12 December 2018


Ionix Cherry Pitter

Removes cherry stones quickly with little to no hand fatigue

I thought my cherry pitter was an antique I got it in a thrift shop about 15 years ago but was surprised to see it is still for sale on Amazon and still made in Italy. $10. Not only does it pit cherries it will also pit olives. It’s spring loaded so it is easy to get the next olive/cherries in one-handed. If you have a recipe that calls for either this will do the job lick-it-t-split.

-- Steve Golden 12/12/18

11 December 2018


Nitecore Keychain Lights

USB rechargeable mini flashlights

Nitecore makes a range of USB rechargeable keychain lights. I keep their 45 lumen (max) model on my keychain and use it at least a couple of times a week. Under $10.


I use their 85 lumen model (above), with a built-in clip, attached to a hat, for hands-free light for evening outside or out-building tasks, e.g., splitting firewood. About $20.


I had one of the TIP 2017 Upgrade model (above), but gave it to a friend, who raves about how bright a light it puts out (360 lumens) for such a small light. About $30.

-- Sigurd Andersen 12/11/18

10 December 2018


Evo Ergonomic Pen

Eliminate hand pain and cramping when writing

I’ve been using Evo Ergonomic Pens for over a decade. I started with the Millennium which is chrome-plated metal and has some heft. But the plastic ones work well too. They are more comfortable for me since they don’t put pressure on the middle finger and don’t require as much effort to grip and manipulate. I also find them easier to travel with. Just reverse the the cartridge so the ballpoint is pointed inside and drop in a pocket, bag, or travel wallet. The Millennium makes for a nice gift, especially for someone who appreciates good design.

-- Dave Cortright 12/10/18

09 December 2018


Free .blog domains/Habits of a Happy Brain/Explore.org

Recomendo: issue no. 124

Free domains for blogging
To encouraging blogging, WordPress is offering free .blog domains. They’ll give you a “x.blog” domain name that suits your x. I registered a blog for my next photobook called Vanishing Asia and got vanishingasia.blog. That’s pretty good, and for free. — KK

Book excerpts
Excerpts from the book, Habits of a Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, & Endorphin Levels, by Loretta Graziano Breuning:

“Finding threats makes you feel curiously safe. When you know a lion is near, you feel safer when you can see it. We keep seeking evidence of threats, and we get a dopamine boost when we find what we seek. You may also get a serotonin boost from the feeling of being right, and an oxytocin boost if the evidence bonds you to those with similar concerns. This is why people seem oddly pleased to find evidence of doom and gloom.”

“Happy chemicals were not meant to create constant ecstasy. They were meant to steer us toward things that promote survival. When we try to get constant happiness from them, disappointment is likely.“
“Celebrating small steps triggers more dopamine than saving it all up for one big achievement.”

“Your brain will never stop trying to promote your survival. It will take what you have for granted and look for ways to get more – more rewards (dopamine), more physical security (endorphin), more social support (oxytocin), more respect (serotonin). Seeking more is risky. Your brain is constantly deciding whether it’s worth giving up some of this to get more of that.”

— MF

Nature live cams
For a dose of awe and wonder head over to Explore.org and choose from almost 100 live nature cams available at any time. There’s ocean cams, bears, gorillas, puppies and kittens and other animal sanctuaries (this sheep barn can be pretty mesmerizing to watch when they’re in for the night). Never a dull moment. — CD

Thrilling documentary
Icarus is a Netflix streaming documentary that starts out small. The director has the idea of documenting how elite bicycle racers elude doping tests by doping himself and getting tested. This leads to Russian doping experts, which in turn stumbles into the Russian doping underground, which eventually breaks into the Russian doping scandal, and as the director gets involved with newspapers and FBI, his investigations lead directly to the ban on Russian athletes in the Olympics and an international diplomatic crisis.  All the while the director is filming everyone, including the Russian whistleblower, who is put into the US federal witness protection program for fear of Russian assassination. It’s a mind-boggling Oscar-winning documentary that expands bigger and bigger as it proceeds. — KK

Garage and workshop storage shelves
About 8 years ago I hired someone to help my organize my stuff, after we met at my house, she told me to order some Gorilla Racks for our garage. They turned out to be a good purchase. They’re easy to assemble and sturdy. — MF

Expert ways to tell if clothes are well-made
Ever since I took a sewing class I’m obsessed with how clothes are made, and now avoid buying “fast fashion” if I can. This article by BuzzFeed shows you 14 easy ways to figure out if clothing is made cheaply or not. It’s illuminating. — CD



Sign up here to get Recomendo a week early in your inbox.

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 12/9/18

07 December 2018


Gever Tulley, Founder of Tinkering School

Cool Tools Show 152: Gever Tulley

Our guest this week is Gever Tulley. Gever is founder of Tinkering School, an internationally famous summer camp where kids build amazing things from rollercoasters to wind-powered trains. He is also the founder of SF Brightworks, a K-12 school where the student is the co-author of their education, with an emphasis on learning by doing. He also co-author of 50 Dangerous Things (you should let your children do), a book to help children and families learn to assess and mitigate risk by doing dangerous things together (and is now available in seven languages). He speaks and hosts workshops internationally on education and the empowerment of children, and he is constantly fooling around in the shop, building things with kids

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:

Irwin Vice-Grip Self-Adjusting Wire Stripper
“Just recently, I’ve fallen in love with this self-adjusting wire stripper. It is the most reliable tool I’ve ever put in my hand. We have yet to have it fail to perfectly strip the end of a wire. And, it requires no finesse. Even the youngest kids, who are still struggling with their motor skills, are able to set the wire in the right place, squeeze the handle, and have a perfectly stripped wire.”

IMHC CMap Tools (Concept Mapping)
“I think, everybody these days is familiar with a practice called mind mapping, which is trying to tease out of your own brain the connections that you make to a central concept. And then, those can get hierarchical in complexity, and they branch, and you create this map of what you know. And, years ago, a very young educator introduced me to the concept of concept mapping. And, this is a very distinct dialect of a mind map. And, what it really does is, you construct a model of what you know about something. And that consists of the nodes that you’re familiar with in a mind map, where you’ve got a central concept, but it highlights the relationship between those nodes. By way of example, if we were to describe those wire cutters, and what we know about them, we might start off with wire cutting, and wire cutting would be an activity, and then, we would connect that to something, ‘is a necessary step’ for prototyping electronics. ‘Is a necessary step’ would be the connection between those two concepts. And, by distinctly elevating the importance of the relationship between the concepts, we start to, very accurately, capture what it is we know about a topic, a domain of knowledge. And, what I found in practice, especially when I was working in technology is, I would have a development team in the room, and we would start to use one of these maps as a way to make sure that we were all working on the same thing. And, as we built these maps, both interactively in software, or on a whiteboard, what I realized is that it really starts to highlight those places where you say, ‘Well, I don’t actually know why this component is here. I don’t know why we have this module. I don’t know why we’re doing it this way.’ And that would highlight the gaps, so that we could really focus our attention on closing unknown missing knowledge gaps. I guess it helps you find the unknown unknowns.”

Highland 2
“I have three books in process right now, and, have really moved away from them, which is where I used to write to a tool called Highland or Highland 2, now is, just been out for a year. These are developed by John August. He’s a fairly famous screenwriter. And, he has a little software company on the side called Quote-Unquote Apps. And, he developed this out of frustration, which is often where I think some of the best tools come from. He felt like there was a tyranny in the industry of people bullying screenwriters about format, and, he felt like format is the least interesting part of a screenplay. We should just nail this down, standardize it, and then, develop a broad swath of tools that can do this. And, his first version was a very simple formatting tool that could just produce screenplays. But, it presented such a beautifully clean and crisp writing interface, and it’s built around a version of the Courier font that he cleaned up and developed at his company, which, it somehow, makes me feel more like writing when I see the letters coming out in this simple clean Courier.”

“[Trinket is] a terrific online browser-based Python environment, where students at our school have really had a good time doing Turtle graphics, doing TextAdventures, and it presents a really comfortable on-ramp, where you can start with a Block style programming environment, and then jump over into Python as they’re comfort with algorithmic thinking, and ability to express themselves, so the keyboard increases on … We needed a place where kids could be playful with code, but also be serious and write some real code. Unlike a lot of the online systems for kids getting into code, this supports doing a project that has multiple files, or multiple Python modules, if you will, and, it’s a great place to develop those skills, and I can go in and look at their code, and co-edit with them. … I can be sick at home, and talking over the phone while they edit, and we can be there together solving a problem, which I’ve done more than once.”

Also mentioned:

Tinkering Labs Motor Catalyst
“One of the projects I’m working on right now, and it’s actually for sale on Amazon and places like that, is, something we call the Motor Catalyst. I have a little company called Tinkering Labs, and it produces this; it’s a box, and it’s full o’ parts, and, it has a little deck of challenges in there, but, it has very few instructions; just enough to give you a sense of how to get the motor spinning, and how simple circuits work, and from that point on, it’s figure it out. .. It’s a open-ended play-based, or discovery-based learning environment, for understanding how electric motors work, building physical contraptions to do curious and interesting things. You can build almost anything out of it. We’re constantly getting pictures from kids who’ve built egg beaters, and somebody made a saw that could cut through a piece of paper, all kinds of little robotic creatures that scurry around on the floor. And it’s all held together with rubber bands. It’s very forgiving. It doesn’t require precision. In fact, what it emphasizes is iteration, and, that really supports a work mode of kids setting themselves a goal, ‘Can I make something that runs around on the floor?’, and then suddenly they’re like, ‘It’s just going in circles. Can I get it to go straight?’ And then get it to go straight. And then it runs into a wall. ‘Oh, I know how to build it, so it stays together once it hits the wall, and… ‘ It self feeds and self stimulates a really productive learning process that’s self directed.”

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $377 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF


07 December 2018


Cool Tools 2018 Holiday Gift Guide: Best Kits

Gift suggestions from Cool Tools' founder

The editors of Cool Tools have curated a number of gift suggestions selected from the pages of Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities (which itself makes a great gift), and from the website. This week: Kevin’s best kit picks!

I’ve been making some kits and checking them twice. Here are some of the best nerdy kits that I’ve completed that are both fun to put together, sort of ingenious in their design, and are handsome and/or useful when finished. And they make nice gifts. — KK


Mechanical Gifs

Theo Gray, one of the co-creators of Mathematica, has developed a line of transparent machine kits. His idea is to make mechanical functions “transparently obvious.” All the parts are clear plastic, laser cut and separated. The biggest chore of these kits is peeling off the protector film/paper from each side of the acrylic. I find it annoying on the many small parts; others find this mindless work relaxing. The fit of the pieces are eerily precise. They go together fast with metal bolts. No printed instructions are included; you are directed to excellent video tutorials from the website. The devices really do illuminate the mechanical principles behind them. I found that making them helped my understanding the counterpart machine. Gray calls his creations “mechanical gifs” because the clear toys loop their functions visibly. Devices so far include: radial engine, combination lock, rack and pinion steering, and two-speed transmission. A really great kit to build for educational purposes is the $50 Differential Gear set. It will be an aha moment for most folks. — KK




You may have seen a video of a Strandbeest walking along a beach. These are truck-sized multi-legged mechanical beasts powered by the wind. This working model is a smaller version, about 8 inches (20 cm) long. If you point a high powered blast at it, it too will walk. It’s a ingenious, complicated contraption, made simpler to construct because it repeats the same unit 12 times. It takes about 1.5 hours to build. This kit is a classic injection-molded plastic that you clip off from spurs. It fits together without glue; in fact the hinged parts are quite loose since most of them move. It’s a bit of a puzzle putting together, but that is the fun. The quality is surprising high, as is the enjoyment level. I consider this kit to be quite an amazing bargain at $15. — KK


Ugears Kits

Ugears creates many machines that are laser cut out of thin plywood. Their specialty are works built around gears. Their kits come in full sheets; the parts need to be punched out with some care, but it is still relatively easy to do. Moving parts in the model should be waxed before assembly. Some pieces can be small enough to require tweezers or pliers to hold. Overall the precision is excellent especially for wood. Everything is press fit; no glue is needed. Yet the finished models feel hefty and rugged. A simple starter model is the cool looking Date Calculator ($13, predicts the day of a week of a future date) which took me 30 minutes to finish; you can work up to a Grand Locomotive with tender ($77, a Kickstarter product I backed) which will take 10 hours or so. — KK



These are metal miniatures you assemble from 1 or 2 sheets of thin flat metal that are laser cut. You use small nippers to separate them from Kindle-sized sheets. You then switch to tweezers to assemble the pieces in 3D by inserting their microscopic tabs into microscopic slots. No glue or solder. Some sets may consist of 60 plus itsy bitsy pieces. Did I mention there are very tiny? The final models are very small themselves, no more than a few inches. It requires a degree of dexterity that small children won’t have, although you’ll wish you had their eyesight and small fingers. All kind of models are available for $13 apiece: famous buildings, vehicles, robots, monsters, dinosaurs, and so on. Pluses: inexpensive; Minus: very tiny. — KK


Flipbook Kit

This one is a little pricey, but a great gift. Turn your own looping video, live-photo, Vine, GIF, or stop motion doodle into a physical kinescope. Turn the crank and one second’s worth of animation will loop around inside a brown display box. It takes about 20 minutes to assemble the box from the pre-cut cardboard and plastic pieces. More time will be spent in using the kit’s website to transfer your 24 frames into a form that can be downloaded as a PDF and printed on labels to attach to the 24 flipping cards. The result is a box that displays an analog GIF! As a gift, I used my wife’s favorite live-photo of me doing a crazy dance for her mini-movie machine. It can be “reprogrammed” with new printed material at any time. — KK

$35 from the creators
$45 from Amazon

Useless Box

This kit is pretty useless. The plastic box contains a switch. When you turned the switch on, a finger-like probe comes out of the box and turns the switch off. That’s all it does. It would be better if the action was slower; a newbie might need to do it a couple of times to understand what happens, but either way, nothing really happens. That’s the beauty of it. The $10 kit comes as an unassembled set of plastic pieces to make the box. The engine/finger comes ready to go as a unit which you install.. In fact the finger engine is exactly the same unit in a completely finished Useless Box that costs only a five dollars more, so this kit truly is useless. Still, I spent an enjoyable 30 minutes making something useless. But I have to admit, it’s a cool useless. — KK

Want more? Check out our 2017 Gift Guide picks, as well as our 2016 Gift Guide, 2015 Gift Guide, 2014 Gift Guide and our 2103 Gift Guide



img 12/6/18

2-in-1 Interchangeable Rapi-Driv Screwdriver

Crank action handle spins screws fast with one hand

img 12/6/18

Please support Cool Tools podcasts and videos

We want to make great podcasts and video reviews

img 12/4/18

Cool Tools 2018 Holiday Gift Guide: Claudia’s picks

Gift suggestions from Cool Tools’ web manager

img 12/3/18

Bullseye Bubble Level

2-axis bubble level

See all the reviews




Cool Tools Show 152: Gever Tulley

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 151: Anne Briggs

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 150: Michael Lorsung

Picks and shownotes

23 February 2017


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 cl {at} kk.org.