12 November 2018

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Knirps X1 Umbrella

Ultracompact rain shield

I live in London, which is pretty rainy, and so the Knirps X1 ($40) I’ve had for many years has seen plenty of use. It’s both highly durable and extremely compact: it folds down to the size of a two D-cell Maglite (about 6 ½ inches). Folded, it’s much smaller than the GoLite umbrella previously reviewed on Cool Tools, which is 25.5 inches long and doesn’t collapse. The Knirps is just a few grams heavier, and its coverage radius (37 inches) is 16 inches wider than the GoLite’s.

It’s an excellent compact umbrella, but the trade-off for its extreme portability is a too-small handle. The minimal size of the X1 leaves little room for a proper handle, and therefore the design incorporates a shallow cup into which the canopy tips slot when the umbrella is folded. The cup is about an inch and a half in diameter — too small and shallow to offer much purchase in windy weather.

This makes using the wrist-loop (which, to its credit, is strong and firmly attached to the cup) a must. I hold the cup low in my hand and grip the tube above it like a golf club — thumb pressed on the tube, with the first two fingers wrapped around it. This isn’t so comfortable for prolonged use, but it’s enough to hold the umbrella steady in gusty weather, although not steady enough to stop it being blown about a bit.

-- Rex Kipper 11/12/18

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2009 — editors)

11 November 2018

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Moby Wrap

Distributed weight baby-wearing

There are so many baby carriers on the market right now, and I’ve tried a good deal of them: various slings, the Ergo Baby (previously reviewed), Baby Bjorn, and the like all tend to put the bulk of the baby’s weight on one part of the back. While there is some distribution with shoulder or hip straps, the weight is still focused primarily on one area (shoulder/hips). I had seen the Moby Wrap ($30) and had decidedly avoided trying it, as it looked complicated and uncomfortable. A friend finally convinced me to try one, and I fell in love.

Not only is my baby securely snuggled up against my body, but it is incredibly comfortable to wear. It looks to be about 20 feet of fabric that you wrap around your body and slip the baby into. No doubt based on some age-old method of carrying babies, it is by far the most comfortable and versatile carrier I’ve seen. Because it crosses around your body so many times in different locations, it distributes the weight of the child to a variety of places: shoulders, upper back, lower back and hips. Plus, the baby can face forwards, backwards or sideways when worn on your front, and she can be worn on your hips or back as well.

While it does require an introduction on how to put it on, once you have figured out how it works, it could not be simpler to use. The basic concept is that you create a cross of fabric on your body and slip the baby between you and the cross, with her legs hanging out between. Also, because of the criss-cross over your shoulders you can nestle the baby’s head under the wrap, allowing full protection from the sun or, more importantly for the new parent, a quiet zone in which to nap, even at a bustling market. For all its simplicity this is simply the best baby carrier available.

There are several variations on this idea — one with rings, one made of more stretchy material, one with fancy patterns — from various manufacturers, but the basic design is all the same — wrap the fabric around your body, slide the baby in and enjoy.

-- Elizabeth Sendil 11/11/18

11 November 2018

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Spider And Web/Cheap new tools/Better Reddit browsing

Recomendo: issue no. 120

Mysterious text adventure
I used to love the old Infocom text adventure games. They were interactive stories where you affected the outcome by making decisions and doing things as you moved around a world described in words only. A friend told me about a free web-based text adventure called Spider And Web and I am enthralled by it.  I don’t want to say anything about the plot. Just give it a try. — MF

Cheap new tools
It is easy to mock the importer Harbor Freight for their insanely cheap Chinese-made tools, but in fact I’ve had great success with the tools I’ve bought from them. I may only use them a few times a year, and for that frequency their quality is more than sufficient, and their self-proclaimed “ridiculously low prices” are in fact a tremendous bargain. Over the years I’ve bought a welder, a larger sanding wheel, a buffer, and recently a new compound miter saw for less than $100. – KK

Customize your Reddit feeds
The Reddit app allows me to switch between accounts pretty easily, so I created a few different usernames to group subreddits by themes. It makes browsing less overwhelming when I can focus on one thing I’m trying to accomplish. I have an account for all the subreddits that make me laugh (CrazyIdeasAnimalsBeingJerksCrappyDesign), one for learning new things (explainlikeimfivewhatisthisthingtodayilearned), and one for inspiration (CraftsMiniworldsonegoodsentence). I actually have a total of five accounts, it’s almost getting out of control, but still this method keeps me sane. — CD

Sampling books
Several power users of the Kindle turned me on to a great tip: load up your Kindle, or phone, with free sample chapters of any and all books you are interested in. Read the sample (usually the first) chapter and then decide if you want to buy the book. In fact, don’t buy any book until you’ve read the sample chapter. The “Send free sample” button is under the “Buy Now” button on the book’s Amazon page. — KK

Prevent hand pain
I can’t handwrite for long periods of time without some discomfort. These pencil grips are designed for kids and adults with arthritis, but they help me out a lot too. I bought a 6-pack for $11. — CD

Ultralight kneeling cushion
This cushion ($8) protects my knees anytime I have to work on anything close to the floor or the ground. I’ve had it since 2011 and am grateful to have it every time I use it. — MF

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 11/11/18

10 November 2018

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Lenspen

Dry lens cleaner

One way to keep fingerprints off of a quality lens is to keep a filter on the lens at all times. If you prefer not to, or get a print on a lens while changing filters, this small tool ($9) will come in handy. The Lenspen offers two cleaning options. On one end, there’s a retractable dust brush. I just extend the brush, and sweep away any visible dust particles. I also use the brush every time I replace the lens. Dust particles almost always appear around the area where the lens and camera body meet. I make sure to clean up this area before removing and changing lenses, thus reducing the chance of getting dust on the sensor.

The Lenspen’s other end, has “a special non-liquid cleaning element” that can be used for more aggressive cleaning. Wipe it over the lens and magically watch fingerprints disappear. The manufacturer explains that there’s a carbon compound under the cap that cleans lenses much like the ink in newspaper works to clean glass. It does work. It can be used many times over, as long as every time you put the cap back on and rotate it, to clean and recharge the pad.

This has become my most used cleaning tool, second only to the Giottos Rocket Blaster. And the two complement each other: while the Lenspen works to clean the glass surfaces of the lens and the camera’s lens mount, I use the Rocket to remove dust from the sensor.

-- Anthony Marty 11/10/18

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2009 — editors)

09 November 2018

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Jeri Ellsworth, CEO at Tilt Five

Cool Tools Show 148: Jeri Ellsworth

Our guest this week is Jeri Ellsworth. Jeri is an inventor, entrepreneur and amateur scientist. Her career started when she dropped out of high school and formed a business building, selling and racing quarter-mile dirt-track cars. In the mid-90’s she founded a small retail computer store chain, and in the 2000’s she launched her engineering career where she designed a wide variety of electronic components and consumer products. She’s passionate about educational outreach and maintains a YouTube channel devoted to demonstrating engineering and science techniques.

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:

amraymicroscope
Amray Electron Microscope
“I have an electron microscope. I got that because on my amateur science that I do. It’s one of those things people don’t think that an average human being can own in their garage, and it turns out it’s not that difficult to get them and it’s not that difficult to operate them. There’s all different types of electron microscopes. There’s types that are transmission, so they send electrons through the object that you’re trying to image. Mine happens to be a scanning electron microscope, so it beams a very small spot of electrons down on to the subject that you’re trying to image, and then it looks at what bounces off of it essentially. … To use the device, you have to sometimes pre-treat your subject, coat it with metal. Then, you put it inside. You pump a vacuum down, and then you start out with very low magnification. You zoom in a little bit, and then there’s astigmatism to this electron beam. So, it’s kind of off-shape. Then, there’s just knobs that you turn to make the beam round again. Then you zoom in a little bit, and then you make the beam round again. You zoom in, and zoom in, and zoom in, and just keep that astigmatism adjustment going until you’re imaging down into the low nanometers of feature size.”

sputtercoater
Sputter coater
“A sputter coater is a really interesting device where you can put a sample or your subject into it. You draw down a vacuum and it has what’s called the target in it. The target the source metal that you want to coat something with. You pump it down. You inject in some heavy gas, usually something like argon which is neutral. Then, you pump a bunch of RF energy into it and there’s a magnet above this target which causes these ionized gas particles to strike the metal and it chips off the metal, and then it sputter coats the metal on to your object. So, you can sputter coat gold. You can do aluminum, copper, things like that. It’s pretty interesting. You can make mirrors with it.”

plasmaetcher
Plasma Etcher
“I’ve just been getting into doing plasma etching. It’s another exotic vacuum based tool. So a plasma etcher is pretty interesting. You have a chamber in which you put something that you want to etch and that you can etch all kind of things in this. I have a tabletop version. So, the working volume on that is about the size of a milk container, just give you like some real world volumes. … Basically the way it works is there’s a couple of components. There’s a chamber. There’s a manifold that lets you inject gases into the chamber under a greatly reduced atmosphere, and then there’s an RF generator. So, it generates a lot of RF. It’s pumped into basically an antenna that’s around the chamber. So, if you put for instance something that’s got a glassy coating on it like used in semi-conductors like there’s an insulating layer, silicon dioxide, you grow that on silicon which is glass. You put it into the chamber, and you mask off different areas that you want to etch through with photoresist for instance or other masking techniques, and then you inject a Freon or something that has fluorine atoms in it. Then you excite those fluorine atoms, then you have free roaming fluorine that etches the glass, turns to silicon fluoride, and then it just floats away and goes into your vacuum pump. Then, you can cut holes in these glassy layers. You can do some very interesting etching where you can etch to a particular depth. For instance, if you have a layer of glass on top of silicon, the fluorine atoms don’t really attack silicons. So, you can etch just right down to the silicon at the atomic level, and it will stop right there. You can etch very large areas like an entire wafer, like many centimeters across or down to almost as small as you want to go. It’s as small as you can pattern an image on to the surface and expose the glassy layer.”

smalltoothbrsh
Interdental Brush for cleaning circuit boards
“I’ve discovered something just in the last month or two. There’s these little tiny tooth cleaners for cleaning between your teeth that have little brushes on them. They’re like little tiny brushes. There’s ones that it actually have a little … It looks like an old school pipe cleaner. So, it’s like a little wire with little bristles sticking out of it. They are fantastic. It’s my favorite new tool for putting circuit boards together. You just go to the drugstore and get them. I mean in the past, I would be trying to use toothbrush and other big brushes and you can’t get in between the little components and get all the gunk out. These are just perfect. Maybe it’s obvious to other people but it’s something completely new to me.

Also mentioned:

Tilt Five
“I’m super excited about it. I’ve been in the AR/VR space for a very long time. I got my start at Valve software which is a big video game company that got into doing hardware and the HTC Vive was one of their first VR products. There, I got introduced. I actually got to see about 20 years into the future just because we were prototyping, no limits on budget. We’d get the most expensive AR and VR gear. We could buy military grade and the most expensive tracking systems. I got to see what the future is like. … So, a group of us got together. People that worked in the company, we pooled our money and we actually purchased all the assets from the company, and we got all of this pre-production tooling, and all the technology and patents. We restarted a new company called Tilt Five and we’re doing something similar. It’s a little different, but based on a lot of the technology we developed there.”

11/9/18

09 November 2018

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Klean Kanteen

Stainless steel water bottles

Klean Kanteen offers a range of stainless steel water bottles ($18+) that are well made, relatively lightweight, and come with a variety of interchangeable tops. They seal tightly (I pack them in my briefcase with my computer), even with the sport top. They’re light enough to compare well with a plastic water bottle, but without the ecological waste of disposable bottles or the odor of reusable plastic bottles.

They come in various sizes (12 oz. to 40 oz.) and the 18 oz size fits nicely in a bicycle bottle cage. I take mine through airport security empty and fill it on the other side.

-- David Krathwohl 11/9/18

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2009 — editors)

EDITOR'S FAVORITES

COOL TOOLS SHOW PODCAST

11/9/18

Cool Tools Show 148: Jeri Ellsworth

Picks and shownotes
11/2/18

Cool Tools Show 147: Elan Lee

Picks and shownotes
10/26/18

Cool Tools Show 146: April Wilkerson

Picks and shownotes

WHAT'S IN MY BAG?
23 February 2017

ABOUT COOL TOOLS

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 cl {at} kk.org.