13 December 2019
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.– MF12/13/19
12 December 2019
Best folding utility knife
I propose the Fastback Flip Utility Knife with Blade Storage ($24), from Milwaukee, is the best folding utility knife.
- 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.
- 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.12/12/19
11 December 2019
11 December 2019
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?
10 December 2019
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.”
09 December 2019
Best Gifts for $10 or less
The editors of Cool Tools have curated a number of gift suggestions selected from our website, newsletters, videos, and podcasts. This week: Best Gifts for $10 or less!
I use soft pencils and I bear down hard when I write. As a result, I have to resharpen the pencils frequently. A few years ago I came across this pocket-size two-hole pencil sharpener and now swear by it. It produces very sharp points and does so efficiently. — MF
I use pencils a lot, and I particularly like 0.9mm mechanical pencils as you can draw on most textured surfaces without the lead breaking. Over the years I have had many variations of the 0.9mm mechanical pencils. Up until now they have all broken. Enter the metal body Pentel GraphGear 1000. I have had this pencil for over two years now, the same one, it has not broken and is precious enough that I keep very close track of it. It is a bit more expensive than some, but completely worth it. — Bart Trickel
Asian Stainless Steel Soup Spoons (12 for $7)
A spoon may not seem like much to get excited about, but a carefully designed spoon can be a wonderfully versatile tool. These are the spoons you see in constant use all over Asia. First: the shape is perfect. Second: easy to grip, a boon for toddlers and those with fine-motor mobility issues. Flat bottom prevents tipping if you set it down. Third: stainless steel! Durable, corrosion-free, easy to clean, recyclable, eco-friendly. Shiny! Fourth: CHEAP! — Barbara Dace
Tick Key ($7)
Though I wish my dog’s tick prevention worked 100% of the time, it just doesn’t. The Tick Key makes the unpleasant task of removing ticks much easier. I purchased the key shaped tool a year ago after noticing it by the cash register at my local outdoor store. All I do is align the larger end of the key’s opening over the tick, draw the tool toward the narrow part of the opening, and the little sucker just pops right out. My favorite canine, who always dreaded our approach with tweezers and made tick extraction an exercise in fortitude and contortionism, is not bothered by this method at all. — Amy Reavey
I don’t own a fridge with an ice maker, and so for the past few years have been relying on the cheap white ice trays that seem to inhabit everybody’s freezer. They’ve done their job, but never very well. Recently, however, I picked up the Tovolo King Cube Ice Tray and have been blown away with the oversized ice cubes it produces. The silicone ice tray produces the largest cubes of ice (they’re 2″ x 2″) of any tray I’ve seen.
The Coghlan’s 12-in-1 scissors is a silly looking and cheap tool that is surprisingly useful. It will cut fairly heavy material, has a bottle opener, screwdriver, and will come apart so you can use it as an awl or hole punch in an emergency. Granted, it is not elegant but it is surprisingly useful. I have two pairs of these in my camp gear, and end up using them for stuff like gripping needles to pull through heavy fabric, and other unexpected uses. They are cheap to buy and a useful addition to any kit. — Stephen Young
Without pontificating about the long history of spoons and new materials like silicone, the combination of the two by Tovolo is remarkable in their mixing spoons ($10). The relatively soft silicone won’t damage cooking surfaces or anything else really. The silicone cleans easily too, and the stainless handle also cleans up fast. The bowl and handle are both stiff enough for vigorous mixing. — Wayne Ruffner
Silicone Pinch Bowls ($9 for a set of 4)
I’ve been using these little Norpro silicone pinch bowls for about a year now. I picked them up on a whim at the grocery store and they are now easily one of the most useful and well-loved items in my kitchen. Tiny, colorful and versatile with a seemingly never-ending number of uses. — Shad Miles
The sharpener is a simple device built around two pieces of carbide that form a “V” in a plastic handle that when run along a blade shaves the edge to a sharpened point. Unlike a whetstone, the carbide pieces will eventually wear away and lose their ability to produce an edge, but the Accusharp is designed so that the carbide can be flipped or replaced. After a few swipes with the Accusharp I could cut tomatoes into perfect slices, and it took a measly 15-minutes to clean up the edge on almost every knife I own. It even worked on my breadknife! — Oliver Hulland12/9/19
COOL TOOLS SHOW PODCAST
WHAT'S IN MY BAG?
11 December 2019
What’s in my bag? issue #27
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