03 March 2024

Streaming services guide/Revitalize your coffee machine/In the Shadow of the Sword

Recomendo - issue #399

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Streaming services guide 

How to choose the streaming services that are right for you” is an incredibly helpful breakdown of the major streaming services and their costs. The guide suggests keeping a TV diary for a week to write down what you watch as you watch it to reveal where you direct most of your attention as a viewer. I’ve been slowly getting kicked off of shared streaming services and was surprised to find that I don’t miss Netflix at all. The shows I most enjoy are on Max and Hulu. — CD 

Revitalize your coffee machine

The Impresa coffee machine descaler solution has transformed my coffee machines — a 15-year-old Rancilio Silvia and a 2-year-old Nespresso Inissia — by eliminating built-up residue and oils. I was shocked by the amount of discolored gunk that was flushed out by using this cleaner. It’s a game-changer for maintaining coffee quality. — MF

The birth of religions

Classical antiquity is not as far away from us as it might first appear. I’m in love with a newish book about the first millennia called, “In the Shadow of the Sword,”  Inside this elegantly written, sweeping history about the birth of Islam, is hidden a more profound book about the birth of religions in general. Just as the bishops created Christianity from the slim, scarce, and obscure oral teachings of a holy man, so Islam was created from the slim, obscure oral traditions of another holy man. This is one of the densest books I’ve ever read, with more insights per page than I could count. The two greatest forces shaping our lives today are technology and orthodox, dogmatic religion, and this is the biography of the second. — KK

Borrow Kindle books for free

The Library Extension has changed how I find and borrow ebooks. While browsing Amazon or Goodreads, this browser add-on indicates whether a book is available at my local library. With a simple click on the “borrow” button, the book is sent directly to my Kindle. It requires only a library account to use. (Screenshot) — MF

One Minute Focus

The purpose of this website is to increase your mental focus by looking at the dot for 1 minute while breathing. It’s inspired by Dr. Andrew Huberman’s claim that “staring at something for a short time has been proven to improve and boost mental focus on subsequent tasks.” I feel like it “pumps” me up to focus, so I guess it works for me. Along with this recommendation, I also want to share a reminder to practice good eye hygiene when working at your desk. I frequently look out the window, widen my gaze, unfocus my eyes, and close them for short periods of time. Here’s more info on digital eye strain. — CD 

Best music visualization

There have been many many attempts to visualize music over the centuries, but the animations of music done by Stephen Malinowski are the ones that sing to me. Despite the name of Music Animation Machine, this is not AI. This is obsessive craftsmanship of the highest order. As a sample start with this piece of music, the original 1924 recording of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. — KK


01 March 2024

Josué Moreno, Composer and Sound Artist

Show and Tell #402: Josué Moreno

Josué Moreno, a Spanish composer and sound artist, has made Finland his home, where he inspires the next generation of musicians as a teacher at the prestigious Sibelius Academy’s Music Technology Department. Known for pioneering Urban Sonic Acupuncture, Josué seamlessly blends the vibrancy of live electronic compositions with the innovative realms of Computer-Assisted Composition and Generative Arts. Since 2017, he has been creating interactive soundwalking experiences through cutting-edge phone applications and guided sonic acupuncture exercises broadcasted through engaging radio shows. Josué Moreno’s work is an invitation to reshape how we engage with the sounds that surround us.


0:00 – Intro
1:02 – Roland Mobile Cube
10:39 – Max Music Software
25:08 – Overleaf
33:01 – Ulysses

To sign up to be a guest on the show, please fill out this form.


29 February 2024

Diversion Safes/Airport Improvements/A Good U.S. Train State

Nomadico issue #93

A weekly newsletter with four quick bites, edited by Tim Leffel, author of A Better Life for Half the Price and The World’s Cheapest Destinations. See past editions here, where your like-minded friends can subscribe and join you.

A Place to Stash Your Valuables

A shout-out to team member Mark Frauenfelder who highlighted “diversion safes” in Recomendo. Most of them are meant to be stash places that look like ordinary objects in your home, but I’ve seen small ones that can come along in your travels and probably be more effective than a hotel safe, such as this fake sunscreen container that’s wide enough for credit cards. You can create a DIY solution too though: I’ve stashed valuables in an empty playing card box, a travel backgammon set, and a cheap plastic soap holder—right in plain sight.

Big Airport Improvements in the USA

I was surprised at how much better LaGuardia Airport in NYC was looking when I was there in January and apparently other ones that have been in the dumps are getting an upgrade. Thanks to the infrastructure bill that the current administration pushed through last year, a billion dollars is getting doled out to 100+ airports to cover improvements and modernization, from control towers to access roads to better security gates. See more here.

A Surprisingly Good State for Trains

Speaking of infrastructure, while the USA is rightly derided for its polluting dependency on cars and roads, there are a few clusters where train travel options are good. These include the Northeast between Boston and D.C, and a route that goes all the way from San Diego to Vancouver (and beyond with Via Rail). Surprising to most is that Florida’s largest cities and tourist destinations are all connected by train now, via Amtrak, Tri-Rail, and Brightline. See the details on Florida’s train connections.

Remote Work is Bad for Burglars

Business office building owners haven’t been the only ones crying about the remote work trend: apparently house burglars in the UK are having a tougher time finding targets with so many fewer houses being empty all day. This Guardian article says the big drop in home burglaries in the UK since 2019 is at least half due to more people being home. “A 9.5 percentage point rise in home working gets you a 4% fall in ransacked homes.”


28 February 2024

Gar’s Tips & Tools – Issue #174

Weekly-ish access to tools, techniques, and shop tales from the worlds of DIY

Gar’s Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales is published by Cool Tools Lab. To receive the newsletter a week early, sign up here.

Jimmy DiResta Pays Tribute to His Dad… Through Tips

In this sweet 30-minute video, Jimmy DiResta pays tribute to his father, Joe DiResta, who sadly passed away last November. Joe was a maker OG and was constantly passing down tips to his kids. Jimmy remembers his father and periods in his life through the tips that his dad shared. There are some really great tips in here — such as always handing a tool to someone handle-first and bending a nail when toe-nailing so that you get more bite into the destination piece of wood. I bet you’ll find something here you didn’t know.

Thanks, Dad! Rest in power.

What’s the Best Charger/Power Bank Under $30?

In this Project Farm video, Todd looks at portable power banks. He tested models from Anker, INIU, S22 Mini, Miady, LOVELEDI, IXNINE, KEOLL, CFIAI, iWalk, FEOB, Baseus, Durecopow, Erkrist, MREGB, RGVOTA, and GOODaaa. The banks were tested for maximum output wattage from USB and Lightning ports, maximum mAh/Watt Hour capacity, and the amount of time it took to recharge the completely drained power banks. So, which is best? For under $20 (at time of testing), the Keoll got straight As. At only $20, the INIU charged quicker than the Keoll and has slightly more storage capacity (32.8 Watt hours vs. 26.6). The Cadillac of power banks was the Anker ($92) delivering a whopping 69.7 Watt hours).

5 Must-Reach-For Klein Tools

It’s always interesting, given several options, to see which tool you tend to reach for in a pinch. It may not be the best tool, the most expensive, but some X-factor makes it your go-to: handle-feel, smoothness of operation, some special design feature that comparable tools don’t have. In this Last Best Tool video, Doc looks at 5+ hand tools from Klein that he tends to grab over other tools/brands. He shows off their huge diagonal cutterslineman’s tool8” needle nose pliers, and multi-pliers. And how about that hawkbill utility knife? I think I need me one of those!

Experimenting with Faux Neon and Resin Signage

All Jimmy D, all the time! Here Jimmy talks us through his process of creating a faux neon sign using laser cutting, LED strips, and poured resin. I love videos like this where a maker talks through the experiment, discovery (and failure) process they went through in realizing their project. As Jimmy likes to say “You go to school on the first one.” He shows the first sign he made, what he learned, and how he applied it to the next sign. And in the middle of that second sign, he had an ah-ha idea to try pouring resin into the laser-cut grooves of the letters to achieve a more vibrant, more neon-looking effect. The results are lovely. And as Jimmy points out, the vibrancy achieved makes the sign look good and high-impact whether it’s turned on or not.

Shop Talk

Readers offer their feedback, tips, tales, and tool recommendations.

In response to my piece about the expensive but great JustRite dispensersKevin Kelly wrote:

And then there are these plastic acetone dispensers – $7 for 2.

Coming from the world of manicures and nail polish, these are especially useful for dispensing small amounts of acetone for things like hobby modeling (my jam). I immediately ordered a set. They’re great! I now have one with acetone and one with Goo Gone on my hobby desk and the JustRite dispenser, with acetone, is on my garage work bench.

Responding to my call for 3D printed toolsPaul Cryan instead sent me three of his favorite tools for 3D printing:

1) Ceramic-tipped tweezers — After learning early that poking around a hotend with metal tools when it’s hottest (i.e., powered on with electrical current flowing throughout it) can cause disastrous short circuits, I realized that using non-conductive tweezers lets me pick, scrape, and pry away at hot plastic on an active printer without releasing any of the dreaded magic smoke. 

2) Kitchen bench scrapers/dough cutters — These make fantastic print removers and bed cleaners. Really useful when aimed low and sideways at large objects stuck to PEI surfaces. They often force that initial release necessary for careful removal that doesn’t tear away chunks of precious print-bed surfaces like PEI adhesive sheets.

3) Gluey microfiber cloth — I’m a bit slow, but it took me YEARS to figure out that I could print to my heart’s content with PETG and not ruin all of my PEI print bed surfaces by slathering them first with glue. The problem was that I associated the ubiquitous 3D-printing glue stick with getting prints to stick, but that was backwards thinking. Slather some glue stick all over the print bed, wet a good microfiber cloth (I get the yellow ones at Costco and cut them into quarters with a hot knife, then go at the gluey surface until the noticeable clumps and streaks are gone and you’ve got a nice, thin layer of glue water. Don’t wash the rag out! It “seasons” with glue over time and gets even better when re-wetted for repeated uses. Eventually, you can skip the initial glue stick slather and just re-wet and reuse the gluey microfiber rag. The microfiber helps because it doesn’t leave fibers or mystery chemicals behind like paper towels or similar disposables do.

All cheap, but all indispensable to me now.


27 February 2024

Flotsam / Ghosts

Books That Belong On Paper Issue No. 3

Books That Belong On Paper first appeared on the web as Wink Books and was edited by Carla Sinclair. Sign up here to get the issues a week early in your inbox.


by David Wiesner
Abrams ComicArts
2017, 240 pages, 6.9 x 1.0 x 9.4 inches, Hardcover

Buy on Amazon

Go to any beach, and odds are that you may have seen flotsam wash onto the shore. Flotsam has become a catch-all term for refuse, but it’s more accurately defined as the wreckage of a ship or its cargo. This is an important distinction. Flotsam is not simply trash, but somebody’s precious possessions, something of enough value that made it worth transporting to begin with. David Wiesner’s intriguing and mysteriously gorgeous Flotsam begins with a boy stumbling onto an antique camera by the shore, but what he discovers far surpasses any material treasure.

After developing a weathered roll of film that he finds inside the camera, the hero of this story finds a series of snapshots that offer tantalizing glimpses of a surreal, compelling underwater microcosm. The reader is treated to the gradual revelation of a strange and wondrous hidden realm below the sea where a family of octopi lounge in their living room, the skin of brilliant red fish peels back to reveal shining clockwork gears, sea tortoises carry entire cities made of seashells upon their backs, a starship full of aliens visits a colony of seahorses and tropical islands are revealed to be the centers of giant starfish that cavort while comparatively diminutive blue whales swim beneath.

The last photo particularly captures the boy’s attention. In it, an Asian girl holds up a photo of a boy in a knit cap, who in turn holds a photo of a blond girl. This discovery prompts our protagonist to further examine the photo with a magnifying glass, gradually revealing even more images of children holding up photos of the previous child to find the camera. Closer examination with a microscope reveals the vivid colors of the present day fading to the black-and-white of earlier times, until all that remains is a photo of one child standing by the shores in clothes that indicate the turn of the past century. Recognizing himself as part of a continuum across generations, our young hero takes a picture of himself holding up the photo with all of the other children, his secret sharers in viewing an enchanted, hidden world below the sea.

The wordless tale ends with the boy throwing the camera back into the ocean. As a school of squid, a whale, a pelican and a team of sea horses carry the camera across the sea for a young girl to find on the shore of another beach across the world, we’re reminded of how all of us can share in wonder and joy, led only by simple curiosity and the willingness to look more closely at the world around us.

With Flotsam, Wiesner provides the reader with exotic fragments of a complex and nuanced inner world beneath the fantastic realms of the ocean and imagination. His compelling book functions very much like a photo album, offering glimpses into the lives of its subjects. These are the memories that Wiesner’s denizens of the deep cherish, the moments that linger in the memory and consciousness of the sea creatures, and, by extension, the reader of this handsome and nuanced book.

– Lee Hollman


by Raina Telgemeier
2016, 256 pages, 5.5 x 0.9 x 7.9 inches, Paperback

Buy on Amazon

Cat’s sister Maya is suffering from cystic fibrosis, which is the reason why her family moved to the Northern Californian town of Bahia De La Luna. Upon meeting Carlos, the girls discover that the new town they must reluctantly call home is filled with ghosts.

Aloof, perpetually annoyed teenager Cat, and her active, curious sister Maya, journey to the haunted town of Bahia De La Luna. They meet local teen Carlos, who takes them on a ghost tour of a spooky abandoned arcade. There they are greeted by shy, familial ghosts. The sisters learn about aspects of Latin culture, including the holiday Dia De Los Muertos. They eventually work out some sibling rivalry, and Cat develops a crush on Carlos, which she denies. After a dramatic health scare, the girls experience a joyful Dia De Los Muertos celebration with music, dancing, and bottles of orange soda.

A bittersweet story of learning to appreciate new cultures and customs, Ghosts features colorful art work, and its lively, engaging dialogue and expressively-drawn images of marigold-strewn altars, dim, foreboding woods, and festively attired, rollicking holiday celebrations keep the story moving along. Focusing mostly on interpersonal relationships, the eponymous spirits are only minor supporting characters, and the plot rarely becomes scary. Ghosts is a charming tale of family, friendship, and bravery.

– SD


26 February 2024

Wood Burning

Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 75

Once a week we’ll send out a page from Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. The tools might be outdated or obsolete, and the links to them may or may not work. We present these vintage recommendations as is because the possibilities they inspire are new. Sign up here to get Tools for Possibilities a week early in your inbox.

Best advice for wood heat

Woodburner’s Companion

If you burn wood for heat, read this book. I was amazed at how much I learned, and I’ve relied on wood heat for a number of long winters. Read it twice if you are just thinking about burning wood. It’ll help you sort out whether you want a furnace, or stove; pellet or logs; masonry or metal, buy wood or cut it yourself, and so on. This is first-rate advice, pithy and to the point, up-to-date, well-written and insightful. The author is a professional chimney sweep and his instructions on how (and why) to clean your chimney are worth the price of the book alone. — KK

Does it make economic sense, then, to heat your home with wood? Yes, if you have more time than money, and yes, if you enjoy the work and ritual unique to this form of heat. Burning wood fits some ways of life in the same way that vegetable gardening and livestock raising do: it also saves money, but the savings are almost incidental to the satisfaction it can provide.

  • Is heating with wood ethical? It may not be if you live in an area plagued by air pollution. It probably isn’t if you live in an area with little forested land. It isn’t if you harvest and burn your wood irresponsibly. If, on the other hand, your circumstances permit and you decide to become a responsible user of the resource, wood burning can be an integral part of a contained and conserving way of live with positive ecological impacts balancing the negative.
  • Wood as the Primary Source of Heat This strategy will fit a few more households than the first: you’ve got a back-up heating system, so you have more flexibility. Your stove won’t completely run your life six months a year, but you’ll probably burn nearly as much wood as will those in the first category, so your house, location and lifestyle need to be nearly as accommodating.
  • Wood as Supplementary Heat Even if your circumstance make major reliance on wood heat impractical, you might find that a stove or fireplace stove which heats part of your house some of the time will give you substantial savings on your fuel bills and a good deal of pleasure and comfort in the bargain.
  • Wood as an Emergency Back-up Heat Source I mentioned the catastrophic ice storm of 1998 earlier, but even the lesser power outages to which rural areas are prone can be uncomfortable or even dangerous in severe weather. A just-in-case wood stove and a small supply of wood can turn a wretched situation into a merely inconvenient one.
  • Masonry Heaters Instead of a round-the-clock fire maintained by periodic stoking and control of the air supply–the modus operandi applied to other serious wood heating equipment–masonry heaters rely on very hot fires–at time in excess of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit–of short duration. Fires lasting only an hour or two heat a masonry mass weighing a ton or much more. The mass then radiates the stored heat for 12 to 24 hours, depending upon the weather. The extremely hot fires result in very clean burns.
  • A well-designed masonry heater, on the other hand, stores and radiates something on the order of 80% of the heat it produces. It does this by directing the intensely hot gases through a series of channels in the masonry mass. By the time the exhaust reaches the top of the chimney, it is almost cool, having left its heat in the masonry. The smoke does not deposit creosote if the heater is properly operated, because the fire is so hot that the tars and organic compounds are consumed in the firebox.
  • Disadvantages Price. Pellet stoves usually cost more than wood stoves, and the fuel isn’t cheap. As a national average, pellets currently cost about $3.50 per 40 pounds, or $165-$175 per ton. With 1 ton of pellets having the heat value of 1 1/2 cord of hardwood, fuelwood must cost $100 per cord in your area for pellets to be an economical fuel.
  • Keep the chimney inside. Chimneys that are in the house for most of their length stay cleaner, work better, last longer and return more heat to the house than do chimneys outside the exterior walls.
  • If you see 1/4-inch of creosote, you’ll know that the chimney needs cleaning, but the absence of creosote where you can see doesn’t mean that there’s none elsewhere.
  • Detection of a chimney fire is not usually a problem. It will likely announce itself with a prolonged roaring noise, smoke and odor in the house and thick, dark smoke and/or sparks and flames coming out of the top of the chimney. Some chimney fires are not so dramatic, probably because they haven’t enough fuel or oxygen to really take off, but all chimney fires are potentially destructive and should be taken seriously. To people who regard them as a harmless way to clean a chimney, I can only say that physicians used to bleed people who were ill, too; all of the available objective evidence indicates that both practices are foolhardy.

Fire bellows poker

FireDragon Bellows

I’ve been using the FireDragon for the past five years to quickly and efficiently get my woodstove burning. It allows me to get a fire started using a minimal amount of tinder and kindling, and without any other firestarters. This is one of those simple, good ideas. You blow into the FireDragon to shoot a directed, bellows-like blast of air into your fire, creating a supercharging effect. This helps get larger chunks of wood to ignite and burn steadily when lighting a fire or adding a new log to a fire that isn’t burning well, and it can return a smoldering fire to blazes with a few puffs.

It’s basically a 3-foot long steel tube with a brass mouthpiece (that makes me think of a flattened trombone mouthpiece) and a forked end that can serve as a fire poker, log re-arranger, and coal raker. The manufacturer says they got the idea from Civil War soldiers that would take the barrels off their rifles and blow through them to fan their campfires.

Now I find I want the FireDragon any time I’m around a fire, so it goes along camping. It is plenty sturdy. No moving parts, and easy to use. — Brent Inghram

Automatic wood heating

Wood Pellet Stoves

Wood pellet stoves are an alternative way to heat a home. The stoves use wood pellets, which look exactly like rabbit food, and are made out of dried recycled compressed sawdust from lumber mills that otherwise ends up in landfills. They were invented in the 1980s and were popular for a while then declined some in the late 90s but since 9/11 have made a big comeback. The industry for stove manufactures, pellet distribution and stove technology has greatly matured and is nationwide.

Wood pellet stoves have a number of advantages over normal wood stoves. Because the stoves are so efficient, there is almost no smoke or creosote produced, in fact the exhaust is barely even hot so the stove doesn’t need a masonry chimney and can be installed anywhere a tin metal liner can be put in, either directly into the roof, or sideways out a wall. They can be stand-alone stoves on legs in the corner of a room, or chimney inserts using an existing chimney. Unlike wood stoves, pellet stoves work well in urban environments because of little exhaust and no need for a chimney and can be installed in any room.

The pellets come in 40 pound plastic bags, about the size of a mulch bag, which makes transport and storage a snap compared to dealing with cord wood. A fully automated stove requires filling up with the pellets and turning on; the stove does the rest: it automatically lights, automatically feeds the pellets into the flame with an auger, automatically adjusts the rate to keep the room at a pre-set temperature with an electric thermostat. At the low setting I can go 76 hours on one load in my Harman stove, which is a fireplace inset so it is limited in hopper size. There are other stoves that have bigger hoppers. Indeed there are pellet furnaces that can hold weeks worths of pellets and heat an entire central heating system.

A 40 pound bag of pellet wood produces less than a cup of ash so it rarely needs to be emptied (keep the pellet hopper and ash tray size in mind when shopping for stoves). I need to vacuum the ash pan in my Harman stove after burning fifty 40lb bags –about every two months during heavy use.

Typically they are sold by the pallet, which is 50 bags or 1-ton, for $120 to $200. You will need storage space and some brawn. How much you use will depend on the stove, season, comfort level, space, etc., but the general recommendation is 1 bag of pellets a day. In my experience it can be much less than that based on your comfort level and weather and time at home. Wood pellets can be found at most hardware stores around the country including Home Depot, Ace, etc. Pellets come in 3 grades, depending on ash content (less ash the better), the higher grade pellets are hardwood while the lower grade is pine, most of the major hardware chains sell the middle grades.

The stoves require electricity to run so if you lose power it won’t work, which is a notable drawback, although there are solutions such as a generator or battery back up. I personally have a long extension cord to an inverter in my car in the driveway in case of a heating emergency.

Pellet stoves range in price from $1200 to $3000. Harman is way ahead of the game with computerized sensors and controls and is the brand I recommend. The stove I own is Harman’s Accentra Insert, and it was $2800 installed complete.

Are wood pellets cheaper than gas or oil? Probably not, although they may be in some areas, but there are environmental “costs” to consider. — Stephen Balbach





Show and Tell #402: Josué Moreno

Picks and shownotes

Show and Tell #401: Kern Kelley

Picks and shownotes

Show and Tell #400: Rich Edwards

Picks and shownotes

21 February 2024


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.

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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).

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