie Whipple 10/29/20

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2005 — editors)

28 October 2020

Tool Vac Auto Switch

eToolCity Automatic Vacuum Switch

Tools (Recommended): eToolCity Automatic Vacuum Switch with Extra Outlet for Power Tools

Tools (Other):
Grizzly Industrial G4176 – 1/4 HP Power Feeder
HHIP 3012-8110 3 Gallon Coolant Pump Kit
Valtcan Solder Smoke Absorber Fume Extractor
Lampeez 3D Penguin Night Light

Transcript: Hi, I’m Sean Michael Ragan, and you’re watching Cool Tools. For whatever reasons, I seem to be accumulating vacuum cleaners as I age. Here are four I dug out recently while reorganizing, none of which I actually use anymore. So I thought I might try repurposing them for dust collection in the shop. I’ve been thinking about putting in a central dust collection system down here for years, but it seems like there’s always something more important and/or more fun that I wanna be doing with my shop time. And since I have all these small units lying around anyway, I thought why not just dedicate one small vacuum cleaner to every stationary power tool, rather than trying to plumb them all together to one big central vac? I tried it out first with my DW703 chop saw and this little J150A Shop-Vac. You can see I’ve hung the vacuum from the ceiling so it doesn’t take up space on the bench, and what I’ve been doing, for about three months now, is just plugging that in before I use the saw, and unplugging it when I’m done. And that has been a vast improvement over not having any dust collection here at all. But it’s obviously not ideal A) because it slows you down and B) because it doubles the number of power outlets you need to run the tool. This little extension box, however, solves both those problems. As you can see it’s got one plug and two outlets. You plug your tool into this one, and your vacuum cleaner into this one, leave the vacuum cleaner power switch in the on position, and then the electronics in the box sense the current draw when you’re using the power tool and automatically turn on the power to the secondary outlet. The auxiliary outlet has a built-in one-second delay, so that your breaker doesn’t get hit with a big starting current surge from both the vacuum cleaner and the power tool at the same time. It also has a ten-second run-on time to clear the dust out of the vacuum line when you’re done cutting. Besides a vacuum cleaner, you could also use this unit to control a work light, a power feed, a coolant pump, a fume extractor, or pretty much any other accessory appliance you might want to use with a power tool. At the time of production, this is about the most economical automatic switch unit you can get at 35 bucks, which, incidentally, is about the same number of seconds it takes to install. OK, thank you for watching. As always, you’ll find affiliate links down below the video; if you’ve seen anything here you like, please do check those out, as well as our blog and our podcast over at cool-tools.org. We’ll see you next time.

-- Sean Michael Ragan 10/28/20

28 October 2020


What’s in my bag? — Nabhan Islam, MD

What's in my bag? issue #73

Sign up here to get What’s in my bag? a week early in your inbox.

Nabhan Islam is a Medical Science Liaison (MSL). A MSL is non-promotional role that serves as a bridge between the pharmaceutical industry and clinical practice [of Medicine]. The majority of his time is spent meeting with specialists and attending medical conferences within his territory to keep both parties apprised of the latest developments within his therapeutic area. After previously working in Respiratory Medicine, he’s hoping to switch to Vaccines & Infectious Disease to help advance a COVID-19 vaccine candidate.


About the bag
Waterfield Bolt Briefcase ($269-$299): After owning a half-dozen bags over the last two decades, I knew exactly what I wanted in my perfect laptop bag. This briefcase is available in 3 sizes so you can choose the correct dimensions for your laptop without any extraneous weight or bulk. There are two separate padded compartments for my laptop and tablet. Lastly, the carry-on passthrough sleeve doesn’t impinge on the rear drop pocket — a very handy (and very rare) arrangement.

What’s inside the bag
Jabra Speakerphone ($130): A must-have for frequent virtual meetings. Vastly improves the audio quality of conversations and lets you speak and listen naturally without fumbling with headphones. Doubles as a speaker for presentations with sound, and playing music back at the hotel (versatility is key when traveling). There are wireless models available, but USB is foolproof with zero chance of a dropped signal or dead battery.

Snow Peak Titanium Cutlery Set ($26): Life on the road means a lot of take-out and delivery, and I’ve found myself with a meal and no utensils on more than one occasion. I’m also trying to reduce my use of single-use plastic. It’s hard to articulate but the tines and bowl are shaped just right, and perfectly nest together in a neat storage bag. Titanium is also extremely lightweight and hypoallergenic (no nickle = no metallic aftertaste).

iOttie Magnetic Air Vent Mount ($17): This is the easiest, most compact, and reliable way of mounting my smartphone to a litany of different rental cars. The mount easily attaches to a vent fin with press-fit prongs and a locking ring, which then holds my phone via a small magnetic plate attached to the case. The magnet is rock-solid; my phone doesn’t move an iota once placed. Due to the tapered design, the mount also functions as a stand for watching movies — clever!

Muji Sewing Kit ($5): This tiny kit features a few needles, needle threader (where have you been all my life), thread in neutral colors, safety pins, and a pair of mini scissors. The scissors easily get the most use trimming the loose thread I inevitably find 5 minutes before my presentations. The kit is TSA/CATSA (Canada) compliant so it’s safe in your carry-on, and there’s some space to add your own buttons too.

-- Nabhan Islam, MD 10/28/20

27 October 2020


Tilley Winter Hats

Enduring head warmers

I’m bald, and my father was a hat hobbyist, so I come by my hat interest biologically. Furthermore, I grew up in the northern midwest —I know about cold ears.

These wool-plus hats from Tilley are the best winter headgear I know for wear-around use.

The “Winter Hat” is a tweed marvel, with a short sloping brim all around, fold-down ear flaps, and a fold-down forehead warmer (a great comfort against a chill headwind, but invisible to others, being hidden behind the brim). The ear flaps are slightly cupped around the ear for further wind protection. The wool is teflon-treated, so rain and snow pretty much bounce off. The hat can be folded into a jacket pocket, yet retains its shape perfectly. In two varieties of tweed, plus black, it’s a surprisingly handsome hat — “friendly,” Brian Eno called it. People call out: “Nice hat!”

-- Stewart Brand 10/27/20

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2003 — editors)


img 10/26/20

Gonzo Gizmos

Low-rent science hacks

img 10/23/20

Ramona Pringle, Creator and Journalist

Cool Tools Show 249: Ramona Pringle

img 10/23/20

Silicone Baking Mat

Reusable non-grease baking sheet

1/8" slotted and PH1. 10/22/20

Marking Your Drivers

Gareth’s Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales – Issue #66

img 10/22/20

Bodum Shin Cha Tea Press

34-ounce glass tea press for loose teas and tea bags

See all the reviews


img 12/3/15


Satisfying audio books

img 12/11/03

Beyond Backpacking

Super ultra lightweight camping

img 11/5/19

Leatherman Squirt

Lightest multi-tool

img 04/2/18

Mosquito Netting

Cheap worry-free sleeping

img 07/8/18


Classic puzzle in great package

See all the favorites



Cool Tools Show 250: Sam Maggs

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 249: Ramona Pringle

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 248: Brian Fisher

Picks and shownotes

28 October 2020


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.