15 September 2021


What’s in my music studio? — Elliott Fienberg

What’s in my … ? issue #119

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Elliott Fienberg is an ambient and experimental musician in Toronto, Ontario. His credits include the video games The Bigs 1 & 2, Orphan Black: The Game, and more. Stay up to date on his work through his podcast, aptly named Elliott’s Podcast and his newsletter The Sunday Bagel where he writes about the creative process and his slow but steady path to finding consciousness as an artist. You can find Elliott on Instagram @elliottfienberg.


My music studio does double duty as a regular office space for consulting and writing projects, so a long desk with ample closet space seems to be the best way to have this room function in the two capacities. I can stash music gear away if I’m trying to focus or bring it all out if I’m inspired to hook everything up and tinker. With so much gear it wouldn’t be right to try to pretend that I have a clutter-free space as I embrace the idea that the creative process is a bit messy.


Klean Kanteen Insulated Classic (Orange) — I know that the day I leave this thing behind on a train or a bus is going to be a sad one, but in the meantime I’ve enjoyed filling it up with cold Brita-filtered water from the fridge. It’s especially great for hot outdoor activities like golf where you are ok with a heavier bottle. I know a lot of people love their S’well bottles but I’m now a loyal Klean Kanteen’r.

Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro Headphones — These studio monitors feature soft, velour ear pads that feel like they were sourced from Victoria’s Secret. The other benefit to them is that they’re open-back which is helpful if you want to hear your surroundings a bit better. It’s a feature that’s not common in the mainstream market which often promotes noise cancelling, but it’s nice if you want to keep your ear to the ground of the outside world. The only issue is that they need a bit more amplification than your typical headphone, so they tend to work better with something like an audio interface rather than your computer’s built-in headphone jack. There are portable headphone amps for audiophiles that you would need for these “cans”.

Trilancer Cable Ties (Pack of 50) — I have so many cables, and wrapping them with these ties is the best way to make sure you don’t end up with a rats nest in the drawer after a week. I’m not OCD with cables as you can see by the photo of my studio, but having an abundance of cable ties that are easy to operate is a real help. Some people might even want to tie the cables down to the desk, or to each other to create mini highways, but I found that it gets annoying for music use.

Mackie 802VLZ4 8-Channel Mixer — Ages ago I used to have a Behringer 802a mixer as the center of the studio but this time around I’ve experimented with Mackie’s offerings and have been very happy with the VLZ (Very Low Noise) series. If you learn a model like this one you can take that knowledge up the chain to the bigger Mackie mixing consoles. I spent a lot of time researching mixers this year and found that Mackies are a reliable choice for getting a clean sound with a good number of routing options. If you want something a bit more brainy I found that Allan & Heath is also good, but if you’re looking for a simple mixer for the center of a small project studio then the Mackie 802 or 1202 from the VLZ4 series are solid bets.


15 September 2021


Felco Pruners

Superb garden clippers

My garden includes roses, blackberry and ivy vines, five kinds of fruit trees — all plants that need constant pruning. So I carry my pruner on my belt. I probably use them a few dozen times every day. I have no idea why it took me so long to buy a pair of the best available — Felco. It’s got leverage! A handle shaped to the hand. If you prune a lot, you’ll know immediately by the feel that these are the best. You can buy models for small hands, ergonomic models for gardeners with arthritis, left-handed ones. Forty dollars seemed like a lot for clippers but after decades of using inferior pruners I get pleasure every time I snip the Felcos.

-- Howard Rheingold 09/15/21

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

14 September 2021


Kwik-kut Food Chopper

Chops almost any food item

As a kid, I helped my mother cut out biscuits with this cutter. When I saw one at an estate sale a few years ago, I snagged it. It was only then that my mom let me in on a secret: this tool is useful for so much more than cutting biscuits.

She uses it instead of a pastry cutter to make pie crust and biscuit dough, plus chop strawberries, nuts, and vegetables. Sure enough, I haven’t used a pastry cutter since.

With just one circular blade, it’s much easier to clean than a pastry cutter with its multiple blades that always seem to get gummed up. The last time I made strawberry jam I used it to chop the strawberries a bit, and it worked so much better than my other options: a knife, which would have taken too long, and a food processor, which would have turned the strawberries into mush.

It’s still my go-to cutter for biscuits and is just the right size for donuts.

The cutter is made in America and will last for decades. My mom has had hers for at least 35 years, and it still works great.

-- Abbie Stillie 09/14/21

12 September 2021


Favorite newsletters/Untools.co/Back scratcher

Recomendo: issue no. 269

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My favorite newsletters
In a recent issue of my newsletter, The Magnet, I listed my 10 favorite newsletters. You can read about them here. — MF

Problem-solving tools
If you find yourself stuck, Untools.co is a collection of thinking tools to help you solve problems and make decisions. They were put together by a product designer who gets paid to problem solve but couldn’t find one place on the internet where tools like these were housed, so he created one. He does a great job of breaking these frameworks down with an outline and visuals. If you’re stuck but not sure where to start, here are some prompt questions to direct you. — CD

Back Scratcher
I don’t know how people live without a back scratcher. I keep one near my desk. The pleasure of  an itch scratched is incomparable. Mine is bamboo, the perfect reach, and lasts forever. I can’t imagine why you might need five, but they are cheap, too. — KK

Easy-to-read tape measure
The Komelon Speed Mark Gripper Measuring Tape (1-Inch X 25Ft) has two things going for it that my other tape measure doesn’t. The markings are easy to read and I can extend the metal tape out eight feet before it bends. It’s also less expensive than I would expect for such a nice tape measure. — MF

Customize your own journal
I used to hand-bind my own journals using repurposed fabric, books, paper, etc. When I write in journals I make myself, my writing is imbued with wonder and magic. Unfortunately, I haven’t made time to do that lately, but I did discover that through Papier you can customize your own hardcover or paperback notebooks with your name, a quote or whatever words inspires you. I chose their Soleia print and customized it with my name and a quote from a dream I had — but they have so many beautiful designs to choose from. If you do want to check it out, here is a link that gives you and me both $10 off. — CD

Modern farming series
Jeremy Clarkson is a larger-than-life British TV celebrity. He writes bombastic newspaper columns, hosts game shows, and for decades has been the star of automobile stunt shows such as Top Gear and Grand Auto. Recently he retired to his 1,000-acre farm in England, which he is trying to farm himself. Naturally, he’s made a reality-tv show about it. Clarkson’s Farm streams on Amazon, and despite being a scripted reality-tv show, I have been bingeing the 8-part first season because it offers a deep and detailed examination of what modern farming is all about. Hint: there are a lot of machines and gear involved. Clarkson’s Farm is entertaining because it is all about showing off how ignorant Clarkson is, how he keeps screwing up, losing money, getting in his own way, having to learn from locals much more experienced, and how complex modern farming life is. The show is good. — KK

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 09/12/21

10 September 2021


Jim Louderback, Web video pioneer

Cool Tools Show 295: Jim Louderback

Our guest this week is Jim Louderback. Jim runs events business VidCon at ViacomCBS. Jim joined VidCon in 2014 as editorial director, took over as CEO in 2017 and sold VidCon to Viacom in 2018. He previously built and sold video network Revision3 to Discovery, was editor-in-chief of PC Magazine and helped start cable TV network TechTV. You can sign up for his newsletter “Inside the Creator Economy” on his Linkedin profile page, and find him on Twitter and on TikTok @jlouderb.

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

Show notes:

Setout Mens Backpack from Tortuga, 35L ($125)
I travel a lot, both for fun and for work. Most of the time I have that little rolly suitcase that we all have, the black ones with the wheels. I like to travel light and that’s fine, but I found an even lighter way to travel. This backpack, it’s 35 liters, and it’s basically the size that you can use in Europe for a carry-on. It’s just the right size. It’s designed in a way that you carry it on your back. It’s got the straps for your waist, but it’s designed in a way that it can easily be closed up so that it can essentially almost be a duffel bag, so that you can put it under the seat. You can put it above the seat, or if they make you check it, you can check it without worrying about it. It’s just so intelligently designed. It’s really comfortable, and it allows me to take just this one bag everywhere I go around the world, whether it’s for work or for fun. I’ve taken it through Sri Lanka, I’ve taken it around Singapore, I’ve taken it around Europe. I can go for weeks with it. Then the one other thing that I pair with it is a SCOTTeVEST, which is a really nice vest that has a zillion pockets. Even if they’re like, “Oh, sorry, you can’t carry that on the plane,” it’s like, “Fine.” I can stick my computer in there. I can stick a tablet in there.

SONOS move ($399)
I’ve been a Sonos addict for the last 20 years, so I have a lot of them around my house. I’ve wanted a portable, battery-operated one for a long time, and they never made one up until maybe two years ago. The Sonos Move is a beautiful, great speaker. Although it’s only a mono speaker, it’s got a lot of things in it so it sounds really good. It’s got a little handle, but it actually has a battery in it, so you can carry it around outside and set it up. You can actually pair two of them together if portable sound is important to you. Sonos always, to me, has great quality components. They sound great. If you’re invested in the Sonos ecosystem, which I certainly am, it is a great way to bring that Sonos music around with you around your house. Sonos, one of the things they solved early on was music synchronization. It’s really hard to do over Wi-Fi or any wireless, because you’d always end up with something just a little out. Like, “Oh, my gosh, the drums sound different over there. It gets a little reverby, echoey.” They really solved that early on, and were able to sync up music really, really well.

Dell Curved Monitor — Latest version: Dell 34 Curved Monitor – S3422DW ($425)
I used to have multiple monitors on my desktop hooked up to my PC or Mac. I’d have one monitor that I’d put my email on, another monitor that I’d do my work on, and then I might have a third monitor for Slack. It got a little crowded, and it’s difficult because you can slide an app from one monitor to another, but it’s kind of a pain to get something that extends across multiple monitors, because you have that break in the middle. About five years ago, I picked up the Dell U3415W. It’s a 34-inch-wide monitor, and it’s curved. It’s like having two, almost three, standard 1280 x 1024 monitors shoved together. It’s 3440 x 1440. The resolution is great, and now I’ve gotten rid of my multiple monitors. It’s all in one monitor. If I want to have one big thing running across all of them, which I can, if I’m playing a video game and I want it to be immersive. The fact is, my normal work is such that I’ve got Slack on one corner and then I might have a Zoom call in the upper left corner, and I’ll have a browser here and then maybe a word processor there. I work with some people who they’ll make these huge spreadsheets with zillions of columns. I have to scroll ’til Thursday ’til I find out where the real meat of the spreadsheet is. Because it’s so wide, you can put an entire spreadsheet with all the way to Z. I don’t know how many columns, how wide your columns are, but it is so helpful.

This is for people who live their life in email, like many of us do, and tend to use email as a to-do list, which many of us do. What you do is, when you’re reading an email … and this happens to me all the time … I’m like, “Oh, that’s important, I need to do something about that, but not till Thursday.” What you can do is you forward the email to thursday@nudgemail.com, and then Thursday at 6:30 in the morning it sends the email back to you, and it sits on top of your email stack when you wake up and start Thursday morning. It’s so good at helping you do email triage and organize. You can do recurring emails. For a long time, I had a house in Vermont. I had to pay taxes on it every month because we rented it out and I would always forget, and then I just created a monthly reminder on Nudgemail. It just sent me an email on the first of every month saying, “Pay your Vermont taxes.” If I’m like, “Well, I’m not really ready to call that person back yet.” I can snooze it for six hours or four hours or whatever. I can just forward it again to january23@nudgemail.com if I want to get it on January 23rd, or I can forward it to Friday. It’s so simple. It’s so easy to use. I don’t know if it’s the best part, but one of the also amazing parts, it’s free.



img 09/10/21

Plasti Dip

Easily applied plastic coating

img 09/9/21

Door Ease Lube Stick

Unsticks sticky doors, windows, and drawers

img 09/8/21

Johnny Apple Peeler

Cores, slices, and peels apples

img 09/7/21

Pumps-A-Lot Water Pump

Simple emergency sump pump

See all the reviews


img 03/7/08

Tech Web Belt

Last Chance Heavy Duty Belt * Tech Web Belt

img 08/28/12

Knipex High Leverage Cutters

Clippers that cut anything

img 04/12/13

Munchkin Snack Catcher

Tidy Snack Dispenser

img 10/3/12

Murphy Bed

Next generation of hideaway beds

img 05/25/09

SunRun PPA

Zero Down Solar Panels

img 06/30/03

Griphoist (Tirfor) Hand Winch

Better than a come-along or winch

See all the favorites



Cool Tools Show 295: Jim Louderback

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 294: Kelly Sue DeConnick

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 293: Stephanie Jaros

Picks and shownotes

15 September 2021


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.

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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.