27 January 2020


Book Freak #34: Kurt Vonnegut’s Advice For Better Living

Kurt Vonnegut's Advice For Better Living

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Even though he never graduated from college, Kurt Vonnegut is as well known for his commencement addresses as he is for his novels. Here are four pieces of advice from a collection of Vonnegut’s graduation speeches called If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?
Get off the internet and experience life
“Don’t try to make yourself an extended family out of ghosts on the Internet. Get yourself a Harley and join the Hells Angels instead.”
Accept the wounds of ugly ideas
“So it is not too much to ask of Americans that they not be censors, that they run the risk of being deeply wounded by ideas so that we may all be free. If we are wounded by an ugly idea, we must count it as part of the cost of freedom and, like American heroes in the days gone by, bravely carry on.”
Appreciate very simple occasions
“He said that when things are going really well we should be sure to notice it. He was talking about very simple occasions, not great victories. Maybe drinking lemonade under a shade tree, or smelling the aroma of a bakery, or fishing, or listening to music coming from a concert hall while standing in the dark outside, or, dare I say, after a kiss. He told me that it was important at such times to say out loud, ‘If this isn’t nice, what is?”
Be aware
“Notice when you’re happy, and know when you’ve got enough.”


26 January 2020


Drawing lamp/Eunoia/General Magic

Recomendo: issue no. 183

We want to hear your recommendations! Tweet us @recomendo6.


Drawing lamp
My daughter needed a lamp to light up her drawing board, so I bought this $15 CeSunlight LED clip-on lamp with a flexible neck. She can adjust the brightness and color temperature and to provide the ideal illumination for her work. — MF

A website of untranslatable words
I enjoy browsing this website of 500+ words that don’t translate, because I’m always intrigued by the concepts I had no idea existed, like “qarrtsiluni,” a North Alaskan Inupiatun word for sitting in the darkness, waiting for inspiration to strike you, or “ razbliuto,” a Russian word to describe the feeling for someone you used to love but no longer do, or “vellichor,” which I think may be made up but is a much needed word to address “the strange wistfulness of used bookstores.” It’s weird how once I learn a word for something I was hardly aware of before that I can instantly recall feeling it in the past. I would like to know the word for that. — CD

Failing, while being right
While failure is to be avoided, no teacher is as powerful. The tech startup General Magic failed big time, but it was also one of the most influential companies of all time that no one has heard of. Its all-star team of tech wizards invented the smartphone 15 years too early. General Magic is a fantastic documentary about the dilemma of dreaming big versus paying attention to reality. It’s now streaming on Amazon Prime ($0.99). — KK

Delightful Twitter feed
For my Twitter feed I like following people who surprise me, and ideally, delight me. (Outrage is exhausting.) No one reliably surprises me with delight as much as Kurt Kohlstedt, director of the 99% Invisible podcast. His Twitter feed delivers a steady stream of unexpected discoveries and insights. — KK

Excellent indie movies for free
My Los Angeles Library card entitles me to 8 free movies on Kanopy a month. Your local library probably has a similar Kanopy offering. It’s like Netflix for classic, foreign, documentary. and indie films. Visit the site to see what they have. — MF

Important life lessons thread
Julie Zhuo, Product Design VP at Facebook, asked “What’s your most important life lesson that you wish you learned ten years earlier?” and Twitter answered. My favorite replies were “Better understand your inner child issues so that your subconscious becomes conscious.” — @AmandaMGoetz, and “The grass is always greener because it’s been fertilised with bullsh*t. Enjoy what you have.” — @pTah_XV. Here’s the full thread. — CD

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-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 01/26/20

24 January 2020


Jane Metcalfe, Founder of NEO.LIFE

Cool Tools Show 210: Jane Metcalfe

Our guest this week is Jane Metcalfe. Jane is the founder of NEO.LIFE, a media and events company tracking how digital tools and an engineering mindset are transforming human biology. Prior to that, she made chocolate on a pier in San Francisco at TCHO Chocolate. Jane is probably best known as the cofounder of Wired Magazine. The Kickstarter campaign for her new book “Neo.Life: 25 Visions for the Future of Our Species” is now live.

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

Show notes:

Offi Mag Table ($249)
I love bent plywood! I also love magazines, so this bent plywood magazine holder/side table designed by Eric Pfieffer is a total winner. There is something just so satisfying about seeing a sweep of beautiful wood flow down into a curve and splash back up the other side. And that’s not all. The table makes a perfect companion to your LazyBoy recliner for Sunday afternoon reading delight. But, you can also turn it on its end and use it as a makeshift work surface, which is great when a colleague has to come be in the video conference but also wants desk space to take notes. It’s so good looking I used it this week on stage for an event we produced.

Souk Shopper Basket by Bohemia
I used to find shopping at farmers markets physically taxing mostly because I get excited and buy way more than I can carry, always. But also because once I had bags in both hands, I was constantly picking up and putting them down to taste something or fetch my wallet. Until I found the souk baskets by Bohemia. The big innovation is the length of the handle—it’s long enough to fit over your shoulder unlike literally every market basket I had ever seen before. And it’s not just any handle. It’s rolled leather covered so it doesn’t dig into your shoulder, and the colors make me so happy. I first bought them 15 years ago, but the wear and tear of feeding a family of four finally took its toll, so I just got a new one with a lovely raspberry colored handle. They sit flat on the ground, too, so no more chasing your satsumas down the aisle because your basket rolled over. They’re handwoven in Morocco from sustainably grown palm leaf. Innovation in a market basket, after all these centuries!

Desk Pad/Gaming Mouse Mat ($11)
My gamer son scoffs at me for this, but I love it. It’s a huge mouse pad, about 32 x 15” originally designed for gamers, but re-imagined as office decor. Made from a durable, washable microfiber, It’s big enough so your wild mouse motions aren’t constrained by a small 4×6” mouse pad. You can put your keyboard, your phone, your car keys, and your cup of tea all on top of it. It’s waterproof, smooth and warm to the touch. I’ve been spending a lot of time on my computer at the dining room table lately, and this gives me confidence that I’m not scratching or watermarking its finish. Comes in assorted colors, too.

Nite-Ize Gear Ties ($21)
How did I manage without these? For years, I’ve been using velcro ties for my computer and phone cables, but when I came across these recently, that all changed. Suddenly velcro seems so 20th century! Made from flexible steel wire and covered with a non slip rubber coating, these gear ties will find their way into every room in your home. The 3” ones are perfect for headphone and charging cables; I use the 6” for computer cords; and the 12” for skis. Assorted colors, too. So much easier to wrangle than velcro that wants to stick to itself.

B12 Love vitamin injections
I’d heard of celebrities and CEOs using vitamin and nutrient injections and IV drips to cure hangovers before an important board meeting or performance. I’d also heard of chemo patients getting in-home drips before having to travel, and Burners to prep for the playa (or recover upon return). So when I got sick right before the holidays, I decided it was my turn to try it because lying in bed was simply not an option. The menu was extensive and took a lot of thought and consultation. I was sick, exhausted, dehydrated, and not sleeping well, so I ended up getting 2 “cocktails.” In my right cheek, I got the Ultimate Chillax ($65), which includes magnesium, B12, MIC, and taurine. That was to help calm my mind for sleep, which was working in overdrive on my work, Christmas, and packing lists. In my left cheek, I got the Kick Butt Travel Shot ($55), which has high doses of all the B vitamins in addition to “Extra Strength” B12 which they said would give me more energy, endurance, and stamina and help prepare me for international travel.The result was an excellent night of rest, and enough energy to get out of bed and actually work like a demon the next day. I started getting better from that moment on and was able to sail through the holidays, international travel, a week of skiing, and a week of convention intensity when I got back. B12 Love makes it really easy with more than a dozen locations around the Bay Area, including fixed location lounges and pop up hours in places like natural medicine clinics, spas, and skin care salons. You are treated by a licensed naturopathic doctor, trained naturopathic medical assistant, or registered nurse. I am normally skeptical of naturopathic remedies. They always sound good but the evidence is not always there. In this case, I figured I had nothing to lose and honestly believe it was helpful. Even if all I needed was the rehydration, it was worth it. Having access to this sort of treatment without having to convince your doctor or go to the emergency room feels so 21st century!

About Jane’s new book:

Neo.Life: 25 Visions for the Future of Our Species
Neo.Life: 25 Visions for the Future of Our Species is a book about the future of human beings, as viewed by some of today’s most creative minds working at the intersection of biology and technology. You’ll find essays, interviews, fiction, and visual art that explore the powerful new tools and ideas redefining the frontiers of our biology. Think of it as a guide to your future self. We now have the means to transform ourselves and our species. This book captures today’s most daring, inventive, and thoughtful ideas as conceived by some of science’s biggest thinkers, entrepreneurs, writers, and artists. But it’s not a technical manuscript or a treatise on bioethics. Neo.Life is written in layman’s terms for people like you who care about our legacy and the world we’re building for our descendants. The Kickstarter campaign is now live and is 106% funded.


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


24 January 2020


Celestron FirstScope

Best beginner telescope

The Celestron FirstScope is the best pick for an absolute beginner level telescope. Most entry-level scopes are crap, and most useable scopes start at $300. Since the FirstScope costs only $48, you might be tempted to dismiss it as more useless junk. But I’ve been using the FirstScope, and it is sweet. It needs a sturdy chair or table to perch on, but otherwise is easy to handle. It is compact for storage; it can fit onto a shelf — and it is the perfect size for a small kid. Pretty durable, too. With its 3-inch mirror you can see moons of Jupiter, ring of Saturn, and lunar craters. (I missed that recent comet.) Many other buyers mention that if you substitute decent eyepieces (from another scope) it improves the view tremendously. With one of those you can view a few bright galaxies. It will also focus as close as 30 feet away; we’ve used it as a terrestrial telephoto lens to scan the wildlife on the mountain behind our house.

This is an adequate first telescope to try out sky watching for a small investment. If you want to invest into a higher quality telescope, I recommend Ed Ting’s reviews at ScopeReview. It was Ed Ting’s raves about this little gem that turned me onto the FirstScope in the first place.


-- KK 01/24/20

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2013 — editors)

23 January 2020


Polypropylene tie-down cam straps

Just about anywhere a rope will do, a cam strap will do better

As a whitewater kayaker, I am a frequent user of 1″ wide, polypropylene tie-down straps for easy and secure tying of boat to roof rack, but over the years there have been many instances where I have been glad to have them in the car for other purposes. This week, I used them for securing an Ikea bed frame to the roof when it didn’t fit inside the car. Past uses include strapping up a falling-off bumper, tying bundles of firewood, and as a guy-line for a tarp. Just about anywhere a rope will do, a cam strap will do better.

I got my first set of straps as a giveaway with a paddling magazine subscription 7 years ago. They’ve been in continuous use and are just about as good as new. I’ve never seen or heard of one failing.

Sometimes, I’ll see new paddlers trying other systems: ratcheting buckles, ropes, etc…but they always end up with simple, not-too-tangly, no-knots-required, versatile cam straps.

The old standby comes from NRS and runs $4.00 to $7.75, depending on length, but you can get all kinds of custom options from strapworks.com. My unreasonably organized and clever friend got various colors in lengths equal to the number of letters in the color: 3′ red, 5′ white, 10′ camouflage, etc.

Oh, and you can open bottle caps with the cam. What else do you need?

-- Jordan Yaruss 01/23/20

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2013 — editors)

22 January 2020


What’s in my bag? — Tommy Honton

What's in my bag? issue #33

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Tommy Honton creates immersive experiences that weave narrative and interactivity/game design, including the escape room Stash House in Los Angeles.


About the bag
Got this bag at E3 a number of years ago as a promotion for the Assassin’s Creed game series and it became my home for pins and buttons. I’ve since had to move on to decorating other bags (I have 2 more that are even more covered), but I like this one for traveling light.

What’s inside the bag
Rocketbook Smart Notebook + Pen ($30)
Rocketbook makes an erasable, reusable notebook that allows for easy, quick scanning with an app. Using formulas found at the bottom of each page, the app can send pages in bundles as PDFs, JPGs, etc. to cloud storage or emails. It can even make written text searchable with OCR. I’ve found the features so useful, it’s hard to write with anything else. Plus, I like the reusable factor of the notebooks.

Tile Mate ($50, 4pk)
I lost my key ring a few years ago and it was a nightmare getting replacements for everything on it. After that, I discovered Tile Bluetooth trackers. They’re simple, small, and now that newer models of the Tile Mate allow for easy battery replacement, I have one in almost everything I own.

Biodegradable Floss Picks ($16, 200qty)
I eat a lot of leafy vegetables and they have a tendency to wedge themselves where I don’t want them. There’s nothing worse than the feeling of something stuck in my teeth, so I always carry a small pack of floss picks.

Aukey True Wireless Earbuds ($50)
I listen to an unhealthy number of podcasts and having true wireless earbuds that fit comfortably and are reliable has become a necessity for me. I’m constantly surprised at how well these budget earbuds have performed. I’ve had them for almost a year and still get hours of use before having to charge them and the audio quality is great. Also, I always travel with a charged portable battery and a rugged, flexible USB-C cable, just in case.

-- Tommy Honton 01/22/20


Optical Punches (Thumb) ROUGH 01 01/20/20

Buy-it-for-life Label Maker

Brother P-touch PT-D210 Label Maker

img 01/17/20

Tywen Kelly, Tech Evangelist

Cool Tools Show 209: Tywen Kelly

img 01/16/20

Trim Puller

Removes molding without damage


Best Demolition Tool

Tear It Apart With a Fubar

See all the reviews


img 03/22/10


Offsite data backup

img 05/19/04

Correlated History of Earth

Understanding geological and biological time

img 11/20/12

Stanley Compartment Organizer

Affordable parts organizer

img 05/23/19

Mushrooming Without Fear

Introduction to edibles

See all the favorites



Cool Tools Show 210: Jane Metcalfe

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 209: Tywen Kelly

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 208: Theodore Gray

Picks and shownotes

22 January 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.

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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.